The Argument from Design

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Notes: Technically the "proof" of God from design is called the "teleological" argument.

For the Christian, the argument from design begins with St. Paul: "Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made" (Romans 1:20). However, the argument was also used by the Stoics and many non-Christian and pre-Christian religions. It is important realise that the teleological argument implies little about a creator/designer other than there is one, and perhaps one who is incompatible with Christianities conception of a beneficient God.

The argument essentially says that the world, all things in it, and indeed the universe in which the world exists, sufficiently resemble a machine to reasonably infer that, like a machine, "life, the universe, and everything" had a creator and designer. A millennia of so after St. Paul, the argument was repriesed by such notables as Robert Boyle, John Ray, Samuel Clarke,William Derham and William Paley. Oh, and C. S. Lewis.

This is an argument by analogy.

Unhappily for St. Paul, and many others, the argument from design was overwhelmingly attacked by Hume in the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and by Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason. A summary of these arguments follows:

Primarily the argument from design invites infinite regress since the cosmos plus a designer seems an even more wonderful example of organisation than a cosmos alone. This, rationally, ought to lead us to infer a "designer of designers". Less technically, "who created God" and "who created the creator of God," and so on, forever.

However, many Christians (as well as other varieties of theist) may object that God, "just exists" and has always existed. If this is so, then the theist must explain why it is that the cosmos cannot "just exist" (presumably the realisation of the design is rather less complex than the designer) and why it is more likely that a cosmos plus a designer who "just exists" is more probable than a cosmos that "just exists".

There is also the moral objection. Why should we attribute more concern for justice or goodness to the Creator than we see in the normal business of the Cosmos and the world. As Darwin observed:

    I am bewildered. I have no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see as plainly as others, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficience on all sides of us. There seems to me much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.
    The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, New York, Basic Books, 1958, vol.1 p105

The theory of evolution by natural selection, an observed fact, has further undermined many of the main examples of design in nature by accounting for how living beings adapt to their environment.


A respect in which one thing is similar to another. The analogical extension of terms is the way in which a terms covers similar things: people, bottles, verdicts, ports, strings of a violin, questions, roads, and books may all be open but in analogical senses. Analogy butts upon literal meaning, but also upon metaphor, and this forms a perplexing phenomenon in the philosophy of language. Arguing by analogy is arguing that since things are alike in some ways, they will probably be alike in other ways.

Famous uses in philosophy include the argument from design (q.v.) and the analogy to the existence of other minds (a neat avoidance of solipsism).