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Has Hume Refuted the Design Argument?

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  1. Introduction
  2. Newton's argument from design
  3. The first point of contention
  4. Theology in the added General Scholium
  5. Hume's attack on the natural theology
  6. Philo and the traditional description of God
  7. Conclusion
  8. Bibliography

In my opinion, David Hume, in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, completely destroys the traditional design argument. In this essay I will outline an example of the traditional design argument, as written by Newton, and also Hume's critique of this argument, in his ?Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion' (1779, 1990, Bell ed.) This discussion is summarised in the Robert Hurlbutt book ?Hume, Newton and the Design Argument' (Lincoln University Press, 1965).
Newton seems to base his theology upon the limitations of his science, which may be a bad thing, because over time science becomes updated and his theories become obsolete. However, Newton at this point introduces his design argument in a more explicit sense than before:

[...] Newton's downfall in this section, however, is to start talking about God in the traditional theistic sense, such as that God is all powerful, and omniscient and benevolent, which do not appear to be logically connected with the design proof he has given, although it seems clear that they could be linked in some way with the design argument, as we will see later in the attacks by Hume on such topics as benevolence and intelligence. In his Dialogues, Hume is attacking natural theology, in particular the design argument in the form linked to a posteriori methods of science. [...]


[...] Philo's second objection to the design argument is known as the uniqueness argument. It is as follows: If the order exemplified in some object Observation1 is evidence of intelligent design, then we must have had past experiences of other some other like object and past experiences of "O2 being produced by intelligent design." We have had neither past experiences of other Universes nor experiences of any Universe being produced by intelligent design. Therefore, the order exemplified in the Universe is not evidence of intelligent design. [...]


[...] It seems to me that the design argument in the form proposed by Newton, and set out in the Dialogues by Cleanthes, looks vulnerable to Hume's objections. However, their effectiveness seems largely reduced when Cleanthes' argument is seen as an inference argument rather than one that uses an analogy. However, if the argument is seen as one that uses an analogy, Hume, through the voice of Philo, can raise the following dilemma: Either houses are very similar to the Universe or the Universe is not very similar to houses. [...]

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