Friday, September 5, 2008

"Argument from Design" and David Hume I

In "The Great Conversation: A Historical Introduction to Philosophy" by Norman Melchert we are presented with several issues which David Hume raised against the "Argument from Design." I have not seen this "inside" but it is summarized as follows:

3. The analogy [of the argument from design] is supposed to exist between the production of intelligent human beings and the world as an effect of a supremely intelligent designer. But a number of consequences follow if we take the analogy seriously.

  • Many People cooperate to make a machine; by analogy, the world may have been created through the cooperation of many gods.

  • Wicked and mischievous people may create technological marvels; by analogy, the creator(s) of the world may be wicked and mischievous.

  • Machines are made by mortals; by analogy, may not the gods be mortal?

  • The best clocks are the result of a long history of slow improvements; by analogy,

Many worlds might have been botched and bungled, throughout eternity, ere this system was struck out; much labor lost; many fruitless trials made; and a slow but continued improvement carried on during infinite ages in the art of world-making. (D, 36)
The point here is not that any of these possibilities is likely but that analogies always have resemblances in certain respects and differences in others. How do we know which are the similarities in this case and which are the differences? Unless we have some principled way to make this distinction, any one of these conclusions is as justified as the one theists wish to draw.
(4th Edition, Page 421-422)

The seriousness with which this is treated truly disturbs me, but seemingly from both sides of the arguments.

On the one hand he is generally correct that, given only the argument from design creation could be the trial and error product of
malevolent group of mortals. The argument from design simply doesn't address those questions.

But that is, it seems to me, the problem with bringing it up at all. It is simply not relevant. The comparison is between the world and other orderly phenomenon. While I hope to address the question of whether there is a comparison later, that does not seem to be the issue here where we are taking for granted that the comparison exists. As such, while a "design" may have many features, one feature that they all share is a designer. This is not the case with the other possibilities listed which are incidental to the design.

One does not look at a wooden stool and make inferences about whether the craftsman worked alone or whether he was a jerk. If I were to show you a group of 20 such stools, one made by a craftsman another by the inexperienced, one by a saint and the other by a sinner, one by a group the other an individual, some by hand while others by machine, etc. you wouldn't take those "dis-analogies" and conclude that the 20th unidentified stool was not designed.

Artwork may very likely convey something about the artists personality but any inferences are drawn from the specifics of the work not the general existence of coherent design (or in the case of modern art the lack thereof?).

The analogy in the argument from design does not supply us with the necessary information to draw an conclusion about the specifics of design or the designer. This may or may not be done through "inference from design" (Is there such a term?) but that is separate. Design leads to the inference of a designer and the strength of this inference ranges from merely possible to almost certain in conjunction with the complexity exhibited. A similar inference simply doesn't follow necessarily about the nature of the designer.

Hume is, I believe, comparing apples and oranges.

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