Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Hume on the Existence of God

Katie Perry
April 26, 2016
Section 4


There are many questions in philosophy to which no satisfactory answer has yet been given. But the question of the nature of the gods is the darkest and most difficult of all…. So various and so contradictory are the opinions of the most learned men on this matter as to persuade one of the truth of the saying that philosophy is the child of ignorance…
   Cicero, The Nature of the Gods

Many philosophers would consider themselves theists: Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, Spinoza, and many more. Each had his own reasons for believing in an Almighty God. For example, Aquinas believed in the “uncaused-cause” argument, which explained that there must be a cause to the universe or else the alternative is that nothing caused it, which makes no sense. However, a popular belief during the time of these prominent philosophers and even today is that God must exist because we exist. We are complex beings, and there is no way that we are simply here by chance because everything has a purpose. Take a watch for example: the watch did not simply appear on it’s own. Something – or someone – put it together for a specific purpose, which is to tell time. Take any object for that matter: cars, houses, cell phones. Someone designed these things and put them together in order for them to serve a purpose.

Now think of human beings – or any living organism for that matter. How much more complex are we then a watch? This line of thinking has allowed many people to come to the conclusion that God – or at least a Creator – exists. This was not enough evidence to convince David Hume. He strongly contradicted this line of thinking – commonly known as the Design Argument - by arguing that just because something simply looked designed doesn’t mean that it is. He thought that making assumptions based on “logic” was not wise, for we can only perceive truth by what we see. In fact, he expresses his thoughts through one of his famous quotes:

“A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.” 
   David Hume

Hume did admit that the Design Argument was most likely the most convincing one to prove the existence of a God; however, it was his intention throughout his works to play the skeptic and disprove this theory – because that is all this argument is. In Part II of his work The Dialogues, he presents an interesting thought that challenges what we perceive as God:

“But surely, where reasonable men treat these subjects, the question can never be concerning the being, but only the nature of the Deity. The former truth, as you well observe, is unquestionable and self-evident. Nothing exists without a cause; and the original cause of this universe (whatever it be) we call GOD; and piously ascribe to him every species of perfection. … But as all perfection is entirely relative, we ought never to imagine, that we comprehend the attributes of this divine Being, or to suppose, that his perfections have any analogy or likeness to the perfections of a human creature. (D,2.3/142)”

So do you agree with the Design Argument or do you take the side of David Hume?


Below is a link to an analysis of David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.
David Hume: Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion - Summary and Analysis

1 comment:

  1. If we could ever actually experience an instance of universe-creation, the watch analogy might begin to be persuasive. Hume would still insist that a single instance does not support such a sweeping generalization. "I don't know" was for him the safest of all conclusions. It would be interesting to see what he'd have said about Design if he'd lived to consider Darwin's hypothesis. Probably wouldn't have thought it even superficially appealing.

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