Teleological’ is derived from the Greek word ‘telos’, which means end or purpose. The teleological or design argument infers God’s existence from supposed design, regularity and order of the world. It is an a posteriori argument as it is based on empirical evidence; in this case our experience of the world around us.
St Thomas Aquinas
St. Thomas Aquinas set out the basic argument as his fifth way in the ‘Summa Theologica’. Central to his argument was that the world is full of non-intelligent material things which produce beneficial order e.g. the water cycle. He said that for these non-intelligent things to do this they require an intelligent being to bring this action about (like an arrow being directed by the archer) and he argued that this being must be God. He stated
“Some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end and this being we call God.”
However, the argument really began in ancient Greece with Plato and Aristotle. Plato was the first to suggest that ‘the Demiurge’ while not a creator, could organise pre-existing matter into logical order. Aristotle suggested that everything has a final cause (‘telos’), the ultimate cause was the “Prime Mover” thereby, providing the original distinguishing features of the teleological argument.
Basic Argument For The Teleological Argument
1. The universe has order, purpose and regularity
2. The complexity of the universe shows evidence of design
3. Such design implies a designer
4. The designer of the universe is God.
The argument is essentially split into two parts; Design qua Regularity and Design qua Purpose.
Design Qua Regularity
Design qua Regularity looks at the supposed order in the universe.
Aquinas identified the way in which natural bodies act in a regular fashion to accomplish their end e.g. the seasons, water cycle.
William Paley used evidence from astronomy and Newton’s laws of motion and gravity (by pointing to the rotation of the planets in the solar system and how they obey the same universal laws) to prove that there is design in the universe. He suggests this regularity and order is not a result of chance but an intelligent designer.
Design Qua Purpose
Design qua Purpose looks at the evidence of design in relation to the ways in which the parts of the universe appear to fit together for some purpose. William Paley used an analogy of a watch; he suggested that if you were unaware of what a watch was and you were to find a watch on a beach and saw all the tiny intricate mechanisms that drive it you would assume that due to its complexity that it had been made by a skilled watchmaker. As he said
“You wouldn't think that this object had come into existence by chance. You would think that this must have been designed by a clever person to do a particular job... Even if you didn't know what that job is."
He likens this to the universe in that its intricate mechanisms are like that of the universe and if you look at it carefully, you must come to the conclusion that it has been designed by an intelligent mind for a particular purpose. Similarly, there are complex arrangements within nature that have been fitted together by a designer for special purposes. Paley used examples of the human body, the organism of the human eye and how it is adapted for sight, birds’ wings for flying and fish’s fins for swimming. Such evidence, Paley argued, could only be the result of a ‘designer creator’, which Paley argued was God.
Arthur Brown- Ozone Idea
In the twentieth century, in his book ‘Footprints of God’ Arthur Brown has supported the argument for design based on astronomy. He argued that the ozone layer’s purpose, to filter out ultraviolet rays in order to protect life, could not have happened by chance.
If it were 1% thicker, the Earth would be too frozen for human existence.
If it were 1% thinner, the Earth would be too frozen for human existance.
The Anthropic Principal
The Teleological argument disregards the idea that the universe is an accident or mere coincidence. F.R. Tennant outlined the Anthropic Principle which claims that the cosmos is constructed for the development of intelligent life. If there had been just a minute change in the universe then intelligent life – or any form of life at all – would have been unlikely to develop. This argument denies any claim that here is a chain of coincidences that led to the evolution of human life. For Tennant the best explanation is the existence of a designer, and that this designer is God.
Tennant believed that it would be possible to imagine a chaotic universe in which no rules applied. However, the universe is not chaotic and was designed in such a way that the evolutionary process would create an environment in which intelligent life could exist. Human life is the culmination of God’s plan, or at least the current stage of God’s plan.
The Aesthetic Argument
Tennant also developed the Aesthetic Argument to prove God’s existence. Tennant argued that humans possess the ability to appreciate the beauty of their surroundings – to enjoy art, music and literature. Yet such an appreciation is not necessary for survival or for the development of life, and is therefore evidence of divine creator. The fact that we can appreciate beauty has no survival value. It cannot therefore be the result of natural selection. For Tennant this proves that it must have been a product of design.
Tennant said “perhaps the presence of beauty and human appreciation of it may be seen as signs that God wishes to draw us towards the Divine rather than to be simply content with survival.”
Swinburne accepted the Anthropic Principle and that the universe is law governed. He recognised that the universe could just have easily been chaotic. The fact that it is not suggests design rather than chance. Swinburne considered that it came down to probabilities. Which is the most probably reason for order in the universe, random chance or design? The sheer complexity of the universe makes it unlikely that the universe would just happen to be the way it is, so Swinburne accepted that it is more probable that there is design. If there is design, then he concluded that God is the simplest explanation.