The Design argument

What are the key ideas of the design argument for the existence of God?

The design argument argues for regularity, order and purpose in the world and says that these give proof for the existence of God. The argument is teleological, as it deals with end or purpose; inductive, because it draws a general conclusion that may not always fall logically from its premises and is a posteriori, as it is from experience and the empirical evidence of design in the world.

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The basic argument in its simplest form states that the universe has order, purpose and regularity and that this complexity within the universe shows evidence of design, such design would imply and designer and therefore the designer of the universe is God.

William Paley presented this design argument in an analogy of a watch and a designer. Paley argued that if you found a stone on the ground you would not have the need to explain its existence with a designer, because it is not intricate or complicated. However, if you inspected a watch, its intricate design with all parts working together would make you assume it had a designer. Similarly, the world with its intricate design would make you assume that it had a designer. He argues that this designer is God. The analogy of the watch works well as just like parts of a watch unite to make it work, so do parts of the universe and just like in the watch the working together suggests a designer rather than chance.

Similarly David Hume presented an argument for a designer based on an analogy. His analogy was of houses and watches, which he said are clearly produced by human designers. Once again the argument points to a designer, however unlike Paley, David Hume argues that the design in the world points not to an omnipotent, omniscient God, but rather to a “superhuman” designer.

The classical form of the argument was presented by Thomas Aquinas, who took his philosophy from Aristotle. Aquinas argued that everything has a purpose and therefore there must be an intelligent being that directs all things to their purpose for which they exist, he argued that this being is God.

F.R. Tennant presented the modern forms of the argument, The Anthropic and The Aesthetic argument. Both of these try to counter argue the criticisms against the design argument made by science. The Anthropic Principle claims that life in the universe is only possible based on many hairline conditions, which if these had deviated in any way would mean that the universe would not have been able to sustain intelligent life and argues that this cannot be the result of chance, so therefore the universe must have had a designer.

The Aesthetic principle is used to counter argue the claims made by Darwin that it is the survival of the fittest and human beings are just animals doing what they can to survive. The Aesthetic principle claims that the ability that human beings have to appreciate beauty in their surroundings, for example art and music shows that human beings do things beyond mere survival and therefore is evidence to show that they have a divine creator.

Examine at least two criticisms made against this argument and consider whether or not they are successful?

One of the main criticisms of the design argument has been the rise of modern science. It provides an alternative explanation without a designer. Darwin’s theory of evolution conflicts with the creation story in genesis and suggests that the universe is the result of random natural selection rather than a planned design. This theory is successful in providing an explanation for the universe without the need for a designer. However Tennant’s Anthropic Principle counter argues evolution suggesting that the universe seems deliberately designed for human inhabitancy and argues that this cannot be the results of chance. Evolution, even though from science is still only a theory, which has not been proved completely and although probable there are still other theories and therefore is not completely successful in criticising the idea of a designer.

Also within science Richard Dawkin’s believes that Darwin’s idea of “the survival of the fittest” can explain all aspects of human behaviour and purpose, without the need for an intelligent creator such as God. He has criticised the design argument saying the only “designer” necessary is the principle of natural selection and he maintains that the only basis for human actions is so that human genes can survive. His theory is known as the Selfish Gene and he believes that human beings are no more than “survival machines – robot vehicles” which enable “the selfish molecules known as genes” to be passed on and survive. Dawkin’s is successful in offering an alternative explanation to a divine creator, just like Darwin.

Another criticism of the design argument is although parts of the universe show good design, other parts shows bad design, such as natural disasters and disease and this criticises the idea of the Christian God. Why would an all powerful, all knowing, all loving designer allow bad design into the world if he knows the consequences of his design and if he is all loving why allow suffering from this bad design? This criticism is successful in making the design argument seem less convincing and undermining the idea of the Christian God.

Even if the universe does show design, the design argument jumps from the premise that the universe shows design and that this suggests a designer to the idea that this designer is God. David Hume criticised the idea that design in the universe automatically leads to God. He felt that using analogy the argument leads to a “superhuman” designer, a glorified human creator rather than God. He argued that the conclusion of the design argument did not have to lead to just one God, a ship has many builders even though its parts work together and he said so could the universe. He said there are two sexes in humanity and therefore why could there not be both a male and a female god. Sometimes designers have practice attempts, why could this universe not just be a practice attempt that its designer has walked away from. David Hume’s arguments are successful in showing flaws in the design argument’s nature of inducing that design in the universe leads to proof for the existence of one God and suggest that instead the design in the world could lead to many gods, especially when analogy to human design is used.

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