Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Did Hume Refute Paley before he even wrote Natural Theology?

V. J. Torley says no, Julian Biaggini says yes.

18 comments:

Dan Gillson said...

Paley may think that the inference between an artifact and intelligence is immediate, but he's wrong. You would have no basis to make an inference from an artifact to an intelligent designer without first knowing from experience what "intelligence", "artifacts", "designers", "design", or "products" are. His argument is necessarily inductive. Secondly, it doesn't matter if you shift the burden from "similar" to "identical" because identity implies similarity, like all implies most, and most implies some; you still end up making an argument from analogy regardless of whether you're talking about similarities between particulars or identities between them.

Dan Gillson said...

Clearly I side with Biaggini.

Crude said...

The problem I have with the criticisms I'm seeing here pits me against all sides. Maybe someone can help me out with it.

Hume gets cited as someone who gave the fundamental arguments against the ID view. Specifically: his attacks on arguments from analogy (say for a moment that ID is exactly this) basically boiled down to these claims:

A) It's not a proof. It is, at best, an inference to the best explanation. That means that a Paley style argument at best is evidence for intelligent design, not a demonstration of it's certain existence.

B) Analogies can also be used to infer against design - ie, analogies on how structure X doesn't share common traits of design, etc.

C) The designer need not be God, or even singular. It could be a group of small-g gods, super intelligent beings, etc.

Here's the problem. If Hume's argument is down to A B and C (someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but this is what I pick up by reading the dialog in question), then he's not arguing against Intelligent Design. He is literally echoing its modern proponents, because they grant at least A and C from the outset, and the only way to push for B is to grant A to begin with.

So if my reading is correct - and hey, maybe someone will show me the mistake I made re: Hume - Hume is actually in the ID corner, against all odds. I'll go further: if I am correct, then not only is Hume in the ID corner, but he's conceded ground that makes opposition to ID intellectually fatal.

Papalinton said...

Both were interesting articles.

Baggini's was economical, pertinent and concise. Unlike Baggini, Torley engaged an Apologetical tenor in his exposé. His piece sought to exegetically interpret Paley's work from his perspective. And that is fine as far as it goes. Equally, Torley seemed more focussed on redressing perceived myths of Paley's work rather than address the claim Hume did indeed anticipate not so much what Paley wrote, but rather the principles upon which Paley relied to draw his inferences. And that deals with Torley's 'anachronism' charge.

I think Baggini is right on this score. There is little ripple out there. Despite Torley's revision, little has changed and Hume's work remains the singularly foremost treatise in refuting Paley's intelligent designer proposition.


Dan Gillson said...

Crude,

That's not Hume's argument. SEP's article on Hume on the Argument from Design is helpful. If you want to examine the relevant portion of The Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, you'd find that both Hume's skeptic (Philo) and Hume's fideist (Demea) agree against Hume's design theorist (Cleanthes), you can't infer design or a designer from the world. According to both Demea and Philo, God and his nature are ineffable; you can't get to God through empirical reason. The reader is meant to conclude that the only two positions vis-à-vis the existence God are skepticism and fideism.

Crude said...

Dan,

According to both Demea and Philo, God and his nature are ineffable; you can't get to God through empirical reason.

Right, this is crucial, and the SEP entry drives home the point I'm making here I think. Here's a quote straight from it:

Hume's line of reasoning criticizing the argument from design presents theists with a basic and seemingly intractable dilemma in respect of their idea of God. On the one hand, theists such as Cleanthes want to insist that the analogy between this world and human productions is not so slight and maintains, on this basis, that God in some significant degree resembles human intelligence (D, 3.7–8/154–5). The difficulty with this view, as we have seen, is that it leads to “a degradation of the supreme being” by way of an arbitrary anthropomorphism that involves idolatry that is no better than atheism (D,2.15/146,3.12–3/156, 4.4–5/160, 5.11/168). On the other hand, if we follow mystics, such as Demea, we end up no better off than sceptics and atheists who claim that we know nothing of God's nature and attributes and that everything about him is “unknown and unintelligible” (D, 4.1/158). Hume's sceptical technique in the Dialogues, therefore, is to play one group of theists off against the other, showing that both their positions end up as nothing better or different from the atheism that they both claim to abhor.

What's crucial is you say 'You can't get to God through' empirical reason / this design argument. But... that's exactly what the ID proponents concede about ID.

Which circles right around to the problem I'm having. People point at Hume and say 'Aha, he disproved the design argument!' But his disproof of the design argument was to kick up dirt and expand the list of candidates for designers way beyond God. Except ID proponents grant this right out of the gates - in fact, it's arguably fundamental to their entire project intellectually.

Dan Gillson said...

Crude,

I have a hard time seeing how you've arrived at your conclusion. Hume isn't dealing with modalities and logically possible designers, he's dealing rather narrowly with the inference from how the world appears to us to the conclusion that this appearance was contrived on our behalf.

Dan Gillson said...

I think I see you problem Crude. Hume grants that the conclusion that the world is the product of a designer could be true apart from the premises. Hume, however, is concerned merely with the premises. Hume himself draws the skeptical conclusion that therefore there is no designer, but that doesn't mean that the fidesit is impelled to accept it, as is illustrated by the character of Demea, who denies the premises as well but affirms that the conclusion is true. Hume's gnu atheist epigones probably read him as refuting the argument from design in toto, but Hume that was something that Hume never claimed to do. He hedges because he can't refute the conclusion.

Crude said...

Dan,

Hume grants that the conclusion that the world is the product of a designer could be true apart from the premises. Hume, however, is concerned merely with the premises.

Well, that's the problem. As near as I can tell - again, reading the SEP entry you pointed me at - Hume grants that the world can be (accent on the can be) the product of a designer, consistent with the premises. Hume's main line of attack at this point is to argue that the spread of possibilities for such a designer goes beyond 'God'. His secondary line of attack is to argue that 'God' must absolutely be so alien in His being/mind that such analogies can't do much work in proving His existence.

Let me put it to you this way. Let's say Cleanthes is arguing to the existence of a designer. Not necessarily 'God' but simply 'a designer' which ranges in possibility from 'God' to 'aliens' to 'several gods' to otherwise. What does Hume argue to rebut this? Because as near as I can tell - and again, I could be missing something - the answer is 'nothing.' Hume has no reply. Which would mean that the design proponent who wants to get to God by Cleanthes' argument doesn't get that far, but he moves in that direction. Or at least, he rationally can feel he's moved in that direction (putting aside for a moment classical theist concerns.)

Dan Gillson said...

Crude,

Hume isn't saying that the conclusion can be consistent with the premises, he's pointing out that the premises for the Argument from Design are invalid. However, Hume's granting of the conclusion is nothing more than an avoidance of the Bad Reasons Fallacy: just because an argument is invalid doesn't mean that the conclusion is false. If the conclusion is true apart from the premises, that is, if Cleanthes's conclusion is right, it is a lucky accident. His primary line of attack has nothing to do with arguing for a spread of other possible designers; it's to show that an argument to a designer based on the appearance of the adjustment of means to ends in nature is invalid.

Anyways, I'm curious as to what either in Hume or in the SEP article makes you think your reading of Hume's argument is correct. Perhaps the difficulty lies in matters of interpretation.

Crude said...

Dan,

His primary line of attack has nothing to do with arguing for a spread of other possible designers; it's to show that an argument to a designer based on the appearance of the adjustment of means to ends in nature is invalid.

You say invalid, but what does that mean here? Because I think it's undeniable that Hume's way of showing that this is 'invalid' is by exploring other possibilities, some of them purely logical - including 'arguments from other designers', 'incidents of bad design', 'the raw logical possibility that any given incident of apparent design is due to an unguided nature' etc.

But that's the thing. Hume disputes Cleanthes by pointing at the existence of alternate possibilities and countervailing evidence. But neither suffice to show that not only the conclusion isn't wrong but that the *reasoning* isn't wrong. To put it another way, it's logically possible that OJ did not kill his wife. You can point at some evidence against this possibility too. And if your argument is that OJ and OJ alone is the only possible culprit, showing these things will defeat that argument. But if you're arguing that it's reasonable to infer that OJ killed his wife, these examples won't suffice - sure, it's possible, but it's still reasonable to come to the initial conclusion.

Anyways, I'm curious as to what either in Hume or in the SEP article makes you think your reading of Hume's argument is correct. Perhaps the difficulty lies in matters of interpretation.

"Hume's point is that there are other analogies that are no less plausible than that which Cleanthes has suggested. These other analogies do not suggest that the cause of this world is something like mind or human intelligence. Clearly, then, the atheist may concede that there is some remote analogy between God and human minds and still insist that there remain other analogies and hypotheses that are no less plausible. The conclusion to be drawn from this is that all such analogies are so weak and “remote” that God's nature remains an “inexplicable mystery” well beyond the scope of human understanding (D, 12.33/227; cp. NHR, 15.13)."

That illustrates that A) Hume is not arguing that the reasoning is invalid, just that it's not automatically right, B) the reason it's not automatically right comes from the existence of competing analogies, and C) he leans heavily on a particular view of God - which goes out the window if one is arguing for general design with God simply being one among a spread of possibilities, or if one simply bites the bullet Hume is offering and accept that yes, God and man are univocal in that respect.

Dan Gillson said...

Crude,

Cleanthes's argument is invalid because the conclusion doesn't follow from the premises, which Philo demonstrates. Cleanthes argues that the adjustment of means to ends in nature resembles the productions of human contrivance. Therefore, we can, by analogy, conclude that these adjustments are the products of an intelligence like our own, but much more magnificent. The analogy isn't between the productions of nature and human intelligence, it's between the principle of productions or orderings. The trouble with Cleanthes's argument is that it reasons a posteriori on the basis of the effects or productions of a human mind. Philo merely presses that point: we know from experience, i.e., a posteriori, that when we see the products of intelligence, we ascribe human agency as a cause. This is valid because we observed this species of cause and effect "a thousand and and a thousand times." However, our experience with this universe is unique. We don't know a posteriori whether its originating principle--its first cause--is found in matter itself, or in some divine intelligence, or in some other originating principle. That we don't know a posteriori what the first cause of the universe is undermines Cleanthes argument. Therefore, the inference to a designer, if it's based on an a posteriori argument, is invalid. Perhaps what you're trouble was was your not seeing the sort of argument to which Hume was responding.

That's how Hume preempted Paley's argument. Paley's argument is necessarily inductive; there can no immediate inference to a designer because all such inferences are mediated by human experience.

Dan Gillson said...

tl;dr: Cleanthes argues that we can know a posteriori the originating principle of the universe; Philo argues that we can't. Philo represents Hume's views. Since Hume doesn't think that we can infer design based on a posteriori knowledge, Hume isn't in the ID corner.

Crude said...

Dan,

However, our experience with this universe is unique. We don't know a posteriori whether its originating principle--its first cause--is found in matter itself, or in some divine intelligence, or in some other originating principle. That we don't know a posteriori what the first cause of the universe is undermines Cleanthes argument.

I don't think this works, since Cleanthes is attempting to reason about what the cause of our universe is to begin with. He's pointing at some aspects in common - he makes his analogical arguments - and reasons to a conclusion. Hume's main response here seems to be that Cleanthes is not necessarily right, and there are other alternatives in the offing. But Cleanthes can concede that.

I should explain at this point - I'm not saying necessarily that Hume himself endorsed this argument, or concluded there was a designer. My understanding is his thoughts on that matter are regarded as murky. I'm saying where the argument ultimately leads - and I don't think a plea of uniqueness undercuts the argument. Especially since it's an open question of how to define our universe (if we go the Bostrom route and regard our universe as a simulation, then as of right now 'design' doesn't just win, it wins hands down. If we are open-ended about it, then Cleanthes' view is still in the offing from his premises - there's just complicating factors.)

Dan Gillson said...

Crude,

Demea, Cleanthes, and Philo all agree that the cause of the universe is God, though Philo hedges by saying, "whatever that may be." Cleanthes is assuming, along with the other two, that the cause of the universe is a Deity, but he is arguing not only that we can know a posteriori that this Deity exists, but that we can know part of his nature, viz., "[H]is similarity to human mind and intelligence." By pointing out that we can't know a posteriori either that God exists or anything about his nature--that an argument from analogy is not only weak and prone to error, but that it also can be used to support another position--Philo is undermining Cleanthes's claim.

The uniqueness of the universe factors into Philo's argument a counterpoint to Cleanthes's claim that we can infer design a posteriori, that is, from experience. From experience, we know that watches, tables, and chairs have makers as causes, because we've observed that species of cause and effect "a thousand and a thousand times." When it comes to the cause and effect of the universe, we have nothing to compare. We can't, a posteriori, empirically, or from experience, determine the cause of the universe.

Crude said...

Dan,

Cleanthes is assuming, along with the other two, that the cause of the universe is a Deity, but he is arguing not only that we can know a posteriori that this Deity exists, but that we can know part of his nature, viz., "[H]is similarity to human mind and intelligence."

Right, but there's two kinds of knowledge here that I think are relevant: certain and probablistic knowledge. Cleanthes seems to be maintaining the latter - it's not that he believes his argument cannot be wrong even in principle, but it's that given what we know and the power of his analogy, we can hold a tentative inference pending future input.

Again, Hume's other dialog puppets fire back at Cleanthes about the spread of possibilities regarding the designer - maybe the designer is imperfect, maybe there's more than one designer, etc. I think that's done for a reason.

From experience, we know that watches, tables, and chairs have makers as causes, because we've observed that species of cause and effect "a thousand and a thousand times." When it comes to the cause and effect of the universe, we have nothing to compare.

Yet Cleanthes' point is an analogical comparison. Call the universe unique if you like (though I think I gave some responses that calls that into question) - but it's still a thing which can be compared on the basis of its similarities to other things. That's exactly why the uniqueness argument doesn't shut Cleanthes down - even the SEP entry points out that Cleanthes continues from that point, and the dialog partners allow that, which is why they move on to claims about anthropomorphizing and alternate designers.

Dan Gillson said...

Crude,

The reason for which Hume's dialog puppets talk about "the spread of possibilities regarding the designer" is to show that "the man who … assert[s] or conjecture[s] that the universe arose from something like design … is left afterwards to fix every point of his theology by utmost license of fancy and hypothesis." It's a reductio ad absurdum, not an argument in favor of multiple, anthropomorphic designers.

Consider the point that the uniqueness argument doesn't shut Cleanthes's argument down taken. Cleanthes goes on to argue anyways, much like Paley did, that the inference to a designer is immediate and self-evident.

Crude said...

Dan,

It's a reductio ad absurdum, not an argument in favor of multiple, anthropomorphic designers.

I think it's only going to work as a reductio insofar is someone is not willing to accept the spread of possibilities being mentioned. Yes, if you accept the spread of designers, you're opening the door to quite a lot of things, and the argument is not going to get you to God alone (I know, classical theists would say, God at all. Putting that objection aside for now.) But if you accept that spread, I don't think the reductio shows up.

Cleanthes goes on to argue anyways, much like Paley did, that the inference to a designer is immediate and self-evident.

I think that depends what you mean here. Inference to a designer as in God? Or designer as in 'a designing mind(s), whatever it may be'? I know Cleanthes wants to get to God, I know his argument doesn't do that. But progress is progress.