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Does God exist? (The argument from design)

Updated on October 10, 2015
lawrence01 profile image

Loving God and loving mankind is an important part of who I am, in these hubs we explore what it's like to really follow Jesus.

Does nature tell us anything about God?

The "Teleological argument"

Following on from the first hub in the series, can we infer from the structure or 'seeming design' in the universe that it was designed? Does it show evidence of a 'Master architect' and if so then who was he?

In the last hub of this series we traced the origin of the argument that the universe had a beginning, and if there was a beginning then the theist would say that there must have been a 'prime cause' or creator!

Can you prove God exists with this argument? (actually I don't really like to use the term 'argument' but for want of a better term!)

As with the previous "Cosmological argument" it very much depends on whom you ask! Ask a theist and we'll say "of course you can" but the skeptic would say "Not enough evidence!"

Both the Cosmological and Teleological arguments rely on 'empirical evidence' to work, without the evidence both arguments fall flat.

The evidence for the Cosmological is that the universe had a beginning whereas the evidence for the Teleological argument is the order in the universe.

Does he really exist?

Source

Where it all started

The word itself is made up of two Greek words, TELOS and LOGOS.

Telos literally means 'an end or purpose ' with the idea of 'giving purpose' to something or someone.

'Logos' can mean 'WORD' or 'REASON'. out the two together and you get 'Teleological' literally meaning 'To give a purpose or reason'

The Teleological argument seeks to use the order found in the universe to infer 'one who set the order in place' in other words it seeks to use order to explain the existence of God!

The first Western ideas in this area come from philosophers in Greece around the sixth century BC and the idea that the universe came into being with (for) a purpose.

Up to the time of Socrates Greek thought was that while a 'deity' may have been involved in 'design' he was not involved in sustaining it! Socrates disagreed strongly with the idea and argued that the 'demiurge' must be "Loving" to mankind at least (if not the whole of his creation)

More wise men

SOCRATES

Socrates is believed to be the first person to ever use a Teleological argument to explain the order in the universe. The record isn't found in his writing (Socrates himself left us no body of his literature, all we have about him is from other writers, mainly Plato and Xenophon!) but in Xenophon's writing about him. Xenophon also indicates that the argument itself is probably older and Socrates is simply following the argument of an older but unknown philosopher.

Xenophon was a disciple of Socrates and contemporary of Plato.

ARISTOTLE

Aristotle went further in saying that the only way to the understand why something is 'that way' is to look at the purpose they were designed for! For example we can look

at various parts of an animal's anatomy but its only when we see the parts functioning together that we can see what each part was designed for!

Aristotle's premise is that everything is 'ordered' for a reason, even human life is ordered towards 'rationality' because Humans are rational creatures and 'rationality' is our final cause "and highest aim is to fulfill our rationality" (quoted from msparknotes.com)

They were the first western philosophers to argue God's existence from the order of the universe, but they weren't the first people to argue it.

The three wise men

So, Who was then?

Seven hundred years before a writer penned the words 'The heavens declare the glory of the LORD. The skies proclaim the work of his hands' (Psalm 19 verse 1). Commonly attributed to King David around 1,000 BC. Later another writer contemplating life without God said "Everything is meaningless" when you examine things without God (Ecclesiastes chapter 1).

I'm not here to debate who wrote these and when, but even if you follow the absolute latest date the Psalms and Ecclesiastes were written they still pre-date Socrates by at least two or three hundred years!

Maybe instead of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle influencing the Abrahamic religions it was the other way round? Just a thought.

The Heavens Declare

The Stoics

THE STOICS

The Stoics were the next (after Socrates and Aristotle) to develop a systemic argument for God's existence "from design" but the main difference was that they believed that the universe itself was a physical 'manifestation' of God!

"Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one substance and one soul" (Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor)

It's the Stoics that developed a series of arguments using the order in the universe to argue that it is 'alive' and we are a part 'emanating from' and one day our souls will 'return to' being absorbed back into nature (different to the Christian idea of our souls residing with God as separate entities)

Where to find the first argument for God

Source

Medieval Times

In the early part of the Medieval times and with the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West it was the Eastern Empire and later the Islamic world that preserved and translated Plato and Aristotle. Al Ghazali knew their works but it was Thomas Aquinas who developed Aristotle's premise into one of his five ways of knowing God exists.

Aquinas differed from the Stoics in that he agreed more with Aristotle that God is 'incorporeal' in that he doesn't have a physical form but can be 'known' through his interaction with creation through his 'thoughts and will'

Aquinas saw a 'fivefold proof of the existence of God' Three of which are Cosmological in nature and the fifth being design or order in creation. (www.iep.edu. Thomas Aquinas)

Aquinas's argument was to be the main argument for 'design' right up until the start of the nineteenth century when William Paley put forward an analogy that has since become famous and is almost seen as the epitome of the argument from design for a designer!

Criticism of the Watchmaker analogy

The Watchmaker Analogy

The Watchmaker analogy, often presented as a prelude to discussion of the Teleological argument is simply that when we look at the intricate workings of a watch we see evidence if a designer. In the same way when we look at the intricate and precise workings of our universe we also see evidence of a designer!

The interesting part is that the analogy was first put forward in 1802 but Darwin's Origin of the species didn't get written until the late 1850s so rather than the analogy being a reply to naturalistic evolution Darwin's work was a reply to the analogy!

The analogy makes use of the concept that the laws of nature that ordered the universe are the same that were at the beginning and have not changed hence if such order would require a designer now then they must have required such in the past!

Deists such as Thomas Jefferson who accepted that Deity created the universe but has since then had nothing to do with it accepted this theory and analogy even arguing that there was no conflict between the Watchmaker analogy and 'Deistic evolution'

The basic outline of the analogy is that if we were to take the back off a watch (watches back then were mechanical and not electronic) we would see a myriad of intricate parts that all perform differing functions within the watch but all are required for the watch to function.

From the way the watch works we deduce that the watch had to have had a 'watchmaker' who designed and built the watch. It could not have come together by chance, or by accident but had to have been designed and built with a purpose which was to enable us to tell the time!

By inference Paley argued that just as the watch has a watchmaker so the universe also can been seen as a myriad of intricate parts that all work together and show evidence of a designer!

The analogy puts a good argument for design together but itself has some flaws in it. For one thing it allows for the designer to build the watch but not necessarily for interaction later. Deists like Jefferson liked the idea as it fit with their idea that God may have put the universe together but then left it long ago to function according to the Laws and principles that he'd put in place!

The analogy fell out of favor in the mid nineteenth century but since the 1960s has started to make a comeback in its own right.

The Watchmaker leads us to the next argument

Modern Teleological arguments

In the last fifty years science has moved forward at an incredible pace, so much has been learned that it's estimated that fifty years ago man was literally doubling the amount of knowledge that he had about the universe every ten years. Today it's estimated that his knowledge of the universe doubles every eighteen months!

Man is learning so much about the place where he lives that he's had to build enormous computers just to store the information, and the knowledge grows every day.

Since the 1960s man has begun to unravel some of the mysteries of life but as he's done so he's come across some stunning things, things that have stopped atheists in their tracks and even forced them to admit that there seems to be design in the universe and in creation!

The arguments for design in the past have come mainly from the fields of Theology and Philosophy but the modern arguments are coming from the sciences themselves!

Scientists have long thought that if God created the universe he would have done it following the laws of nature, using the idea that if we can observe something now that performs a certain way then unless we can find evidence in the past for a change then it must have performed that way in the past! (makes sense really) and while science was pointing away from God that was fine, but starting in the 1960s discoveries were made that started to point towards a creator

The following sciences all have proponents of an argument for design

  1. Physics
  2. Chemistry
  3. Genetics
  4. Biology
  5. Astronomy


These are just a few of the sciences that in the last fifty years have revealed things that have pointed to design in the Universe so much so that celebrated Atheists like Sir Fred Hulme was quoted as saying that the evidence for design in Astronomy is so compelling that it "Shakes my atheism to it's core!"

Or Richard Dawkins admitting that Genetics at a cellular level has the "Appearance of design" (he says it's our own genetic code playing tricks on us!)

The main ways that the Modern arguments are put about are

  1. Fine tuning of the universe
  2. The Anthropic principle


The two have so many points both for and against them that it would need more than one hub to even scratch the surface of them so I might come back to them in other hubs to debate them.


Rounding off

This hub isn't meant so much as a debate on the argument from design but to lay a foundation so that we know where the argument comes from and what the main points are.

Having said that I realize that some will disagree with me on some points and that's fine as long as we can use the hub and the posts to learn from each other and hopefully we all go away with a better understanding of the wonderful universe we live in.

Hope you enjoyed the hub and feel free to let me know what you think in the comments


Lawrence

How about it?

Would you like to learn more about the Modern arguments for God's existence from design?

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    • lawrence01 profile image
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      Lawrence Hebb 15 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Patrick Patrick

      Glad you enjoyed it. I think it's important to hear the arguments from as many sides as we can, even if we are already convinced in our own ideas we can take a little time to think about this from someone else's perspective.

      Lawrence

    • Patrick Patrick profile image

      Patrick 15 months ago from Nairobi

      Great presentation if I may say so. I love how you cover various arguments with regards to creation/design.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia

      No biggie.

      That feeling of intense awe is part of a spiritual reaction to the beauty and complexity of natural design. They go hand in hand. Even atheists who are capable of this awe are having a spiritual/ religious experience if they admit it or not.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Oz

      Sorry I was a bit short with the reply before, I got it just as I was about to start my last run in the bus so I kind of cut the reply a bit, sorry.

      I think all sides acknowledge that Humans have a spiritual side that can appreciate beauty in nature.

      I'd agree with you about spiritual blindness in both the believer and non-believer, the hub's purpose was to begin by tracing where the argument for God's existence from design.

      Lawrence

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia

      Lawrence

      yes of course "rob" is a figure of speech. My point is no one can take away another's inner experience only the individual himself. Spiritual blindness can occur in both the religious and the atheist. Such things as anger towards other's beliefs can darken the awe and majesty of the universe to the individual concerned.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Oz

      I was using a figure of speech.

      Lawrence

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia

      Lawrence/Paladin

      it is impossible for anyone to "rob" anyone else of their inner experience. It is only possible for one to rob oneself.

      For a better more enhanced inner experience one needs to embrace the spiritual.

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 2 years ago from Michigan, USA

      Hehe. No problemo, Lawrence. ;-)

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Paladin

      I agree with you and I didn't mean to rob anyone of enjoying the wonders of the universe. I wad just speaking as from one believer to another :-)

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia

      Paladin

      if we take an unblinkered view of ALL religions we get a much richer view of holy scripture's wonderful poetry and wonder. The Hindu scriptures in particular go into scientific detail combined with the spiritual. Don't limit it down to one scripture from one culture at one isolated time in history.

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 2 years ago from Michigan, USA

      But Lawrence, one can feel a sense of wonder at nature without having to attribute it to a deity. I daresay our more complete, modern understanding of the physical world makes such contemplation that much more awesome and inspiring!

      And the universe we know today is VASTLY more awe-inspiring than the puny and sterile creation described in Genesis, where the entire universe is referred to in one afterthought: "...and he created the stars also."

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Oz

      True, let's try never to lose that wonder at God's creation.

      Lawrence

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia

      Paladin

      if we lose the feeling of awe about lightning or other phenomena we have lost some of the poetry and spirit of nature in ourselves.

      There is infinite complexity to even the smallest natural phenomena. Quantum theory is revealing an inner infinite complexity as well.

      All this infinite complexity and pattern from a big explosion?

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Paladin

      Thanks for that, I haven't checked the profile for a while so it's probably time to do a bit of editing!

      Thanks for the clarification on the comments, I wasn't sure but wanted to 'cover the bases'

      Lawrence

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 2 years ago from Michigan, USA

      Actually, Avian wasn't that specific in his comments, and it was his comments I was addressing.

      In any case, I know this is irrelevant to the hub, but I've been wanting to let you know about something for some time, and I suppose this is a good a time as any: You should check your profile, as it states that you're from "New Zealaind." I'm presuming this is a typo, and that you're actually from New ZEALAND.

      Gotta properly represent the kiwis! :-D

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Paladin

      A very good observation about ancient man, but we're not talking about amcient man! We're talking about modern scientists, the geneticist looking through a microscope at the complexity of DNA or the biologist looking at a cell with over five hundred 'micro factories' all of which it needs to function and thinking "How the heck can this have happened by chance?"

      This is just some of where the argument comes from.

      Lawrence

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Deb

      You've summed the argument from design up amazingly! The whole thrust of the argument is that things fit together so well that they must have been desugned that way.

      Remove one part and the whole lot falls over!

      We see that with the bee population and CCD if that happens then everything on earth may well follow!

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 2 years ago from Michigan, USA

      It's true that it is natural to surmise design from the apparent order of the universe. But one's first conclusion or inference -- natural or not -- isn't always correct.

      For example, take our ancient ancestors. Ignorant of meteorology, they saw lightning strike from the heavens and quite naturally surmised that some greater power was venting its anger -- probably at the actions of humans, who were the only known cognizant earthly beings (and thereby the only agents capable of provoking such a response).

      In time, that greater power became more personified and accrued more specific characteristics, even personality traits. Ultimately, it became a god.

      But we now recognize that lightning is a completely natural phenomenon, and can even predict it with increasing accuracy. We know it's not some deity venting its wrath at humanity's misdeeds. Similarly, we now know much more about the workings of the natural world, and no longer need to attribute its composition or behavior to the designs of some eternal creator.

      My two cents...

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      It is natural to surmise that the universe was designed and created. If a house is not designed and properly put together, it will fail. Sadly, through the laws of nature, earth is falling apart and has been doing so for quite some time. When one integral part is destroyed, the others have no cog to run it. As far as who "created" the universe, it will always be up for debate, but I will tell you this. Destroy the parts, and the rest will follow. We have living proof.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Paladin

      Thank you for the compliment. I consider it high praise indeed!

      The article was more about tracing the origins of the argument with a bit of "who said what"

      I will cover the modern arguments at some stage when we'll look more in depth at them.

      Lawrence

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Michael

      Glad you enjoyed the hub. The reality of God is in many ways personal.

      Lawrence

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 2 years ago from Michigan, USA

      An excellent and comprehensive look at the argument from design, Lawrence!

      Obviously, as I'm still an atheist, I find the argument unconvincing. Yet I wouldn't hesitate to cite your hub as a resource for those wishing to know more about it. Well done!

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Larry.

      Glad you enjoyed the hub, it was more of a looking at where the argument comes from than stating a position (anyone reading my hubs will know what I think anyway :-)

      Lawrence

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 2 years ago

      Superb work, detailed research on intellectual level. I admire you in-depth presentation and facts of historical arguments. Though I do not have anything to add to it, from my personal spiritual experience certainly I can say yes, God does exists, for me, to me; manifested the living Word when taken without wavering literally and applied, time and time again God was there for me confirming as truth what he said according the principle ' according your believing you will have it. Nothing extraordinary, I am one among countless who were and are benefiting from His faithful declaration 'because he is devoted to me,I will deliver him; I will protect him because he is loyal to me. When he calls out to me, I will answer him. I will be with him when he is in trouble... I will satisfy him with long life... Thus here am I because he kept these promises and makes them alive. By his presence with me and around me , without any need for argument I always say God does exists, is here and everywhere according to his word.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Bill

      So true! Thank you for the compliment. Maybe as we discuss the topic (without confrontation) we'll find pearls of wisdom in each others thoughts that will guide us like signposts.

      Lawrence

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Kiss and Tales

      I enjoyed the research into the likes of Socrates and Aristotle, they were amazing thinkers.

      You mention some good stuff about the Human body, just last week I was reading that the Nobel prize for Chemistry this year has gone to a scientist doing ground breaking research into the self repair mechanisms within cells and how our cells check and repair faulty DNA!

      Glad you enjoyed the hub

      Lawrence

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Jodah

      Glad you enjoyed the hub. The Watchmaker analogy is pretty good as a 'starting point' but as with all these things it does have some drawbacks!

      I'll probably do some writing on 'intelligent design' sometime but want to try and cover them in a way that isn't confrontational.

      Glad you enjoyed it though

      Lawrence

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Wonderful analysis.

    • Kiss andTales profile image

      Kiss andTales 2 years ago

      Yes we all will the moment of truth will come and not be late.

      The point is when he do reveal himself no one will be able to change a believing couse

      Because he will know the truth of the heart and speech of many.

      Just as the days of Noah no one had ever seen rain, so when preached to people are acting the same way again in disbelief of God Almighty.

      I personally say if we individually are not impossible why should he be impossible as a person,

      Why do people not see that.

      But as you have said we will face truth.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      As always, a detailed and well-researched article on a difficult topic. Does He or doesn't He? I guess we'll all find out eventually, right?

    • Kiss andTales profile image

      Kiss andTales 2 years ago

      lawrence I appreciate your hub of a highest amount of research and explanation. The info on great men that people can relate to.

      Also you bring in great examples of the watch, how interesting , I was doing reasearch and discovered we as humans

      Have micro gears that turn and move, also DNA spells words. Interesting that many

      Can not see how their own body gives evidence of a genius who can not be compared to human thinking , when humans are limited to long life, thinking

      with only a small percent of the brain, when our capacity can hold a large library of knowledge .if perfect we would see and know more.

      Thank you for your good work and sharing.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Wonderfully thoughtful hub once again Lawrence. I had never hear the "Watchmaker Analogy" before but it explains things very well and I may have to refer to it myself when the subject of intelligent design surfaces. Thanks for sharing your knowledge on this subject.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Oz

      Thanks for the visit. You ask the age old question and I'd tend to agree with you, this hub is about presenting the history behind the argument and it's interesting that if you follow the clues it seems that atheism actually has at least part of its roots in the Stoics of the Roman era.

      Thanks for the visit.

      Lawrence

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia

      A well presented and thoughtful hub.

      There is great purpose here on earth: why else has infinite complexity created a theatre like setting for tests of conscience and compassion!

      To not see this is to be "spiritually blind".