A History of the Design Argument

The teleological argument was not articulated and popularized as an argument for the existence of intelligent causation (God) until William Paley (1743-1805) authored his seminal work Natural Theology.  Arguments for designed existence long before Paley.  Plato (429-347 BC), in Book X of The Republic, presented an argument for design.  In the Philebus dialogue, Socrates is discussing nature with Protarchus and Socrates appeals to the apparent order in nature.  Plato articulates that “mind rules the universe” and that the mind is the cause of all.  The famous Roman orator, Cicero made a similar argument in On the Nature of the Gods (45 BC), that man may infer design by intelligent causation, that of a mind.

Paley resumes and revitalizes the argument by applying analogy to it.  He states, “When one encounters a watch, the complexity of this artifact and the interrelations of its parts lead to the inference that it was the product of a purposive design.”  The complexity of life exhibits the design like that of a mind.  The Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, David Hume (1711-1776), responded to Paley’s claims and objected to the argument from analogy on nine different points in his work Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

Hume’s first objection was that the argument does not conclude that God exists, merely a designer.  Using Paley’s work as the referent for his objections, this may seem appropriate since Paley spends the large majority of his book reviewing the attributes of the designer, whom he calls God.  The problem with this objection is that Paley arrives to the attributes and identifies the designer only after other metaphysical implications and other evidences.  Hume’s objection is precisely the argument.  The argument does not argue for God, it argues for a designer…


A History of the Design Argument | Sententia

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