This paper will examine the argument put forward by William Paley in 1802, in his Natural Theology. Paley offers an argument from design that purports to show a clear and distinct reason why one should hold a belief in God, due to the inherent features of the world. It is attempted in this paper to firstly: show that the argument should be rejected on the grounds of lacking a rationally flowing set of premises and conclusions; and secondly: that the criticisms made by David Hume concerning the argument hold more weight than is generally granted by other philosophers, and should have convinced one even before the advent of Darwinian theory. Added to this, it will be considered as to whether or not Darwin actually did destroy teleological arguments forever.
William Paley's teleological argument is but one example of the formulation of an argument from design, but nevertheless one that deserves some attention. Although the origins of the thesis can be reasonably traced back as far as ancient Greek philosophy, in the form of Lucilius Bablos , Paley's version was the true precursor for later deliberations on the subject, as it was the first to truly attempt to affirm God's existence by appealing to an inference to the best explanation on the grounds of intuitively observable datum. However, this may not be a just interpretation. Perhaps one could say that Paley's argument is deductive, in the sense that he first establishes a principle and, coupled with other seemingly plausible premises, uses it in order to reach his desired conclusion. Although he constantly uses the word 'inference', it is far from clear that he is actually inferring anything, procuring to the general usage of the term. In any event, there is little doubt that Paley became the antecedent for later writers such as Tennant, Swinburne and du Nouy, who all proposed broader based arguments of the same theme, along inductive or inference to the best explanation lines.
Roughly speaking, teleological arguments are those that appeal to the special features, or aspects, of the world that appear to be designed and purposive, analogous to the cases of human design. For example, one might consider complex biological systems such as eyes, digestive or reproductive structures, and so on. They are usually put probabilistically, arguing that the most plausible explanation is that of a world designer and creator -- one with intelligence and purposes. It is not clear that Paley's argument was intended to be just so, but more on this at a later stage.
Paley's argument is quite simple in essence and is presented in a somewhat poetic and rather imaginative way. Paley first imagines what sort of thoughts one would have stumbling across a rock. He concludes that no-one should be surprised at the presence of the rock, and that it hardly requires a specific explanation: it would be quite plausible to assume that the rock just was, and had always been.