Philosophy of Religion

Previous Index Next

The Teleological Argument: William Paley

William Paley (1743-1805) wrote a book – Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity collected from the Appearances of Nature (1802). In it he put forward a story to support his teleological argument.

Analogy – watch discovered on a heath:

  • The watch could not have come about by accident (unlike a rock or stone)
  • The existence of the watch is proof of a watchmaker
  • The universe is intricate in its design (e.g. molecular structure of ice, the position of the Earth from the Sun…etc.)
  • The universe could not come about by accident
  • The universe itself is proof of an intelligent designer
Paley argues for a Designing Creator – everything has been designed to fulfil some function:

Design qua purpose – the argument that the Universe appears to have been designed to fulfil some purpose e.g. bees pollinating flowers, or tick birds (symbiotic relationship), or the human eye.

Paley goes on to argue that there is further evidence for a Creator God in the regularity of the Universe:

Design qua Regularity – the argument that the Universe appears to behave according to some order or rule e.g. Newton’s laws of motion, Keplar’s three laws of planetary motion – points to a mechanical universe.

Hence, Paley’s argument is referred to as the Teleological Argument – i.e. it looks to the end purpose of things. It is also referred to as the Design Argument as it looks for evidence of God’s existence through design in creation.

Paley’s argument was not new. As we have already seen Aquinas outlined the argument in the fifth of his Five Ways.

The Bible also appears to echo much of the Teleological Argument when it says:

    The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.

Psalm 19:1-3

Plato also outlined a Teleological Argument. The Roman orator Cicero also looked at the natural order of things and was convinced that there must be some superior intelligence to explain it all.

    What could be more clear or obvious when we look up to the sky and contemplate the heavens, than that there is some divinity of superior intelligence?

Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods

Previous Index Next