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The Design Argument

The Design Argument

Does the intricate design of the universe serve as evidence for the existence of God?


Imagine walking in the desert and coming across two small stones in close proximity to each other. Most probably, you would think nothing of it. Two stones randomly sitting beside each other is no big deal.

You continue your walk in the desert and stumble upon three rows of stones piled up in a brick–layer fashion. Chances are you would quickly surmise that someone was here and arranged these stones in this manner. It didn't just happen.

You continue your walk and happen to find a watch lying in the middle of the desert. Would you suspect that a windstorm somehow threw these pieces together and randomly created a watch?

Somebody made that watch. It didn't just happen. Design implies designer.


The intricacy of design in our world is staggering -- infinitely more complex than a simple brick wall or a watch. Dr. Michael Denton, in his book "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis" describes the intricate organization of nerve cells in the brain [pp. 330 – 331].

There are 10 billion nerve cells in the brain. Each of the 10 billion cells sprouts between 10,000 to 100,000 fibers to contact other nerve cells in the brain, creating approximately 1,000 million million connections, or, 10 to the 15th power.

There are 10 billion nerve cells in the brain with approximately 1,000 million million connections.

It is hard to imagine the multitude that 1015 represents. Take half of the United States, which is 1 million square miles, and imagine it being covered by forest, with 10,000 trees per square mile. On each of the 10,000 trees, which are on each of the one million square miles, there are 100,000 leaves. That's how many connections are crammed inside your brain. And they're not just haphazardly thrown together. They form an incredibly intricate network system that has no parallel in the industrial world.

Imagine walking by that in the desert! The natural response when perceiving design of such mind-boggling complexity is to conclude that there must be a designer behind everything who created it. None of this just happened.


Rabbeinu Bachya, in his major philosophical work "The Duties of the Heart" [10th century] presents this argument in the following manner:

Do you not realize that if ink were poured out accidentally on a blank sheet of paper, it would be impossible that proper writing should result, legible lines that are written with a pen? Imagine a person bringing a sheet of handwriting that could only have been composed with a pen. He claims that ink spilled on the paper and these written characters had accidentally emerged. We would charge him to his face with falsehood, for we could feel certain that this result could not have happened without an intelligent person's purpose.

Since this seems impossible in the case of letters whose formation is conventional, how can one assert that something far subtler in its design and which manifests in its fashioning a depth and complexity infinitely beyond our comprehension could have happened without the purpose, power, and wisdom of a wise and mighty designer? ("The Duties of the Heart," The Gate of Oneness, Chapter 6)

The two most common objections to this argument go as follows:


  1. The argument is too simple. There seems to be a big jump from concluding that someone must have made rock formations in the desert to concluding that there is a Creator who must have made the universe.



  2. What about evolution? Over a very long period of time everything could have come about as a random occurrence! With millions of years to play around with, isn't it possible for some kind of order to emerge just by chance?


Let's address these two objections.


The principle "design implies designer" applies across the board, whether the designer is a Bedouin nomad piling rocks in the desert or the Infinite Source of all existence. Intellectually it is the same logical process. In fact, there is more reason to assume a designer in the latter case since the level of design is much higher.

Simplicity is not an inherent fault in an argument. Perhaps the reason why some people take issue with this application of logic is due to the accompanying consequences.

The reason why some people take issue with this logic is due to the consequences.

Since the Bedouin doesn't make any moral demands on our life, there is no resistance to drawing the logical conclusion that someone designed that rock formation. But when the conclusion points to God, cognitive dissonance kicks in, creating an instinctive opposition to what one perceives to be threatening. [See the previous article in this series: "Seeing the Elephant"

When the interference of cognitive dissonance is removed, what is the objective standard of design that we need to see in order to conclude something was created? What we need is a control experiment that determines this threshold of design in a case that has no threatening consequences. "The Obvious Proof", a book by Gershon Robinson and Mordechai Steinman, delivers a compelling presentation of the design argument, and describes such a control experiment involving millions of people concluding the necessity of a designer.

The laboratory consisted of theaters across the globe that showed the film "2001: A Space Odyssey." In the film, American scientists living in a colony on the moon discover during a dig the first evidence that intelligent life exists on other planets. What did they find? A simple monolith –- a smooth, rectangular slab of rock. The Americans keep this significant discovery secret, afraid of the widespread culture shock and social ramifications this would have without proper preparation.

Thousands of film critics and millions of moviegoers went along with the film's basic assertion, agreeing that intelligent creatures other than man must have created this smooth, rectangular monolith. It didn't just randomly appear. Free from all emotional and intellectual bias, in the comfort of darkened theaters with popcorn in hand, people unanimously agreed that a simple, smooth slab with a few right angles was conclusive proof of intelligence.

When the conclusion does not point to God, everyone realizes that the simplest object can serve as the threshold of design, the point at which one concludes an object could not have come into existence by random accident. The universe, infinitely more complex than a monolith, had to have been created.


Given enough tries over a long period of time, isn't it possible for complex structures to emerge randomly? After all, with sufficient trials even improbable events eventually become likely.

Robert Shapiro, a professor of chemistry at New York University, uses a national lottery to illustrate this point ["Origins", Bantam, p.121]. The odds of winning the lottery may be 10 million to one. Winning would be incredibly lucky. But if we were to buy a lottery ticket every day for the next thirty thousand years, a win would become probable, (albeit very expensive).

But what are the odds of life coming about by sheer chance? Let's take a look at two examples to get a sense of the odds involved in random evolution.

Physicist Stephen Hawking, writes in his book "A Brief History of Time":

It is a bit like the well-known horde of monkeys hammering away on typewriters -– most of what they write will be garbage, but very occasionally by pure chance they will type out one of Shakespeare's sonnets. Similarly, in the case of the universe, could it be that we are living in a region that just happens by chance to be smooth and uniform?

Well could it be?

In response to Hawking, Dr. Gerald Schroeder, a physicist, calculated the odds of monkeys randomly typing an average Shakespearean Sonnet in his book "Genesis and the Big Bang." He chose the one that opens, "Shall I compare you to a summer's day?"

There are 488 letters in the sonnet ... The chance of randomly typing the 488 letters to produce this one sonnet is one in 26 to the 488th power, or one in 10 to the 690th power. The number 10690 is a one followed by 690 zero's! The immense scale of this number is hinted at when one considers that since the Big Bang, 15 billion years ago, there have been only 10 to the 18th power number of seconds, which have ticked away.

To write by random one of Shakespeare's sonnets would take all the monkeys, plus every other animal on earth, typing away on typewriters made from all the iron in the universe, over a period of time that exceeds all time since the Big Bang, and still the probability of a sonnet appearing would be vanishingly small. At one random try per second, with even a simple sentence having only 16 letters, it would take 2 million billion years (the universe has existed for about 15 billion years) to exhaust all possible combinations.

Robert Shapiro cites Nobel laureate Sir Fred Hoyle's calculation of the odds of a bacterium spontaneously generating [p.127]. At first Hoyle and his colleague, N. C. Wickramasinghe, endorsed spontaneous generation, but reversed their position once they calculated the odds.

What's the chance of a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard and assembling a Boeing 747?

A typical bacterium, which is the simplest of cells, is made up of 2,000 enzymes. Hoyle and Wickramasinghe took the probability of randomly assembling one enzyme and multiplied that number by itself 2,000 times to calculate the odds of a single bacterium randomly coming together. Those odds are 1 in 1040,000. Hoyle said the likelihood of this happening is comparable to the chance that "a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein."

These are the odds of just a single, simple cell, without which evolution cannot even get started. Never mind the odds of more advanced compounds like an organ or all the enzymes in a human being.

Shapiro writes:

The improbability involved in generating even one bacterium is so large that it reduces all considerations of time and space to nothingness. Given such odds, the time until the black holes evaporate and the space to the ends of the universe would make no difference at all. If we were to wait, we would truly be waiting for a miracle.

For all intents and purposes, an event with the probability of 1 in 1040,000 qualifies in real-world terms as impossible.


Imagine you are the presiding judge over a murder trial. Ballistic tests match perfectly with a gun found in the possession of the accused. The odds of another gun firing the bullet that killed the victim are let's say one in a billion.

The defendant claims that it is a sheer fluke that his gun happens to match the ballistics tests and that there must be another gun out there that is the real murder weapon. "After all," he says, "it is a possibility."

The defendant's fingerprints are found all over the victim's body. He claims there must be another person out there who happens to have astonishingly similar fingerprints. Again, it is possible.

There are also eyewitnesses who testify to seeing a man gunning down the victim who looks just like the defendant. The defendant claims there must be another person out there in this big world who looks just like him, and that man is the real murderer. After all –- it's not impossible.

You are the judge, and you need to make a decision. What do you decide?

In the pragmatic world of decision-making, odds this high are called impossible. One needs to weigh the evidence and come to the most reasonable conclusion.

Does the universe have a Creator? Look at the design, look at the odds and look honestly within. Where does the more rational conclusion lie?

For further exploration: www.2001principle


Published: June 10, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 18

(17) Karen, May 14, 2012 2:42 AM

What do numbers really mean?

When one hears of the numbering odds of what seems impossible yet, can be a possibility, just go with the simple thought. There IS a Creator. How good it is to spend the quiet time to just "wonder" as you look at the wisdom of beauty in the world.

(16) Anonymous, June 5, 2009 11:53 AM

A tentative and only beginning of a response to some of the comments below...

This isn’t intended as a full response, merely a tentative suggestion or two as the beginning of a response to some comments below... When I initially read this article, I also thought of the objection of [15] below. How can you respond to the question "Maybe this happens to be the one in a million (billion... trillion... whatever) chance?" with the response "Yeah, but there are 999,999 other chances that that one didn't happen!"? Seemingly, that isn't a response at all! The questioner is well aware of the other 999,999 chances - he is asking how you know for certain that that single 1/1,000,000 isn't the one that happened! His question seemingly includes an awareness of the response! You don't actually need to spend thousands of years buying lottery tickets - people win all the time before they're even 30! But that seemingly isn’t the point here. The intention doesn’t appear here to ‘prove’ the existence of a Creator in the same way that one could ‘prove’ something mathematically or in a laboratory. The question is objective: Does the intricacy of this universe imply that it was created? When one approaches this rationally, as in the example of the judge, the answer is clear. Whether or not this can be done, it doesn’t appear to me that the point of the article is to say that the defendant’s claims about the gun are false. Maybe someone else does have similar fingerprints. Maybe someone else did kill him. But the judge is not in a position to sit on the fence, the judge has to make an objective decision. He has to look at the evidence in front of him and make a rational, objective, logical decision. The fact is that the guy’s prints are everywhere! All evidence points to the conclusion that the defendant killed him. Maybe he didn’t. But the judge has to objectively decide. I don’t think we should get caught up on these analogies of pouring ink and suggest that maybe the spout on the ink pot won’t be thin enough to form the letters, and therefore the analogy is invalid. The point seems to be that if something looks designed, it probably is. Nobody finds a stack of coins and assumes they just fell that way. Physical realities of gravity and whatever aside, any rational and objective onlooker will assume, and conduct himself, according to the overwhelming appearance that the coins were stacked there by someone, deliberately. Secondly, maybe I misunderstand chance as well, but it seems that a couple of comments below are saying that “Maybe that 1 in a million chance happened first, and therefore the other chances are irrelevant”. Maybe he guy bought one lottery ticket, and he won. Maybe the monkeys just got lucky first try. And the chances of each option happening first is 1 in however many options there are. So if the chance of rolling a 6 on one roll of one die is 1 in 6, well so is the chance of rolling a 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 on that roll – they are all equally likely! But doesn’t that ignore the fact that there were 5 chances of not rolling a 6, and one chance of rolling a 6? Maybe each individual other number had the same chance of being rolled as the 6 did, but nobody would not, at least, smile if he rolled forty dice at once and all came out 6 first try! Nobody wins the lottery and says, “Well, it was just as likely that my numbers would come up as it was for Bob’s numbers to come up and for Fred’s numbers to come up”. The fact remains that there were many more options of his numbers not coming up than of them coming up! Isn’t that what 1 in a million means? It doesn’t just mean that if I buy a million lottery tickets, then 1 of them must be the winning ticket. It also means that if I only buy 1 ticket, the chances are 999,999 to 1 that I won’t win. Therefore, although maybe not 100% proof of a Creator, the odds given in the article, and the clearly designed appearance (everyone must surely agree that it at least looks designed) of the world, one may suggest this as – I would suggest strong – evidence that there is a Creator, Designer, G-d... But this isn’t the only proof of G-d, and it doesn’t seem to me that one should try to understand it in a ‘vacuum’, not taking into account at the same time all the other proofs for the Creator. Proofs of the truth of Torah – ie. that it came from G-d and not man – are also at least implicit proofs of G-d. Logical understanding of the Jewish concepts that are being spoken about – such as ‘What do we mean by G-d?’ (as is addressed on also lead to a conclusion that there must be a G-d.

(15) Anonymous, April 17, 2009 3:59 AM

you forgot a little thing about chance: if something has a one in ten chance of happening, this does not mean that the first nine tries will not work, and the tenth will. It means that out of ten times, the event will happen once. So a sonnet by shakespeare could be typed out by chance, even though according to the theories about the end of the universe, we don't have enough time to do this if it happens on the last combination of letters.

(14) Correction, January 2, 2009 8:48 AM

@ Doctorrodders: You said that if you were to "apply these principles to God, ... then we discover that God in turn must have had a designer." I think you misunderstand the definition of God, and this is where your reasoning is flawed. God, by definition, transcends the universe, and this is simply because Creators stand separate from their Creations. (You've never seen a house build another house, moreover, if this were eve possible, the second house would never have the exact same identity as the first house.) So there is an idea of transcendence in that a designer of the universe must be separate from the universe, therefore, be separate from space and time. So the designer is spaceless and timeless. Timeless means "without time", and if something is without time, it is eternal and has no beginning. If something has no beginning and always exists, then we can safely say that God needs no designer because God always exists and nothing preceeds God. The bottom line: Because science shows that the universe had a beginning, and because whatever begins to exist has a Cause, the universe has a Cause. By definition, this Cause is eternal and has no beginning, and therefore has no Cause. The argument naturally points to a Cause with no beginning that created the Universe.

(13) megan, November 22, 2008 11:20 AM

I love this peice, as it will help me in my RE class. However, I am a typical atheist. And i fancy sharing my views, sorry to anyone if I offend. Now Cory, you say there could be a designer as the sun is in the perfect place for life, yet billions of stars, 9 planets around ours alone (well that our being counted as the rest are now dwarfs). so that will give you a rather large chance of getting 1 or prehaps more planets with life on. Also, if you think about our evolution, when there is an animal or life form, which has a bad design, it simply dies out, and then we get other animals which evolve to be the best thay can. However that is due to the area they live in, and they themselves adapt. For example, Lepords, imagine there are 2 lepords. one with spots, another without (sorry it's not particaully realistic), the one with the more spots will have a greater survival rate as it will have better camoflage, and so then all of its young, will have it's characteristics, and so eventually if that continues, you get your lepord that we know today. And i don't see where g-d came into that :). sorry if my talk is a tad pathetic, but I am only in y8 so dont expect much. But again great peice

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