In this essay I will attempting to concentrate on the argument from design and whether or not the existence of regularity and order in this world (Universe) provide compelling evidence for the existence of God. I will begin with a brief explanation of what the teleological argument is. I will then put forward Thomas Aquinas’ (1225-1274) version of the argument, and show David Hume’s (1711-1776) problems with it. I will then move onto William Paley’s (1743-1805) watch argument, again using Hume to bring out problem with such a view. Following that I will show how Charles Darwin (1809 -1882) can get around the apparent design of nature. Then move onto Immanuel Kant’s (1724-1804) criticism of the teleological argument and also attempt to show how regularity and order can be projected onto the universe. I will then warn against the projection of order upon what we see and use David Hume once again to express this view succinctly.

So to begin, the teleological argument is one that attempts to prove or suggest the existence of god by showing evidence for design in the natural world. Using purpose to suggest a cause to explain it. This includes natural laws, biological development, regularity, order and uniformity. In this way it differs from the ontological argument as it uses a posteriori arguments to refer back to and suggest the god that is argued for a priori (The ontological argument).

The design argument can be expressed as so:

  1. The material universe resembles the intelligent productions of human beings in that it exhibits design.
  2. The design in any human artefact is the effect of having been made by an intelligent being.
  3. Like effects have like causes.
  4. Therefore, the design in the material universe is the effect of having been made by an intelligent creator. (1)
One of the earliest rigorous examples of this argument comes from Saint Thomas Aquinas. In his fifth way (2) he puts forward the idea that whatever lacks knowledge cannot move towards an end. Just as the arrow is determined by the archer. It is non-sense to say an arrow can shoot itself at a specific target with an aim or purpose. Therefore, concludes Aquinas that there is a being which gives all natural things a direction towards an end. This being is what we call god. Aquinas is making an assertion about the ends and purpose of all things, which can only be given by an intelligent being who directs it.David Hume was to point out a problem with this view, as it was based on our experience of what intelligent beings do, in a purpose driven context. The problem here, as Hume points out, is that we cannot use our experience of man in order to infer how and why the universe is the way it is.

For example:

“When two species of objects have always been observed to be conjoined together, I can infer, by custom, the existence of one, where-ever I see the existence of the other: and this I call an argument from experience. But how this argument can have place, where the objects, as in the present case, are single, individual, without parallel, or specific resemblance, may be difficult to explain. And will any man tell me with a serious countenance, that an orderly universe must arise from some thought or art, like the human; because we have experience of it? To ascertain this reasoning, it were requisite, that we had experience of the origin of the worlds; and it is not sufficient surely, that we have seen ships and cities arise from human art and contrivance.” (3)

After this came William Paley’s famous watch analogy. Ironically Paley gave this argument twenty three years after Hume had refuted it (4). What Paley did was to take the example of a person coming across a watch in the wild. They would know that this watch was made with a purpose and a design, and know that an intelligent being had made it. From this he infers that all nature is designed by god, making biology and the like solid-proof of this: “Were there no example in the world of contrivance except that of the eye, it would be alone sufficient to support the conclusion which we draw from it, as to the necessity of an intelligent Creator.” (5)

As mentioned before Hume himself put serious dents in this argument before the argument was even put forward, in his Dialogues concerning Natural Religion he expressed the view that you cannot say such a thing as you simply are making an inference to something far beyond your own comprehension:

“In this cautious proceeding of the astronomers, you may read your own condemnation, CLEANTHES; or rather you may see, that the subject in which you are engaged exceeds all human reason and enquiry. Can you pretend to show any such similarity between the fabric of a house, and the generation of the universe? Have you ever seen Nature in any such situation as resembles the first arrangement of elements? Have worlds ever been formed under your eye? and have you had leisure to observe the whole progress of the phenomenon, from the first appearance of order to its final consummation? If you have, then cite your experience, and deliver your theory.” (6)

If the argument from design is positing that we can infer from the state of nature that we were created with purpose then you run into an error when you use certain examples. Paley uses a watch which in itself is an ignorant thing to do as we not only can infer design, but we blatantly know that it is designed. And a person who was ignorant of a watch would set it apart from nature and most likely revere it as a gift from the gods. While not doing the same thing for a branch or a stone, unless it stood out from the rest. Just as the watch stood out from the natural.

Using the example of a car, we could also use the natural version: The horse. But evidently it was not designed for our riding, which is why we require equipment, breeding and the breaking of horses. We have to design the horse by altering it for ourselves. If the argument from design has only to rely on the organisms purpose of survival alone, that seems somewhat absurd. To do that would be to argue that a puddle was designed for the gap it fills in the floor. (7)

This leads me onto Charles Darwin and Evolution which offers a serious problem for the watch analogy. Evolution is not so much a mechanism, as a failure of one. When the DNA copies itself in cell division it cannot ever perfectly copy that DNA. Resulting in mistakes known as mutations (8). These can, as we know, result in survival, but more often that not result in disease, physical and mental problems, and ultimately have led to the extinction (9) of over 99.9% of all life that has ever occurred on Earth. The vast majority of these were caused by cataclysmic changes in the environment where the time to adapt was far too short to alter in time to survive. Adaption is not designed, not even by the very being that contains the mutations, but are accidental via natural selection and genetic mutations. What Darwin showed was much the same as Alan Turing (1912- 1954): It is not requisite to know how to make a machine/being in order to actually make one. Just as Turing showed that a machine does not need to know arithmetic in order to be a computing machine; Darwin with his apparent inversion of reason (10), was able to show that absolute ignorance could obtain complexities. Because such things are accumulative like knowledge and culture. Meaning design from an entity such as god, and using evolution as a mechanism of that being, is non-sense. Paley was fond of using the complexity of the eye as his knock down argument, what Theists usually forget to mention is Darwin himself explained the eye:

“Although the belief that an organ so perfect as the eye could have been formed by natural selection is more than enough to stagger any one; yet in the case of any organ, if we know of a long series of gradations in complexity, each good for its possessor, then, under changing conditions of life, there is no logical impossibility in the acquirement of any conceivable degree of perfection through natural selection. In the cases in which we know of no intermediate or transitional states, we should be very cautious in concluding that none could have existed, for the homologies of many organs and their intermediate states show that wonderful metamorphoses in functions are at least possible.” (11)

It seems incoherent to say that this universe has regularity therefore there must be a god in order to give it regularity. Let us imagine a universe with no regularity: When I drop something it turns into another object and then ceases to exist. This is irregular, but then; to this universe it would be regular. It is only irregular to our universe. Just as a man who lives his entire life within an illusion can be said to be within reality: For if you have no alternative to the illusion, it fails to be an illusion and has no comparison. Then what we call regular is just our universe, and everything which is irregular is not in our universe. By claiming that regularity proves a designer, all you have really said is: The universe is the way this universe is. Which proves nothing that we don’t already know.

Now to posit that this universe has certain laws which are obeyed is quite a different matter. If this is true, then you would have a regularity of laws, and thus either a law giver, or something which caused the laws: God, or the big-bang and so on. But this also begs the question of if this is so: Why does the entire universe not obey these laws. Black holes do not obey the theory of relativity. These laws break down at the event horizon.

Which suggests that the black hole is:

  1. Irregular and thus a miracle.
  2. Not a part of this universe as it disobeys its laws.
  3. Or a part of this universe which does not have strict regularity.
3 seems the only coherent answer. If these laws are universal, uniform and regular, then why can they be disobeyed? It doesn’t seem all that hard to imagine a universe better suited to us. (12)But, moving on to the logic of the argument itself: When we strip away at the design argument, it ultimately becomes the ontological argument, as Immanuel Kant pointed out in his Critique of Pure Reason:

“Thus we see that the physico-theological proof, baffled in its own undertaking, suddenly takes refuge in the cosmological proof; and as this is only the ontological proof in disguise, the physico-theological proof actually carries out its original intention merely by means of pure reason, although in the beginning it so strongly disclaimed all connection with it, and professed to base everything on clear proofs from experience.” (13)

This is to be expected as a posteriori always falls back on a a priori eventually. However, if a problem can be pointed out within the ontological argument, then the teleological argument lacks the foundation to even assert itself. The ontological argument can be proved to be incoherent by either denying the premise and subject at the same time, or to demonstrate that the concept of a maximally great being or a perfect being is contradictory because of conflicting attributes. Considering all of this, the teleological argument fails to get off the ground as it relies ultimately on the ontological argument. Thus, I conclude that the teleological argument is far from able to demonstrate anything but our habit to leap over gaps in our arguments. For this reason: we can simply refuse that regularity demands a god to set it in place, and thus ask the theist for a reason why they think that god exists in the first place to give that regularity. They will always have to go back to the ontological argument, which is logically unsatisfactory. Philosophically god doesn’t need a creator as its eternal, only finites/contingents need causes. Which obviously destroys regularity in the first place as the god is the most irregular, law disobeying thing there is. In this way, god is itself a miracle. And if all stemmed from an irregular, non-uniform cause, then god cannot be the cause of any regularity or order, for like effects have like causes.

I think that we have a habit of seeing the universe as regular and ordered exactly because we are a product of it. And if one is to ask the currently oppressed animals about order and regularity of this universe, they may say something different to the animal which currently rules this planet. I think that order and regularity are merely something we project (14) onto the universe to be able to understand it: like categorizing. We assume cause and effect by experience rather than reason. Just like cause and effect our calculations of the probability of being designed falls prey to the very thing that cause and effect do. Meaning that the problem of induction can be applied to the teleological argument, while incoherencies are produced by the ontological argument. Considering what we understand of the universe is so abysmally small and anthropologically based, it seems unreasonable to make such bold conclusions. So, no, I do not find the regularity and order of this world compelling evidence for the existence of god. However, as I have said before: this says nothing about the facts. Although, I do think there is a danger in the tendency of projecting such a view. One which Hume expresses strongly:

“What peculiar privilege has this little agitation of the brain which we call thought, that we must thus make it the model of the whole universe? Our partiality in our own favour does indeed present it on all occasions: But sound philosophy ought carefully to guard against so natural an illusion.” (15)

1. The summing up of the design argument taken from:
A paper written by Kenneth Einar Himma, Seattle Pacific University, U.S.A. Titled – Design Arguments for the Existence of God.
Article contained and read on The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP) (ISSN 2161-0002): <a> </a>
2. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica. Article 3, question 2.
3. David Hume, An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. Appendix III: Excerpts from Parts I and II of the Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1779), verse 150, page 159. (Oxford world’s classics, 2008 reissue.)
4. John H. Hicks, Philosophy of religion, foundations of philosophy series. Chapter 2, Grounds for belief in god. The design (or Teleological argument.), page 25. (Second edition, Prentice-hall, inc. Englewood cliffs, New Jersey, 1973.)
5. William Paley, Natural Theology. Natural Theology: Selections. Chapter VI The argument cumulative. Page 32. (The Bobbs-Merrill company, Inc. Library of congress catalog card number: 63-12201, 1963.)
6. David Hume, An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. Appendix III: Excerpts from Parts I and II of the Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1779), verse 151, page 160. (Oxford world’s classics, 2008 reissue.)
7. See Douglas Adam’s The Salmon of doubt for the puddle analogy.
8. Article on mutations:
<a> </a>
Published: March 16, 2015, on Genetics Home Reference: your guide to understanding genetic conditions, A service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
9. Article on extinction:
<a> </a>
Article contained on Endangered Species International, Inc.
10. Article on Darwin’s inversion:
Article author Daniel Dennett, contained on PNAS:
Vol. 106 no. Supplement 1, 10061-10065
PubMed ID19528651
Published online before print on June 15, 2009.
<a> </a>
11. Charles Darwin, The Origin Of Species. Chapter VI Difficulties on theory – Summary of chapter. Page 157. (Wordsworth Classics Of World Literature, introduction by Jeff Wallace, 1998.)
12. Article on fine-tuning:
Originally published: Feb 20 2015 – 12:15pm, By Gabriel Popkin, Contributor.
13. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason. Second division. Transcendental Dialectic. Chapter III. The ideal of pure reason. Section VI. Of the impossibility of the Physico-Thelogical proof. Page 523-524.  (Penguin classics, 2007.)
14. Projected design put forward by Immanuel Kant taken from:
Mel Thompson, Teach yourself: Philosophy of religion. Section 04, God: The arguments. The Teleological argument. Projected design. Page 121. (Bookpoint Ltd, 2009 reissue.)
15. David Hume, Dialogues and Natural History of Religion. Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, Part II, page 50. (Oxford world’s classics, Oxford university press, 2008 reissue.)

 – Adams, The Salmon of Doubt.
– Aquinas, Summa Theologica.
– Darwin, The Origin Of Species. (Wordsworth Classics Of World Literature, 1998.)
– Hicks, Philosophy of religion, foundations of philosophy series. (Second edition, Prentice-hall, inc. Englewood cliffs, New Jersey, 1973.)
– Hume, An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. (Oxford world’s classics, 2008 reissue.)
– Hume, Dialogues and Natural History of Religion. (Oxford university press, 2008 reissue.)
– Kant, Critique of Pure Reason. (Penguin classics, 2007.)
– Paley, Natural theology. (The Bobbs-Merrill company, Inc. 1963.)
– Thompson, Teach yourself: Philosophy of religion. (Bookpoint Ltd, 2009 reissue.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s