Tuesday, May 10, 2011

David Hume:  Intelligent Design

Chapter two gets into intelligent design arguments which has always been a straight forward product of inductive reasoning.  The only way to overcome it is to produce a direct assault on inductive reasoning.  Since Hume has already indicated a preference to the Academic's mode of argument, his character Philo proceeds in this fashion:

"That a stone will fall, that fire will burn, that the earth has solidity, we have observed a thousand and a thousand time; and when any new instance of this nature is presented, we draw without hesitation the accustomed inference.  The exact similarity of the cases gives us a perfect assurance of a similar event; and a stronger evidence is never desired nor sought after.  But wherever you depart, in the least, from the similarity of the cases, you diminish proportionably the evidence; and may at last bring it to a very weak analogy, which is confessedly liable to error and uncertainty." - Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

At this point we must note that the vast majority of human intelligence is of the inductive sort: accumulating data and doing pattern recognition.  An important minority of reasoning is associated with deductive reasoning, but no human could function relying on deductive reasoning alone.  The argument is that inductive reasoning cannot be applied outside of the immediate realm of human experience, and creation is by definition something outside of human experience.  So what does that leave?

"Thought, design, intelligence, such as we discover in men and other animals, is no more than one of the springs and principles of the universe, as well as heat or cold, attraction or repulsion, and a hundred others, which fall under daily observation.  It is an active cause, by which some particular parts of nature, we find, produce alterations on other parts."

Philo has dumped the pretense of the classical Academic for another mask.  He is insisting that we know the super natural intelligence that was needed to create the technological wonders of life reside in nature alone.  We are now back to a non-personal intelligence that resides directly in nature after the fashion of stone age shamanism.  This is more or less the beliefs of the Epicureans, who played a most important role in the classical era, but Hume has conveniently not mentioned them by name.  Hume uses the disputes between the Ptolemaic and Copernican models of the universe to support his idea that even though intelligent design had seemed plausible for eons, something else could take its place.  Again, the Epicureans cry out for attention:  They believed that the sun and moon were about the size that they appeared to us, which was treated with derision by all the other sects of philosophy.  A modern mechanics specialist really doesn't care whether the sun is the center of the solar system or Obama's dog is the center:  We put our inertial coordinate systems where ever we want.  The Epicureans, however, were in a league all their own based on the degree of their ignorance and the conceit with which they boasted of the scientific certainty that compelled their long winded explanations.  Deductive logic was something that the Epicureans were proud of, yet their deductive logic was all founded on erroneous presuppositions.

That Hume would use an Academic to lead us to an Epicurean mode of thinking should be highlighted, given that his book is patterned after Cicero's work, On The Nature of the Gods.  Cicero's Academic character is far more contemptuous of the Epicurean than the Stoic.

1 comment:

Max Coutinho said...


Obama's dog? LOL LOL come on...poor Bo!

So basically: human intelligence may not be that intelligent, and deductive logic is subjective (if not in possession of the whole information; which humans rarely are).

Should we bother continuing to develop our intelligence through deduction, logics and other instruments? Yes, because the more we realise we are wrong the closer we get to the Truth.

Excellent piece.