In today’s society there are many arguments surrounding the question “does God exist?”. One of these is the teleological argument. The world around us is very intricate, from snowflakes to plain old rocks, much like the items we ourselves create. Many people nowadays and throughout history (myself included) noticed this trend and think about how our world is structured and detailed in a way that when studied closely, looks as though it must’ve been designed in order to exist at all.
Nothing we create that is complex (a computer chip/watch) is there by chance, they had to be designed, it had to be intricately placed together in order to create said object. If this is true of manmade objects, then surely everything that surrounds has to be created by an intelligent being too? These thoughts were brought together by William Paley and form what is known as the teleological argument in philosophy.
A rock is just as complicated and mosaic like as a watch that has been painstakingly designed by hand when viewed on a quantum level, this idea is fully explained and examined in the “watchmaker’s analogy” which suggests that if a watch was designed, then surely all that is intricate in nature must surely have an ultimate creator.
Paley himself began to consider this argument while thinking about religion, how God fits into the creation of the universe and everything in it. The theory that all things must be created, otherwise known as the intelligent design theory, has been debated and supported by numerous philosophers throughout the ages, from St Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, through the movement in the 16th and 17th centuries led by the likes of William Derham, to modern day philosophical theorists and evolutionary biologists such as eminent atheist Richard Dawkins.
The earliest cited versions of this argument are associated with Socrates in ancient Greece, although it has been argued that his ideas were influenced by earlier philosophical arguments. Plato, his student, and Aristotle, developed complex methodologies around the idea that the universe has an intelligent designer.
William Paley was an English churchman and Christian apologist who lived in the mid-18th century to the early 19th century, his treatise and lectures (that were delivered to such notable philosophers as John Locke) on moral philosophy, concerned themselves with proving the existence of God. He believed that the complexity and order of all things could not have come about as a matter of chance, and that all things within the universe seem to have been designed with a purpose in mind. In Paley’s mind the only thing that would make sense in order to explain this would be a God, the Christian God of his religion. This is in direct opposition to Darwin’s theory of natural selection and evolution. Using the watchmaker’s analogy Paley suggested “The marks of design are too strong to be got over. Design must have had a designer. That designer must have been a person. That person is GOD.” In this theory the watch is a metaphor for the universe; God is to the universe as Watchmaker is to the watch. Even if we didn’t know where the watch from the analogy came from, we could still infer that it was made by someone or something with a specific purpose in mind because of its complexity and function. This can be transferred to the origin/creation of the universe and things we can’t yet explain and since we have no definitive answers as to how to universe was created, we can assume the same.
Paley did not accept that the existence of things such as natural disasters or immorality in the world as a counter argument for his theory or as evidence of a creator’s malicious intent or bad design. After all, even the most intricately designed things can be broken or go wrong in certain circumstances. A watch, despite its intricate design might sometimes malfunction which does not disprove the fact it had been created with intent and purpose. He believed that everything in the universe (natural or man-made) has an order. For example, the galaxy orbits its centre, just as the planets orbit the sun and an electron orbits an atom. Everything has a pattern, a structure, no matter how simple or intricate it is; they are in everything you look at or do. This order, Paley argued, is proof of his argument saying that God exists and is the ultimate creator of everything.
The Scottish philosopher David Hume, who was a relative contemporary to Paley, disagreed with the idea of the intelligent design argument being proof of God’s existence, which he thought had a complete lack of evidence. Hume strongly believed in empiricism (that everything comes from our senses) and thought that rational thought and the laws of nature proved that miracles weren’t a possibility. He also argued that an orderly universe was not proof of a creator and that even if there was a God, supreme deity or designer we couldn’t possibly know anything about it or prove its existence. He thought that if there was a creator, why did it have to be God? Could there be more than one creator/God? The design argument does nothing to prove the existence of God in the “traditional” sense, that being a God who is omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence (all good, all knowing and always there). Perhaps this deity isn’t the ultimate being and the design argument does nothing to either prove or disprove the existence of an all-powerful God.
The fact that evil exists in any form and is everywhere, suggests that God is either all-powerful but not completely good or he has good intentions but is not able to eradicate evil and isn’t all-powerful. Hume uses this as counter-argument to the idea of an omniscient God as an all-good and kind god wouldn’t inflict needless pain on people/sentient beings that have done nothing wrong. It doesn’t make sense, why would God make us with the ability to choose good or evil in order to allow us to receive eternal life and then punish us as soon as we make our own choices? If God existed (in the traditional sense) then the existence of evil, even in the tiniest amount, would contradict what the traditional Christian God is known as and stands for because you cannot be all-good, all-powerful and all-present if you allow evil and suffering to occur.
Whilst Paley’s theory attempts to explain the existence of an ordered and complex universe via his intelligent design argument many other philosophers have disagreed and came up with their own theories (Hume) which counter what Paley argued and tried to explain. Hume doesn’t deny that there is a God or intelligent designer, but he discredits Paley by talking about rational thought and the problem of evil which seems to further pull apart Paley’s already rather flawed argument. He also disputed the assumption that everything that exists must have a creator or a cause for existence. Primarily, Hume argued that a theory represented as a best possible explanation, such as Paley’s, showed a complete lack of evidence to support it and instead raised many more questions than it answered.
To conclude, I do not believe that the teleological argument proves or disproves the existence of God, I do however believe that it is a matter of perspective and personal judgement when it comes down to which side to believe/be on. Hume’s argument seems to me to be the more logical argument between the two, as it has less loopholes and flaws when compared to the teleological side. However, contrary to his reputation as “The Great Infidel”, Hume did nor categorically deny the existence of God, but argued that it cannot either be proved, nor disproved, which allows room for interpretation depending on your viewpoint.