Philosophy 108 - 6.3.1 Teleological Arguments for God

Teleological arguments examine the inherent design within reality and attempt to infer the existence of an entity responsible for the design observed. Teleological arguments consider the level of design found in living organisms, the order displayed on a cosmological scale, and even how the presence of order in general is significant.

Aquinas’s Design Argument

Thomas Aquinas’s Five Ways is known as a teleological argument for the existence of God from the presence of design in experience. Here is one possible formulation of Aquinas’s design argument:

  1. Things that lack knowledge tend to act toward an end/goal.
  2. These things act toward an end either by chance or by design.
    1. It is obvious that it is not by chance.
    2. Things that lack knowledge act toward an end by design.
  3. If a thing is being directed toward an end, it requires direction by some being endowed with intelligence (e.g. the arrow being directed by the archer).
  4. Therefore, some intelligent being exists that directs all natural things toward their end. This being is known as God.
A faded woodcut with worn edged, colored in black and red, shows a robed figure, its head surrounded by a halo, holding a brightly glowing book open to the viewer. An image of robed figures attending Christ's crucifixion, including the haloed figure, appears at the top of the woodcut.
Figure 6.10 Thomas Aquinas proposed a teleological argument for the existence of God, basing God’s existence on what he viewed as the inherent design within reality. (credit: “Saint Thomas Aquinas, c. 1450” by Rosenwald Collection/National Gallery of Art, Public Domain)

Design Arguments in Biology

Though Aquinas died long ago, his arguments still live on in today’s discourse, exciting passionate argument. Such is the case with design arguments in biology. William Paley (1743–1805) proposed a teleological argument, sometimes called the design argument, that there exists so much intricate detail, design, and purpose in the world that we must suppose a creator. The sophistication and incredible detail we observe in nature could not have occurred by chance.

Paley employs an analogy between design as found within a watch and design as found within the universe to advance his position. Suppose you were walking down a beach and you happened to find a watch. Maybe you were feeling inquisitive, and you opened the watch (it was an old-fashioned pocket watch). You would see all the gears and coils and springs. Maybe you would wind up the watch and observe the design of the watch at work. Considering the way that all the mechanical parts worked together toward the end/goal of telling time, you would be reluctant to say that the watch was not created by a designer.

Now consider another object—say, the complexity of the inner workings of the human eye. If we can suppose a watchmaker for the watch (due to the design of the watch), we must be able to suppose a designer for the eye. For that matter, we must suppose a designer for all the things we observe in nature that exhibit order. Considering the complexity and grandeur of design found in the world around us, the designer must be a Divine designer. That is, there must be a God.

Often, the design argument is formulated as an induction:

  1. In all things we have experienced that exhibit design, we have experienced a designer of that artifact.
  2. The universe exhibits order and design.
  3. Given #1, the universe must have a designer.
  4. The designer of the universe is God.

Think Like a Philosopher

Read “The Fine-Tuning Argument for the Existence of God” by Thomas Metcalf.

Evaluate the arguments and counterarguments presented in this short article. Which are the most cogent, and why?

This lesson has no exercises.

The content of this course has been taken from the free Philosophy textbook by Openstax