Outline of Hume’s Argument against Design

This is Hume’s anti-teleological argument. Teleology means the study of the evidences of design in nature. He says no design. Is there a reply to him?

Hume’s basic point is that the argument from analogy (the design of a house is like the design of the universe) is weak because all a skeptic needs to do is show how dissimilar they are.

Let’s begin.

I. Setting Up Rules of Analogy

A. Exactly similar events lead our experience to draw accustomed inference that events will be repeated

1.. Dropping pen is an example: we learn of gravity by dropping pen over and over.

B. Departure from similarity diminishes inference

1.. This leads to diminishing analogical reasoning

2. A house is an effect we have experienced

3. We experience that a house has a builder, its cause

4. The universe is so unlike a house that our experience does not permit us to infer that it has a builder, its cause

5. Implication: we don’t know much about universe

6. Thus, the analogy breaks down

II. Mind over Matter

A. Universe of cause and effects

1.. Universe is way too complicated to assign / know about causes to multitude of effects

2. Maybe matter has principle of order in it, not a designer

3. Our mind imposes order on things

4. Actually, universe seems out of order

5. It’s the mind that imposes order

III. Matters of Fact

A. All inferences concerning matters of fact are founded on experience (Matter of fact is science and cause and effects and so on)

B. All experimental reasoning is founded on supposition that similar causes prove similar effects

C. Transferring one case of cause-effect to another case must be exact

D. If not, don’t put confidence in similarity, in analogy

E. Example:

1.. The universe is so unlike a house, ship, furniture, machines (they require designer) . . .

2. . . . That a similarity of causes in universe and in human artifacts is too “wide a step”

3. That is, universe is an effect

4. House is an effect

5. Are they so similar that they have the same cause? Implied answer: No way, man!

IV. Parts and Wholes

A. We live in a small part of the universe

B. Can we conclude anything about the origin of the whole?

C. State of science is imperfect

D. One rule may not work in another part

V. No Comparison

A. Argument from Experience

1.. When two species of objects have always been observed to be conjoined together . . .

.2.  . . Then whenever I see one object, I can infer, by custom, the existence of the other object

B. However, the universe is all we’ve observed, so can we infer a cause of its origin?

C. That is, have we observed the universe conjoined to its cause?

D. Again, analogy breaks down

VI. Multitudes

A. We see a multitude of effects in universe

B. Can we not conclude there’s a multitude of causes?

C. Is there only one cause? (Read: designer)

VII. Universe and God

A. One goal is to compare universe and God (analogy)

B. Another goal is to show where analogy breaks down due to divergence, a “wide step”

C. Examples:

1.. Universe is not infinite, so God is not infinite

2. Universe seems imperfect, so God is imperfect

3. Ship has errors as it is built (start over!); did God bungle countless universes before he got it right?

4. Many builders of a ship, so are there many builders of universe, i.e. polytheism?

5. Shipbuilder is a man, so is God a man?

6. Universe has many flaws, as if an infant deity did it

D. Response:

1.. One can still acknowledge a designer, and that’s good enough

The best reply to Hume is to drop the argument from analogy and just ask what is the best explanation for the existence of the universe in the first place and whatever order there is in the universe. In other words, what is the inference to the best explanation for the existence of the universe and the order that we observe, such that we humans can even live in our solar system?


Hume’s Theory of Knowledge

Paley’s Watchmaker and Design Argument

ARTICLES IN OUTLINE SERIES (alphabetical order)

Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics

Clifford’s Ethics of Belief

Descartes’s Mind-Body Separation (Meditations I and II)

Hick’s Evil and God of Love

Hume’s Theory of Knowledge

Hume’s Argument against Design

James’s Will to Believe

Kant’s Ethics

Locke’s Theory of Knowledge

Mill’s Utilitarian Ethics

Nietzsche’s “Death of God”

Paley’s Watchmaker Design Argument

Plato’s View of Justice and the Soul

Plato the Soul Man

Rachels’s Moral Objectivism

Ryle’s Category Mistake

Sartre’s “Existentialism and Humanism”

Socrates’s “Apology”

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