The Design Argument

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The Design Argument

Key words & concepts:

  • A posteriori
  • Inductive
  • Telos (purpose)
  • Universe has an order, regularity and purpose
  • Complexity of the universe shows evidence of design
  • Such design implies a designer
  • The designer of the universe is God 
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Fifth of Aquinas’ Five Ways to prove God’s existence (qua regularity):

1. Everything follows natural laws, even things that are not conscious

2. If things follow a natural law, they tend to have some goal/purpose

3. But if a think cannot think for itself, it does not have any goal/purpose unless it is directed by something that thinks

4. Everything in the natural world that does not think for itself heads towards its goal or purpose because it is directed by something which does think. Aquinas says this is God.

  • Even though humans think for themselves and cause things to be aimed at some goal or result, the reason why humans exist has to be explained because humans are not immortal and die
  • Aquinas’ teleological argument is influenced by Aristotle’s theory of Four Causes.
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The natural world is full of apparent examples of design (qua purpose). Paley focuses on the manner in which things fit together in a particular way for a purpose.  

If you found a watch you would see:

- It has a purpose

- The parts work together

- The parts are ordered in a certain way to function

- If arranged differently the watch would not work

- The watchmaker must have existed at some time in some place. Doesn't matter if the watch has faults, the point is that it was designed for a purpose

  • Any person finding this watch would conclude the design implies an intelligent mind. The watch being designed necessitates a designer.
  • All of nature requires a much greater designer – this designer is God.
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A scientific challenge to the design argument comes from the work of Charles Darwin.

  • The theory of natural selection
  • Evolutionary theory appeals to the mechanistic self-ordering process of nature
  • Proposes certain species have become extinct and new species emerge over time
  • An alternative explanation for the design of the world  without reference to God
  • A mechanical explanation for the development of life on Earth in which natural selection took place
  • Random variations
  • Survival of the fittest
  • The process of natural selection is gradual and ongoing – the result of natural and random processes rather than the work of a divine being 
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Hume was a major opponent to the design argument.

  • Asked why we must conclude that the universe has to have a beginning.
  • Design is not evidence of the work of the God of classical theism
  • Could have been the work of several lesser gods
  • An apprentice god who had moved onto bigger and better worlds
  • Evidence of flaws in the design such as suffering and death
  • The design of the world does not point to an infinite, perfect deity.
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Hume cont.:

Main reasons for Hume opposing the argument include:


  • Humans do not have sufficient knowledge and experience of the creation of the world to conclude there is only one designer
  • God transcends human understanding. It is more usual for a machine to be designed and made by many hands – suggests many gods rather than one. 
  • Hume does not think that it is a good analogy to liken the universe to a vast machine. More like a vegetable that grows of its own accord rather than made by hand.
  • Suggests that if the world is ordered then it is because of chance or of design. His Epicurean Hypothesis suggests how it would be possible for the universe to appear designed yet result of random chance. 
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Mill develops Hume’s point about imperfections in nature.

  • Nature isn’t designed for our benefit
  • Any benefits are created by humans
  • Benefits are limited
  • Man has to co-operate with the world – we have to amend it to carry on benefitting
  • This brings about justice and goodness which has to be instrumented by humans

Mill feels that observation of nature does not logically lead to the conclusion that it is designed for human good.

  • Two cruellest things a human can do is take life or deprive someone of livelihood - nature does both of these things and worse
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