Wednesday, June 17, 2009
The Dialogues are a criticism of the argument from design in the form in which that argument was current in Hume's time - a form in which it persisted into the nineteenth century in the writings of Paley and so many others, and which survives in popular and semi-popular forms to the present day. This argument, it cannot be too emphatically insisted, is not a teleological argument of the Aristotelian type. It does not, that is to say, consist in the thesis that the natural order, with which man is so integrally bound up, fulfils an end of absolute and intrinsic worth. It is an essentially anthropomorphic type of argument, resting upon an alleged analogy between natural existences and the artificial products of man's handicraft. We can, it was maintained, gain a sufficient basis for the conception of God as an ordering intelligence in our knowledge of the self and of its relation to the products which it consciously designs. ...
In the absence of an alternative explanation of a more credible kind, the 'religious hypothesis' (to use Hume's phrase) held the field. It was not, as a rule, that it was thought out, and quite deliberately adopted, still less that it was held as a belief which played a specifically religious role in their minds. No alternative being in sight, it was conceded, especially as regards living organisms; and having been conceded, it came in only when quite ultimate issues were raised; and even then it was little more than an admission of ignorance, expressed in the terms of the traditional creed. This attitude was the more practicable, in that the argument from design was, as already stated, formulated with only incidental reference to moral or scientifically religious considerations.
- Norman Kemp Smith, Introduction, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume
carl DOT sachs AT gmail DOT com (no spaces)
I'm no Hume scholar but I know of some of the relevant scholarship, esp. as it relates to Hume and ID.