Arguments for the Existence of God

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Assignment 6

  1. Explain the objection that God is not a sufficient reason for the existence of the universe.

  2. How can this objection be responded to?

  3. What is the fallacy of composition?

  4. How is the fallacy of composition used to challenge the cosmological argument?

  5. To what extent are you convinced that this challenge is successful?

  6. How does Hume challenge the cosmological argument?

  7. What is Swinburne’s response to Hume?

  8. What other response to Hume is possible?

Review & Record

Make sure that you

Strengths of the argument

It is easily understood

It is based on our experience – the universe

Consistent with the observed facts

Some say best possible explanation

Weaknesses of the argument

Some say internal contradiction “all causes have causes” but “God is uncaused”

The universe is a thing not a cause

Why does the cause have to God?

Fallacy of composition

Why does there have to be a “first cause”?

Necessary cause is beyond our understanding


Does the cosmological argument work for you? Why?

It may surprise you to know that, despite its weaknesses, many people still find the cosmological argument very appealing. It certainly raises some interesting questions for scientists to grapple with. However, not everyone is convinced.

The Teleological Argument for the Existence of God

The Argument From Design

"in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,"

Gen. 1: 1

This is the second of the a posteriori arguments we are investigating so again we are analysing and evaluating arguments based on sense experience.

(If the argument was based on reason not sense experience what kind or argument would we be considering?)
The Greek word “telos” means distance. “Telephone” means speaking from a distance and “television” means seeing from a distance.
The teleological argument depends on the observation that the things we see in our world not only come from somewhere, but seem to be going somewhere. There seems to be a direction, a purpose for things. Our world is not just random chance. We do not exist in chaos.
Do you agree?
Observation: There seems to be an order about the cosmos
In the night sky we see the planets and stars moving as if according to some sort of order. On earth, spring and then summer are followed by winter and so on. The organs of the body seem to be closely suited to their tasks - the human eye for example - and so on.
The Teleological Argument is based on the reasoning that if order is observed, then there is a design and this is evidence for a “Divine Designer” - God.
Like the cosmological argument, this Argument from Design has been put forward in many forms throughout history.
In the Bible, the first chapter of the book of Genesis (written about 550 BCE) describes how God, in a very ordered way, created everything and that before creation all was chaos. In Genesis, God also described his creation as “good”. Job satisfaction!
In Psalms 104 we find...
You fixed the earth on its foundations, forever and ever it shall not be shaken. From your high halls you water the mountains, satisfying the earth with the fruit of your works. For cattle you make the grass grow, and for people the plants they need, to bring forth food from the earth, and wine to cheer peoples hearts. You made the moon to mark the seasons, the sun knows when to set. You bring on darkness and night falls.”

Maybe not so poetic but with the same theme...
Nature has made the hindermost parts of our body which we sit upon most fleshy, as providing for our ease, and making us a natural cushion.”
(H. More, An Antidote Against Atheism, 1659)
The ribs on melons were designed by a wise God so that they can be divided up among a family at table.”
(Bernadin de St Pierre, 1715)
However, the most famous statement of the Teleological argument is provided by the Englishman, William Paley, (1743-1805).
In his famous watch analogy, Paley argued that just as a watch demands an intelligent creator, a watchmaker, similarly the human eye also requires a designer - God.
According to Paley’s argument from analogy, neither the watch nor a human eye could “just happen” by chance.

In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how this stone came to be there, I might possibly answer that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever... But suppose I found a watch... I should hardly give the same answer... Why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone?

For this reason, when we come to inspect the watch we perceive (what we could not discover in the stone) that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e.g. that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day, that, if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, or placed after any other manner... either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it. This, mechanism being observed - the inference, we think, is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker.., who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer, who comprehended its construction, and designed its use.
Nor would it weaken the conclusion that we had never seen a watch made ... or that the watch sometimes went wrong, or that it seldom went exactly ... or if there were a few parts of the watch the reason for which we could not discover... in what manner they conducted to the general effect...”
(Natural Theology - William Paley 1802)
This is an example of an argument using analogy. An analogy is a type of argument often used by philosophers to either support or attack an argument.
The claim of an argument from analogy is that two items share similarities and from that, one can deduce similar conclusions from their comparison.
Paley is claiming that the watch and the human eye are similar in certain important respects therefore a conclusion, which applies to one, can be justifiably applied to the other.
The big question we must confront is – “Is Paley’s analogy valid?”

When some one claims, “Life is like a box of chocolates”, to what extent is this a convincing analogy?

Are you convinced by Paley’s argument?
Is a watch really comparable with a human eye? Are the two really similar in their essential details?

Obviously Paley thought so but what do you think?
Those who support the teleological argument say all we have to do to confirm the existence of God is look around us.
The inference from the watch analogy is that an eye is analogous to a watch in requiring a designer. Furthermore, the universe and all that is in it are far more complex than a watch, therefore the designer must be a very powerful and sophisticated being - God.
The argument is based on induction although, like the cosmological, it can be given a deductive formal structure.

The Argument From Design
P1 Without order there would be chaos.

P2 Order is always created by design and intelligence.

P3 We observe order.


p4/C There is an intelligent creator/designer - God.

he formal argument

Assignment 7

  1. In what way is the Argument from Design similar to the cosmological argument?

  2. What are the differences between a priori and a posteriori arguments?

  3. What is the history of the Argument from Design?

  4. Why is the argument sometimes called the Teleological argument?

  5. Outline the basic Teleological/Design argument.

  6. What is the title of Paley’s text?

  7. How does Paley illustrate this argument?

  8. What kind of argument does Paley use?

How convincing is the teleological argument?

Despite the popularity and vitality of the design argument there are flaws.

Remember arguments can be declared unreliable for two reasons.
Either the premises are untrue or there is a fault in the structure.
The design argument is an a posteriori argument. It is an inductive argument the conclusion is not necessarily even if all the premises are true.
In an inductive argument, the conclusion could be false even with true premises.

Problems with the Design Argument

Firstly it can be applied in another context and made to sound absurd. (Remember reductio ad absurdum?)

If we look at an egg we could be struck by the fact that it is very cleverly designed so that it will fit exactly into an egg cup!”

Secondly as to the question above “is the analogy valid?” Some would say “no!” It is also absurd to say that the workings of a watch “resemble” the human eye.

According to David Hume, the human eye is more like a vegetable!

After all, a watch is mineral.
The point of this objection to the analogy is that if the analogy is weak then the conclusion cannot be relied on. The whole argument is weakened.
What about the substantial claims of the argument? There are two..


P1 Without order there would be chaos.

P2 Order is always created by design and intelligence.

P3 We observe order.


p4/C There is an intelligent creator/designer - God.

ook carefully at premises, 2, 3 and 4.

  • Can we assume that all is ordered in the universe?

  • Can we assume that all order is designed?

Premise 2 and 3 suffer from the problem with all a priori arguments with an inductive basis – the claim that “all unobserved things are like observed all things”. This can never be demonstrated!

Premise 4’s problem – why does the “designer” have to be God? No reason given!
Premise 3 – again, some would also point out that the universe exhibits chaos not order.

Just because some one claims that order is observed does not mean that order actually exists. Just think about it! Just because some one sees a certain pattern in a cloud formation does not mean that …..

Is it reasonable to infer that any observed pattern/order is patterned or ordered? After all we all have experience of coincidences.

Assignment 8

  1. The teleological argument is an example of what kind of argument?

  2. What does the teleological argument have in common with the cosmological?

  3. Explain clearly the main problems of these sorts of arguments.

  4. What kind of argument did Paley use?

  5. Give another example of this kind of argument.

  6. List all the objections to the Teleological argument so far.

More Objections

Alternative Arguments To Order & Design
There are alternative arguments which seem to be just as convincing.
The rise of modern science has produced a significant challenge to the Design Argument. Darwin's work on evolution has provided us with a competing argument to Paley’s watch analogy. Darwin explains why plants, animals and their bits seem so well “designed” without the need for a supernatural personal designer.
From his many observations of plants and animals on the Galapagos Islands, Darwin postulated that it was the process of Natural Selection which was at work rather than that of a Divine Designer. The human eye could be explained as a product of Natural Selection rather than God.
So not God, not chance but an explainable natural process.
This immense and wonderful universe cannot be the result of blind chance... I feel compelled to look to a First Cause... But then arises the doubt. Can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animals, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions?
(Charles Darwin – the Origin of the Species)

It is important to note that Darwin’s theory does not disprove God. In fact some Christians would say that God created evolution!

What Darwin does do is that he provides a theory which many claim does away with the necessity for God and so weakens the Design Argument because it takes the same evidence and arrives at an alternative conclusion. Some would say that this provides a good explanation for natural order without the need for a supernatural cause.
But remember, Darwin only attempted to explain biological systems. There are many other systems in operation in the universe which cannot be explained by Darwinism.
More recently, scientific research into what is known as Chaos Theory is beginning to undermine Newton's optimistic view of the universe as a predictable machine. It is not in fact (we now discover) made up of building blocks obeying 'laws of nature', but of waves and impulses which seem to operate randomly.
We are discovering that the cosmos is perhaps more chance than design.
If a pattern does eventually emerge, could it be simply nature's way of surviving? Those who fit into the pattern survive, the rest perish. Who is to say that the human race is not the survivor of a million failed worlds? If God stands behind such a world, he is something far more mysterious than just a “clever watchmaker”.

More Problems with the Design Argument
If we take up the theists’ invitation to look around us at the evidence for the existence of God, some may say that there is as much evidence for non-existence - “Where is God with all the suffering?”
Moreover, if some of the universe seems well designed, there is much that could do with a make-over - flood, drought, earthquake, volcanic eruption, plague, disease, innocent suffering and so on. Taken together they call into question the power, wisdom and ethics of the Creator. So the Designer God may not be omnipotent, omniscient nor onmibenevolent.
Humans rarely have perfect vision and many have back problems as a result of walking upright. So maybe this was a “prototype universe” - maybe this universe was abandoned as a bad job or just abandoned because it was no fun any more - too many repeats in the soap opera of human nature!

So even if it could be proved that there is design in our world, who is to say as David Hume did that the Designer is not plural, or stupid, or downright evil?

Look round this universe... inspect a little more narrowly these living creatures ... how hostile and destructive to each other ... how contemptible or odious to the spectator ... a blind nature, pouring forth from her lap without discernment or parental care, her maim and abortive children. If the architect had skill and good intentions, he might have remedied all or most of these inconveniences.”
(David Hume - Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion)
Assignment 9 (Revision)

  1. Outline the basic Teleological argument.

  2. How does Paley illustrate this argument?

  3. What kind of argument does Paley use?

  4. What are the main problems with the Teleological Argument itself?

  5. Why is Charles Darwin now an important figure in this debate?

  6. What are the alternative arguments to the Teleological?

  7. What is David Hume’s point?

  8. What does the teleological argument establish?

  9. What does Darwin’s theory do for the teleological argument?

  10. List all the objections to the design argument in this section.

Argument from Design - Post-Scientific Version

So you might think, as many do, that Darwin has completely destroyed the teleological argument. Not so. Many eminent scientists are also theists. Deism, as it is called was popular in David Hume’s day over three hundred years ago and it still is today.

How can this be?
The Teleological - Science Synthesis

The Anthropic Principle

"everything about the universe tends toward humans, making life possible and sustaining it"

Most recently the Anthropic Principle or Theistic Evolution has had its supporters. This principle states that the Genesis picture, of a universe deliberately designed for human beings, is confirmed by science. A universe hospitable to humans requires so many unique circumstances that it cannot be put down to mere random chance.

For example when the ozone layer around the earth was first discovered, many believers acclaimed it as a further piece of evidence of a teleological world. Who but a wise Designer could have arranged this?
So the more the natural laws are revealed which order the universe and allow life to exist the more evidence the theist claim to support their position that it could only be God that has created the physical laws which allows life to exist. Theists point out that the odds against all the cosmological constants being what they are is 1 in 10 to 10 125
As one philosopher puts it ...
For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.

"God does not play dice with the universe”
Albert Einstein

Here Einstein is expressing the Deist view that the exactitude with which the maths fits what would be necessary for there to be an ordered and sustainable universe is not a result of shear chance.

1 Scientific Cosmology - The “Big Bang” + Natural laws e.g. Darwinian biology
2 Narrow Teleology (Paley) - examples from experience

demonstrate the existence of God - the human eye - God the designer

3 Broad Teleology (Tennant) - Synthesis - examples like the eye can be explained by natural causes like evolution/natural selection but these natural forces are the “ways of God”.
So the Teleological or Argument from Design sets out to demonstrate that the God of the philosophers necessarily exists because only if S/He did, would there be order in the universe.
Has this been achieved?
Not quite. The jump from order to perceived design to Great Designer can be challenged.
The argument merely establishes the possibility of a Designer God.
Purely scientific explanations are however incomplete and claim that all will be revealed eventually.
The synthesis amounts to the bolting of one unconvincing argument on to another.
The conclusion based on an inductive inference so not certain to be true.
The God of the philosophers is not necessarily the only source of order.
There are inconsistencies or contradictions between God’s nature and the evidence e.g. suffering and omnibenevolence.
There are alternative, equally strong arguments, which do not rely on God.
Order has not been demonstrated as conclusive evidence for chance being an important feature of the way the universe operates.
The argument from Design relies on what many would say are weak analogies - Is the eye really like a watch? Hume said that the human to him resembled not a machine but a vegetable!

Assignment 10

  1. What do the Cosmological and Teleological arguments have in common?

  2. What is the difference between the Cosmological and Teleological argument?

  3. Why, and in what way, has the Teleological had to evolve?

  4. How successful do you think this has been? Why?

  5. How convincing is the teleological today? Give reasons for your answer.

Arguments From Design - Video

  1. What does philosophy provide in relation to the question of the existence of God?

  2. What are the philosophical questions that provide a starting point?

  3. The scientific position is usually represented by which hypothesis?

  4. Why do some scientists believe that there is still room for God in their cosmology?

  5. What is this an example of?

  6. Dawkins says that God was understandably necessary until who came along?

  7. What do we have to do to find out “what is going on”?

  8. What model of argument is chosen first? Why?

  9. What form of argument is the argument from design?

  10. What is it claimed that evolution does?

  11. What are the modern Cosmo arguments?

  12. How are the relative strengths of arguments tested?

  13. Why is it claimed that the “many universes” arguments is not scientific?

  14. Who survives the “simplicity test”?

  15. Why is God “no explanation”?

  16. What does our existence suggest?

  17. What is the point of the “firing squad” analogy?

  18. What is the scientific view of this?

  19. What questions are not explained by the design argument?

  20. If there is no proof what should or could be a reasonable human response?

  21. What are claimed to be the weaknesses of religious explanations?

  22. What is the philosophical substance of Dawkins “water sprite” argument?

There is No Conclusive Evidence - Agnosticism
Agnosticism is a term first used in 1869 by TH Huxley to describe his philosophical position on the existence of God. In the twentieth century, Bertrand Russell also described himself as an agnostic.
Anyone who decides that it may be impossible to decide whether or not God exists might be described as an agnostic.
It is important to note is that there is a distinction between being an agnostic and being an atheist.
The atheist argues against the existence of God, while the agnostic argues that, after examining all the arguments, there is insufficient evidence to decide either for or against the existence God. For these purposes we are assuming that “knowing God exists” and “believing that God exists” are the same thing.
So why be an agnostic?
Firstly, from looking at the cosmological and teleological arguments, we have seen that those who argue for the existence of God (theists) and those who argue against the existence of God (atheists) are very skilful at countering each others’ arguments and objections.
Secondly, a failure to prove that God does exist is not proof that God does not exist, (and vice versa).
Thirdly, both theists and atheists claim that God, by Her very nature, is unknowable and so conclusive evidence can never exist!
The agnostic is not claiming that, since there are no obvious winners, it is better just to sit on the fence. The agnostic is claiming that the evidence available might be used to support or challenge both sides of the argument and that, until evidence becomes conclusive, we should not conclude.
It is really a question of fact and interpretation.
Think back to the human eye example in our discussion of the design argument.
We have a fact: the human eye is perfectly fitted for the human environment.
Both sides agree on this fact but interpret this fact as evidence which supports their particular argument. Intelligent design theorists take this apparent fitness to purpose to be evidence of God’s existence, atheists, on the other hand, take this to be a sign of evolution and natural selection and so evidence that God does not exist.
The agnostic point of view is that this piece of evidence is therefore not decisive, and that to believe either way on the basis of that evidence would be irresponsible and irrational.
Huxley’s argument could be formalised as follows:
P1 - All conclusions should be based on the strongest evidence.

P2 - The evidence for the existence and non-existence of God is balanced equally.

P3 - Neither evidence is stronger than the other.


Conclusion - One should remain agnostic

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