Sample answer to the design argument for the existence of God

2 (a) Examine the design argument for the existence of God

This is the ‘teleological’ argument, the argument which looks at the ‘design’ of the world/universe and concludes that there must be a designer → God.

From as early as St. Thomas Aquinas 13th Century and his ‘5th way’, which argues that there is design in nature an therefore purpose and that must be driven by something → i.e. God, philosophers and even scientists have believed that the universe is not chaotic, that that it is too complex for it just to have appeared (Swinburne).

The famous scientist Sir Isaac Newton felt that rational reflection of the orderliness of nature had convinced him of the necessity of a ‘being, incorporeal, living, intelligent and omnipresent‘.

William Paley’s analogy of the watch and the watch maker can serve to illustrate this argument quite well. He described the finding of a perfectly working watch in an unusual location; upon opening it up and observing the intricate movements and workings, the finder could only conclude that it must have been made by something else; the parts worked together so perfectly that it could not have just some together by accident. He called the maker the watch maker and then compared the whole thing to the universe. Even in our little corner of the universe all its parts work together so perfectly (if anything were to go wrong the whole thing would fall apart) that there has to be a maker or designer on a cosmological scale and that (Paley called) God.

John Wisdom further explained using his ‘parable of the Gardener; in this a pair of jungle explorers came across a clearing in the jungle. It is so beautiful, full of the finest flowers, etc., that one of them concludes that it must have been created by a gardener. The other includes him, saying that in fact that although it is undeniably beautiful it is nevertheless a random accident. The first sticks by his belief and waits around to see the gardener. Upon his non-appearance, the second thinks he has proved his point, the first however merely argues that the gardener is invisible! (Rather hard to argue with!).

Like the cosmological argument this is also based on the assumptions that effects must be caused and that just as we build machines to do our bidding, so did God or some designer cause the universe, which is after all just some large machine, to come into existence.


2 (b) i) What are the strengths of the design argument?

To be fair, as yet, science has not actually managed to disprove this argument so its strength is certainly time tested. However, it is really strong?

It is most certainly based squarely in our experience. We see effects and work back to their causes; we know the pull of the moon affects the tides; we know if we draw out too much money our bank account will go into the red!

But Hume argued that just because so far we have seen these effects have causes it doesn’t necessarily mean that all effects are caused. So just because we design machines doesn’t necessarily mean the world is a machine which was designed. And anyway if there was a God who designed the universe who designed God? In fact Darwin in his ‘Theory of Natural Selection’ believed that the existence of the world, the way it is now was XXX on chance and many of his evolutionary theories have subsequently been recast as facts.

Immanuel Kant also felt our experience was too limited to give us enough objectivity to judge.

Perhaps again we should rely on Ockham’s razor to judge the strength of this argument by: viz the simplest explanation (however weird) is usually the correct one!.


2 (b) ii) Comment on some of the criticisms raised against the design argument?

Hume’s suggestion that if there is a designer who is called God, then who or what created God, is ridiculous! Any definition of the term God must include an “all powerful” being therefore there can not be another being any more powerful!

Also his and Kant’s suggestions that out experience is limited, while correct in themselves, forget that this is all we do have to judge by and it will have to do until something else comes along!

Others have said that Paley’s analogy is weak because it is just that, an analogy, but again this is how humans learn and perceive the world and it’s a good method as far as it goes.

Perhaps one of the strongest arguments against the design argument is that if the world is designed by a God it ought to be perfect; it manifestly isn’t therefore it can’t have been designed. Obviously this is a huge topic for discussion and this particular argument propounded by David Hume is particularly hard to refute. The only thing we can say in belief is that it is all to do with the defining characteristics of God. Classical theorists hold that God has to be omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent; Hume argues that the existence of evil proves God is not omnipotent or it would not exist and therefore God cannot exist. But to use his own argument, who are we to say that evil and suffering don’t have a purpose just because we cannot see it!

In conclusion then there can be no cast-iron proof, like all arguments for and against the existence of God; there are plenty of subjective, persuasive arguments both ways but in the final analysis as Auselm said: faith cannot come through reasoned argument it can only strengthen it.


Did you find this information helpful?