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Examine How the Teleological Argument for the Existence of God Has Developed

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Examine how the Teleological Argument for the existence of God has developed.

The teleological argument is the design argument for the existence of God. The name is derived from the Greek word ‘telos’ which means “end” or “purpose”. This theory speaks about things in the universe that appear to fulfil a purpose. Such design could not have occurred by chance, the only explanation has to do with references to an intelligent, personal being. This makes it an ‘a posteriori’ argument. The origin of the teleological argument dates back to the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (424-348 BCE) who believed in a pre-existent universe. He believed that the universe wasn’t created by an intelligent being which he referred to as the ‘demi-urge’. Instead his theory stated that the demi-urge did not create the universe ex nihilo, he simply developed a universe which he already existed in. For Plato, this was a rational explanation as to why there’s order in the world rather than chaos. Aristotle (384-322 BCE) who was a student of Plato also contributed to this theory. He considered that based on all that can be observed in the world and the stars above, the only explanation for all the complexity and beauty that the world contains was a divine intelligence. He believed that there was a first unmoved mover who is responsible for all order that exists. Such a God was also viewed as possessing intelligence, goodness, eternity yet remained incorporeal. St. Thomas Aquinas (13th century) adapted and developed both Plato’s and Aristotle’s theory of the teleological argument. In his book, Summa Theologica, he used this argument in his fifth way. Aquinas stated that “whatever lacks knowledge cannot move towards an end, unless it is directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence”. For example an arrow cannot reach the target by itself, it needs to be fired by an archer in order to reach its target. He declared that everything in the universe follow natural laws e.g. the regular movement of stars in the sky. The fact that these things can follow these laws and fulfil some purpose without having the ability to think suggests they have been directed by something else that possesses intelligence. For Aquinas, the only explanation was that the guiding intelligence was God. William Paley proposed his version of Natural theology in the early 1800s. He compared the universe to a watch. A watch has certain complex features, it consists of different parts with specific functions and they all work together to fulfil a purpose: to tell the time. Anything which exhibits these features must have been designed. Therefore, like the watch, the universe must have been designed to inherit such complicated yet wondrous features. Paley goes on in his argument to show the intricacy of animals and humans, leading to the conclusion that God must be their maker. He famously used the example of the human eye that appears to have design and clearly has a purpose. One of the more persistent forms of the design argument in the contemporary world is the Anthropic principle. Anthropic originates from the Greek word ‘anthropos’ meaning man. The universe is incredibly tuned so as to produce life as we know it. If anything in the chemical make up of the universe was to show a minimal difference, then life could not have been produced. The term was first coined by astrophysicist Brendon Carter who proposed a weak (chance) and strong (purpose) form of the Anthropic principle. Although he never referred to them as the Anthropic principle, Frederick Tennant developed a set of evidences which are widely recognised as Anthropic principles in the modern world. These include beliefs such as: 1. The very fact that the world in which we live provides precisely the things which are necessary for life to be sustained. 2. The fact that the world can not only be observed but holds itself up for rational analysis from which we can deduce its working. 3. The fact that the process of evolution, through natural selection, has led to the development of intelligent human life – to the degree that intelligent life can observe and analyse the universe that it exists in.
These principles are supported by John Polkinghorne who suggested that it is the only reasonable explanation for the existence of carbon-based life forms that possess intelligence and ability to rationally observe the universe that they are living in. Richard Swinburne refers to his argument as a ‘teleological argument from the temporal order in the world’. His principle is related to the idea that the existence of humankind in an ordered, rational universe is too probable for it to have occurred by chance. “The universe might so naturally have been chaotic, but it is not, it is very orderly.” Thus, he concluded that the simplest conclusion was to say it was a deliberate decision of a divine designer. The aesthetic argument is about the concept and appreciation of beauty. Tennant’s aesthetic argument relates to the natural appreciation that humans have for things that are beautiful and why it’s part of our nature. Humans possess the ability to appreciate beauty both of their surroundings and art, literature, music etc. This is not necessary for survival and so cannot be the result of an evolutionary process. Such excessive beauty with no evolutionary value is evidence of a divine creator. Tennant claimed that not only did the divine creator (God) create this world for us to live in, but to also enjoy living in it.

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