Order and Design

  • J. C. A. Gaskin
Part of the Library of Philosophy and Religion book series (LPR)


The occurrence of purpose or order in the natural world provides, in both pagan and Christian traditions, by far the most widely used and generally accepted ground for arguing from the world to the existence of an intelligent and powerful designer-god. The argument, in various forms, is to be found in Plato, Xenophon and Cicero; in Aquinas, Newton and Berkeley; and in almost all eighteenth-century attempts to establish the reasonableness of religion.1 Paley’s version of it was recommended reading for most undergraduates throughout the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century the argument still has philosophical advocates and thrives in the reflections of scientists who feel that their ability to describe the intricate working of the world argues that it is in some way the product of an intelligence vastly greater than but in some respects similar to the human. Thus Einstein is able to write that the scientist’s ‘religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection’.2 It is the various forms of the design argument, some of which still give rise to thinking of this sort, which Hume subjects to searching and devastating criticism in Section XI of the Enquiry,3 and throughout the Dialogues.


Rational Agent Intelligent Agent Natural Object Moral Attribute Brute Fact 
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Copyright information

© J. C. A. Gaskin 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. C. A. Gaskin
    • 1
  1. 1.Trinity CollegeDublinIreland

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