The Teleological Argument for God’s Existence

            The teleological argument has historically been one of the most widely cited and popular arguments concerning the existence of God. Also known as the “argument from design,” it states that an intelligent designer must exist since the universe and living things possess marks of a design according to their natural order and pattern. In recent years, the rise to the neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution has made a reappearance especially in the field of the origin of life studies that have uncovered questions to specific scientific hypotheses. The great question of God’s existence continues to hang in the balance of many prominent and affluent individuals even though many would acknowledge server deficiencies with the theory of evolution, they refuse to side with the intelligent design alternative. In an attempt to try to understand the argument from design, it’s predominantly viewed as a religious-based idea of biblical creationism and one-sided towards evolutionary change.  In this research paper, we will take a closer look into the theological arguments from the vantage point of biological, fine-tuning, fossil origins and the creationist case in an attempt to layout a constructive argument for an intelligent designer. Freethinkers and atheists alike view this argument as already defeated when William Paley presented his commentary on natural theology, but it was Darwin who although impressed with Paley, would refute his claims with the theory of natural selection which has become the cornerstone for the new atheism movement. 

            The teleological argument is a subcategory of the cosmological argument that focuses on the evidence of harmony and order. The Greek word, “telos” means “end” or “goal” or “purpose” and this argument claims that the universe must have some purpose behind it. Richard Dawkins who is an English biologist and New York Times bestseller, states in his book The God Delusion, “It is no longer true to say that nothing that we know looks designed unless it is designed. Evolution by natural selection produces an excellent simulacrum of design, mounting prodigious heights of complexity and elegance.”[1] What Dawkins, Hume, and others fail to realize is because of the complexity and scientific studies, there’s an alternative of worldviews that can be cherished as a Christian believer and one who engages in scientific studies. The two are not contradictory but complement one another and we will take a closer look at how this is explored through an intelligent designer. 

William Paley & Natural Theology 

            Before we begin to highlight some strengths of the theological position, a historical analysis is in order to first discover how this argument was developed. William Paley was born in Peterborough, England and was an English clergyman, apologist, and philosopher who is best known for his work on natural theology. A common analogy that was used by Paley was the Watchmaker argument that stated if you happen to find a watch in the middle of an empty field, you would logically say that it was designed and not the coincidence of chance. Just like the eye has many intricate parts, for it to function properly as a whole, it is only in the totality of the whole that it is able to be functional. Paley then goes on to argue that the universe must exhibit some kind of complexity:

Every indicator of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater and more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation. I mean that the contrivances of nature surpass the contrivances of art, in the complexity, subtilty, and curiosity of the mechanism; and still more, if possible, do they go beyond them in number and variety; yet in a multitude of cases, are not less evidently mechanical, not less contrivances, not less evidently accommodated to their end, or suited to their office, than are the most perfect productions of human ingenuity.[2] 

Paley combined the science of his time with natural theology to produce evidence on the order found in bones, muscles, blood vessels, comparative anatomy, and certain particular organs throughout the animal and plant kingdom.[3]

            Paley’s argument can be summed up as follows: 1) Human artifacts are the products of an intelligent designer, 2) The universe resembles human artifacts, 3) Therefore the universe is a product of Intelligent design, 4) The universe is massively complex in comparisons to human artifacts, and lastly 5) There has to be a powerful and immensely intelligent designer who created the universe. This argument from Paley has been met with some opposition from Darwin who argued that biological organisms through the process of natural selection evolved over a period of millions of years.

Fine-Tuning of the Universe

            The Fine-Tuning argument (FTA) is a variant to the Teleological argument that was first discovered and developed in the twentieth century with the Big Bang cosmology discussions. What scientists determined was that the universe couldn’t be possible if multiple properties of its existence were seen as different in comparison. It may seem that due to these properties that the universe is “fine-tuned” for life and an intelligent designer must be behind it. The evidence for this argument can fall under three different categories: 1) The fine-tuning of the laws of nature, 2) The fine-tuning of the constants of nature, and 3) The fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe.[4] The structure of our universe can be organized according to specific constants and quantities that are fundamental in the universe. What scientists have determined is that these numbers fall within a life-permitting range and if any of these numbers were altered, no physical, interactive life could exist in any environment. If, for example, gravity or the expansion rate were significantly off by a few numerical values, it would cause the universe not to permit life. Stephan Hawking once said, “The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.”

            The fine-tuning of the universe can generally be answered according to three different types of options or views. The first being of physical necessity that states the universe must indeed be life-permitting according to the constants and values that couldn’t be otherwise. The problem with this option is that the constants and quantities are not determined by the laws of nature and no reason or evidence suggests that fine-tuning is necessary. The second option deals with the idea of the universe being formed by chance. This, however, is very improbable although some scientist have taken a different approach that’s less speculative known as the multiverse. The multiverse hypothesis explains that there are many universes or regions of space-time in which constants, initial conditions of the universe and the laws vary from each universe.[5] Eventually, the correct universe will, therefore, be generated but this falls short due to the lack of sufficient scientific evidence for the existence of the multiverse. This would require a large amount of fine-tuning and small patches of low order are more likely than the creation than large patches. Given the implausibility of necessity and chance, the best explanation would be that of design. If certain galaxy clusters, supernovae eruptions, H3+production, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, iron quantity in oceans and soils, the density of stars and countless others, if too large, rich, close or irregular would cause a massive disruption in the survival to allow for life to be permitted.

The Cambrian Explosion & Fossils

            The Cambrian Explosion, often mentioned as the Big Bang of evolution, refers to the appearance and rapid diversification of living animal body parts (phyla) found in the fossil records that span intervals of 20 million years or less. The period of early Cambrian is said to have begun approximately 543 million years ago that has been recorded in fossil deposits and preserved. Suddenly, the oceans were filled with animals such as trilobites and anomalocaridids that contained complex cells for life. New genetic information began to appear during this period and molecular scientist has estimated that a minimal complex single-celled organism would require between 318,000 and 562,000 pairs of DNA to produce protein to maintain life.[6] This explosion of genetic information was unheard of from Neo-Darwinists who attempted to explain this dramatic increase of information that appeared so rapidly. If the origin of the Cambrian animals required a large amount of information to produce and maintain life, what produced this information explosion? This is the message of mystery that has posed a challenge to the theory of natural selection that asked the question of what could produce such a high specific arrangement of protein blocks of new cell types in such a short time?

            Many excavations were conducted throughout the years at different sites around the world. Fossils were discovered in Precambrian rocks that included fossils of bacteria and microscopic animal embryos. There is no one single set of transitional fossils that solely reveal one species that evolve into another. Fossilized remains discovered that there was virtually no difference. During the 50 million years, these fossils demonstrated no signs of evolving or mutation which is a major drawback to an evolutionist. The Cambrian layer shows the major groups of phyla, fauna, and animals that have appeared suddenly, and these layers are no different today than they were back then. Although extinct, many of their ancestors can’t be found before the Cambrian period but all emerging in one single instant. One example of these fossils are the Burgess Shale in Canada that was discovered over 100 years ago. These soft-bodied creatures lacked an exoskeleton but had multiple eyes and a snout. 

            With discoveries being excavated, what does the Cambrian period prove? It shows that no single set of transitional fossils reveal one species evolving into another. Darwin had predicted hundreds of thousands of transitional forms that lead to the Cambrian explosion, but none appeared. If no common ancestor can be found in the Precambrian era, then Darwin’s sentiments are valid when he said, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organs existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would break down.” The Cambrian explosions have rendered to be a challenging aspect to an evolutionist, causing doubt to Darwin’s theories.

The Biochemical Challenge

            Darwinian evolution has been pushed to its limits with discoveries as a result of biochemistry. Biochemistry is the study of the very basis of life: the molecules that makeup cells and tissues, that catalyze the chemical reactions of digestion, photosynthesis, immunity and more.[7] Now, almost a century and a half after Darwin, an evolutionary biologist has made discoveries in explaining the formation of life and its complexity that has resulted in many thought-provoking questions. This all stems from the cell in understanding how life operates and its intricate subcellular organic structures that draw out these questions. During the 19th century, the anatomy of the physical eyeball was examined in detail and scientists found that if certain integrated features were damaged, it would result in a loss of vision or even blindness. Darwin wasn’t able to discover the pathway to the human eye but instead used an animal’s eye to explain his hypothesis:

Although humans have complex camera-type eyes, many animals get by with less. Some tiny creatures have just a simple group of pigmented cells or not much more than a light-sensitive spot. That simple arrangement can hardly be said to confer vision, but it can sense light and dark, and so it meets the creature’s needs. The light-sensing organ of some starfishes is somewhat more sophisticated. Their eye is located in a depressed region. This allows the animal to sense which direction the light is coming from since the curvature of the depression blocks off light from some directions. If the curvature becomes more pronounced, the directional sense of the eye improves. But more curvature lessens the amount of light that enters the eye, decreasing its sensitivity. The sensitivity can be increased by placement of gelatinous material in the cavity to act as a lens. Some modern animals have eyes with such crude lenses. Gradual improvements in the lens could then provide an image of increasing sharpness, as the requirements of the animal’s environment dictated.[8]

Darwin was able to convince many that the evolutionary pathway from light-sensitive spot to a sophisticated camera-eye of man, but the question on how the vision began in the first place was left unanswered.[9] Although the key question still remains on how can complex biochemical systems be gradually produced?  

            The complexity of molecular life is another aspect of Darwin’s theory that he had to overcome. Irreducible complexity, a term used by Michael Behe, defines it as a single system which is composed of several interacting parts, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to cease functioning. Behe focused on the molecular level describing certain phenomena in biochemistry that included the clotting of blood and bacterial flagellum. This rendered that any change in its composition would be harmful because of its complexity. There is therefore no room for natural selection to occur when dealing with parts that presuppose each other. The crux of Behe’s argumentation for irreducible complexity explains that a system cannot be produced directly by numerous, successive, slight modifications of a precursor system because any precursor to the complex system that might be missing a part is noncompatible and wouldn’t work. Natural selection can only utilize a system that is already in place and functioning. Although IC can’t be produced directly, the fact that biochemical systems can be designed by intelligent agents for their purposes is accepted by scientists worldwide.

Biblical Perspective

            The question surrounding the existence of God is not just a biological, scientific or philosophical one but is biblical in answering the question. On April 8, 1966, Time magazine captivated the reader by its cover which had the headline, “Is God Dead?” There are a few reasons that we can make for God’s existence. The first being that humanity would be meaningless without an intelligent designer. If life, as we know it, has no ultimate significance, then what is the difference if creation exists or not? This sort of doomsday prophecy makes living inconsequential and empty, even paralyzing our efforts to live peacefully among one another.

            Thomas Aquinas in his writing of in the Summa Theologica, deals with the question of whether God does exist, and his answer is worth noting: 

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it is directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore, some intelligent being exists by whom all-natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.[10]

If theistic evolutionist can come to a scientific and biblical conclusion on the existence of God, then a supernatural being is not limited by space or time in creating the universe. What God did was choose the complex mechanisms of evolution to fashion creation. It’s this kind of perspective that allows for a scientific and spiritual worldview to coexist with each other. 

            There are, however, theological objections towards Intelligent Design that some say has failed in providing a robust argument. It is suggested that ID portrays God as some clumsy creator that is constantly repairing the inadequacies of the creation plans for generating the complexity of life.[11] Scientific objections towards ID says that it disappoints in a fundamental way to qualify as a scientific theory that also excludes a proper framework for making any sense for observation.[12] Though these are concerns for truth seekers, there is harmony between science and faith. Belief in the existence of God can become a possibility and logical equation through experimentation of the facts.

Conclusion

            This research paper has just barely skimmed the surface and additional arguments could have been mentioned from a scientific and theological persuasion. The one who collects the data must seek after true wisdom: “But if any of you lacks wisdom; let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). A great scientist looks not only at firsthand evidence, takes risks, sees the big picture but also acknowledges the validity of truth no matter the origin. “The Heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2). Richard Swinburne writes, “So it is quite likely that, if there is a God, the laws and boundary conditions of the universe will be such as to make probable the evolution of human bodies.”[13] We have always been included in the divine creation order and our bodies have become a complementarian component with the rest of the universe.

            The proofs of God have been debated for centuries and will continue to remain in many discourses concerning the existence of an intelligent designer. The possibility of Intelligent Design can be seen within the evidence presented but how we articulate the evidence is contingent on many factors. The central question remains does a supernatural being exist and if it does, how can scientific, historical and biblical evidence demonstrate it? Our belief in God has great implications towards our views on life, humanity, morality and eternity. Without God we live in a hopeless stupor were evil has dominion and destroys the livelihood of humanity on earth. If God doesn’t exist then all we have is a physical necessity and chance to influence the way we conduct ourselves. God is the best explanation of why we and anything exists, and the data conclusively can’t be undermined of this fact.   

Bibliography


[1] Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Mariner Books, 2006, 103.

[2] William Paley, Natural Theology: Or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity Collected from the Appearances of Nature, Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1867, 13.

[3] Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008, 101.

[4] Craig, William Lane, and J. P. Moreland. The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012, 211.

[5] Ibid., 204. 

[6] Meyer, Stephen C. Darwins Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. New York: HarperOne, 2014, 163.

[7] Behe, Michael J. Darwins Black Box: the Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New York: Free Press, 2006, 3.

[8] Ibid., 18.

[9] Behe, Michael J. Darwins Black Box: the Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New York: Free Press, 2006, 18.

[10] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province. London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, n.d.

[11] Collins, Francis S. The Language of God a Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. London: Pocket Books, 2007, 194.

[12] Collins, Francis S. The Language of God a Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. London: Pocket Books, 2007, 187.

[13] Swinburne, Richard, and Richard Swinburne. The Existence of God. Oxford: Clarendon, 2004, 189.

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