The Design Argument

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  • Created by: Iona
  • Created on: 03-05-13 18:08

The Argument

  • Argument from order and design 
    • attempts to explain the order, complexity and beauty of the world in terms of the work of an almighty power; that almighty power being God
  • Also known as the 'Teleological Argument'
    • Comes from the greek word 'telos' meaning end or purpose which suggests the world has a meaning/purpose which must be accounted for
  • Stem's from Aquinas' Fifth Way 
  • Argument from natural theology
    • dependant upon reasoning and the world around us rather than revelation to explore God's existence 
  • Inductive argument
    • if all the premises are correct, it is probable that the conclusion is too
    • at best, only establishes probability but never certainty
  • Cumulative argument
    • the more you look, the more evidence you can see
  • An a posteriori argument
    • relies on experience and accessible evidence (empirical evidence)
  • Analogical argument
    • relies on an analogy to explore God's existence 
    • not reduction ad absurdum 
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Thomas Aquinas' Fifth Way

  • natural beings act for an end goal or purpose
  • natural beings lack intelligence 
  • natural beings need an intellignt guide to direct them to their end
  • cannot achieve this end through chance, but through design
  • an intelligent being must direct all natural beings to their end
  • this intelligent being is God
    • therefore God exists 

e.g. an arrow is directed to the target by an archer

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Strengths of Aquinas' Fifth Way


  • Logical 
    • the use of analogical evidence makes it easy to understand
      • e.g. an arrow is directed to its target by an archer
  • A posteriori argument
    • we can see that such beings move in this way so to deny it is illogical 
  • Relies on cumulative evidence (evidence is accessible)
  • Ockham's razor
    • provides a simple explanation
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Weaknesses of Aquinas' Fifth Way


  • Why does the creator have to be intelligent?
  • Inductive leap
    • why is God the intelligent creator?
  • Analogy is weak
    • irrational to compare the movement of an arrow to the movements of natural beings
  • Inductive
    • conclusion is not certain
  • The simplest solutions are not always the right ones
  • Conflicts with modern theories such as evolution 
  • Not everything has a goal that they fulfill
    • is this also God's doing?
    • what about those that don't reach their end; some die from illness etc
      • if God is responsible for natural bodies reaching their end goal/purpose, surely he is responsible for those who don’t? 
  • If human beings are so unintelligent, then how can we trust this theory when an unintelligent human being devised it?
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William Paley's Watch Analogy

  • William Paley
    • 18th century Christian apologist
  • mechanistic analogy
  • The regularity of a watch can be compared to the regularity of the universe
  • order, complexity, regularity and contrivance inherent in the watch cannot be down to random chance 
  • similar characteristics in nature point towards a designer 
    • e.g. design qua purpose (washing machine) and design qua regularity (solar system)
  • this contrivance must have a contriver who is an intelligent power
  • intelligent agent is God
    • therefore God exists
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Strengths of Paley's Watch Analogy

  • A posteriori
    • based on empirical evidence so we can look to experience as evidence
  • Cumulative
    • the more we look at design in the watch and in the universe, the more evidence we can see
  • The analogy of animals to complex machines seems to me correct, and its conclusion justified.” (Swinburne)
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Weaknesses of Paley's Watch Analogy

  • Inductive leap
    • Paley is assuming the presence of order and design in the universe just because there is evidence in the watch
    • why is God suddenly the contriver of the universe?
  • Evil and suffering exists so either God created evil and suffering along with the universe, or God does not exist 
    • God must either be imperfect or not the designer of the universe
      • response: the world could be made perfectly but still go wrong, just as a watch does
        •  response: but the watch was made by an unintelligent being whereas the world was made by an intelligent power
    • of the contriver of the universe: ‘It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of the watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker." (Dawkins)
      •  "A true watchmaker has foresight...with a future purpose in his mind's eye" (Dawkins)
  • Analogy is weak
    • the world and the watch are far too different to withstand a rational comparison 
    • David Hume (writing before Paley) says the analogy leads to anthropomorphism 
      • anthropomorphism = human-like
  • we cannot claim to know a whole just by looking at a part 
    • ‘...from observing the growth of a hair can we learn anything concerning the generation of a man?’ (Philo)
    • cannot claim to know about the creation of the universe just by looking at a watch
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The Anthropic Principle

  • argument to explain the 'fine-tuning' of the universe
  • criticises Darwin's theory of evolution
  • F.R. Tennant 
    • 19th century British philosopher and theologian
  • Richard Swinburne 
    • 20th century British philosopher
  • The conditions necessary to bring about human life were extremely slim
  • Such conditions cannot be rationally attributed to random chance
  • The conditions must have been designed
  • That designer was God
    • therefore God exists 

nature is meaningless and valueless without God being behind it and Man in front.” (F.R. Tennant)

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(AP) Firing Squad Analogy

Analogy to the firing squad to support the thesis of the Anthropic Principle

  • If you were dragged before a firing squad consisting of 100 highly trained marksmen who all shot at you and all missed, you would think there was some sort of higher power fixing the conditions 
    • the chances of them all missing is too improbable
    • the probability for the exact conditions present for human life was even slimmer so there must be a designer
      • "there seems to be a conspiracy to fix the conditions"
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Strengths of the Anthropic Principle

  • Logical
  • Use of analogy makes it more understandable 
  • Appealing to the scientifically illiterate 
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Criticisms of the Anthropic Principle

  • Bertrand Russel:
    • the world is a "mere unintelligible brute fact"
      • why ask why? there is no reason to attempt to explain the existence of the world or its design 
  • Martin Rees:
    • Multiverse Theory
      • our universe may be but one of many universes in an inconceivably vast multiverse 
  • all accessible evidence indicates that life developed and evolved as a result of physics, not a higher power 
    • argument does not draw upon empirical evidence so it is hard to understand 
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The Aesthetic Argument

  • F.R. Tennant
    • 19th century British philosopher and theologian 
  • criticises Darwin's explanation of design through chance 
  • Beauty exists in the world
  • This cannot be derived through natural selection as it provides no survival benefit to species
  • World requires a deisgner
  • This designer is God
    • Therefore God exists 
  • "beauty is the lost thought of theology" (David Ford)
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Strengths of the Aesthetic Argument

  • a posteriori argument
    • relies on cumulative evidence which makes the argument stronger
      • we can see for ourselves the beauty in the world 
  • logical that beauty does not coincide with evolution
  • uses cumulative evidence in argument
    • the more we observe the world, the more beauty we can see
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Criticisms of the Aesthetic Argument

  • Beauty can be attributed to evolution
    • e.g. feathers of male peacocks attract female peacocks, making it easier to pass on genes/reproduce

Peter Vardy:

  • beauty is in the eye of the beholder and not everyone sees the same things as beautiful/not everyone will see the world as beautiful
  • the perception of beauty is just the result of cultural conditioning 

JS Mill:

  • the world is just as beautiful as it is cruel and lacking in beauty
    • evil and suffering result from the actions of a supposed deity just as much as beauty does 
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General Strengths of the Design Argument

Thomas Aquinas and William Paley

  • Logical
    • use of analogical evidence      (makes it not reduction ad absurdum)
    • A posteriori argument
    • Empirical evidence                  (makes it easy to understand)
    • Cumulative argument               (more we inspect, more evidence we see)
    • Natural theology
  • compliments claims made within revealed theology (e.g. book of Genesis)
    • says God made the world ex nihilo 
  • argument corroborates with the God of classical theism
  • It is most likely that God would create the universe as he is omnibenevolent and omnipotent 
    • augustine suggested God did not need to create the universe but did so out of love for man 
      • "God, being perfectly good, is generous. He wants to share" (Swinburne)
  • Everything necessary for survival appears within the universe and functions without man having to do anything
    • this is all owing to a "deeper cause than order" (Swinburne)
  • Provides a sufficient reason for the world's complexity 
  • the Cosmological constant is the most finely-tuned thing ever; arriving at such a tiny value by chance is irrational (therefore cannot be chance, but design)
    • "there seems to be a conspiracy to fix the conditions"
    • e.g. if we were much closer to the sun, earth's water would boil; if we were further, it would freeze
    • e.g. if the sun were much redder on the one hand or much 'bluer' on the other, photosynthesis would be impeded; photosynthesis is a natural biochemical process crucial to life on earth 
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General Weaknesses of the Design Argument

  • inductive leap
    • what makes God the designer any more than the watch maker?
  • inductive argument
    • at best establishes probability (but not certainty) 
  • argument for existence of God is not an empirical hypothesis 
    • not provable
  • to say God designed the universe is a matter of convenience but is not factually accurate 
  • the order of nature summons even religious people to try and amend it
    • implies nature needs to be fixed and is therefore neither perfect nor created by an omnibenevolent, omnipotent God
      • if God was omnibenevolent, he would not have made the world so that his creatures would have to spend their time arduously trying to fix the order of physical nature
  • although nature excites wonder and awe, it also evokes fear and horror 
    • the world is vast and presents death, making man feel vulnerable and susceptible to danger which is not evidence of an all-loving God
    • we can attribute the world's beatuy to God as much as we can attribute it's ugliness

David Hume:

  • the world is imperfect and flawed which points towards an incompetent designer (doesn't fit with God's supposed characteristics)
  • why is there just one designer?
  • how is the universe regular?
  • analogy is weak
    • the arguments formed from the analogy are suggestive but not conclusive 
    • presents an anthropomorphic concept of God
    • the world is more organic than mechanical so we cannot rely on a mechanistic analogy
      • “[The world is more likely] due to generation or vegetation than reason or design
  • evolution and natural selection led to the apparent intelligent design of humans (not God)
    • the universe/nature is a long process of evolution 
    • the universe has naturally evolved into its complex state 

John Stuart Mill

  • human nature is guilty
    • if God exists, it doesnt make sense for evil to exist 
    • if God created the world, he must have created guilty man and evil alongside it
  • brutality within the animal kingdom
    • how could an all-loving God have created something so savage?
  • "either there is no God or there exists an incompentent or immoral God"

Charles Darwin

  • natural selection
    • the healthiest and fittest members survive and their characteristics are passed down, giving the appearance of design in the universe

Richard Dawkins

  • random mutations in dna alone give rise to variation in the world and the illusion of design 

John Hick

  • Why ask why? There is no ultimate explanation
  • why not infinite regression?
    • matter is eternal
    • “The weaknessÂ…lies in the difficultyÂ… of excluding as impossible an endless regress of events, requiring no first state” 
      • response: J.L. Mackie's train analogy
        • a train consisting of an infinite number of carriages cannot move without an engine
          • a prime mover is necessary for intelligibility 

Bertrand Russel:

  • the world is a "mere, unintelligble, brute fact"
    • there is no need to try and explain the world or its design

Martin Rees:

  • multiverse theory
    • our world could be one amongst a potentially eternal variety of universes
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