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Monday, 25 January 2010

'Aquinas' and Paley's teleological arguments cannot be defended' Discuss.

This is another sample question for the AS students. It links with the work that precedes it on the teleological argument. It was written in exam conditions with a 15 minute time limit.

To state that Aquinas’ and Paley’s argument cannot be defended appears a little hasty. For example thinkers such as Arthur Brown and Morowitz would suggest that these teleological arguments can be defended. Arthur Brown asks us to see the ozone layer and its ability to block out harmful UV rays yet not blocking out heat and light as evidence of design in much the same way that Paley or Aquinas might; that the order of the universe is such that one could only conclude that God created the universe. This is seen in Aquinas’ claim that the universe did not come about ‘fortuitously but designedly’ which suggests that there is intelligence behind the creation of order or regularity in the universe. So in some sense Arthur Brown backs up Aquinas’ view of order and regularity through design. However Arthur Brown was writing in the 1940s prior to the modern ozone crisis. Surely an omniscient creator would have known that the ozone layer would not stand up to human abuse through CFC usage? A challenge to this would be that God knew that humans would do this but left it up to us as to how we respond to this environmental problem. It seems as though some support could be lent to Aquinas at very least. Morowitz (a bio-chemist) suggests that the very complexity of the protein molecules that go towards making the building blocks of life means that there hasn’t been enough time for this life to come about any other way except design. He suggests that the chances of life coming about by chance were 1/10236. So Morowitz argues that God is needed as an anti-chance factor. This notion would lend support to Paley’s design qua purpose argument as it demonstrates intelligent design. However, even with odds this great David Hume could argue, through the epicurean hypothesis (that the universe could have ordered itself through chance given enough time), that just because the chances are high it does not mean that it is not chance that is responsible for shaping the perceived order and regularity in the universe. After all, we wouldn’t be here to notice this apparent design if the universe were not capable of supporting life at all, so even the slimmest of chances could still produce a universe such as ours.

However, one could attempt to use an evolutionary criticism of Aquinas and Paley. Darwin’s theory of natural selection through the process of random changes handed down to generations of offspring would support the idea that it is not design but chance that has caused the universe or at least life to evolve in the manner that we see. This would challenge the notion of the lacteal system in animals or the complexity of the eye that Paley would like us to believe. Paley and Aquinas see God in the creation of the universe while others like Darwin see blind random chance. This is a heavy blow to the arguments of Aquinas and Paley as they rely entirely upon demonstrating that it is not chance but design that has created order and regularity in the universe.

Mill could challenge both Aquinas’ and Paley’s arguments leaving them indefensible. His main critique is to challenge either the omnibenevolence or omnipotence of such a God who would create as cruel a world as this one. He believes that if any human were to commit such atrocities that are seen in nature on a day to day basis they would be placed in jail and condemned by civilised society. This critique would challenge the conclusion of both arguments suggesting that the designer is God. Yet it would appear that the creation is only as good as the creator. Neither Paley nor Aquinas would be happy to accept Mill’s conclusion. Yet they could draw support from Leibniz’s best of all possible world idea. Namely, that God has created a world with natural evil as part of God’s plan. We will only find out why God has allowed this after death.

In conclusion Paley’s and Aquinas’ arguments can be defended to a degree but the weight of Mill, Darwin and Hume lies heavy on the certainty of the conclusion of both of their arguments. It appears as though the argument for chance is more persuasive in this case.


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