Main   Terms   People   Interviews   Resources   Events


I have been asked to survey the history of the argument from design. This presents something of a challenge since the argument from design has a long and winding road with many interesting turns and occasional "dead end" signs along the way. In this brief time we will have to content ourselves with an aerial survey of the landscape it has traveled. But perhaps even that will be instructive for our purposes. I will move chronologically through its formulations, challenges and reformulations up to its contemporary forms. Concluding comments will ask what is at stake theologically in this whole effort.There are three other classical arguments from the existence of God. The teleological argument should be seen in their company:

The argument from design should be distinguished from its close relative, the cosmological argument. Why is there something and not nothing? The existence of the cosmos as a whole is contingent it is not self-explanatory, it does not by careful examination reveal to us its own necessity. An argument for the existence of God may be posed on the ground that something exists.

The argument from design works from what exists. The world evidences order, adaptation, directionality - design. Therefore it is argued an intelligent designer must have brought it into being. This argument gets the name teleologicalThe concept of teleological ordering should be distinguished from simple causal ordering. To say that the wind is fitted to circulate dust in the air is an example of causal ordering, but to say the eye... from the Greek word telos that means "end" or "goal". Teleological order entails the notion that processes or structures are fitted to bring about certain results - in that sense "designed." (Alston 1967, p. 84).

Contributed by: Dr. Anna Case-Winters

Cosmic Questions

Was the Universe Designed? Topic Index
The Argument from Design: What is at Stake Theologically?


Early Greek Philosophy and the Early Church
The Middle Ages: Classic Formulation
The Scientific Revolution: Challenges and New Forms
18th and 19th Centuries: New Form and New Challenges
20th Century: New Forms and New Challenges
Contemporary Forms: Intelligibility and Suitability for the Emergence of Life
Conclusion: What is at Stake Theologically?


Anna Case-Winters

A revised version of this paper was published in Zygon, March 2000, vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 69-81.

Related Media:

The Anthropic Principle
The Argument from Design
Did the Universe Have a Beginning?
Was the Universe Designed?
Are we Alone?
Interview Index
Hubble Deep Field Animation
  Media Index

Other Resources:

Big Bang Cosmology and Theology
Glossary Terms
Bonus Material Home...