Maarten Maartensz:    Philosophical Dictionary | Filosofisch Woordenboek                      

 D - Design argument


Design argument: Argument for the existence of God - a divine maker of all there is - based on the argument that natural things are so clearly perfect and beyond the powers of man that there must be a designer of them: God.

The design argument for God's existence (or the existence of gods) seems old, and can be seen as a version or supplement of the Cosmological argument.

As stated, it clearly depends on a judgment of taste, namely that most, many or all natural things, and especially plants and animals, are 'perfect' in the relevant sense. For those who know a little of biology, it is clear that (1) life as it is lived and lives is mostly a cruel affair, where the individuals of one species live by killing individuals of other species for food or by parasiting upon them, and that (2) if it were designed by an all-powerful, benevolent, omniscient God, with the sort of values commonly attributed to Him in Holy Books of the faiths, then very many horrors - cancer, AIDS, Ebola-virus and a very long further list of natural horrors without any clear purpose but involving lots of pain and suffering - could have been avoided.

But there are also more logical objections to the design argument, that can be seen by considering the so-called Greenlander argument, much beloved by the 18th Century Scottish judge and philosopher Lord Henry Kames. It comes to this: A Greenlander - of what then was claimed to be 'a primitive human race' - was then supposed to have argued as follows: 'A kayak is a work of art that can be made only by the most skilled of men, but a bird is an even greater work of art than a kayak, thus there must be an artisan to make birds who is even greater than man.'

Apart from the fact that the conclusion does not logically follow from the premisses as stated, there are two objections: (1) A kayak may be a work of art and design, but it has not been proved but is merely asserted or assumed that a bird also is a work of art and design and (2) why assume an artisan outside nature if one can assume nature is what produced what appear as natural works of art to man?

And indeed, Darwin and later Crick and Watson explained how nature might produce its miracles, without any designer: By evolution and genes, all in terms of natural causes and principles, ultimately explainable in terms of physics and chance.

Finally, the design argument involves a similar serious logical problem as the  Cosmological argument, namely that if it is necessary to explain what exists by introducing the existence of a designer of it, then the designer also must have a designer, and so on ad infinitum, which seems absurd. Hence it seems far more reasonable not to start that infinite regress by not making the first step.

See also: Cosmological argument, Religion


Edwards Ed.

 Original: Mar 13, 2005                                                Last edited: 12 December 2011.   Top