The Argument from Design

‘The next step in the process brings us to the argument from design. You all know the argument from design: everything in the world is made just so that we can manage to live in the world, and if the world was ever so little different, we could not manage to live in it. That is the argument from design.

It sometimes takes a rather curious form; for instance, it is argued that rabbits have white tails in order to be easy to shoot. I do not know how rabbits would view that application. It is an easy argument to parody. You all know Voltaire’s remark, that obviously the nose was designed to be such as to fit spectacles. That sort of parody has turned out to be not nearly so wide of the mark as it might have seemed in the eighteenth century, because since the time of Darwin we understand much better why living creatures are adapted to their environment. It is not that their environment was made to be suitable to them but that they grew to be suitable to it, and that is the basis of adaptation. There is no evidence of design about it.

When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience have been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it. Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan or the Fascists? Moreover, if you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions of temperature and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system. You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending — something dead, cold, and lifeless.

I am told that that sort of view is depressing, and people will sometimes tell you that if they believed that, they would not be able to go on living. Do not believe it; it is all nonsense. Nobody really worries about much about what is going to happen millions of years hence. Even if they think they are worrying much about that, they are really deceiving themselves. They are worried about something much more mundane, or it may merely be a bad digestion; but nobody is really seriously rendered unhappy by the thought of something that is going to happen to this world millions and millions of years hence. Therefore, although it is of course a gloomy view to suppose that life will die out — at least I suppose we may say so, although sometimes when I contemplate the things that people do with their lives I think it is almost a consolation — it is not such as to render life miserable. It merely makes you turn your attention to other things.’

– Denonn. L.E., Egner. R.E. Ed. 1961. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell London, United Kingdom: George Allen & Unwin (1962) p. 589-590

Bertrand Russell delivered the lecture Why I am not a Christian (of which this is an excerpt) on March 6, 1927 to the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall.

12 thoughts on “The Argument from Design

  1. “This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.”

    ― Douglas Adams, “The Salmon of Doubt” —

  2. (Preamble: This is for argument only, I don’t believe in an omnipotent creator, in fact I don’t believe “in” anything.) Whenever I hear about design, I remember my Catechism and bible studies and this line in Genesis, Chap. 1: “God saw all that he had made and it was very good.” In the brainwashing of religion we never questioned the meaning of “it was very good.” Good for whom? In reading the rest of the biblical stories with a more open mind it actually makes sense that a powerful creator could call evil good! God could have set it up to do exactly what it is doing in order to maintain the machine of chaos that churns out pain and suffering “endlessly” for his own perverse pleasure. Why do believers insist on thinking that their god is de facto a good, i.e., benevolent entity, despite all evidence to the contrary? Rhetorical question: they have to believe their ship is seaworthy or they’d have to accept the futility in continuing on rowing it.

  3. God saw all that he had made and it was very good.

    Ricky Gervais, from his monologue, ‘The Bible‘:

    “‘God saw all that he had made and it was very good.’ – Even if he does say so himself, I mean there’s pride, and then there’s arrogance –“

  4. From that point of view would it not be more accurate to call it hubris? Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.

  5. Quote: “…so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.” However, had the puddle been a fundamentalist Christian, his disappearance would have been predictable: he was being raptured!

  6. I was just being facetious – not aiming at the messenger. Just semantics anyway. I just happen to like the word “hubris” because it never came up in school an’ ah larn’t it all baa maa lil’ ol’ lonesome self.

  7. In surfing this blog I was surprised to note that my comment (below) went in as anonymous… I’m worried I might be becoming a non-entity: how will Homeland Security, or CSIS or whomever our Guardians are, ever be able to keep tabs on me now? Plus I notice that I’m now living 8 hours into the future according to the comment caption. It was October 25 at 16:06 when I posted that comment. Oh, woe is me! Alas, I’m becoming undone!
    (Copy of original comment and caption:)
    Anonymous on October 26, 2015 at 00:06 said:
    Quote: “…so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.” However, had the puddle been a fundamentalist Christian, his disappearance would have been predictable: he was being raptured!

  8. That was YOU?! I wondered —

    Plus I notice that I’m now living 8 hours into the future according to the comment caption.” Aren’t you aware that people everywhere have been celebrating “Back to the Future” all week, because in the future, Marty McFly and Doc Brown go to October, 2015? And you’ve actually DONE it! You should be SO proud!!!

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