Design Argument Overview for Revision

The information below is designed to be helpful as a basic overview for students who are covering the Design Argument topic in Edexcel’s AS Philosophy of Religion unit.

AO1 Material: i.e. ‘what goes in part i)?’

A Proof for the Existence of God – How the basic argument goes…

P1: The Universe has order, purpose and regularity;

P2: The complexity of the Universe shows evidence of design;

P3: Such design implies a designer;

C: The Universe has a designer this is God.

It is an argument that uses analogy: it moves from our experience of things in the world to try to explain that the evidence we find shows intelligent design which leads to the conclusion that God exists.

Type of argument…

Inductive: inductive reasoning is where the premises support the conclusion, but they do not make it indisputable. It is usually based upon information coming from the senses (the order and complexity we observe with our eyes). It is therefore not deductive, which is where the premises of an argument do entail the conclusion, i.e. the conclusion is necessary e.g. 1+1=2.

A posteriori: it is based upon experience, it is not a priori which is based upon reasoning before experiencing.

 Scholars whose versions of the argument you must explain… (you need to do it in detail – book, dates and quotes)

 1. Thomas Aquinas (13th century theologian – 1224-1274): The Archer Analogy. ‘Summa Theologica’ 1274.archer

Aquinas argued that ‘natural bodies’ in the world are seen to be directed to a beneficial end /purpose and that this purpose is given by God, just as the arrow flying through the sky is given its purpose by the archer who fires it. It was the 5th of his 5 ways of showing the existence of God. Aquinas is arguing from ‘Design qua regularity’.

2. William Paley (19th century clergyman and philosopher – 1743 – 1805): The Watchmaker Analogy. ‘Natural Theology’ 1802.

Paley believed that just as watches, which exhibit complexity, design and purpose in order to tell the time for us, have watchmakers, the world, which has complexity and the purpose of sustaining life has a worldmaker – designer God. Include Paley on Design qua purpose (eye) and Design qua regularity (rotation of the planet – Newton’s Laws of Motion).

3. F. R. Tennant (early twentieth century philosopher 1866-1957): The Anthropic Principle & Aesthetic Argument. ‘Philosophical Theology’ 1930.

Strong anthropic principle: the universe was designed explicitly for the purpose of supporting human life. Weak anthropic principle: if even the slightest part of the universe were any different (e.g. distance of the planet earth from the sun) human life would not exist. Certain complex conditions needed to be met in order for life to exist.

The Aesthetic argument – humans possess the ability to appreciate beauty but this is not required for the development of life (natural selection) and therefore is the product of a divine designer.

4. Michael Behe (modern day biologist ‘Darwin’s Black Box’ 1996): Intelligent design & Irreducible Complexity.

This is an argument designed to counter the objection from evolution. It argues that there are things in the world (such as bacterial flagellum and the human eye) that are irreducibly complex; in other words, they couldn’t have just arisen by chance: they must have been designed for the purpose they fulfil. Behe is very controversial for questioning evolution – very few scientists agree. He uses the analogy of the mousetrap.

5. Look at your notes on Swinburne & also Fine Tuning.


AO2: Critical evaluation i.e. ‘what do I put in part ii)?’

 Remember to read the question first and respond to the wording don’t just write without thinking or forgetting to evaluate during your answer.

 The strengths of the design argument.

‘This proof always deserves to be mentioned with respect’: Immanuel Kant.


  • The strengths of the design argument are the strengths of inductive reasoning: inductive arguments begin with something that we can observe. It is difficult to deny the presence of order and complexity in the universe.
  • Inductive reasoning begins with experience which may be universal (i.e. everyone has had it) or it may at least be testable and leads to a reasoned and justifiable conclusion.
  • The argument does not rely upon fixed definitions that we must accept (unlike the Ontological Argument – a priori proof trying to define God into existence).
  • The use of analogy (the watchmaker – the archer) in this argument makes it understandable to us: it moves from something within our experience to try to explain something beyond it (the designing of the universe); the argument is simple and straightforward to follow.
  • It takes into account and uses new scientific evidence through fine tuning to support the claims of an intelligent designer e.g. Fine Tuning of the Physical Constants of the Universe such as the cosmological constant 1:10120 such as Dr Hugh Ross points out in ’The Creator and the Cosmos’ (1993)
  • It fits in with human reason; it encourages and deepens the study of nature; it suggests purpose in the universe; it strengthens faith.
  • The argument is not necessarily incompatible with evolution and Big Bang: both of these processes could be part of the design of the universe – use of Anthropic principle.
  • The concept of God as designer reinforces the idea that God is involved in the history of the universe and is therefore omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent.
  • The design argument gives a purpose to the universe, rather than having blind nature moving in a random direction. This in turn gives the universe meaning.
  • When joined with other proofs for God’s existence (cosmological, ontological, moral etc) the design argument strengthens the probability of the existence of God. This is Swinburne’s cumulative argument.

Weaknesses of the design argument (You should learn David Hume’s criticisms – ‘Dialogues concerning Natural Religion’ 1779).


  • It is an inductive proof and therefore only leads to a probable Allan Ramsay, David Hume, 1711 - 1776. Historian and philosopherconclusion.
  • Just because things in the world have designers, that doesn’t mean that the world itself has a designer. We have experiences of houses being designed and built, but we do not have experience of worlds being designed and built. (Hume )
  • The universe is unique and we cannot make assumptions about the creation of unique things. (Hume )
  • The world may be designed, but there may be more than one designer. (Hume )
  • We judge the attributes of the creator by what is created. The presence of suffering and evil in the world suggests a cruel designer. (Hume and J.S. Mill)
  • Hume argued that the problem with analogy is that it leads inevitably to anthropomorphism (Treating God as if he is human in appearance, character, or behaviour). If we are going to compare God with a human designer (as Paley did) then it could be argued that it only serves to emphasise his limitedness and fallibility
  • For Hume the argument also fails as there are loads of signs of disorder in the world e.g. earthquakes, diseases etc .This is sometimes referred to as the dysteleological argument, a form of the argument for poor design.
  • The designer of the world would have to have a designer: this leads to an infinite regression.
  • The order and complexity that we see might just be human perception: there might not actually be any order or complexity there, perhaps we impose it on the world. (Kant)
  • Design is a trap that we fall in to: we see design and a designer because we want to see design and a designer. (Kant 1724 – 1804)
  • Arguments from analogy (like Paley’s) are flawed when the inference from one case to another is too great. In other words, worlds are not like watches.
  • Epicurean Hypothesis – The universe was initial chaotic but over unlimited time evolved into an ordered system – no requirement for a divine designer.(Epicurus BCE 341-270).
  • The Design argument does not tell us anything about the creator/designer: it is just as possible to use this argument to say that God is evil rather than omnibenevolent (look at all the natural disasters and diseases like cancer). (Stephen Law)
  • The Design argument does not necessarily lead to the God of classical theism.
  • Evolutionary theory and natural selection seem to suggest that complex organisms arose through genetic mutation, not through design. Charles Darwin (1809-1882): ‘On the origin of the Species by means of natural selction.’ 1859.
  • It could just be chance that we are here ‘We are so grotesquely lucky to be here’ – Richard Dawkins Dawkins does not see natural selection as part of intelligent design. We only see appearance of design. He says in ‘The Blind watchmaker’ 1986 – ‘Natural selection…has no purpose in mind.’


 Don’t forget that you must come to a personal conclusion as to what the question is asking you in A02.

  • Make sure you back yourself up by using a point by a philosopher to emphasis your argument – ideally with a quote!


AS Philosophy of Religion Quotations for The Design Argument



Immanuel Kant – ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ (1781) ‘This proof always deserves to be mentioned with respect. It is the oldest, the clearest, and the most accordant with the common reason of mankind.’


Thomas Aquinas – ‘Summa Theologica’ (1264 – 75) ‘Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.’
William Paley – ‘Natural Theology’ (1802) ‘Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature.’
‘A designing creator’ (in regard to the lacteal system in animals)
F.R. Tennant – ‘Philosophical Theology’ (1930) ‘Nature is meaningless and valueless without God behind it and Man in front.’
Arthur Brown ‘Footprints of God.’ (1943) The ozone gas layer is a mighty proof of the creator’s forethought.’
Cressy Morrison ‘Man does not stand alone’ (1962) ‘So many exacting conditions are necessary for life on earth that they could not possibly exist in proper relationship by chance.’
Richard Swinburne ‘The universe might so naturally have been chaotic, but it is not – it is very orderly.’
Russell Stannard ‘There seems to be a conspiracy to fix the conditions.’ (fine tuning)


David Hume ‘Dialogues concerning natural religion’ (1779) The world is..’very faulty and imperfect..the first rude essay of some infant deity who afterwards abandoned it.’
‘The world plainly resembles more an animal or a vegetable than it does a watch or a knitting loom.’
‘Design strikes even the most stupid of thinkers’
Charles Darwin (autobiography) ‘The old argument from design in nature, as given by Pailey…fails now that the law of natural selection has been discovered.’
Herbert Spencer ‘the survival of the fittest.’
Steve Jones (Geneticist) ‘Almost like a whale’ (1999) ‘A series of successful mistakes.’
Richard Dawkins Design is ‘random and blind’


Richard Dawkins 2nd quote ‘Does God believe in Atheists?’ (2000) ‘Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.’
‘Religion is no longer a serious candidate in the field of explanation. It is completely superseded by science.’
Paul Davies (1996) ‘Science deals with facts of the world, religion deals with the interpretation of those facts.’
Richard Swinburne – ‘Is there a God’ (1996) ‘Humans see the comprehensibility of the world as evidence of a comprehending creator.’
J.L. Mackie ‘The further postulation of a God ….is a gratuitous addition to this solution.’