William Paley

The Teleological Argument
(or The Argument from Design)

William Paley (1743-1805)

A. The Argument:

P1. If we observe a material object exhibiting design (i.e., purpose in its organization/action), we may infer the existence of an agent who designed it.

P1.1 Purpose requires an intentional agent to exist.

P2. A watch exhibits purpose in its organization.

C1. Therefore, if we observe a watch, we may infer the existence of a designer (i.e., a watch maker).

P3. The universe is like a watch (i.e., it exhibits purpose in its design)

C2.Therefore, there must exist a universe maker who designed it.

P4. The being we call 'God' is the maker of the universe.

C3. Therefore God, the universe-maker, exists. (C2 & P4)

Anticipated Objections -

B. David Hume (1711-1776) - The Objection:

A Logical Objection - The nature of analogical arguments:

P1. The strength of an analogical argument’s conclusion is proportionate to the number of similarities between the analogates.

P2. Any dissimilarity between the compared things proportionately weakens the analogy.

P3. There are more dissimilarities than similarities between the universe and a machine.

P3.1 We have limited experience with the Universe

P3.2 We should not expect the parts of the Universe to exhibit the same qualities as the whole (The Fallacy of Composition)

P3.3 The Universe may be best understood from a non-human point of view (the Anthropocentric Fallacy)

  • Therefore, we cannot conclude that the cause of the universe is like the cause of a machine.
  • A Reductio Ad Absurdum

    P1. Assuming the universe is like a machine, then it was created by a machine-maker.

    P2. The only machine-makers we know are human.

    C. Therefore, the universe maker would be like other machine makers.

    P3. If the universe maker is like other machine makers, then...

    P3.1 It would not necessarily have infinite properties (i.e., knowledge, power, etc.)

    P3.2 The designer would not necessarily be the builder.

    P3.3 There are likely to be many of them.

    P3.4 They could be infants, or old (or dead).

    P3.5 They would have bodies.

    What do our observations allow us to conclude? -

    1. The order we observe in the universe may be like the order in machines, but we cannot know that it is.
    2. If there were a maker of the universe that was analogous to a machine maker, it would not be like God.
    3. Without more information, we can infer very little from the nature of the effect (i.e., the universe) about the nature of its cause.


    Return to Notes Index
    return to Barry's HP