Aquinas' Teleological Argument


Teleological = designed for a purpose

Telos = End or purpose 

A Posteriori argument = based on experience 

Two types of teleological argument - 

Arguments based on reality - parts fit together to perform a function (for a purpose) e.g. laws of Nature 

Arguments based on purpose - the obvious purpose or function implies a plan e.g. the human eye

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Aquinas (1225-1274) - Fifth of his Five ways

Argument from regularity -

1) Things in the natural world (even if not animate) act in a regular way to achieve an end  

2) Things acting in a regular way have a purpose 

3) If a thing cannot think for itself, it cannot have a purpose unless some thinking thing gives it one

       Conclusion - Everything is directed by something which does think. This being we call God

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Aquinas (1225-1274) - weaknesses of his argument

1) Does everything have a purpose?

Some things in universe do not appear to act regularly or fulfil a function or purpose. e.g. a rock i a desert 

2) Do we need a designer to explain laws of Nature?

Things tend to order themselves - no need for designer 

3) Swinburne - why necessarily God who imposes this regularity?

The designer could be any powerful thing - not necessarily the Christian God 

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Paley (1743-1805) - Watch analogy

1) You find a watch in a field 

2) Take it apart and see the complexity of it 

3) Apply this to the world/God 

Conclusion - This watch was designed for a purpose

Parts work together and are fit for a purpose

Parts are ordered to carry out a function

If parts are arranged differently the watch would not fulfil its purpose

The watch had a maker/designer 'who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer'

If the watch had a further function, that it was able to produce other watches, we could admire it even more

Conclusion 2 - This would imply the designer is even more great and powerful

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Paley (1743-1805) - Watch analogy continued

What is the point in this analogy? 

Design necessitates a designer 

Great Design necessitates a great designer 

Validity of argument?

He assumes the world is mechanistic (like a watch) - its not like a machine at all 

By comparing the world to something we already know has a designer is cheating (we automatically infer a designer) 

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Hume's Criticisms of the Teleological Argument

Arguments with analogies don't work - 

1) A watch or man made machine is not similar to the world. The world is organic a machine we already know is designed

2) Evidence of 'bad' design e.g. earthquake suggest bad designer - e.g. not Christian 

3) The universe is unique so cannot be compared to anything else

Other explanations than God -

1) Things tend (given enough time) to order themselves 

2) Any number of things could cause design - not necessarily God 

3) Lots of designers and builders needed to make a house - perhaps we should assume that there are lots of Gods who created the world

Random activity can lead to order - 

Given infinite time Monkeys will produce the works of Shakespeare 

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Darwin, Natural Selection and Teleological Argumen

Darwin's Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection - 

Species increase in complexity (design) over many generations via random genetic mutations resulting in them being better adapted to survive

These individuals pass the characteristics to the next generation 

Why is this a threat to the Teleological Argument?

No need for designer to explain the complexity of living things e.g. the polar bear is not 'well designed for its environment', it has adapted to survive 

Therefore no need for God

Weaknesses in Darwin's argument - 

God created us with the ability to evolve/adapt to changing environments 

Fine Tuning - God 'set up' the universe so that carbon based life could evolve. Too big a coincidence for our world to be perfect that we could live 

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J.S Mill's rejection of the Teleological Argument

The 'goodness of nature' - 

Nature is so horrible there cannot be an all loving and all powerful God e.g. pack of lions ripping apart a baby Zebra in front of its mum 

Therefore, God must not be all powerful

Responses - 

'Necessary evil' for survival

Humans do bad things because we have free will - free will is better than being a robot 

This world is not meant to be a paradise but a 'vale of soul making'

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