The argument of whether God exists or not is a long debated argument spanning the centuries. In David Hume’s “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion” this topic is addressed through a dialogue and debate between Hume’s fictional characters Cleanthes and Philo. Cleanthes presents the argument that God’s existence can be confirmed to man and presents this argument in the form of the Argument from Design. Philo then offers several objections as to why this argument fails. This paper will discuss Cleanthes’ Argument from Design and detail Philo’s criticism of Cleanthes’ stance.
This criticism will include the analogy related to the inference of God’s existence based on observation of our universe as well as Philo’s criticism that spontaneous order found by generation and vegetation fail to support evidence of a creator. To lend further support to Philo’s argument, it is important to determine if the universe is, in fact, in a state of order, and whether or not God, being generally accepted as mysterious and unknowable by the religious, is absolutely knowable through inference as suggested by Cleanthes.
These arguments presented by Philo lend support to why the Argument from Design fails. David Hume presents through his character, Cleanthes, the argument that the nature and existence of God can be proven through inference based on observation of our universe. Cleanthes attempts to prove this in his Argument from Design, which states that by witnessing the natural beauty and orderliness of the universe, its complexity and intricacy, that we can infer assuredly that a supreme designer created the universe.
To further clarify, as found in the online encyclopedia concerning this argument, Wikipedia states, “Although there are variations, the basic argument can be stated as follows: “1) Every design has a designer; 2) The universe has highly complex design; 3) Therefore, the universe has a Designer” (Wikipedia, Section: Argument, par 4). Cleanthes’ stance is that the nature and existence of God can be confirmed through inference of our seemingly orderly universe.
An analogy to attempt to solidify and prove this stance is often used by empirical theism by stating that similar machines invented by man are likewise often very complex and it therefore naturally follows that because man made machines are complex and have a designer then it is safe to conclude that because the universe is also complex it, too, has a designer. Empirical theism claims there is a designer and creator responsible for our environment and that the existence of God can be confirmed by reason through inference.
These premises form the major points of the Argument from Design Hume relays in the text through his character Cleanthes’ position. Philo offers rebuttal arguments, one of which claims that the analogy of the orderly universe and machines is a weak one and it follows that any reasoning done based on the analogy will also be weak (Spark Notes, Par 4). For this analogy to be successfully used, the machine that is described must not be a part of the universe but exist outside of the universe.
Both the universe and the machine must be mutually exclusive of each other and not one a part of the other for the analogy to work. The question lies in whether all things are created by a supreme creator. A machine is part of the universe and it is being suggested by Cleanthes’ that the universe was created by God. Granted a machine may have been created by a man but the man may or may not have been created by a supreme creator. The machine must exist independently and outside the boundaries of the universe to be a plausible analogy as to whether or not it was created by a supreme designer or not.
Because of this fact, reason cannot be used to conclude with this analogy that inference will reveal absolute knowledge of God’s existence resulting in the Argument from Design being faulty. Along with this argument Philo makes against Cleanthes Argument from Design is that all order that we can witness is not necessarily the result of intelligent design and cannot be confirmed by inference or our senses. Philo states that “some order, such as that found in organic bodies, is caused by generation and vegetation” (Spark Notes, par 5).
It is this argument that supports that the Argument from Design is incorrect. Exploring Philo’s argument, some apparent order as found among species and vegetation may be the result of the correct conditions to exist wherein the order has come about by the laws of the universe that dictate the processes. The Big Bang theory is one example of this. Evolution is another. Conditions existed naturally to bring about the chaotic explosion toward the formation of the solar system governed by the laws of the universe that exist. Earth conditions made it suitable for life to evolve.
Science has long accepted the theory of evolution and the “Big Bang” theory and support is growing as science advances in support of these theories. These scientific theories lend support to Philo’s argument that order found among organic bodies is due to processes that naturally occur and not by any intentions of a designer. Cleanthes claims that inferences made when witnessing the universe and the Earth upon which we live and the processes that govern our existence such as the laws of nature and the universe confirm the existence of God.
We can assume that the order we perceive is the result of a divine creator, but that inference is nothing more than a hunch and is not, therefore, absolute assuredness. It is what is known as an educated guess. Educated guesses are guesses based on inference. Sometimes they are correct. Other times they are not. Regardless, educated guesses are not absolute knowledge of something, and in this case it is not absolute knowledge of the existence of God and the Argument from Design fails.
Philo’s argument that these natural processes that exist on our planet and throughout the universe do not lend absolute knowledge of a divine creator is correct. The key words are absolute knowledge. While there may have been a creator behind the processes of formation of the universe or the laws that govern the apparent orderliness of it, it is not absolute assuredness that that is so through inference alone and that is what the Argument of Design purports to claim–That absolute knowledge of God’s existence can be inferred.
Thirdly, with regards to Philo’s argument that many processes are the result of generation and vegetation one can also question whether the earth, solar system, or universe is, in fact, a state of orderliness. It may be a mistake to assume that we live in an orderly universe or on a planet of order. It is possible that our solar system and planet are in a state of disorderliness and chaos. Because we exist and can survive in our environment, we assume that this is orderly.
Humanity lives in a bubble or aquarium, the planet earth. Some order caused by generation and vegetation may very likely be the result of the correct conditions spontaneously being present for life to survive; however, we are susceptible to chaotic activity, the natural movements of the tectonic plates of the earth causing earthquakes, Tsunami’s and tornadoes, outside influences in our solar system and the universe such as asteroids and comets, disorderly, random, chaotic events that threaten our own existence.
Just because life exists and can survive on this planet does not constitute a state of order. For Cleanthes to be able to infer from orderliness that a divine creator was the cause of the order, one must first of all determine whether or not the universe, solar system, and our plant, in fact, are in a state of order. If these things are in a state of chaos and disorder, then no inference as to design can be made nor can the existence of a designer be inferred correctly or confirmed with absolute knowledge.
Finally, in support of Philo’s argument against the Argument from Design, it is impossible to logically conclude by inference that a supreme creator is behind the creation of our universe or planet and this is evidenced by the general religious popular belief that God is mysterious. As defined by Dictionary. com, the word mysterious carries the meaning of “Of obscure nature, meaning, origin, etc. , puzzling, inexplicable” (Dictionary. com, par 3). To be mysterious is to not fully be knowable.
If God works in mysterious ways as is commonly claimed, then the very nature of God and what he has or has not created is just that, mysterious and not fully knowable as defined. This also lends support to Philo’s argument that the Argument from Design fails. The argument of whether God exists or not is a long debated argument spanning the centuries. Philo’s argument that the analogy used by Cleanthes comparing a machine and the universe is weak lends support to the fact that inference is not absolute knowledge of a divine creator. The reason for this is that a machine is part of the universe or whole.
For this analogy to work, they must be mutually exclusive. Secondly, Philo points out that some natural processes are the results of generation and vegetation, natural processes that are independent of any creator but happen naturally. If such phenomena occur spontaneously without intervention or creator, then it is possible the universe came about in a similar fashion. Thirdly, in order to be able to infer with absolute knowledge of a divine creator based on observation of an orderly environment, we must determine whether, in fact, the environment in which we live is in a state of orderliness or if we are part of a chaotic universe.
If we are not part of an orderly universe but it, in fact, is chaotic and disorderly, then the question of whether a divine creator is involved is a moot point. Finally, popular religious belief agrees that the very nature of God is one of a mysterious nature. If God is mysterious, by definition he is unknowable and not fully comprehensible and the Argument from Design fails. Works Cited “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion” 2006. Spark Notes, LLC. Retrieved on April 11, 2007. < http://www.
sparknotes. com/philosophy/dialogues/summary. html> Hume, David. “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. ” 2006. David Banach. Retrieved on April 11, 2007. < http://www. anselm. edu/homepage/dbanach/dnr. htm> “Mysterious. ” 2007. Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. Retrieved on April 11, 2007. <http://dictionary. reference. com/browse/mysterious> “Teological Argument. ” 2007. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. Retrieved on April 11, 2007 <http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Teleological_argument>