Teleological Argument

Jim Riley

1st March 2015

The word 'Telos' is Greek for purpose. The Teleological argument thus argues that the universe is being directed towards a telos, an end purpose, and the a posteriori evidence of an apparent intelligent design in the world implies the existence of an intelligent designer, God.


The Teleological argument is founded on Aquinas's fifth way:

1. All natural occurrences show evidence of design
2. This suggests that there is a being that directs all things
3. Things that lack knowledge cannot achieve anything unless directed by a thing with knowledge
4. There is therefore an intelligent being that directs everyone towards a purpose
5. For Aquinas, this being is God


In his book, 'Natural Theology,' William Paley presents his own form of the Teleological argument. There are two parts to Paley's argument:

1. Design qua Purpose – the universe was designed to fulfil a purpose
2. Design qua Regularity – the universe behaves according to some order


Analogy of the watch:

A man walks across a heath and finds a rock. He attributes the existence of the rock to nature. He walks further and stumbles across a watch. After some examination he concludes that its purpose is to measure time. Due to the complexities of the watch, he concludes that it is impossible to suppose that the watch had come about without the agency of a 'watch maker.'

The watch is like the universe – it is too complex to have just happened by chance. It is impossible therefore to suppose that the universe had come about without the agency of a 'universe maker' – God.

Example of the eye:

It is obvious that the eye was designed with the specific purpose to see. Thus there is a Designing Creator – God.


There is evidence for a creator in the regularity of the universe. The relationships between the planets and the effect of gravity could not have come about without a designing principle at work – God. For example, if gravity was slightly stronger or weaker the universe would not exist today; the inference being that there is a calculating being who purposefully created the universe according to a well-constructed plan.


Hume set out two versions of the design argument and then criticised them:

- To speak of design is to imply a designer
- Great design implies a great designer
- There is great design in the world
- Therefore, there must be a great designer – God

This implies a superhuman, anthropomorphic concept of God (a God who is human-like) which is inconsistent with the notion of perfection. Moreover, the world is imperfect and flawed thus implying an incompetent designer.

- The world is ordered
- This is due to either chance or design
- It is very possible the world came about by chance
- Therefore the world came about through design

Hume argued that there is nothing in this argument to suppose there is only one creator – there may be a team of lesser Gods who built the world. This supports the theory of paganism. (note: Hume lived before Darwin).

Hume subscribed to a belief in the theory of evolution and the idea that series of random adaptations made in order to survive (the theory of natural selection) could lead to the apparent intelligent design of humans.


In 'Nature and the Utility of Religion' John Stuart Mill criticises the Teleological argument. Mill postulates that nature is guilty of serious crimes for which she goes unpunished, and the atrocities through which humans and animals suffer would not go unpunished if they were the result of human agency.

“Nearly all the things which men are hanged or imprisoned for doing to one another are nature's everyday performances."

For Mill, there is no intelligent design apparent in the universe and if there is a designer he is either an incompetent or cruel designer:

“Either there is no God or there exists an incompetent or immoral God"


Charles Darwin is the proponent of the theory of Natural Selection. Darwinism thus postulates that the fittest and healthiest members of society survive and their characteristics are passed down – giving the appearance of design in the universe.

Geneticist Steve Jones described the evolutionary process as:

'a series of successful mistakes'


Richard Dawkins, a biological materialist and reductionist, supported Darwin by arguing that random mutations in DNA alone give rise to variation in the world and the illusion of design. For Dawkins, life amounts to nothing more that bytes of digital information contained in the quaternary code, DNA.

Jim Riley

Jim co-founded tutor2u alongside his twin brother Geoff! Jim is a well-known Business writer and presenter as well as being one of the UK's leading educational technology entrepreneurs.

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