HUME On The Inadequacy Of Design As Proof Of God


It is entirely possibly to believe in a Creator without believing in an omnipotent, omniscient God. In fact, by all indications, if there was a conscious Creator of this world of ours, he seems pretty obviously to have been less than perfect.  Don’t get me wrong… He would have had to have been really, really smart.  Since he appears to have set things in motion and never bothered to come back for any fine-tuning or corrections– I’d say he must have been able to grasp a baffling amount of complexity.  I mean, there’s a million different things interacting in a billion different ways– and that’s just in one tiny section of World-Space in one instant of Time.  And each of those activities will ripple out in ever-expanding complexity. The human brain, by way of contrast, could not have predicted the exact configuration of the second second of the Universe.

Of course, I’m assuming that it was his PLAN that the World he created would self-perpetuate.  Maybe the fact that we’re still here long after he’s gone is just a big accident.  Or perhaps we’re just part of the trash heap he left after finishing his REAL work.

If there was, indeed, a Creator, he seems to have been aware of his own limitations when it comes to predicting the infinite future. That’s my guess as to why he built his system with a multitude of cycles and course-correcting mechanisms.

When it comes to the creation of Man… my first guess is that the level of self-consciousness acquired by Homo sapiens was one of the many unforeseen consequences of the Creator’s initial, activities.

I assume he’s dead now, the Creator, whoever he was.  But gee, wish you were here, Dad. Questions… lots of questions. Not to mention a few maaajor complaints.  I never had the chance to even get to know you.  Who WERE you?  What were you like?…

David Hume believed that IF this world had a Creator, we could not really infer anything-much about him, for we only have this one work, this one Creation, to go on. All we can know is that the Creator was able, at least once, to do THIS– whatever “this” is. We are moving beyond the facts whenever we try to assign to him any other characteristics based on his work, such as omnipotence or omniscience.

To cover his ass while writing during an era rather intolerant of atheists, Hume doesn’t come outright and tell us his own thoughts on the idea of God. Rather, he creates a fictional “friend” to relate his ideas. Actually, he goes one better than this… It is not even the “friend’s” ideas we read, but that “friend’s” opinion as to what the philosopher Epicurus might have had to say upon the subject of God. Thus, Hume attempts to put himself in a position twice-removed from the guaranteed-to-offend ideas he presents. In reality, however, most people who read Hume saw straight through his ruse, and though this maneuver seemed to have offered him enough cover to escape official persecution, he was indeed labelled (and condemned as) an atheist by many of his contemporaries.

Hume, speaking as the Friend speaking as Epicurus, observes that “the chief or sole argument for a divine existence” is “derived from the order of Nature,” where there appear “such marks of intelligence and design” that believers deem it “extravagant” to credit “either chance or the blind and unguided force of matter.”  From the “order of the work,” it is inferred “that there must have been project and forethought in the Workman.”

However, continues “Epicurus,” even if we allow that a God or multiple gods has created the order of the Universe, it merely follows that he or they “possess that precise degree of power, intelligence, and benevolence which appears in their workmanship”— but no more or less can be reasonably conjectured.

We should not “ascribe to the Cause any qualities but what actually appear in the Effect,” states Hume. (A sentiment which my hero, Ernst Mach, would have heartily approved). Epicurus gives the following example to demonstrate his point…

“A body of ten ounces raised in any scale may serve as proof that the counterbalancing weight exceeds ten ounces. But it can never afford a reason that it exceeds a hundred.”

When it comes to the gods, we “have no reason to ascribe to these celestial beings any perfection or any attribute but what can be found in the present world.” It is possible that there exists a perfect God, or an eternal one, but this is mere conjecture, not supported by the observable facts.

Epicurus proceeds to make a more subtle argument. He claims that it is improper to form an analogy between the relationship of Man-to-Man’s Work and the relationship of God-to-God’s work.  Because we already are familiar with the nature of Man, says Epicurus, when we come across one of his works, “we can draw a hundred inferences” as to what kind of man performed the construction. “But did we know man only from the single work or production which we examine, it were impossible for us to argue in this manner.”  In human nature, we know there exists a certain “coherence” to designs and inclinations. Therefore, when “we have discovered one intention of any man, it may often be reasonable, from experience, to infer another, and draw a long chain of conclusions concerning his past or future conduct.”  However, “this method of reasoning can never have place with regard to a Being so remote and incomprehensible.”  The Creator is beyond analogy.

So much for the making of hypotheses concerning the Creator’s perfection, eternity, omniscience, or omnipotence.  And when it comes to considering God’s morality or excellence, Epicurus advises us to bear in mind  “the reality of that evil and disorder with which the world so much abounds.”


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