Written by Jason Petersen
The puddle analogy is an analogy that was developed by an atheist named Douglas Adams as a response to the Teleological Argument. Teleological arguments are arguments concerning the fine tuning of the universe or other thing such as the complexity of living organisms. The puddle analogy is mostly rhetorical. Inductive rhetorical arguments tend to be very ineffective against deductive arguments such as the Teleological Argument
Douglas Adams wrote:
“Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, “This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!” This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.”
Now, the puddle analogy was developed to show what Douglas saw as a short coming of the Teleological Argument. It is more of a satirical and rhetorical analogy so to speak. Unfortunately for atheists, the analogy falls woefully short of doing any damage to the teleological argument. I am going to briefly lay out some of the issues with the argument.
What is complexity? It is quite common for people to conflate(confuse) the word “complex” with “complicated.” Complexity involves something that has multiple interrelated parts. The point of the Teleological Argument is to show how the probability of the 30+ constants that are independent of the laws of nature falling into the range that allow for life to exist is not only implausible, but rather, statistically impossible. If any of these 30+ constants were off, life would not be able to exist. The puddle analogy, of course, does not address the specific complexity that we speak of concerning The Teleological Argument.
Lack of Good Reasons to Accept the Desired Implication of the Analogy
If one were to claim that the universe was not fine tuned for the existence of life, they ought to be able to give us some good reasons for thinking that the universe is not fine tuned for the existence of life. Alas, no reasons are given in the puddle analogy. Atheists will just say “Humans think the same thing as the puddle does in the analogy and it’s rather silly.” But why? What good reasons are there to think that it is silly? Just claiming it is silly and trying to hand wave all of the evidence that the universe is fine tuned for life is not going to be enough to convince anyone that the thought is silly. There are better, more concrete reasons to accept that the universe is fine tuned for the existence of life than to accept that it isn’t fine tuned for the existence of life. False bravado gets the atheist nowhere!
We just talked about specific complexity. Read the analogy again and notice that the puddle analogy fails to address specific complexity. Rather, all it does is appeal to the naturalistic presupposition that “it just so happens that life is able to exist because the constants are where they should be to permit life.” In short, they just state their opinion, however, opinions are not evidence; they are conjecture.
Further, the analogy is weak. The hole symbolizes the universe and the puddle symbolizes humanity. However, the hole does not have specified complexity in the instance of this analogy. Further, there is no evidence given that the universe is anything like the puddle other than a mere assertion of “the universe/puddle can support life/water because that is just the way it is. An unbeliver would never let a Christian assert something without basis, therefore, we have no reason to allow them to assert such a argument without proof.
Besides some of the other reasons I mentioned, this will be the one that really decimates the puddle analogy. The Teleological Argument is a DEDUCTIVE argument. This means that if all of the premises are true, the conclusion follows logically and necessarily. The puddle analogy does nothing to refute any of the premises of the Teleological Argument. Thus, the analogy effectively fails to address it.
As we have seen in this article, the problems with the analogy can be summed up as follows:
1. The analogy fails to address specified complexity.
2. The analogy fails to provide any good reasons to believe the universe is not fine tuned for life.
3. The analogy to fails to address The Teleological Argument, period.
4. The analogy does not even attempt to refute any of the premises of the Teleological Argument. Because all of the premises in The Teleological Argument are true, the conclusion follows. Thus, The Teleological Argument still stands.