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Argument From Design Notes

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Becky Tun


What uses does the argument from design make of the notion of similarity? What difficulties arise as a result?
The argument from design, or the teleological argument, is an argument for the existence of God which appeals to the lawlikeness, complexity and purposefulness in nature, and states that the best, or only, explanation of these things is an intelligent designer. As presented in Hume's Dialogues it takes the form of an argument from analogy. It addresses the similarity between examples of order and adaptation in nature and human artefacts: natural objects are like human artefacts with respect to the order and adaptation they display; the order and adaptation in human artefacts is due to intelligent design; therefore the order and adaptation in natural objects is due to intelligent design. Furthermore, the argument as presented here is claimed to involve purely a posteriori reasoning: drawing the conclusion of an intelligent creator from observation of nature is a piece of empirical science, involving no a priori reasoning about causation. Cleanthes first presents the argument in Section 2, comparing the universe to one big machine made up of infinite smaller machines amazingly adjusted to each other. He goes on: The curious adapting of means to ends, throughout all nature, resembles exactly, though it much exceeds, the productions of human contrivance; of human designs, thought, wisdom, and intelligence. Since, therefore, the effects resemble each other, we are led to infer, by all 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, proportioned to the grandeur of the work which he has executed. Stated like this, the argument is one from experience and analogy to probability: the causes of natural order are probably similar to the causes of human contrivances. All three characters in the Dialogues agree to discuss the argument in this form. Cleanthes thinks that the analogy is close and the probability of similar causes extremely high; Philo thinks that the analogy is incredibly weak and thus the probability merely a possibility; Demea on the other hand disapproves of the empirical nature of the argument altogether and is glad that Philo undertakes to dismantle it, though only because he does not realise that Philo is doing so out of skepticism rather than out of reverence for the mysterious nature of God. In the above passage Cleanthes puts the argument in terms of the 'adapting of means to ends', but it is possible to distinguish two kinds of order, and the discussion in the Dialogues concerns both. There is the appearance of purpose in the way that living things seem built to fulfil their functions - this is Cleanthes' 'adapting of means to ends' - which is why the argument has been called the 'teleological argument'. And there is also the more general regularity and orderliness to be found in the universe - its uniform conformity to simple, formulable scientific laws. The latter kind of regularities have been called by Swinburne 'regularities of succession' or temporal order, and they involve patterns of behaviour in objects in accordance with the laws of nature. We can also talk of 'regularities of copresence', or spatial order, whereby matter is arranged at some point in time in an orderly fashion in addition to displaying temporal order - such as the solar system, a crystal formation, or living organisms. It


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