The Teleological Argument

  • Created by: emwestern
  • Created on: 01-04-15 13:06

The Teleological Argument (background)

The Teleological Argument 

This is the argument from Design. The word Teleological comes from the greek word "Telos" meaning "End" or "Purpose" and therefore seeks to prove Gods existence based on th evidence of apparent order ad design. from the end result of the creation process. It is an A Posteriori argument and therefore uses evidence from the world around us to prove gods existence. Its origins can be traced back to plato and aristotle.

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Plato & Aristotle


Plato believed in a universe that was pre-existent. Within this universe there existed a being who has the power to shape worlds. Plato names this being the Demi-Urge. This Demi-Urge is responsible for all things on this earth. For plato, this was the rational explanation as to why there existed order, rather than chaos. However whilst this superficially appears to be a similar universe view to those that believe in the God of classical theism, there are two important differences. Firstly, plato's demi-urge does not creat ex nihilo - he is working within an established universe. Secondly, for plato, perfection was only to be found within the world of the Forms which is beyond this world. 


In turn, Aristotle considered that, bades on all his observations of the world around him and the stars above him, the only possible explnation for all the complexity and beauty that the world contains was a divine intelligence. Aristotle put forward an argument in his "Metaphysics" book that there had to be a First Unmoved Mover, and the source of, all order that exists in the universe. Such a God was also viewed as possessing intelligence, goodness, eternity yet remained incorporeal.

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William Paley

William Paley (1743-1805)

William's most famous work was published in 1802, his book was called "Natural Theology". Paley believed that one could understand something about the nature of God by looking to God's creation of the natural world. The first part of his argument us design qua purpose.

The Watch Anology

Paley argues that if we were to discover a stone upon a heath, it would not be strange to conclude that this stone could possibly have been there forever. However, if we were to come across a watch, we would not come to the same conclusion. There are two main reasons for this;

  • The watch has a purpose. The reason why the cogs within in the watch work in a very specific way is because the watch has the purpose of telling the time.
  • The watch works in a very specific way; it follows an orderly pattern. Indeed, if the watch worked in a different way, then the watch would not serve the purpose of telling the time.

Paley concludes that because this watch has purpose and order, then it must have had a designer. If Paley can conclude that the order and purpose within a watch points to a designer; then the same can be said about the universe; the designer being God.

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William Paley - Order & Purpose


The word implies regularity and things working in a methodical and constant way. Philosophers that agree with the argument would argue that such order could not possibly be a result of chance but rather of the concious work of a designer. There are many examples of order within the universe. For example; seasons. The seasons come and go and how our food cycle depends upon the regularity of the seasons.


Paley argues that the universe works as it does for a particular purpose. Again, for example; seasons. We could conclude that the seasons work as they do so as to produce the correct circumstances to give us crops. Similarly, our bodies work in such an intricate and complicated way to fulfill a purpose; to continue the human race. Paley even states that the eye alone is proof of God's Designing power. Paley states that it is too intricate and complex that it is not there for the sake of it! 

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Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas 

Aquinas wrote many important works during his time, including his book "Summa Theologica" which he proposed 5 ways to prove the existence of God. The Fifth Way was using the Teleological Argument. Aquinas stated that the reason why natural bodies function is not a matter of chance but rather a result of design. 

Aquinas concludes that the cause of this purpose and design is God, since comething must be responsible for enabling all natural bodies to achieve their end. For example, a pen can only fulfill its purpose of writing if there is someone to enable to fulfill its function. In the same way, God is the cause of the design in the universe. 

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The Anthropic Principle

The Anthropic Principle (also known as the Just Right / Goldilocks Theory)

The word "Anthropic" comes from the Greek word "Anthropos" meaning "Man". This version of the argument says that the universe is incredibly finely tuned so as to produce life as we know it. This was developed by F.R Tennant in his book "Philosophical Thoelogy". Indeed, if anything in the chemical make up of the universe was even minimally different, then life could not have been produced. For example, Arthur Brown states that the O-Zone layer is of an exact depth to prevent humans from being killed by dangerous sun rays. Therefore, he concludes that this is evidence of the work and mind of a designer behind the universe. 

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The Aesthetic Argument

The Aesthetic Argument (also known as the argument from beauty)

Tennant also developed the Aesthetic argument to prove Gods existence. Tennant argued that humans possess the ability to appreciate the beauty of their surroundings - to enjoy art, music, literature. Yet such an appreciation is not needed for survival or the development of life and is therefore evidence for a divine creator. Nature is not just beautiful in places, Tennant said " It is saturated with beauty on the telescopic and microscopic scale".

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Richard Swinburne

Richard Swinburne

Swinburne also argues in favour of the designed universe. He notes that there are two factors about the universe that are important in arriving at this conclution;

  • Swinburne states that the order in the universe is a product of what he calls regularity of co-presence. This implies that everything works together in an orderly manner; for example a car works because it consists of an orderly arrangment of mechanical parts .
  • Secondly, Swinburne argues that the order in the universe is also a product of regularity of succession, meaning the universe follows an orderly pattern which is surprisingly simple. Thus, as the car is formed in a particular arrangment in order to work, so the driver must follow a simple set of instructions to make this arrangement work. 
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Richard Swinburne - Mad Kidnapper

"Suppose that a madman kidnaps a victim and shuts him in a room with a card shuffling machine. The machine shuffles ten packs of cards simultaneously and then draws a card from each pack and exhibits simultaneously the ten cards. The kidnapper tells the victim that he will shortly set the machine to work and it will exhibit the first draw, but that unless the draw consists of an ace of hearts from each pack, the machine will set off an explosion, killing the victim, in consequence of which he will not be able to see the cards being drawn. The machine is then set off to work, and the amazement and relief of the victim, the machine exhibits an ace of hearts from each pack of cards. The victim thinks that this extraordinary fact needs an explanation in terms of the machine having been rigged in some way. But the kidnapper who now reappears, casts doubt on his suggestion "it is hardly surprising" he says "that the machine draws only ace of hearts. You could not possibly see anything else. For you would not be here to see anything at all, if any other cards had been drawn". But of course the victim is right and the kidnapper is wrong. There is indeed something extraordinary in need of explanation in ten ace of hearts being drawn. The fact that this peculiar order is a necessary condition of the draw being perceived at all makes what is perceived no less extraordinary and in need of explanation. The teleologist’s starting point is not that we perceive order rather than disorder, but that order rather than disorder is there. Maybe only if order is there can we know it is there, not that makes what is there no less extraordinary and in need of explanation"

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David Hume

David Hume

Hume compares the world to a machine. Just as a machine contains intricate parts which are so arranged to produce a certain function, so does the world. Therefore since there are obvious similarites between a machine and the universe, then there must be similarities between the designer of the machine and the designer of the universe. Since the machine has a designer, so must the universe. 

Nevertheless, Hume levelled some serious critisisms at this argument and these must be carefully considered before evaluating whether the Design Argument is successful in its aim of proving Gods existence.

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