The Design argument

AQA
Philosophy

Design argument 10 mark question content

Paley’s analogical design argument

Paley’s design qua Purpose is Paley’s argument that the combination of complexity and purpose, which we observe in natural objects/beings, is best explained by a designer.

Paley illustrates this with the example of a watch. If you were walking on a heath and came across a rock, you could easily think that it had always been lying there. At least, there is nothing about the rock which clearly suggests otherwise.

However, the situation is quite different if instead we came across a watch. There is something about a watch which suggests it had not always been lying there.

It is composed of parts which are intricately formed so as to produce a motion which is so meticulously regulated as to point out the hour and minute of the day. It has complexity which is arranged so as to perform a purpose.

If the parts were themselves any differently shaped, composed of other materials, or were placed in any other arrangement, the purpose of telling the time would not have resulted.

The watch could not have come about by chance nor been there forever because it has Complexity & Purpose. This must mean it had a designer – a watch maker.

Paley then points out there are also things in the universe that are complex and have a purpose. He points out in particular the complexity of the Human eye which is arranged to fulfil the purpose of enabling us to see. He also points to the wings of a bird and fins of a fish which are examples of complexity fitted together to perform a purpose of flying and swimming.

“Every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature.” – Paley.

Since complexity and purpose in a watch tells us there must have been a watch maker, similarly, the complexity and purpose in the universe tells us that there must have been a universe designer.

This designer must have a mind, because design requires a designer who has a purpose in mind and know how a certain arrangement of particular parts will bring about that purpose.

The status as a proof of the design argument

A posteriori. The design argument is an a posteriori argument, which means it is based on experience. The design argument is based on the observation of particular aspects of the universe which, it claims, have the appearance of design. This observation forms the premises of the design argument. On the basis of that premise, an inference is then made to the nature of the origin of the universe.

Inductive. The type of inference involved in the design argument from the premises to the conclusion is inductive. Inductive arguments are those for which the premises count as evidence for, in support of, a conclusion. The truth of the premises does not logically entail the conclusion. So, inductive arguments are those for which their premises could be true and yet their conclusion false. They give us reasons for accepting a conclusion, though cannot prove that the conclusion is certain. The best an inductive argument can achieve is to show that a conclusion is what we currently have most reason to believe based on our best attempt to understand the available evidence.

Inductive arguments as proofs. Evidence is not proof. The reason for this is that arguing on the basis of evidence cannot guarantee truth, because for all we can currently know there is additional evidence we could discover that would disprove the conclusion our current evidence suggests. The technical term for this is that knowledge based on experience is ‘defeasible’, meaning there could be further evidence that is currently unknown which would show it to be false.

Strengths of the design argument

God is the simplest explanation of the design in the world because it is incredibly unlikely that complexity and purpose could come about by chance. Ockham’s razor suggests that we should go with the simplest explanation that works.

The design argument is actually compatible with evolution – so it fits with our current scientific view of the universe. Evolution could simply be the process or means by which God designed us. It even helps to explain how evolution started.

Paley’s argument is strong because it is based on analogy between things we can see and understand (inductive argument).

Paley doesn’t try to claim more than is justified by his argument. He accepts it at most shows that there is some designer, but it doesn’t prove the Christian God in particular. Paley’s natural theology is of the same style as that of Aquinas, aiming only to show the reasonableness of Christianity, in order to support faith.

Hume’s criticisms (weaknesses) of the design argument

Hume’s evidential problem of evil

Hume aims to show that a posteriori observation of the world cannot provide a basis to conclude that a perfect God exists because the world contains imperfections like evil. Hume isn’t trying to prove that there is no designer, just that a posteriori evidence cannot be used to show that the designer must be the God of classical theism (omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent).

‘I … allow, that the bad appearances, notwithstanding all my reasonings, may be compatible with such attributes as you suppose: But surely they can never prove these attributes’ – Hume.

Hume, as an empiricist, insists that we are only justified in believing what the evidence suggests. The evidence of an imperfect world, while logically compatible with a perfect God, can never justify belief in a perfect God.

Hume’s criticism of the use of analogy

Hume argues that it doesn’t follow from the similarity of two effects that they must have had similar causes. For example, the smoke produced by fire and dry ice is very similar, but their causes not similar. So, just because the effect of the universe and the effect of a a man-made thing like a house (Hume’s example) or a watch are like each other in that they both have complexity and purpose, it doesn’t follow that the cause of the universe must be like the cause of a house/watch i.e., a designer. Two effects which are alike (analogous) might in fact have very different causes.

Hume highlights this by pointing to our utter ignorance of the state of nature during the beginning of the universe:

“Can you claim to show any such similarity between the structure of a house and the generation of a universe? Have you ever seen nature in a situation that resembles the first arrangement of the elements ·at the beginning of the universe·?” – Hume.

Even if we could claim an analogy between natural things and man-made things, for all we know there may be no analogy between their origin.

Hume argues further that we can’t even claim analogy between artefacts and natural objects. Artifacts are mechanical, but the universe appears more organic.

Hume’s Epicurean hypothesis

Epicures was an ancient Greek philosopher who thought the universe was had existed infinitely and was composed of atoms. Hume pointed out that if Epicures was correct, then a chaotic random universe, given an infinite amount of time, will by complete chance occasionally assemble itself into an orderly one. The atoms will happen to collide in such a way that an orderly arrangement of them will come about. On an infinite time scale, if something can possibly happen then no matter how low the probability, it becomes 100% guaranteed to happen. Not just once, but an infinite number of times! For example if monkeys were randomly banging away on typewriters for an infinite amount of time, then they would produce the entire works of Shakespeare. Similarly, a chaotic universe of randomly moving and fluctuating objects will happen to coalesce into an orderly arrangement given an infinite time frame.

The value for faith of the design argument

Aquinas

Barth

Price

10 mark questions for the design argument

Examine Paley’s analogical design argument.
Examine Hume’s criticisms of the design argument.
Examine Paley’s design argument and Hume’s criticisms.
Examine how the design argument is based in observation.
Examine the status of the design argument as a ‘proof’.
Examine the value of the design argument for religious faith.
Examine the relationship between faith and reason suggested by the design argument.
Examine the strengths of the design argument.
Examine the weaknesses of the design argument.
Examine the meaning of the design argument
Examine the significance of the design argument
Examine the influence of the design argument on Christians
Examine the cause and significance of similarities and differences between the design argument and other arguments for God.
Examine the approach of philosophy to the design argument

Design argument 15 mark question content

Standard design argument evaluation question content

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Strength: God is the simplest explanation of the design in the world – Ockham’s razor suggests that we should go with the simplest explanation that works.

Hume’s weakness counters this strength: However – the existence of evil in the world suggests that God is not the best or simplest explanation because it would leave evil unexplained.

Hume aims to show that a posteriori observation of the world cannot provide a basis to conclude that a perfect God exists because the world contains imperfections like evil. Hume isn’t trying to prove that there is no designer, just that a posteriori evidence cannot be used to show that the designer must be the God of classical theism (omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent).

‘I … allow, that the bad appearances, notwithstanding all my reasonings, may be compatible with such attributes as you suppose: But surely they can never prove these attributes’ – Hume.

Hume, as an empiricist, insists that we are only justified in believing what the evidence suggests. The evidence of an imperfect world, while logically compatible with a perfect God, can never justify belief in a perfect God.

Evaluation of Hume’s counter: However, Paley can be defended that evil may be unavoidable in order for God to bring about good. E.g. soul-making requires evil – free will requires evil.

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Strength: The design argument is compatible with evolution – so it fits with our current scientific view of the universe. Evolution could simply be the process or means by which God designed us. It even helps to explain how evolution started.

Hume’s weakness counters this strength: Hume’s epicurean hypothesis is also consistent with modern science but explains order and design without reference to a God – showing that the God explanation is unnecessary.

Evaluation of Hume’s counter: However, time is not infinite – it began at the big bang, so Hume’s epicurean hypothesis seems wrong.

Further evaluation: defence of Hume: However, a modern variation of the epicurean hypothesis is the multiverse theory which suggests there could be infinite space. So even though the design argument is technically consistent with science, science can explain our universe’ existence and order/complexity without reference to a God. So it is an unnecessary explanation.

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Strength: Paley’s argument is strong because it is based on analogy between things we can see and understand (inductive argument).

Hume’s weakness counters this strength: However – Hume’s critique of analogy.

Hume argues that it doesn’t follow from the similarity of two effects that they must have had similar causes. For example, the smoke produced by fire and dry ice is very similar, but their causes not similar. So, just because the effect of the universe and the effect of a a man-made thing like a house (Hume’s example) or a watch are like each other in that they both have complexity and purpose, it doesn’t follow that the cause of the universe must be like the cause of a house/watch i.e., a designer. Two effects which are alike (analogous) might in fact have very different causes.

Hume highlights this by pointing to our utter ignorance of the state of nature during the beginning of the universe:

“Can you claim to show any such similarity between the structure of a house and the generation of a universe? Have you ever seen nature in a situation that resembles the first arrangement of the elements ·at the beginning of the universe·?” – Hume.

Even if we could claim an analogy between natural things and man-made things, for all we know there may be no analogy between their origin.

Hume argues further that we can’t even claim analogy between artefacts and natural objects. Artifacts are mechanical, but the universe appears more organic.

Evaluation of Hume’s counter: However – Paley’s argument is actually not based on analogy

Modern philosophers tend to read Paley’s argument as not being based on an analogy between artefacts and the universe. His argument is that there is a property which requires a designer; the property of complexity and purpose – parts fitted together in a complex way to perform a purpose. When a complex of individually complex parts are fitted together in a meticulous way so as to achieve an overall function/purpose, it seems almost impossible for that to have come about by pure chance. A better explanation is a designing mind. Man-made things have this property but so too do natural things like the eye. Therefore, nature requires a designer because it has this property, not because of any analogy to man-made things. The watch is merely an illustration. We know the universe is designed because it has complexity and purpose.

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Strength: Paley doesn’t try to claim more than is justified by his argument. He accepts it at most shows that there is some designer, but it doesn’t prove the Christian God in particular. Paley’s natural theology is of the same style as that of Aquinas, aiming only to show the reasonableness of Christianity, in order to support faith.

Weakness from Hume: God is not the only explanation. Hume argues that even if we had evidence of design in the universe, that would not support the claim that it was designed by the God of classical theism. It could have been made by a junior God, apprentice God – or even a God who died. There could be multiple designers – ‘a committee of Gods’. So, the design argument doesn’t even justify monotheism.

Evaluation: Swinburne claims that Hume’s points here are correct and that the design argument cannot prove that the designer has the attributes of the God of classical theism. Other arguments will be needed for that.

Nonetheless, Swinburne thinks that Ockham’s razor can be used against some of Hume’s claims here. One God being responsible for the design of the universe is a simpler explanation than multiple. Swinburne also points to the uniformity of the laws of physics as suggesting a single designer.

So, Hume’s critique doesn’t work against a posteriori arguments based in Aquinas’ style of natural theology (that Paley and Swinburne also adopt). They only seek to show that it is reasonable to believe in a designer. Hume’s insistence that we cannot know which type of designer there is does is irrelevant because that point is never denied by these proponents of the design argument.

Examples of standard design argument 15 mark questions

“Paley’s design argument is unconvincing” – Evaluate this claim
“Hume’s criticisms of the design argument cannot be defended against” – Evaluate this claim
“The design argument’s basis in observation is a weakness” – Evaluate this claim
“The design argument fails to prove God’s existence” – Evaluate this claim
“The strengths of the design argument outweigh its weaknesses” – Evaluate this claim
“The design argument has no serious weaknesses” – Evaluate this claim
“The design argument proves that God exists” – Evaluate this claim

Value for faith design argument evaluation content

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Aquinas’ argument for natural theology

Karl Barth’s critique of Aquinas – Barth argues that original sin has corrupted human reason and  therefore it is too unreliable to use for knowing anything about God. He makes the classic protestant argument that Christians should only rely on faith in the Bible – not reason.

Evaluation of Barth’s critique

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H.H. Price’s views on belief in vs belief that

Evaluation of whether this supports arguments for God or not

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Hume’s critique that arguments for God do not justify belief in the Christian God. If the design argument doesn’t justify the Christian God in particular then it is not useful for Christian faith.

Aquinas and Paley would accept

Value for faith design argument 15 mark questions

“The design argument has no value for religious faith.” – Evaluate this claim
“The design argument has no meaning for Christians” – Evaluate this claim
“The design argument has no significance for Christians” – Evaluate this claim