The design argument

This is an argument for the existence of God.

It points to evidence that suggests our world works well - ie that it was designed in a specific way. The argument follows that if it was designed like this, then someone or something must have designed it.

There are many examples of how our world is designed in such a way that it works properly. For example:

  • Trees take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen.
  • The Earth is uniquely placed in the solar system so that it can support life - not too close to the sun that we burn up, not too far from the sun that we freeze.

The design argument rejects the idea that we were created by random chance or that we exist because of a Big Bang (the scientific theory that the universe began with a huge explosion about 13.7 billion years ago).

William Paley (1743-1805) compared the design of the universe to finding a watch. He argued that if you were walking on a moor (grassland area) and found a watch lying on the grass and saw how complicated it was you would have to assume someone made it.

By looking at the watch you would see that all the coils, springs and movements all work together so that the watch is able to keep time.

Anyone who found this watch, having never seen a watch before, would have to conclude that someone designed it for it to fulfil its purpose of keeping time.

Paley compared this to the design of the world. He argued that just as someone who found the watch would conclude that it was made by someone because of its design, someone who looks at the universe must conclude that there is a designer because of how the universe has been designed.

The scientist Isaac Newton (1642-1727) used the thumb print as evidence of the existence of God because each person has an individual and unique thumb print. He argued that this pointed to a designer rather than random chance.

In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence. Isaac Newton (1642-1727)

The human body is full of examples of the unique way we are created. For example, the design of the eye allows us to pick out many colours and shapes. All of these, it can be claimed, point to a designer.

However, there are lots of things that do not work well in the world and make it hard to believe that there is a designer. For example, the Earth’s crust is made up of plates which do not fit together perfectly, these sometimes push into each other and cause earthquakes and volcanoes.

The philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) criticised the idea of God as designer. He stated that the world was:

... only the first rude essay of some infant deity, who afterward abandoned it, ashamed of his performance.David Hume (1711-1776)

Strengths of the design argument

  • The argument only comes up with probabilities. Therefore, it can continue to develop as new discoveries in science come along.
  • The argument fits well with the biblical stories of creation, whether these are understood literally or symbolically.
  • Some developments of the argument - eg the anthropic principle - provide ways for ideas about evolution and belief in the existence of God to work together.

Weaknesses of the design argument

  • Complexity does not necessarily mean design.
  • Even if we accept that the world was designed, it cannot be assumed that its designer is God. And if it were designed by God, then the existence of evil and suffering in the world would suggest the belief that God is entirely good is false.
  • The theory of evolution, put forward by Charles Darwin, shows a way of understanding how species develop without reference to a designer God.