Friendly reminder: There are men and moments for which reading almost anything with the word “atheism” is detrimental.
(This essay is clearly imperfect and is not intended to be final.)
Atheism of the Gaps – Part One is here.
Here’s just one example of how to escape religious argument: even the popular, teleological “Argument from Design” is invalid.
What is the Argument from Design (AFD)?
It is commonly introduced thus:
In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. … There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use. … Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.
— William Paley, Natural Theology (1802)
Why isn’t it valid in your opinion?
Let’s keep this interesting. Meanwhile, I’ll try to argue in favor. Firstly, the word “design” is too laden. Let’s call it Argument from Order, instead, and restate the argument my own way:
Assuming we both accept order is both (1) possible and (2) recognizable as such, you must concede order was “ordered” by the “Great Orderer”: God.
Perhaps man myopically finds order where there is none? You beg the question, assuming order in order to prove an Orderer.
But man can only discern something by distinguishing it from its reverse? What point of reference can there be for the claim the universe is ordered, if the universe is all we have to observe? Moreso, in the original example, a man finds a watch enfolded by a forest, that is, he recognizes order in the midst of disorder. Yet you try and prove the forest itself is ordered!
Again, although “the universe is all we have to observe”, man acts as though it isn’t (and there is adequate reason for this feature of man’s nature, but that doesn’t concern us here). So what’s it going to be?
In the original parable, man differentiates between varying degrees of order (relative order in the pocket watch and relative disorder in the rock, above). Indeed, the original version is a form of “Argument from Assertion”, but this is not always invalid. “Give me a break!” is often an appeal to the knowledge we both share, which you purportedly forgot or stifled.
Wait. Maybe specific phenomena are orderly because of natural laws, as we see occurring in the wild; mechanistic “order out of chaos” (sorry, I mean “anarchy”!)?
You will notice I didn’t reference rocks and flowers in the rephrased argument… Are those “natural laws” you appealed to “orderly” or not? Yes? Again, Order is there – with a vengeance. There is no non-purposeful ordering.
For the sake of argument, maybe the universe’s order comes from polytheism or aliens?
Polytheism is mutually contradictory. If there are two forces, they necessarily infringe on each other’s sovereignty, so neither is God. And who ordered such well-ordered aliens?
What of natural disasters and dastardly disease?
This is not about theodicy. Good or bad, the universe shows great order.
What of apparent exceptions to order?
The argument stands on the great majority. “Ordering” is man’s job, too, as much as possible (Tanchuma Tazri’a 5).
Some Kosher Jews accept [some of] it; other Kosher Jews don’t. Objection: irrelevant.
I give up. How do atheists get out of this one?
Then how can we know anything at all?
We supposedly cannot, but see this here.