Friday, August 28, 2009

Argument from the Existence of Human Intelligence

This continues the series of weekly posts dealing with some basic theistic arguments. The purpose here is to introduce the reader to the idea behind each argument. Strengths and weaknesses will be presented after each summary. These are only summaries and springboards for further study in the theistic arguments. See Reason for the Hope Within for more.

An Argument from the Existence of Human Intelligence

While it is possible for complex effects to arise by accident, it is much more likely that an effect is the result of a suitably complex cause, and that specific organization in an effect depends upon at least an equal measure of organization in the cause. Human intelligence is a clear case of highly specific organization. Thus it is much more likely that the ultimate cause of human intelligence is itself at least as intelligent as the most intelligent human; and it is much less likely that the ultimate cause of human intelligence is the impersonal, unintelligent universe itself.

Greatest Strength: It is hard to believe that human intelligence is a cosmic accident; and experience tells us that organized effects result from organized (intelligent) causes.

Greatest Weakness: Many people think that Darwinian naturalism provides a mechanism for generating complex order without the need for a single, highly ordered cause.1

1 William C. Davis, Reason for the Hope Within (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1999), p. 27.


4 Comments

  1. J. K. Jones August 31, 2009

    Good post.

  2. Jonathan West September 3, 2009

    While it is possible for complex effects to arise by accident, it is much more likely that an effect is the result of a suitably complex cause, and that specific organization in an effect depends upon at least an equal measure of organization in the cause.

    If "it is possible for complex effects to arise by accident" in order to justify a complex cause as the explanation for human intelligence, you have to explain why a simple cause (such as evolution) is impossible in this specific case. Merely asserting this without evidence doesn't cut it.

    Unless you are dealing with statistical data, you aren't able to make any assessment of probability. When dealing with an effect of unknown cause, the only possible approach to finding out is to gather more evidence.

  3. Brian September 3, 2009

    Thanks for stopping by again, Jonathan.

    Interesting comments. But I have some questions, if you don't mind me asking.

    Why does evolution need to be proved impossible in this case? Wasn't it just granted as "possible"?

    Why can't I someone do probability assessments without statistics?
    Also, are you saying that we don't know the cause of human intelligence?

  4. Jonathan West September 16, 2009

    Brian
    Why does evolution need to be proved impossible in this case?
    If you are going to claim that evolution could have brought about life, but couldn't plausibly have brought about human intelligence, then it is necessary to explain the specific boundary between the degree of complexity that can be explained by evolution and the degree of complexity that cannot. Merely stating the existence of a boundary and not saying where it is and how it operates isn't an argument, but merely an assertion. An argument is a line of reasoning which connects facts to conclusions. That isn't provided here unless you are able to explain this boundary.

    If you are going to claim that evolution itself is implausible, then you are engaged in a much more general teleological argument than the argument specifically from human intelligence.

    Also, to make the argument from the existence of human intelligence, it isn't enough simply to assert (or even to argue) that an evolutionary or other naturalistic route is implausible, you must also explain the complex entity that you posit as the designer for human intelligence. If human intelligence is too implausible to have come about by natural process, even greater and more complex divine intelligence correspondingly more inexplicable and therefore in need of an even more complex meta-designer.

    But if there is a means by which we can explain the divine intelligence without recourse to a meta-designer, then the same explanation (whatever it might turn out to be) will surely also do for the lesser problem of merely human intelligence.

    Why can't I someone do probability assessments without statistics?
    I've covered that in sufficient detail in the Swinburne thread.

    Also, are you saying that we don't know the cause of human intelligence?
    As far as the details go, yes. It's good science when you don't know something to say you don't know, and not to make up answers. We have a generalised mechanism (Darwinian evolution) which explains it in principle, but as for the precise evolutionary pathways that were taken in order to reach the human brain as it is now, and the human mind as it exists as a property of the brain – that is still unknown.