Arguments for and against the existence of God, Gods, and the supernatural realm have a long history in philosophy, religion, and even in science. Of course, part of the reason arguments for the existence of God rarely convince atheists and arguments against the existence of God rarely convince theists is that almost all of the arguments have a simple refutation. Some of these arguments may contain unstated premises or assumptions about the way the world works. Years of arguing with friends have taught me that arguing about God’s existence rarely yields anything but animosity. However, being aware of the philosophical tradition behind arguments about God’s existence can be very helpful in coming to terms with one’s own beliefs. In this series of articles, I’ve looked at several arguments for and against God’s existence. You can find some of the other articles by clicking this link. In this article, I’ll take a look at the Teleological argument for God’s existence.
What Is the Teleological Argument for God’s Existence?
Teleology is the belief that things in the world have an ultimate purpose, and those who study teleology are engaged in the practice of determining what the essential purpose of things in the world is. Thus, a teleological argument for God’s existence is one that derives the conclusion that God exists from the way things in nature are ordered and their apparent purpose.
There are several versions of teleological arguments for God’s existence, but the simplest version can be stated thusly: The world exhibits complexity and order, and this complexity and this order cannot have happened by accident. Thus some mind must have designed the complexity and order of nature, and that mind is God. Those making a teleological argument argue that nature appears to have an order and everything appears to have a purpose, that this purpose could not have happened randomly, and therefore God must have designed the world in some particular way.
Many well known philosophers have posited a form of the teleological argument, including John Locke, Socrates, and Thomas Aquinas.
Arguments Against the Teleological Argument for God’s Existence
Perhaps the most well-known objection to the teleological argument is that complexity does not imply design. The teleological argument has an unstated premise that if something is complex it must have been designed by someone or something. Many systems can become highly ordered following a completely random process. The development of a diamond is an excellent example of such apparent order from randomness.
Voltaire has argued that, even if the teleological argument does prove that someone designed the universe, it does not prove that that designer is God or is worthy of worship. That designer might no longer exist, or be someone totally apart from God.
Finally, much like the “uncaused cause” argument, the teleological argument leads to an infinite regress. After all, if someone must design complex systems, this would mean someone would also have to design the complex system that designed the system. In short, who designed God? The teleological argument’s own premises do not allow for the existence of a designer who was not designed by something else.
David Hume- Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
Voltaire- On the Existence of God