Weighing religion and secularism

The Browser interviews Anthony Gottlieb, former Executive Editor of The Economist, and historian of ideas at the CUNY Graduate Center about God, reason, and the enduring power of faith in the modern world. An excerpt:

AG: … You have to read Hume as well to understand the flaws in the theistic argument from design.

B: And what is it particularly that Hume offers that goes to the heart of the matter?

AG: Well there are a couple of things. One of the key ideas is he shows that if you are going to argue by analogy – which is the way the argument from design usually works – that is that you take the analogy of a watch, for example, found lying in a forest. Then you would say to yourself, this watch cannot have come together by chance. Somebody must have designed that and made it. There must have been a god for this watch, a creator for this watch. Well by analogy you might also say, now look at nature, surely it wouldn’t work in this way unless there was designer who made it… Now one of the many things that Hume points out is wrong with this kind of analogy is that even if you accept the analogy in principle, it still wouldn’t get you to the sort of God we’re after, but only a superior intelligence, who had made the world and the creatures in it. This superior intelligence wouldn’t necessarily be everlasting, omnipotent, omniscient…

B: And would require a designer…

AG: Well that’s one of the clinchers. If you’re going to ask where everything comes from and who designed it, you really do have to ask the same of God, so if you put forward God as the explanation for nature, you’re also going to have to ask who made God.

B: Yes, a devastating argument. And the finishing touch, isn’t it, is that if a designer requires no designer then why does nature require a designer? What is the need for God at all?

The interview covers Spinoza, Hume, Phil Zuckerman’s book Society Without God (“a study of a very particular phenomenon – which is religion in Scandinavia today”), the book Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide by Pippa Norris and Roy Inglehart, and God is Back: How the Global Revival in Faith is Changing the World by John Micklethwaite and Adrian Wooldridge.

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