Teleological Argument

(From Norman Geisler’s “The Big Book on Christian Apologetics)

The teleological argument moves from design to a designer. It came into fruition later in the middle ages and modern world.

Design Arguments. While Thomas Aquinas is better known for His cosmological argument, the last of his “five ways” to prove the existence of God is a teleological argument. Aquinas calls it the argument from “the governance of the world”:

  1. Every agent acts for an end, even natural agents.
  2. Now what acts for an end manifests intelligence.
  3. But natural agents have no intelligence of their own.
  4. Therefore, they are directed to their end by some intelligence.

The first premise is simply the self-evident principle of teleology  or finality (see First Principles). Between the first and second premise exists an unstated assumption that all or most things in nature can be called “agents.” They do not move toward and end, be it staying alive or reproducing, and they move toward secondary purposes that have nothing to do with themselves. In the big picture, their existence and actions make the world habitable, or beautiful, or enjoyable, or meaningful. These agents act in predictable, purposeful ways that seem to work toward the best results. If one accepts the assumption and the reasonable first two premises, the trap is sprung in the third premise: whatever lacks knowledge must be directed toward and end, as an arrow is directed by the archer. Whatever intelligence is directing it all fits the concept of God.

Paley’s Watchmaker. One of the most popular forms of the teleological argument was given by William Paley (1743-1805), the archdeacon of Carlisle. Paley insisted that if one found a watch in an empty field, one would rightly conclude that it had a watchmaker because of its obvious design. Likewise, when one looks at the even more complex design of the world  in which we live, one cannot but conclude that there is a great Designer behind it. Let us put the Teleological Argument in summary form.

  1. A watch shows that it was put together for an intelligent purpose (to keep time): (a)  It has a spring to give it motion…..(b)  It has a series of wheels to transmit this motion…..(c)  The wheels are made of brass so they do not rust…..(d)The spring is made of steel because of the resilience of that metal…..(e) The front cover is of glass so that one can see through it.
  2. The world shows an even greater evidence of design than a watch:  (a) The world is a greater work of art than a watch…..(b) The world has more subtle and complex design than a watch…..(c) The world has an endless variety of means adapted to ends.
  3. Therefore, if the existence of a watch implies a watchmaker, the existence of the world implies an even greater intelligent Designer (God).

Cleanthes’s Machine Maker. In David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, the fictional theist Cleanthes offers a similar form:

  1. All design implies a designer.Great design implies a great designer.
  2. There is great design in the world (like that of a great machine).
  3. Therefore, there must be a great Designer of the world.

The argument extends beyond Paley’s. Cleanthes uses illustrations of design other than a watch or a machine. The human eye, male-female relations, a book, and a voice from heaven are all used to illustrate design. He also makes it clear that the teleological argument is an argument from analogy, insisting that like effects have like causes. Cleanthes alludes to chance as an improbable explanation that a distinct voice from heaven could have been an accidental whistling of the wind. Finally, he insists that irregularities in nature do not affect the argument. Rather these are the exceptions that establish the rule.

Hume used this argument to anticipate some of his own criticisms, thus making his final case all the stronger. However, Hume did not do justice to Paley’s argument.

Mills objection. John Stuart Mill (1806-73) objected to Paley’s form of the argument from analogy and then offered what he thought was a better one. His objection does not destroy the argument, but it does weaken it.

  1. Paley’s argument is built on analogy—similarly in effect implies similarity in cause.
  2. This kind of analogy is weaker when the dissimilarities are greater.
  3. There is a significant dissimilarity that weakens this argument:….(a) Watches imply watchmakers only because, by previous experiences, we know that watches are made by watchmakers…..(b) In like manner, footprints imply human beings and dung  implies animals only because previous experience informs us that this is so, not because of any intrinsic design in the remains.
  4. Therefore, Paley’s argument is weaker than he thought.

After criticizing Paley’s form of the teleological argument, Mill offered what he considered to be a stronger expression of it. It is built on Mill’s inductive “method of agreement.” This argument was the weakest of Mill’s inductive methods, but he considered the teleological argument to be a strong form of this kind of induction. Mill began with the organic rather than the mechanical aspect of nature.

  1. There is an amazing concurrence of many diverse elements in a human eye.
  2. It is not probable that random selection brought these elements together.
  3. The method of agreement argues for a common cause of the eye.
  4. The cause was a final (purposing) cause, not an efficient (producing) cause.

But Mill admitted that the alternative explanation of evolution diminishes the strength of this form. Much of what appears to be design is accounted for in evolution by the survival of the fittest.

Hackett’s Rejoinder. Stuart C. Hackett takes issue with Mill on the question of whether the method of analogy inherently weakens the argument. He reasons that;

  1. All composites that involve the relation of complex means so as to produce a significant result are composites of whose cause purposive intelligence is an indispensible aspect.
  2. The space-time universe is a composite in which complex means so related as to produce significant results.
  3. Therefore, the space-time universe is a composite of whose cause purposive intelligence is an indispensible aspect.

Certainly this argument proceeds by analogy, since the space-time universe is placed alongside all other apparently similar composites. But Hackett asserts that this feature can hardly be considered a flaw. He states, “Granted that the reasoning involves analogy; nevertheless it should be pointed out that virtually all reasoning about matters of fact involves analogy……so that the rejection of the analogical principal would be virtually tantamount to rendering all factual reasoning spurious.

Conclusion:  The teleological argument, as such, is a highly probable but not absolutely certain argument for intelligent design manifested in the world. Chance is possible though not probable. The teleological evidence favors the unity of this cause since this world is really a universe, not a multiverse. This is specifically evident in view of the anthropic principle, which reveals that the world, life, and humankind were anticipated from the very moment of the origin of the material universe.

The teleological argument as such does not demand that this cause be absolutely perfect. Nor does it ipso facto explain the presence of evil and disorder in the world. The teleological argument is dependent on the cosmological and moral arguments to establish these other aspects of a theistic God.

It is really a casual argument from effect to cause, only it argues from the intelligent nature of the effect to an intelligent cause. This last point is important. For if the principle of causality cannot be supported, then admittedly one cannot insist that there must be a cause or ground of design in the world. Design just might be there without a cause. Only if there is a purpose for everything can it follow that the world must have a Purposer. The teleological argument depends on the cosmological argument in this important sense that it borrows from it the principle of causality. As can be readily seen from every form of the design argument, the underlying assumption is that there needs to be a cause for the order in the world. Deny this and the argument fails, for the alleged design (if caused) would be merely gratuitous.

Only if the principle of causality, the moral argument and the cosmological argument are true can the teleological argument be effective.

Always keep Jesus in your heart and on your mind.

God is testing us every day and has given us the right to make our own choices. Do you know which ones are the right choices in Gods mind?

Fear God, love God, honor God, and trust God with all your heart, mind and soul and you will receive and experience the joy of the promises of God’s blessings in His time.

Prayer:    Father in heaven, hallowed is Thy Name.  I praise You for Your Son and the Holy Spirit. I praise You for Your grace in sending us Your wisdom about the “Teleological Argument” from apologist Norman Geisler.  Please bless those who have read this article for they too are seeking Your righteous truth and understanding.

May God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit and Christianity be our guiding lights, our safety nets and our inspiration for loving happiness in all of Your kingdom. Let it be Your will Lord not mine.  Please come Lord Jesus.

I pray in Jesus sweet name and to His glory through the power of the Holy Spirit,