Notable statements of the argument from design

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Various philosophers and apologists have stated the argument from design in their own particular style. There have also been many interesting criticisms of the argument.



Cicero's version in On the Nature of the Gods, 45 BC [9]

"Can any sane person believe that all this array of stars and this vast celestial adornment could have been created out of atoms rushing to and fro fortuitously and at random? or could any other being devoid of intelligence and reason have created them? Not merely did their creation postulate intelligence, but it is impossible to understand their nature without intelligence of a high order ..."

The Bible

The Bible contains the argument from design in Psalm 19: [1]

"The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork."

Romans 1:20, [2]

"For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:"

The Koran

From the Koran, Sahih International translation: [3]

"Do you not see that Allah has made subject to you whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth and amply bestowed upon you His favors, [both] apparent and unapparent?"

How we can see favors that are "unapparent" is unclear.

Thomas Aquinus's director of natural bodies

Thomas Aquinus perhaps made the first [4] statement of the full argument from design [5].

"The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God."

Isaac Newton's cosmic designer

In his General Scholium, Isaac Newton wrote:

"This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent being."

Hume's natural machines

David Hume put forward two versions of the argument, which he proceeded to tear down in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Here is the first, shorter argument:

"Look round the world: contemplate the whole and every part of it: You will find it to be nothing but one great machine, subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines, which again admit of subdivisions to a degree beyond what human senses and faculties can trace and explain. All these various machines, and even their most minute parts, are adjusted to each other with an accuracy which ravishes into admiration all men who have ever contemplated them. The curious adapting of means to ends, throughout all nature, resembles exactly, though it much exceeds, the productions of human contrivance; of human designs, thought, wisdom, and intelligence. Since, therefore, the effects resemble each other, we are led to infer, by all the rules of analogy, that the causes also resemble; and that the Author of Nature is somewhat similar to the mind of man, though possessed of much larger faculties, proportioned to the grandeur of the work which he has executed. By this argument a posteriori, and by this argument alone, do we prove at once the existence of a Deity, and his similarity to human mind and intelligence."

Darwin's eye

For more information, see the TalkOrigins Archive article:
Evolutionary theory explains how a complicated structure like an eye can naturally occur.

The following quote from Charles Darwin is sometimes used:

"To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree."

However, this statement has been quote mined; Darwin is making a rhetorical point in this case and he goes on for the next three pages discussing the plausibility of the natural evolution of the eye.

Paley's watchmaker

A watch is a commonly cited example of a designed object

This is the popular watchmaker argument:

William Paley in Natural Theology c.1802:

"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 before given, that for anything I knew the watch might have always been there."

William Paley in Natural Theology (Ch. XXIII, Pg. 441):

"Upon the whole; after all the schemes and struggles of a reluctant philosophy, the necessary resort is to a Deity. The marks of design are too strong to be gotten over. Design must have had a designer. That designer must have been a person. That person is GOD.]"

Ray Comfort's divine painter

This version of the argument is commonly presented by apologist Ray Comfort or his many followers: [6]

"First, I would say that I can prove that anyone who looks at a building and says that he doesn't believe that there was a builder, is a fool. This is because a building is absolute proof that there was a builder. Buildings don't build themselves, from nothing. Only a fool would believe that."
"Second, I would say that anyone who looks at a painting and believes that there was no painter, is a fool. The painting is absolute proof that there as [sic] a painter. Paintings don't paint themselves, from nothing. Only a fool would believe that."
"Then I would say that creation is absolute 100% scientific proof that there is a Creator. A creation cannot create itself, from nothing. But that's what the atheist believes--that nothing created everything from nothing. That's a scientific impossibility, and only a fool would believe that."

William Lane Craig

Here is William Lane Craig's version of the fine tuning argument for design: [7]

Here, then, is a simple formulation of a teleological argument based on fine-tuning:
  1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
  2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
  3. Therefore, it is due to design.
[...] Consider the three alternatives. The first alternative, physical necessity, is extraordinarily implausible because, as we’ve seen, the constants and quantities are independent of the laws of nature. [...] So what about the second alternative, that the fine-tuning of the universe is due to chance? The problem with this alternative is that the odds against the universe’s being life-permitting are so incomprehensibly great that they can’t be reasonably faced. [...] The fine-tuning of the universe is therefore plausibly due neither to physical necessity nor to chance. It follows that the fine-tuning is therefore due to design unless the design hypothesis can be shown to be even more implausible than its competitors.

Discovery Institute's cell designer

In a paper by Scott A. Minnich & Stephen C. Meyer of the Discovery Institute: [8]

"Molecular machines display a key signature or hallmark of design, namely, irreducible complexity. In all irreducibly complex systems in which the cause of the system is known by experience or observation, intelligent design or engineering played a role the origin of the system … in any other context we would immediately recognize such systems as the product of very intelligent engineering. Although some may argue this is a merely an argument from ignorance, we regard it as an inference to the best explanation, given what we know about the powers of intelligent as opposed to strictly natural or material causes."

Plantinga's universe fine tuner

Alvin Plantinga noted the constants in physical laws are seemingly adapted to create life in the fine tuning argument. [9]

"One reaction to these apparent enormous coincidences is to see them as substantiating the theistic claim that the Universe has been created by a personal God and as offering the material for a properly restrained theistic argument—hence the fine-tuning argument. It's as if there are a large number of dials that have to be tuned to within extremely narrow limits for life to be possible in our Universe. It is extremely unlikely that this should happen by chance, but much more likely that this should happen, if there is such a person as God."

External Links

Additional quotes supporting the argument from design


  1. Psalm 19, King James Version [1]
  2. Romans 1:20, King James Version [2]
  3. Koran 31:20, Sahih International translation [3]
  4. Kenneth Einar Himma, Design Arguments for the Existence of God [4]
  5. Thomas Aquinus, Summa Theologica, Article 3, Question 2 [5]
  6. Ray Comfort, Words of Comfort blog, July 23, 2008 [6]
  7. William Lane Craig, The New Atheism and Five Arguments for God, 2010 [7]
  8. Scott A. Minnich & Stephen C. Meyer, "Genetic analysis of coordinate flagellar and type III regulatory circuits in pathogenic Bacteria," in Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Design & Nature, Rhodes Greece (2004). [8]
  9. Alvin Plantinga, "The Dawkins Confusion; Naturalism ad absurdum," Christianity Today, March/April 2007.
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