The Teleological Argument
- The cosmos possesses apparent aspects of design.
- Those things in human experience that possess aspects of design are understood to be the product of intelligent design.
- Therefore, the cosmos is the product of an intelligent designer.
The mind apprehends what a thing is and why it is—elements of reality which are outside the scope of sense. It judges the efficient, formal, material, and final cause. Let's use a clock as an example. Just as the mind grasps the purpose of a clock, so it grasps the purpose of a bird's wing. Indeed, the finality of the latter is much more evident than the former. A clock's finality is external, and though there is an accurate proportion between the movement of the hands and the daily motion of the sun, the machine might conceivably have been intended for another end. However, to fly is the actualization of the natural potential of the wing. And where this is the case, we understand that the wing exists in order to fly. Let's look at another example. In the class of mammals the female is endowed with certain glands, that after giving birth, produce milk. This milk is the best for the nourishment of the newly-born offspring. The intellect recognizes that nature has provided the mother with milk in order to nourish her young. It can't, without doing violence to its own clear perception, adopt the alternative hypothesis, and hold that the mother feeds her young on milk, because it so happens that certain physical causes, acting without reference to her condition, have provided her with this liquid. In saying that given adequate data the mind's judgment regarding final causation is infallible, we don't assert that we can never be mistaken in such matters. We frequently judge on insufficient grounds, and see finality where there is none, precisely as we sometimes form a mistaken idea about efficient causality. Yet although we occasionally misinterpret the data, it remains true that there are many cases where the evidence is such that a mistake is impossible.
Our other cognitive faculties are equally liable to errors from this source. Our first estimate with regard to color, shape, or sound often turns out to be inaccurate. Yet we know that under normal conditions, the witness of the senses regarding their appropriate object is beyond all question. And precisely the same is true of the mind's judgment concerning those aspects of being which are its special province. Our principal argument, however, must be taken from the actual facts of nature, and the conclusions which these impose upon us. Thus we claim that the function of an organ is a single perfection. The unity of the act of flight, of the acts of vision and of hearing, are irreducible. It isn't a unity of composition, but absolutely simple. It is one by nature, not one by accident. It is true that the organ is a highly complex thing, and its constituent elements are numerous. The Materialist who rejects final causation contends that these constituent parts, acting separately and independently, result in a combined effect. But such an explanation is philosophically impossible. There must, of necessity, be in them a principle of unity, otherwise they couldn't be the seat of a single activity. A plurality of causes acting independently can be imagined to unite by chance to produce a composite result. But only in virtue of an objective principle of unity can diverse agents energize as a single cause productive of a perfection that isn't complex but simple. What, then, is this principle of unity? The only answer is that it is a principle consisting of a relation to the end to be realized. Only in virtue of such relatedness could the many elements of the organ issue in an activity which is one; the office of the relation being to determine the separate agents to the production of this end. In other words the agents are determined in view of their final cause. This becomes still more obvious, if we consider what is involved in the rejection of our conclusion. In that case, the multiple physical agents operating each according to its own specific nature, and without any determination towards the ultimate result, select out of the millions of alternative courses open to them precisely that particular combination that is necessary for the activity in question. The fact is, order is a perfection, and like every perfection, demands a cause. From chaos nothing but chaos can emerge. It is impossible that without the intervention of an adequate cause order can exist in the cosmos.
The bird's wing provides us with yet more evidence. We don't need to explore the details of its anatomy. Even given the necessary formation of the anterior parts, which enables them to act as wings, the problem of flight is still far from being solved. The surface of the parts must be greatly extended, yet without adding materially to their weight, and the body must be provided with a covering, which keeps it at a nearly equal temperature, while not impeding flight. If, then, final causation is a lie, and nothing is at work other than physical causation, then nature has performed a miracle. The hair that covers other animals is replaced by feathers for the bird—a covering which is extremely light and at the same time is an effective protection against cold, while the greater feathers are of such proportions that they give the wings the extension they require. But that's not all. If feathers were susceptible to getting soaked with rain, flight would only be possible under very restricted conditions. Instead we find that the bird is provided with a special gland that secretes an oily substance, with which it covers its wings, and which has the property of rendering them water proof. The finality of organ in relation to function is a finality of action.
There is another kind of finality: that which appears in the symmetrical order—the plan—of a thing. Organic nature can be broken down into four divisions according to the four types of symmetry upon which living things are constituted. We have:
- Radiated- which shows us homogeneous parts grouped around a common center. This is also referred to as cyclic or dihedral symmetry. A starfish is a good example. Many flowers also provide examples of this type.
- Branched-exhibited in plants and in polyps.
- Serial-a symmetry of successive parts from head to tail.
- Bilateral-appears in the higher animals and man.
From these we can recognize aesthetic finality. Beauty is present everywhere in nature. Whether we look at the sky above us, the earth, or the oceans, each of them displays beauty. They display it in all their parts and under all their aspects. It is seen in the smallest flower, as well as in the forest as a whole; in the icebound regions of the the Antarctic, in the sandy deserts, and the tropics. Any artist can tell you that producing a good color scheme isn't easy. Yet nature meets the challenge daily. The color schemes of nature aren't all of equal beauty, but even the worst are good, and stand in strong contrast, as objects of study and imitation, with some of the products of human art. Nor is it color alone that is in question. The forms of nature possess the same quality. The outlines of the different kinds of trees, the configuration of their leaves, the varied curves of their branches, are as perfect in their way as is the color of the flowers. Of the innumerable species of animals that populate earth, air and sea, there isn't one that doesn't arouse our wondering admiration, some by their grace, some, like the lion, by their strength and ferocity The senses of hearing and sight, acknowledge the perfection of nature's aesthetic qualities. The song of the birds, the music of the waters, the sound of the breeze among the trees, all attract and delight us. We recognize beauty as the authentic note of nature in all its works. This argument is, perhaps, most poignant if it is based on the beauty displayed by individual substances rather than on that of nature in its wider aspects. In nature each individual thing is endowed with a high degree of aesthetic perfection. The exceptions are so rare that we can afford to discount them.
Color, form and sound also display a harmony determined by aesthetic principles, and surpassing by far the highest achievements of human art. This beauty can only have arisen by design. To attribute it to chance is a contradiction of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which states that every perfection demands a cause. As we have already said, order doesn't arise from disorder. In nature we're in the presence of a perfection so striking as to challenge the consideration of every thoughtful person. Here is a work of art that never fails to meet its aim. In the face of such logical, reasonable data, we can only come to one conclusion: that nature is the work of a Master Artist to whom this perfection was an end to be attained. In other words, the beauty of nature affords a manifest instance of final causation. This conclusion can be supported by another consideration.
Though beauty is universally present in nature, its distribution isn't uniform, as though it were determined by some general law. From time to time it acquires a special intensity. Cases occur in which ornament and variety appear to have been introduced for their own sake, and apart from any reason other than aesthetic value. A case in point is the humming-bird. Different parts of the plumage have been selected in different types of humming-bird as the principal subject of ornament. In some it is the feathers of the crown worked into different forms of crest; in others it is the feathers of the throat, forming collars of various shapes and hues; while in others it is a development of the neck plumes, elongated into frills and tippets of extraordinary form and beauty. In many humming-birds the feathers of the tail are the display various forms of decoration. It is impossible to bring such varieties into relation with any physical law known to us, and certainly not the chance happening of a cold, indifferent natural process. Facts such as these force the reasoning mind to admit that the beauty of the world is the work of a Designer who Himself delights in the gift which He bestows with such lavish generosity.
Our argument doesn't go unchallenged though. It has been frequently asserted that the ultimate ground of our conclusion lies in an analogy between man's own works and the works of nature, and that the use of analogy in this case can't be justified. Critics claim that analogical reasoning is always lacking in conclusiveness, and that when employed to argue from the special mode of human activity to the action of physical nature, it is arbitrary. Those who raise this objection have misunderstood the character of the Teleological Argument. The evidence isn't based on analogy. We contend that the facts of nature are inexplicable apart from finality. We've seen that again and again a multiplicity of physical agents possesses a unity of action which is only intelligible if attributed to their relation to an end. Efficient causes capable of a million chaotic combinations adopt that one combination in which they cooperate harmoniously to bring about a result of essential importance to the subject in which they are found. In many cases they're so unified that the act to whose production they are contributory is absolutely simple of its kind. Furthermore, we see that things are so fashioned as to conform to aesthetic principles and to delight us with their beauty. It is impossible that these things could be, unless the action of the physical causes were guided in view of the end, and guidance in view of the end supposes a conscious intelligent cause, who knows the end and directs the physical agents to its realization. Our reasoning isn't the loose method of analogy, but a rigid deduction from principles indisputably true. It is, of course, the case that in judging particular phenomena we often argue by analogy. We can't do otherwise. When, therefore, we see the hair or fur which covers an animal, we conclude that the purpose of the covering is to protect it from the cold. The analogy with human needs is so close that we feel no hesitation in judging to this effect. We followed this method when just now we appealed to the variety of aesthetic manifestations of the humming-birds as evidence that the Cause to whom they are due is One who delights in beauty. Thus the conviction of the Christian is that nature is teleological.