Philosophy – Teleological/Design Argument

Hey, this is a super-duper long post on the Teleological Argument, otherwise known as the Design Argument. It literally is a big argument within philosophy as to if the world was created by a God. I’ve put this in chronological order of the philosophers that I studied, there are hundreds of other people you could learn about of course.

A good way I remembered who the philosopher are, if you need to or just feel like it, is SAPTB (like ‘sap-t-b’) for the philosophers for the Teleological Argument (Swinburne, Aquinas, Paley, Tennant and Behe), and HMDD (like the shop, with an added ‘D’) for those against (Hume, Mill, Dawkins and Darwin). I know it’s a little silly and the words aren’t really words, per say, but they worked up until now, and I honestly remembered those acronyms and the names off of the top of my head, and I’m dyslexic (very forgetful). Anyway, I hope you can get something from this, enjoy!


Teleological Argument or Design Argument

  • A priori = the proof of the statement that can’t be anything else e.g. bachelors are unmarried.
  • A posteriori = the proof of the statement relies in external evidence.

The Teleological Argument, also known as the Design Argument, is concerned with the reason why the world functions in an orderly and intelligent manner. This a posteriori argument begins with the natural world and, by use of analogy, goes on to prove the existence of God.

Aquinas: For the Teleological Argument – 13th century

About him:

  • St Tomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was born into a noble family in a small town between Naples and Rome.
  • In Summa Theologica, Aquinas records his famous five ways which seek to prove the existence of God; the fifth way is to do with the Teleological Argument.

His Ideas:

The fifth way: He used the analogy of an arrow. The reason the arrow reaches its target is that an archer directs it there. The reason objects in our world perform their job efficiently is that they were designed that way and are directed by something which does think. This proves that there is an intelligent designer behind everything in our world. That designer is God.

Furthermore, Aquinas created this premises which go along with his analogy:

  • Premise 1 = When you look at the natural world you can see that everything in it follows natural laws, even if things are not a conscious or thinking being.
  • Premise 2 = If things follow natural laws they tend to thrive and have a goal or purpose.
  • Premise 3 = However, if a thing cannot think for itself it does not have any goal or purpose unless it is directed by something that thinks.
  • Conclusion = Everything in the natural world that does not think for itself heads towards its goal or purpose because it is something which does think. That something is what we call God.
Strengths Criticisms
The premises and their conclusion is a second way of explaining his analogy in a simple, written way. The assumption that that there is a designer and that everything has a general set of laws set out by said designer.
The use of analogies makes it comprehensible, and it is a short easy one which helps in making sense of it. Uses no natural examples to support a theory that is all about natural objects having a designer/purpose.
Gives purpose and law to the universe rather than just literal nature, and gives us a meaning. Not everything that has a goal fulfils it so there may be a flaw in the design part.

Hume: Against Teleological Argument – 18th century

About him:

  • Scottish philosopher, 1711-1776
  • No one knows his religious status, suggests he’s an atheist in his work but he also seems to contradict himself.

His Idea’s:

  • Comparing God, the creator of the world, to anything on earth is not a valid analogy. The arrow by Aquinas and the rock and the watch by Paley (although it hadn’t been published when he made Hume work) would not be enough for Hume.
  • We know that machines are made by humans because we have seen it happen, but no one has seen a world being made by any being.
  • Because we live inside the world and don’t know any other worlds to compare it with, Hume thought humans were not in a position to make a valid judgement. There is nothing within the universe to which a universe can be satisfactorily compared to infer that it has an intelligent designer.
  • Hume suggests that our world with its faults may actually be a prototype. Because we live on the earth and don’t know anything else, how do we know this is an example of a perfect world? Our universe might not be the perfect product of a divine craftsman. He suggested the Epicurean Thesis as a possible explanation for the design of the universe. Epicurus put forward the idea of infinite time, in which there is a high number of particles moving about, going through every possible combination. If anyone combination happens to represent a stable order, it must occur – this would have the appearance of design. Thus, apparent design could happen at random, without the need to infer a designer.
  • Likening building the world to building a house, Hume suggested that there might be a team of builders involved, each having different skills. Who is to say there was not a team of gods involved in the construction of the universe?
  • We see disasters and suffering which might mean the designer of the universe is not a loving, personal God. However, Paley rejected this point as he was not interested in the nature of God.
Strengths Criticisms
Even if we can assume a creator there is no reason to suggest that the creator is the Christian God. Hume offers no analogy and ideas of his own, only criticisms of other people’s work.
Suggests that just because there’s order doesn’t mean God organised it. We don’t know if he is religious or not so it is difficult to know if he is bias or not.
Suggests new and critical ideas/points such as there being no proof of a God. Many ideas are outdated.

Criticisms to the Teleological Argument and Paley:

The arguments Hume has against the Teleological Argument are applicable to Paley. However, Hume was criticising the Design Argument in general – Paley had not written his book when Hume made these criticisms, but they still apply as criticisms to Paley.

  1. Empiricism is where you only believe in things you can see, hear, et cetera, i.e. learning through the senses. It leads to scepticism because you can’t sense God. It leads to naturalism because nature could be the way to prove God exists (what else could make something so complicated?).
  2. Hume believes we are a practice world that has been created – we have too many flaws to be a full God’s world. He doesn’t believe we can find the origins of the world because he believes the universe has been made infinite and will fit together right now. We surely can’t know until Fitting into place happens.
  3. Hume’s conclusions about the designer include there being more than one God, and that we are a practice world.

Paley: For Teleological Argument – 19th century

About him:

  • English philosopher and clergyman (1743-1805). Author of ‘Natural Theory’, his masterwork, arguing for philosophical knowledge of God.
  • He believed in Natural Theology rather than Revealed Theology:
    • Natural Theology is the process deriving knowledge of God from the use of natural human reason. Any appeal to general evidence, the world, and our understanding in theory is Natural Theory.
    • Revealed Theology is the process of deriving knowledge from God Himself. This could take the form of a vision or discerning God through His words in the Holy Scripture.

His ideas:

  • The Stone and the Watch: In crossing a heath, if you were to discover a stone, you could suppose that the stone had been there forever.
  • However, if you found a watch on the ground, this sort of explanation wouldn’t do because a watch is clearly an intricate piece of workmanship. Its parts are designed and put together for a purpose. They are formed and adjusted to produce motion, and that motion is regulated to point out the hour of the day. If any of the parts had been shaped differently or put together in another order the watch would not work. All the parts of the watch have been designed and assembled in the right order by a watchmaker for the purpose of keeping time.
  • Just as the watch being designed necessitates a designer to explain why it exists, so does all of nature require a much greater designer. The complexity of nature is far greater than any machine human beings can make. The whole of nature requires a grand designer. That designer is God.
  • Paley moved to the natural world and stated the same efficient design is found there. He chose the human eye as an example of a complex mechanism designed specifically for the purpose of sight and made a second analogy about the eye.
  • The Eye: As far as examination goes, there is the same proof that the eye was made for vision as the telescope was for assisting it. They are both instruments in this way and have the same principles thus meaning they were designed thing an idea of vision and what the designer wanted vision to be like.
Strengths Weaknesses
Has easy to understand analogies to support his work. He believed in ‘inference’ – the process of making conclusions from what is known or assumed to be true – meaning there are bases to his work that are not definitely true.
He doesn’t base his work off of things like the Bible that fall to the ‘Assumed truths’ category instantly, but rather uses practical things. Doesn’t look at what the Bible says, which is arguably the only place where we have Christian ‘facts’.
Paley’s claims qua purpose seem logical (the eye sees, the ear hears, etc.) Paley’s watch analogy is hugely flawed, there are more areas of problems than analogy between watch and universe. Such as, a watch is wound around the wrist, therefore the universe is?

Mill: Against the Teleological Argument – 19th century

About him:

  • 1806-1873, Mill was a child genius schooled in Latin and Greek by the age of 8. His essay ‘On Liberty’ is regarded as a philosophical classic and gives the principle of non-harm.

His ideas:

  • Mill developed Hume’s point about the imperfections in nature. He engages seriously with the problem of evil and works through the possible consequences for the Christian God.
  • Mill questioned the goodness of nature given the apparent cruelty to be found within nature. He said that ‘Nearly all the things which men are hanged or imprisoned for doing to one another, are nature’s everyday performances’. The amount of goodness in nature is far outweighed by the amount of suffering.
  • If progress comes through pain and suffering, what does that say about the nature of the designer of the universe? Mill considered the state of nature to be a reason to reject notions of design.
  • Mill felt that observations in nature doesn’t logically lead to the conclusion that it is designed for human good.
  • Mill noted that people in the past have considered gods may be both good and evil.
  • Some thinkers have argued that misery is not really evil. These answers are not convincing. Nor was he convinced that suffering and evil are permitted to make us virtuous. A good and powerful God would not resort to this.
  • However, Paley and Aquinas were concerned whether the universe exhibits signs of a designer; they were not at that point concerned with questions raised by the nature of the design, like Mill is.
Strengths Criticisms
Looks at various points of view to make critical and logical arguments. Looks at different parts of the universe, including evil, but offers no reason for evil.
Uses logic to come up with his work. He cannot make facts from nature, although he makes good points, and offers no reason for why nature is evil.
By looking at nature, he can use a real source of ‘evidence’ so to speak rather than an analogy for his work. He does not address if there is a maker of the universe, just what the maker is like, so his points are partly invalid.

Darwin: Against the Teleological Argument – 19th century

About him:

  • 1809-1882, Charles Darwin was raised in a Christian family, and trained to be a clergyman.
  • At the Galapagos’ Islands, he studies finches among other creatures, but made his work, ‘The Origin of Species’.

His ideas:

  • Darwin proposed a theory of the survival of the fittest by natural selection. The fittest, healthiest members of a species survive, and their characteristics become a part of the character of the species.
  • He travelled to the Galapagos Islands and, instead of finding proof of God, found proof of evolution. He kept the ideas secret for 20 years, even publishing a book giving God the credit, before coming out with the whole truth so that other people didn’t get there first.
  • Ten years after this and after hinting at inbreeding as well as fighting for evolution, Darwin became confident and published another addition of his book, outright saying that humans descended from apes.
  • He talked about survival of the fittest, good traits being inherited, and how animals in the wrong environments die off. It was controversial to the Church but his ideas were slowly accepted.
  • Survival of the fittest: where only the strong are able to survive and the other animals are either killed off, not looked after by the parents, or not outcasts. They are unable to or not strong enough to compete to breed and so their ‘imperfections’ are irradiated.
Strengths Criticisms
Scientific evidence found continues to support that of evolution. Doesn’t explain how the universe stared without a God/creator. Same for how life started.
His works are widely accepted and are even incorporated into religious beliefs but… … Evolution helps people to use God of the Gaps.
He had previous beliefs in God so he is not trying to justify his work in any way or manipulating things to get his way. He haven’t seen evolution in action so it is still a theory despite some evidence for it.

(Linked) Dawkins: Against the Teleological Argument – 21st century

His ideas:

  • Dawkins shows that the eye evolved in stages. The eye didn’t start out perfect, but evolved in small steps. Right now there are a lot of organisms that show the eye in different stages of evolution.
  • The human eye is described as being a few flat cells that could sense when it was light or dark, and then started to fold in to make a cupped eye, and as the cup becomes tighter and tighter, the light is more pointed in the eye and you can see where the light comes from. After this comes clearer vision, colour and sensitivity to bright light.
  • He uses an eye analogy just like Paley does, but against God.
Strengths Criticisms
The eyes evolution is happening all over the world to different creatures now, so there is some evidence to go with it. Cannot explain how the eye started or life either.

FR Tennant: For the Teleological Argument – 20th century

About him:

  • Frederick Robert Tennant, 1866-1957.
  • He was an English philosophical theology expert and a powerful supporter of the Church with a wide range of interests who wrote about science and religion with an empirical approach to theology.

His ideas:

Anthropic Principle

  • Anthropic = relating to mankind or the period of mankind’s existence.
  • This theory therefore concentrates on humanity’s existence and our physical makeup.
  • R. Tennant was one of the main supporters of the anthropic principle and developed it in his book, ‘Philosophical Theology’.
  • Science in the 20th and 21st centuries discovered that the world is as it is because of a small number of physical constants, which have determined the way it has developed. If any of them were different, even by the smallest degree, the universe would not have developed as it has – we wouldn’t even be able to contemplate the universe.
  • Physical matter gathers together in galaxies, stars and planets because of gravity. The gravity balance is perfect for us to survive.
  • Therefore, the universe has been so ‘finely tuned’ it could not have been a matter of chance.
  • Humans could only survive in this kind of universe.
  • It comes in two forms:
    • Weak: argues that if the world were any different, we would not be here.
    • Strong: argues that the world has to be as it is in order for us to be here. There must have been some built in factor which made the development of human life inevitable. This is more similar to the traditional arguments from design.
  • Although Tennant didn’t directly refer to the anthropic principle in his works, we can sum his argument up in three pieces of evidence:
    1. The world in which we live in provides precisely the things that are necessary for us to survive in.
    2. We can observe the world we live in and it allows itself to be rationally analysed so we can figure out how it works.
    3. Evolution has led to intelligent life, so intelligent, we can now observe the natural world we live in.
Strengths Criticisms
It explains how the world is so perfect for living in, which is often explained by the use of God. Weak – is obvious. It is of no profound significance.
It explains why we have not yet found other world or environments with life or where we could live – our world is uniquely perfect. Strong – improbable. It makes a cause dependent upon an effect. It claims that gravity is as it is because of us. This might not be the case, and is an argument in hindsight.
It fits in with how the world is now and the hierarchy, which is humans at the top. If the world was perfect for, say, a dung Beatle, we wouldn’t think that the world was made for us.

Swinburne: For Teleological Argument – 20-21st century

About him:

  • Richard Swinburne, 1934-present.

His ideas:

  • Swinburne distinguishes between two types of order/regularity in nature. In regularities of ‘spatial order’, different things, e.g. parts of an eye, exist at the same time in an ordered way, e.g. being organised to serve a purpose. But there are also regularities of ‘temporal order’ – an orderliness in the way one thing follows another. These temporal regularities are laws of nature. The design is evident in nature, so whether God exists or not is in nature.
  • If a person does something, they do it as a rational, free agent – such as, someone writes a book in an order, and the words in a sentence with purpose. This sort of explanation explains an object or an event in terms of a person and their purposes. So things coming about because someone intentionally brings them about are caused by the activity of a person.
  • Someone may argue that you could then hypothesis that something created nature and the universe, bit by bit with purpose until it was complete.
  • This is a personal explanation, because it is what we assume because of what we know in our personal beliefs. There seems to be two types of explaining: personal and scientific. It has not been scientifically proven that because humans can create a book with purpose, it has an order. Nature has no laws, so we can’t assume it.
Strengths Criticisms
Gives a respect for everything and everyone, because it is all created separately with its own purpose. Some things exist and only have a purpose once we give them one, such as a pebble – it had a purpose as a rock, but now what is it?
It gives us research points and makes us think about the things around us, as they must serve a purpose. There is nothing to prove that the universe is ordered – the fact there are stars and asteroids millions of miles away doing nothing shows that not everything could be.
Gives two options for the things happening so it is able to split and categories things so things are more likely of fitting. Does human made things have purposes past what we give them, or no Godly purpose since they weren’t made by God?

Behe: For the Teleological Argument – 21st century

His ideas:

  • He suggests that everything is so incredibly complex that things could not have been created slowly. He looks as certain bacteria and other incredibly complex beings in order to support his work – Bacteria Flagellum.
  • Behe doesn’t think that things could evolve due to chance of their genes and environment, such as one animal becoming one thing and the other into another creature and they be different but perfectly suited to the exact same environment.
Strengths Criticisms
He uses very complex organisms to support his answers and uses a logical way of thinking. Behe’s belief in irreducibly complex systems, if accepted, would destroy the Darwinian theory of creation. It would require a designer God.

There you go! This is a really big one, I hope it’s layed out in a way that people can easily understand it, I know it’s a harder one to understand. Please like this, follow me for more, similar posts and leave me a comment on what you thought or a debate thought you wanted to add 🙂

Anyway, have a good day!

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