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Teleological Argument

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Teleological argument (Arabic: برهان النظم), also known as the Argument from design, is the simplest and most popular argument proposed for the existence of God. The Qur'an construes the worldly creatures as ayahs (signs) and it refers to signs and tokens which implies the existence of God. In this argument, briefly speaking, it is told that the design in the universe is a sign or a reason for the fact that there is a designer who regularizes the universe.

In this argument, we invoke the universe and its design to approve the existence of God; and since the universe and its design and the regular structures are commonly intelligible and independent of any philosophical knowledge, this kind of argument is more popular and useful for the common people than the other ones. This argument has more defenders and evidences in religious and teleological literature, however, it had some opponents especially in recent centuries.

In the western tradition, most criticisms are proposed by English empirical philosopher David Hume. Some theologians and philosophers of religion, however, have answered his objections.


According to this argument, the design and the general structure of the universe leads us to a designer who regularizes the universe. The great feature of this argument is that it is more understandable and intelligible for the common people. Being independent of any philosophical discourse and its simplicity is the other common feature of all the versions of this kind of argument insofar as the disagreements in grounds do not have any negative effects in formulating this.

In Islamic Tradition

We can find the origins of the argument of design in many verses of the holy Qur'an. Some of them are as follows:[1]

He created seven heavens in layers. You do not see any discordance in the creation of the All-beneficent. Look again! Do you see any flaw? |source=Qur'an, 67:3 }}

Standard Versions

  1. The universe is included of the regular phenomena. (This premise is based on recognizing the natural laws of the universe, hence the new scientific findings would help this kind of argument.)
  2. Each regularity requires a designer who would regularize it.

There are some ways to prove this second premise:

Analogy Between Human and Universe

According to this way, similar to the regularity of the human artifacts which indicates that they are made by a purposeful agency and designer, also the current regularity of the universe implies that there is a purposeful and mighty designer who regularizes the regular phenomena and creatures in the universe.[2]

Probability Theory

According to the probability laws, the probability of the accidental emergence of a regular construction is near the zero and as we know, it is not a considerable probability.[3]

Accidental Events Are Not Repeatable

According to this principle in the most of the cases, the accidental events could never happen on regular basis. It means that these accidental events, which do not have any causes, would occasionally happen and are not repeatable or continuous ones.[4]

Congruity of Cause and Effect

In this method, some contemporary philosophers have striven to present a deductive formulation of this argument. According to this argument:

  • The regularity similar to every phenomenon in the universe is originated from a cause.
  • These causes and effects must to be from one and similar types. Technically speaking, there should be a congruity between causes and effects.
  • The regularity is a purposefully and intelligently entity, hence, its cause must to be purposeful and intelligent.[5]
  • Therefore, there is a purposeful and intelligent power in the universe.


There are different explanations of the teleological argument.

Causal Explanation

The existence of a designer:

  • The universe is included of regular phenomena.
  • Each regularity requires a designer.
  • Therefore, there is a designer who regularizes this universe.

Some necessary attributes of the designer:

  • The universe is included of regular phenomena.
  • Each regularity is originated from a consciousness and intelligence.
  • Therefore, the cause of this universe must to be conscious and intelligent.

This version is based on the principle of causality and it leads us to a couple of conclusions. First, the existence of a designer of the universe and the second is the acceptance of some necessary attributes for Him.[6]

Coherence Explanation

There is an amazing coherency in the universe in so far as sometimes a little component affects the entire universe. Scientific findings continuously make this coherency more explicit. This coherency indicates the fact that there is a major consciousness and a wise in the universe.[7]

Teleological Explanation

By focusing on the systems of this universe, we will explore that some of these systems are actually working for secondary ones whereas the first one were to be nonexistent, the second one would be expunged. There is a close relationship between the different systems of the universe for example: the physiological structure of a mother's body which provides nourishment for her baby. Certainly, these oriented systems imply the existence of a conscious mind a and purposeful being in the universe.[8]

Probabilistic Explanation

The life on earth is provided by multiple elements and conditions without which the current life and its regularity would be impossible. These conditions are so substantial that they only decrease the probability of the accidental emergence of the universe to zero percent or so.[9]

Historical Reflections

In some early Islamic references, this argument is known as "dalil itqan sun'" (Arabic: دليل اتقان صنع, argument from accuracy of creation). Indeed, it is used as proof of some of God's attributes and not the existence of God Himself.[10]

The background of this kind of argument dates back to the time which more intellectual and sophisticated arguments like cosmological ones had not been popular yet.

Islamic Tradition

Teleological Perspective

Some verses of the holy Qur'an and some Islamic narrations which call the natural phenomena as divine signs, were the main sources of inspiration for the theologians.

Al-Ash'ari's Explanation

Al-Ash'ari says:"we know that the human being is in the best and the most complete posture. But, at first he was just a sperm. Then, he got clinging mass and fleshy tissue. Afterwards he got organized bones along with flesh and blood. Likewise, we know that he could not adopt another posture. Therefore, he requires an operator who handles the shaping of his (man's) mass from the first steps to the next ones."[11]

Al-Ghazali's Explanation

After referring to some relevant verses of the holy Qur'an, al-Ghazali, insists that anyone who speculates on these verses and reflects on the amazing creation of the earth and heavens would finally come to realize that this wonderful regularity and coherency could not be independently run without an intelligent and creative being. According to al-Ghazali, this fact is so evident that the human beings could instinctively recognize it.[12]

Fakhr al-Din al-Razi's Explanation

From a more precise viewpoint to this argument, Fakhr ak-Din al-Razi believed that the holy Qur'an has included this argument through a couple of instances. According to his idea, the regularity in the organized beings is a reason to prove the creator. It is the very "dalil itqan sun'" (argument from accuracy of creation).

Moreover, he derives another form of the argument from some Qur'anic verses based on the principle of the guidance in the creatures. According to some Qur'anic verses, human beings are endowed with a power which guides them to the determined purpose through the path of natural transformations. Form his point of view, this fact is something beyond the regularity and the design of the universe.[13]

Philosophical Perspective

In contrast with the theologians, Islamic philosophers have less used of this argument for the existence of God, however, they have referred to this teleological thought in some other issues such as the attribute of omniscience and wisdom, the divine grace and the "best system".[14].[15].[16]Ya'qub b. 'Ishaq al-Kindi and Averroes (Ibn Rushd), nevertheless, have both employed this idea in their philosophy. According to opponents of this argument, it is a complement of the other proofs such as kalam cosmological argument (burahn al-imkan va al-vujub).

Al-Kindi's Explanation

By using some philosophical discourse on the universe and the chain of being, al-Kindi, has expanded upon the design and regularity in the universe. He says: "actually, the regularity of the universe, the arrangement of its components, the relationship of elements and the stability of the forms of the existent are the best signs and reasons to this fact that the universe is dependent on the most precise plan and the best design; and we know that every plan and design requires a designer and every wisdom needs a wise"[17]

Averroes' Explanation

Among the topics which he has written to respond to theologians' arguments, Averroes has provided a proof which he claims that it is derived from the revelations teachings. He named this argument as "dalil 'inaya" (argument of care) and he found it useful for all common people and intelligent ones.[18]

This argument is based on two premises:

  • All the creatures of the universe are compatible with the human beings' nature and existence.
  • This precise and complete compatibility could not be accidental.
  • Then, there is a subject who operates and manages the universe.

More knowledge about the nature and the human beings makes it clearer that how the different components of the earth and the heaven and the human's body are serving the human beings.[19] The central point of the Averroes' argument is emphasizing on the purposefulness of the universe which has a close relation with the concept of design and regularity.

Western Philosophy

The discourse on the teleological argument in philosophical works dates back to the Hellenistic era and the book Timaeus, one of the most important works of Plato. In middle ages, we see some indications to the argument. Likewise, this argument is the last proof of the Aquinas's five arguments in Summa Theologiae.[20]

In more recent times, William Paley (1743–1805) has established one of the most important versions of this argument in his book Natural Theology.[21] After Paley, some of the other famous philosophers such as Frederick Robert Tennant (1866-1957), Richard G. Swinburne (1934), John E. Brooks (1923/2012) and physicists such as Frank Jennings Tipler (1947) are the defendants of this argument and have proposed some new versions of the teleological arguments.


In contrast with the defenders of this argument, there are some philosophers who doubt its validity. They have criticized this argument. In some cases, they have directed their criticisms at some premises of this argument. But in some other cases, they presuppose the premises, however, they have presented that there is not a logical relation between the premises and the conclusion which religious philosophers and believers have tried to discover.

Some of these critics have accepted that there is a cause for the universe; however, they ascribe this regularity to some natural and the inner elements instead of a divine cause. Then, these critics believe that this argument does not prove a divine and immaterial origin for the universe.

David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Richard Dawkins, to name only a few, are some of the opponents of this argument. In addition, Immanuel Kant in his great book Critique of Pure Reason predicates three weaknesses in this argument.[22] David Hume, the English empiricist philosopher, is the main opponent of this argument. In the book A Treatise of Human Nature, he has declared five criticisms for this argument. He also believed that this argument is not sound.[23]

Moreover, in Islamic tradition, 'Abd Allah Jawadi Amuli has stated some problems of this argument. He doubts the logical value of this argument, however, he accepts the polemical value of this. Some other scholars, Muslim or Non-Muslim, such as Mortaza Motahhari have tried to respond to these criticisms too. In his book 'Ilal-i girayish bi maddigari (the reasons of tendency to materialism) Morteza Motahhari has responded to Hume's criticisms, however, he believes that this argument proves just a conscious and intelligent cause for the universe and nothing more. He insists that this argument does not say anything about the other properties of this cause and origin.[24]

See also


  1. See: Quran 2:164; Quran 67:3.
  2. Ghazālī, Iḥyāʾ al-ʿulūm, vol. 1, p. 129; Mānkdīm, Sharḥ al-uṣūl al-khamsa, 408-409; Taftāzānī, Sharḥ al-maqāṣid, vol. 4, p. 110.
  3. John Hick, The existence of God, translated to Farsi by ʿAbd al-Raḥīm Guwāhī, p. 81-91; Ṣadr, Mujaz fī uṣūl al-dīn, p. 23-34.
  4. Ibn Sīnā, al-Shifāʾ, p. 95-97; Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī, al-Mabdaʾ, p. 23; Taftāzānī, Sharḥ al-maqāṣid, vol. 4, p. 111.
  5. John Hick, The existence of God, translated to Farsi by ʿAbd al-Raḥīm Guwāhī, p. 39-43.
  6. Subḥānī, al-Ilāhīyāt, vol. 1, p. 33-35.
  7. Subḥānī, al-Ilāhīyāt, vol. 1, p. 42.
  8. Subḥānī, al-Ilāhīyāt, vol. 1, p. 47.
  9. Subḥānī, al-Ilāhīyāt, vol. 1, p. 51.
  10. Ashʿarī, al-Lumaʿ, p. 10; Ghazālī, Iḥyāʾ al-ʿulūm, vol. 1, p. 129.
  11. Ghazālī, Iḥyāʾ al-ʿulūm, vol. 1, p. 8-7.
  12. Ghazālī, Iḥyāʾ al-ʿulūm, vol. 1, p. 125-126.
  13. Fakhr al-Rāzī, al-Tafsīr, vol. 31, p. 139-140.
  14. Ibn Sīnā, al-Mabdaʾ wa al-maʿād, p. 99-90.
  15. Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī, al-Asfār, vol. 7, p. 106.
  16. Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī, al-Mabdaʾ, p. 124.
  17. Jawādī Āmulī, Tabyīn-i barāhīn-i ithbāt-i Khudā, p. 215, 230-231.
  18. Ibn Rushd, al-Kashf ʿan manāhij al-adilla, p. 65, 67-69, 108.
  19. Ibn Rushd, al-Kashf ʿan manāhij al-adilla, p. 65-66.
  20. Hollingdale, Tārīkh-i falsaf-yi gharb, p. 159-160.
  21. Bārbūr, ʿIlm wa dīn, p. 104-111.
  22. John Hick, The existence of God, translated to Farsi by ʿAbd al-Raḥīm Guwāhī, p. 981
  23. John Hick, The existence of God, translated to Farsi by ʿAbd al-Raḥīm Guwāhī, p. 128.
  24. Moṭahharī, ʿIlal-i girāyish bi māddīgarī, p. 154.


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