Critically assess the design argument

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Hannah Crofts

Critically assess the design argument

The argument from design, which is an aposteriori argument, attempts to prove God’s existence by looking for order and purpose in the universe.  

  Philosophers such as Richard Swinburne and William Payley have argued that the obvious order in the universe proves that God must exist, as only an omnipotent creator such as God could create something so grand.

  The argument from analogy is one of several arguments contained within the design argument.  William Payley used the analogy of the watch because he believed that there was an empirical similarity between the world and the watch.  He explains how the complexities and clear function and purpose of the watch (it has been carefully created to tell the time) would undoubtedly suggest - to a person who found it on the ground - that there must be a designer behind it.  

  Although it is arguable that things can have a function without a purpose, my eye has a function but it has no real purpose.  Darwin agreed with this type of idea and famously disputed the idea of purpose in the universe claiming that the universe has no ultimate goal but it does have the function to sustain life.

   Payley was adamant that God was the creator of everything; to say the universe has a purpose fits with the idea that God is this creator. He developed his watch analogy and decided that the world was similar to the watch, due to it being equally complex (but on a grander scale) and because it demonstrated similar harmonious order to the universe. His explanation brought him to the conclusion that the universe is like one big complex machine that must have been created by an infinite being. God – he argued – could be the only possible designer because he is perfect in every way.

  However, it is surely a massive assumption to assume the designer is God.  The evidence for design put forward by philosophers like Payley appears to suggest towards the possibility of a designer, even so it does not directly confirm that God is this designer. At the end of the day it is just a hypothesis.

  David Hume was a philosopher who strongly criticised the God hypothesis as well as the design argument.  According to him we don’t have enough knowledge and experience to conclude that God is a designer.  Also – he says – if there is a God who theists claim is benevolent then surely the evil and suffering in the world contradicts his characteristics.  Hume compared the universe to a vegetable that grows within itself instead of a complexly designed machine like Payley argued.  He explained how the universe quite clearly shows evidence that it is ordered but this does not necessarily infer that the cause of this order is design and planning, he argued that order and design could have evolved.  

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  Similarly, Einstein is against the design argument as he argues that it is more probable that the universe came about by chance and is ruled by blind forces.

 However, there is a substantial defence for the design argument regarding cause and effect.  Thomas Aquinas believed every effect has a cause, he explained how for anything to move it is necessary that it was put in motion by something else which was also put in motion by something else.  He used this argument to claim that there must have been something (an unmoved mover) that started everything and caused ...

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