The Argument from Design for the Existence of God

Posted by: Thomas Wartenberg - Mt. Holyoke College
Designed for: High School, Middle School
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Learning Objectives

  • Inductive Reasoning - Understanding the inductive argument (from Design to Intelligent Designer / God) is a foundation for Inductive Argumentation.

Tool Text

One of the most plausible arguments for the existence of God is the argument from design. This argument proceeds by pointing out how all things in the world seem fitted to one another, something that is also true of all the elements of each organism. It then points out that, when we find design in created things – from watches to books – we know that they were created by someone. Reasoning by analogy, the claim is that the world must also have a creator, only one with much greater intellect and power than any human being.

Yellow and Pink presents two puppets arguing about whether they must have been designed. This charming book actually does a nice job of presenting both sides of this discussion before its surprise ending resolves the issue. After reading the book to students, you can pose interesting questions about both sides of the argument, stressing that the issue is not whether or not God exists but the viability of this argument for establishing the existence of a creator of the world.

One interesting way to proceed is to ask students to evaluate the cogency of each side of the argument. One criterion in favor of the argument from design is its simplicity: Just taking a creator to exist can explain a wide range of different features of the world. The supporter of the “accidental existence” view, on the other hand, can point out that her view adheres to the advice of Ockham’s Razor not to needlessly multiply entities. (William of Ockham was a medieval philosopher.) This can open up the doors for an interesting discussion of the plausibility of this proof of God’s existence.

The Argument from Design for the Existence of God

Have Your Class Watch This Video

Possible Discussion Questions
  1. Is this a discussion question?
  2. Probably, but who knows?

Resources for Further Study
  • Stanford Online - The question of whether God’s existence can be proven, especially by the argument from design, has been hotly debated by philosophers. The Stanford Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a good, albeit pretty technical discussion of the issue.
  • Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion - Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is a good source to use with students, as you can isolate short passages on both sides of the argument
  • Kant's Critique of Pure Reason - Kant criticized the argument in the Critique of Pure Reason for not establishing what the proponents intended to establish, namely the existence of a creator, not just an “architect.” You can find that at A626/B654. That one paragraph has a good summary of Kant’s argument against the proof. Incidentally, Kant was not an atheist; he simply thought that God’s existence could not be proven.

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