I intend here to continue the line of objection presented by the western philosopher David Hume against the standard design argument for the existence of God. There is another permutation of his objections which I feel must adequately be dealt with and countered. Below, I shall summarize this objection, which can be found in Hume’s “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.”
Objection: When it was objected that we cannot form any judgment about the universe’s design because we have access only to one universe, your intuitive response was that this objection carries no weight because it defies common sense and common experience. We would not, you said, refuse to acknowledge the greatness (or otherwise) of an artist merely on the grounds that we were aware of just one of his/her works and not others. The key word here is ‘experience’, for Hume was an empiricist, who believed that all of our knowledge is known a posteriori, on the basis of observation, experiment, and experience. Thus, Philo (Hume’s skeptical character in the above-mentioned book) exclaims:
And will any man tell me with a serious countenance, that an orderly universe must arise from some thought and art, like the human; because we have experience of it? To ascertain this reasoning, it were requisite, that we had experience of the origin of worlds; and it is not sufficient surely, that we have seen ships and cities arise from human art and contrivance … (pp. 51-52).
In other words, our natural inclination to infer designers, architects, authors, and so forth concerning human products, inventions, etc. is fuelled by common experience and observation. Yet, were it not for our experience and existence in a world of human products and inventions, we would not think it ‘natural’ or ‘sound’ to deduce designers and creators at all. Thus, when we infer a designer for the universe, it is only because of this limited experience of a limited world, which is certainly not sufficient for the inference of a designer of the entire universe. The leap from ‘part’ to ‘whole’ is not warranted.
Please respond to this objection.
It is true that our inclination to infer designers, architects, authors and so forth from designs, architectures and writings respectively emanates primarily from our ‘common experience’ and possibly ‘limited’ exposure. Nevertheless, unfortunate as it is, it remains an irrefutable fact that this is the only true and actual experience and exposure – however limited it may seem to be to the theoretical philosophers – which we have and can communicate to and share with each other.
Belief in God is based on our actual exposure, perspective and experience – however ‘limited’ these may be – not on theoretical possibilities.
This is precisely the kind of practical wisdom and pragmatic behavior that religion wants to instill within us. This is precisely the difference between religion and mere philosophy.
I hope this helps.
February 24, 2003