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David Hume`s Position on the Existence of God

Hume 's Stance on God 's Existence

One of the most prominent axioms that concretize the existence of God is encapsulated by Design Argument . David Hume is a major proponent in refuting such argument . Hume 's basic tenets in debunking the existence of God is highlighted in his posthumous work entitled Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion . This philosophical enterprise will focus on Hume 's dissolution of Design Argument in to elucidate his postulate that God existence is an immaterial consequence

Let us look first at the arguments that Hume brought to bear against

the Design Argument . Hume 's Dialogues were published some twenty-three years before Paley 's Natural Theology , but , oddly , Paley 's work made no reference to Hume 's arguments . Students can easily get the impression that Paley wrote first , and then later Hume criticized Paley-type arguments , but that is not the case . [The oddness is compounded by the fact that Paley 's other work in the philosophy of religion , A View of the Evidences of Christianity (1794 , did explicitly respond to Hume 's argument against miracles in the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748 )]

In the Dialogues , Hume first presented a powerful version of the Design Argument through the mouth of his character Cleanthes

Look round the world , contemplate the whole and every part of it : you will find it to be nothing but one great machine , subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines , which again admit of subdivisions to a degree beyond what human senses and faculties can trace and explain All these various machines , and even their most minute parts , are adjusted to each other with an accuracy which ravishes into admiration all men who have ever contemplated them . The curious adapting of means to ends , throughout all nature , resembles exactly , though it much exceeds , the productions of human contrivance - of human design thought , wisdom , and intelligence

These are the facts , Cleanthes says . Next comes his argument from analogy

Since therefore the effects resemble each other , we are led to infer , by all the rules of analogy , that the causes also resemble , and that the Author of nature is somewhat similar to the mind of man , though possessed of much larger faculties , proportioned to the grandeur of the work which he has executed

But then Hume went on , through his character Philo , to present a famous and brilliant critique of the Design Argument . I will explain and discuss five of Hume 's arguments

Causality of the Designer

If the cause of the universe is the mind of some sort of intelligent designer , Hume said , then why can 't we ask who or what caused that mind What licenses design arguers to stop the regress once they get to the designer ? Doesn 't the exhibited in minds require explanation as much as the that we see in the universe ? Thus Hume asked : how 'shall we satisfy ourselves concerning the cause of that Being whom you suppose the Author of nature ? Have we not the same reason to trace [the regress past the Designer to] a new intelligent principle But if we stop and go no farther , why go so far ? why not stop at the material world ? How can we satisfy ourselves without going on in infinitum ? HYPERLINK "JavaScript :doPopup 'EndNote 'Page_101_Popup_2 .html 'width 480 ,height 384 ,resizable yes ,scrollbars yes " In other words , if your principle is that all requires explanation , then if you fail to ask about the exhibited by mind , you have dismissed the principle (to borrow Schopenhauer 's jibe ) `like a hired cab

Now when Schopenhauer and others raise this same objection to have a clear answer : the regress stops once we arrive at a necessary being This is because the question Who made x (where x is a necessary being ) makes no sense . But there is no such appeal available to the design arguer , and Hume was surely right that there is no deductively compelling way to argue that the regress must stop at the designer . For all we can tell from the Design Argument alone , the designer of the universe might well have had a maker

But this is not the end of the matter . For one thing , it should be pointed out that explanations in terms of mind or intention or agency seem to be particularly intellectually satisfying in cases such as these . The question Who made the watch ' can be answered quite satisfactorily in terms of an intelligent watchmaker without that answer demanding an answer to the question , Who made the watchmaker (Hume himself made this very point ) So in cases where we are trying to account for apparent , explanations in terms of the intentions of an intelligent agent typically constitute acceptable stopping points

Designed Universe Presupposes Coherency

That is , Hume argued that any universe will look designed to its denizens , whether it is or not . Thus Hume said

Every event , every experience , is equally difficult and incomprehensible and every event , after experience , is equally easy and intelligible . Whenever matter is so poised , arranged , and adjusted as to continue in perpetual motion , and yet preserve a constancy in the forms , its situation must , of necessity , have all the same appearance of art and contrivance which we observe at present . It is vain therefore , to insist upon the uses of the parts in animals or vegetables , and their curious adjustment to each other . I would fain know how an animal could subsist unless its parts were so adjusted

There are fascinating thoughts here . It is quite true that any universe that is regular and ly enough to produce living organisms especially living organisms intelligent enough to formulate thoughts like Our world was designed by a Designer , must seem designed to those intelligent organisms . But that admission gives Hume 's point away because the very fact being noted by the design arguer is the existence of a world of sufficient stability and to produce such organisms in the first place . Although no one would be there to observe it , the world could easily have been far more irregular and unstable than it in fact is . We can easily imagine worlds far less regular and law-like than ours . And so it is a significant fact that our world is so regular as to produce intelligent organisms who can notice that fact (We will return to this point later in the chapter when we discuss the anthropic principle

Soundness of an Argument does not Translate to Truth

Hume 's point here was that even if the Design Argument is an entirely successful theistic proof , the designer whose existence will have been proved is far from the God of theism . For if your view of the designer is formed simply by the argument itself , there is no reason to hold that the designer is unique , that is , that there is but one designer . There is no reason to hold that the designer is infinite or perfect . There is no reason to hold that the designer is incorporeal . There is no reason to hold that the designer is everlasting or even still exists today . The designer must be very powerful and knowledgeable , of course , but why omnipotent or omniscient ? Indeed , the world itself might strike some design arguers as being (as Hume said ) `very faulty and imperfect . Such a person might well conclude that the world `was only the first rude essay of some infant deity who afterwards abandoned it , ashamed of his lame performance

Much of what Hume says here is correct . If one is doing natural theology alone , that is , if one argues simply from the analogy on which the Design Argument is based and eschews revealed theology , the God of theism surely need not emerge at the end of the Design Argument . There is nothing in a sound Design Argument that is inconsistent with the God of theism , of course , but the proved designer or designers of the world need not be God . If one is looking for a proof of God , one can certainly use the Design Argument , but must look to other arguments or evidence as well

But suppose the Design Argument is entirely successful . Suppose that we have proved the existence of a very powerful , very intelligent designer of the universe , or several of them . That would be a philosophically and theologically highly significant conclusion . The atheists will have been proved mistaken . Naturalism will have been proved wrong

But a bit more even than this can be said in response to Hume 's objection . If a designer of the universe were proved to exist , it would then be natural to ask about its properties . For example , we could ask Is the designer corporeal ? On this point it is possible to support the idea that the designer is like the God of theism . As Peter Payne says Physically embodied designers would seem to be dependent upon the fundamental laws of physics and hence could hardly be invoked to explain them

We could also ask : Is the designer unique , or are there more than one of them ? Richard Swinburne argues on grounds of simplicity that one designer is superior to a plurality . He also argues that considerations of simplicity support the postulate that the designer is infinite in power , knowledge , and freedom . If there is more than one designer exactly how many are there ? And why do they cooperate ? Those questions do not need to be asked if there is but one designer . I will not stop to evaluate Swinburne 's arguments , but the main point I want to make is that nothing prevents a successful design arguer from turning to other arguments to try to prove that the designer is God . Those arguments , of course , may or may not be successful . The Design Argument would then become an important part of a cumulative case for theism

Existence of Evil Posits the Imperfection of the Designer

Similarly , Hume argued that if one practices pure natural theology and reaches conclusions about the designer only on the basis of the Design Argument , the existence of evil and suffering in the world ruins the Design Argument as an argument for the existence of a morally good designer . The evidence for design plus the evil that we see do not together suggest the existence of an all-powerful and morally good designer . For if the designer were omnipotent , it would have the power to create a world devoid of useless and undeserved suffering and if it were morally perfect , it would surely want to create such a world . Why then is there so much suffering ? Hume 's character Demea at one point in the Dialogues suggested a theodicy based on the idea of ultimate rectification . God will insure in the end that all pain will be repaid all ills will be healed , and all injustice will be rectified . But neither this theodicy nor any other , Hume said , follows from the evidence of design itself . `A mere possible compatibility [between the misery in the world and divine goodness] , Hume said , `is not sufficient . You must prove these pure , unmixed , and uncontrollable attributes from the present mixed and confused phenomena [that is , from the evidence of design that we observe in the world] , and from these alone . The mere possibility that the problem of evil can be solved cannot by itself establish the claim that the world 's designer is good

Again Hume seems to have been essentially correct in his main contention . Arguing from the evidence of design that we see in the universe does not by itself produce a solution to the problem of evil The most sensible conclusion probably is that we do not know the moral properties of the world 's designer , and that other arguments and evidence must be appealed to in hopes of solving that problem . Suffice it to say that nothing prevents a successful design arguer from trying to argue , on other grounds , that the designer of the world is both all-powerful and perfectly good

False Analogy

The Design Argument , at least the older versions of it , are all based upon an analogy . The universe is like a watch in certain crucial ways it is said therefore , the universe , like the watch , was probably designed . Hume 's fifth argument is essentially the point that the analogy is too weak to support the inference to a designer . The universe is not like a watch . Of course all arguments from analogy presuppose dissimilarities watches surely are quite different from the universe But that fact by itself does not ruin the Design Argument . More to the point , in places Hume suggested that the universe is more like an organism (say , a plant or animal ) than a machine . Furthermore , Hume said , the universe is an absolutely unique thing nothing else is like it . So no arguments based on comparing the universe to something else can be convincing . Finally , we observe only a tiny spatio-temporal speck of the universe . How can we infer the need of a designer from that kind of sample

Here is a way of clarifying Hume 's point : The Design Argument might be a good argument if we had experience of , say , 100 universes , all of which seemed designed in the same ways as ours does , and if we knew that 99 of them were designed by a designer . Then it would be appropriate to infer by analogy that our universe (the one about which we do not know whether it was designed ) was in fact designed . But of course the expression `the universe ' is meant to include everything real experienced or unexperienced by humans , and so the very idea of there being `100 universes ' is incoherent . There are certainly other possible universes and I have no objection to talking , in modal contexts , of `possible worlds . But there is only one actual universe . Since then we have nothing analogous to the universe with which to compare it , the Design Argument is based upon a weak analogy and accordingly fails

Now some of Hume 's points here are correct , but for reasons that I will give , they do not constitute a refutation of the Design Argument . The fact is that all arguments from analogy are inherently unstable and person-relative . Probably any x is similar to any y in certain ways , and dissimilar in others . I might think that x and y are analogous , and even analogous enough to support a certain inference , and you might not . If I base an argument upon the analogy that I see between x and y , the danger is that you may with good reason reject my argument because you simply do not see the analogy , or enough of one . Presumably the reason Hume (through Philo ) suggested that the universe is more like an organism than a watch or house is because we know that watches and houses were designed but we do not know this with organisms

But several of Hume 's points are simply false . The universe may be a unique thing , but not all of its members , properties , or processes are Some events and things in the universe are quite similar to other events and things in the universe . Moreover , we certainly can argue to conclusions about the entire universe and its origins , whether it is absolutely unique or not . Cosmologists do this very thing as a crucial part of their science . Big Bang theory , as well as its competing hypotheses , would be ruled out of court if Hume were correct . Scientists would be quite unable to reach rational inferences about the age or size or rate of expansion of the universe . As Richard Swinburne points out since the human race is apparently unique , physical anthropologists would be unable to reach rational conclusions about its origin and development

Furthermore , everything is unique in some ways . Presumably Bill Clinton is unique in lots of ways - for example , he is the only former governor of Arkansas to be elected President of the United States between 1990 and 1995 - but it would be odd to suggest that no argument from analogy could accordingly reach any proper inferences about him . This is obviously because even unique things have properties in common with other things

And while it is true that we experience only a small part of the universe , it is quite mistaken to suggest , as Hume did , that we cannot argue from parts to the whole . The fundamental laws governing the parts of the universe with which we are familiar also (so far as we can tell govern the whole . Notice that we 've only experienced a small part of the matter of which the universe consists but since all the matter we 've experienced consists of molecules , we have no hesitation in concluding that all the matter in the universe consists of molecules

Is the universe like a watch ? In some ways it surely is . But is it enough like a watch to support the inference that it , like a watch , must have been designed by a mind ? Is it more like a watch than it is like an organism ? These are difficult and complicated questions . Hume 's fifth argument is often taken as his most crucial objection to the Design Argument . I do not think it refutes the Design Argument , but perhaps that is because I am one of those persons who sees significant similarities between the universe and a watch . To those who do not see those similarities , older Design Argument 's will not be convincing

Essentially the answer to it is that Hume is of two minds about epistemic relations between evil and theism , ambivalence reflected in contemporary analytic philosophy of religion . On the one hand , within the framework of the standard debate , Hume , as Philo , makes out a powerful case against the orthodox theistic attribution of moral qualities to God - his justice , benevolence , mercy , and rectitude [said] to be of the same nature with these virtues in human creatures - thus against the concept of God essential to OT . Among the lasting effects of this is the ascendancy of negative evidentialism within analytic philosophy of religion . But , on the other hand , Hume , also as Philo , tempers that effect but without retracting any of the points made in favor of moral atheism , inasmuch as such a limited intelligence [i .e , a human being] must be sensible of his own blindness and ignorance , and must allow that there may be many solutions of those phenomena which will forever escape his comprehension

Furthermore , in a related vein , and in his own voice , Hume maintains that it seems evident that the dispute between the skeptics and dogmatists is entirely verbal , or , at least , regards only the degrees of doubt and assurance which we ought to indulge with regard to all reasoning and such disputes are commonly , at the bottom , verbal and admit not of any precise determination . The latter points contextualize Philo 's successes by reminding us of their location within a framework that is not self-evident and is open to doubt . And it is that doubt about the capacities and limits of human understanding that is the wellspring of the current skeptical defenses of theism against arguments from inscrutable evil . In effect , then , Hume 's two-mindedness reflects two levels of discourse - the first level reflects the assumptions of the standard debate , while the second level reflects a skepticism about the first level - and both are represented within contemporary analytical philosophy of religion . On the first level we engage directly with the problem of God and evil , but on the second level serious questions are raised about our ability in principle to make the kind of progress that , on the first level , we think we can make . And in the current debate , those second-level misgivings work to theism 's advantage

Works Cited

ADDIN EN .REFLIST Cummins , R , and David Owen (1999 . Central Readings in the History of Modern Philosophy , Toronto : Wadsworth Company

Cummins and Owen provides a well elucidated account of Hume 's philosophical stance on the existence of God specifically on the discussion of causality . This book highlights some of the prominent strenght and weaknesses in Hume 's arguments

Hume , D (2006 . Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion , Hard

p This philosophical construct is the major contributor in this since the author is the main subject of the . Hume provides a concise exposition of religion and God with some reference to his arguments in A Treatise of Human Nature

Hume , D (2006 . A Treatise of Human Nature , Hard

p This book serves as the foundation of the whole since all arguments Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is directly taken from this book . Hume outline five basic arguments which apparently shows his stance on God 's existence and on Design Argument

Kessler , G . E (1999 . Philosophy of Religion : Toward a Global Perspective , Toronto : Wadsworth Company

Kessler helps in the furtherance of Hume 's dichotomization of evil and theism , which eventually leads in the strenghtening why Design Argument is too dismal in validating the ontology of God

Locke , J (2006 . An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding , Oxford Clarendon

p Locke provide some arguments in support and in contrast to Hume 's philosophy , especially on the discussion of Design Arguemnt and on the elucidation of God 's ontology

Matson , W (1987 . A New History of Philosophy , Philadelphia : Harcourt College

Matson provides a little assistance on the understanding of Hume 's philosophical thought , but this book of him serves as an idiot 's guide by presenting the basic premises and arguments of Hume 's Treatise

Yandell , K . E (2004 . Philosophy of Religion , New York : Routledge

Yandell gives an extensive explanation of Hume 's treatise specifically on the elucidation of how Design Argument commits false analogy and , how evil and theism contributes on the ontological discussion of God Hume , David . Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion ,

. 34

Ibid , pp . 52-55

Ibid , pp . 38-41

Kessler , Gary E . Philosophy of Religion : Toward a Global Perspective pp . 102-103

Cummins , Robert and David Owen . Central Readings in the History of Modern Philosophy , pp . 69-74

Hume , Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion ,


Ibid , pp .83-84

Ibid , pp . 18 , 21-5 , 42-3 , 47-8 , 50

Kessler , Gary E . Philosophy of Religion : Toward a Global Perspective br

. 111

Hume . Dialogues ,

. 63

Ibid ,


Ibid , pp . 81-82


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