The Fifth Way: Argument from Design

The Fifth Way: Argument from Design

1. We see that natural bodies work toward some goal, and do not do so by chance.

2. Most natural things lack knowledge.

3. But as an arrow reaches its target because it is directed by an archer, what lacks intelligence achieves goals by being directed by something intelligent.

4. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

Does this argument really work? Explain why you think it works or does not work.

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I’m not sure I’ll do any explaining yet, but I will say that I believe it works. I just have a few comments for now.

This text from the Summa Theologica is not a comprehensive explanation. Most people will question the first premise, and I understand why. St. Thomas’ intended audience would have already been familiar with arguments for teleology in nature (whether from Aristotle or elsewhere). Many readers today are not familiar with Aristotle’s comments on teleology or final causality or immanent causality. They’re also not familiar with the contemporary discussion or what arguments proponents of teleology today would make. And that discussion would have to precede accepting the first premise.

And while the rationalists (with Hume following as a closer) removed notions of teleology from their description of the natural world (reducing the natural world down to just mathematical extension with the odd consequences that they had no explanation as to how any two bodies could naturally be able to interact with each other), teleology in philosophy (including philosophy of science) is making a bit of a come back. I think a critical examination of the rationalists would show where they went wrong on this point.

Also, the Fifth Way is not to be confused with modern intelligent design arguments (such as those put forth by Paley) or notions of “irreducible complexity.” I prefer calling the Fifth Way an argument from teleology. For the premise of the Fifth Way is a premise about teleology in nature, and only from there does it work to show that there is design. It does not presuppose design or look at design in artifacts as its premise. So it is an argument from teleology and an argument to design.

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I was hoping you would give a defence, but thanks for the post. I don’t think you have to get that deep. I think the first obstacle is establishing that the first way is correct. From there the fifth way follows necessarily once it is understood what the unmoved mover is.

The first premise, in my mind, is simply stating the obvious, that there is a law. For example it is the nature of water to potentially become ice under certain temperatures, and that it is not by chance that it has this potentiality. The world is doing things and it is not by chance that it is doing them. Perhaps i am wrong? I don’t think he means Goal in the strong sense of the word, that is, he is not asserting that things are acting for a purpose in the first premise. Would you suggest that Aquinas is saying that things have goal direction in the first premise as a given? I would say that he means that things have a direction or regularity in their activity.

Maybe i am reading too much into your statement. But then again maybe i would be forced to disagree with the first premise if it means more than what is obvious. Then again perhaps i would disagree that an acceptance or understanding of final causality is required for the fifth way to work.

Fair enough.

I love the arrow analogy! Makes perfect sense! Thanks!

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@IWantGod

I think teleology in nature is pretty readily apparent. However, some philosophers would call that take naive and say that we should not be so quick to use such common sense to make an ontic judgment about reality. I disagree with their dismissals of teleology, of course. I think those who say they can do away with teleology have made some bad suppositions about epistemology and nature. But our intuition of teleology in nature, which I believe is correct, should be justified by reasonable arguments, and we should be able to provide reasonable critiques against opposing arguments beyond just appealing to intuition.

Or to sum up, it’s not that deep to see. But providing a defense against critiques may require us to get deep. It’s the difference between intuition and a system of rational arguments.

I’ll continue in another post.

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The first premise, in my mind, is simply stating the obvious, that there is a law. For example it is the nature of water to potentially become ice under certain temperatures, and that it is not by chance that it has this potentiality. The world is doing things and it is not by chance that it is doing them.

I pretty much agree. It’s that there are laws of natures, with the plural on natures being intentional. It is something true about what it is to be water to freeze at certain temperatures and pressures and other criteria. Laws of natures are not just descriptions of regularities; they are not God making things happen on certain occasions, they are not entities of abstract laws of themselves acting on objects. They are truths about the nature of the entity, or properties that flow from the nature or essence of that entity.

I agree it’s not by chance that natures have these properties, but that’s what the argument is showing and not what I think St. Thomas means in that quoted instance. In that instance, I think St. Thomas means that what limited things an entity does is determined by its nature, that it has a limited range of specific things it does rather than things just being random. Water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius. It doesn’t randomly turn into a bouquet of flowers or burst into flames. It does the same thing (under the same conditions). When it gets to 0 degrees what happens isn’t a roll of the dice. We can apply this even knowing that quantum indeterminancy is a thing. Even if we can’t predict with 100% accuracy, there’s a range of things within its nature we can see are possible. It’s not a coin toss whether an electron has a certain charge and behavior within magnetic fields instead of growing into a dog.

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I don’t think he means Goal in the strong sense of the word, that is, he is not asserting that things are acting for a purpose in the first premise. Would you suggest that Aquinas is saying that things have goal direction in the first premise as a given? I would say that he means that things have a direction or regularity in their activity.

I agree with you. An electron or a stone doesn’t have the intelligence to have intentional goals for themselves. Neither does a water system intend a goal of a rain cycle. Goal-direction here would be in the weak sense, that they have direction in their regular activity.

We begin to see stronger goals in systems (like the rain cycle mentioned above compared to just the behavioral laws of a stone), and stronger still in living things, particularly animals and especially in human beings.

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This needs to be agreed before any sensible discussion can take place. If ‘goal’ is understood to imply purpose then the argument falls over at the first premise. It’s not the ‘purpose’ of rain to water plants. And neither is it to cool you down. Or to supply drinking water. Or to form rivers. Or to wash the dust off my car. It has no purpose other than that which we grant it.

Else what does the ‘intelligence’ consider the end in regard to rain? Is God worried about my basil and chille plants? Is He concerned that my car is dirty and as as He knows we have water restrictions does He cause it rain so that it washes my wheels?

There is no goal (singular). At the very best you might get an agreement that some processes have various uses. But there is no end purpose.

Intelligence can be external or internal, the direction given by instinct. When humans fall into water, they do not swim to the bottom, but to the surface. Close, but no cigar as I see it.

Not true always. But that is true in our reality.

Prove it. Knowledge is in fact codded in reality.

You need to prove that emergence cannot be true.

Doesn’t follow.

I’m curious, how is “chance” defined here?

I follow your point on purposes, though I’ll add some clarifying remarks.

  • A weak teleology for nature is, I think, sufficient for the Fifth Way. We simply look at their tendencies in producing effects and being affected.

  • That only one thing in all reality have teleology is sufficient for the Fifth Way. (Not that I believe such a reality would be coherent.)

Continued in next post.

Continued from previous post.

The above is probably the subjects that would lead to the least amount of tangents. However, I have some additional remarks that are related to the discussion but may not be necessary for discussing the Fifth Way.

  • I take your meaning on supposing purposes for inanimate objects and systems. I agree that presupposing purposes to such things beyond maybe the weakest sense of the word prior to the Fifth Way is premature. However, if, for the sake of argument, the Fifth Way was taken as conclusive (so AFTER the argument and not prior to it), discussion of purposes is more appropriate. I’d still be a bit wary of the word in regards to inanimate entities and systems, to be honest, but the door would be opened to discussion on a stronger sense of the word.

  • I do think it’s fair to speak of the purpose of an oak tree as an organism producing acorns, and I do think it’s appropriate to speak of the purpose of the heart in regards to the organism it belongs to. I think we can also speak to how an acorn “tends” to grow into an oak tree and not into a cat. And I think we can speak of the natural ends of living beings depending upon whether they’re nutritive only, nutritive and sensitive, or nutritive, sensitive, and rational. But you can see how all that would be a tangent if I’m also claiming that a weak teleology is sufficient. And to be clear, I know a judgment about a purpose is not a falsifiable statement and so is not subject to the scientific method. I very much know the limits of science in that regard. But I would reject two claims that the people who would object to speaking of purpose would make. The first claim I’d reject is the ontic claim that (a) if it can’t be quantifiable measured or falsified it is not real. The second claim I’d reject is the epistemic claim that (b) we can only know that which can be verified by measurement and falsification. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying science is to be avoided. Science can measure and make falsifiable tests regarding trees, acorns and hearts, and this data is important to informing us about the natures of trees and animals. And observation and experience (and rigor and method is to be appreciated) is the foundation for whatever we know by natural philosophy.

  • Regarding what I wrote about trees, acorns, hearts, and animals above, I’m not a reductionist. I do think of organisms, while being made of many parts, as also being one, and as being able to do things by an intrinsic, immanent causality. And so they can be spoken of as wholes and not just in reference to their parts acting on each other. There are plenty of non-Aristotleans who are not reductionist as well.

I’ve been mulling on this throughout the day until I had an opportunity to post. I may have forgotten something I intended to comment on. But I think those were the main things.

I had planned on commenting on the third premise of the Fifth Way provided in the first post, but I’m feeling a bit burnt out and unmotivated. So maybe tomorrow.

Yes, they follow a natural law. Physics can observe and predict motion, for example, but it can never explain why motion exists.

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I am afraid that arguments such as this are not going to convince a skeptic:
Water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius.
It’s not a coin toss whether an electron has a certain charge and behavior… instead of growing into a dog.
An acorn “tends” to grow into an oak tree and not into a cat.
Science can measure and make falsifiable tests regarding trees and acorns.
Physics can never explain why motion exists.
These things are truths about the nature of the entity.
………………
A skeptic is going to ask how does this prove the existence of an all Powerful, all knowing, Personal, compassionate God who loves each one of us, including those children suffering from Alexander disease.

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I agree. In reality, i think its the grace of God that opens their hearts to His truth.
But I don’t think that this:

was St. Thomas Aqiunas’s goal with the five ways. The five ways are to prove that there is a First Causer, a First Mover who is uncaused and caused all things that have a cause. He later presents arguments for the omniscience and omnipotence of said Causer, and later Aquinas goes to show that this First Uncaused Causer is personal, and then again later goes to show the attributes if this Uncaused Causer that we call God. But it was never the purpose of Aquinas to prove your statement with the five ways. They are only to show that an uncaused First Causer exists and that it reasonable and logical to believe that.
But you are right that in the end an athiestic skeptic is not going to be convinced of an all-loving all-powerful personal God from just these.

God Bless

How does this work now?
Water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius.
Therefore there is an uncaused First Causer?

The term ‘weak teleology’ makes no sense to me. Either something has a natural purpose (or a designed purpose) or it doesn’t. If we say that rain is teleological we are simply claiming just one of the usefull purposes tthat rain serves. Surely it’s not possible for something to have multiple purposes. The first premise is not: We see that natural bodies work toward a few goals.

And the purpose of non living natural objects is simply the purpose that we nominate. Rain is useful in any number of ways but is there the one natural purpose that you can say it serves?

And as far as living organisms are concerned, evolution didn’t just blow Paley’s arguments out of the water, it also contradicts the idea of teleology in nature. The ‘purpose’ of an oak tree (and ‘purpose’ most definitely needs the scare quotes) is…to make another oak tree. And an acorn is part of that process. I don’t see anything deep and mysterious about it. I see no need for an ID’er to ensure the process continues in the right direction.

The arrow that was mentioned reaching it’s target assumes it was aimed for that specific point. But what those using it are metaphorically doing is following the flight of a randomly shot arrow and then running off to where it landed and drawing a bullseye around it.

So living objects do actually achieve their ‘goal’ by chance. Chance is a huge component of the evolutionary process (coupled with random selection to ensure an optimum outcome). But we can only nominate what that ‘goal’ actually is in retrospect.

Part of the problem is that you can input any data and get the same result out:

Water freezes at a specific temperature. Therefore it must have been designed that way, hence an uncaused first cause.

Water will never freeze at any temperature. Therefore etc.

Water is always frozen. Therefore etc.

Water will freeze at a variety of temperatures. Therefore etc.

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