The Teleological argument is one of the most common apologetic arguments that you find used by laypersons within the Christian Church. I find this to be the case because it is an argument that is simple to understand, and when it is accepted as true one cannot help but see more proofs and evidence to defend said argument within their everyday experiences throughout life. Teleology is founded upon the stem telos which means, “purpose” or “goal”. The primary objective in the teleological argument is to create a convincing case in support of the intelligent design of all that exists in the universe. It can be easy to see why this line of argumentation would be so widely accepted and used by both laity and clergy alike.
The teleological argument first originated from the minds of medieval Christian influencers, the most prominent of these being Thomas Aquinas (St. Aquinas is the mind that has developed must of Western Christianity’s approaches to theology, apologetics, and philosophy). This argument is commonly known as the Intelligent Design Argument, and was further developed during the 16th and 17th century by Samuel Clark and William Paley. Due to the broadness of this argument I will attempt to address a few common ways it can be applied to reality in order to convince others of the intelligent design of all creation.
Uniformity And Order:
One of the many ways that the teleological argument can be used is to examine the way that the universe functions. It would seem to most people that things in the universe are for the most part predictable once one has accurate knowledge of how different things work.
What I mean by that is this… If we were to ask someone how we know what time and season we are in, many today may pull their phones out of their pockets, go to their calendar app, and proceed to explain to us that it is three o’clock PM, January 14th. This shows that most people today trust that the people who designed their phones to be able to accurately keep record of times and dates are in fact trustworthy; it shows that someone intelligent designed their phone to be able to provide a reliable service.
But, if we were to ask someone in the 4th century BC about the time and season they would answer in a drastically different way. This person may point to the placement of the sun as a way to explain that it is four hours from night fall. And they may go on to say that because of the placement of the heavenly figures (stars, planets, moon) that it is near the end of the winter solstice. This person from the 4th century BC is trusting and relying that the placement of objects in the sky gives them the ability to accurately interpret the times and seasons in which they find themselves.
So, what is the point of all of this? The point is that many accept the fact that phones are able to tell us accurate readings of the times and seasons because they are designed by intelligent beings. And yet, these same people will claim that the universe and all that makes it is not intelligently designed even though they can tell us the same information in an even more accurate way! What do I mean by “more accurate? I mean that phones and technology in general has errors, bugs, viruses and so on that will cause the systems to malfunction. But the heavenly signs are constant, uniform, and orderly so that it will always be an accurate tool for telling the times and seasons. Why do we accept one as intelligent design and yet reject the other?
The complexity of the universe is another avenue that many Christians take when attempting to convince others that the universe is the result of intelligent design rather than a mere coincidence. One prime example of this line of argumentation is found within the book of life.
Many people would not question that works of immaculate poetry, novelizations, dramas, and philosophy were the works of intelligent people. This is displayed in the particular way in which letters are mashed together to form words, words structured in a way to manufacture sentences, and sentences ordered in such a way that they produce an intended meaning that the writer purposed for them to communicate. This kind of formulation can only be a product of intelligent design. And no one would question this intelligence unless the produced work was a mismatch of misspelled and made-up words so as to not communicate anything but pointless utterances within the reader’s mind.
And yet, there are people who seem to question the “book of life”, better known as DNA. Within each and every living thing there is a collection of information that results in the creation of everything from proteins, blood, cells, leaves, arms, eyes, roots, fins, and so on. This information is ordered in such a way so as to communicate how living things are formed and function. And many biologists and medical professionals rely on DNA to be able to properly communicate information so as to be able to treat and study the information of living beings accurately.
This level of trust and dependence on communicated information within DNA could only be the product of intelligent design. Because, many people challenge and doubt even the most magnificent written works, but no one doubts the legitimacy and truth of the information that the “book of life” communicates to those who study it.
Many people identify the concept of purpose as evidence of intelligent design, this is due to the fact that if there is a purpose for something then there must necessarily be a purposer. This is unquestionable, because if something has a purpose and yet fails to have originated from a purposer, then there is no true purpose at all, in fact, the thing that some will identify as a “purpose” because of a simple coincidence. Along these same lines we can recognize that if there is no true purpose, then there are also no true mistakes. Because for there to be a mistake, something must fail to fulfill its intended purpose. Below I will explain examples of this concept practically layed out.
We must address what people commonly come to accept an item with an intended purpose. For this, I will be pointing to an item from my own personal experience. A washing machine is a magnificent invention that has made the task of washing one’s clothes immensely easier from what would have been required to wash one’s clothes five thousand years ago. And one could easily identify that the true purpose of a household washing machine is to wash one’s clothes. But why does the washing machine have this purpose? Surely it could do many other tasks such as washing forgotten coins, spinning pebbles, washing electronics… and yet, we do not recognize these as it’s true purpose because it is not the function that the purposer (inventor) intended. And if the washing machine is in fact simply a purposeless thing, then why would one become upset if it failed to effectively wash their clothes? Without a purpose there would be no grounds to be upset for it is simply acting out of randomness rather than intention.
A common item that holds purpose that most people often ignore and neglect is that of the humble eyeball. The eyeball is often taken for granted simply because it functions well when it is in good condition, but once vision becomes blurry a problem (or mistake) is recognized. This is due to the fact that the purpose of the eyeball is to be able to see accurately. Therefore, when it fails us and we acknowledge it failing to perform it’s true purpose, we acknowledge that there must have been a purposer which originated its intended purpose. Otherwise, when it fails to function why would anyone complain? The eyeball could do whatever it does, simply because it exists without a purpose. If the eyeball cannot see then that’s just the way it is… if it bleeds, don’t worry about it, and if it gets poked out, well it does not perform any necessary purpose regardless.
This is why many recognize that the eyeball, in fact, has a true purpose and this purpose must originate from a purposer. Therefore, intelligent design at the biological level must be true!
In my opinion, the teleological argument is an effective way to reason from personal experiences in order to convince others that there must be a god-like being that has created everything that exists in the universe. And thankfully, it is a form of reasoning that all people can relate to in some fashion or another. I guess this is why it is one of the most common apologetic arguments adopted by laity and clergy alike as a way to support their theistic beliefs. But, where this method fails is like the cosmological argument. While it supports the idea of theism, it does not necessitate confession and belief in the biblical God.