Ian Johnson Philosophers have been searching for a rational argument to prove the existence of God since the time of Saint Thomas Aquinas. They observed the universe and the living things within it, searching for patterns that would show a purposeful design and thus a designer. The Argument from Design is an example of a logical attempt to prove God’s existence, but as humans learn more about science and evolution, new arguments like the Fine-Tuning Design argument have become more universally accepted. However, these arguments are not infallible; many philosophers such as Hume have several objections to them.
The Argument from Design is actually quite simple and very intuitive. This argument states that the complex mechanisms that serve a specific purpose found in nature must have been designed. Since these mechanisms have been designed – then it stands to reason that there must be a designer. However in order for this argument to be rational and valid, one must accept the following assumptions. First, complex ordered objects that serve a certain purpose do not appear out of thin air, so one can infer that these objects must have had a maker. Second, similar effect leads to a similar cause. This assumption allows theists to compare complex machines built by humans to complex mechanisms in the natural world. One of the biggest proponents of the Argument from Design is William Paley.
His analogy best illustrates the rationale of those who use this argument to rationalize and prove the existence of God. The analogy explains that if someone were to find a watch laying on the ground, they would not be able to say that it had always been there and had appeared out of nowhere. Paley argues that any person would be able to infer that something that complex must have had a creator. If something with that much complexity, order, and purpose was created, then there must have been a creator. Paley then applies this logic to the world. The world is too complex to not have been created. Meaning there must have been a creator.
The only thing that could do this is God, thus God exists. An example of the world exhibiting apparent design is the human eye. By the argument’s logic, the human eye must have been designed. It is incredibly complex and uses several smaller parts to fulfill the need of a larger system. Proponents of this argument see parallels between the eye and a machine used by humans. They say because of the fact that those small parts in machines all need to be designed and then intelligibly assembled, by a designer, this shows that complex organisms have several different parts that serve a different function but lead to the same goal. Thus proving the existence of a designer. This leads one who believes in the Argument from Design to come to the conclusion that there must have been a designer, and that designer is God. However this argument did not come without gaps in it’s logic, and Atheists such as David Hume were very critical in it’s validity..
One of Hume’s biggest problems with the Argument from Design is the second of its logical assumptions. Like effects lead to the inferring of like causes. He says that this assumption is not provable thus rendering the analogy of the watch used by Paley not similar enough to the real world to prove anything. Hume explains this with his own analogy. Hume explains that if one were to see a house they would infer that it had an architect. This is because of the human experience of houses and their construction. But a house is in no way similar to the universe- humans are simply putting the universe in terms that they can better understand from their limited perspectives. Hume goes on to say that humans have several examples of when their experience of houses was proven correct.
But imagine if one were to gain the knowledge of a house with no creator, they would then not be able to say matter a factly that all houses must have architects. Hume is basically saying that human experience with the universe is too limited to make such an analogy. Because of the fact that they only have their own perceptions to base their theories of the universe, one can not then relate it to something they have a lot of data about. Therefore one can not relate the experience of human inventions to the universe to prove the existence of a designer. The two things are just not similar enough to assume that like effect leads to like cause. Hume then turns the Argument from Design against its proponents and concedes the assumption that from similar effect one can deduce a similar cause. Hume argues that even with this assumption taken at face value the argument is still flawed. He critiques the parts of a machine analogy. Hume states that even though parts of nature are seemingly working together to achieve a certain goal, it is just as possible that one part is randomly affecting another.
Thus this part gives no reliable information about the whole. Hume points out that intelligent thinking and ability to design is only one small part of the universe. So why would one then assume that these parts would be responsible for creating the entire universe? One can not look at only their small portion of existence and assume that it is representative of the whole creation. For example, if someone finds the laces of a shoe – they could not tell what the purpose of that particular shoe was, its color, or its age, or its size. Hume’s explanation attempts to show the incredibly large gap in the comparisons between human machines and the universe that the Design argument is making. He then goes on to say that the machine analogy also doesn’t represent the Catholic God like it is trying to. Humans invent machines through trial and error, they do not just stumble upon the best design. They must build the wrong design to know what not to do.
So by this logic, the Argument from Design is saying that God is imperfect. Also if the world is God’s machine then they did not make a perfect machine. From the human perception, creation is not as good as it could be, with the amount of evil in the world it could be argued that this world is actually defective. Thus re-affirming the idea that God isn’t perfect. Hume had several objections to the Argument from Design, he simply saw the analogy that the whole concept was based on flaws and thus he saw the argument itself invalid.
A more modern argument for design is The Fine-Tuning Argument. This argument involves more scientific reasoning. However, some of Hume’s objections to intelligent design could still be applicable to this concept. The Fine-Tuning Argument core belief is that the universe was fined tuned to create life and that fine-tuning was not random – it was done deliberately. They prove this with several different pieces of data called the anthropic principles. If any of these anthropic principles were to vary by even a decimal point it would have made life impossible in the universe. The lack of any room for error, coupled with the fact that these numbers coinciding randomly is nearly impossible is evidence of a deliberately designed universe for life. Some of these anthropic principles consist of data about the speed of the big bang and the strength of nuclear bonds. For example, if the big bang had been even the tiniest bit faster the universe would have expanded too rapidly and nothing could have formed. If it had exploded any slower it would have collapsed back in on itself.
The same lack of margin for error goes for nuclear bonds. If the bonds were even slightly weaker all there would be in the universe would be hydrogen. If they were any stronger there would be no hydrogen in the universe, meaning no stable stars and no water. Both of which are very important for the existence of life. One of the biggest objections against The Fine-Tuned Argument is the multiple universe theory. Even though this is not one of Hume’s theories some of his objections to the intelligent design are incredibly applicable to it. Hume believed that it was impossible to prove that the universe is designed or has a designer because humans only have one universe to base these assumptions on. The Fine-Tuning argument says that it would be almost impossible for all of these anthropic coincidences to line up randomly. However, the multiple universe theory says that if there are infinite universes one eventually would be able to produce life completely by random. This lines up with Hume very closely. He says that humans can not infer a designer without more universes to study.
Without observing other universes that do not have the same anthropic principles, one can not infer a design nor a designer. Even though the multiple universe theory is hard to back up with independent data one can not know that there is a designer without first seeing other universes to compare ours to. The anthropic principles could just be a result of natural laws that wouldn’t allow any different numbers. This leads to Hume’s strongest argument against Fine-Tuning. That one can not infer a whole while looking at just one part of it. The data is just a portion of the universe. Yes, it measures several things, but humans learn new facts about the universe and space every day, and they can not say that they are one hundred percent sure this universe is fine-tuned. Humans are coming to these conclusions from their limited perspectives on earth. Fine-tuning proponents are assuming that the universe was designed to be orderly function and measurable by data. Which is how much of people’s lives are structured now. But they are not considering the fact that there is much of this world and much of this universe that is random. It’s just as likely that the universe can support life by random factors lining up.
This argument by Hume is the strongest because it is equally valid at objecting to both The Argument from Design and The Fine-Tuning Argument. This is because they both have to do with the perceptions of humans and their desire to see patterns and infer conclusions about those patterns without seeing the whole picture. Human perception of the world and the surrounding universe changes slowly. Slow enough in fact that even though the original argument from Hume came from the 18th century the human nature that it was based on has not changed. Humans inability to see the whole picture makes this argument the most applicable and strong objection of Hume’s towards the Fine-Tuning argument.
Argument from Design and the Fine-Tuning argument are examples by theists to prove the existence of a designer or God. They both attempt to find some sort of pattern or design in the universe through rational means. However, even though both of these arguments are compelling and generally intuitive – they have their flaws. David Hume pokes holes in the logic of these arguments but philosophers still leave it up to the reader to decide which side makes more sense to the individual.