Does God exist? The design argument

by Doug Powell

Imagine you are walking through the woods and find a watch lying on the ground. What would your first thought be? That random factors over time just happened to form a watch and then cough it up from the ground? That stray bits of metal chanced to assemble themselves in a way that just happened to be useful? That a spring was formed with no purpose and inadvertently came across a cog that was formed with no purpose and then were joined accidentally to a number of other gears, springs, and cogs, eventually forming a fully functioning and accurate instrument that could measure time?

Of course not! You would assume someone had dropped it. This is because of its obvious design features. The precision and intentionality of the mechanism betray a purpose, a plan. There must have been an intelligence who conceived of the watch and its workings and then created the watch.

The argument

This analogy, often used to illustrate the argument from design, tries to show that when we observe nature, whether on a tiny level (like cells or proteins) or on a grand scale (like whole organisms or even the universe), we can see precision and intentionality, a purpose, a plan. And from that observation we can infer that there must be an intelligence behind it all. Just as fingerprints are the product of fingers touching something, intentionality and purpose are products of a mind acting, not chance.

As one natural scientist has put it, “There are no facts yet wrested from the intriguing mysteries of this strange, onrushing cosmos which can in any degree disprove the existence and intelligent activities of an unconditioned, personal God. On the contrary, when as careful scientists we analyze and synthesize the data of the natural world, even by analogical inference, we are observing only the phenomena of the operations of that unseen Being who cannot be found by mere scientific seeking, but who can and did manifest Himself in human form. For science is indeed “watching God work.”

The history

The design argument is formally called the teleological argument. "Telos" is a Greek word meaning purpose or ultimate end.

Thus, teleology is the study of a thing’s purpose or design. The design argument actually predates Christianity. Ancient Greeks such as Plato and Aristotle argued for the existence of God based on their observations of the stars. In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas used the design argument as one of his five ways of proving the existence of God. In 1802, William Paley published what is probably the most famous articulation of the argument, Natural Theology. In fact, the watchmaker example comes from this book. In recent years, the design argument has been rechristened “intelligent design” (ID). Champions like Michael Behe, Phillip Johnson, William Dembski, and Hugh Ross have used the latest scientific discoveries and advances to cast the design argument in the most contemporary terms.

Different flavors of the argument

There are a variety of ways the design argument has been used to argue for the existence of God. Proponents have pointed to order, information, purpose, complexity, simplicity, sense, and even beauty as evidence of design in the universe. Three examples of these arguments are the fine tuning of the universe (order as design), DNA (order as information), and irreducible complexity (order as complexity).

This post is an excerpt from the Holman QuicSource Guide to Christian Apologetics by Doug Powell. It is used with permission. You can purchase this resource in its entirety here.

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