Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Friendly Critique of the Cameron and Comfort vs. Rational Responders Debate Part II


In this post we will continue with the second and final critique in this series discussing how not to do apologetics. I've already been on The Narrow Mind discussing this "debate" with Pastor Gene Cook Jr., and now it is time to put this thing to bed by finishing my friendly critique of Comfort's use of the teleological argument.


Kirk Cameron stated, “Existence of God can be proven by faith . . . the reason many do not believe in God is because of a theory that can be likened to a fairy-tale for grown-ups.” [i.e., evolution] Ray Comfort went on to propose that he would attempt to scientifically demonstrate the existence of God through (1) creation and (2) conscience but then defies that later in his opening presentation by making an appeal to the 10 commandments. Comfort stated, “Where there is a design, there must be a designer. . . where there is a painting there must be a painter.” However, as we will see both scientifically and philosophically, appealing to a nebulous designer doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that the proposed designer is the Triune God of Christianity and this type of argumentation has been exposed for its own philosophical inadequacies by both secular and sacred philosophers alike. What that we turn to the argument that Ray appealed to, namely, a modified and simplistic version of the intelligent design argument.

Some Positives of the Intelligent Design Argument (ID):

This movement has produced much literature that indirectly supports the biblical creationist viewpoint.[1] It makes clear that Darwinism/naturalism is based on the philosophical presupposition that the supernatural does not exist, thus inevitably affecting the way one interprets any scientific data.

Some Problems with the Intelligent Design Argument:

1. However, the major problem with the ID movement is a divorce of the Creator from creation. The Creator and His creation cannot be separated; they reflect on each other.

In today's culture, many are attracted to the ID movement because they can decide for themselves who the creator is—a Great Spirit, Brahman, Allah, God, etc. The current movement focuses more on what is designed, rather than who designed it. And so, leaders in the movement do not have problems with accepting an old earth paradigms or allowing evolution to play a vital role once the designer formed and set in motion the basic components (i.e., natural laws) necessary for the evolution of the universe.

Adherents of ID fail to understand that old earth theories have provided a scientific foundation for the edifice of Darwinism. If the Scriptures to not depict a relatively young earth, then maybe other events of the creation week can be called into question; and maybe God was not a necessary part of the equation for life after all. This same type of thinking was evident in Sapient’s rejoinder argument regarding having an eternal universe vs. having an eternal God.

Without the framework of the Bible and the understanding that evil entered the world through man’s sin, God appears sloppy and incompetent per the objection given by the woman who asked the emotionally-charged question about the existence of God as related to the existence of cancer (i.e., a different version of the so-called “problem of evil” argument). People like her ask why God is unable to prevent evil from thwarting His plans, resulting in such poor design, instead of understanding that because of the Fall there is now a cursed design and that it is all ordained for the good of the elect and the glory of His name.

2. God’s role as Creator is absolutely foundational to His role as Redeemer.

In addition, because ID arguments do not formally acknowledge and account for Christ as redeemer, there seems to be no final solution for the evil and supposed dysteleology in this world; and by all appearances evil will continue to reign supreme. However, when starting with Christ and His Word as the presuppositional starting point versus neglecting it, we read that Jesus clearly conquered death with the Resurrection (Romans 6:3–10) and that one day death will no longer reign (1 Cor. 15:26). And so, from a presuppositional perspective, the Triune Creator and His creation are intimately involved and reflective of each other and so they cannot be divorced from each other in order to adequately account for each other.

As already noted in part I of this series, Romans 1:20 clearly states that all men know about God through His creation. However, intuitively recognizing that He is the Creator is only the first step. Colossians 1:15–20 and 2 Peter 3:3–6 demonstrate how God’s role as Creator and Redeemer are inexorably intertwined. Again, God’s role as Creator is foundational to His role as Redeemer. Recognizing a mere “designer” is not enough to be saved from hell; submitting to the Redeemer is also necessary. Thus, as I stated in part I, to purport to enter a formal debate stating that you will avoid the gospel in order to defend the God of the gospel is immoral.

Because the Creator and His creation cannot be separated, knowledge of God must come through both general revelation (nature) and special revelation (the Bible). Louis Berkhof said, “ . . . since the entrance of sin into the world, man can gather true knowledge about God from His general revelation only if he studies it in the light of Scripture.”[2] It is only then that the entire truth about the Triune God and what is seen around us can be fully understood and used to point to understand the bad news in Genesis (which explains things like cancer and supposed dysteleology) and the good news found in Jesus Christ. And now, we turn to a philosophical critique.

Philosophically: The teleological (design) argument for God’s existence as it has been classically constructed has both theological and philosophical problems. It was originally constructed as follows by Thomas Aquinas:

    1. Every agent acts for an end, even natural agents.
    2. Now what acts for an end manifests intelligence.
    3. But natural agents have no intelligence of their own.
    4. Therefore, they are directed to their end by some Intelligence.[3]

For the keen reader, it is clear that this argument neither proves the existence of the Christian God nor can it escape its own philosophical problems in its traditional form. And so I will now turn to a brief critique thereof. The Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) was one of the first philosophers to really put the screws to this argument.

  1. Hume basically said, “Is it true that order shows us that there is a Creator if you are not predisposed to do so?” Hume said that we have examples of order in which we have no idea that there is any intelligent agency behind them. The natural evidence shows us that some cases of order have a designer and some don’t (i.e., no natural evidence for the creator of a tree). The actual evidence shows that only some things have order with intelligent agency and things like trees and stones (which have order, harmony, and intricacy) don’t. So, unless you beg the question (Hume says), only then can you say that every instance of the natural artifacts of the world are designed. Hume took the same premise but came to the opposite conclusion. He said, “I can take the very world that you’re appealing to and prove the opposite conclusion. I can show you that since we don’t see a creator making everything then obviously there are some forms of order that don’t need or have a creator.” Again, this is a similar line of argumentation used by Sapient to argue for uncaused, eternal matter to explain away the necessity of the uncaused, eternal God.
  2. Hume said there are alternative explanations for the order that we do see. For instance, he said that the harmony of the heavens can be explained on the basis of physical laws of motion and the order that we see in the natural world can be explained on the basis of evolution (yes, Darwin hadn’t written yet, but you will see in Hume’s dialogues discussions of “cosmological accidents” [i.e., an early discussion of survival of the fittest] wherein only the worlds that had survival value or were “adaptively adequate” survived. Hume would say that there may have been many creatures that came about by chance but only the ones that had any staying power are the ones that survived and are still around and they have adaptive abilities (not because a creator made them that way), but they have survived so that we see their adaptive abilities. And so, it’s all really just a result of time, chance, and natural processes working on these organisms and all the rest died out. There have been a lot of things that were non-adaptive and didn’t have characteristics that were purposeful and they died out, leaving the more adaptive and fit organisms to propagate themselves. Similar argumentation has been used by naturalistic philosophers to explain what they believe are the natural truths rather than the logical truths of the laws of logic. They say, “The reason we say that ‘A is not ~A’ is because you don’t survive very well unless you say that. Trying living on the premise that there is a bear attacking and there is not a bear attacking me at the same time and the same relationship. And so, those who don’t follow the laws of logic get eaten by lions and since they don’t survive only those who believe and follow the laws of logic hang around long enough. And so, the laws of the logic are not necessary, they just work out best for those who follow them.” And so, Hume is made a similar argument against the teleological argument by saying that it is not necessarily true that all things have their origin in an intelligent creator but can be just as easily explained by saying that only some worlds and organisms in those worlds endured or survived because they were adaptively adequate and ordered in such a way that they survived, and those that were not so ordered, died or passed out of existence. And so, at the end of the day it only looks like they were designed. And so, according to Hume’s reasoning, science can account for this intricacy and order because as scientific knowledge increases, those things that were previously anomalous to us are now easily explained through purely natural causes.
  3. Some philosophers (i.e., Swinburne) have said that there are some things that science can explain, but there are other regularities (i.e., regularities of succession) that science cannot explain. So this philosopher may say to the naturalist, “You appeal from order to natural law, but why is this regularity of succession, and enduring regularity of things.” Why is it true that the universe operates the way that it does over the long haul? Why are their natural laws at all? This is a good criticism because when the naturalist appeals to natural law for an explanation of order and regularity within the created universe the Christian philosopher/scientist may then ask “Well, why is natural law law-like? Why is their natural order in natural laws? Why is it that the law of gravity has been the law of gravity for so long? How do you account for that orderliness in terms of gravitational laws?” And so, Swinburne would take this tact to say that Hume is wrong, but Swinburne has not taken us as far as we need to go to make the teleological argument function properly.
  4. If the naturalist says that the wider laws of nature can be appealed to explain order in the universe and our experience. But the Christian appeals to the wider laws of nature were made laws by God. And to that, the atheistic scientist who is in tune with his naturalistic philosophy would simply say, “The fundamental laws of nature have no explanation at all. You ask me why the law of gravity operates consistently with regularity over the long haul and I will tell you that it’s just a basic given of the universe.” The Christian then says, “You can’t stop your argument there [i.e., who made gravity?]” and the astute atheistic scientist says, “Oh so, explanations can never end?” and the Christian says, “No, they have to end somewhere, and for me they end with God!” and the atheistic scientist says, “Oh, in other words, your explanation of the law of gravity can stop somewhere, but you don’t want my explanation to stop somewhere? But that is special pleading on your part Mr. Christian, and my explanation ends just short of God!” And so the atheist appeals to the fundamental laws of nature as having no necessary explanation because they, in themselves are the explanation. They are just brute, basic facts about the universe that express the way things are in an ultimate sense. Moreover, if the scientist is atomistic in his reason, he can go on to add that the ordinary analytical rules of evidence cease to apply just at the level of our most ultimate and basic laws. This is because scientific explanation is to explain something in terms of the broader context of law, and then you explain that law in the terms of the broadest terms of the most basic laws. But do you explain the most basic laws by more basic laws? But once you get to the most basic laws, there can be no further explanation. In the nature of the case the scientist is not committed to explaining everything ad infinitum, he gets to the basics and then all explanation stops because being atomistic, after breaking things down as far as possible, there can be no further appeal to anything more basic or foundational. Even the atheistic, atomistic scientist will remind the Christian theist that he too must be content with ultimate mysteries. And in that sense, every school of thought has its most ultimate given, and the ultimate given for the atheistic scientist is the basic laws of nature whereas for the Christian it is the Triune God. Mr. Atheist may posit that we can’t prove who is right or wrong based on the order of the universe because the Christian has his account for it and the atheist has his account. But now our atheistic scientist friend can add this little stinger by appealing to Occam’s Razor, “But my naturalistic hypothesis for the human eye is more economical than your supernaturalistic hypothesis.” Occam essentially said that superfluous explanatory devices should be shaven off of our way of speaking and thinking and we should just speak and think of the most elegant and efficient ways of talking about things. Naturalistic hypotheses do not make appeals to God for the origin of the universe, it just appeals to the way things are, and in that sense, it is less complicated than the supernaturalistic hypothesis. So, since we prefer the less complicated hypothesis to the more complicated,” and the scientist also says, “maybe the supernatural hypothesis is not acceptable to science at all.” And so, that’s the way that the thinking of Swinburne may be answered by a perceptive atheist, thus further showing the need for a reconstruction of the teleological argument.
  5. A fifth line of argument against the teleological argument. It is has been said that William Paley’s analogy between the world and human design can be countered with an equally plausible analogy. Paley argued that the world can be likened to a machine (i.e., a watch) because machines have order. But someone devastatingly says that this type of order can also be found in biology. And so, the plant and animal world can be seen as analogous to an organism. The classical Christian apologist says that the painting proves that there was a painter, now look at organisms or the world as a whole and they too prove there must be a maker/creator. And so, someone puts the screws to Paley by moving not from watch, to organisms, to a creator, but from a watch to organisms and thus tries to liken the world to an organism. And so, instead of having a “watchmaker God” you have the world as one giant organism. The point is per the naturalist that if you want to argue by analogy to God then they can argue from analogy too by saying that the world is simply one large organism. And so, per the objector, the world is alive (i.e., Gaia hypothesis; ancient earth religions, etc.). This point here is to show not that any of these objections to the teleological argument are true, but rather that they challenge Paley’s watchmaker argument. If anything, this certainly does not show that the Christian God is the necessary Creator of the world, but that “god” is merely the immanent (vs. being both transcendent and immanent) life principle of the earth, which is itself alive.
  6. A sixth line of argument against this use of the teleological proof for God goes something like this, “When evil and imperfection in the world are taken into account, the argument does not suggest that the creator is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent.” Assuming the teleological argument in its traditional form, one of the classic arguments against it from detractors is, “If God is the source of order and adaptiveness he either could not make the world in such a way that there was no evil or imperfection (hence, he was not omnipotent) or either he could, and chose not to (hence, he was not omnibenevolent).” And so, because evil and imperfection exist in the universe, sin, evil, and imperfection must be attributed to the creator and in that case, it would not work for the Christian because this “god” would be altogether different from the Triune God of Scripture.[4] And so, the above six lines of argumentation show some of the inherent weaknesses in the probabilistic, traditional form of the teleological argument.
Now, positively, we will look at why it is that this notoriously philosophically weak argument has found such endurance in human thought. Philosophers keep coming back to this argument. Even after Hume and Kant criticized it, they granted that it had an appeal and a certain staying power with people. Why does it have such appeal in spite of the fact that philosophically speaking, it is a weak argument in its traditional form? Why do people keep getting drawn to this weak and fallacious form of argument? Well, I will suggest that it appeals to sinful men because of the philosophical borrowed Christian capital which contains the idea of an ordered world has an intuitive appeal to men. And although the autonomous formulation of the argument is poor, there can be another form of the argument that is honoring to God from a presuppositional perspective. And so, the fallacy comes in the autonomous formulation of the arguments. We can reformulate this argument in an explicit fashion so that it corresponds to the intuitive power of the argument. And the intuitive power of the teleological comes from the fact that all men are living on “borrowed capital.” They are assuming the very thing that the argument is trying to prove, it just has to be shown in a more adequate way, via an indirect argument. An indirect line of argumentation says that when you look at the various actual possibilities for explaining the origin of the world that you can show which explanation is sufficient by the impossibility of contrary, actual worldviews.
When you look at a Christian worldview you have some explanation for order in your life experience, but when you appeal to actual (vs. hypothetical, which are not helpful to this discussion) non-Christian views, you cannot appeal to order at all. Worse, you can’t even appeal to reason in a non-Christian world and life view and be consistent with those same presuppositions. It is not that you are making a direct argument by recognizing one or two instances of order in your experience and then moving on from there to prove an orderer; no, this is saying that order is all around us and we can’t even reason and be orderly in our thought patterns without a Christian worldview. And so, the essence of indirect argumentation is that you compare various systems of thought and argue from the impossibility of contrary actual worldviews. We’ll look at a subtle example of this found in the conclusion of Cornelius Van Til’s Why I Believe In God,

Deep down in your heart you know very well that what I have said about you is true. You know there is no unity in your life. You want no God who by His counsel provides for the unity you need. Such a God, you say, would allow for nothing new. So you provide your own unity. But this unity must, by your own definition, not kill that which is wholly new. Therefore it must stand over against the wholly new and never touch it at all. Thus by your logic you talk about possibles and impossibles, but all this talk is in the air. By your own standards it can never have anything to do with reality. Your logic claims to deal with eternal and changeless matters; and your facts are wholly changing things; and "never the twain shall meet." So you have made nonsense of your own experience. With the prodigal you are at the swine-trough, but it may be that, unlike the prodigal, you will refuse to return to the father's house.

On the other hand by my belief in God I do have unity in my experience. Not of course the sort of unity that you want. Not a unity that is the result of my own autonomous determination of what is possible. But a unity that is higher than mine and prior to mine. On the basis of God's counsel I can look for facts and find them without destroying them in advance. On the basis of God's counsel I can be a good physicist, a good biologist, a good psychologist, or a good philosopher. In all these fields I use my powers of logical arrangement in order to see as much order in God's universe as it may be given a creature to see. The unities, or systems that I make are true because [they are] genuine pointers toward the basic or original unity that is found in the counsel of God.

Looking about me I see both order and disorder in every dimension of life. [We might understand this better if I say “I see unity and particularity”. I see the laws of nature but I also see the individuality of things. D] But I look at both of them in the light of the Great Orderer Who is back of them. [Now, that sounds similar to a teleological argument. The difference is that he does not say, “On autonomous grounds when you look at this particular instance of order and see if there must be a god.” No, he is essentially saying that on autonomous grounds you can have any order at all! And only if you renounce your autonomy and think God’s thoughts after him can you then have order. D] I need not deny either of them in the interest of optimism or in the interest of pessimism. I see the strong men of biology searching diligently through hill and dale to prove that the creation doctrine is not true with respect to the human body, only to return and admit that the missing link is missing still. I see the strong men of psychology search deep and far into the sub-consciousness, child and animal consciousness, in order to prove that the creation and providence doctrines are not true with respect to the human soul, only to return and admit that the gulf between human and animal intelligence is as great as ever. I see the strong men of logic and scientific methodology search deep into the transcendental for a validity that will not be swept away by the ever-changing tide of the wholly new, [This is just a fancy way of saying “I see them come back with their very orderly explanations only to admit that it’s all in a random universe.” D] only to return and say that they can find no bridge from logic to reality, or from reality to logic. And yet I find all these, though standing on their heads, reporting much that is true. I need only to turn their reports right side up, making God instead of man the center of it all, and I have a marvelous display of the facts as God has intended me to see them.

And if my unity is comprehensive enough to include the efforts of those who reject it, it is large enough even to include that which those who have been set upright by regeneration cannot see. My unity is that of a child who walks with its father through the woods. The child is not afraid because its father knows it all and is capable of handling every situation. So I readily grant that there are some “difficulties” with respect to belief in God and His revelation in nature and Scripture that I cannot solve. In fact there is mystery in every relationship with respect to every fact that faces me, for the reason that all facts have their final explanation in God Whose thoughts are higher than my thoughts, and Whose ways are higher than my ways. And it is exactly that sort of God that I need. Without such a God, without the God of the Bible, the God of authority, the God who is self-contained and therefore incomprehensible to men, there would be no reason in anything. No human being can explain in the sense of seeing through all things, but only he who believes in God has the right to hold that there is any explanation at all.

So you see when I was young I was conditioned on every side; I could not help believing in God. Now that I am older I still cannot help believing in God. I believe in God now because unless I have Him as the All-Conditioner, life is Chaos. [And so here, we see that Van Til in this sentence reasons from the impossibility of contrary actual worldviews. He says that without the Christian worldview, all is chaos. D]

I shall not convert you at the end of my argument. I think the argument is sound. I hold that belief in God is not merely as reasonable as other beliefs or even a little or infinitely more probably true than other beliefs; I hold rather that unless you believe in God you can logically believe in nothing else. [This explains why Hume, Kant, et. al. cannot get away from the teleological argument. In their heart of hearts they know very well that unless you believe in God you cannot logically believe in nothing else. That isn’t to say that people don’t have other beliefs, but it’s to say that those other beliefs are going to get destroyed by this random view of the universe. D] But since I believe in such a God, a God who has conditioned you as well as me, I know that you can to your own satisfaction, by the help of the biologists, the psychologists, the logicians, and the Bible critics reduce everything I have said this afternoon and evening to the circular meanderings of a hopeless authoritarian. Well, my meanderings have, to be sure, been circular; they have made everything turn on God. So now I shall leave you with Him, and with His mercy.

What Van Til has said is that you cannot account for the ordering of your experience at all without God because the Triune God of the Bible is the hinge upon which everything turns. And so, there is something of a presuppositional reformulation of the basic gist of the teleological argument here. He is saying that you cannot have both particularity and order in your experience assuming naturalism. And so, apart from a Christian world and life view, trying to pull the particularities of the universe together with the unity thereof will always result in a rational-irrational dialectical tension that eventually pulls the worldview apart rather than giving harmony to it.


With all due respect to these Christian brothers, Cameron and Comfort would have done well to defer their assumed debate responsibilities to another who has the philosophical and academic ability/awareness to interact with hardened infidels who spend their entire time ranting and raving about the non-existence of the Triune God. As much as I appreciate these brothers, it is time for them to step up the study time so as to be ready to give an account for the hope that is within them with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15).

[1] See AiG’s views on the intelligent design movement here: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

[2] Louis Berkhof, Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1938), 60.

[3] Norman L. Geisleir, The Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 714.

[4] In all fairness, it should be noted that Paley conceded that his argument did not necessarily prove the existence of the Christian God.


  1. Nice post, Dusman.

    Much more useful than most of the drek posted here.

  2. Dusman,
    I've appreciated this post, part one and also the 'E Heckler' set...
    BTW, I was wondering, would anyone be interested in trying to see if the now egotistical Brian Sapient is finally willing to debate Paul Manata?

  3. Jimmy,

    It'll never happen. Paul would wipe the floor with him. Sapient knows he'd get his brains handed to him on a philosophical platter; ergo no debate with people that actually know what they're talking about.