Teleological argument – sample essay, part A

Explain the teleological argument for the existence of God (25 marks).

An exemplar essay for AS students on the teleological argument; a short summary of Aquinas’ and Paley’s design arguments.

The teleological argument is one of five arguments for the existence of God. It attempts to prove God’s existence by using our experience of the world or universe around us. This makes it a posteriori in nature. Teleological arguments can essentially be broken down into two main types: pre-Darwinian and post Darwinian. We shall focus on pre-Darwinian as they are considered to be the more traditional of these arguments. Further subdivisions of the teleological arguments can be identified in the guise of “design qua regularity” and “design qua purpose”. It is within these areas that we find the thinking of two main advocates of Aquinas (13th C) and Paley (19th C). We will continue by looking at each of these in turn.The teleological or design argument gets its name from the Greek word telos which means end, goal or purpose. It is this end or purpose that both Aquinas and Paley are looking for that will suggest the existence of a divine creator. We will begin by outlining Aquinas’ fifth way “From the governance of things” or design qua regularity argument (qua meaning through or pertaining to).Aquinas observed the universe and saw that everything in the universe appeared to be working in some sort of order. In particular he noticed that “natural bodies” behaved in a regular way. Here Aquinas is talking about things like flowers or insects. However one could also use the example of a daffodil that flowers in spring time. He then goes on to notice the fact that these natural bodies “lack intelligence”. By this he means that they are not conscious of their own movement, yet even so they appear to move or act in regular fashion, as our daffodil flowers every springtime.

Aquinas suggests that these things cannot provide their own movement as they lack the intelligence to do so. This must mean that their movement or regularity must come from somewhere other than themselves. He suggests that this movement does not occur “fortuitously but designedly”. By this he means that this regularity or movement has not come around by sheer chance but that something else has caused the flower or “natural bodies” to obey an ordained pattern.

Aquinas then goes on to suggest that “as an arrow is directed to its mark by the archer” so too is the movement/regularity of things directed by a being with intelligence. The analogy of the arrow and the archer is used by Aquinas to demonstrate the link between God and creation. For Aquinas this intelligence that provides regularity of movement in the universe is God. This is the conclusion of Aquinas’ argument from design qua regularity. William Paley also has a design qua regularity argument but is most famous for his design qua purpose argument known as the analogy of the watch. It is this argument that we shall now focus our attention on, returning to Paley’s own design qua regularity argument at a later stage.

Paley’s design qua purpose argument has a different feel from Aquinas’ as he first focused on outlining a hypothetical situation and then drawing conclusions about the nature of existence from this hypothesis. This is the essence of any analogy. The analogy begins with Paley asking us to imagine crossing a heath (wasteland) and “pitching your foot against a stone”. If you were to pick up this stone that you have found he suggests that you would not immediately ask the question “where does this stone come from?” as there would be nothing remarkable about it. However if you continued on the heath and pitched your foot against an old-fashioned pocket watch you would not be able to dismiss the watch as you did the stone. Paley argues that this is because of the complexity of the watch. The cogs, wheels and counter weights in the mechanism, on closer inspection, would demonstrate this complexity. Moreover, if the pieces of the watch were placed in any other order, the watch wouldn’t work or it would not fulfil its purpose of telling the time. Yet the pocket watch fulfils the purpose of telling the time. Paley states that on discovery of this watch you would have to stipulate a watchmaker or designer because of the complex nature of the mechanism and its obvious purpose for telling the time.

Using similar logic Paley continues his analogy by moving onto his observations of the universe or world around us. In particular Paley focuses on the human eye to demonstrate complexity and purpose. Paley observed that the human eye was made up of different complex components, the lens, iris and cornea etc, and that the coming together of these different parts could not have come about by sheer chance alone as the eye is too complex. He suggested that just as in the case of the watch with its clear complexity and purpose, we must conclude a designer of the eye because of its obvious purpose of seeing. If the eye were put together in a different manner either it wouldn’t see at all or would only provide partial sight, either case would see it falling short of its purpose. Paley also provides other examples of design qua purpose through the example of animal lacteal systems. His argument suggests that animals such as cows, horses and sheep have a small number of teats and paps because of their small number of young, yet the sow, bitch and cat have many teats or paps because they have a large number in their litter. For Paley clear complexity and purpose of the eye, and something as straightforward as animals having the number of teats or paps that correspond to the number of young points to clear evidence of design in the world. This designer or provider of purpose in the universe is, for Paley, the God of Christianity. Yet Paley does not stop there, he continues onto a design qua regularity similar to that of Aquinas.

Paley’s design qua regularity argument comes on the back of some major changes in the way that the universe was understood. In 1687 Sir Isaac Newton formulated the laws of motion and gravity marking the movement into a “classical” view of physics. The view of classical physics suggests that the universe is like a machine, working like clockwork in predictable patterns. It is this that Paley picks up on. Paley’s argument is an updated version of Aquinas’ in some respects, in the notion that objects cannot provide their own order. But there are some subtleties of Paley’s argument that need to be brought out. Paley suggests that the rotation or ellipses of planets are so regular as to provide the opportunity for life on Earth. He focuses on gravity and suggests that without the continuity or regularity of gravity then we would have a very different universe. Theoretically it would be possible to have the laws of the universe in any state, but only within narrow boundaries would we find stability of ellipsis such as our planets. He argues that this regularity did not come about by chance but that it has been directed to be the case by some higher power. This being, for Paley, is God.

In conclusion we have looked over three of the more famous pre-Darwinian teleological arguments for the existence of God. Both Aquinas and Paley have argued that the universe has not come about into its present state of its own accord, but that the universe demonstrates clear evidence of a designer behind its existence.







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