Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Philosophy 101 - Week 5 - Philosophy and Religion

Evaluate the Teleological argument for God’s existence and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses as an empirical argument.

The word 'Teleological' stems from the Greek word 'telos' which means 'end' or 'purpose' or 'goal.'  The Teleological argument for God seeks to prove God's existence by observing natural and man-made creations which serve a purpose or outcome.  By showing evidence of a purpose, proponents of the Teleological argument wish to persuade others that God designed and created the world and universe.

For example, it would appear that termites are created for the purpose of decomposition of organic material, which decomposed material produces dirt with enriching qualities which purpose is for the growing of new organic material.  One can observe the causes and effects of many environmental systems in the world; each entity fulfilling its purpose.  The proponent of the Teleological argument will attribute the design of each entity, to God.

Another example, as formulated by William Paley, uses the analogy of a watch found in a field.  The discoverer of the complex nature of the watch could reasonably infer it was intelligently designed for a purpose and if this argument could be made for the watch, then why not for the rest of the complex ecosystems and nature of the world and universe, or even the complex nature of the human eye?  The discoverer of the watch could note, "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" (Himma).

One strength of the Teleological argument is the plethora of evidence of complexity of diverse systems and entities.  We can point to order in the universe as well as complexity of animals, humans and even whole ecosystems as evidence of design.  As an argument, it is quite convincing, especially given that the most intelligent species on the planet (humans) cannot reproduce something with equal complexity, on the scale of the world.

However, this argument begins to fail when one considers evolution and natural selection as explanations for complexity.  "Darwin argued that more complex biological organisms evolved gradually over millions of years from simpler organisms through a process of natural selection" (Himma).  As these mutations occurred from different parts of the world and in differing environments, one can easily see the evidence of a multifaceted complexity as the explanation instead of these entities springing from a single designer.

Another strength of the argument is based on the idea the universe has been finely tuned for our existence.  "For example, life would not be possible if the force of the big bang explosion had differed by one part in 10^60; the universe would have either collapsed on itself or expanded too rapidly for stars to form" (Himma).  The odds of this occuring are truly astronomical!

But we can apply some skepticism to refute this argument, with the notion that simply due to the fact of extreme odds, does not mean it cannot happen.  Indeed it can happen, but that does not force us to ascribe the reason for it happening, to God.  Because a lottery winner won, does that mean they won by design?  No!


Himma, K., n.d. Design Arguments for the Existence of God | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. [online] Available at: <>

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