Religious Studies


The Argument From Design: Some Better Reasons for Agreeing with Hume

Gary Doorea1

a1 University of Washington, Seattle

I. The argument from design or ‘teleological argument’ purports to be an inductive proof for the existence of God, proceeding from the evidence of the order exhibited by natural phenomena to the probable conclusion of a rational agent responsible for producing that order. The argument was severely criticized by David Hume in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and it was widely conceded that Hume's objections had cast serious doubt on the adequacy of the teleological argument, if not destroyed its credibility entirely. However, there has been a recent reappraisal of this claim by R. G. Swinburne, who maintains that none of Hume's criticisms have any validity against a ‘carefully articulated version of the argument’. Using an analogical argument based on temporal regularities rather than on spatial regularities (or arrangement of parts), Swinburne claims to have shown that the teleological argument is a legitimate inference to the best explanation whose force depends only on the strength of the analogy and on the degree to which the resulting theory makes explanation of empirical matters simpler and more coherent. Moreover, he claims to have shown that the argument provides support for the Christian monotheistic hypothesis and not merely for the weak claim that the universe was designed (somehow). This is an important claim since it has long been thought that Hume's most devastating blow was dealt when he showed that the teleological argument (if it is admitted to have any force at all) provides just as much support for the negation of certain propositions considered essential to Christian monotheism as it does for their affirmation.