I often find the popular debate between Religion™ and Science™ intensely irritating, because almost everyone on both sides seems to take it for granted that if we have (or might someday have) a scientific explanation for something, then we don’t stand in need of a divine explanation for it; so that the only places where God might possibly play a role in our explanatory scheme is in the bits and pieces of the world that science has not yet explained. And this notion of the “God of the Gaps” presupposes that the merely scientific explanation is exhaustively adequate, at least in principle. But that means that the whole debate is skewed from the get go by an implicit presupposition in favor of naturalism, and is therefore founded upon begging the very question that it proposes to answer.
God is not needed first as an explanation of this or that item in the natural order, but rather as an explanation of the fact that there is such a thing as nature in the first place, or that there exists anything at all that might have a nature. If God does not exist, then there can be no explanation of existence per se, or therefore of any of the things that do seem to us actually to exist. If God does not exist, then all we can say of things in the final analysis is that they are what they are, for no particular reason.
Or can we say even that?
If God exists, then his involvement in nature – in every instance of nature – is after all just exactly what we should expect. If God exists, then his effects are bound to be felt pervasively, throughout the whole created order, so that there can be no Gaps of any kind, anywhere. This would be a great thing for the scientific project, because it would mean that, since God is active in forming everything according to his rational Nature, everything is therefore in principle intelligible to our understanding, even though (the world being so vast and intricate) we might never actually get to the bottom of any part of it.
That there is an intelligible scientific account of a phenomenon, then, is not an indication that God plays no role in it, but exactly the opposite. The intelligibility of a thing does not indicate that it arose as a result of factors that are absolutely unintelligible, but the contrary. If a thing is intelligible, then that should indicate to us that God is active in it as a formal influence.
Honestly. It is as if a man opened a book and found that he could read it, that it said all sorts of meaningful and interesting and instructive things, and indeed that the more closely he read it the more he understood the tremendous breadth and depth of its insights into life as he himself had encountered it, and then said, “Well, hm! This thing makes a lot of sense in itself, and apart from the bit on page 73 that I haven’t yet puzzled out, it is obviously ordered to a fantastic degree; clearly there is therefore no reason to think it means anything, or that it might then have had an author, who meant something by it!”
The standard rebuttals of the Argument from Design boil down to, “well, if you have a large enough population of events iteratively exploring configuration space, then sooner or later, by sheer happenstance, they are going to arrange themselves as a watch, or a book.” But aside from the obvious failure of such rebuttals to explain how such populations or their iterations, or for that matter configuration space, might have arisen in the first place, these counterarguments are not even aimed at the right target. For, the point of the Argument from Design is not that this or that complex object cannot possibly have arisen except as a product of conscious intention, but that if there is no Author then the watch is not intended as a watch and is not therefore a watch, and the book is likewise not a book. In that case, the watch cannot tell time, and the book cannot be read – sure, the watch might seem to tell time, but really it doesn’t; and the book is really nothing but gibberish. But in fact the watch does tell time (and is therefore a watch after all), and the book is readable (and so is indeed a book). So there is an Author.
The Argument from Design, then, is ultimately an argument from the mere fact of order. And this turns out to be an argument from particularity: from the definiteness of things, as being just the things that they are. If a thing is not ordered to some end or purpose, some telos or final cause – if, that is to say, it does not act or exist (these being two terms for the same thing) in a certain characteristic way, so that we are able to identify it as just the sort of thing that it is – then when push comes to shove we cannot say of it that it is ordered at all, or even that it exists as anything in particular that we are able to identify. And this is an important clue to what we must mean by saying of a thing that it is intelligible, qua thing – that, i.e., it is a certain thing at all. Whatever else we may mean in so saying, we must at least mean that we can see how we might possibly understand how it works to do what it does do; which is to say, how it turns out to be the sort of thing that it is. We cannot say that we understand a thing until we understand how it works, how it operates upon itself and upon its world. Order then is inherently teleological; it tends to operate toward some characteristic end. A thing that neither is nor does nor means anything definite is then strictly inconceivable, by the very nature of conception; for it fails to be any definite thing – it fails to be.
Can you think of something? If so, God exists.