April 18, 2023

The Teleological Argument

Barry Cooper
The Teleological Argument

When we look at the intricate order, balance, and patterns that are intrinsic to life and the universe, is it rational to conclude that these things are the product of blind and random forces? Today, Barry Cooper considers a classic argument for our Creator’s existence.


Is the intricacy of the human body the work of a Designer? Or are we the result of impersonal and chaotic forces, perhaps the inevitable outcome of an infinite number of multiverses? Has our planet been finely tuned to sustain life, or does it only appear that way?

There are a number of traditional arguments for the existence of God, and here’s another one: the teleological argument. Teleology is the study of a thing’s purpose or design. So the teleological argument says that when we look at our world, we see a design that is consistent with their being a Designer.

One famous illustration is the one about the Watchmaker. English philosopher William Paley came up with this in 1802. He said if in crossing a field, you came across a rock, you probably wouldn’t think much of it. But say you come across a watch. In looking at it, you would logically conclude that the watch was designed. You wouldn’t say, “This watch is obviously the product of random formation.” Especially if you took the back off and looked inside and saw that each minute cog and gear worked together in exquisite harmony to move the tiny hands on the watch’s face, so that if one minute piece were missing, it wouldn’t work. In the same way, when we come across the intricate order, balance, consistency, and pattern that is intrinsic to life and the universe, the way the parts work together to make a working whole, it is logical to conclude that this is not the product of random formation but is in fact intentional design.

Study the human body, and there is an incredible intricacy inside each one of us. Consider the way that the tiny bones of your ear are so ordered that they’re able to translate incoming sound waves into a nerve which so communicates with your brain that you’re currently able to hear a British man talking to you, for better or for worse.

I’m guessing most people are listening to this on a smartphone, and we’d most likely smile at someone who suggested that a smartphone only appears to be designed, that it has the ability to download and play podcasts by accident. And a human body is a great deal more sophisticated than a smartphone.

As we develop microscopes that can look even further inside things, and telescopes that can look even further beyond things, the extent of this order and intricacy just grows and grows and grows. We’re seeing things now that were totally invisible to people just decades ago, but the story is still the same, however far down or far out we go.

In fact, even the things which will always be invisible—physical laws such as gravity—seem to be very finely tuned, rather than being chaotic and accidental. That’s why we call it a law of gravity. Science itself relies upon the existence of these reproducible laws which in their predictability point towards a Lawmaker.

Sir Isaac Newton, among other leaders in the scientific revolution, including René Descartes, believed that the physical laws he had uncovered—the mechanical perfection of the workings of the universe—were like a precision watch, which obviously requires there to be a Watchmaker.

How can the Swiss watch intricacy of our bodies and the cosmos have come about purely by chance? To say that chance accounts for all this apparent design would be—well, let’s be polite and say “burying your finely tuned head in the finely-tuned sand.”

This is what the Apostle Paul is getting at when he says in Romans chapter 1 that God’s existence has been made plain to everyone in the things that have been made, and that denial of that fact is to suppress the self-evident truth.

God’s fingerprints are all over everything. Or to paraphrase the title of a book on this subject, His signature is visible in every cell.

That, in essence, is the teleological argument.