PHILOSOPHICAL LANGUAGE & THOUGHT
David Hume addressed the Design Argument in his famous book, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779). The book was published after Hume's death, because attacking religious beliefs was considered a sensitive subject.
The book takes the form of a play, in which three characters debate religion.
A very small part of this great system, during a very short time, is very imperfectly discovered to us; and do we then pronounce decisively concerning the origin of the whole? - Philo
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 - PHILO
Philo suggests alternatives to the machine analogy. Based on the ideas of the Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, Phil proposes that the world might be a chance arrangements of atoms.
Yes, the Ancient Greeks knew about atoms. "Atom" means "indivisible" or "unsplittable" (which, we learned in the 20th century, isn't true). Of course, atoms were just a speculation in Hume's time. Hume calls this idea "the Epicurean Hypothesis".
It must happen, in an eternal duration, that every possible order or position must be tried an infinite number of times - Philo
This world, for aught he knows, is very faulty and imperfect, compared to a superior standard - Philo
[This world] was only the first rude essay of some infant deity, who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance - Philo
it is the work only of some dependent, inferior deity; and is the object of derision to his superiors
it is the production of old age and dotage in some superannuated deity; and ever since his death, has run on at adventures, from the first impulse and active force which it received from him
Philo points out that the mind of every intelligent designer in human history has had a physical body. If we take the analogy between God and man seriously, God's mind should also be contained in a body.
The Design Argument leads, not to a belief in a single, all-powerful, spiritual God, but instead to a belief in a team of physical gods who are very imperfect, with human passions and needs - rather like the 12 Greek gods of Mount Olympus.
The whole presents nothing but the idea of a blind Nature, impregnated by a great vivifying principle, and pouring forth from her lap, without discernment or parental care, her maimed and abortive children! - Philo
The breadth of Hume's analysis is staggering. He covers every type of criticism of the Design Argument, both of its validity and its soundness, with great imagination and wit. Modern-day critics like Richard Dawkins are only recycling Hume's arguments from the Dialogues. Hume's criticisms are just as devastating for modern analogies, like "Junkyard Tornado" or the bacterial flagellum.
Hume's criticisms attack the use of analogy and the anthropomorphisation of God. These two features of the Design Argument continue today, in the fine-tuning argument and in Intelligent Design. Nothing new has been added to the structure of the Design Argument since Hume's day and Hume shows this structure is invalid.
Hume was writing when the sciences had only just begun to reveal the structure and laws of the universe. We have a much clearer picture of design now. Hume's arguments about not being able to apply Earth's laws to the rest of the universe or his "Epicurean Hypothesis" about randomly-colliding atoms have been refuted by modern scientific understanding. That's why philosophers are reappraising the Design Argument today.
Hume is attacking the religious believers of his own day (represented by Cleanthes and Demea), but arguments have moved on since then. The Design Argument isn't used today to demonstrate the truth of the Christian religion. It doesn't pretend to be a deductive proof: believers like Richard Swinburne argue cumulative experience shows God is more probable than not.