Philosophical Investigations

STRENGTHS and WEAKNESSES Teleological Argument

AS Religious Studies Revision: The Teleological Argument

AO1 Material: i.e. ‘what goes in part a)?’

How the argument goes

P1: There is order and complexity in the universe: e.g. the changing of the seasons or the human eye;
P2: Things that exhibit order and complexity have designers;
C: The universe has a designer a.k.a. God.

It is an argument that uses analogy: it moves from our experience of things in the world to try to explain the cause of the world itself.

Type of argument

Inductive: inductive reasoning is where the premises support the conclusion, but they do not entail it. It is usually based upon information coming from the senses (the order and complexity we observe with our eyes). It is therefore not deductive, which is where the premises of an argument do entail the conclusion, i.e. the conclusion is necessary e.g. 1+1=2..
A posteriori: it is based upon experience: it comes ‘after the fact’ of order and complexity, it is not a priori which is based upon reasoning before experiencing.
Synthetic: a proposition whose predicate concept is not contained in its subject concept. In other words, if I say ‘all triangles have three sides’; the fact that a triangle has three sides (predicate) is contained in the definition (subject). In the statement ‘there is design in the universe’ there is doubt because the predicate (design) is not contained in the subject (universe). We have to use our senses to verify the truth of this statement.

Scholars whose versions of the argument you must explain…(you need to do it in detail)

Thomas Aquinas: The Archer

Aquinas believed that everything in the universe has a purpose and that this purpose is given to it by God, just as the arrow flying through the sky is given its purpose by the archer who fires it. It was the 5th of his 5 ways of showing the existence of God

William Paley: The Watchmaker

Paley believed that just as watches, which exhibit complexity and purpose in order to tell the time for us, have watchmakers, the world, which has complexity and the purpose of sustaining life has a worldmaker; God.

F. R. Tennant: The Anthropic Principle

Strong anthropic principle: the universe was designed explicitly for the purpose of supporting human life.
Weak anthropic principle: if even the slightest part of the universe were any different (e.g. distance of the planet earth from the sun) human life would not exist. Certain complex conditions needed to be met in order for life to exist.

Michael Behe (pronounced Beehee): Irreducible Complexity.

This is an argument designed to counter the objection from evolution. It argues that there are things in the world (such as bacterial flagellum and the human eye) that are irreducibly complex; in other words, they couldn’t have just arisen by chance: they must have been designed for the purpose they fulfil.

Don’t forget design qua regularity and design qua purpose.
AO2: Critical evaluation i.e. ‘what do I put in part b)?’

Remember to read the question first before just regurgitating.

The strengths of the design argument

‘This proof always deserves to be mentioned with respect’: Immanuel Kant.

  • The strengths of the design argument are the strengths of inductive reasoning: inductive arguments begin with something that we can observe. It is difficult to deny the presence of order and complexity in the universe.
  • Inductive reasoning begins with experience which may be universal (i.e. everyone has had it) or it may at least be testable.
  • The argument does not rely upon fixed definitions that we must accept (unlike the Ontological Argument).
  • The use of analogy (the watchmaker) in this argument makes it comprehensible to us: it moves from something within our experience to try to explain something beyond it (the creation of the universe); the argument is simple and straightforward to follow. 
  • It fits in with human reason; it encourages and deepens the study of nature; it suggests purpose in the universe; it strengthens faith. (Immanuel Kant, who rejected the argument)
  • The argument is not necessarily incompatible with evolution and Big Bang: both of these processes could be part of the design of the universe.
  • The concept of God as designer reinforces the idea that God is involved in the history of the universe and is therefore omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent.
  • The design argument gives a purpose to the universe, rather than having blind nature moving in a random direction. This in turn gives the universe meaning.
  • When joined with other proofs for God’s existence (cosmological, ontological moral etc) the design argument raises the probability of the existence of God. This is Swinburne’s cumulative argument.

Weaknesses of the design argument (you should learn David Hume’s criticisms)

‘To advance to absolute totality by the empirical road is utterly impossible. None the less this is what is attempted in the physico-theological proof.’ (Kant).

  • It is an inductive proof and therefore only leads to a probable conclusion.
  • Just because things in the world have designers, that doesn’t mean that the world itself has a designer. We have experience of house being designed and built, but we do not have experience of worlds being designed and built. (Hume 1)
  • The universe is unique and we cannot make assumptions about the creation of unique things. (Hume 2)
  • The world may be designed, but there may be more than one designer. (Hume 3)
  • We judge the attributes of the creator by what is created. The presence of suffering and evil in the world suggests a cruel designer. (Hume 4 and J.S. Mill)
  • The designer of the world may have a designer: this leads to an infinite regress.
  • The order and complexity that we see might just be human perception: there might not actually be any order or complexity there, perhaps we impose it on the world. (Kant)
  • Design is a trap that we fall in to: we see design and a designer because we want to see design and a designer. (Kant)
  • Analogous design argument’s (like Paley’s) constrain and reduce nature, because they suggest that nature is like man-made objects and artifacts. (Robert Hambourger).
  • Arguments from analogy (like Paley’s) are flawed when the inference from one case to another is too great. In other words, worlds are not like watches.
  • The Design argument does not tell us anything about the creator/designer: it is just as possible to use this argument to say that God is evil rather than omnibenevolent (look at all the natural disasters and diseases like cancer). (Stephen Law)
  • The Design argument does not necessarily lead to the God of classical theism. 
  • Just because we are here to marvel at the incredible fact of our own existence, does not mean that it didn’t come about by chance. Random processes could create a universe with complex and beautiful structures: they might come about rarely and remain, whereas ugly and dysfunctional structures may die away. (Robert Hambourger).
  • Evolutionary theory and natural selection seem to suggest that complex organisms arose through genetic mutation, not through design.

God cannot be known purely from natural theology: God can also be known through mystical revelation and direct awareness (William Blake).

Hume’s criticisms have been counter-argued by Swinburne (see Hamilton). 


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