The Design argument for the existence of God

A teleological, posteriori argument, based on external evidence. Used to argue that the universe was not a result of random chance, but was designed by God

HideShow resource information
  • Created by: evie
  • Created on: 10-05-13 14:13

The argument presented by Thomas Aquinas

  • The design argument formed the fifth of Aquinas's five ways,
  • he argues from design qua regularity
  • he states that everything is directed toward an end, even inanimate objects are directed to an end and have some purpose, this purpose must be directed by some external power.
  • He likens this to an archer shooting an arrow at a target, the archer directs the object to reach its end, the arrow is therefore the universe and the archer; God.
  • He concluded that this provides evidence of an intelligent designer, this designer being God.
  • Although Aquinas talks of design qua regularity, it could be argued that his argument in design qua purpose as he talks about things having an end goal and a purpose for existing.
1 of 12

Paleys first argument: design qua purpose

  • most famous form of the design argument; the analogy of the watch.
  • suppose he picked up a rock off the ground and examined it, then questioned where it came from, he would feel quite content if the answer was 'it's been there forever', but suppose he picked up a watch from the ground and examined it, then questioned where it came from, he would not be content with the previous answer, because he would see the sheer complexity and skill behind the watch, how each of the individual pieces fit and work together to produce the time, he would then conclude that someone must have designed it, i.e a watchmaker
  • If we look around and examine our earth and our universe, we can see that it too, is far too complex to have appeared by chance, it must have been designed like the watch, and the designer must be God. 
  • a similar conclusion can be attained by looking at the human eye, it's adapted for sight, seeing is its purpose and its various parts all work together and cooperate in complex ways to produce sight.
  • He adds other examples including lacteal system in animals and how every animal has enough teats to feed their offspring.
2 of 12

Paleys second argument: design qua regularity

  • Just as a formal garden shows evidence of a designer, by the lack of weeds and the order and regularity in the flower arrangements, the universe shows evidence of a designer, by the rotation of the planets and natural laws such as gravity. Philosophers conclude that just as the garden didn't come about by chance, neither did the universe, both were designed.
  • Paley used evidence from astronomy and Newtons laws of motion and gravity to prove design in the universe.
  • He pointed to the rotation of the planets in our solar system, and how they all obey the same universal law, and hold their orbits because of gravity
  • even slight irregularities in this order would result in chaos, surely this could not have come about by chance.
  • He concluded that some external agent must have imposed order on the universe as a whole, and this agent must be God. 
3 of 12

The Anthropic Principle

  • modern design argument; universe came about through the work of God.
  • John Polkinghorne uses the anthropic principle to support his belief that chance alone is an unlikely theory to explain why the exact conditions occurred in the universe to develop intelligent life.
  • Dawkins and his supporters have missed the point that all that was required for life was available in our universe, this could have been a result of a designer, but they have then stepped back and let the universe evolve alone.
  • the cosmos was designed to produce intelligent life, if there had been the slightest change, no life would have developed on earth, the best explanation is the existence of a designer, the designer being God.
  • Arthur Brown supported this argument in the 21st century, referring to the ozone layer as evidence of design. It is just the right thickness and mixture of gases to filter UV rays and prevent all life on the planet from dying, its unlikely that this came about by chance as there is reasoning and design behind it.
4 of 12

Swinburne; a reformulation of the design argument

  • The argument from temporal order
  • The universe could have easily been chaotic, but it's not, and the fact that it's not suggests design rather than chance:
  • suppose a madman kidnaps a victim and shuts him in a room with a card shuffling machine, the machine shuffles ten packs of cards stimultaneously and then draws a card from each pack and exhibits them stimultaneously. The kidnapper tells the victim that unless the draw consists of ten ace of hearts, the machine will set of an explosion and kill the victim. The machine then sets to work, and to relief and amazment of the victim, an ace of hearts is drawn from each pack. The victim thinks that this is too extraondinary and needs explination in terms of the machine being rigged or designed in some way.
  • Swinburne likens this to the universe, explaining how its unrealistic to assume that the universe just 'happened', it needs explination in terms of design, and God is the simplest explination.
  • Its more likely that the machine would explode, but it never. Just like its more likely that the universe wouldnt have developed how it did, but it did, so it was designed. 
5 of 12

Swinburne; a reformulation of the design argument

  • The argument from spatial order
  • There had to be a planet like ours with just the right atmosphere, with just the right amout of oxygen and water and so on, for life on earth to evolve in such a way.
  • The initial conditions of the universe had to be just right for the big bang to occur and the initial conditions on earth had to be just right for human life to develop, this is much like the anthropic principle.
  • Swinburne argues that its against the odds for human life to develop, it was more likely that it wouldn't have developed and that the universe would be chaotic, but it did and it's not, so this suggests design, the designer being God
6 of 12

Natural evidence for design and the aesthetic argu

  • F.R Tennant believed that there were three types of natural evidence in the world in favour of a divine designer:
    • the fact that the earth can be analysed in a rational manner.
    • the way in which the inorganic world provides the basic necessities required for sustaining life.
    • the progress of evolution towards the emergence of intelligent human life.
  • it would be possible to imagine a chaotic universe in which no rules applied. However, the universe is evidently not chaotic and was designed in such a way.
  • the universe is not only ordered, but appears beautiful at all levels. (the aethstetic argument) he argued that humans posses the ability to appreciate beauty, yet such appreciation is not necessary for survival, meaning it is evidence of a divine creator.
7 of 12

David Humes Challenges to the design argument

  • The evidence of flaws in design, e.g suffering, proves that the designer (if there is one) is not an infinite, perfect being.
  • Humans can only recognise human-designed objects such as a ship. This limited experience is not sufficient enough to come up with conclusions about the earth. In order to conclude a designed earth, we would have to have experienced several earths.
  • the universe should be likened to something organic like a carrot, something that grows out of its own accord
  • To try and discuss the design on the universe in human terms isn't acceptable as God transcends human understanding.
  • even if the universe is designed, it can't be concluded that it is God.
  • The Epicurean hypothesis - the universe is ordered but, the order is not the result of a designer, but a result of random particles coming together over time,
8 of 12

Does evidence of design prove the existence of God

  • John Stuart Mill was an empiricist and for him, knowledge had to be grounded in experience.
  • He challenged the idea that evidence of design in the world proves the existence of the traditional 'God', because what evidence did prove was that God was non-existent, or that God was not what Christians thought.
  • There is evil and suffering in the world meaning that God is not; omni-potent, omni-scient, or omni-benevolent, otherwise he either would have known suffering would occur and could have altered the world accordingly, but chose not to, or is unable to.
  • As it is, at least one of these attributes is missing meaning if 'God' exists he is not a God worthy of worship
9 of 12

Richard Dawkins

  • God was no longer necessary to explain the way in which the natural world developed.
  • natural selection gives appearance of design, leading to the mistaken belief that there was a designer.
  • the variations in the world were caused by random mistakes in the DNA molecules of life-form
  • He believes that each member of every species is selfish, and will do whatever they can to protect their genes and pass them on.
  • When faced with questions about altruistic behaviour demonstrated by humans, he said that it is behaviour motivated by the need of the human genes to survive.
  • Humans are no more than DNA carriers that will ensure the survival of the species.
10 of 12

Richard Dawkins (2) -Memes

  • In his book The Selfish Gene Dawkins argues that gene-molecules of DNA (replicators) are the fundamental units of natural selection.
  • Organisms, including humans, are just the vehicles carrying these replicators, and the success or failure of the replicators is down to whether they build successful vehicles or not.
  • The family and friends/ social group of the organism is no more than the environment created to ensure survival of the genes. 
  • Dawkins takes a Darwinian view of culture, and refers to memes, a term which he invented to refer to the unit of inheritance.
  • He believes that humans appreciation for beauty is no more than a survival mechanism; beauty is not an absolute virtue in itself but if males and females of our species find the same things 'beautiful' it will maximise the chance of their genes surviving, as it is more likely they will find a mate.


11 of 12

Challenges to Swinburnes version of design

  • He references probabilities alot, but probabilty doesnt equal proof
  • No evidence that the the argument from spatial order is work of a designer, although swinburne says it would be more likely, there is no proof of this.
  • his probabilities do not have values
  • the argument that evil and suffering are present on earth, and this means the designer was not very good.
  • Immanuel kent- the universe may be chaotic but we process it as ordered.
  • even if there was a designer, or some sort of 'plan', it doesnt mean that the designer is God.
12 of 12


No comments have yet been made

Similar Religious Studies resources:

See all Religious Studies resources »See all Philosophy resources »