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Lecture 3c

February 13, 2014

ii. This comes out particularly in Hume’s second set of objections to deism, which center more precisely on the notion of design. Hume’s clearest arguments against design are to be found in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, written between 1750 and his death and not published until after his death (1779). The contents were considered so controversial that initial editions were published without neither the author’s name nor the publisher’s. In the dialogue, Hume sets up a discussion on the nature of God’s existence between three characters, each of whom represents a different viewpoint. While all agree that a god exists, they differ on what the attributes of that god might be, as well as whether humanity can in fact come to know that god in any meaningful sense. While the character Cleanthes advocates a more or less deist position and Demea holds that we can prove god’s existence through reason alone while filling out the details about his nature through the information contained in revelation, the character that most resembles Hume, Philo, holds that the universe is not designed by a creator god as this is simply a projection on our part and that, even were the universe designed by a creator god, we could never come to know anything of that god either through our mere reason or inference from the effects around us to a creator god cause. More specifically, Hume gives five arguments against the argument in favor of order and purpose springing from a divine mind:

1. If order and purpose are the sign of the divine, then these must only be observed as the result of a divine mind. The fact of resulting from non-teleological process would disprove this. The random but order-producing formation process at work in snowflakes and crystals seems to contradict this. Design could, at best, account for only a small part of the natural order.

2. The design analogy is in part based on an analogy. In our experience of things, we can distinguish those which are manmade from those which result merely from nature. Thus, when we consider the world, we might consider that we can distinguish a designed world from one which is not. Yet, if we are to take this analogy seriously, we would have to further posit that, in order to distinguish a designed world from an undesigned world, we would have had to experience undesigned worlds as well as our designed world. No such experience is possible, and the analogy is thus illegitimate.

3. Were the design argument to be successfully defended, it does not in and of itself secure the existence of the god of Christianity, with the personal and benevolent qualities that we typically attribute to this being. From the cosmic machine, we could just as well maintain that the designer is amoral, unintelligent or without concern for human life. Nothing prevents such an argumentative move.

4. If a natural, regular order requires a designer, then the cause of that natural order, being itself regular, could be thought to require in turn its own designer and so on into infinity. Otherwise, we are forced to posit a self-generating, self-ordered creator god. If forced to do so, there seems no reason to prefer this explanation to that of a self-ordered natural order.

5. The order that we see is only a projection of our human interest and instrumental thinking onto the world of things and their own proper ends. Indeed, if the object exists in the world, it is precisely because it has come to find a place in the natural order and a specific purpose. Thus, the human observer does indeed see purpose but mistakes the nature of his purpose in taking it for a sign of a divine order. This is the end result of a process of subjective filtering of the world through human interest.

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