Argument IV

An argument from uniqueness - this argument received one of its most famous versions in Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. According to this argument, the project of theistic natural theology cannot get off the ground because there is no framework in which we can test the plausibility of theism over against its alternatives. In the Dialogues, Hume reasons that we may well reach conclusions about the cause of some object, such as a house, because we have seen many houses built in the past. But when it comes to the cosmos itself, we have no reference point by which to weigh alternative hypotheses.

But how this [design] argument can have place, where the objects, as in the present case, are single, individual, without parallel or specific resemblance, may be difficult to explain. 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. (Hume 1988, p. 21)

According to Hume, when we compare the cosmos itself to human artifacts and speculate about whether the cosmos resembles an artifact, we are simply moving from what we are familiar with in a commonsense context to form an analogy that is far beyond what we can properly evaluate.

If we see a house, . . . we conclude, with the greatest certainty, that it had an architect or builder; because this is precisely that species of effect, which we have experienced to proceed from that species of cause. But surely you will not affirm, that the universe bears such a resemblance to a house, that we can with the same certainty infer a similar cause, or that the analogy is here entire and perfect. The dissimilitude is so striking, that the utmost you can here pretend to is a guess, a conjecture, a presumption concerning a similar cause. (Hume 1988, p. 16)

This line of reasoning is used by Hume to undermine an argument from design.

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