HUME'S CRITIQUE OF THE "ARGUMENT FROM DESIGN"
In light of advances in the biological sciences over the last decades, and the more accurate and detailed models of biological structures these advances have occasioned, microbiologist Michael Denton provides a powerful reformulation of the original "Argument from Design":
"The eerie artefact-like character of life and the analogy with our own advanced machines has an important philosophical consequence, for it provides the means for a powerful reformulation of the old analogical argument to design which has been one of the basic creationalist arguments used throughout western history -- going back to Aristotle and presented in its classic form by William Paley in his famous watch-to-watchmaker discourse.
"According to Paley, we would never infer in the case of a machine, such as a watch, that its design was due to natural processes such as the wind and rain; rather, we would be obliged to postulate a watchmaker. Living things are similar to machines, exhibiting the same sort of adaptive complexity and we must, therefore, infer by analogy that their design is also the result of intelligent activity.
"One of the principle weaknesses of this argument was raised by David Hume, who pointed out that organisms may be only superficially like machines but natural in essence. Only if an object is strikingly analogous to a machine in a very profound sense would the inference to design be valid. Hume's criticism is generally considered to have fatally weakened the basic analogical assumption upon which the inference to design is based, and it is certainly true that neither in the eighteenth century nor at any time during the past two centuries has there been sufficient evidence for believing that living organisms were like machines in any profound sense.
"It has only been over the past twenty years with the molecular biological revolution and with the advances in cybernetic and computer technology that Hume's criticism has been finally invalidated and the analogy between organisms and machines has at last become convincing. In opening up this extraordinary new world of living technology biochemists have become fellow travellers with science fiction writers, explorers in a world of ultimate technology, wondering incredulously as new miracles of atomic engineering are continually brought to light in the course of their strange adventure into the microcosm of life. In every direction the biochemist gazes, as he journeys through this wierd molecular labyrinth, he sees devices and appliances reminiscent of our twentieth-century world of advanced technology. In the atomic fabric of life we have found a reflection of our own technology. We have seen a world as artificial as our own and as familiar as if we have held up a mirror to our own machines.
"The almost irresistible force of the analogy has completely undermined the complacent assumption, prevalent in biological circles over most of the past century, that the design hypothesis can be excluded on the grounds that the notion is fundamentally a metaphysical a priori concept and therefore scientifically unsound. On the contrary, the inference to design is a purely a posteriori induction based on a ruthlessly consistent application of the logic of analogy. The conclusion may have religious implications, but it does not depend on religious presuppositions..." (Michael Denton, Evolution - A Theory in Crisis, Burnett Books, London, 1985, pp. 339-342).