Teleological Argument for the Existence of God?

Don Muncie asks a great question:

How is your fundamental argument different from the classical teleological argument?


In Paley’s watch argument, the analogy between a watch and a living organism was unclear. However, the definition of code in biology and its definition in computer science (Claude Shannon) are identical.

Paley tried to force you to a conclusion. I offer

five options for where the first code came from:

1. Humans (time travel)
2. Aliens
3. Random accident
4. Unknown law of physics
5. God

Take your pick.

Oh and by the way, not only is #3 not science, it’s anti-science. It doesn’t explain anything.

My $5 million prize is a quest for #4.

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6 Responses

  1. Chris Ahrens says:

    This certainly tightens the noose. I tell my smart atheistic scientists friends that I have faith and they have faith–They believe that the world created itself from nothing, and I believe that it was created. Neither are truly scientific statements, and both have problems and require faith.

  2. rasheed larney says:

    I think there’s another important difference between the DNA code argument and the classical teleological argument. I came across this annoying video “DNA is a language – debunked”, and in the comments someone claimed: “The theists argument is just a retelling of an old teleological argument…that DNA has the complexity of a language in how it represents information…The real problem with this argument is the same as with most teleological arguments for god. That is, it is an argument from ignorance. The logic in the argument relies on the statement that a language (as defined by the theist) must come from an intelligent creator. That is only an assertion though. The best that the theist can honestly say is that he or she doesn’t know how a language can be created.”

    The video and the comments irritated me so much I had to reply:
    “I disagree that the DNA argument is just an argument from ignorance. Yes, it is teleological, but there’s an important difference between this and the classical teleological argument. The classical argument was about the apparent PHYSICAL design in the world: “This tree is so beautifully and perfectly designed (ie. it’s physical features, the matter and energy, the “stuff”), so therefore, it must have an intelligent designer. This was a valid argument until a scientific explanation for the design was found in Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection. So, the classical argument is invalid unless there is an example of intelligent design that natural selection (or any other natural, undirected, physical process) cannot explain. The new argument is that the DNA code is such an example: “1. DNA contains a code (ie. NOT the physical, chemical, material medium of codons, amino acids, etc, but an immaterial, non-physical code contained within them). 2. ALL codes (that we know the origin of) are designed by an intelligent agent, therefore 3. DNA code was designed by an intelligent agent.”
    To refute this you have to either show that DNA code is not a code (something no serious scientist will claim), or you have prove that natural selection (or any other natural, undirected process) can produce a code like that in DNA. If you consult serious scientific literature, you’ll see that there is no sufficient explanation for the DNA code by natural selection, and there’s acceptance of the fact that the origin of the DNA code is unknown. So, while there are many claims that natural selection does explain DNA, these claims are based on belief in natural selection, not on scientific fact. That means that the belief in natural selection as an explanation for the DNA code is, itself, an argument from ignorance equivalent to a “god of the gaps” argument”. On the other hand, the argument that DNA code requires an intelligent agent is based on observation, not on ignorance. ie. It is the same methodology proposed and used by Darwin when explaining events in the past: use a cause that you can habitually observe to be in operation today. It’s also the same methodology that gave us many of our scientific principles, theories and laws.”

    By the way, Perry, that video got me thinking. Neo_Darwinists seem to often resort to the tactic of changing the definition of what the DNA code is. Eg. “Yes, it’s a language, but a programming language, not a communicational language.”, or “No, it’s not language. It’s just information.”, or “It’s not information, it’s just a code.”, etc. That suggested to me that, besides a scientific proof, there may be a purely logical argument against their claims. In other words, whatever term they choose to define DNA (language, information, code, instructions, etc), there seems to be something that all these concepts have in common, and that applies to DNA. I think it has to do with the ability for symbolic representation of things and a mechanism/process to do that, in other words semiosis. So, if they accept that semiosis happens in DNA, then the next questions is: What are the defining traits of intelligence, or an intelligent being? Can we say that to be intelligent implies, by definition, possessing semiosis? If so, then a claim that “Semiosis in DNA is NOT caused by an intelligent agent” would be logically false because “intelligent”, by definition, means semiosis.

    • Rasheed, you are exactly right on all of this. This is why I painstakingly defined the prize specification at to require a naturally occurring communication system with two layers of symbols.

      The point of demarcation is the existence of symbolic relationships. In order to have natural selection you have to have replication. In order to have replication you have to have code. In order to have code you have to have symbolic relationships.

      And in order to have symbolic relationships you need either 1) intelligence or 2) an undiscovered law of physics.

      That’s what the $5 million prize is for.

      I’m not lobbying for God or for an intelligent designer. I’m hunting for an answer and demanding that people tell the TRUTH.

      If you don’t know, then you have to say you don’t know from now on. No more just-so stories about warm ponds and lucky lightning strikes and happy chemical accidents. As my friend Ari Galper says, “Get to the truth, not the sale.”

      • rasheed larney says:

        “I’m not lobbying for God or for an intelligent designer. I’m hunting for an answer and demanding that people tell the TRUTH.”
        I find such an attitude to be rare, but I agree 100%. I’m muslim but I think that having your personal beliefs cloud your judgement in the pursuit of truth is ANTI-rational, intolerant and pointless. It honestly amazes me that some people don’t realise that intellectual arrogance prevents knowledge and that to Know, you must first know that you don’t Know.

        “And in order to have symbolic relationships you need either 1) intelligence or 2) an undiscovered law of physics.”
        Personally I’m tending to think that an undiscovered law of physics can be excluded (because I’m considering that a semiotic/symbolic relationship is, by logical definition, non-physical and intelligence driven), but I think you’re right to include it as an option.

        I want to thank you because I’ve learned a lot from your content, including the idea that the origin of DNA represents a singularity that we may never be able to cross, but that doesn’t mean that there will be nothing more to be gained from studying it. This makes me think that there are other singularities as well, the origin of knowledge (in the epistemology), the origin of language (symbolic representation), etc.

        Incidentally, I’ve posted another comment on Mr. Know-it-all’s video:
        “You claim that the definitions are
        1. Communicational Language is a method of communication in which intended information is conveyed from one entity or group to another through the use of mutually understood signs and semiotic rules).
        2. Programming Language is a set of rules that instruct elements on how to function and behave.

        If the point of your distinction is that in communicational language something is conveyed from one intelligent mind to another, and that this doesn’t happen in DNA, then your point is debatable but, more importantly, irrelevant. Nobody is claiming, for example, that instructions for making a protein is being conveyed from intelligent base pairs to an intelligent ribosome.

        But if that is not the point of your distinction then you’ve failed to clarify what the distinction is. What you seem too eager to ignore is that your “communicational language” and “programming language” have something important in common, and that is semiosis. Semiosis: a form of activity, conduct, or process that involves signs or symbols as representations of things, and it includes the production of meaning. In “communicational language” the word “cat”, for example, is a symbolic representation of a cat. In “programming language” the binary code 01000001, for example, is a symbolic representation of the letter ‘A’. There are no physical laws that determine that the the specific sequence of letters C, A, T must represent a cat, or that the specific sequence of digits 01000001 should represent ‘A’. In both cases they are arbitrarily determined by design of an intelligent mind. Thus, there is NO pertinent distinction between “communicational language” and “programming language”. Moreover, a semiotic process requires, by definition, a creative intelligence to define which symbols will be the representations, and what they will represent.

        So, the argument (which you’ve completely missed) is that there is a semiotic process in DNA. Feel free to consult a DNA Codon Table or Standard Genetic Code. The codon GTC, for example, is NOT the amino acid, valine. GTC is a symbolic representation of the amino acid, valine.

        If you disagree that there is semiosis in DNA then you’ll need to take that up with Francis Crick, all relevant scientific literature, and probably the entire scientific community. However, if you agree that there is a semiotic process in DNA then you have to accept that, by definition, intelligence was (or is) involved in the origin of that process.”

        • Good. Bingo. Don’t budge an inch. Hold your ground. And hold THEIR feet to the fire. Put THEM on the defensive. You can and it will work very well if you keep pressing.

          By the way it always helps if you keep your opponent’s options open. There are 5 possible explanations:

          1. Humans went back in time and designed DNA
          2. Aliens
          3. Random accident
          4. Undiscovered law of physics
          5. God

          1 is absurd, 2 only kicks the can further down the road, 3 is ANTI-science, so the only reasonable options left are 4 and 5. You’ll get quite far with 4. You can endlessly explore what it means to have a symbolic relationship and what kind of mechanisms are required, or emergent properties, or whatever. And you’ve called out the elephant in the room. Which is really all you’re obligated to do.

          All you have to do is DEMAND THAT THEY PRODUCE EVIDENCE. Keep reminding them that you are still waiting for them to produce evidence. Keep reminding them that they are believing something with no evidence to support it.

          Do not back down. EVER. This will absolutely drive them crazy.

          I’ve explored this argument for 14 years, I’ve twisted the Rubik’s cube every way it can be twisted, and you CANNOT force someone to believe in God who is violently opposed to the idea. Most of these guys have a PTSD reaction to the idea of God and most of them also have some horrible religious abuse story that they won’t openly talk about.

          But what you can do is eventually force them to admit what they do not know. That’s all anyone could ever expect you to do.

  3. rasheed larney says:

    Ok, I see the point now about giving them options.Yes, that does make sense.

    Thirty years ago I had an atheist friend with anti-authoritarian tendencies, and we could debate endlessly, even heatedly, about God but he always made an effort to understand my point and I never felt disrespected. The problem I have with these “rational” people is that they have a sense of entitlement because they think science gives them that, and that everyone who disagrees must be a dumb “creationist”, “islamist”, “godist”, etc.

    I’m absorbing your post and comments on Godel’s Theorem. If you haven’t already, I think you’d enjoy David Bohm’s “Wholeness and the Implicate Order” as well as “Causality and Chance in Modern Physics”.

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