Teleological Argument

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  • Created by: joshway99
  • Created on: 17-02-16 17:54

Background Information

The Teleological Argument is the argument for design. The word teleological comes from the Greek word ‘Telos’ meaning ‘end’ or ‘purpose’. This argument seeks to prove Gods existence based on the evidence of apparent order and design.

 It is also an a posteriori argument and therefore uses evidence from the world around us to prove Gods existence.

The origins of this argument can be traced back to Plato and Aristotle.

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Plato believed in a universe that was pre-existent. Within this universe there existed a being who has the power to shape worlds. Plato names this being as the Demi-Urge. This Demi-Urge is responsible for all things on Earth.

For Plato, this was a rational explanation as to why there existed order, rather than chaos. However, whilst this superficially appears to be a similar universe view to those that believed in the God of classical theism, there two important differences.

Firstly, Plato’s Demi-Urge doesn’t create ex nihilo – he is working within an established universe.

Secondly, for Plato perfection was only to be found within the world of the Forms which is Beyonce this world.

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Aristotle considered that based on his observations of the world around him and the stars above him, the only possible explanation for all the complexity and beauty that the world contains was a Divine Intelligence.

Aristotle put forward an argument in his ‘Metaphysics’ book that there had to of been a First Unmoved Mover, and the source of all the order that exists in the universe. Such a God was also viewed as possessing intelligence and goodness.

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William Paley

William Paley’s most famous work was published in his book ‘Natural Theology’. Paley believed that one could understand something about the nature of God by looking into God’s creation of the natural world. 

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William Paley - Design

The watch analogy:

Paley argues that if we were to discover a stone upon a heath, it would not be strange to conclude that this stone could have possibly have been there forever. However, if we were to come across a watch, we would not come to the same conclusion. There are two reasons for this.

The first reason is because the watch has purpose. The reason why the cogs within the watch work in a very specific way is because the watch has the purpose of telling the time.

The second reason is because the watch works in a very specific way. This is because it follows an orderly pattern. Indeed, if the watch worked in a different way, then the watch wouldn’t serve the purpose of telling the time.

Paley concludes that because this watch has purpose and order, then it must have had a designer. If Paley can conclude that the order and purpose within a watch points to a designer; then the same can be said about the universe. The designer of the universe is God.

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William Paley - Design (Continued)

Newton’s example:

Newton’s example of the thumbprint is that every thumbprint is unique showing us how complex it is, this meaning there must have been an intelligent designer - God

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William Paley - Order

The word implies regularity and things working in a methodical and constant way. Philosophers that agree would argue that such order could not possibly be a result of chance but rather of the conscious work of a designer.

Examples of order is that our lives, for instance, revolves around working of the seasons.

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William Paley - Purpose

Paley argues that the universe works as it does for a particular purpose. For example the working of the seasons, we can conclude that the seasons work as they do because they produce the correct circumstances to give us crops.

Paley even states that the eye alone is proof of God’s designing power. The complexity of the human eye and the intricate way in which it is arranged. The way the eye works has a very specific purpose; to enable us to see.

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Thomas Aquinas

Aquinas wrote many important works during his time, including his book ‘Summa Theologica’. In his book he proposed 5 ways to prove the existence of God. The Fifth Way was using the Teleological Argument. Aquinas stated that the reason why natural bodies function is not a matter of chance but rather a result of design.

Aquinas concludes that the cause of this purpose and design is God, since something must be responsible for enabling all natural bodies to achieve their end. For example, a pen can only fulfil its purpose of writing if there is someone to enable it to fulfil its function. In other words, God is the cause of the design in the universe.

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Anthropic Principle

The word ‘anthropic’ comes from the Greek word ‘anthropos’ meaning ‘man’. This version of the argument says that the universe is incredibly finely tuned so as to produce life as we know it. For example, Arthur Brown states that the ozone layer is of an exact depth to prevent humans from being killed by dangerous rays. Therefore, the ozone layer is evidence of a designing behind the universe.

The Anthropic Principle is finely balanced as it has a weak form and a strong form. This was proposed by Brendan Carter

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Anthropic Principle (Continued)

Weak Form;

This form says that ‘we must be prepared to take into account that the fact that our location in the universe is necessarily privileged’. This means if we were placed anywhere else in the universe we would not be able to sustain life on Earth.

Strong Form;

This form states that ‘the universe must be such as admit the creation of observes within it at some stage’. This means that the universe has to be as it is in order to allow the creation of observers at some stage.

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Fredrick Tennant

Tennant developed a set of evidence which is recognised as the Anthropic Principle today. The evidence includes beliefs such as;

1.   The very fact that the world in which we live provides precisely the things that are necessary for life to be sustained.

2.   The fact that the world in which we live can’t only be observed but holds itself up for rational analysis from which we deduce its workings.

3.   The fact that the process of evolution, through natural selection, has led to the development of intelligent human life – to the degree that intelligent life can only observe and analyse the universe that it exists in.

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Aesthetic Principle

Tennant aesthetic argument relates to the natural appreciation that human beings have for things that are considered to be ‘beautiful’ and asks why we have such an appreciation as part of our nature. Tennant’s response was that the appreciation was a direct result of a benevolent designer - God. He says that God didn’t create the world just for us to live but to enjoy living in it. This in fact can be extended to the appreciation that humans have for music, art, poetry and other forms of literature as well as an appreciation for things like fashion, cosmetics, etc.

Yet such an appreciation is not needed for survival or the development of lie and is therefore evidence for a divine creator.  

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Richard Swinburne

Swinburne also argues in favour of the designed universe. He notes that there are two factors about the universe that are important in arriving at this conclusion, these are;

Swinburne states that the order in the universe is a product of what he calls regularity of co-presence. This implies that everything works together in an orderly manner. For example a car works because it consists of an orderly arrangement of mechanical parts.

Secondly, Swinburne argues that the order in the universe is also a product of regularity of succession, this means the universe follows an orderly pattern which is surprisingly simple. For example, as the car is formed in a particular arrangement in order to work, so the driver must follow a simple set of instructions to make this arrangement work.

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John Polkinghorne

For Polkinghorne, the universe is not fixed. He states that God continuously interacts with his creation as a conductor – ‘conducting the improvised performance of the universe’. However, even though God is an active force within creation even now, all the right circumstances for life to form were present even at the very start of the universe.

He believes that God is the ‘total explanation’ for the design of the universe and God’s creation is a ‘continuing act of creation… through the unfolding process of evolutionary history’.

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David Hume

Hume compares the world to a machine. Just as a machine contains intricate parts which are so arranged to produce a certain function, so does the world. Therefore, since there are obvious similarities between a machine and the universe, then there must be similarities between the designer of the machine and the designer of the universe. Since the machine has a designer, so must the universe.

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David Hume;

Hume made criticisms of the teleological argument in his book ‘Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion’. His criticisms are delivered through the voice of Philo, the character whose views are considered to be the most similar to those of Hume himself.

 Hume agrees that the fact that there is order in the universe is undeniable. However, just because there is order within the universe doesn’t necessarily mean that this order is the result of a creative designing force. We don’t necessarily come to the conclusion that God is responsible. After all, the universe could have been the result of a random accident.

Hume also comments on the analogy used by Paley. Hume criticised that the attempt to compare a watch and a watch maker with the universe and the designer of the universe is rather weak.

Furthermore, Hume argues that Paley’s argument is actually illogical. We can agree with Paley that parts of the universe appear to have the characteristics of design and hat would in turn point to a designer. However, it would logically incoherent to conclude that the same is true for the whole universe.

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Criticisms (Continued)

David Hume;

Hume also questions Paley’s conclusion even further. Hume doubts whether Paley’s argument actually proves the existence of the God known to Christians, Jews, Muslims or Hindus.

Finally, Hume questions our ability to agree with Paley’s conclusion when we were not actually present and the beginning of time to witness what actually occurred. As we were not present at the beginning of creation, then surely, Hume argues we do not have the experience to comment.

Immanuel Kant;

He didn’t accept the arguments conclusion. Kant argued that we as humans perceive the universe as being ordered and therefore designed. However, what we consider to be order and design could in actual fact be disorder and chaos. We as humans are limited by our human minds and we could be mistake about our surroundings.

He also says that Paley’s argument might be attractive but it is based on premises.

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Criticisms (Continued)

John Stuart Mill;

Mill stated that religious people believed that God was all-powerful and all-loving. However, Mill believed that these characteristics couldn’t be reconciled with the suffering caused by the forces of nature.

Mill believed that if God was the kind of God religious people thought he was, then he would not let his creations suffer.

Charles Darwin;

Darwin wrote a book called the ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection’. He argues that we have evolved to suit our environment, then the environment in which we live has not been designed; rather it evolved to be this way.

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Criticisms (Continued)

Richard Dawkins;

Dawkins wrote a book called ‘The Blind Watchmaker’. In this book he argued that the apparent design of the universe is imply a result of random chance happenings that occurred within the evolutionary process. For example, Stephen J Gould refers to the panda’s thumb which is made up of modified wrist bones. He comments that had this thumb been designed well, it would have looked like the thumb humans have.

Other criticisms;

Modern day scientists and philosophers argue that the present state of the universe is a result of chance and not a designer being at all.

Recently, scientists have proposed that if we live in an infinite universe, then there will have been sufficient universes created in order for one to fulfil all of the criteria for life as we know it to begin. For example, if you give a typewriter to a monkey and an infinite amount of time, then eventually the monkey will write the entire works of Shakespeare. In a similar way if there was an infinite number of Big Bangs then there would have been a Big Bang that would have resulted in the universe we have today.

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It’s an ancient argument – has endured over 2,500 years.

Based on observation of apparent design.

There is order and purpose in the universe (a posteriori) – therefore uses a scientific method.

It is a posteriori argument and is therefore based on experience.

Contemporary scientists (e.g. Brown, Polkinghorne, Tennant, etc.) support design concept.

It is part of the ‘cumulative case’ set of arguments and with others, forms a strong proof for the existence of God.

Scientific theories are often in need of updating/proved false – therefore scientific evidence against the teleological argument does not always constitute a devastating critique.

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Design only apparent order and result not evidence of intention.

The cause may not necessarily be the God of classical theism.

Analogy from Paley is unsound.

Not so much ‘cumulative case’ as ‘leaky bucket’ argument.

Even if designer is proved there is no necessity for it to be the God of classical theism.

Alternative explanation of evolutionary natural selection to explain diversity and complexities found in nature.

‘God of gaps’ rather than empirical evidential claims.

Arguments against design from widely accepted science – Dawkins and Darwin.

Inductive arguments do not point to certainties.

Discrediting of intelligent design arguments from contemporary scientific community.

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