The appeal to design or teleological argument postulates that there are ends in nature, which implies the existence of an intelligent principle, orderer of the world, that is to say of a Creator. This is the classic argument of natural theology known for its formulation by William Paley:
”In crossing a beach, suppose I hit my foot against a stone. Suppose I were asked how the stone came to be there. I might possibly answer that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever. It would be difficult to show that this answer is absurd. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be asked how the watch happened to be in that place. I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given–that for anything I knew the watch might have always been there–would be an acceptable answer.”
The teleological argument can be formulated in the form of the following syllogism:
- There is order in nature.
- But matter does not spontaneously produce order.
- So the cause of nature’s order is intentional.
The examples of finalized phenomena in nature, invoked to justify the first premise, are most often drawn from the apparent order of the living world. More recently, the anthropic principle has been used as justification.
The teleological argument is one reason why many Enlightenment philosophers opted for a deist position (Voltaire, Rousseau, etc.). It has been largely weakened by the hypothesis of natural selection which explains the organization of living beings without recourse to God (invalidation of the second premise). Intelligent design theories are a resurgence, discredited in the scientific community.
This argument had already been criticized by Hume in the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. He indeed shows, relying essentially on our ignorance, that there can be a genesis of order without demiurgic intention:
- First, we pass recklessly from our ignorance of real causes to the certainty of divine purpose; this last certainty therefore reflects above all the fact that we have no other plausible hypotheses at our disposal;
- next, we do not know matter well enough to decide a priori that it does not contain any principle of order.
The superfluity argument is a response to the teleological argument.
(Includes texts from Wikipedia translated and adapted by Nicolae Sfetcu)