Criticism of Contemporary Purposive Arguments for the Existence of God
Prof. J.J.C. (Jack) Smart

Notes by John L Perkins on Atheist Society lecture given on 13 December 2005
A transcript from Prof Smart is unavailable. Other comments welcome.

Professor Smart's talk was directed at criticising the teleological or purposive arguments for the existence of god, which relates to the topical question of intelligent design. He referred to the fact that the way this whole subject has arisen again was an intrusion of pop psychology. He said that Darwinism plus genetics has effectively solved the problem of so called intelligent design.

Professor Smart then proceeded to recount a range of philosophical arguments about the supposed gods existence and nature. He raised an argument to do with Bayesian probability that particularly interested me because I used to teach this kind of stuff. It was to do with the fact that if something unusual is observed to happen, then according to Bayes formula, it raises the probability of some other related contingency. I struggled to work out how it fitted in to his argument. I think it must have been that a prioiri, it might be considered unlikely that we could be here, but that seeing we are here, it is therefore in fact not unlikely at all.

After the talk there was a comment from the audience that there had been no progress in the field of philosophy for more than a century. I did initially have some sympathy with this comment, as philosophers do seem to me to always try to make something complicated out of something that is quite simple. Anyway, the comment spurred Prof Smart into action, and he gave a spirited and effective defence of philosophy listing whole areas where enormous progress has been made. The talk thus concluded with some interesting discussion.


Atheist Society Home