The 18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume was a leader of the Enlightenment. He was a renowned empiricist who is often credited with destroying the argument from design. But this characterization may not be entirely accurate. Did Hume accept the argument from design for God’s existence? Did he believe that the order we observe in the universe “proves” an omnipotent mind behind it all?
Larry Arnhart, a conservative blogger, includes the following in a post from earlier this year:
... the common assumption that Hume was an atheist is, I think, mistaken. While criticizing "false religion," Hume defended the "true religion" of "philosophical theism." Although he criticized many of the extravagant claims made for the argument from design--the same argument that is today made for "intelligent design theory"--Hume did accept a qualified version of the design argument.
Near the end of his Treatise of Human Nature, Hume wrote: "The order of the universe proves an omnipotent mind; that is, a mind whose will is constantly attended with the obedience of every creature and being. Nothing more is requisite to give a foundation to all the articles of religion, nor is it necessary we should form a distinct idea of the force and energy of the supreme Being."
At the end of his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hume sketches his philosophical theism in the language of his character Philo: "If the whole of Natural Theology, as some people seem to maintain, resolves itself into one simple, though somewhat ambiguous, at least undefined proposition, That the cause or causes of order in the universe probably bear some remote analogy to human intelligence ...
This assumes, of course, that his fictional character, Philo, fairly represents Hume’s own ideas. It is also true that he goes on to state that any intelligent being inferred from Natural Theology would have no bearing upon human beings. Nevertheless, Hume, often represented as the atheist who destroyed the argument from design, apparently saw some legitimacy in the argument from design.
A tip of the hat to Bradford at Telic Thoughts.