Does the Argument from Design Depend on a Weak Analogy Between What Is Found in Nature and the Products of Human Artifice?

Does the argument from design depend on a weak analogy between what is found in nature and the products of human artifice? ‘The titles ‘The Master Craftsman’, ‘The Divine Artificer’, ‘The Designer’ or ‘The Great Architect of the Universe’ are found as synonyms for ‘god’(Gaskin,1988:12). There are to date, various classical and contemporary versions of the argument of design. The intention of this essay however, is to explore the classical version, which depend on the empirical argument by analogy.

The ‘Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy’ defines the argument of design by stating that: ‘The universe sufficiently resembles a machine or a work of art or architecture, for it to be reasonable for us to posit a designer whose intellect is responsible for it’s order and complexity’ (Blackburn, 2008:97).

This argument is perceived to be the most popular of the three main arguments for the existence of God. This conundrum goes as far back as Plato and Aristotle in ancient Greece, and is still pondered upon today by contemporary philosophers.

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To comprehend the relevance of this contested argument this essay will examine its various aspects, referring mainly to William Paley’s (1743-1805) watch analogy and David Hume’s (1711-1776) interlocutor’s machine analogy as prime examples. It will explore the various objections by David Hume and finish with the findings of naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882). The conclusion will concur with the presented evidence, that the argument of design is a highly intuitive and popular argument but it’s main premises depend on a weak analogy between what is found in nature and the products of human artifice.

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In order to get a clear understanding of the argument by analogy it is important to begin with the standard schema as cited by the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: Entity e within nature (or the cosmos, or nature itself) is like specified human artifact a (e. g. , a machine) in relevant respects R (signs of design). 0. a has R precisely because it is a product of deliberate design by intelligent human agency. 0. Like effects typically have like causes (or like explanations, like existence requirements, etc. Therefore It is (highly) probable that e has R precisely because it too is a product of deliberate design by intelligent, relevantly human-like agency (Stanford, 2010). The opening quote consists of common names to describe god, which were taken for granted and used quite freely without discussion during the eighteenth century (Gaskin, 1988). At this time the argument from design was seen as the most persuasive and intuitive of all the philosophical theistic arguments.

Therefore in order to counter argue these claims David Hume published a sceptical philosophical work entitled ‘Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion’ in 1779. In these dialogues the interlocutor Cleanthes states that when we look at the world it resembles a great machine which infer according to the rules of analogy ‘that the causes also resemble; and that the Author of Nature is somewhat similar to the mind of man, though possessed of much larger faculties’ (Hume,1779:1990:53). This analogy according to Cleanthes proves therefore that a god exists.

In keeping with an argument by analogy, the first premise; the universe is likened to a machine, the second premise; all machines that we have experienced are designed by human intelligence. Therefore the universe is designed by divine intelligence. There are two main versions of the design argument which are based on two related design concepts, notable the sense of purpose and regularity of design in the universe (Davies, 2004:74). The first, which is also known as the teleological argument comes from the Greek word telos which means, ‘end’ or ‘purpose’.

The latter is known as the regularity or nomological argument, nomos, ‘law’(Gaskin, 1988:13). It is based on the principle that the universe in all its ordered glory can only be explained as the result of an intelligent designer as it is intentional and has a purpose rather than coming into existence by chance. In order to relate these principles we will refer to the analogous argument, that the universe just like human artefacts, shows design through purpose and order.

The most famous formulation for the design as purpose argument was put forward by William Paley in 1802 in his work entitled Natural Theology, twenty-six years after Hume’s death (Hick,1990:23). This second argument by analogy suggests that the universe resembles a finely tuned watch. Paley’s scenario states, if we were to find a watch on a heath, upon closer inspection, we would observe it’s purposeful and intricate design. Therefore even if we never seen a watch before we would intuitively assume it was an artefact.

It would seem absurd to suggest that the watch like a stone had lain there forever and was not the result of some type of human contrivance hence, ‘the inference…is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker’ (Hick, 1974:100). He concludes that this inference is not weakened by eight general facts that it may be argued, will counteract any objections to his analogical argument. He suggests the claim is not invalid even if we never experienced its manufacture or known any artificers that have made such a purposeful design nor were we capable of making the watch ourselves.

He pertains that it is not necessary for the watch to be perfect and even if the watch were to stop or decay it would not take away from its initial design. He further elaborates about the watch and the designer stating that the order and pattern of the watch could not have come about by chance hence it could not be ascertained that the existence of such a watch could be the result of ‘one out of possible combinations of material forms’ (Hick, 1974:102).

He finally extrapolates from the watch, ‘every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature’ (Hick, 1974:103). He further develops this argument by suggesting that the universe is full of such intricate designs as can be seen in the structure of all living organisms. He suggests that the regularity of the seasons and the complexity of our solar system did not come about by chance therefore this must point to a grand designer, namely god (Hicks, 1990:24). Hume pertains that the analogy is an argument drawn from ‘effects to causes’ (Hume, 1975:136).

The premise may state that the order of nature infers intelligence and design but Hume argues that the ‘cause must be proportioned to the effect’ (Hume,1975:136). He gives the example of a weighing scales, if we have a weight of ten ounces raised on a scale we must have a counterbalance weight that exceeds ten ounces but we could never assume that it exceeds a hundred ounces. Therefore if we assign to a cause additional qualities this is just pure conjecture, to infer that a benevolent God is the cause of the effect of the order and purpose of the universe is simply a hypothesis (Hume,1975:137).

Hume’s classic critique can also be found in his dialogue, as cited by the character Philo a philosophical sceptic, which it may be argued was the voice of Hume. In the dialogue Philo argues with Cleanthes’ analogy as mentioned earlier in this essay but it may also be applied to Paley’s watch analogy as both analogies infer that the universe has similar qualities to artefacts and are therefore designed by an intelligent being. Philo objects to the analogy and points to the weakness of the similarities between the universe and human artefacts.

He implies using the rules of analogy ‘wherever you depart in the least, from the similarity of the cases, you diminish proportionably the evidence; and may at last bring it to a very weak analogy, which is confessedly liable to error and uncertainty’ (Hume,1990: 54). He uses the example of a house, we know from previous experience that it has an architect or builder, but we have no experience on the other hand of the initial beginning of the universe so how can we claim it has an intelligent cause, let alone a divine creator.

Therefore Hume’s criticism of the argument from design is also an objection to an a posteriori argument dependent on experience but the core of the argument as previously stated involves an analogy between the universe and artefacts and the inference of design by intelligence. Hume also ascertains that the universe is unique therefore no man can explain from observation that the universe is similar to human art as we would need to be able to compare similar species of objects to truly experience the existence of the other to relate it to human contrivance which depends on previous knowledge or specific resemblance (Hume, 1990: 60).

Contemporary philosopher Thomas McPherson further develops the argument of order and states that the universe is an unique entity, therefore we have a lack of empirical evidence to compare the order of our universe with another, again suggesting a weak analogical argument (McPherson, 1957). The argument is strengthened by the discovery of astronomy and microscopy, as it departs further from the similarities, as the causes of the universe exceeds all limitations of human artefacts and contrivance (Hume, 1990:75).

The Standford schema defines the analogical argument as inferring deliberate design, Hume states if we are to infer that the causes of the universe are similar to deliberate human design the analogy is flawed because empirical evidence suggests that objects of human design have come about through a process of trial and error and he states, a similar process of trial and error can also be seen in the ‘art of world-making’(Hume, 1990:77). The character Philo develops this argument stating that the universe may be the result of unguided chaos and disorder rather than the perceived notion of order and purpose (Hume, 1990:94).

These objections arguably support Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Although Hume’s argument preceded Darwin’s theory of natural selection the new evidence brought to light in his book ‘The Origins of Species by Means of Natural Selection’ in 1859 created a paradigm shift and further supported the objections of Hume. The theory of natural selection posits that random natural forces of nature select the traits and species that will survive or perish as organisms adapt gradually through time to their environment and are not designed by a divine artisan (Ayala, 2007).

In his autobiography as cited by Ayala (2007) Darwin states that the analogous argument put forward by Paley of an intelligent being fails as his theory of natural selection gives a simple explanation of the appearance of design. For example the hinge of a shell is a natural adaptation resulting from the blind forces of nature from generation to generation and therefore cannot be likened to the hinge of a door made by man (Ayala, 2007). It may also be argued that a divine artificer designed the universe and was responsible for the laws of nature.

The analogous argument from design as postulated by Paley also referred to this master craftsman as an omnipotent and benevolent God, so would for example this traditional God deliberately allow the suffering and struggle that is inherent for living organisms to survive and thrive. Is this the best mechanism of design that an all-powerful being could master. The various objections of Hume as presented in this essay further weaken the analogy between the world we observe and human artefacts.

It is extremely weak, as the rules would imply that in order to present a strong argument they must have many characteristics in common. The universe in all its glory is a highly complex entity and may appear to be the result of a designer based on the purpose and order of both but there are also numerous dissimilarities between the two for example, living organisms versus not living machines. The universe is unique and cannot be compared to any other, which is quite different from artefacts such as watches and man made machines.

If we were to infer that an intelligent agent designed the universe it would be pure speculation to conclude that this intelligence was proof of the existence of a traditional God but we could also state that it is simply the unintentional workings of nature. Therefore in my opinion the classic version of the design argument although highly intuitive and still popular today, is based primarily on a weak analogy. References Ayala, F. J. , (2007). Darwin’s Greatest Discovery: Design without Designer.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104, pp. 8567-8573. Blackburn, S. , (2008). Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press. Davies, B. , (2004). An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. London: Oxford University Press. Gaskin, J. C. A. , (1988). Hume’s Philosophy of Religion. London: Macmillan Press Ltd. Hick, J. , (1974). The Existence of God. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. Hick, J. , (1990). Philosophy of Religion.

USA: Prentice-Hall International Editions. Hume, D. , (1990). Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. London: Penguin Books Ltd. Hume, D. , (1975). An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. London: Oxford University Press. McPherson, T. , (1957). The Argument from Design. Philosophy, 32 (122) pp. 219-228. Ratzsch, D. , (2010). Teleological Arguments for God’s Existence. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 1 Dec. from http://plato. stanford. edu/archives/win2010/entries/teleological-arguments/;.

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Does the Argument from Design Depend on a Weak Analogy Between What Is Found in Nature and the Products of Human Artifice?. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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