An Introduction to the Teleological Argument

As we continue our introduction of fundamental apologetics concepts, we move onto the second of the “Big Three” apologetics arguments: the teleological argument. The teleological argument, like the cosmological argument, is a logical defense of God predicated upon the observable universe. In other words, it is a way to prove God’s existence by looking at things in the physical universe.

Definitions and History

Simply, the teleological argument is an argument (logos) from observable design/purpose (telos) within the universe back to a transcendental Designer (God).  A not-so-developed nod to the teleological argument is found in Psalm 19:1: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (ESV).

The teleological argument was originally made famous by Thomas Aquinas as it was one of his five ways to prove the existence of God. In modern times the argument was made famous by William Paley who likened the universe, with its design, complexity, and purpose, to a watch. Paley concluded that just as a watch is proof of an intelligent watchmaker, the universe is proof of an intelligent universe-maker.

The teleological argument today finds itself in many forms. From irreducibly complex biological processes to fine-tuning in the universe and the laws of physics, the argument can be made that the universe is too complex, orderly, and seemingly purposeful to be made by mere chance. The fact that the earth is perfectly tuned to support life, that blood clotting and energy-making processes are irreducibly complex, coupled with the sheer amount of complexity in the universe all points to some intelligent creation process and therefore an intelligent creator.

There are several simple logical syllogisms that fall under the umbrella of the teleological argument:

1. If something contains evidence of being designed, it must have a designer.
2. The universe contains evidence of being designed.
3. Therefore, the universe must have a designer.
1.  If something is finely-tuned, then it must have a fine-tuner.
2. The universe is finely-tuned.
3. Therefore, the universe must have a fine-tuner.
1. Laws require a law-giver.
2. The universe is governed by laws.
3. Therefore the universe requires a law-giver.

While there is a lot of room for these syllogisms to be explained, and for the second premise of most of them to be shown to be true, they stand as valid and sound.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Teleological Argument

An obvious strength of the teleological argument is that it is a logically sound and valid way to work back to a Creator from the observable universe. Like the cosmological argument, the teleological argument does not prove outright the existence of the God of the Bible, but of a transcendent creator (who, with further argument can be shown to be the God of the Bible).

A lot of apologists probably disagree with me on this, but the teleological argument is not one of my go-to arguments because  I believe it requires more work to arrive at the conclusion than the cosmological argument. The cosmological argument uses something that nobody can rationally disagree with–that effects have a cause–and works back to God. But, the teleological argument depends upon their being design in the universe/biology and this point is easier and more commonly disagreed upon. So, to successfully use the teleological argument it must be successfully shown that there is design in the universe/biology.

Skeptics often cite that any design just appears to design, and this argument is famously described by Dr. Antony Flew as the argument to design instead of the argument from design. To an extent, Flew has a point because the theist must demonstrate that there is design at all.

Tying Some Loose Ends

While the teleological argument requires more work, in my opinion, it is nonetheless true and powerful. Further, those who reject the design and complexity of the universe and biological processes often do so irrationally, knowing the implication of admitting any design. The sheer statistical improbability of the order, complexity, and apparent design we see around us coming from blind processes of chance is too astronomically low to hold on to honestly. But an anti-supernatural bias makes it the only option for many. Or, any “design” has been put in place by blind processes such as evolution, etc., but design cannot occur without intelligence and evolution is a process, not an intelligent mind capable of design.

Look around you, take in the complexity and orderliness of the universe, and remember that it points back to God.

Further Reading

Graceful Reason
Apologia Institute 
12 Syllogistic Arguments for the Existence of God 
Philosophy of Religion 
Thomas Aquinas’ 5 Ways to Prove the Existence of God
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
  • 5
  • 1
Forest Antemesaris

University minister at the Finger church of Christ in Finger, TN. Florida School of Preaching graduate. Bible major at Freed-Hardeman University. Former atheist. Passionate about Jesus, apologetics, and dark roast coffee.

Forest Antemesaris

Forest Antemesaris

University minister at the Finger church of Christ in Finger, TN. Florida School of Preaching graduate. Bible major at Freed-Hardeman University. Former atheist. Passionate about Jesus, apologetics, and dark roast coffee.