The Teleological Argument of the Existence of God

The word teleological comes from the Greek word ‘Telos’ which means purpose. The teleological argument is a posteriori and like the cosmological argument, attempts to prove the existence of God.

It claims that certain phenomena within the universe appear to display features of design and are perfectly adapted to fulfil their function. Therefore, if features of the universe are so perfectly designed, for example the structure and function of the heart, then there must be a designer, which points towards the existence of God.

The teleological argument is based around the idea that the universe in some way demands the existence of an intelligent being that designed the universe to allow life. For example Thomas Aquinas included a form of the teleological argument as the fifth of his five ways. Aquinas presented his fifth ‘way’ to prove God exists and argues that nature seems to have an order and a purpose to it. Nothing inanimate can be of use unless there is someone or something to give it purpose, or a guiding hand as Aquinas stated it.

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Inanimate objects could not have ordered themselves – such as the planets – as they do not have the capacity or intelligence to do this. Therefore, someone with intelligence must have put them in order, which would be God. Additionally, William Paley’s analogy of the watchmaker states that the order evident in the universe demands an explanation. The watch serves as an analogy for the world as it demonstrates design and purpose, hence the argument is one of design qua purpose.

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All parts of the watch work together to fulfill a function, which is to tell the time, just as the universe does – it functions to allow life. An intelligent designer had to make the watch work so perfectly, which, when this logic is applied to the earth, implies a intelligent designer of the earth which cannot be described by chance. Also he claims, if the watch does not work properly it is of bad design, linking to perhaps the problem of evil, but we can still clearly see that it has been designed.

As well as examining the purpose of the world, Paley also looks at its order and regularity, thus his argument is also one of Design Qua Regularity. Paley argues that as the cogs and hands of the watch move in an orderly way to tell the time, so the world has order in order to enable life. For example, Newtons laws of gravity and motion and the orbits of the planets. For Paley, if the order of the watch can be explained through reference to a watchmaker, the order of the world can be explained by the idea that there is an intelligent designer God who gave the world this order.

Paley states that the order and purpose of the universe, just like the order and purpose of the watch, cannot simply be down to chance, “if we must argue from the watch to a watchmaker, we must argue also from the world to a world maker. ” In comparison Richard Swinburne approaches the argument from the angle of probability, and the fact the universe is so fitting for human life allowing them to share in God’s creative activity significantly shows the need for a ‘designer’. God being omnipotent is able to produce a world orderly in these aspects as he has a good reason to: a world containing human life is a good thing … God being perfectly good, is generous. He wants to share”. He also believes that theism is the best explanation for the design in the universe, and also points to the providential nature of the universe – as it contains everything we need to survive. A universe also, where humans can contribute meaningfully to it’s development. This kind of universe is therefore the kind of universe God would have reason to create.

Also there is the Aesthetic argument, that states that there is so much more beauty in the world than human beings need to survive that it must have been placed there by an intelligent being or creator. This creator would therefore be God. As FR Tennant observed ‘nature is not just beautiful in places, it is saturated with beauty’ and CF Alexander is well known for the song ‘all things bright and beautiful’ which suggest God’s glory is revealed in beauty. The Anthropic argument also features in the design argument and is similar to Paleys analogy.

It looks at the purposes that every part of the world has (for example trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen that we breathe) and from these purpose-serving things in the world, the argument states it was placed there by a creator to serve this purpose. Tennant argued: “The many accidents of physics and astronomy have worked together to our benefit and shows that in some sense the universe must have seen us coming”. Examine the strengths and weakness of the Teleological argument. A major strength of the teleological argument is that it is logical.

The design of the universe is apparent and evident for everyone to see, and everyone can appreciate that such beauty and design which the universe possesses requires a constant effort and input of energy to make it and keep it so. Richard Swinburne argued that the design and precision of the universe cannot be explained by science, and can only be explained in terms of the purposes of an intelligent being: God. He argues; “Of course there is order in the world: if there were not order, humanity would not exist to discover it! As order is existent in the universe, the simplest explanation is God, and God is also the best explanation for the universe’s order. An additional Strength of the teleological argument is William Paley’s analogy of the watch, as the argument itself is a posteriori and inductive; everyone can understand and relate to it and it is easy to understand as again it is logical. There is also modern support for Paley’s analogy, for example Arthur Brown has supported Paley`s argument for design by looking at the ozone layer.

This links into another strength of the teleological argument, that scientific explanations of the universe are compatible with the teleological argument. Evolution can be seen to be the means that the designer has employed, and evolution could then be seen as God’s plan as part of the world. Richard Swinburne therefore also writes that: “The very success of science in showing us how deeply orderly the natural world is provides strong grounds that there is an even greater cause for that order”.

However, there are weaknesses of the teleological argument. Even though the analogy of the watch can be seen as strength, it can also be seen as a weakness. It can be argued that the world cannot be compared to a watch, or the world cannot be compared to anything similar because there are no other universes to compare this one to. These are examples of the critiques of David Hume. Hume also argued that order is a necessary part of the world’s existence, and we should not jump to the conclusion that the only explanation to this order is ‘God’.

He said: “A purpose, an intention, a design, strikes everywhere the careless, the most stupid thinker” Additionally, we cannot jump to conclusions that God is good and loving from the assumption that he might have created ‘order’. Tennant furthered Hume’s criticisms, and agreed that there is no reason to assume that the world was made just by God. Also, there are of course certain arguments that do not lead to the existence of God, for example the development in sciences means that many people may believe in Evolution or perhaps even the ‘Big bang theory’.

Richard Dawkins argues that the process of evolution cannot be described as a caring agent, and cannot be link to God. However aspects of the Design argument maintains that non-theistic explanation for the ‘perfect design’ of the universe is not a complete explanation, and although theists may not reject the theory of evolution for example, they will believe it is also not the whole story. Richard Swinburne said: “It started off in such a way as to lead to the evolution of animals and humans.

These phenomena are clearly things too big for science to explain… I am not postulating a ‘God of the gaps’, but a God to explain what science explains”. The design argument is arguably one of the most favourite philosophical arguments for the existence of God. Even though there has been many critiques of the design argument and other theories, none have been able to explain fully why or how there is so much design in the universe, making it, arguably, a strong argument overall.

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The Teleological Argument of the Existence of God. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

The Teleological Argument of the Existence of God
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