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Teleological argument

A teleological or physico-theological argument, also known as an argument from design, is an argument for the existence of God or, more generally, for an intelligent creator "based on perceived evidence of deliberate design in the natural or physical world".[1]

The earliest version of this argument probably arose in Ancient Greece with Socrates.[2] Plato, his student, and Aristotle, Plato's student, developed differing and complex approaches to the problem, but later classical philosophers such as Plotinus and the Stoics carried on this tradition and developed versions which were eventually accepted into and used by the Abrahamic religions. In the Middle Ages, Islamic theologians such as Al Ghazali used arguments from design, although this approach was rejected as unnecessary by Quranic literalists, and as unconvincing by many Islamic philosophers. Later, a teleological argument is the fifth of Saint Thomas Aquinas' Five Ways, his rational proofs for the existence of God. It appeared as natural theology in England from the sixteenth century onwards in the writings of clergymen such as William Turner and John Ray. They often used the watchmaker analogy in making the argument. In the early 18th century, William Derham published his Physico-Theology, which gave his "demonstration of the being and attributes of God from his works of creation".[3] Later, William Paley, in his 1802 work on natural theology, published a prominent presentation of the design argument with his version of the watchmaker analogy and the first use of the phrase "argument from design".[4] Since the 1960s, the language of Paley's version has featured prominently in creation science with the claim that this was a scientific alternative to evolutionary theory.

There have been numerous criticisms of the different versions of the teleological argument. Especially important were the general logical arguments made by David Hume in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, published 1779, and the explanation of biological complexity given in Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, published in 1859. Teleology is today central to the creationist religious concepts of creation science and intelligent design, which are presented with the claim that these are alternative scientific explanations in opposition to evolution.[5]


  • History 1
    • Classical philosophers 1.1
    • Jewish thought 1.2
    • Hinduism 1.3
    • Confucianism 1.4
    • Early Christian writers 1.5
    • Islamic argument from design 1.6
    • Aquinas 1.7
    • Newton and Leibniz 1.8
    • British empiricists 1.9
    • Derham's natural theology 1.10
    • Watchmaker analogy 1.11
    • Probabilistic arguments 1.12
    • Fine-tuned Universe 1.13
    • Creation Science and intelligent design 1.14
    • Modern developments 1.15
  • Criticism 2
    • David Hume 2.1
    • Immanuel Kant 2.2
    • Buddhist criticism of Hindu Nyaya logic 2.3
    • China 2.4
    • Does not prove the existence of God 2.5
    • Argument from improbability 2.6
    • A flawed argument 2.7
    • Perception of purpose in biology 2.8
    • Other criticisms 2.9
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6


While the concept of an intelligence in the natural order goes back at least to the beginnings of philosophy and science, the concept of a designer of the natural world, or a creating intelligence which has human-like purposes, appears to have begun with classical philosophy.[2] Religious thinkers in Judaism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Islam and Christianity also developed versions of the teleological argument. Later, variants on the argument from design were produced in Western philosophy and by Christian fundamentalism.

Classical philosophers

Plato and Aristotle, depicted here in The School of Athens, both developed philosophical arguments addressing the universe's apparent order (logos)

The argument from intelligent design appears to have begun with Socrates, although the concept of a cosmic intelligence is older.[6][7][8]

The proposal that the order of nature showed evidence of having its own human-like "intelligence" goes back to the origins of western natural philosophy and science, and its attention to the orderliness of nature, often with special reference to the revolving of the heavens. Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, born about 500 BC, is the first person who is definitely known to have explained such a concept using the word "nous" (which is the original Greek term that leads to modern English "intelligence" via its Latin and French translations). Aristotle reports an earlier philosopher from Clazomenae named Hermotimus who had taken a similar position.[9] Amongst Pre-Socratic philosophers before Anaxagoras, other philosophers had proposed a similar intelligent ordering principle causing life and the rotation of the heavens. For example Empedocles, like Hesiod much earlier, described cosmic order and living things as caused by a cosmic version of love,[10] and Pythagoras and Heraclitus attributed the cosmos with "reason" (logos).[11] In his Philebus 28c Plato has Socrates speak of this as a tradition, saying that "all philosophers agree—whereby they really exalt themselves—that mind (nous) is king of heaven and earth. Perhaps they are right." and later states that the ensuing discussion "confirms the utterances of those who declared of old that mind (nous) always rules the universe".[12] But the proposal of a cosmic intelligence is not yet the same as the concept of a cosmic "designer", with a special relationship to humanity.

Plato uses the word demiurge or craftsman to denote the maker of the heavenly bodies. In this, "the spirit of Socrates still lives, with his endless talk of 'shoemakers, carpenters and smiths." In this concept, "the maker of this world is not omnipotent, but does the best he can with already existing stuff."[13] Xenophon's report in his Memorabilia might be the earliest clear account of an argument that there is evidence in nature of intelligent design.[7] The word traditionally translated and discussed as "design" is gnōmē and Socrates is reported by Xenophon to have pressed doubting young men to look at things in the market, and consider whether they could tell which things showed evidence of gnōmē, and which seemed more to be by blind chance, and then to compare this to nature and consider whether it could be by blind chance.[6][8] In Plato's Phaedo, Socrates is made to say just before dying that his discovery of Anaxagoras' concept of a cosmic nous as the cause of the order of things, was an important turning point for him. But he also expressed disagreement with Anaxagoras' understanding of the implications of his own doctrine, because of Anaxagoras' materialist understanding of causation. Socrates complained that Anaxagoras restricted the work of the cosmic nous to the beginning, as if it were uninterested and all events since then just happened because of causes like air and water.[14] Socrates, on the other hand, apparently insisted that the demiurge must be "loving", particularly concerning humanity. (In this desire to go beyond Anaxagoras and make the cosmic nous a more active manager, Socrates was apparently preceded by Diogenes of Apollonia.[15]) In the Phaedo, Socrates seems to suggest that Anaxagoras also failed to develop a fully satisfactory teleological account of the active and loving ordering of nature by an intelligent design.

Plato has a character explain the concept of a "demiurge" with supreme wisdom and intelligence as the creator of the cosmos in his work Timaeus. Plato's teleological perspective is also built upon the analysis of a priori order and structure in the world that he had already presented in The Republic. Plato does not propose creation ex nihilo; rather, the demiurge made order from the chaos of the cosmos, imitating the eternal Forms.[16]

Aristotle (c. 384 – 322 BC) argued that the most complete explanation in regard to the natural, as well as the artificial, is for the most part teleological.[18] Based solely on the study of immature specimens, for example, one wouldn't feel confident in one's knowledge of the species.[18][19][20] Similarly, knowledge of what use an animal makes of a feature is crucial to understanding it (for example, that birds use wings for flight).[21] Aristotle did not believe nature is endowed with the same rational purpose and direction as human activity and artifacts.[18] However, he did believe that the adult

  • Teleological Arguments for God's Existence from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Design argument from the Dictionary of the history of Ideas
  • A "Preface" to Aquinas' Teleological Argument
  • Design arguments for the existence of God from the Internet encyclopedia of philosophy
  • God after Darwin, by John F. Haught (The Montréal Review, May 2011)
  • William Lane Craig: The Teleological Argument and the Anthropic Principle
  • The Skeptic's Dictionary on argument from design

External links

  • Richard Dawkins (1986) The Blind Watchmaker (takes a view against the teleological argument).
  • William A. Dembski (2004) The Design Revolution. England: Intervarsity Press.
  • Daniel Dennett (1995). Darwin's Dangerous Idea.
  • Derek Gjersen (1989). Science and Philosophy: Past and Present. London: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-014962-7
  • Cornelius G. Hunter (2007). "Science's Blind Spot: The Unseen Religion of Scientific Naturalism". Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press
  • Evidence For Design In The Universe from Limits for the Universe by Hugh Ross, Ph.D. in Astronomy
  • Lightman, Bernard V. (2007). Victorian popularizers of science.  
  • Eric Sotnak, "Analysis of the Teleological Argument"
  • JP Moreland (1987). Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity, Chapter 2

Further reading

  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, Phrase P3 for Design: "argument from design n. Theol. an argument for the existence of an intelligent creator (usually identified as God) based on perceived evidence of deliberate design in the natural or physical world".
  2. ^ a b Ahbel-Rappe, S. and Kamtekar, R., A Companion to Socrates, John Wiley & Sons, 2009, p. 45. "Xenophon attributes to Socrates what is probably the earliest known natural theology, an argument for the existence of the gods from observations of design in the physical world.".
  3. ^ Derham, W., Physico-Theology, 1713
  4. ^ Oxford English Dictionary under "Design", substantive number 4.
  5. ^ a b c d e Eugenie C. Scott. Biological design in science classrooms. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. May 15, 2007 [Retrieved 2013-9-9];104(Suppl 1):8669–8676. doi:10.1073/pnas.0701505104. PMID 17494747. PMC 1876445.
  6. ^ a b McPherran, Mark (1996), The Religion of Socrates, The Pennsylvania State University Press , pp. 273-275
  7. ^ a b Ahbel-Rappe, Sara, Socrates: A Guide for the Perplexed, p. 27 .
  8. ^ a b Sedley, David (2007), Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity, University of California Press .
  9. ^ Metaphysics I.4.984b.
  10. ^ Kirk; Raven; Schofield (1983), The Presocratic Philosophers (second ed.), Cambridge University Press  Chapter X.
  11. ^ Kirk; Raven; Schofield (1983), The Presocratic Philosophers (second ed.), Cambridge University Press . See pages 204 and 235.
  12. ^ 28c and 30d. Translation by Fowler.
  13. ^ A History of Greek Philosophy, Volume 5, The Later Plato and the Academy, 1978, pp. 253–254 
  14. ^ 97-98. Also see Ahbel Rappe.
  15. ^ Ahbel-Rappe (2009), McPherran (1996:290) and Kirk, Raven & Schofield (1983), chapter XVI.
  16. ^ Brickhouse, Thomas; Smith, Nicholas D. (April 21, 2005). "Plato". Internet Encycopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved November 12, 2011. 
  17. ^ Hankinson, R. J. (1997). Cause and Explanation in Ancient Greek Thought. Oxford University Press. p. 125.  
  18. ^ a b c d e f g Nussbaum, M.C. (1985). Aristotle's de Motu Animalium. Princeton paperbacks. Princeton University Press. p. 60,66,69–70,73–81,94–98,101.  
  19. ^ a b Toulmin, S.E.; Goodfield, J. (1965). The Discovery of Time. Pelican books. University of Chicago Press. pp. 44–45.  
  20. ^ a b c d e Furley, D.J. (1999). From Aristotle to Augustine. History of Philosophy. Routledge. pp. 13–17, 21–26, 28.  
  21. ^ Aristotle. History of Animals. I 2. 
  22. ^ Aristotle. History of Animals. I 5. 
  23. ^ Lloyd, G.E.R. (1996). Aristotelian Explorations. Cambridge University Press. p. 59.  
  24. ^ Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion. Houghton Mifflin Co. p. 167.  
  25. ^ Aristotle. Physics. II 7–9. 
  26. ^ Burkert, Walter (1985). Greek Religion. Harvard University Press. p. 331.  
  27. ^ Ross, D.; Ackrill, J.L. (2004). Aristotle. Routledge. p. 80.  
  28. ^ Hull, D.L.; Ruse, M. (2007). The Cambridge Companion to the Philosophy of Biology. Cambridge Companions to Philosophy. Cambridge University Press. p. 174.  
  29. ^ Aristotle. Physics. I 2 (¶15). 
  30. ^ Aristotle. Parts of Animals. I 1. 
  31. ^ Aristotle. Physics. III 4 (¶9). 
  32. ^ Aristotle. Physics. II 8  (¶2). 
  33. ^ Aristotle. Physics. II 8  (¶5). 
  34. ^ Aristotle. Physics. II 8  (¶8). 
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  36. ^ M.T.CiceroDe natura Deorum(the nature of the gods),book II,XXIV
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See also

Most professional biologists very long periods of time self-replicating structures arose and later formed DNA.[125]

The design claim can be challenged as an argument from analogy. Supporters of design suggest that natural objects and man-made objects have many similar properties, and man-made objects have a designer. Therefore, it is probable that natural objects must be designed as well. However, proponents must demonstrate that all the available evidence has been taken into account.[122] Eric Rust argues that, when speaking of familiar objects such as watches, "we have a basis to make an inference from such an object to its designer". However, the "universe is a unique and isolated case" and we have nothing to compare it with, so "we have no basis for making an inference such as we can with individual objects. ... We have no basis for applying to the whole universe what may hold of constituent elements in the universe."[123]

The teleological argument assumes that one can infer the existence of intelligent design merely by examination, and because life is reminiscent of something a human might design, it too must have been designed. However, considering "snowflakes and crystals of certain salts", "[i]n no case do we find intelligence". "There are other ways that order and design can come about" such as by "purely physical forces". [121]

Other criticisms

Proponents of intelligent design creationism, such as William A. Dembski question the philosophical assumptions made by critics with regard to what a designer would or would not do. Dembski claims that such arguments are not merely beyond the purview of science: often they are tacitly or overtly theological while failing to provide a serious analysis of the hypothetical objective's relative merit. Some critics, such as Stephen Jay Gould suggest that any purported 'cosmic' designer would only produce optimal designs, while there are numerous biological criticisms to demonstrate that such an ideal is manifestly untenable. Against these ideas, Dembski characterizes both Dawkins' and Gould's argument as a rhetorical straw man.[120] He suggests a principle of constrained optimization more realistically describes the best any designer could hope to achieve:

Richard Dawkins suggests that while biology can at first seem to be purposeful and ordered, upon closer inspection its true function becomes questionable. Dawkins rejects the claim that biology serves any designed function, claiming rather that biology only mimics such purpose. In his book The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins states that animals are the most complex things in the known universe: “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” He argues that natural selection should suffice as an explanation of biological complexity without recourse to divine provenance.[119]

The [117] Robert Foley refers to this as "the illusion of purpose, design, and progress." He adds, "there is no purpose in a fundamentally causative manner in evolution but that the processes of selection and adaptation give the illusion of purpose through the utter functionality and designed nature of the biological world.[118]

Perception of purpose in biology

Now consider the idea that nature itself is the product of design. How could this be demonstrated? Nature… provides the basis of comparison by which we distinguish between designed objects and natural objects. We are able to infer the presence of design only to the extent that the characteristics of an object differ from natural characteristics. Therefore, to claim that nature as a whole was designed is to destroy the basis by which we differentiate between artifacts and natural objects.[115]

George H. Smith, in his book Atheism: The Case Against God, points out what he considers to be a flaw in the argument from design:

A flawed argument

Dawkins considered the argument from improbability to be "much more powerful" than the teleological argument, or argument from design, although he sometimes implies the terms are used interchangeably. He paraphrases St.Thomas' teleological argument as follows: “Things in the world, especially living things, look as though they have been designed. Nothing that we know looks designed unless it is designed. Therefore there must have been a designer, and we call him God.” [114]

Richard Dawkins is harshly critical of theology, creationism and intelligent design in his book The God Delusion. In this book, he contends that an appeal to intelligent design can provide no explanation for biology because it not only begs the question of the designer's own origin but raises additional questions: an intelligent designer must itself be far more complex and difficult to explain than anything it is capable of designing.[114] He believes the chances of life arising on a planet like the Earth are many orders of magnitude less probable than most people would think, but the anthropic principle effectively counters skepticism with regard to improbability. For example, Fred Hoyle suggested that potential for life on Earth was no more probable than a Boeing 747 being assembled by a hurricane from the scrapyard. Dawkins argues that a one-time event is indeed subject to improbability but once under way, natural selection itself is nothing like random chance. Furthermore, he refers to his counter argument to the argument from improbability by that same name:[114]

Argument from improbability

Søren Kierkegaard questioned the existence of God, rejecting all rational arguments for God's existence (including the teleological argument) on the grounds that reason is inevitably accompanied by doubt.[112] He proposed that the argument from design does not take into consideration future events which may serve to undermine the proof of God's existence: the argument would never finish proving God's existence.[113] In the Philosophical Fragments, Kierkegaard writes:

In his Traité de métaphysique Voltaire observed that, even if the argument from design could prove the existence of a powerful intelligent designer, it would not prove that this designer is God.[111]

Voltaire argued that, at best, the teleological argument could only indicate the existence of a powerful, but not necessarily all-powerful or all-knowing, intelligence.

Does not prove the existence of God

The Taoist writings of the 6th century BC philosopher Laozi, also known as Lao Tzu, have similarities with modern naturalist science. B. Schwartz notes that, in Taoism, "The processes of nature are not guided by a teleological consciousness ... the tao [dao] is not consciously providential.[110]


Buddhism denies the existence of a creator god, and rejects the Nyaya syllogism for the teleological argument as being "logically flawed". Buddhists argue that "the 'creation' of the world cannot be shown to be analogous to the creation of a human artifact, such as a pot.[109]

Buddhist criticism of Hindu Nyaya logic

Referring to it as the physico-theological proof, Immanuel Kant discussed the teleological argument in his Critique of Pure Reason. Even though he referred to it as "the oldest, clearest and most appropriate to human reason", he nevertheless rejected it, heading section VI with the words, "On the impossibility of a physico-theological proof".[106][107] In accepting some of Hume's criticisms, Kant wrote that the argument "proves at most intelligence only in the arrangement of the 'matter' of the universe, and hence the existence not of a 'Supreme Being', but of an 'Architect'." Using the argument to try to prove the existence of God required "a concealed appeal to the Ontological argument."[108]

Immanuel Kant

Nancy Cartwright accuses Salmon of begging the question. One piece of evidence he uses in his probabilistic argument - that atoms and molecules are not caused by design - is equivalent to the conclusion he draws, that the universe is probably not caused by design. The atoms and molecules are what the universe is made up of and whose origins are at issue. Therefore, they cannot be used as evidence against the theistic conclusion.[105]

Wesley C. Salmon developed Hume's insights, arguing that all things in the universe which exhibit order are, to our knowledge, created by material, imperfect, finite beings or forces. He also argued that there are no known instances of an immaterial, perfect, infinite being creating anything. Using the probability calculus of Bayes Theorem, Salmon concludes that it is very improbable that the universe was created by the type of intelligent being theists argue for.[104]

Philo also proposes that the order in nature may be due to nature alone. If nature contains a principle of order within it, the need for a designer is removed. Philo argues that even if the universe is indeed designed, it is unreasonable to justify the conclusion that the designer must be an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent God - the God of classical theism.[102] It is impossible, he argues, to infer the perfect nature of a creator from the nature of its creation. Philo argues that the designer may have been defective or otherwise imperfect, suggesting that the universe may have been a poor first attempt at design.[103] Hume also pointed out that the argument does not necessarily lead to the existence of one God: “why may not several deities combine in contriving and framing the world?” (p. 108).[68]

A very small part of this great system, during a very short time, is very imperfectly discovered to us; and do we thence pronounce decisively concerning the origin of the whole?
—David Hume, Dialogues 2[102]

Hume also presented a criticism of the argument in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. The character Philo, a religious sceptic, voices Hume's criticisms of the argument. He argues that the design argument is built upon a faulty analogy as, unlike with man-made objects, we have not witnessed the design of a universe, so do not know whether the universe was the result of design. Moreover, the size of the universe makes the analogy problematic: although our experience of the universe is of order, there may be chaos in other parts of the universe.[102] Philo argues:

Loeb notes that "we observe neither God nor other universes, and hence no conjunction involving them. There is no observed conjunction to ground an inference either to extended objects or to God, as unobserved causes."[101]

It is only when two species of objects are found to be constantly conjoined, that we can infer the one from the other . . . If experience and observation and analogy be, indeed, the only guides which we can reasonably follow in inference of this nature; both the effect and cause must bear a similarity and resemblance to other effects and causes . . . which we have found, in many instances, to be conjoined with another . . . [The proponents of the argument] always suppose the universe, an effect quite singular and unparalleled, to be the proof of a Deity, a cause no less singular and unparalleled.
, "insists that inductive inference cannot justify belief in extended objects." Loeb also quotes Hume as writing: Enquiry, in his David HumeLouis Loeb writes that
David Hume outlined his criticisms of the teleological argument in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

David Hume


In his book, Evolution: A View from the 21st Century, Shapiro refers to this concept of "natural genetic engineering", which he says, has proved troublesome, because many scientists feel that it supports the intelligent design argument. He suggests that "function-oriented capacities [can] be attributed to cells", even though this is "the kind of teleological thinking that scientists have been taught to avoid at all costs."[100]

What significance does an emerging interface between biology and information science hold for thinking about evolution? It opens up the possibility of addressing scientifically rather than ideologically the central issue so hotly contested by fundamentalists on both sides of the Creationist-Darwinist debate: Is there any guiding intelligence at work in the origin of species displaying exquisite adaptations ..."[99]

[99] Shapiro suggests what he calls a 'Third Way'; a non-creationist, non-Darwinian type of evolution:

Modern developments

Intelligent design advocate Michael Behe proposed a development of Paley's watch analogy in which he argued in favour of intelligent design. Unlike Paley, Behe only attempts to prove the existence of an intelligent designer, rather than the God of classical theism. Behe uses the analogy of a mousetrap to propose irreducible complexity: he argues that if a mousetrap loses just one of its parts, it can no longer function as a mousetrap. He argues that irreducible complexity in an object guarantees the presence of intelligent design. Behe claims that there are instances of irreducible complexity in the natural world and that parts of the world must have been designed.[98] This negative argument against step by step evolution ignores longstanding evidence that evolution proceeds through changes of function from preceding systems. The specific examples Behe proposes have been shown to have simpler homologues which could act as precursors with different functions. His arguments have been rebutted, both in general and in specific cases by numerous scientific papers. In response, Behe and others, "ironically, given the absence of any detail in their own explanation, complain that the proffered explanations lack sufficient detail to be empirically tested."[5]

Proponents of the intelligent design movement such as Cornelius G. Hunter, have asserted that the methodological naturalism upon which science is based is religious in nature.[96] They commonly refer to it as 'scientific materialism' or as 'methodological materialism' and conflate it with 'metaphysical naturalism'.[97] They use this assertion to support their claim that modern science is atheistic, and contrast it with their preferred approach of a revived natural philosophy which welcomes supernatural explanations for natural phenomena and supports theistic science. This ignores the distinction between science and religion, established in Ancient Greece, in which science can not use supernatural explanations.[94]

Scientists disagreed with the assertion that intelligent design is scientific, and its introduction into the science curriculum of a Pennsylvania school district led to the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial, which ruled that the "intelligent design" arguments are essentially religious in nature and not science.[94] The court took evidence from theologian John F. Haught, and ruled that "ID is not a new scientific argument, but is rather an old religious argument for the existence of God. He traced this argument back to at least Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, who framed the argument as a syllogism: Wherever complex design exists, there must have been a designer; nature is complex; therefore nature must have had an intelligent designer." "This argument for the existence of God was advanced early in the 19th century by Reverend Paley": "The only apparent difference between the argument made by Paley and the argument for ID, as expressed by defense expert witnesses Behe and Minnich, is that ID's 'official position' does not acknowledge that the designer is God."[95]

A 1989 survey found that virtually all literature promoting creation science presented the design argument, with John D. Morris saying "any living thing gives such strong evidence for design by an intelligent designer that only a willful ignorance of the data (II Peter 3:5) could lead one to assign such intricacy to chance." Such publications introduced concepts central to intelligent design, including irreducible complexity (a variant of the watchmaker analogy) and specified complexity (closely resembling a fine-tuning argument). The United States Supreme Court ruling on Edwards v. Aguillard barred the teaching of "Creation Science" in public schools because it breached the separation of church and state, and a group of creationists rebranded Creation Science as "intelligent design" which was presented as a scientific theory rather than as a religious argument.[5]

The teaching of evolution was effectively barred from United States public school curricula by the outcome of the 1925 Scopes Trial, but in the 1960s the National Defense Education Act led to the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study reintroducing the teaching of evolution. In response, there was a resurgence of creationism, which was presented as "creation science", based on biblical literalism but with Bible quotes optional. ("Explicit references to the Bible were optional: Morris's 1974 book Scientific Creationism came in two versions, one with Bible quotes, and one without."[5])

A version of the argument from design is central to both creation science and Intelligent design,[5] but unlike Paley's openness to deistic design through God-given laws, they seek scientific confirmation of repeated miraculous interventions in the history of life, and argue that their theistic science should be taught in science classrooms.[93]

Creation Science and intelligent design

Antony Flew, who spent most of his life as an atheist, converted to deism late in life, and postulated "an intelligent being as involved in some way in the design of conditions that would allow life to arise and evolve."[90] He concluded that the fine-tuning of the universe was too precise to be the result of chance, so accepted the existence of God. He said that his commitment to "go where the evidence leads" meant that he ended up accepting the existence of God.[91] Flew proposed the view, held earlier by Fred Hoyle, that the universe is too young for life to have developed purely by chance and that, therefore, an intelligent being must exist which was involved in designing the conditions required for life to evolve.[90]

While Schlesinger is undoubtedly correct in thinking that we are justified in suspecting design in the case [of winning] three consecutive lotteries, it is because—and only because—we know two related empirical facts about such events. First, we already know that there exist intelligent agents who have the right motivations and causal abilities to deliberately bring about such events. Second, we know from past experience with such events that they are usually explained by the deliberate agency of one or more of these agents. Without at least one of these two pieces of information, we are not obviously justified in seeing design in such cases… [T]he problem for the fine-tuning argument is that we lack both of the pieces that are needed to justify an inference of design. First, the very point of the argument is to establish the fact that there exists an intelligent agency that has the right causal abilities and motivations to bring the existence of a universe capable of sustaining life. Second, and more obviously, we do not have any past experience with the genesis of worlds and are hence not in a position to know whether the existence of fine-tuned universes are usually explained by the deliberate agency of some intelligent agency. Because we lack this essential background information, we are not justified in inferring that there exists an intelligent Deity who deliberately created a universe capable of sustaining life.[89]
Himma considers Schlesinger’s argument to be subject to the same vulnerabilities he noted in other versions of the design argument:
To understand Schlesinger’s argument, consider your reaction to two different events. If John wins a 1-in-1,000,000,000 lottery game, you would not immediately be tempted to think that John (or someone acting on his behalf) cheated. If, however, John won three consecutive 1-in-1,000 lotteries, you would immediately be tempted to think that John (or someone acting on his behalf) cheated. Schlesinger believes that the intuitive reaction to these two scenarios is epistemically justified. The structure of the latter event is such that it… justifies a belief that intelligent design is the cause… Despite the fact that the probability of winning three consecutive 1-in-1,000 games is exactly the same as the probability of winning one 1-in-1,000,000,000 game, the former event… warrants an inference of intelligent design.
: George N. Schlesinger A modern variation of the teleological argument is built upon the concept of the

Fine-tuned Universe

It can of course be said that any form in which the universe might be is statistically enormously improbable as it is only one of a virtual infinity of possible forms. But its actual form is no more improbable, in this sense, than innumerable others. It is only the fact that humans are part of it that makes it seem so special, requiring a transcendent explanation.[45]
has the following criticism of such arguments: Encyclopedia BritannicaThe
A. The world ... shows amazing teleological order. B. All Objects exhibiting such order ... are products of intelligent design. C. Probably the world is a result of intelligent design. D. Probably, God exists and created the world.[87]

Following Plantinga, Georges Dicker produced a slightly different version in his book about Bishop Berkeley:

Every contingent object such that we know whether or not it was the product of intelligent design, was the product of intelligent design. The universe is a contingent object. So probably the universe is designed.[86]

While discussing Hume's arguments, Alvin Plantinga offered a probability version of the teleological argument in his book God and Other Minds:

Richard Swinburne's "contributions to philosophical theology have sought to apply more sophisticated versions of probability theory to the question of God’s existence, a methodological improvement on Tennant’s work but squarely in the same spirit."[84] He uses Bayesian probability "taking account not only of the order and functioning of nature but also of the 'fit' between human intelligence and the universe, whereby one can understand its workings, as well as human aesthetic, moral, and religious experience.[45] Swinburne writes: "the existence of order in the world confirms the existence of God if and only if the existence of this order in the world is more probable if there is a God than if there is not. ... the probability of order of the right kind is very much greater if there is a God, and so that the existence of such order adds greatly to the probability that there is a God."[85]

In 1928 and 1930, FR. Tennant published his Philosophical Theology, which was a "bold endeavour to combine scientific and theological thinking".[83] He proposed a version of the teleological argument based on the accumulation of the probabilities of each individual biological adaptation. "Tennant concedes that naturalistic accounts such as evolutionary theory may explain each of the individual adaptations he cites, but he insists that in this case the whole exceeds the sum of its parts: naturalism can explain each adaptation but not their totality."[84] The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes that "Critics have insisted on focusing on the cogency of each piece of theistic evidence - reminding us that, in the end, ten leaky buckets hold no more water than one." Also, "Some critics, such as John Hick and D.H. Mellor, have objected to Tennant’s particular use of probability theory and have challenged the relevance of any kind of probabilistic reasoning to theistic belief."[84]

Probabilistic arguments

But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I shd wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed. [82]

Darwin owned he was "bewildered" on the subject, but was "inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance":

As a theology student, Charles Darwin found Paley's arguments compelling. However, he later developed his theory of evolution in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species, which offers an alternate explanation of biological order. In his autobiography, Darwin wrote that "The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered".[80] Darwin struggled with the problem of evil of suffering in nature, but remained inclined to believe that nature depended upon "designed laws" and commended Asa Gray's statement about "Darwin's great service to Natural Science in bringing back to it Teleology: so that, instead of Morphology versus Teleology, we shall have Morphology wedded to Teleology."[81]

Natural theology strongly influenced British science, with the expectation as expressed by Adam Sedgwick in 1831 that truths revealed by science could not conflict with the moral truths of religion.[78] These natural philosophers saw God as the first cause, and sought secondary causes to explain design in nature: the leading figure Sir John Herschel wrote in 1836 that by analogy with other intermediate causes "the origination of fresh species, could it ever come under our cognizance, would be found to be a natural in contradistinction to a miraculous process".[79]

According to [77]

[S]uppose I found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think … that, for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for [a] stone [that happened to be lying on the ground]?… For this reason, and for no other; namely, that, if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, if a different size from what they are, or placed after any other manner, or in any order than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it.
[76] (1802).Natural Theology presented his version of the watchmaker analogy at the start of his William Paley
The Universe troubles me, and much less can I think
That this clock exists and should have no clockmaker.
, the latter of whom remarked: Voltaire and [74]Robert Hooke It was also used by [73] in making a model of the revolutions of the firmament than of that of nature in creating them, although the perfection of the original shows a craftsmanship many times as great as does the counterfeit".Archimedes, whom, he taunts, would "think more highly of the achievement of Epicureans (II.88), reports a Stoic philosopher using such an argument against De Natura Deorum, framing the teleological argument with reference to a timepiece, dates at least back to Cicero, who in his watchmaker analogy The
William Paley popularized the "watchmaker analogy" used by earlier natural theologians, making it a famous teleological argument.

Watchmaker analogy

A.S. Weber writes that Derham's Physico-Theology "directly influenced" William Paley's later work.[72]

[71]Derham concludes: "For it is a Sign a Man is a wilful, perverse Atheist, that will impute so glorious a Work, as the Creation is, to any Thing, yea, a mere Nothing (as Chance is) rather than to God.
For who but an intelligent Being, what less than an omnipotent and infinitely wise God could contrive, and make such a fine Body, such a Medium, so susceptible of every Impression, that the Sense of Hearing hath occasion for, to empower all Animals to express their Sense and Meaning to others.[70]

Starting in 1696 with his Artificial Clockmaker, William Derham published a stream of teleological books. The best known of these are Physico-Theology, 1713; Astro-Theology, 1714; and Christo-Theology, 1730. Physico-Theology, for example, was explicitly subtitled "A demonstration of the being and attributes of God from his works of creation". A natural theologian, Derham listed scientific observations of the many variations in nature, and proposed that these proved "the unreasonableness of infidelity". At the end of the section on Gravity for instance, he writes:"What else can be concluded, but that all was made with manifest Design, and that all the whole Structure is the Work of some intelligent Being; some Artist, of Power and Skill equivalent to such a Work?"[69] Also, of the "sense of sound" he writes:

Derham's natural theology

On the other hand, Hume's sceptic, Philo, is not satisfied with the argument from design. He attempts a number of refutations, including one that arguably foreshadows Darwin's theory, and makes the point that if God resembles a human designer, then assuming divine characteristics such as omnipotence and omniscience is not justified. He goes on to joke that far from being the perfect creation of a perfect designer, this universe may be "only the first rude essay of some infant deity... the object of derision to his superiors".[68]

Hume also presented arguments both for and against the teleological argument in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. The character Cleanthes, summarizing the teleological argument, likens the universe to a man-made machine, and concludes by the principle of similar effects and similar causes that it must have a designing intelligence.

However, later he was more critical of the argument in his An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. This was presented as a dialogue between Hume and "a friend who loves sceptical paradoxes", where the friend gives a version of the argument by saying of its proponents, they "paint in the most magnificent colours the order, beauty, and wise arrangement of the universe; and then ask if such a glorious display of intelligence could come from a random coming together of atoms, or if chance could produce something that the greatest genius can never sufficiently admire."[67]

David Hume, in the mid-18th century, referred to the teleological argument in his A Treatise of Human Nature. Here, he appears to give his support to the argument from design. John Wright notes that "Indeed, he claims that the whole thrust of his analysis of causality in the Treatise supports the Design argument", and that, according to Hume, "we are obliged 'to infer an infinitely perfect Architect.'”[66]

The 17th-century idealism in which things only continue to exist when they are perceived.[64] When humans do not perceive objects, they continue to exist because God is perceiving them. Therefore, in order for objects to remain in existence, God must exist omnipresently.[65]

British empiricists

In Leibniz’s form, the argument states that the harmony of all the monads can only have arisen from a common cause. That they should all exactly synchronize, can only be explained by a Creator who pre-determined their synchronism.[61]
Russell wrote: [60], programmed to act in a predetermined way.monads wrote that "The proof from the pre-established harmony is a particular form of the so-called physico-theological proof, otherwise known as the argument from design." According to Leibniz, the universe is completely made from individual substances known as Bertrand Russell [59].Monadology expounded in his pre-established harmonyLeibniz considered the argument from design to have "only moral certainty" unless it was supported by his own idea of
According to [Newton's] doctrine, God Almighty wants [i.e. needs] to wind up his watch from time to time; otherwise it would cease to move. He had not it seems, sufficient foresight to make it a perpetual motion [58]
, Samuel Clarke argued Newton's case that God constantly intervenes in the world to keep His design adjusted, while Leibniz thought that the universe was created in such a way that God would not need to intervene at all. As quoted by Ayval Leshem, Leibniz wrote: Leibniz–Clarke correspondence disagreed with Newton's view of design in the teleological argument. In the Gottfried LeibnizThe German philosopher
when I wrote my treatise about our Systeme I had an eye upon such Principles as might work with considering men for the beliefe [sic] of a Deity, and nothing can rejoice me more than to find it useful for that purpose. [57]
Newton wrote to Bentley, just before Bentley delivered the first lecture, that: [56], which Newton supervised.Boyle lectures in the William Whiston and Samuel Clarke, Richard BentleyThis view, that "God is known from his works", was supported and popularized by Newton's friends
This most elegant system of the sun, planets, and comets could not have arisen without the design and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being.[55]
: Principia affirmed his belief in the truth of the argument when, in 1713, he wrote these words in an appendix to the second edition of his Isaac Newton

Newton and Leibniz

Aquinas notes that the existence of final causes, by which a cause is directed toward an effect, can only be explained by an appeal to intelligence. However, as natural bodies aside from humans do not possess intelligence, there must, he reasons, exist a being that directs final causes at every moment. That being is what we call God.[54]

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack knowledge, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that they achieve their end, not fortuitously, but designedly. Now whatever lacks knowledge cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is directed by the archer. Therefore, some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.
—St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica: Article 3, Question 2)[54]

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) presented a teleological argument in his Summa Theologica. In the work, Aquinas presented five ways in which he attempted to prove the existence of God: the quinque viae. These arguments feature only a posteriori arguments, rather than literal reading of holy texts.[53] He sums up his teleological argument as follows:

The fifth of Thomas Aquinas' proofs of God's existence was based on teleology


Averroes used teleological arguments in his interpretations of Aristotle from an Islamic perspective in Moorish Spain in the latter half of the 12th century. His work was highly controversial, officially banned in both Christendom and Islamic Spain.[50] Averroes' teleological arguments can be characterized as presuming one god.[51] He proposes that order and continual motion in the world is caused by God's intellect. In knowing all forms and patterns, God provides order to the Lesser Intelligences.[52]

Various forms of the argument from design have been used by Islamic theologians and philosophers from the time of the early Mutakallimun theologians in the 9th century, although it is rejected by fundamentalist or literalist schools, for whom the mention of God in the Koran should be sufficient evidence. While the argument from design was seen as an unconvincing sophism by the early Islamic philosophers Al-Farabi and Avicenna,[48] it was however later accepted by both the philosopher Averroes (Ibn Rushd) and his great anti-philosophy opponent Al-Ghazali. Averroes' term for the argument was Dalīl al-ˁināya, which can be translated as "argument from providence".[49]

Islamic argument from design

Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–430) in The City of God mentioned the idea that the world's "well-ordered changes and movements", and "the fair appearance of all visible things" was evidence for the world being created, and "that it could not have been created save by God".[47]

Marcus Minucius Felix (c. late 2nd to 3rd century), an Early Christian writer, argued for the existence of God based on the analogy of an ordered house in his The Orders of Minucius Felix: "Supposing you went into a house and found everything neat, orderly and well-kept, surely you would assume it had a master, and one much better than the good things, his belongings ; so in this house of the universe, when throughout heaven and earth you see the marks of foresight, order and law, may you not assume that the lord and author of the universe is fairer than the stars themselves or than any portions of the entire world ?"[46]

As an appeal to general revelation, Paul the Apostle (AD 5-67), argues in Romans 1:18-20, that because it has been made plain to all from what has been created in the world, it is obvious that there is a God.[45]

Early Christian writers

The 18th century German philosopher Christian Wolff once thought that Confucius was a godless man, and that "the ancient Chinese had no natural religion, since they did not know the creator of the world". However, later, Wolff changed his mind to some extent. "On Wolff's reading, Confucius's religious perspective is thus more or less the weak deistic one of Hume's Cleanthes".[44]


However, other Hindu schools, such as Samkhya, deny that the existence of God can ever be proved, because such a creator can never be perceived. Krishna Mohan Banerjee, in his Dialogues on the Hindu Philosophy, has the Samkhya speaker saying, "the existence of God cannot be established because there is no proof. ... nor can it be proved by Inference, because you cannot exhibit an analogous instance."[43]

  1. The ... world ... has been constructed by an intelligent agent.
  2. On account of being an effect.
  3. Each and every effect has been constructed by an intelligent agent, just like a pot.
  4. And the world is an effect.
  5. Therefore, it has been constructed by an intelligent agent.[42]

The argument is in five parts:

Nyaya, the Hindu school of logic, had a version of the argument from design. P.G. Patil writes that, in this view, it is not the complexity of the world from which one can infer the existence of a creator, but the fact that "the world is made up of parts." In this context, it is the Supreme Soul, Ishvara, who created all the world.


The American orthodox rabbi, Aryeh Kaplan, retells a legend about the 2nd century AD Rabbi Meir. When told by a philosopher that he did not believe that the world was created by God, the rabbi produced a beautiful poem that he claimed had come into being when a cat accidentally knocked over a pot of ink, "spilling ink all over the document. This poem was the result." The philosopher exclaims that would be impossible: "There must be an author. There must be a scribe." The rabbi concludes, "How could the universe ... come into being by itself? There must be an Author. There must be a Creator."[41]

Maimonides also recalled that Abraham (in the midrash, or explanatory text, of Genesis Rabbah 39:1) recognized the existence of "one transcendent deity from the fact that the world around him exhibits an order and design."[39] The midrash makes an analogy between the obviousness that a building has an owner, and that the world is looked after by God. Abraham says "Is it conceivable that the world is without a guide?"[40] Because of these examples, the 19th century philosopher Nachman Krochmal called the argument from design "a cardinal principle of the Jewish faith." [39]

An example of the teleological argument in Jewish philosophy appears when the medieval philosopher Maimonides cites the passage in Isaiah 40:26, where the "Holy One" says: "Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number:"[37] However, Barry Holtz calls this "a crude form of the argument from design," and that this "is only one possible way of reading the text." He asserts that "Generally, in the biblical texts the existence of God is taken for granted."[38]

Jewish thought

"When you see a sundial or a water-clock, you see that it tells the time by design and not by chance. How then can you imagine that the universe as a whole is devoid of purpose and intelligence, when it embraces everything, including these artifacts themselves and their artificers?"
—Cicero, De Natura Deorum, ii. 34[36]

Cicero (c. 106 – c. 43 BC) presented an early teleological argument in De Natura Deorum (On the Nature of the Gods), arguing that divine power can be found in reason, which exists throughout nature. He developed an early version of the watchmaker analogy, which was later developed by William Paley.

Marcus Tullius Cicero

In his Metaphysics, Aristotle addressed the existence of gods. Rather than envisioning an Artificer as Plato did, he believed that the eternal cosmos required no creation.[20] Aristotle argued for the existence of one or more unmoved movers to serve as nature's role models and constant inspiration (see Prime Mover and Daimon).[19][20][26] Aristotle described the movers as immaterial "active intellects", incapable of perceiving or interacting with the cosmos, thus assuredly "unmoved". To the extent permitted by the vagaries of matter, he believed the natural pleroma is exerting its full potential, because it has had an eternity in which to do so.[20] This is not to imply a naïve optimism, but a logically valid argument from a natural scientist who took a great deal of interest in efficient causal analyses.[18] As a more unsettled account of the species, he briefly recounted survival of the fittest,[27][28] well known even in Aristotle's time.[18][29][30] It would have been infinitely long ago, he argued, and thus would have remained effectively unchanged for an infinitely long duration.[31] Conceding that monstrosities come about by chance,[32][33] he disagrees with those who, like Democritus, ascribe all nature purely to chance[34] because he believes science can only provide a general account of that which is normal, "always, or for the most part".[35]


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