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Purpose indicates design (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Purpose indicates design (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.

Claim CI120:

A purpose for an object indicates that the object is designed.

Source: Paley, William, 1802. Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. London: J. Faulder, p. 2.

CreationWiki response: (Talk.Origins quotes in blue)

1. When somebody designs something, he or she usually has a purpose for it, but the purpose is that of the designer, not the object designed. For example, people have a purpose for windows and airbags in automobiles, but the automobile itself has no such purpose. When the purpose argument is applied to life, though, the designer is intentionally left entirely unknowable, and thus the purpose of the designer is not part of the picture. We know only the object's purpose for part of the object, which is not relevant unless you want to claim that the object designed itself.

Talk Origins is trying to confuse the issue. Purpose touches on teleology, which is an article very helpful to this discussion. Here, the claim writer is confusing the purpose (intended result) of the original designer and the purpose of the user. It is incorrect to say that the automobile as a whole has no purpose since the designers had many intended results in mind in making an automobile such as transportation, beauty and sales. But that original purpose may not match the purposes of the buyer. After all, the purpose of the designer and the purpose of the user may be different.

It is incorrect to say that in life the designer is left entirely unknowable. Certainly a designer is at least partly knowable through the results of his design. Our recognition of the way functional objects are combined give us some understanding of the purposes of the designer. Leather seats and padded dashboards lead us to think that the designer was concerned with the user's comfort. If we believe we recognize some of the intended results of the designer, we can say we have some knowledge of the designer. The claim writer may be guilty of begging the question since the possibility of knowing the designer is the whole point of Paley's argument. He believed that finding a watch on a path led us to infer a watch maker.

In any case, some body parts, even parts of single cells, have unique functions and it is these functions that the claim calls purposeful.

  • Fins propel organisms through water.
  • Wings are used for flight.
  • The human hand is designed for gripping.
  • Hearts pump blood.
  • Lungs take in air.

2. To the extent that traits of living things have a purpose, that purpose, ultimately, is the reproductive success of the organism's genes. Such purpose is entirely consistent with evolution.

This is a purely Evolutionary and atheistic line of thought. Only in an Evolutionary and atheistic world view would reproduction be seen as the ultimate purposes of an organism. If God created and designed life on Earth, then all life serves a purpose beyond reproducing. According to the Bible that ultimate purpose is to glorify God.

3. It is not uncommon for undesigned objects to have a purpose. The North Star, for example, has a purpose in navigation, but it got that purpose entirely through the chance of its being in a certain spot.

This presupposes that the North Star is not where it is by design.

This is an interesting issue, though, because there was a recent paper from physicists that refers to how precisely the Solar System itself is located within the Milky Way Galaxy, in terms of its support for life on Earth, with several reasons given.

Even with designed things, it is common for purposes to come and go. The same object can have different purposes at different times or even multiple purposes at the same time. It will gain and lose its purposes as conditions change.

While this does happen, it does not change the fact that all designed things have an original purpose.

4. Some life forms have no apparent purpose. There have been species in isolated caves discovered quite by chance (Decu et al. 1994). Very likely, there have been species similarly isolated that were never discovered.

Some parts of life forms also appear to have no purpose: junk DNA, for example.

The fact that we do not know the purpose of a life form; or of a part of it, does not mean that it lacks one. Even if it currently lacks a purpose, it probably just means that it has lost its purpose not that it never had one. The fact is that most life forms and their parts do have a purpose, and this is not changed by some losing theirs.

Life also exists at cross-purposes. A bobcat's purpose for a rabbit is likely to be quite different from the rabbit's purpose.

This is irrelevant to the purpose intended by the designer.