Teleological Argument

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Telos - goal, aim, purpose. The Teleological Argument looks at the purpose and order of the universe

Concerned with the reason why the world functions in an orderly and intelligent manner.

An a-posterori argument that uses analogy to prove the existence of God

Made up of two parts:

  • Design Qua (as relating to) regularity - Aquinas
  • Design Qua purpose - Paley
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Design qua regularity - influenced by Aristotle's First Cause and applied this to God

His 5th way - the teleological argument

  • Everything that works to some purpose or regularity and follows natural laws
  • Even things that have no rational powers still have a purpose. They must be directed by something external to themselves. e.g. an arrow - can only be directed to its goal by an archer
  • Therefore, there is an intelligent being which directs everything towards a purpose - God

Key claim - everything, intelligent or not, is directed to some goal and follows natural laws because natural laws direct things and these were set up by God.

His argument is design qua regulaity because it relies on the idea that things follow a set of laws to get to their ends. These laws are scientific, predictable and regular - e.g. the laws of gravity.

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Criticism of Aquinas

  • He assumes things have purpose and aimed towards a goal. Never gives an example to back thing up
  • Is it correct to assume that everything follows a general law set down by a designer? Some argue that the world is just the way it is and doesn't need a purpose from a designer
  • Flew argued that Aquinas' claim that things are directed goes against evidence we see today
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Design qua purpose argument - evidence shows design in the universe around us. Everything seems to have been made to fulfil a purpose e.g. the eye is designed to fulfil its purpose. 

Paley used the analogy of the watch to prove God - an old mechanical watch which is very complex with all its cogs and wheels.

  • It is unreasonable to think that a watch like this is found in a heath/desert came about without the design and arrangement of a watchmaker
  • It is equally unreasonable to believe that the universe, with similar and more complexities than a watch, came about without the power of a designer - God. Thus the watchmaker analogy points to God 

Paley says that it doesn't matter if the watch was to break or stop, the point of the analogy was to show evidence that things are designed for a purpose - the watch was designed to tell the time. The watch shows a designer to be necessary, therefore the world shows even more necessity for a desiger, as nature is more complex than a watch 

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Differences between Aquinas and Paley

Play is not interested in one thing following another according to some law like Aquinas argued. Instead, Paley is more interested in the way that things fit together and their purpose.

Paley's watch is mechanistic. He assumes the world is the same way - but is it appropriate to compare organic things to mecahanical stuff?

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Criticisms: Hume


  • Comparing God and the universe to mechanical devices is not valid. Hume suggested that it would be better to draw analogies between organic things, rather than using mechanical things.
  • Humans don't have proper knowledge of creation to conclude that there was only one designer - we only know about things we create
  • This is a world of many faults, so it may actually be a prototype of a lesser god. Plus, if you think that God has infinite power then who knows what he can do, this world may not be the perfect world we think it is
  • Because there is evil in the world, maybe the creator isn't the all-loving God of classical theism? (Inconsistent Triad)
  • To discuss the start of the univese in human terms is not acceptable, because God is transcendent. Paley's analogy would suggest that it is more possible to think that the univese was made by more than one god, because there is more than one watchmaker 
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Criticisms: Mill


  • Argued because there is evil and suffering in the world then the designer cannot have been omnipotent, omniscience or benevolent.
  • If the designer was all these qualities then the sufering wouldn't have been included in the design. Hence, he rejects Paley's and Aquinas' arguments 
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Criticisms: Darwin


  • The world is not a result of intelligent design, but a result of chance/natural selection 
  • "Survival of the fittest" - Herbert Spencer
  • The world just appears to be designed, but what actually happens is the weak die and the strong live - this needs no external designer
  • Some don't believe that the deaths of people are designed. In this way Darwin saw no reason to believe there was a first design that should be necessary 
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Criticisms: Epicurean Hypothesis

Epicurean Hypothesis 

  • At the time of creation the universe was just a mass of particulars in chaos
  • But gradually these particulars evolved into order
  • The universe is eternal so, in this unlimitied time, it was expected that something orderly would come about 
  • Thus, the order isn't a result of a designer, but of chance. 
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