Most people, I would note, do not even know what the word “teleology” means. In case anyone reading is not humble enough (or diligent enough) to google it or look it up in a Dictionary as people always did before the internet, since most of my readers remember that (I am still a denarian who does not remember such times—denarian, and there is a word the reader can look up!), I will simply define it. The word teleological comes from the Greek words telos ‘end’ and logia ‘word’. The word teleology more or less means ‘the explanation of phenomena by the purpose they serve rather than by postulated causes.’
So what exactly is the teleological argument for God’s existence? Briefly, wherever there is order, there is a plan. In an arrangement of means to maintain an end, there is order. The arrangement of means to attain an end is what is meant by a plan. Now, no one would say that Starry Night grew out of thin air, even if he had never seen it before. But the universe has great beauty, variety, and grandeur surpassing the best of human craftsmanship. But if there is such a plan, such a design, is it not reasonable to assume that there is a designer? As with any argument for God’s existence, there will be many objections atheists bring forward. Let us deal with it one at a time.
Objection 1: According to the infinite monkey theorem a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type any given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. Similarly, given a limited number of atoms swirling around for an infinite amount of time in the universe, eventually the universe is bound to produce life and intelligence.
To this I respond that I think the analogy is very unreasonable, first because the intricacy of the universe is far too advanced and second because according to all scientific studies, we are not given an infinite amount of time. Even by some of the longest standards, it seems the Earth is not much older than around 13 billion years. There is such a thing as the multiverse theory, but it remains to be proven. Second, I think this defies probability. Anyone who sees a cellphone intricately engineered would assume it was manmade. But the universe is far more complicated than a cellphone. But with something so complicated, so beautiful, I think it would be highly unreasonable to assume that it was not made by an artist—not unless there is powerful evidence to signify otherwise.
Objection 2: According to the theory of natural selection, the genetic characteristics of the organism which actually interact with the environment and give a reproductive advantage may become more common in a population over time, resulting in populations that specialize for particular ecological niches. Therefore, it does not seem unlikely that individual species would end up evolving in the best possible way.
To this I respond that I meant the universe as a whole and not just animals. Whether star systems can exist by an astronomical version of natural selection, I do not know. But even so, what this objection is basically saying is that survival explains functions. I say rather that functions explain survival. In other words, the first arrival of the feature would already have a function. Functions would account for the eventual survival of the species.
There are many things in nature that some atheists claim are “useless” or “poorly designed”. One of my favorite examples is the seahorse, which gives up its fins for a tail. However, I have never been able to take these ideas seriously. We do not know why an omniscient God would give a seahorse a tail rather than fins, but we do not know everything there is to know about biology. If we did, I can only assume, considering the data we have already, we would see the massive wisdom in the originally intended habitat of a seahorse for the animal to have a tail rather than fins. We are beautifully and wonderfully made.
To this, a materialist, I imagine, would point out supposedly “useless” aspects of nature. To give examples of the human body, it was long thought that the tonsils and the appendix are useless. The former serve as the immune system’s first line of defense against ingested or inhaled foreign pathogens. The latter serves as a reservoir for beneficial gut bacteria.
Objection 3: It should be noted, however, what great suffering exists in the world. Between fires, vermin, mosquitos, and bacteria, thousands, if not millions, of lives are cut short. Surely, if there were a benevolent God, he must have made a mistake, which disproves the principles of teleology according to the doctrines of Classical Theism.
To this I respond that it should be remembered that these aforementioned things are not in and of themselves bad. Rats have a reputation for carrying diseases, but that is only because they are infected themselves. Female mosquitos use blood so that their offspring might be stronger and more numerous (which, I imagine, is what any mother would want for her children).
I write more on the problem of suffering here, but for now, let us just say that no suffering exists without a purpose. Everything exists within a greater framework and this does not negate the order and architecture of the world, which could only be designed by a Master Builder.
So it is most reasonable to believe that the universe has a designer, just as one would assume that a painting has an artist. Therefore, I think this is the most plausible explanation of the order we see unless powerful evidence is presented otherwise.
Bonum Certamen Certemus
I am the Catholic of Honor