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Development of Design

By Krista Bontrager - May 1, 2012
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Biochemist Fuz Rana provides a compelling case for the use of Turing machines as a possible theoretical framework that could help biologists gain greater insight into life’s operation at its most basic level (see “Biochemical Turing Machines ‘Reboot’ the Watchmaker Argument”). His discussion is a modern formulation of a long-standing apologetics tradition called the teleological argument––or most commonly known as the argument from design.

The Judeo-Christian worldview describes the world as displaying divine design (Ps. 19:1, Rom. 1:19–21). While these verses don’t spell out that specific features of creation are evidence of God’s intelligent nature, they do presuppose that the universe exhibits features of detectable divine design.

Medieval scholar St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) long ago laid the foundational ideas for the modern conception of the teleological argument:

We see that things which lack knowledge, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that they achieve their end, not fortuitously, but designedly… Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God (Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Article 3, Question 2).

Aquinas focused his version of the design argument on an object’s existence as having a purpose or end. Aquinas and those who followed him used analogies to argue that the presence of an end-directed system can most reasonably be explained by the existence of an intelligent Deity who put the system in place and directs it toward a goal.

The next step in the maturity of the teleological argument built on Aquinas’ thought. Seventeenth and eighteenth century scholars such as William Paley (1743–1805) developed a more sophisticated version of design by incorporating the idea of analogy as a reliable indicator of intelligent design. Paley’s Watchmaker argument is the quintessential example of this progression. The watch’s ability to keep time depends on a precise arrangement of its parts, suggesting that the watch was designed to meet these specifications. We can then draw an analogy between the watch and the universe, observing that both exhibit the same kind of functional complexity. Since various aspects of nature possess functional complexity, which is a reliable indicator of an intelligent Agent, we can reasonably conclude that an intelligent Agent created these features with this property.

Proponents of the contemporary Intelligent Design movement have developed increasingly complex arguments founded on Aquinas and Paley’s initial ideas. Scholars such as William Dembski and Michael Behe describe various biological systems and their complexity and then use this data to make a case for divine design. Others such as Stephen Meyer look at information systems and probability arguments. Fuz Rana’s exploration of Turing machines stands in this grand stream of Christian apologetics and courses over new territory in its proposal to develop fresh aspects of the teleological argument in the biological realm.


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  • Intelligent Design Movement
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