2009 Teleological question

(i) Examine the view that the design argument is based on experience and makes use of analogy. [28]

The teleological argument is the idea that the world and everything in it shows evidence of design, that design implies purpose and purpose implies a purposer, that is, God. In other words that the universe and everything in it is not the product of blind chance but of deliberate and benevolent design and that the designer is God.

One of the strengths of the teleological argument is that it is inductive i.e. logical and that if the premises of the argument are all true then the conclusion is likely. It is also based on observation and evidence so that when we look around us like Isaac Newton did and see order and symmetry or as Aquinas did ‘purpose’ the conclusion that this is all deliberately caused by a Supreme Being i.e. God seems inescapable.

Another strength of this argument is that its logic lies in experience: the progression of the seasons; birth, life and death; day and night; the particular make up of this planet alone in this solar system at the perfect distance from the sun, with its perfectly sized moon and its perfect atmospheric composition and regulated temperature etc down to the exact right amount of water all of which are absolutely essential for human life to exist on Earth’s surface. These special conditions have given rise to Tennant‘s Anthropic Principle that actually the whole universe was created in order to give rise to human kind. As Stannard puts it ‘there seems to be a conspiracy to fix the conditions.’

In addition to experience this argument draws its strength from the use of analogy. Aquinas early on cited the analogy of the arrow pointing out that for an arrow to fly necessitates an archer with intelligence to cause its flight – such is the case in nature too – even the most ‘unintelligent’ behaviour exhibits ‘goal-directed‘ characteristics. (If he’d known about tectonic plates and the part they play in recycling the atmosphere and regulation of temperature doubtless he’s have used it as an example!) but from all this he came to the conclusion that there needs to be something behind it all to direct it – the unseen hand – God.

William Paley
too put forward his ‘Watch Analogy‘ in which he tells of a man who stumbles on a watch and picking it up and examining it realises that the complexity of its workings proves that it is no randomly generated object but that it must have been designed. And so he draws the parallel (analogy) the universe shows such evidence of complexity that it too must have been designed which he says is God.

Furthermore the aesthetic principle suggests that the amount and quality of beauty on the universe is evidence for a designer. Tennant again claims that ‘…beauty seems to be superfluous and to have little survival value…‘ so the fact that there is beauty is evidence that there is a god behind it all and this is evidence of the nature of this God. This idea too is based on experience and its logic appeals to us.

A final analogy is John wisdom’s
Parable of the Gardener. The story is of two explorers who come across a beautiful clearing – one, a theist, claims it must be the work of a designer or gardener; the other, an atheist, claims it is purely chance that it is so beautiful and apparently well-looked after. They settle down and wait for the gardener to appear but despite setting a number of traps a gardener never makes an appearance. Though the atheist presumes this proves him right the point of this story is that the evidence should be sufficient unto itself; proof is unnecessary and so it is with the universe and the universe maker.

In conclusion it is clear that this argument is entirely based on experience and analogy and that as a result these are its strengths – it is an empirical and a posteriori argument and conclusion (concrete and based on evidence) and as Kant said ‘the clearest and most in accordance with common reason.’ It is therefore a good explanation.


(ii) Comment on the view that the design argument is flawed. [12]

However it is not without its critics and one of the criticisms is that very use of analogy. Hume called conclusions drawn from them ‘a leap too far‘ that ‘like effects do not infer like causes‘ and that going from a specific example like a watch to the universe was just too tenuous a link. Maybe, he argued, the parts do have a purpose but can the same be said of the whole? He pointed out that we cannot get out of the situation to see it from the outside – objectively and that our knowledge is incomplete as yet. Analogies then are weak by their very nature.

Another major setback to this argument was Darwin‘s ‘Origin of Species‘ published in 1859 it postulate that in fact it is just a random series of events which have resulted in life as it is today. A series of random mutations wherein life has had to adapt as it developed to changing conditions; in other words life had no alternative but to change or perish and those which adapted and were best ‘fit’ survived. He called this ‘natural selection.’

Richard Dawkins, a modern critic of this argument, referring to our vestigial tails, appendix and gall bladders along with our susceptibility to disease said it could only indicate a ‘blind watchmaker‘ if there was one. This then pinpoints a major flaw in the argument: if there is a designer why is everything not perfect?

So too then experience is flawed; as Kant suggested we may just be conditioned to see order and purpose.

However the mere fact of the universe’s existence is ambiguous and needs explaining. Maybe God is the simplest explanation or maybe it’s just too lazy. But though the chance of the universe’s existence and being the way it is maybe very low it is not zero! And maybe we ought to withhold judgment on the real reasons behind it all.


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