I – Introduction: Theistic Arguments
We’ve seen that one religious claim that some have attempted to provide rational/scientific support for concerns the existence of God.
Instead of relying on tradition, faith or internal revelation, many theologians, philosophers, scientists, etc., have attempted to rationally and empirically prove that God exists.
Last week we examined one theistic argument: Aquinas’ cosmological argument.
This week we will examine another famous and highly contentious attempt to rationally prove God’s existence: William Paley’s design argument.
II – Paley’s Teleological Argument
Paley was an important theologian and philosopher of religion from the 18th century.
Paley’s argument is a teleological argument, i.e., an argument for God’s existence that is based on features of the universe that exhibit design or purpose.
Specifically, Paley’s argument that we are focusing on is a local design argument: God’s existence is inferred from particular features of the universe that exhibit design or purpose.
Paley thinks we can infer God’s existence from the existence of certain entities, complex biological organisms: humans, mammals, other animals, etc.
In general terms, the reasoning is that the complexity exhibited by biological organisms such as humans, mammals, and other animals makes probable the existence of a supremely intelligent designer (i.e., God).
How does this argument go?
-Humans, mammals, etc., it is claimed, are highly complex biological organisms.
-They have a complex biology: nervous systems, brains, etc.
-They are also highly intelligent and adaptive.
-They are able to adapt to their surroundings.
-They are able to survive and reproduce.
What is the explanation for this?
(1)The design hypothesis: there was a supremely intelligent being who designed these beings (i.e., God).
(2) The random hypothesis: these beings came about randomly by chance.
The design hypothesis, Paley thinks, is far more plausible.
The existence of purpose or design makes probable the existence of a supremely intelligent being who functions as a designer (this is sometimes also called ‘the rational design argument’). Paley reinforces his argument with an analogy.
This is referred to as ‘the watch analogy’.
-Imagining you are walking on a beach and you come across a watch.
-How would you explain the watch’s existence?
-Two main possibilities: the random hypothesis and the design hypothesis.
-The random hypothesis seems highly improbable.
-It is an infinitely remote possibility that the watch was created by chance, i.e., simply by the workings of natural laws.
-So we are left with the design hypothesis: the watch must have had a designer, some intelligent being that brought it into existence (i.e., a watchmaker).
Paley thinks that the case of the watch on the beach is very similar to the case of complex biological organisms living on earth.
-Complex biological organisms such as humans and other mammals are highly intricate beings.
-We are built in such a way that we are able to adapt to our environment, and so survive, reproduce, and even thrive.
-What are the chances we came into existence by chance, by the random workings of natural laws?
-It seems remote at best, no more likely than the watch being created by chance.
-Thus the existence of complex biological organisms makes probable the existence of a supremely intelligent designer, i.e., God (in the same way that the watch makes probable the existence of a watch-maker).
-It is far more likely that God exists than that God doesn’t exist since the design hypothesis seems much more plausible than the random hypothesis.
There are a variety of potential problems with Paley’s argument, including the following two.
(1) It is not clear that Paley’s watch analogy is a good one.
(2) Perhaps the random hypothesis is not nearly as implausible as it would at first seem.
We’ll discuss each of these