Jacques Maritain Center : Natural Theology / by Bernard Boedder, S.J.

SECTION 3. -- The Argument from Design.

Thesis IV. -- The manifold and beautiful order of nature is the work of a designing mind of vast intelligence; and must be ultimately explained by the existence of a personal God.

39. The argument from Design is built upon the fact that material things do constantly and in a most complex way group themselves together into well-ordered wholes and systems. This fact cannot be explained sufficiently otherwise than by admitting an Intelligence presiding over nature's works, designing and adapting means to ends with foreknowledge of eventual results. That the Intelligence we speak of is self-existent, we cannot directly prove by this argument. We shall have to supplement the deficiency in this regard by the argument of a First Cause. Yet considered apart from it, the argument from Design is in itself a striking refutation of materialism, whether in the shape of a fortuitous mechanical concurrence of atoms, or in the monist's mystic vision of the undifferentiated developing into the differentiated and individualized.

40. The order which prevails throughout the visible world has excited the attention of thinkers from the very dawn of Philosophy. According to Cicero,{11} Thales, the leader of the Ionian school, held God to be that Intelligence which out of water forms all beings. Anaxagoras{12} believed likewise in a Superior Reason pervading the whole of nature. Plato{13} attributed the harmonious order of celestial and terrestrial bodies to a designing mind; and Aristotle, at the end of the twelfth book of his Metaphysics, concludes from the unity of the order in the physical world to the unity of its Ruler. The same argument was treated more fully by the Stoics, a fine specimen of whose reasoning is preserved by Cicero in the second book of the De natura Deorum.{14}

To say nothing of scholastic philosophers,{15} Bacon{16} held it for absolutely certain, that the attributes of God, and particularly His wisdom and His ruling providence, are traceable in creation. Leibnitz{17} expressed it as his persuasion, that the material elements of the world, considered in themselves, are capable of quite another order than that by which they actually are connected; whence he concludes that the realization of this one order out of many possible orders must be attributed to the determining mind of God. Kepler's reverence for the Author of Nature is well known. Newton concludes his Scholia with a scholion generale in praise of the Creator, whose infinite wisdom in arranging the solar system had struck him with admiration. "This most elegant contrivance, consisting of the sun, planets, and comets," he says, "could not originate but by the design and power of an intelligent Being." What this great astronomer saw so clearly, the great biologist of modern time, Charles Darwin,{18} felt instinctively and "with overpowering force," although he did not care to draw the conclusion suggested to common-sense by his own observations. Let us add here that although John Stuart Mill doubted whether the Darwinian principle of the "survival of the fittest" be not able "to account for such truly admirable combinations as some of those in nature," he was nevertheless of opinion, "that it must be allowed that in the present state of our knowledge, the adaptations in nature afford a large balance of probability in favour of creation by intelligence."{19}

Of far more weight, however, than Mill's timid admission of a large balance of probability, is the firm conviction of many of the best scientific men of our own century, that it is absolutely impossible io explain the adaptations we meet with in all departments of nature, otherwise but by intelligence and design. St. George Mivart tells us that the cause of the phenomenal universe "must be orderly and intelligent, as the first and absolute cause of an orderly series of phenomena which reveals to us an objective intelligence in the bee and the ant, which is not that of the animals themselves, and which harmonizes with and is recognized by our own intellects."{20} Dr. W. B. Carpenter, after having given us in his Vegetable Physiology a highly interesting chapter on the Secretions of Plants,{21} pauses to contemplate with his readers. "the important inferences which may be drawn from the foregoing details, in regard to the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of the Almighty Designer."{22}

With the two great biologists just mentioned, A. R. Wallace, in the work already quoted abover agrees at least to a certain extent. According to him, the "three distinct stages of progress from the inorganic world of matter and motion up to man, point clearly to an unseen universe -- to a world of spirit, to which the world of matter is altogether subordinate."{23}

No less pronounced statements in favour of the existence of an intelligent arranger of the universe, came from other quarters of modern science. "Overpowering proofs of intelligence and benevolent design," said Sir William Thomson some years ago,{24} "lie around us, showing to us through nature the influence of a free-will, and teaching us that all living beings depend upon one ever-acting Creator and Ruler." Two years later, Sir William Siemens repeated the same judgment in these words: "We find that all knowledge must lead up to one great result, that of an intelligent recognition of the Creator through His works."{25}

At the same conclusion which English scientists drew from the order of nature, the French astronomer, Faye, in his work Sur l'origine du monde (Paris, 1884), arrived from the consideration of the human mind. After having stated that human intelligence must owe its origin to an intelligence higher than human, he thus continues: "Plus l'idée qu'on se fera de cette intelligence supreme sera grande, plus elle approchera de la vérité."{26}

But what seems to us the best extrinsic evidence of the great strength of the argument from design, is the fact that such a judge of the value of arguments as Kant thinks it a blameable imprudence not to conclude from the order of nature to an intelligent designer. "This proof," he says,{27} "will always deserve to be treated with respect. It is the oldest, the clearest, and most in conformity with human reason. It gives life to the study of nature, deriving its own existence from it, and thus constantly acquiring new vigour. It reveals aims and intentions, where our own observation would not by itself have discovered them, and enlarges our knowledge of nature by leading us towards that peculiar unity, the principle of which exists outside nature. This knowledge reacts again on its cause, namely, the transcendental idea, and thus increases the belief in a Supreme Author to an irresistible conviction. It would therefore be not only extremely sad, but utterly vain, to attempt to diminish the authority of this proof. Reason, constantly strengthened by the powerful arguments that come to hand of themselves, though they are no doubt empirical only, cannot be discouraged by any doubts of subtle and abstract speculation. Roused from all curious speculation and mental suspense, as from a dream, by one glance at the wonders of nature and the majesty of the cosmos, reason soars from height to height till it reaches the highest, from the conditioned to conditions, till it reaches the supreme and unconditioned Author of all." Later on,{28} Kant refers to the objection that we must not argue from the need of foresight in human workmanship to a similar need in nature. His answer is: "We cannot do better than follow the analogy of these products of human design, which are the only ones of which we know completely both cause and effect. There would be no excuse, if reason were to surrender a causality which it knows, and have recourse to obscure and indemonstrable principles of explanation, which it does not know."{29}

It is true that Kant, while granting thus much, has nevertheless some speculative difficulties against the argument from Design. We shall treat of these later. For the present we are satisfied with knowing that one of the most acute leaders of modern thought, forced by the voice of reason, bears testimony to the great truth that "the heavens show forth the glory of the Lord,"{30} that "by the greatness of the beauty and of the creature, the Creator of them may be seen so as to be known thereby,"{31} and that "the unknown God"{32} "left not Himself without testimony, doing good from Heaven, giving rains and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness."{33}

We now proceed from authority to argument.

41. Order is the adaptation of diverse things to one definite result. Order of simple coexistences is called statical; order of motions and activities is called dynamical. Thus for instance, in a well-arranged library we have statical order, in machinery not only statical, but also dynamical. These definitions supposed, it cannot be doubted that the visible universe in all its parts bears marks of a most varied and beautiful order. Darwin was so struck by this complex final order, that he did not hesitate to pronounce "nature's productions far truer in character than man's productions;" and to maintain that they are "infinitely better adapted to the most complex conditions of life, and plainly bear the stamp of far higher workmanship."{34}

Any good popular treatise on astronomy and physiology will serve as a rich source of illustrations bearing on the truth of these statements, nor is there any one who will be foolish enough to dispute them. It must, however, be carefully noted, that we do not as yet affirm that everything in this world is well-ordered, nor do we say that there is a universal combination of things for the fulfilment of one common purpose. Were we to claim all this, we should indeed be claiming only what, if rightly understood, is most true. But so far-reaching a proposition is not necessary for the argument from Design, nor would it be sufficiently warranted until we have carried our inquiry further.

42. Confining, therefore, our attention to those manifestations of order which are obvious to every one who cares for the study of the workings of nature, we ask: How did these orderly arrangements, their harmony, beauty, and usefulness, come to be? May we suppose, with Epicurus, that they are the effect of chance? in other words, that they are owing to an accidental concurrence of atoms, moving in infinite space, and meeting one another in such a way as to form, after many failures, various kinds of inanimate and animate bodies? Such an hypothesis would be not only inadequate to account for the laws and results of chemical combinations, and for the origin of life; it would be intrinsically absurd, conflicting with the universality of the Principle of Causation, inasmuch as this fortuitous concurrence would be an uncaused concurrence.{35} There must then have been a cause of the formation of the heavenly orbs and their arrangement in systems: a cause again which, on our earth, grouped together the elements into organized structures, moving, growing, repairing themselves, and reproducing their kind according to definite laws. Where shall we find this cause? It must either be inherent in the elements of matter, or it must be something outside these. If it is outside matter, it can only be a mind, understanding and designing the order of matter. But will not the inherent forces of matter suffice to explain this complex order? Let us see.

43. In the first place, the inherent forces of matter cannot be appealed to as the cause of the order prevailing in the inorganic world. We know that material elements produce different effects according to their different collocations in regard to one another.{36} Consequently, each effect is the natural outcome of a previous disposition of the parts of matter. This being so, every orderly effect is due to a pre-arrangement of particles suitable to the production of such an effect. That is, the order which is worked out by the elements of matter, presupposes order in the combination of the working elements. Thus the question of order in the world of inanimate matter is thrown back to the origin of that combination of elements which generated order.

Nor do we escape the necessity of seeking a cause external to the combinations themselves, by pleading the possibility of an eternal series of combinations. In the first place, eternal succession is a self-contradictory conception. Succession implies links of a series, it is constituted by the continuous addition of link to link. Now links added to one another are always numerable. Links of a series must always be in some number, however immense the number may be. But to be in some number, is to be finite: for every number is made up of finite unities. Thus eternal succession would be essentially finite, because it was succession, and yet infinite because eternal. In the second place, even if eternal succession were possible, it would furnish no explanation of the phenomenon of orderly combination which the world exhibits: any more than infinite extension of a chain hung in air would supply the want of supports for it. Consequently, although we have nothing to say against the assumption made by astronomers, that our cosmic system resulted from the condensation and division of a primitive rotating nebula; yet we cannot admit this nebula, without observing that there must have been a first arrangement of the material elements which constituted it, one which already contained in germ the present system, or else the said system could never have resulted from it. Now this first arrangement was neither the effect of the forces of matter, nor was it essential to matter. Had it been the effect of material forces, it could not possibly have been the first disposition of matter, but was rather the effect of a preceding disposition of the elements. Again, had it belonged essentially to matter, it could not have yielded to another disposition so long as matter existed, and thus the present cosmic system could never have been formed. Therefore, if we would explain the origin of that system without violation of reason, we are forced to say that its first beginning, nebular or otherwise, is due to an intelligent cause.{37}

44. If the forces of matter are inadequate to explain the order of the inorganic world, much less can they account for the existence of life and the orderly relations which exist between animate and inanimate beings.

Whence comes the adaptation of inanimate nature to the support of life? The natural tendency of brute matter cannot explain it. The relation of brute matter to life is accidental to its nature. Whence then did the relation originate? No satisfactory answer to this question can be given except this that an Intelligent Ruler of this world arranged the material elements of which the universe is built up in such a way that they gradually became adapted to the service of living beings whose existence he intended and foresaw. This answer must be insisted upon all the more from the fact that man, the most noble being on earth, finds it rich with an innumerable multitude of things accommodated to his bodily and mental wants. As we have proved before (§ 32, seq.), the soul of man is not the outgrowth of matter, but the work of an intelligent Creator only. No evolution of matter, of plants, and of animals, could culminate in the existence of man, composed of a human soul and a human body; and yet matter and life inferior to man, conspire to furnish him what he needs for the maintenance of his body, and to help him in the cultivation of his intellect. Certainly no reasonable explanation of this great fact can be given but by recurring to an intelligent mind, superior to man and the irrational world, which arranged the latter, ere man was created, with a view to prepare him a fit dwelIing-place.{38}

45. We have then seen hitherto that the adaptations to one another which connect the various groups of beings in the macrocosm of the universe must be attributed to a Designing Mind. The same conclusion we arrive at by pondering the order prevailing in the microcosm of each living organism, from the tiniest unicellular plant up to the most highly organized animal. Just as in scientific inquiry, the further that it proceeds, the more it becomes evident that brute matter by its own forces alone never developes into organized living structures; so, when we look at the subject from a metaphysical point of view, we are forced to maintain that the vast differences which separate the natural tendencies of living bodies from those of lifeless matter, are a sufficient evidence of the impossibility of a natural evolution of the latter into any species of the former. And with this conclusion coincides the verdict of scientific experience. Mr. St. George Mivart speaks on this point with authority. He says:

"That there is an absolute break between the living world and the world devoid of life, is what scientific men are now agreed about -- thanks to the persevering labours of M. Pasteur. Those who affirm that though life does not arise from inorganic matter now, nevertheless it did so 'a long time ago,' affirm what is at the least contrary to all the evidence we possess, and they bring forward nothing more in favour of it than the undoubted fact that it is a supposition which is necessary for the validity of their own speculative views. There is, then, one plain evidence that there has been an interruption of continuity, if not within the range of organic life, yet at its commencement and origin. But we go further than this, and affirm, without a moment's hesitation, that there has, and must necessarily have been, discontinuity within the range of organic life also. We refer to the discontinuity between organisms which are capable of sensation and those which do not possess the power of feeling. That all the higher animals 'feel' will not be disputed. They give all the external signs of sensitivity, and they possess that special organic structure -- a nervous system -- which we know supplies all our organs of sensation. In the absence of any bodily mutilation, then, we have no reason to suspect that their nervous system and organs of sense do not act in a manner analogous to our own. On the other hand, to affirm that the familiar vegetables of our kitchen-gardens are all endowed with sensitivity, is not only to make a gratuitous affirmation, but one opposed to evidence, since no vegetable organisms possess a nervous system, and it is a universally admitted biological law, that structure and functions go together. If, then, there are any organisms whatever, which do not feel, while certain other organisms do feel (as a door must be shut or open), there is, and must be, a break and distinction between one set and the other."{39}

What then was it which gave birth to organic life? To say, it had no beginning, but that from eternity there existed one or several series of living organisms, would involve the postulate of succession without beginning, which we have proved to be self-contradictory. (§ 43.) But, if organic life can neither be considered as an effect of the forces of dead matter, nor have the source of its own existence within itself, we cannot reasonably explain its origin except by admitting that an intelligent Being, ruling over the matter of our earth, first put into it the germ of life, although we are not able to point out when, and in what way, this influence was exercised. Hence, the countless living organisms that people our globe are the realizations of ideas conceived by an immaterial superhuman Intelligence. This Intelligence drew the plans on which they are built, foresaw the stages of evolution, through which they run with so astonishing a regularity, furnished them with a multitude of skilfully-contrived organs, and adapted their whole structure to the environment in which they are placed.

46. That the Ruler in whose mind the order of the world originated is a self-existing intelligence, and consequently a personal God, does not follow immediately from the fact that the order of the world must be the work of a superhuman Intelligence. What does, however, follow immediately is, that the Intelligence which rules the physical world is so vast, that no human understanding and wisdom can be compared with it. For many ages the cleverest of men have been occupied in studying the relations that exist between the different parts of living beings, and between these parts and their functions, and yet there is no man who understands completely the mysteries hidden even in one living cell. Far indeed then above human comprehension must be the excellence of that Mind whose ideas were the models after which the universe was fashioned, with its wealth of marvels and complexity of order.

If, however, we would show that the order of the world is due, not only to an Intelligence far exceeding all intelligence of man, but ultimately to a self-existent Intelligence -- in other words, to a personal God, we must go back to the argument of the First Cause. Either the intelligent mind who designed the order of our world is dependent upon a series of other minds without beginning, or it depends upon a first mind, or it is itself the first mind. The first alternative is absurd, because it implies a series of causes produced without a self-existent cause to produce them (§ 38); therefore either the second or the third must be admitted. But this is equivalent to an admission that the order of the world depends upon an intelligent, self-existent cause; for the cause of the cause of order must also, at least mediately, be the cause of order itself.{40}

{11} De Nature Deorum, i. 10. Cf. Aristot. De Anima, i. 5.

{12} Cf. Stöckl, Geschichte der Philosophie, p. 51; Ueberweg, History of Philosophy, i. p. 63.

{13} Philebus, pp. 30 b, seq.

{14} Cf. especially the beautiful illustrations in c. xxxiv. and c. xxxvii.

{15} Cf. St. Thomas, Sum. Theol. I. q. 2. a. 3. c. "Quinta via."

{16} Bacon de Verulam, De dignitate et augmentis Scientiarum, Lib. III. c. ii. pp. 207, seq. Cf. Stöckl, Geschichte der neuern Phil. I. p. 21.

{17} Leibnitz, Opera (Edit. Erdm.) p. 506.

{18} Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, by F. Darwin, Vol. I. p. 336, note.

{19} Three Essays on Religion, pp. 172, 174.

{20} Lessons from Nature, p. 358.

{21} Vegetable Physiology, c. x.

{22} Op. cit. n. 404, pp. 258, 259 in First Edition.

{23} Cf. Exposition of the Theory of Natural Selection, pp. 475, 476.

{24} Presidential Address, 1882.

{25} See also statements made by Professor Stokes, Professors Stuart and Tait, and Sir John Herschell, in The Month of January, 1889, pp. 39, seq., in "The New Genesis," a criticism of E. Clodd's Story of Creation, by Rev. John Gerard.

{26} Op. Cit. 9. 114.

{27} Critique of Pure Reason (Translated by M. Müller), ii. p. 535.

{28} P. 537. {29} p. 538.

{30} Psalm xviii. 1.

{31} Wisdom xiii. 5.

{32} Acts xvii. 23.

{33} Acts xiv. 16.

{34} Origin of Species, c. iv. p. 65.

{35} On this point not only all sound metaphysicians, but also all true scientists, are at one. "The one act of faith in the convert to science," says Professor Huxley, "is the universality of order, and of the absolute validity, in all times and under all circumstances, of the law of causation. This confession is an act of faith, because, by the nature of the case, the truth of such propositions is not susceptible of proof. But such faith is not blind, but reasonable, because it is invariably confirmed by experience, and constitutes the sole trustworthy foundation for all action." Then picturing, for illustration's sake, the raging sea, he thus continues: "The man of science knows that here, as everywhere, perfect order is manifested; that there is not a curve of the waves, not a note in the howling chorus, not a rainbow glint on a bubble, which is other than a necessary consequence of the ascertained laws of nature, and that with a sufficient knowledge of the conditions, competent physico-mathematical skill could account for and indeed predict every one of these 'chance' events." (Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, by F. Darwin, Vol. II. c. 5, written by Professor Huxley, p. 200.) We agree fully with all of this, inasmuch as it implies that nothing happens without a proportionate cause, and that consequently an accidental concurrence of causes is nonsense.

{36} "The last great generalization of science, the ConservatiOn of Force, teaches us that the variety in the effects depends partly upon the amount of force, and partly upon the diversity of the collocation." (Mill, Three Essays on Religion, p. 145. Third Edit.)

{37} Professor Huxley supports our conclusion, when in defence of Darwin's Origin of Species he writes: "The teleological and the mechanical views of nature are not, necessarily, mutually exclusive. On the contrary, the more purely a mechanist the speculator is, the more firmly does he assume a primordial molecular arrangement of which all the phenomena of the universe are the consequences, and the more completely is he thereby at the mercy of the teleologist, who can always defy him to disprove that this primordial molecular arrangement was not intended to evolve the phenomena of the universe." (Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, by F. Darwin, Vol. II. pp. 201, 202, in Professor Huxley's chapter on "Reception of The Origin of Species.")

{38} "A successively increasing purpose," says St. George Mivart, "runs through the irrational creation up to man. All the lower Creatures have ministered to him, and have, as a fact, prepared the way for his existence. Therefore, whatever ends they also serve, they exist especially for him." (On Truth, p. 495.)

{39} Origin of Human Reason, pp. 10, 11.

{40} On the argument from Design, cf. Janet, Final Causes. Translated into English by William Affleck. B.D. Second Edition. Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1883.

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