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§ 4. Objections to the Argument from Design.

A. The Denial of Final Causes.

The doctrine of final causes in nature must stand or fall with the doctrine of a personal God. The one cannot be denied without denying the other. And the admission of the one involves the admission of the other. By final cause is not meant a mere tendency, or the end to which events either actually or apparently tend; but the end contemplated in the use of means adapted to attain it. The contemplation of an end, is a mental act. The selection and use of means adapted to attain such end, are both intelligent and voluntary acts. But an intelligent voluntary agent is a person.160160This is in accordance with the accepted theological definition of a person as a “suprositum intelligens." In other words, the use of means to accomplish a contemplated end is a function of personality, or at least of intelligent agency.

Such being the nature of final causes, they are of course denied, (1.) By the positivist, who believes nothing but facts of which the senses take cognizance; and who admits of no other causation than regularity of sequence. As efficiency, intention, and mind are not perceived by the senses, they are not, and cannot be philosophically admitted. (2.) By those who, while they admit such a thing as force, and, therefore, in that sense, a cause, allow of no distinction between physical, vital, and mental causes, or forces; and who maintain that the one can be resolved into either of the others. The advocates of this theory make thought a product of the brain; and have as their watch-word, “Ohne Phosphor kein Gedanke." Of course phosphorus must be before thought, and therefore there can be no final cause in the production of phosphorus, or of anything else. (3.) Final causes are denied by those who regard the universe as the development of the infinite Being under the operation of necessary law. Of that Being no intelligence, consciousness, or will can be predicated. Consequently there can be no preconceived design to be accomplished, either by the universe as a whole, or any of its parts. According to Spinoza, therefore, final causes are “humana figmenta et deliria.”

If you should ask a peasant, where a tree or the body of an animal came from, he would probably answer, “Why, it grew.” That for him is the final fact. And so it is for all the advocates of the above-named theories. Thus it is that extremes (the peasant's thought and the savant's theory) meet. What more, what 228deeper thought is found in the words of Stuart Mill than in the peasant's answer, when the logician says: “Sequences entirely physical and material, as soon as they had become sufficiently familiar to the human mind, came to be thought perfectly natural, and were regarded not only as needing no explanation themselves, but as being capable of affording it to others, and even of serving as the ultimate explanation of things in general.”161161Logic, edit. London, 1851, vol. i. pp. 366.

B. Objections of Hume and Kant.

Hume's answer to the argument from design, or final causes, is, that our knowledge is limited by experience. We have often seen houses, ships, engines, and other machines made, and therefore, when we see similar products of human skill we are authorized to infer that they too were constructed by an intelligent author. But the world belongs to an entirely different category; we have never seen a world made; and therefore we have no rational ground for assuming that this world had a maker. “When two species of objects,” says Hume,162162"Dialogues on Natural Religion," Works, edit. Edinburgh, 1826, vol. ii. p. 449. “have always been observed to be conjoined together, I can infer, by custom, the existence of one whenever I see the existence of the other, and this I call an argument from experience. But how this argument can have place, where the objects, as in the present case, are single, individual, without parallel, or specific resemblance, may be difficult to explain. And will any man tell me with a serious countenance, that an orderly universe must arise from some thought and art, like the human, because we have experience of it? To ascertain this reasoning, it were requisite that we had experience of the origin of worlds; and it is not sufficient surely that we have seen ships and cities arise from human art and contrivance.” What experience teaches is that design implies intelligence; i.e., that we never see the adaptation of means to an end without having evidence that such adaptation is the work of an intelligent agent. And, therefore, even under the guidance of experience we infer that wherever we see design, whether in nature or in art, there must be an intelligent agent. But experience is not the ground or limit of this conviction. It is an intuitive truth, self-evident from its nature, that design cannot be accounted for on the ground of chance or necessity. Let any man try to persuade himself that a watch is the product of chance, and he will see how futile is the attempt.

Kant presents substantially the same objection as Hume when 229he says that the concatenation of cause and effect is confined to the external world, and therefore that it is illogical to apply the principle of causation to account for the existence of the external world itself. He further objects that the evidences of design in nature would prove only a demiurgus, or world-builder, and not an extramundane God. It is further urged against the sufficiency of the teleological argument, that even if it proved the author of the world to be distinct from it, it would not prove him to be infinite, because the world is finite, and we cannot infer an infinite cause from a finite effect.

Answer to the Objections.

In answer to these objections it may be remarked that what the argument from design is intended to prove, and what it does prove, is, (1.) That the Author of the universe is an intelligent and voluntary agent. (2.) That He is extramundane and not merely the life, or soul of the world, for the design is shown not simply or chiefly by the moulding of organized bodies by a principle acting from within outward; but by the adaptation of things external to such organisms, to their various necessities; and by the disposition and orderly arrangement of immense bodies of matter, separated by millions, or even billions of miles. (3.) The immensity of the universe through the whole of which design is manifest, proves that its cause must be adequate to the production of such an effect; and if the effect be, as it is to us, incomprehensibly great, the cause must be so also. And incomprehensibly great and infinitely great, are practically equivalent. But besides, the cosmological argument proves that God is not only maker, but creator. And creation implies the possession of infinite power. Not only because the difference between existence and non-existence is infinite, but because in Scripture creation is always represented as the peculiar work of the infinite God. So far as we know all creature power is limited to self-action, or to the more or less limited control of what already exists.

What has already been said may be a sufficient answer to the objection that while design does indeed prove intelligence, yet that intelligence may be in matter itself, or in nature (a vis insita), as in the soul of the world. These points, as they are generally presented, concern more properly the relation of God to the world, than his existence. They involve the admission of the existence of an intelligence somewhere, adequate to account for all the phenomena of the universe. They involve consequently the denial that these 230phenomena are to be referred either to chance, or the action of mere physical laws. Where that intelligence is placed, is not the question. Wherever placed it must be a person; and not merely an unintelligent force acting according to necessary law. For the evidence of voluntary action and of benevolence is as clear as that of intelligence. And the considerations already urged prove that this voluntary, intelligent Being must be extramundane; a conclusion which is rendered still more evident from our relation to Him as responsible and dependent.

C. Miscellaneous Objections.

1. It is objected that both in the vegetable and animal kingdoms there are malformations, abnormal productions, which are inconsistent with the idea of the control of an infinite intelligence. This is at best merely an argument from our ignorance. Admitting that there are in nature some things which we cannot account for, this does not invalidate the argument drawn from the innumerable cases of benevolent design. If Mr. Babbage's calculating machine should once in many million of times present the wrong number, this would not prove that there was no intelligence manifested in its construction. It is not necessary even to assume that such apparently irregular action is to be referred to the imperfection of the machine. For what we know, its maker may have a reason for such action, which we cannot discover. In every extended piece of music, discords here and there occur, which pain the ear, and which those unskilled in music cannot account for, but which the competently instructed perceive are taken up and resolved into a higher harmony. If a prince should give us a chest containing millions in coin and jewels, we should not question his kind intention, even should we find among them a spurious dime for whose presence we could not account. It would be insane to reject the Bible with all its sublime and saving truths, because there may be in it a few passages which we cannot understand, and which in themselves seem inconsistent with the perfection of its author. No man refuses to believe in the sun and to rejoice in its light because there are dark spots on its surface for which he cannot account. Ignorance is a very healthful condition of our present state of being.

Useless Organs.

2. A second objection of much the same kind is founded on the fact that we find members in organized bodies for which they have no use. For example, men have mammæ; the whale has teeth 231which are never developed and which the animal does not need; animals have bones which they never use; birds and crocodiles have their skulls formed of separate bones as well as viviparous animals, although in their case there seems to be no utility in such arrangement. Even Professor Owen urges this objection. In his work on “Limbs,”163163Page 39. he says, “I think it will be obvious that the principle of final adaptation fails to satisfy all the conditions of the problem. That every segment and almost every bone which is present in the human hand and arm should exist in the fin of the whale,” where they are not needed, does not appear consistent with the principle. Again, in another place, he says,164164Homologies, p. 73. “The cranium of the bird, which is composed in the adult of a single bone, is ossified from the same number of points as in the human embryo, without the possibility of a similar purpose being subserved thereby, in the extrication of the chick from the fractured egg-shell . . . . These, and a hundred such facts force upon the contemplative anatomist the inadequacy of the teleological hypothesis.”

On this it may be remarked: (1.) That the objection bears only on the individual organism of plants or animals, whereas the evidences of design are scattered over the whole universe. (2.) This objection also is founded on our ignorance. The argument is that because we cannot see the reason for a certain arrangement, no such reason exists. (3.) It takes the lowest view of utility, namely, that which contemplates the immediate wants of the individual organism. Things which are not needed for its necessities may answer a much higher end. In a great building use is not the only end contemplated; there are symmetry and unity, æsthetic ends of as much value as mere comfort or convenience. Scientific men have demonstrated that all animals are in their structure only modifications of four typical forms. These forms are preserved in all the genera and species included under these general classes. The presence therefore, of these characteristic features of the type, even where not needed for the individual, serve to indicate the unity of the plan on which the whole animal kingdom is constructed We must remember that what we do not see, cannot disprove the realty of what we do see.


3. A third objection is sometimes derived from the operations of Instinct. Instinct, according to Dr. Reid, is “a natural blind impulse to certain actions, without having any end in view, without deliberation, and very often without any conception of what we 232do.”165165Active Powers, III. i. 2, vol. iv. p. 48: edit. Charlestown, 1815. Dr. Whately also says: “An instinct is a blind tendency to a mode of action independent of any consideration on the part of the agent, of the end to which the action leads.” Paley defines it to be “a propensity prior to experience and independent of instruction.”166166Natural Theology, chap. xviii. The argument is that as “a blind impulse" contemplating no end, effects all the marvellous contrivances which we see in the works of irrational animals, similar contrivances in nature cannot prove intelligence in the author of nature. The answer to this argument is: —

1. That it is founded on a wrong definition of instinct. It is not a blind impulse. It is that measure of intelligence given to animals which enables them to sustain their lives, to continue their race, and to answer the necessities of their being. Within certain limits this form of intelligence, both in man and in irrational animals, acts blindly. The impulse which leads the young of all animals to seek their nourishment in the appropriate way and in the proper place, is no doubt blind. The same is also probably true of the impulse which leads many animals to make provision in summer for the necessities of winter. Neither can it be supposed that the bee has always and everywhere constructed its cell according to the nicest mathematical principles, under the guidance of an intelligent apprehension of those principles. These operations which are performed without instructions, and always from age to age in the same way, indicate a guidance which may be called blind in so far that those under its influence do not devise the plan on which they act, although they may know the end they have in view. But the intelligence of animals goes far beyond these narrow limits. Not only does the beaver construct his dam according to the nature of the locality and the force of the stream on which he fixes his habitations, but we constantly see it, as well as other animals, varying its mode of operation to suit special emergencies. Instinct, therefore, as designating the principle which controls the action of irrational animals, is not blind, but intelligent. It admits of the contemplation of an end, and of the selection and application of means appropriate for its accomplishment. Even admitting, therefore, that the intelligence manifested in nature is of the same kind as that manifested by animals, yet the difference in degree is infinite.

2. No measure, however, of intellect of the grade or character of instinct is sufficient to account for the phenomena of the universe. 233Instinct is concerned with the wants of individual organism. But who adapts the organs of an animal to its instincts? Who adapts external nature, air, light, heat, water, food, etc., etc., to its necessities? What relation has instinct to the stellar universe?

3. Moreover, these instincts themselves are among the phenomena to be accounted for. If they are blind impulses, can they be accounted for, in all their variety and in all their accommodation to the nature and wants of animals, by a blind impulse pervading all things? The fact is that the adaptation of external nature to the instincts of the different classes of animals, and of their instincts to external nature, affords one of the most convincing proofs of an intellect exterior to both, and ordering the one in relation to the other.

4. It is to be remembered, although the topic of a separate argument, that the soul of man with all its wonderful powers and capacities, intellectual, moral, and religious, is one of the facts to be accounted for. To trace the existence of the soul of man to “a blind impulse,” is to assume that the effect immeasurably transcends its cause, which is assuming an effect without a cause.

5. All these objections take for granted the eternal existence of matter, and the eternity of physical forces. As these are, they must have existed from eternity, or have begun to be. If they began to be they must have had a cause outside of themselves. That cause cannot be nonentity. It must be a self-existing, eternal substance, having the intelligence, power, will, and benevolence adequate to account for the universe and all that it contains. That is, the cause of the universe must be a personal God.

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