Just when you thought Aquinas must have been tired with his arguments, you
find there was a fifth argument. And it was popularized several hundred years
after his time — in the late 1700s, by the English Christian philosopher
William Paley. And this argument for God’s existence is still around today,
too. In fact, it’s one of the most popular. It’s known as the teleological
argument. It is often known as the Intelligent Design.
To make his case for the existence of God, William Paley gave us what’s
known as an argument by analogy. whereby perceived similarities are used as a
basis to infer some further similarity that has yet to be observed. When human
beings attempt to understand the world and make decisions they often use analogical
reasoning to do so. When a person has a poor experience with a product and
decides not to buy anything further from the store, this is often because of
We can make an argument by analogy about anything. William Paley applied
this way to talk about God, which is known as the Watchmaker Analogy. In the analogy, he asked us to imagine what if
we found a watch on the ground. Would we imagine that the watch simply appeared
accidentally, suddenly, on its own? Or would we see the intricacy of it, and
notice that its parts seem to come together in a particular way in order to achieve
a goal? If so, wouldn’t we think that the watch must have been made by somebody,
He argued that the teleology demonstrated by a watch would lead us to
conclude that it was designed by an intelligent creator with a particular end
So, if the teleology of a cup indicates the existence of a cup maker, and
that of a watch suggests the existence of a watchmaker, Paley believed
teleology in the world, and assumed from that, God’s existence.
He continued by linking a watch to a living organism. If we look at the
complexity of the human body, the heart and the lungs working together, transforming
food into energy producing sweat to keep ourselves from overheating, we’re just
generally complex all around. If we look at how aspects of the natural world
operate according to complex laws that maintain a beautiful, natural coherence.
Paley said this couldn’t perhaps just have occurred, any more than the design
of a pocket watch could have come about.
There must be a designer.
However, There’s so much in the natural world that isn’t clear in the same
way. For instance, why did God creat our eyes to have a blind spot?
Paley countered that it doesn’t matter whether we can understand how
something was created. The point is simply that it was. He might point out, for
instance, that people might not understand the inner workings of their phones.
But they still know it had a creator. Whether or not I can understand how it
was created is beside the point.
Some parts of nature seem to be without purpose. A blind spot obviously doesn’t
have any function, and neither do nipples on a man. Paley’s response here was:
Just because we don’t know there’s a purpose doesn’t mean there isn’t one. But
this is a problem, too, because his whole argument for believing in God is that
you should look at the world and see purpose. So if we see some things in the
world that are working great, and really seem to have complexity and a definite
use, and others that don’t, that’s a flaw in his argument.
Another objection to Paley’s case came from 18th century Scottish
philosopher David Hume, But another explanation for how bodies came to have the
complexity and functionality they have today, is natural selection and random
mutation. We can concede that the existence of a designer-god helped make sense
of the origins the our world in a pre-scientific age, but now we have a
perfectly good scientific justification for how the intricacy of the world came
So, why do we need to consider the watchmaker analogy when we have scientific
evidence of evolution by natural selection?
Another objection was that the creator that Paley posits seems to make a lot
of mistakes. And not just blind spots. Like, how about hurricanes? Or why would
he make our bodies with certain tissues — like in the breast, or prostate, or
colon — that are so incredibly prone to cancer? Why would he make umbilical
cords that could choke a baby’s neck? Why would he make butterflies have to
wait for hours, for their wings dry as soon as they come out of their cocoon,
making them easily discovered by predators?
Hume pointed out that the world is chock full of stuff that looks cruel, absurd,
unrealistic, and contrary to life. A flawed world, he said, means there was a
By this we can conclude that his arguments were faulty, but they still have
many supporters. Many believe that that it’s simply more probable that God
designed the world, than that it came about through the sheer chance of