Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 9, 1961
NUMBER 39, PAGE 4,13b

The Teleological Argument


One of the unhappy and unfortunate aspects of religious discussions is that so many polysyllabic words have been coined to carry them. One such is in the title of this article. The "teleological" argument for a designer of the universe simply means that the very order, design, symmetry, arrangement, and systematization observable in the universe compels an intelligent being to the conclusion (irresistible and overwhelming) that an Intelligence (by whatever name called) has planned it and organized it.

In our class on "Christian Evidences" at the Park Hill Church in Fort Smith we are giving a careful study to this argument; for, once understood and appreciated, it forever silences the vapid atheism of the would-be "scholar" who all too often prepares the text-books used in high schools and colleges. Paul told the Romans that the nations of the earth who had forsaken the true God were without excuse. For even though they had not the law (of Moses), still they had the knowledge of God in such abundance that they sinned when they "glorified him not as God." All the works of nature declare the existence of God, for "the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made." (Rom. 1:20).

A century and a half ago, William Paley, the great archdeacon of Carlisle, wrote his monumental work entitled "Natural Theology," which sets forth in simple terms and common language the demonstration (for that is what it is) of a designer behind the phenomena of the universe. This evidence of God's existence is so "clearly seen" that none save a fool could deny it. And that is the word God himself uses to describe the man who rejects this evidence. "The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God." (Ps. 14:1)

Paley's Comparison

From Paley's day to our own, no atheist has ever been able to reply to the simply and obvious contention this great scholar made. We give here an example of his reasoning:

"In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer, that for anything I knew to the contrary it had lain there forever; nor would it, perhaps, be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer which I had given before, that for anything I knew the watch might have always been there.

"Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone; and why is it not as admissible in the second case as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, namely, that when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive — what we could not discover in the stone — that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e. g. that they are so formed and so adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, or placed after any other manner or in any other order than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none that would have answered the use that is now served by it.

"To reckon up a few of the plainest of these parts and of their offices, all tending to one result: We see a cylindrical box containing a coiled elastic spring, which, by its endeavor to relax itself, turns round the box. We next observe a flexible chain, artificially wrought for the sake of flexure, communicating the action of the spring from the box to the fusee. We then find a series of wheels, the teeth of which catch in and apply to each other, conducting the motion from the fusee to the balance, and from the balance to the pointer, and at the same time by the shape and size of these wheels, so regulating that motion as to terminate in causing an index, by an equable and measured motion, to pass over a given space in a given time.

"We take notice that the wheels are made of brass, in order to keep them from rust, the springs of steel, no other-metal being so elastic; that over the face of the watch there is placed a glass, a material employed in no other part of the work, but in the room of which, if there had been other than a transparent substance, the hour could not have been seen without opening the case. This mechanism being observed — it required indeed an examination of the instruments, and perhaps some previous knowledge of the subject, to perceive and understand it; but being once, as we have said, observed and understood, the influence we think is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker — that there must have existed at some time and in some place or other, an artificer, or artificers, who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer, who comprehended its construction and designed its use."

The Application

Thus Paley introduces his great argument from design (the teleological argument) and goes on to show by observable and accepted facts of the natural world that this universe in which we live is infinitely more complex and more diverse than the watch; that instead of being composed of a few score parts, is has uncounted billions of parts, moving with an exactness, a speed, and a precision not even remotely approached by the finest and most delicate and sophisticated instruments ever contrived by the skill of man. Each of these parts is designed and adapted to a specific purpose; each must function in filling its design, and does so function.

Paley's development of his argument is but an extension of Paul's use of it in Romans I and Acts 17, as well as David's use of it in a number of the Psalms. There is probably not one atheist in ten thousand who ever even heard the name of William Paley; yet his works stand as an irrefutable bulwark against the false and foolish philosophies of those who say "there is no God." The things of God are "clearly seen" in the creation all about us. And men of God from the very beginning of time have recognized his handiwork, and have given praise to him because of it.

— F. Y. T.