6.2.6: Argument from Reason- Teleological Argument
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The Teleological Argument or proof for the existence of a deity is sometimes called the Design argument. Even if you have never heard of either argument, you are probably familiar with the central idea of the argument, i.e. there exists so much intricate detail, design , and purpose in the world that we must suppose a creator. All of the sophistication and incredible detail we observe in nature could not have occurred by chance.
When looking at the universe people might see more order or disorder as is their predilection and they might see it in varying proportions. When examining the universe and seeing complexity and order there are a variety of explanations for how it may have come about. Some people want an explanation backed by evidence and without violations of reasoning and some do not want such explanations. Some want the easiest explanations with the least amount of thought. Some merely accept the explanations that they have received when growing up.
VIEW: Teleological Argument
The Teleological Argument is the second traditional “a posteriori” argument for the existence of God. Perhaps the most famous variant of this argument is the William Paley’s “watch” argument. Basically, this argument says that after seeing a watch, with all its intricate parts, which work together in a precise fashion to keep time, one must deduce that this piece of machinery has a creator, since it is far too complex to have simply come into being by some other means, such as evolution. The skeleton of the argument is as follows:
- Human artifacts are products of intelligent design; they have a purpose.
- The universe resembles these human artifacts.
- Therefore: It is probable that the universe is a product of intelligent design, and has a purpose.
- However, the universe is vastly more complex and gigantic than a human artifact is.
Conclusion: Therefore: There is probably a powerful and vastly intelligent designer who created the universe.
Paley's Teleological Argument For The Existence Of God
"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and diety, has been clearly percieved in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." Romans1:19-20
I.) The Teleological Argument:
"Teleological" = from the end or purpose exhibited by the universe
The term teleological comes from the Greek words telos and logos. Telos means the goal or end or purpose of a thing while logos means the study of the very nature of a thing. The suffix ology or the study of is also from the noun logos. To understand the logos of a thing means to understand the very why and how of that thing's nature - it is more than just a simple studying of a thing. The teleological argument is an attempt to prove the existence of God that begins with the observation of the purposiveness of nature. The teleological argument moves to the conclusion that there must exist a designer. The inference from design to designer is why the teleological argument is also known as the design argument.
i.) The basic premise, of all teleological arguments for the existence of God, is that the world exhibits an intelligent purpose based on experience from nature such as its order, unity, coherency, design and complexity. Hence, there must be an intelligent designer to account for the observed intelligent purpose and order that we can observe.
ii.)Paley's teleological argument is based on an analogy: Watchmaker is to watch as God is to universe. Just as a watch, with its intelligent design and complex function must have been created by an intelligent maker: a watchmaker, the universe, with all its complexity and greatness, must have been created by an intelligent and powerful creator. Therefore a watchmaker is to watch as God is to universe.
II.) Paley's Teleological Argument:
1.)Human artifacts are products of intelligent design.
2.)The universe resembles human artifacts.
3.)Therefore the universe is a product of intelligent design.
4.)But the universe is complex and gigantic, in comparison to human artifacts.
Therefore, there probably is a powerful and vastly intelligent designer who created the universe.
More on the Argument
CRITICISMS or COUNTER ARGUMENTS
How much order is there?
What other universes exist to compare this one to them?
No conclusion to only 1 creator!
No conclusion to a divine creator!
No conclusion as to a very intelligent creator!
Alternative explanations exist involving natural processes!
Possibility: Universe making contest amongst multiple deities !!!
Criticisms by David Hume:
By David Hume:
- The universe does not exhibit that much order as there are many indications of disorder such as the collision of galaxies, black holes, nova and supernova, cosmic radiation, gamma radiation, meteor impacts, volcanoes, earthquakes
- argument from parts to whole is not valid
- analogy fails because there are no other universes to compare this one to
- argument does not prove the existence of only one ( 1) such god
- the argument does not prove that the creator is infinite
See this site for counter arguments to creationism
COUNTER TO THE COUNTER ARGUMENTS:
The teleological argument does prove that the existence of God is PROBABLE but not certain.
READ: Richard Swinburne: The Argument from Design
NOTES ON DAVID HUME:
David Hume, 1711 - 1776, argued against the Design Argument through an examination of the nature of analogy.
Analogy compares two things, and, on the basis of their similarities, allows us to draw conclusions about the objects. The more closely each thing resembles the other, the more accurate the conclusion. Have you ever heard the expression you are comparing apples to oranges? We use the above-mentioned idiom when we want to express the notion that a comparison is not accurate due to that dissimilarity of things under scrutiny. A good analogy will not compare apples to oranges.
Is the universe similar to a created artifact? Are they similar enough to allow for a meaningful analogy. Hume argues that the two are so dissimilar as to disallow analogy. Further, we know so very little about the universe that we can not compare it to any created thing that is within our knowledge. If we want to employ a valid analogy between, say, the building of a house and the building of the universe we must be able to have an understanding of both terms. Since we can not know about the building of the universe a Design Analogy for the existence of God is nothing more than a guess.
Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779)
Links to websites on David Hume
Notes on Critiques of this Argument:
David Hume’s Critique of the Cosmological Argument by Allan Stairs
See also Logic of the Teleological Argument
The Intelligent Design Theory
"Intelligent Design theory is simply a repackaging of the Teleological Argument which Hume repudiated centuries ago." Mark Halfon (NCC, 2005)
In recent years a number of scientists have attempted to supply a variation on the teleological argument that is also a counter to the evolutionary theory. It is called Intelligent Design Theory. This theory disputes that the process of natural selection, the force Darwin suggested drove evolution, is enough to explain the complexity of and within living organisms. This theory holds that the complexity requires the work of an intelligent designer. The designer could be something like the Supreme Being or the Deity of the Scriptures or it could be that life resulted as a consequence of a meteorite from elsewhere in the cosmos, possibly involving extraterrestrial intelligence, or as in new age philosophy that the universe is suffused with a mysterious but inanimate life force from which life results.
One of its weaknesses is that the argument for intelligent design is subject to a great many definitions: what is intelligent design? Opponents of this argument will point out that rather than looking to see if an object looks as if it were designed, we should look at it and determine if its origin could have been natural.
Here is a website that keeps track of activities in support of intelligent design and creationist claims and offers refutations of them and exposures of the misinformation that is spread by those who are promoting intelligent design/creationist thought.
“Doesn’t the fact that the universe is so well designed mean that it must have had a Designer?” ©2002 Ed Buckner, Council for Secular Humanism,
Well designed compared to what? The universe is terribly complex, vastly interesting, awe-inspiring—but, as far as we can tell, it is the only one. Since we can all imagine a better-designed universe, even though none of us is divine (ask the folks in areas now suffering from floods or from droughts if they couldn’t design a better water distribution system about now, or contemplate your own appendix or your poor pet’s fleas or West-Nile-virus-bearing mosquitoes), it’s a little hard to know if it’s “well designed.”
And, even if it is, wouldn’t a God necessarily be even better designed—so who designed Him, and then who designed that Designer, ad infinitum?
Most people who bring this one up have in mind some variation of a creationist argument in response to Darwin or other evolutionary theorists. The one usually credited with popularizing or developing this version is William Paley, who described it in Natural Theology (1802). Daniel C. Dennett (1995) argues convincingly that Hume anticipated Paley, having Cleanthes, one of his (Hume’s) three fictional characters in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779/modern reprint, Prometheus Books), lay out the argument.
In any case, the real problem is that design and a “Designer” with a purpose are not necessarily connected. The natural forces at work in the universe do change things, and at least in the case of organic matter, those changes are in a particular direction, or directions. But that does not imply purpose or an intentional destination. Organisms with inheritable characteristics that work better in whatever environment they are in are more likely to survive and reproduce—so “Nature,” or evolutionary forces, do design organisms that are increasingly well adapted and thus are often increasingly complex. Given a few million generations over a few billion years, such design forces can create an astonishing variety of interesting products—but that in no way suggests an omnipotent, omniscient, purposeful Creator.
Counter argument to the teleological argument based on Complexity or Improbability
The more the complexity of the universe or the improbability of its actual orderings then the less likely it is that it had or has an intelligent designer.
The case made by the promoters of the intelligent design argument is actually providing evidence against the conclusion that there must be an intelligent designer. The more the complexity of the universe is advocated or presented by the promoters of the intelligent design argument as a supposed indication of intelligence at work, then the more it works against the conclusion that there must be an intelligent designer. Why? Because if there was an intelligent designer there would be no need for all the complexity and waste observed in the physical universe.
VIDEOS describing a refutation of the Argument for Intelligent Design based on Irreducible Complexity
Who Owns the Argument from Improbability? - Richard Dawkins
Free Inquiry October/November 2004 - Volume 24, No. 6
……The design argument is fatally wounded by infinite regress. The more improbable the specified complexity, the more improbable the god capable of designing it. Darwinism comes through the regress unscathed, indeed triumphant. Improbability, the phenomenon we seek to explain, is more or less defines as that which is difficult to explain. It is obviously self-defeating to try to explain it by invoking a creative being of even greater complexity. Darwinism really does explain complexity in terms of something simpler-which in turn is explained in terms of something simpler still, and so on back to the primeval simplicity. It is the gradual escalatory quality of non-random natural selection that arms the Darwinian theory against the menace of infinite regress. …
Design is the temporarily correct explanation for some particular manifestation of specified complexity such as a car or a washing machine. It could conceivably turn out that ….evolution was seeded by deliberate design of...alien designers then they require their own explanation: ultimately, they must have evolved by gradual and , therefore, explicable degrees. The argument from probability, properly applied, rules out their spontaneous existence de novo.……………………………………
Sooner or later we are going to have to terminate the regress with something more explanatory than design itself. Design can never be an ultimate explanation. And-here is the point of my title-the more statistically improbable the specified complexity, the more inadequate does the design theory become, while the explanatory work done by the crane of gradualistic natural selection becomes correspondingly more indispensable. So, all those calculations with which creationists love to browbeat their naïve audiences-the mega astronomical odds against an entity spontaneously coming into existence by chance-turn out to be exercises in eloquently shooting themselves in the foot.
The argument from improbability firmly belongs to the evolutionists. It is our strongest card, and we should instantly turn it against our political opponents (we have no scientific opponents) whenever they try to play it against us.
For much more on the subject, see:
Dennett, Daniel C. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, Simon and Schuster, 1995, especially pp. 28-34 and 68-80.
Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals
a Universe Without Design, W.W. Norton & Company, 1996.
Hume, David. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Prometheus Books, modern reprint of 1779 work.
Paley, William. Natural Theology; or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity; the 12th Edition (1809),
Pigliucci, Massimo. Tales of the Rational, Freethought Press, 2000.
Stein, Gordon, ed. An Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism, Prometheus Books, 1980, pp. 55-59 and 88-104.
A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory:
The "Intelligent Design (ID) Movement" is comprised of a diverse group of persons - including philosophers, lawyers, theologians, public policy advocates, and scientific or technical professionals - who believe that contemporary evolutionary theory is inadequate to explain the diversity and complexity of life on Earth. They argue that a full scientific explanation of the structures and processes of life requires reference to an intelligent agent beyond nature. The ID Movement seeks to modify public science education policy at state and local levels to allow inclusion of the Movement's critiques of evolutionary theory and its assertions of an extra-natural origin of biological diversity and complexity. Institutionally, the Movement is supported by the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute and has also created its own virtual professional society to promote its views. However, all other relevant professional scientific organizations judge the ID Movement to be outside of mainstream science and its theoretical proposals to be unwarranted on the basis of observations from nature and laboratory experiments.--- from this site
VIDEO with Critiques of Creationism and Intelligent Design
AAAS Board Resolution on Intelligent Design Theory
The contemporary theory of biological evolution is one of the most robust products of scientific inquiry. It is the foundation for research in many areas of biology as well as an essential element of science education. To become informed and responsible citizens in our contemporary technological world, students need to study the theories and empirical evidence central to current scientific understanding.
Over the past several years proponents of so-called "intelligent design theory," also known as ID, have challenged the accepted scientific theory of biological evolution. As part of this effort they have sought to introduce the teaching of "intelligent design theory" into the science curricula of the public schools. The movement presents "intelligent design theory" to the public as a theoretical innovation, supported by scientific evidence, that offers a more adequate explanation for the origin of the diversity of living organisms than the current scientifically accepted theory of evolution. In response to this effort, individual scientists and philosophers of science have provided substantive critiques of "intelligent design," demonstrating significant conceptual flaws in its formulation, a lack of credible scientific evidence, and misrepresentations of scientific facts.
Recognizing that the "intelligent design theory" represents a challenge to the quality of science education, the Board of Directors of the AAAS unanimously adopts the following resolution:
Whereas, ID proponents claim that contemporary evolutionary theory is incapable of explaining the origin of the diversity of living organisms;
Whereas, to date, the ID movement has failed to offer credible scientific evidence to support their claim that ID undermines the current scientifically accepted theory of evolution;
Whereas, the ID movement has not proposed a scientific means of testing its claims;
Therefore Be It Resolved, that the lack of scientific warrant for so-called "intelligent design theory" makes it improper to include as a part of science education;
Therefore Be Further It Resolved, that AAAS urges citizens across the nation to oppose the establishment of policies that would permit the teaching of "intelligent design theory" as a part of the science curricula of the public schools;
Therefore Be It Further Resolved, that AAAS calls upon its members to assist those engaged in overseeing science education policy to understand the nature of science, the content of contemporary evolutionary theory and the inappropriateness of "intelligent design theory" as subject matter for science education;
Therefore Be Further It Resolved, that AAAS encourages its affiliated societies to endorse this resolution and to communicate their support to appropriate parties at the federal, state and local levels of the government.
Approved by the AAAS Board of Directors on 10/18/02
- all about evolution
- critical examination of ID theory
- sort of a catch-all for these things
Intelligent Design Theory Has No Scientific or Biblical Basis By Bob Enick
READ: Design yes, Intelligent no!: A critique of intelligent design "theory." by Massimo Pigliucci
READ: Neither Intelligent nor Designed: Evolution succeeds where "Intelligent Design" fails in describing the natural world. by Bruce and Frances Martin Skeptical Inquirer magazine : Nov 2003
Doubting Darwin, by Jerry Adler, Newsweek, February 7, 2005
Science Classes Are for Science, Not Faith, by Alan Leshner, AAAS CEO, Philadelphia Inquirer, February 2, 2005
The Crusade Against Evolution, by Evan Ratliff, Wired, October 2004
In Defense of Darwin and a Former Icon of Evolution, by Fiona Proffitt, Science, June 25, 2004
Political Challenges to the Teaching of Evolution American Geological Institute
The National Center for Science Education provides up-to-date listings of anti-evolution activity around the nation.
Position statements by AGI and its member societies are available at
The booklet Evolution and the Fossil Record, produced by AGI and the Paleontological Society, is now available on-line. Written by paleontologists John Pojeta Jr. and Dale Springer, this non-technical introduction to evolution aims to help the general public gain a better understanding of one of the fundamental underlying concepts of modern science.
The October 1999 issue of Geotimes features a series of perspectives on the Kansas situation from geoscience community leaders along with columns addressing the ramifications from both public policy and curriculum development standpoints. The December 2000 issues of Geotimes is devoted to the evolution debate. Articles include "The Politics of Education in Kansas" by M. Lee Allison, "Studying Evolution and Keeping the Faith" by Patricia H. Kelley, "Evolution Grades for the States" (a review of the Fordham report), and "Hot Spots across the U.S." (an overview of recent flare-ups). Other articles and columns are listed.
The National Academies have produced several publications for teachers and the general public. They are available, along with an extensive array of links to other resources
Voices for Evolution is a compilation of statements by scientific, educational, religious, and civil rights organizations published by the National Center for Science Education. It is available online at:
A position paper by the National Science Teachers Association .
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has an evolution issues section on their Web site. It contains a current issues section, information on state science education standards and various state evolution issues.
One stop source for information on evolution
What is evolution and how does it work?
Detailed explanations of the mechanisms of evolution and the history of life on Earth
How does evolution impact my life?
The relevance of evolutionary theory to our everyday lives
What is the evidence for evolution?
Multiple lines of scientific evidence relating to evolution
What is the history of evolutionary theory?
This interactive and entertaining website is a companion to the PBS series on evolution. Explore Darwin's life and the theory he proposed, find resources for teachers and students and a library of additional resources.
The Writing of Charles Darwin on the Web
This site claims to be the most extensive collection of Darwin's writings ever published and includes The Origin of Species and other books, volumes of letters, and articles published in periodicals. Although the site appears to come from the British Library, it is produced by a historian affiliated with Cambridge University.
Exploring Constitutional Conflicts: The Evolution Controversy
A fascinating look at both sides of the issue from a University of Missouri law professor. Includes links to websites supporting evolutionist theory and creationism.
More about Darwin himself than about evolution, this entertaining site offers great detail about Darwin's life and science in the late 1800s. It includes a long list of links.
Center for Science and Culture
This website presents the non-Darwinist and non-creationist point of view known as intelligent design, which holds that the universe is the product of intelligent thinking.
Answers in Genesis
A very large young-Earth creationist website. Although most material is in English, it includes pages in ten Asian and European languages.
The Talk.Origins Archive
This website is built around essays and articles addressing the evolution/creationism controversy from a mainstream science viewpoint. Lots of links to websites on both sides of the issue.
National Center for Science Education
The NCSE is a nonprofit organization dedicated to defending the teaching of evolution in public schools.
Preview the diverse work of this award-winning photographer at this site, which includes photo galleries, a short biography, and more.
The National Academies
This organization provides a committee of experts in all areas of scientific and technological endeavor and gives independent, objective advice on critical international and national issues.
Browne, Janet. Charles Darwin: Voyaging. Vol. 1. Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.
Browne, Janet. Charles Darwin: The Power of Place. Vol. 2. Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.
Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. John Murray, 1859. (Modern editions are available from many publishers.)
Desmond, Adrian, and James Moore. Darwin. Michael Joseph, 1991.
Eldredge, Niles. The Pattern of Evolution. W. H. Freeman and Company, 1999.
Larson, Edward J. Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory. Modern Library, 2004.
Title: Was Darwin Wrong? , By: Quammen, David, National Geographic, 00279358, Nov2004, Vol. 206, Issue 5
Was Darwin Wrong? No. The evidence for Evolution is overwhelming.
View also Debunking the Teleological, Cosmological, and Ontological Arguments for the Existence of God :
This argument or proof does not establish the actual existence of a supernatural deity. It attempts to argue for the existence of such a being by making comparisons that are questionable and using evidence that is also questionable and for which there alternative explanations and that is not rationally legitimate. While the argument can not be used to convert a non-believer to a believer, the faults in the argument do not prove that there is no god. The Burden of Proof demands that the positive claim that there is a supernatural deity be established by reason and evidence and this argument does not meet that standard. The believer in god can use the argument to establish the mere logical possibility that there is a supernatural deity or at least that it is not irrational to believe in the possibility that there is such a being. The argument does not establish any degree of probability at all when there are alternative explanations for the existence of features of the known universe.
- Human artifacts are products of intelligent design.
- The universe resembles human artifacts.
- Therefore the universe is a product of intelligent design.
- But the universe is complex and gigantic, in comparison to human artifacts.
Therefore, there probably is a powerful and vastly intelligent designer who created the universe.
Problem with argument:
- __X__Premises are false or questionable
- ____Premises are irrelevant
- ____Premises Contain the Conclusion –Circular Reasoning
- __X__Premises are inadequate to support the conclusion
- _X___Alternative arguments exist with equal or greater support
This argument or proof has flaws in it and would not convince a rational person to accept its conclusion. This is not because someone who does not believe in a deity will simply refuse to accept based on emotions or past history but because it is not rationally compelling of acceptance of its conclusion.
Proceed to the Arguments based upon experience in the next sections