William Paley's Teleological Argument

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  • 0:01 Design Argument
  • 0:40 Meaning of Teleological
  • 1:25 William Paley
  • 2:05 Paley's Arguments
  • 3:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explain the Teleological Argument for the existence of God. In doing so, it will highlight William Paley's watch argument as it pertains to the creation of the universe.

Design Argument

When I was little, my grandma always took us to the zoo. We'd pretend to bounce like kangaroos, stand like flamingos, and stretch like giraffes. As we giggled and marveled, my grandma would say, at least 20 times I might add, 'How can anyone look at these animals and not believe in God?'

Without knowing it, my grandmother spent those trips teaching us philosophy, specifically the Teleological Argument for the existence of God. Also called the Design Argument, pro-God philosophers use this argument to assert that creation is so intricate and purposefully designed there must be a creator. To put it like my grandma would, 'Who else but God would think to put such a huge snout on an elephant?'

Meaning of Teleological

In today's lesson, we'll dig a bit deeper into the Teleological Argument as we study it and one of its greatest proponents, William Paley. To make sense of its rather academic name, the prefix 'teleo-' means end or result. When we put it together with '-ology', which means study of, we get what philosophers call the study of the end result.

Making it a bit simpler, it sort of means the proof is in the pudding. Relating this to the philosophical Teleological Argument of God, one could say creation itself is proof that God exists. For example, when you take a look at the complexity of the human eye or the amazing detail of a snowflake, a teleological or design proponent espouses there's no way they came to be by chance. They were created by a rather ingenious supernatural power.

William Paley

One of the most famous proponents of the teleological argument for the existence of God is the 18th-century philosopher, William Paley. Like my grandma, he believed creation is proof that God is real. However, where my grandma uses zoo animals to teach this, Paley is famous for using a common watch.

His argument went something like this. Suppose you come upon a rock and a watch. When you take a look at the rock, you could surmise the rock had always been there. After all, it's pretty much a lump. However, taking a look at the watch would make it pretty hard to come to the same assumption. Because the watch has so many intricate and moving parts, most of us would agree someone had to create it. It didn't just poof into being.

Paley's Arguments

Now, to expand on this analogy, Paley took it and applied it to the universe in a five-piece argument of sorts.

Argument 1: Human artifacts, let's say a piece of pottery, have been purposefully designed.

Argument 2: The universe resembles these artifacts. Like pottery, it has a design.

Argument 3: Hence, it is likely that the universe also has a designer.

Argument 4: However, the universe is way more complicated than an artifact, like pottery.

Argument 5: Therefore, one would reason the universe has an infinitely more intelligent designer than the piece of pottery.

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