Introduction to the design argument
The design argument, often called the teleological argument, takes several forms. Coming from the Greek 'telos' meaning order or purpose, it may be concerned with the search for meaning or purpose in the world, usually starting from finding meaning or purpose of the world and extrapolating from there to the whole, or it is concerned with the process of the world and its parts towards an ultimate goal. This focuses on an interest in regularity.
The first form of the argument is an analogical argument, which depends on drawing an analogy between the world or its parts and objects of human design. The second form of the argument is the inductive argument, based on observation that the universe demonstrates regular motion both in its parts and in the whole.
Like the cosmological argument, the design argument dates back to Plato, who stated that the human body, with all its particles and elements, must own its origin to 'the royal mind soul and mind in the nature of Zeus'.
The design argument is highly empirical, meaning that it draws its premises from observation of the natural world, therefore it is an a posteriori argument.
The design argument has since undergone many formulations that have made it into a theistic argument, one that seeks to prove the existence of the God of classical theism. It suggests that certain aspects of the universe are so perfectly adapted to fulfill their function that they display evidence of being deliberately designed, and that such design can only be explained with reference to an intelligent being. Since the works of nature are far greater than the works of humanity, it must be a greater designer, God being the most likely explantion.
The design argument considers a number of issues that are raised by the question: 'Why is the universe as it is?' These issues are as follows:
Suitability for human life
Aquinas's Fifth way
In the first three of the five ways, Aquinas rejected the possibility of an infinite regression of movers and causes to explain the existence of contingent, mutable beings and concluded that a first mover and first cause, to which he gave the name God, was a necessary requirement of the Universe. In the fifth way he observes that non-rational beings act in a way that leads to the best result and if non-rational beings can work towards such a goal, something must be directing them.
This form of the argument is based on the following premises:
- There is beneficial order in the universe.
- This beneficial order could not happen by chance.
- Many objects do not have the intelligence to work towards an end or purpose.
- Therefore, they must be directed by something that does have intelligence.
- Therefore, God exists as the explanation of beneficial order.
Aquinas's argument is influenced by the observation that the benefical order in the universe cannot be adequately explained because the universe itself is not self-explanatory and does not exhibit intelligence.
William Paley's analogy of the watch has become the classic form of the analogical argument. For Paley, the watch was like a machine that was made up of intricate parts, all of which worked towards an end for the benefit of the whole and all the small adaptations in nature were proof of a providential designing intelligence. The watch serves as an analogy for the world: it demonstrates purpose, design and telos.
Paley was aware that 30 years before, David Hume had offered a resounding criticism of the analogical form of the design argument. He was therefore careful to cover many the criticisms Hume had raised. Paley did not commit himself to suggesting that the world was perfect or that it was completely within the grasp of human understanding.
William Paley goes on to show how intricate animals and humans are, leading to the conclusion that God must have been their maker.
David Hume's Criticisms
David Hume criticised the analogical form of the design argument. However, Hume did not criticise Paley's argument personally. Paley actually wrote his argument in 1802, after Hume had written his challenges.
His first criticism was said that comparing a world to a mechanical object is an unsound analogy. Hume is saying that you can't make a comparison between the world and a mechanical object because they are both so different. For Hume, our world is not like a machine at all!
The second criticism said that similar effects do not necessarily imply similar causes. Just because the universe shows design (effect) does not mean that there was a designer (cause). Here, Hume is saying that when we see evidence of design, in a mechanical object for example, we conclude that it has been designer. However, just because the world shows evidence of design, why should we conclude that it too has a designer?
David Hume's Criticisms (2)
The third criticism that Hume put foward was the better analogy is with something natural. The universe is organic, not a machine and does not function like one. This means that the world is not like a mechanical object and therefore cannot be compared to one. Hume argued that a better analogy would be with something natural and develops and grows just like the world.
Forth is the more you compare the universe to the works of man, the more you are identifying God's qualities with those of man. Hume is saying here that the more you compare a manufactured machine to the universe, the more human you have to make God (anthropomorphism). Making God appear limited.
Hume's fifth criticism says that the designer of the universe must be limited if he is to allow suffering in the world. This is meaning that there are some unpleasant features of nature, earthquakes, war etc, and questioned how the planning and design could be the work of a just and good God.
David Hume's Criticisms (3)
The sixth and final criticism says that the presence of order in the universe could be explained in many ways without referring to God. Meaning that you cannot assume God is the only explanation for the features of the universe. The order in the universe could be the result of an accident.
The strengths of the design argument are the strengths of inductive reasoning: inductive arguments begin with something that we can observe. It is difficult to deny the presence of order and complexity in the universe as we observe it.
Inductive reasoning beings with experience which may be universal, meaning that everyone has had it, or it may at least be testable.
The use of analogy in this argument makes it comprehensible to us: it moves from something within our experience to try and explain something beyond it; the argument is simple and straightforward to follow.
The argument is not necessarily imcompatible with evolution and the big bang theory: both of these processes could be part of the design of the universe.
The concept of God as a designer reinforces the idea that God is involved in the history of the universe and is therefore omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent.
The Strengths (2)
The design argument gives a purpose to the universe, rather than having blind nature moving in a random direction. This in turn gives the universe meaning.