Arguments for the existence of God - The Teleological Argument


Key features of the Teleological Argument

  • Telos means 'purpose' in Greek, so the Teleological Argument seeks to show that we can observe evidence of deliberate design in the natural world (a posteriori).

  • Inductive: uses past experience to make future predictions.
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Paley's first argument

Design qua purpose

  • Paley put forward the argument for design in the form of the watch analogy.

  • If we found a pocket watch lying on the ground, we would conclude that its parts fit together to accomplish a goal (to measure time) and did not come into existence by chance.

  • He continued his analogy by comparing a watch to a living organism, e.g. the human body - the heart and lungs work together, we transform food into energy and so on.  This complex design could not have just happened, it was created for a purpose (survival) by an intelligent agent (God).
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Paley's second argument

Design qua regularity

  • The rotation of planets in the solar system and how they obey the same universal laws could not have happened by chance.

  • An external creator must have imposed order on the world, this creator must be God.

  • Arthur Brown supports this argument - he pointed to the ozone layer's purpose of filtering out ultraviolet rays in order to protect life.  This also could not have happened by chance.
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Criticisms of the Teleological Argument - Hume


  • If we accept there is order and design in the world, there is no evidence that it was the work of the God of classical theism.  It could have been several 'lesser gods', or an apprentice god who has moved on to create bigger and better worlds.
  • The creator Paley posits appears to make a lot of mistakes, e.g. why would God design human bodies with tissues such as the breast and prostate that are so incredibly prone to cancer?
  • Our world is not like a machine since it is composed of vegetables and animals.  It is more organic than it is mechanical - it would be better compared to a carrot.
  • Chaotic matter can fall into order of its own accord, there is no requirement for a designer (Epicurean Hypothesis).
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Criticisms of the Teleological Argument - Russell


  • An absence of any obvious purpose in things can lead people to start searching for purposes, effectively making them up.

  • For example, you could look at a rabbit and form the belief that God gave it a white fluffy tail for hunters to shoot at.
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Criticisms of the Teleological Argument - Ayer


  • We can't say that the world is designed because we don't know what an un-designed world would look like.
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Criticisms of the Teleological Argument - Darwin


  • Darwin's natural selection suggests that complex systems can be achieved through the slow process of random genetic mutations without reference to a designer God.

  • As Richard Dawkins puts it, evolution is a 'blind watchmaker'.
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Criticisms of the Teleological Argument - Mill


  • Evidence of design in the world supports either the non-existence of God or a god that does not have the attributes accepted by Christians.

  • There is evil and suffering in the world so the designer could not have been omnipotent, omniscience and omnibenevolent.

  • If the designer were omnibenevolent then the suffering of humanity would not have been included in the design.

  • However, Hick argues that evil is 'soul-making', because without evil we could never learn to love the good.
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Strengths of the Teleological Argument - Swinburne


  • The existence of an omnipotent God is a simpler, and therefore better, explanation of the appearance of design in the universe, rather than claiming it came about through the pure chance of evolutionary processes (Ockham's Razor).
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Strengths of the Teleological Argument - Davies


  • Put forward the view on cumulativity whereby when the Design Argument is considered alongside other arguments, i.e. cosmological, there is a stronger case for the existence of God than not.
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Strengths of the Teleological Argument - Kant


  • 'This proof always deserves to be mentioned with respect.'

  • The argument is based on induction (on what we observe) and what we observe does have the appearance of design.

  • Although Kant did not accept the Design Argument as a proof of God's existence, he accepted that it is a powerful argument due to its simplicity.
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Strengths of the Teleological Argument - Tennant


  • The world is 'saturated with beauty.'

  • Humans appreciate aesthetic activity such as art, music and literature.

  • This beauty has no survival value, so cannot have come about through natural selection.

  • Tennant believes that 'perhaps the presence of beauty and human appreciation of it may be signs that God wishes to draw us towards the Divine rather than to be simply content with survival.'

  • However, there are lots of ugly things in this world and Dawkins suggests that appreciation of beauty is merely social conditioning.
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Strengths of the Teleological Argument - Tennant 2


  • The Anthropic Principle suggests that there are 30 or more 'cosmological constants' (i.e. gravitational force and the stable expansion rate of the universe) that have to be 'fine-tuned' in order for intelligent life to develop.

  • The odds against all cosmological constants being at exactly the right settings are colossal, so it seems obvious that something must have designed the universe this way.
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Status of the Teleological Argument as a 'proof'

  • Proof = sufficient evidence for the truth of a proposition.

  • No inductive argument can be logically true, inductive arguments are based on observation, so we can never be 100% certain our observations are correct or that they will always remain correct.

  • To some, personal religious experience is the only proof of God's existence - that kind of 'proof' could never be transferred from one person's brain to another (qualia).

  • Paley's argument does not amount to scientific proof because we have no way of assessing the degree of probability of his argument - if we had multiple earths we could examine, we would be able to judge how unique the conditions for life are.

  • For those who believe in God already, this is an inductive argument that amounts to a personal proof.  It is also possible that for those who are undecided about God's existence, the Teleological Argument could offer a sufficient level of proof.
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Value of the Teleological Argument for faith

  • For those who are unsure what to believe, the simplicity of Paley's argument could provide a basis for belief.  When the Teleological Argument is considered alongside other arguments, there is an even stronger case for God's existence (cumulative argument).

  • Some insist that Paley's argument has no value for faith because fideists argue faith does not depend on any kind of proof or probability.

  • The argument forms a reasonable defence of religious faith against atheism, which has no more evidence for the non-existence of God than Paley has for God's existence.

  • Paley's argument supports faith by reasoning, which matches Pope John Paul II's view that the truth can be known only through a combination of faith and reason.

  • Price's distinction between belief in and belief that can be used to support Paley. Paley's use of natural theology supports belief that God exists, and Paley's comments about the wonder of the design promote belief in God
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