Teleological arguments for the existence of God have a long history and straddle Greek Antiquity (Platos Divine Artificer), Islam (Averroes) and Christianity (Aquinas) and currently and most famously the intelligent design movement in the states.

They appear to have been comprehensively critiqued mainly it seems by the success of the two sciences - Physics which crafts a universe of unbending law and biology through it support of evolution.

Yet, it seems to me that these critiques are not impervious to attack. That is it appears simply the intellectual environment has changed such that these arguments no longer have any purchase. That is the basis for believing in these arguments were coherent with a number of positions, and when they fell - they all fell together.

Are there any philosophers have mounted effective challenges to these critiques of the teleological argument?

  • Thomas Nagel's most recent book, Mind and Cosmos defends some sort of teleology. I have to admit I haven't read it, so I can't say much more. It has, however, been pretty heavily criticized. See this blog-posting for some discussion.
    – Dennis
    May 29, 2013 at 0:06

2 Answers 2


The teleological argument is effectively dead. The last gasp at it was by William Dembski and Michael Behe with "irreducible complexity" (the intellectual core of the intelligent design movement), and they simply failed to understand the actual problem and/or came up with handwaving to state that certain things were impossible, when in fact they were not only possible but there were examples of them.

That evolution provides the mechanism to produce all the complexity of life seen today is no longer in serious doubt; and that simple physical laws suffice to produce all the complexity of the universe is also no longer in serious doubt. The only area not completely nailed down is fine-tuning of universal constants, and that makes for an incredibly weak teleological argument since all we know about reality with different constants is that our familiar physics doesn't work. We cannot predict whether there'd be some other complex physical reality admitting evolution, so we can't tell if the numbers are actually finely tuned and thus whether we should be surprised by them.

I would go so far as to say that at this point there cannot be any effective challenges to these critiques without a radical re-evaluation of our scientific knowledge. That is to say, such challenges will not come soon, nor will they come through philosophy initially. If there are unexpectedly large flaws in the science, then there may be some wiggle room in which to attempt another teleological argument, but finding such flaws is a scientific endeavor.

  • Well there is one carefully worked out theory where c the speed of light changes. Its used to account for inflation without inflation in the early universe. May 29, 2013 at 5:15
  • @MoziburUllah - There is, but what is the relevance for the teleological argument? (I'd call this "expectedly small".)
    – Rex Kerr
    May 29, 2013 at 5:43
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    There isn't. It was just a comment. It does seem to me that in fact the argument from design always applies. For why are the laws as they are, that is why are they designed that way. Here I'm not talking about the constants, but also the model (ie the laws themselves). If we build a better theory which that model was the unique solution (as some solutions of fine-tuning propose) then we still need to tackle the same question a 'level' up. That is we get an infinite regress. I don't see how you can escape that regress. I can see that as leaving 'wriggle' room for teleology. May 29, 2013 at 5:52
  • @MoziburUllah - That we can explain regularities with a mathematical model does not imply that any problems are solved or ameliorated by adding a hypothetical entity that builds models. You still have the regress too (why is the model-builder designed that way).
    – Rex Kerr
    May 29, 2013 at 6:26
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    @MoziburUllah - You can always induce an infinite regress by asking why at the next level of abstraction. It doesn't matter if God appears in some of the answers. (Some Christian apologists state that God is a self-proving entity in an attempt to block the regress, but you can always ask: why? how do we know? Is that even possible? Is God the only self-proving entity? Isn't that a circular argument? If you just mean "everything is what it is" isn't that a vacuous statement and one which you could make about the universe minus God?) It works better to save knowledge with e.g. coherentism.
    – Rex Kerr
    May 29, 2013 at 16:40

Teleological argument as form of fine tuning isn't refuted.

In fact in an academic paper, Man Ho Chan has argued from mathematical analysis and systematic comparison of different hypothesis, and shows that as per current understanding, data strongly prefer theistic explanation.

From paper:

Among the available hypotheses, the chance-alone hypothesis, super-law explanation, and observation selection effect are not able to give a satisfactory explanation of the fine-tuning phenomena. Therefore, most of our discussions focus on the God hypothesis and the two multiverse hypotheses. By using the confirmation principle, we conclude that the God hypothesis has the largest value of P(T|E). On the other hand, by using another principle, inference to the best explanation, we still get the same conclusion. Therefore, we can conclude that the theistic worldview can offer the best explanation of the fine-tuning phenomena.

Source: https://repository.hkbu.edu.hk/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1447&context=etd_oa

Author has also suggested that fine tuning is required as primary fine tuning, secondary fine tuning, global fine tuning which makes case more stronger and less susceptible to future discovery which can disappears fine tuning of some constants.

Additionally author has answered traditional objections like coarse tuning objection, zooming argument, argument from stenger etc, and shows that theistic explanation is best as per inference to best explanation.

  • There are, at least, two distinctly different usages of teleology. Purpose [large P] and purpose [small p]. Large P is no longer required to explained complexity, God or anything else. In fact just the opposite. Spinoza explains that if God built purpose into the universe it would indicate that there was something missing or needed as a mechanism. The universe requires no mechanisms, it includes 'everything possible within an infinite understanding'. The other purpose [teleology] reflects the self-sustaining functions within systems; like in the body's organs or a solar system. CMS
    – user37981
    Dec 24, 2019 at 14:16
  • The fine tuning argument does not require debunking: it's just a God of the gaps fallacy in savant disguise.
    – armand
    Dec 25, 2019 at 4:46
  • Hello, when we says God of gaps, we are sure that God must not answer, but how do we know it? Same way one could say to anything. One can say something is evolution of gaps because we don't know real reason. It is not that we have arbitrary fill gaps, but evidence itself suggest it. If we says theistic explanation must not answer, we suppose that fine tuning is due to either absurd universe, multiverse, super-law, universe can be only exist if consciousness exist, or life principle. But author has specifically shows that some of it doesn't satisfactory explain, and multiverse isn't best. Dec 25, 2019 at 5:49
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    Hello, I think there is some misunderstanding. If we see chapter 2, it provides mathematical foundation based on which further analysis will carried out. And author doesn't deny evolution. In fact, in chapter 5 author talk about evolution, specially section 5.1.2 but author draw attention to fine tuning needed for it, based on initial conditions and from simulation models, some results in which fine tuning required. Author has given 145 references, and it doesn't matter who writes paper but what is written is right or not, or we can mistakes it as ad homium because we have to judge by work. Dec 28, 2019 at 5:17
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    +1 Nice answer. As you say, fine-tuning is the contemporary version of the teleological argument, which is very much alive and discussed, especially Bayesian-inference forms of the argument. Even if one disagrees with the author, the paper you linked to does give a very nice overview (and given that the author has a PhD in physics as well as philosophy, I think a charitable reading is in order). Jan 3, 2020 at 18:27

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