The teleological argument offers a sophisticated response to these questions.
On this page, the best free resources available on the various features of the teleological argument are listed, including evidence for fine-tuning, discussion of the multiverse, the “who made God?” objection, and the anthropic principle.
While the teleological argument is traditionally associated with design features of the universe in general, we also provide information on the teleological argument from biology (also known as intelligent design).
You may also be interested in our resources on the cosmological argument.
What is the Teleological Argument?
The teleological argument seeks to show that theism is a better explanation than naturalism for the “fine-tuning” of the universe for life. Because so many parts of our universe appear to be impeccably configured for the emergence of life, this suggests that our universe was designed. Some of the primary thinkers associated with the teleological argument include Robin Collins and William Lane Craig.
One simplified version of the teleological argument, as presented by Dr. William Lane Craig in his book On Guard, goes like this:
1. The universe is fine-tuned for life.
2. Fine-tuning can potentially be explained by chance, necessity or design.
3. Not by chance or necessity.
4. Therefore, the fine-tuning of the universe is the result of design.
Why not chance?
The odds are literally astronomically high. According to Robert Penrose, an atheist, the odds are one part in 10^10^123. Even if you wrote a 0 on every proton and neutron in the entire universe you would not be able to write this number down! To persist in asserting chance as a legitimate explanation against overwhelming odds like this is irrational. To do so would completely undermine statistics and any other rational predictions (e.g., weather forecasting, stock projections, etc.).
Why not necessity?
Because the constants are independent of the laws of nature and independent of one another. And because there are no intrinsic reasons to, say, why the weak force is the strength it is. These are contingent (could have been otherwise) values. If all of these constants and laws are explainable in terms of some unified super-theory, this simply pushes back the problem one level: why is the unified super-theory so tightly and elegantly composed so as to produce each of these constants and laws so as to produce life?
This leaves design as the only viable explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe.
Here are some other concise, readable introductions to the teleological argument:
- What is the fine-tuning of the universe? at BioLogos
- A Fine-Tuned Universe by Heather Zeiger
- The Teleological Argument and the Anthropic Principle (more advanced) by Dr. William Lane Craig
Evidence for Fine-Tuning
One of the foremost proponents of the teleological argument is Robin Collins. In Collins’ article “The Teleological Argument” for The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, he states that “the evidence for fine-tuning of the universe for life falls into three categories,” (211) namely:
- The fine-tuning of the laws of nature.
- The fine-tuning of the constants of nature.
- The fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe.
For specific examples of these three kinds of fine-tuning:
- What Must be Fine-Tuned in the Universe at All About Philosophy
- Characteristics of the universe that must be fine-tuned by Hugh Ross
- The fine-tuning of gravity at Focus U.K.
- An overview of the scientific evidence by Walter Bradley
As Collins explains, “The multiverse hypothesis is the hypothesis that there exist many regions of space-time – that is, “universes” – with different initial conditions, constants of physics, and even laws of nature. It is commonly considered the major alternative to the competing hypotheses” (256).
Here are four separate lines of objection to the multiverse hypothesis:
- An unscientific idea by George Ellis, Fellow of the British Royal Society (PDF download)
- Occam’s Razor by Peter May
- Theoretical Speculation by Dr. Jeff Zweerink
- The Gamblers’ Fallacy by Hugh Ross
But who made God?
When Christians or other theists claim that the universe is fine-tuned for life, and therefore has a designer, one very popular response has been to ask, “Well then, who designed the designer? Who made God?” Perhaps the most well-known advocate of this response is Richard Dawkins.
As Dawkins puts it in his book The God Delusion, “However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. God is the Ultimate Boeing 747.”
A resource for why the “who made God?” objection doesn’t work:
- A Category Mistake by Lenny Esposito
The Anthropic Principle Objection
As Wikipedia succinctly defines the anthropic principle, “In physics and cosmology, the anthropic principle is the philosophical argument that observations of the physical universe must be compatible with the conscious life that observes it.”” John Barrow and Frank Tipler, in their book The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, have been established as the primary defenders of the anthropic principle.
Some excellent reflections on the anthropic principle:
- A response to the anthropic principle by Bert Thompson
- A response to Barrow and Tipler by Dr. William Lane Craig
The Teleological Argument and Biology
One specific kind of teleological argument comes from the appearance of design within biological systems and structures. The main thinkers associated with this version of the teleological argument are Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe, and William Dembski. In general, this argument typically compares theistic and naturalistic explanations for the origin of information (as in DNA) or irreducible complexity (as with certain biological systems).
Further reading on the argument from information:
- Definition of Intelligent Design at Uncommon Descent
- DNA and the Origin of Life by Stephen Meyer
- DNA by Design: an Inference to the Best Explanation by Stephen Meyer
- Molecular Machines by Michael Behe
- A list of molecular machines by Casey Luskin
- The Design Inference from Specified Complexity by Peter Williams
Video Discussion of the Teleological Argument
If you’d like to learn even more, here are two videos which present the teleological argument in a fair, concise manner:
We offer other great resources on the best reasons for the existence of God:
- Can We Know Truth? Is There Truth?
- Did Jesus Exist?
- Moral Relativism: Is There Right? What Is Right?
- The Argument From Reason
- The Bible: Is It True? Historical? Reasonable?
- The Cosmological Argument
- The Moral Argument
- The Problem of Evil
- The Resurrection of Jesus: Evidence, reasons and resources
- The Unique Life and Teachings of Jesus
- Why Apologetics?