Categorized | Religion, Science

How David Hume’s Critique of the Design Argument Survives for Three Centuries (Part 2)

(Continued from Part I)

Chaotic Universe

More recent findings in astronomy, for instance, substantiate Hume’s assumptions of a chaotic universe rather than an orderly one. Astronomers contend that the universe used to be crowded and disorderly; stars were more massive as they die rapidly and detonate after millions of years. These explosions result to newer and heavier elements, spawning new stars, less massive, but multiplying amidst chaos. Stephen Hawking, in his book “A Brief History of Time”, explains that the universe is congested and limited in extent, with no beginning or end (1988). However, many of us assume that the orbits of stars and planetary bodies take defined movements which have been ‘properly spaced’ so as moving matters in space may glide in ‘safety.’

Conversely, for many billions of years, planetary objects have been traveling in changing paths and orbits, consequently colliding and crashing onto each other. The ‘order’ we perceive now as we gaze at the stars is just a result of planetary bodies which toppled obstructive matters off their paths. Surprisingly, these orbits were random, as astronomers assert that the elliptical course is the most dangerous of all paths. Most collisions in the universe result from aberrations in shape, path or movement.

The Dangers of an Ellipse

If design were intelligent as god applied it to his ‘creation’ of the universe, a circular orbit is safer for a celestial body to move across space. “If all the orbits were nearly circular,” scientist Rolling T. Chamberlain affirms “only a few of the separate bodies moving in them would come into collision with one another” but because the orbits take an elliptical shape, conflicting much in contour and dimensions, particles in space have high prospect of colliding against each other (2001). Stars do not just return to their original positions in space due to the infinite movements of heavenly bodies as the stars and other matters disperse into interstellar space. This results to the thinning out of the universe in which stable orbits do not subsist. Likewise, Hume reiterated that the universe has no a semblance at all on complex human made machines as artifacts are designed for a purpose. On the contrary, the universe has an unclear function (Poidevin 1996). While on the surface the universe may seem to suggest order, it is difficult to surmise its apparent function. The famous biologist J.B.S. Haldane once replied to a reporter who queried what his research on genetics suggested about the deity. Haldane replied that “He must have an inordinate fondness for beetles,” referring to the numerous species of these insects existing for no perceptible function other than for the purpose of reproduction.

Defying Anthropomorphism

Hume also showed us that it is apparently easy to compare things found in our world and yet, we have nothing to compare our universe to as it is the only one we know that infinitely exists. Thus, it defies logic to compare a whole to a part of a whole and vice versa. We may perceive a god present in the universe at all times, but this comparison does not provide scientific value. It is remote that theology and other social sciences can actually benefit from it. Hume emphasized that the analogy between the minds of humans and the mind of an omniscient being is ‘anthropomorphic.’ Nature in general is mindless rather than ‘intelligent.’ It is credulous to interpret the mind of god using the human mind as an equivalent.

As the product of an anthropomorphic philosophy always results to a close look at the finite god, Hume demonstrates through his propositions that if the argument from design is seriously considered, most of us will come to the conclusion that the god who controls the universe entirely differs from the concept of the god/gods of organized religions. As there has been a dearth of valid arguments on how all- knowing and perfect the designer is, we have to assume his abilities and traits manifested in the universe he designed and created. Bertrand Russell, one of greatest thinkers of the previous century, summarized these attributes and capabilities in a more telling fashion, ‘If I had millions of years of time and infinite power and had come up with the universe as we know it, I should be ashamed of myself.”


Chamberlain, Rolling T. (2001) “The Origin and Early Stages of the Earth,” in The Nature of the World and of Man, p. 37.

Gaskin,J.A.C. (1779). Dialogues concerning Natural Religion in: Dialogues and Natural History of Religion, ed. (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). Page references are to this edition.

Hawking, Stephen (1988). A Brief History of Time. Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-38016-8.

Hume, D. (1739-40) A Treatise of Human Nature: being An Attempt to introduce the experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects in two volumes

Norton, D. F. (1993). Introduction to Hume’s thought. In Norton, D. F. (ed.), (1993). The Cambridge Companion to Hume, Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-32

Poidevin, Robin Le. (1996). Arguing for Atheism, (New York: Routledge,), p. 85.

Sober, Elliot. (2003). “The Design Argument” p. 27-54 in (Manson 2003).

Swinburne, Richard. (1991). The Existence of God (NY: Clarendon)

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.