The Teleological Argument

The teleological argument

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The Teleological Argument



  • argument based on regularity
  • he set out his 5 ways in "Suma Theologiae"- the last of these form the design argument.

1. When you look at natural world you can see everything in it follows natural laws, even if the things aren't living/conscious. 2. If things follow these natural laws they tend to do well and have some goal or purpose. 3. However, if a thing cannot think for itself it doesn't have any goal or purpose unless it is directed by something that thinks. Uses example of arrow: it can only be directed to its goal and used for its purpose by someone, like an archer.

  • his argument= in favour of regularity of succession-> things in nature follow certain laws that lead to certain results. Events follow scientific law which are predictable, regular and unvarying e.g. law of gravity.

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  • an arrow hits a target even though it does not have a mind of its own. (effect)
  • the archer (someone with a mind of their own) shot the arrow (a cause)
  • things in the natural world follow natural laws even though they don't necessarily have a mind of their own (an effect)
  • someone with a mind of their own caused the natural world to behave in this way.-> GOD (a cause).

Aquinas was a follower of Aristotle and his teleological argument is influenced by Ar's 4 causes. He links Ar's idea of a FINAL CAUSE to God. So for Aquinas, final reason that things have a particular design, goal and purpose and follow natural laws is because God caused this. Aquinas implies that whilst humans do exist and think for themselves, ultimately the reason why humans exist is because an uncaused cause made these natural laws that led to their existence. Weaknesses in his argument:

  • he assumes things in the natural world have some purpose and are aimed at some goal but he never provides examples to back this up. Although he does explain this point in much greater depth in a separate book "On the Truth" in which he discusses God's providence.
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  • correct to assume everything follows a general law set down by a designer? Some people say natural world is just the way it is and has not been given a purpose by a designer. Anthony Flew suggests that Aquinas's claim that things in nature are directed to some purpose goes against available evidence.
  • Swinburne pointed out that Aquinas's argument is not entirely satisfactory as his statement about everything being directed towards something/someone that thinks- this assumes another issue-whether God imposes regularity and laws on the universe.
  • Are arrows an appropriate analogy? An arrow is different from natural things following natural laws. Analogy is limited
  • Does there necessarily have to be a purpose in the natural world? (Jean Paul Sartre thinks not)
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Modern Versions from Tennant and Swinburne

Tennant (Philosophical Theology)

  • The uni is evidently not chaotic. It appears to be able and designed to support life. It also appears to be beautiful at all levels.
  • Evolution itself, proposed by biologists as an unregulated principle in fact works to the advancement of species supported by a world that provides all that is necessary to promote life.

There is more to life than mere existence. Humans appreciate aesthetic activity, such as art, music and literature. This is not necessary for survival so cannot have come about through natural selection. Therefore life is the product of a designing creator. This part is called the AESTHETIC ARGUMENT. Swinburne

  • universe could be either ordered or chaotic- but because it seems ordered shows it cannot have come across by mere CHANCE especially how big the uni is.
  • must be a matter of PROBABILITIES as uni operates by a series of laws.
  • argues that the high degree of order that the uni demonstrates is evidence of a personal, conscious, choice from God.

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Paley's version

Part 1

  • suggested if you went for a walk and found rock you would not second guess it but if you found a pocket watch on a beach you would examine in a find that watch worked for a purpose. all of the individual parts fit together to fit this purpose. These parts are ordered and put together in a certain way to make it function.
  • conclusion:like the watch had a designer- so did the universe. "must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction and designer its use"
  • He also stated it doesn't matter if watch sometimes goes wrong because the point is that the watch's existence suggests it was designed for a purpose.

Part 2

  • if watch could produce other watches: our admiration for the watchmaker would increase.
  • conclusion: any person finding this watch would conclude that design implies "the presence of intelligence and mind"
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Hume's Criticism

  • Dialogues Concerning Religion (1779) -> Cleanthes presents argument: "look around the world: Contemplate the whole and every part of it: You will find it to be nothing but one great machine, sub-divided into an infinite number of lesser machines, which again admit of subdivisions to a degree beyond what human senses and faculties cant explain"
  • made criticisms about 23 yrs before Paley produced his argument. did not rely of any alternative explanation of such things as biological adaptation (Darwin)
    race and evolution.

1) Uniqueness of Universe

  • notion that the universe and human artefacts have the propery of apparent design in common is not compelling since there is so much else which is not in common.
  • criticises comparison of a machine analogy to the universe.
  • we can judged with our own experience what makes objects such as a house and a watch but we can't do this with the universe as we have no a priori evidence.
  • have no evidence of other universes.
  • linked with Simon Blackburn's Think in that "a hole in a tree is quite similar to a hole in the human body" but suppose by analogy, since a human would die from a hole, the tree is apt to die from another is implausible.
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  • he also invents lots of unlikely analogies like since the universe can resemble a clock, it can also resemble a vegetable. In his theory he uses the character of Philo to attempt to rebut the argument of a designer claiming that "sound philosophy ought carefully to guard against so natural an illusion"

2) The diversity of casual explanation

  • there are other possible explanations for the order in the universe rather than a theistic one. Veracious causes can produce the same effect and it's therefore possible that even though order and design may resemble human activity, they may more closely resemble effects achieved by the biological activities of plants and animals.
  • maintains the principles of instinct, generation and vegetation operate to produce an ordered world without an external, intelligent agency.
  • Philo argues that perhaps the order we see in the world is the result of chance collisions of particles of matter, with no guiding intelligence- EPICUREAN HYPOTHESIS, suggested by Epicurus whose account of physical nature postulated universe infinite to extent, any change being the results of "swerves" of atomoi.

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  • if we draw analogies from our own experience, we might deduce that we ought to look to a process of generation rather than the operation of intelligent designer. (experience tells us creation happens by reproduction not by the operation of an external intelligent being).

3) Principle of Proportionality

  • questions why this intelligent being must be God.
  • like effects produce like causes.
  • we can only infer from an effect qualities of the causes which are proportional to the effect e.g. if i listened to a particular artist i would be able to infer what they were like by his/her style, melody and lyrics. so therefore we can surely deduce certain aspects of God if he designed the world? But this is not necessarily true as the universe is finite and yet God is infinite?
  • if a workman is to be judged by his work, what does evil and natural disasters allow us to infer about God?
  • inferring: a) not one God but many, b) God no longer exists c) perhaps we could extend resemblances between causes to include physical characteristics. Both the supposed cause (GOD) and the alleged effect (UNIVERSE) are unique by definition, thus the 'religious hypothesis' must fail.
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John Stuart Mill

  • "Three essays on Religion" -examines arguments for existence of God.
  • straight away rejects any argument based on an a priori casual principle.
  • argued that imperfections which we can observe in nature suggest God was either evil or incompetent. he decided God must lack competence to use it because he didn't wish to admit the possibility that God was not benevolent .
  • the point about the world created by such a God is that it leaves room for the work of human beings in improving both that world and themselves as persons in it.
  • it's through out free world that we have ruined the originally beautiful, perfect world.
  • criticises design argument as there is ugliness in the world.
  • In Nature and the Utility of Religion nature is essentially cruel.
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Strengths and Weaknesses

a posteriori argument based on our experience which requires "brain[s] which are fragile, dependant, late and unusual arrivals in nature" is too untrustworthy according to Simon Blackburn in Think.

Aquinas- supports notion. regularity of succession. Einstein supported this with the idea that "God does not play dice" meaning Quantam determinacy is built into the universe, or in other words the world is based on a set of rules and laws and not in constant movement. BUT does not imply that a theistic God designed the universe- analogy of an 'archer' might be merely similar to the PM. Jean Paul Satre criticised everything in world having purpose- doesn't think it's correct to assume everything follows general laws set down by a designer.

Paley- though that complex arrangement of uni cannot be direct cause of chance, despite Hume previously condemning that idea: compares involvedness of the eye and a watch, concluding that this must be the result of an omnipotent God. Anthropic Principle - probably most convincing as shows world has been designed with the purpose being the existence of humans. Behe's analogy of the mousetrap enforces the idea that God must exist as the complexity of uni points to an outside sources, showing that if one part of the mousetrap is taken away, the whole thing fails. BUT doesn't prove- theistic God.

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Darwinism- teleological's main rival as it concludes that idea of evolution and survival of the fittest in that random changes lead to order, which contradicts Aq's and P's theories as it shows God did not make everything perfecttly and in order to progress, things evolved which contradict's Aq's idea of everything having a purpose. However, FR Tennant attempts to contradict this by saying natural selection does not ruin the idea of design by maintaining there is more to life than mere existence and we appreciate aesthetic activity which isn't necessary for survival so cannot have come about by natural selection but instead by the product of a designing creator. Dawkins- "The Blind Watchmaker" "Paley's argument is made with passionate sincerity and is informed by the best biological scholarship of his day but it is wrong" showing that today biological advancement completely destroys P's theory. Similarly to Ont argument it would strengthen our belief in God but not persuade his existence overall.

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