My Wishes

Religion is considered false by the wise

  1. Home
  2. Wedding Anniversary Wishes
  3. Religion is considered false by the wise
Religion is considered false by the wise
August 23, 2019 Wedding Anniversary Wishes 4 comments

r/atheism: Welcome to r/atheism, the web's largest atheist forum. All topics related to atheism, agnosticism and secular living are welcome here.

For most members of the LDS Church, camping was a religious rite. and partly false. The EPA has two tiers of drinking.

Have religions killed a greater proportion of people than Nazism. And consider ideas that, if they turn out to be false,

Aug 1, 2019. You'll discover lines on life, love, happiness, simplicity, religion, education, words of wisdom quotes wise man never loses anything has himself michel. The first point of wisdom is to discern that which is false; the second,

Showing a fresh willingness to play politics along religious lines, President Donald Trump said. saying her grandmother.

Difference Between Atheism And Paganism Biodun Aiyegboyin: So, how did your journey into atheism or agnosticism start. The Quran, like the Old Testament, is filled with hateful and bigoted verses. The difference between Islam and. Bible Baptist Church Fort Pierce Florida St. Stephen’s Episcopal, ppd. to Sep 7. DeSoto County vs. Lehigh, ppd. Dixie County vs. Jefferson County, ccd. Dunbar vs. South Fort

In matters of religion, too, I found my liberal instincts reinforced. At the same time, as a Hindu, I appreciate the fact.

I am telling you that among us there is no room for muezzins, for minarets, for false abstinence, for their screwed up.

Have religions killed a greater proportion of people than Nazism. And consider ideas that, if they turn out to be false,

In the creation of the worker-martyr, Ruskin bridges the rift between the secular and the religious. In colonized places, a.

But there are still plenty of places that have either rolled back the rights of lesbians, such as Russia under President.

Feb 20, 2018. Billy Graham's granddaughter sends a wise message to her famous uncle. February 20. What it means to 'get' religion in 2020. September. is just not trustworthy a { false Prophet } on a #FAKE NEWS Channel And paper…

Nov 15, 2017. Admittedly, this religious rite is not a normal part of our life as Gentiles. God spoke through Jeremiah, “Thus says the Lord, 'Let not a wise.

Author Michael Crichton’s notion that environmentalism is “the religion of choice for urban atheists. the rest of the.

For some people denim jeans are considered as comfortable. Parasuco, Calvin Klein, True Religion, Diesel S.p.A., DL1961 Premium Denim, Dolce & Gabbana Srl, Paper Denim & Cloth, Edwin, Esprit.

. become aware of other misattributed or false statements that have been cited as. to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. Congress will do every thing they can to assist you in this wise intention; and to.

34 “Therefore, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers of religious law. But you will kill some by crucifixion, and you will flog others with whips in.

Mar 29, 2017. Positive thinking, which originated in pagan religions such as Hinduism, is a very popular practice in the world, but it (like many other unbiblical.

Here humanity seems to find themselves in religion. The inverted state that Marx focuses on now works the other way around.

Game called faith-based conversion therapy "false advertising" to Post & Courier on Friday. LGBTQIA+ community and.

Some religious practices. to otherwise have a very good mind. A person considered psychotic is more normal than many people think. The ability of the human mind to believe things that are obviously.

The moment the religious population of the world begins to see the prophets what. False prophets come in sheep's clothing, borrow a garb of truth to conceal. other living creatures be considered as proper objects for Divine Providence!

Oct 12, 2017. He would join a religious order, he promised, if only she would save his life. wrote his theses, the elector of Saxony was Frederick the Wise.

False prophets are becoming more prominent in today's age of tolerance and rebellion. to religious leaders of the popular earn-your-way-to-heaven efforts; false. The Bible warns us not to be bitter about this, but to be wise and discerning.

Mar 14, 2017. But what specifically do we do with a religion such as Hinduism? As always, we “ answer the fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” (Prov. 60) But Brahman is also considered to be the creator. “Brahma.

What was once considered taboo, is now recognized and increasingly valued. due to the opposition it would engender from traditional religious and secular Jewish communities. But that is changing.

Jesus Christ Superstar Focus On The Family Airing from 8-10:23 p.m., “Jesus Christ Superstar Live” drew a 1.7 rating in adults. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (0.8, 1.8 million) was down slightly, while “Family Guy” (0.9, 2.1 million) was even. “Last. List Of Gospel Songs For Black History Month Mar 17, 2016. 12 tunes to uplift and inspire through Women's History Month—and beyond. Here's a brief list of

Apr 19, 2018. First Nation, Métis and Inuit religions in Canada vary widely and. The Haudenosaunee celebrate the Green Corn Ceremony, and some follow the False Face Society. Among the Abenaki, for instance, Bear is considered one of six. Wise men bearing gifts become grand chiefs bearing pelts, and the.

Religion In Nazi Germany What will I learn? The ways in which Hitler controlled the Church The ways that the Nazi Government controlled the Jewish population. It’s videos like this, that paint religious Jews as the "other. in a controversial video in 2015 comparing the county to. In German, Nazi mirrors the term Sozi, a common and slightly derogatory term. He concluded

For some people denim jeans are considered as comfortable. Parasuco, Calvin Klein, True Religion, Diesel S.p.A., DL1961 Premium Denim, Dolce & Gabbana Srl, Paper Denim & Cloth, Edwin, Esprit.

I have heard that the sense most closely associated with memory is the sense of smell. If this is true, then perhaps it explains the many pleasing feelings that.

Bible Baptist Church Fort Pierce Florida St. Stephen’s Episcopal, ppd. to Sep 7. DeSoto County vs. Lehigh, ppd. Dixie County vs. Jefferson County, ccd. Dunbar vs. South Fort Myers, ppd. East Bay vs. Riverview, ppd. to Sep 7. Estero vs. Cape. Gateway vs. Poinciana, ppd. to Aug 30. Legacy Charter vs. Faith Baptist, ppd. to Aug 30. Montverde Academy vs. Ocala Trinity Catholic, ccd.

Dec 7, 2017. The word shows up in Acts 13 to name a Jewish false prophet, Elymas; the major. The wise men brought a number of gifts for Jesus: gold, may have found comfort with relatives in this center of Jewish religious belief, and.

God Bless America Hymn we are removing Kate Smith’s recording of ‘God Bless America’ from our library and covering up the statue that stands outside of our arena." The Yankees said the team also was no longer playing. For 18 years, Yankee Stadium regularly used Kate Smith’s 1939 recording of “God Bless America” in the middle of the seventh inning. But they

May 9, 2019. There are many false gods mentioned in the Old Testament and some Bible Scholars believe they may have been demons in disguise.

In the creation of the worker-martyr, Ruskin bridges the rift between the secular and the religious. In colonized places, a.

Explain how Jehovah views those who try to fuse true religion with false. 10 “ The early Christians,” notes The World Book Encyclopedia, “considered the celebration of anyone's. (1 Corinthians 10:31; see the box “Making Wise Decisions.

“Kids regularly bring up that Clemson is a fit for them, principle-wise. The things that Dabo believes are in line with what.

Historian and minister Logan encourages readers to see the dangers of “false witness” among Christians, especially when.

Church of Divine Influence: Alignment with the Divine Will of the Wise. The term is usually reserved to refer to false teachings considered so serious that.

Jan 14, 2014. What if most modern arguments against religious belief have been. In other words, that wisecrack about how atheists merely believe in one.

That Satan labours might and main, by false teachers, which are his messengers and ambassadors, to deceive, delude, and for ever undo the precious souls of.

64 quotes have been tagged as organized-religion: John Lennon: 'I believe in “ Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and . all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false .

Hume on Religion

religion is considered false by the wise

As regards Pirahas,  am positing the following is from a draft methodological chapter from a new intellectual history of Jewish law that I am writing.  This new history is based on a non-modernist and non-postmodernist assertion and illustration of our ability to understand others' contextual intent instead of being misled by their words -- even across cultures and time:

In order to buttress this explanation for the commonality of human choices as differing due to context in contrast to the explanation of cultural boundedness, consider how the context explanation better explains the conduct of a society that is widely but mistakenly held up as evidence that people can be limited by their culture – the Piraha (of Brazil).[1]  We can explain not only this society’s failure to count objects in the classic sense, to use pronouns, to tell creation myths and to write – but even its refusal to make changes.  Instead of hubristically explaining the Piraha's allegedly “anomalous” unwillingness to “progress” as due to cultural-boundedness (as claimed by anthropological imperialists), we can explain their behavior pragmatically:

a.       The reason that they refuse to learn to count in the classic sense (numbers) is because they would experience no benefit and only experience loss in learning to count.  First: they live in a tight-knit society of mutual barter and exchange of services (in lieu of trade), a society in which the pettiness of counting would interfere with their internal mutual support.[2]  Second: they face a lack of real bargaining power with European traders so that an attempt to count would lead to failed confrontation.

b.      Their refusal to learn to write maintains their interpersonal contact and also their dependence on each other; it maximizes the benefit that can be drawn from their highly interwoven communitarian society. In fact: if they were to lose that, they would not only lose the benefits of their society.  Rather, they would be more at prey to European traders.[3]

c.       The reason that they have no creation myths (and of course no history, which is not found in any foraging society[4]) is not because they are culturally limited.  Rather, they have no need for creation myths because they live in a resource-rich environment of consistent climate, with personal supportive human interaction.

In this book’s methodology, the Piraha failure to count objects in the classic sense, to use pronouns, to tell creation myths and to write are all behaviors with which each one of us can identify.  It is the behavior that most people would adopt if they found themselves living in a communitarian foraging society in which people all know each other by name, live in a consistent climate, and live with limited power against people with threatening interests.

To clarify, this is not a naturalist claim that there are “correct” universals for every single human being.[5]  Rather, this book is based a two-fold claim.  One: as humans we each notice our own experiences regardless of language and culture.[6]  Two: regardless of the dominant language and culture, we share enough experiences as HomoSapiens to empathetically notice the needs of others who play out the same range of needs very differently in radically different environments.[7]  This commonality of human experience explains, for example, how Jewish immigrants to Israel from Arab countries showed a 20-point gain in their IQ tests after one year;[8] empathetic human commonality allowed them to quickly grasp the ways of a new and alien culture[9] and to internalize those ways to the point of relating to those ways successfully under the pressured conditions of timed tests.[10]  Thus, the claim that it is either impossible to understand concepts that presuppose interests remote from those that we have and or that it is at least so difficult to do so that a person can master only a fraction of the interest-dependent concepts that pertain to different human societies[11] is erroneous.  As immigrants reveal, the “affective and cognitive consistency” that is the result of “the residue of long biographies of cognitive transactions”[12] can be surpassed easily.

[1] Contra Everett 2005, 621-634.


[2] Cf. Hamminga 2005, 86-87 on African culture.  Note: this is not to say that the Piraha do not notice significant differences in sums.  In line with all people (and with many animal species) the Piraha presumably perceptually subitize quantities of objects.  (For more on perceptual subitization, see Dehaene 1997, 66-72; et al.)


[3] Of course, there are also advantages to written communication.  Just as speech allowed hominids to maintain larger groups in which individuals spend more time away from each other on protein foraging than did cattarhini’s limited tactile and vocal social grooming (Aiello and Dunbar 1993, 185, 190-191) so does written communication extend that advantage.  However, under present conditions, the Piraha can find no resource/economic advantage in attempting to extend their reach over a larger area.


[4] This point is not made in any of the responses to Everett’s article printed in the same issue. 


[5] As Richard Rorty pointed out, some people are tone-deaf, some people are philosophy-deaf, and some people are religion-deaf (Rorty and Vattimo 2005, 39). [Similarly, just as “poetic thinking” is both varied within a culture and this range is similar cross-culturally (ibid), so is theistic feeling varied among individual personalities and is not merely a matter of cultural formation (contra Rorty 1989, 59-68).]


[6] Wittgenstein does point out correctly that when a person recognizes an object he does not see it interpretively, “as such”, but rather sees it the way it serves in the culture – as for example a fork, wrench or the letter x.  However, this is not due to society but rather experience.  After all, Wittgenstein also grants that one can see the same object in more than one way based on experience – so that I can look at a given object and see both a pipe wrench and a nutcracker (Wittgenstein 1980, 2 §515-517; Wittgenstein 1953, Ixi; Wittgenstein 1992, 44-46).  In fact experience is so critical according to Wittgenstein that it can lead to borrowing terms from an existent social language in order to create a private vocabulary (Murphey 1994, 195-197).


[7] For example, from the perspective of evolutionary psychology, humans and less developed organisms are hard-wired for both revenge and forgiveness.  However, the actual utilization of either option will depend upon the circumstances of the material and interactive world in which one lives (McCullough 2008, xvii, xviii, xix, 226).

It is true that sex differences are fixed in brain structure differences due to sex chromosomes (Witelson and Kigar 1992, 326-340; McCormik and Witelson 1994, 525-531; Witelson, Glezer, and Kigar 1995, 3418-3428; and Witelson, Kigar, and Harvey 1999, 2149-2153).  Nonetheless; in spite of evolutionary pressures that led to significant size differences between different structures of the standard male and female brain (Lindenfors, Nunn, and Barton 2007, 20; Dunbar 2007, 21), all healthy humans men and women share all the same brain structures and tend to be able to understand each other when they try to do so (at least, for the most part).


[8] Bereiter and Engelmann 1966, 55-56.


[9] Cf. Escandell-Vidal 1996, 634.


[10] This is not to deny that some people prefer to hold on to their old ways, especially when their previous identity included more significant or rewarding roles (for example, see Remenick and Shakhar 2003, 87-108).


[11] Raz 1999, 133.


[12] Sniderman, Brody, and Tetlock 1991, 115.




Permanent link: https://philpapers.org/post/9166Reply

words for anniversary wishes
Wedding wishes cards for facebook
if girl wishes good luck respond
Simple and nice birthday wishes
slogans on birthday wishes
Wish you all the best my love quotes
after wedding wishes
Best wishes to bride and groom

Religious Language

religion is considered false by the wise

Is the United States a "Christian nation"? Some Americans think so. Religious Right activists and right-wing television preachers often claim that the United States was founded to be a Christian nation. Even some politicians agree. If the people who make this assertion are merely saying that most Americans are Christians, they might have a point. But those who argue that America is a Christian nation usually mean something more, insisting that the country should be officially Christian. The very character of our country is at stake in the outcome of this debate.

Religious Right groups and their allies insist that the United States was designed to be officially Christian and that our laws should enforce the doctrines of (their version of) Christianity. Is this viewpoint accurate? Is there anything in the Constitution that gives special treatment or preference to Christianity? Did the founders of our government believe this or intend to create a government that gave special recognition to Christianity?

The answer to all of these questions is no. The U.S. Constitution is a wholly secular document. It contains no mention of Christianity or Jesus Christ. In fact, the Constitution refers to religion only twice in the First Amendment, which bars laws "respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," and in Article VI, which prohibits "religious tests" for public office. Both of these provisions are evidence that the country was not founded as officially Christian.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

— First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

The Founding Fathers did not create a secular government because they disliked religion. Many were believers themselves. Yet they were well aware of the dangers of church-state union. They had studied and even seen first-hand the difficulties that church-state partnerships spawned in Europe. During the American colonial period, alliances between religion and government produced oppression and tyranny on our own shores.

Many colonies, for example, had provisions limiting public office to "Trinitarian Protestants" and other types of laws designed to prop up the religious sentiments of the politically powerful. Some colonies had officially established churches and taxed all citizens to support them, whether they were members or not. Dissenters faced imprisonment, torture and even death.

These arrangements led to bitterness and sectarian division. Many people began agitating for an end to "religious tests" for public office, tax subsidies for churches and other forms of state endorsement of religion. Those who led this charge were not anti-religion. Indeed, many were members of the clergy and people of deep piety. They argued that true faith did not need or want the support of government.

Respect for religious pluralism gradually became the norm. When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, for example, he spoke of "unalienable rights endowed by our Creator." He used generic religious language that all religious groups of the day would respond to, not narrowly Christian language traditionally employed by nations with state churches.

While some of the country's founders believed that the government should espouse Christianity, that viewpoint soon became a losing proposition. In Virginia, Patrick Henry argued in favor of tax support for Christian churches. But Henry and his cohorts were in the minority and lost that battle. Jefferson, James Madison and their allies among the state's religious groups ended Virginia's established church and helped pass the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty, a 1786 law guaranteeing religious freedom to all.

We the General Assembly of Virginia do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

— Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty

Jefferson and Madison's viewpoint also carried the day when the Constitution, and later, the Bill of Rights, were written. Had an officially Christian nation been the goal of the founders, that concept would appear in the Constitution. It does not. Instead, our nation's governing document ensures religious freedom for everyone.

Maryland representative Luther Martin said that a handful of delegates to the Constitutional Convention argued for formal recognition of Christianity in the Constitution, insisting that such language was necessary in order to "hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism." But that view was not adopted, and the Constitution gave government no authority over religion. Article VI, which allows persons of all religious viewpoints to hold public office, was adopted by a unanimous vote. Through ratification of the First Amendment, observed Jefferson, the American people built a "wall of separation between church and state."

Some pastors who favored church-state union were outraged and delivered sermons asserting that the United States would not be a successful nation because its Constitution did not give special treatment to Christianity. But many others welcomed the new dawn of freedom and praised the Constitution and the First Amendment as true protectors of liberty.

Early national leaders understood that separation of church and state would be good for all faiths including Christianity. Jefferson rejoiced that Virginia had passed his religious freedom law, noting that it would ensure religious freedom for "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, the infidel of every denomination."

Other early U.S. leaders echoed that view. President George Washington, in a famous 1790 letter to a Jewish congregation in Newport, R.I., celebrated the fact that Jews had full freedom of worship in America. Noted Washington, "All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship."

Washington's administration even negotiated a treaty with the Muslim rulers of north Africa that stated explicitly that the United States was not founded on Christianity. The pact, known as the Treaty with Tripoli, was approved unanimously by the Senate in 1797, under the administration of John Adams. Article 11 of the treaty states, "[T]he government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…."

The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion...

— U.S. Treaty with Tripoli, 1797

Admittedly, the U.S. government has not always lived up to its constitutional principles. In the late 19th century especially, officials often promoted a de facto form of Protestantism. Even the U.S. Supreme Court fell victim to this mentality in 1892, with Justice David Brewer declaring in Holy Trinity v. United States that America is "a Christian nation."

It should be noted, however, that the Holy Trinity decision is a legal anomaly. It has rarely been cited by other courts, and the "Christian nation" declaration appeared in dicta, a legal term meaning writing that reflects a judge's personal opinion, not a mandate of the law. Also, it is unclear exactly what Brewer meant. In a book he wrote in 1905, Brewer pointed out that the United States is Christian in a cultural sense, not a legal one.

A more accurate judicial view of the relationship between religion and government is described by Justice John Paul Stevens in his 1985 Wallace v. Jaffree ruling. Commenting on the constitutional right of all Americans to choose their own religious belief, Stevens wrote, "At one time it was thought that this right merely proscribed the preference of one Christian sect over another, but would not require equal respect for the conscience of the infidel, the atheist, or the adherent of a non-Christian faith such as Mohammedism or Judaism. But when the underlying principle has been examined in the crucible of litigation, the Court has unambiguously concluded that the individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all."

When the underlying principle has been examined in the crucible of litigation, the Court has unambiguously concluded that the individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all.

—Justice John Paul Stevens

A determined faction of Christians has fought against this wise and time-tested policy throughout our history. In the mid 19th century, several efforts were made to add specific references to Christianity to the Constitution. One group, the National Reform Association (NRA), pushed a "Christian nation" amendment in Congress in 1864. NRA members believed that the Civil War was divine punishment for failing to mention God in the Constitution and saw the amendment as a way to atone for that omission.

The NRA amendment called for "humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Ruler among the nations, [and] His revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government." Ten years later, the House Judiciary Committee voted against its adoption. The committee noted "the dangers which the union between church and state had imposed upon so many nations of the Old World" and said in light of that it was felt "inexpedient to put anything into the Constitution which might be construed to be a reference to any religious creed or doctrine."

Similar theocratic proposals resurfaced in Congress sporadically over the years. As late as 1950, a proposal was introduced in the Senate that would have added language to the Constitution that "devoutly recognizes the Authority and Law of Jesus Christ, Saviour and Ruler of nations, through whom are bestowed the blessings of liberty." This amendment was never voted out of committee. Efforts to revive it in the early 1960s were unsuccessful.

Today, America's religious demographics are changing, and diversity has greatly expanded since our nation's founding. The number of Jews has increased, and more Muslims are living in America than ever before. Other religions now represented in America include Hinduism, Buddhism and a myriad others. In addition, many Americans say they have no religious faith or identify themselves as atheists, agnostics or Humanists. According to some scholars, over 2,000 distinct religious groups and denominations exist in the United States.

Also, even though most Americans identify as Christian, this does not mean they would back official government recognition of the Christian faith. Christian denominations disagree on points of doctrine, church structure and stands on social issues. Many Christians take a moderate or liberal perspective on church-state relations and oppose efforts to impose religion by government action.

Americans should be proud that we live in a democracy that welcomes persons of many faiths and none. Around the globe, millions of people still dwell under oppressive regimes where religion and government are harshly commingled. (Iran and the former Taliban regime of Afghanistan are just two examples.) Many residents of those countries look to the United States as beacon of hope and a model for what their own nations might someday become.

Only the principle of church-state separation can protect America's incredible degree of religious freedom. The individual rights and diversity we enjoy cannot be maintained if the government promotes Christianity or if our government takes on the trappings of a "faith-based" state.

The United States, in short, was not founded to be an officially Christian nation or to espouse any official religion. Our government is neutral on religious matters, leaving such decisions to individuals. This democratic and pluralistic system has allowed a broad array of religious groups to grow and flourish and guarantees every individual American the right to determine his or her own spiritual path or to reject religion entirely. As a result of this policy, Americans enjoy more religious freedom than any people in world history. We should be proud of this accomplishment and work to preserve the constitutional principle that made it possible separation of church and state.

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful. - Edward Gibbon (Originated from a quote by.

False Prophets Quotes

religion is considered false by the wise

1. Religious Philosophers and Speculative Atheists

Interpretations of Hume’s philosophy of religion are often made against the background of more general interpretations of his philosophical intentions. From this perspective, it is not unusual to view Hume’s views on religion in terms of the skepticism and naturalism that feature prominently in his Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40), his first and most ambitious philosophical work. According to an earlier scholarly consensus, prevalent throughout much of the twentieth century, Hume removed almost all the material in the Treatise that was concerned with religion because he was anxious to avoid offending the religious establishment. In his later works, beginning with the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748), Hume began to present his views on this subject in a more substantial and direct manner. This culminates in his Natural History of Religion (1757) and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779; published posthumously) – both of which are entirely on religion. The linkage between these various works, on this earlier scholarly account, is that the later writings on religion are simply an extension and application of the sceptical and naturalistic principles that Hume developed in his earlier writings.

In more recent scholarship, there has been a growing awareness that the earlier scholarly consensus seriously underestimates the irreligious content and aims of Hume’s earlier work - particularly in the Treatise. Moreover, the earlier consensus is liable to overlook the way in which 17th and 18th century theological controversies and debates structure and shape Hume’s entire philosophy — not just his philosophy of religion. Put another way, Hume’s philosophy of religion is now increasingly viewed as integral to his entire philosophical system, rather than as an extraneous outgrowth or extension of earlier concerns and commitments that lack any specific irreligious motivation or orientation.

In the opening paragraph of the last section of the first Enquiry (XII) Hume observes that the central philosophical debate of his day was waged between “speculative atheist[s]” and “religious philosophers” over the question of the existence of God (EU.149/12.1).

This observation highlights that the central debate that shapes Hume’s views on the subject of religion was not the empiricist/rationalist controversy or its “British”/“continental” correlate (this influential but misguided approach to early modern philosophy was introduced by nineteenth century German scholarship in the wake of Kant’s “Copernican Revolution” in epistemology; see Vanzo 2016), but rather a more fundamental dispute between philosophical defenders of Christian belief and their “atheistic” opponents. It is this divide over issues of religion that is especially important for understanding the positions and arguments that Hume presents throughout his philosophical writings.

During the 17th and early 18th centuries British philosophy gave rise to two powerful but conflicting philosophical outlooks. On one hand, this era has been described as “the golden period of English theology” (Stephen 1962, 66) because of the deepening alliance between philosophy and theology. It was, in particular, a major concern of a number of divines at this time to show that basic Christian theology could be provided with a rational defence — one that would ward off all threat of scepticism and atheism. Among the leading representatives of this tradition were Henry More, Ralph Cudworth, John Locke, Samuel Clarke, George Berkeley and Joseph Butler. (More and Cudworth were both Cambridge Platonists.) On the other hand, in opposition to this Christian tradition, there existed a sceptical tradition of which the greatest representative was Thomas Hobbes. Closely aligned with Hobbes was the work of Benedict Spinoza, whose Theological-Political Treatise (1670) and Ethics (1677) pursued a number of perceived Hobbesean themes in a more explicit and radical fashion, including anti-clericalism, biblical criticism, scepticism about miracles, materialism and necessitarianism (see Israel 2001). Almost all the defenders of basic Christian theology during this period had their arguments targeted against the “atheistic” doctrines of Hobbes and Spinoza.

Another important source of motivation for “atheistic” or irreligious thought during this period was the sceptical philosophy of Pyrrho, as presented in the writings of Sextus Empiricus. Pierre Bayle describes the significance of Pyrrhonianism in his influential Historical and Critical Dictionary (1697, 2nd ed. 1702), a work that we know was read carefully by the young Hume. In his article on “Pyrrho” Bayle argues that whereas “natural sciences” and “the state” have no reason to be afraid of Pyrrhonism, things stand otherwise as regards “divine science” (i.e. theology) and “religion,” for the latter, he says, require “certainty,” and so “collapse” when subjected to Pyrrhonian skepticism (Bayle, Dictionary, Note B; p. 195).

Bayle’s own view that philosophy and theology should be sharply separated, on the ground that the doctrines of theology could not be defended by reason and were therefore a matter of faith alone, brought his work under the suspicion of atheism. In general, it was common among Hume’s immediate predecessors and contemporaries to associate scepticism closely with atheism. (Hume’s writings allude to this at various points. See, e.g., MEM, Sect. II, #40; and D, Introduction.)

A significant development in the late 17th century relating to the war against the perceived atheism of Hobbes, Spinoza, and their followers was the establishment of the Boyle Lectures in 1691. These lectures, founded by the distinguished scientist Robert Boyle, served the purpose of defending basic Christian theology against “notorious Infidels,” in particular atheists (see MacIntosh 2006) — a project that had considerable overlap with the project outlined half a century earlier by Descartes in the Letter of Dedication of the Meditations on First Philosophy (1641). By the early 18th century the Boyle lectures had become the focus for the debate between religious philosophers (amongst which the Newtonians emerged as particularly important and influential) and speculative atheists. The most influential of the Boyle lecturers was Samuel Clarke, who was a close friend of Newton’s and widely recognized as the most able defender of Newtonian philosophy and theology. Clarke’s Boyle lectures, published in 1704 as A Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God, developed an elaborate version of the cosmological argument (or “argument a priori” as it was then called), an argument then very much in vogue, having been sketched in influential books like John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Locke and Clarke took the cosmological argument to be capable of demonstrating the existence of God with mathematical certainty. Clarke’s version of this argument enjoyed considerable prestige throughout the first half of the 18th century and found strong support among several Scottish philosophers of considerable reputation at this time. In addition to the cosmological argument, the design argument was also widely endorsed by religious philosophers and scientists at this time, including Newton himself. It is these two alleged proofs for the existence of God that Hume’s philosophical writings are particularly concerned with discrediting.

Hume’s Scottish contemporaries were heavily involved in the general British debate between “religious philosophers” and “speculative atheists.” Prominent Scottish defenders of Clarke-inspired cosmological arguments included Andrew Baxter, and prominent Scottish defenders of design arguments included the Newtonians George Cheyne and Colin Maclaurin. There is little doubt that Hume was well aware of these figures; he was a student at Edinburgh University in the 1720s, where Maclaurin was professor, and as a young man he lived in the Borders area of Scotland, where Baxter was active.

In Hume’s own lifetime his philosophy was widely viewed by Scottish, English and Continental critics in both Scotland and England as being “atheistic” in character and generally hostile to religion, not only on account of late writings like the Dialogues, but also on account of Hume’s early writings, including the Treatise. One of the most significant developments in recent Hume scholarship is the rehabilitation of this earlier view.

2. Empiricism, Scepticism and the Very Idea of God

A good starting point for understanding Hume’s views on theism is his empiricism. The potential for empiricism to produce skeptical conclusions concerning our knowledge of God was already apparent in Hobbes’s work, which embraced similar empiricist principles concerning the foundations of human knowledge. The most striking aspect of Hobbes’s position on this subject is his claim that we have no positive idea of a God with infinite attributes.

Whatever we imagine is finite. Therefore there is no idea or conception of anything we call infinite. No man can have in his mind an image of infinite magnitude, nor conceive infinite swiftness, infinite time, or infinite force, or infinite power … And therefore the name of God is used, not to make us conceive him (for he is incomprehensible, and his greatness and power are inconceivable), but that we may honour him. Also because whatsoever … we conceive has been perceived first by sense, either all at once or by parts, a man can have no thought representing anything not subject to sense… (Hobbes, Leviathan, 3.12)

Consistent with this view Hobbes provides a minimalist and negative theology. According to Hobbes, our idea of God is like a blind man’s idea of fire. A blind man lacks any positive idea of “what kind of thing fire is,” knowing only that fire is “that somewhat” that “warm[eth] him”; analogously, we lack any positive idea of a God with infinite attributes, and understand by “God” only the cause of the world (Hobbes, Citizen, 15.14; Leviathan, 31.15). Attempts to ascribe further positive attributes to God are rejected as anthropomorphism (Hobbes, Human Nature, 11.3; Leviathan, 31.25-28; Citizen, 15.14). Clearly, then, Hobbes employs his empiricist principles to emphasize the “narrow limits of our phantasy,” putting knowledge of a God with infinite attributes beyond the scope of human understanding.

Theists responding to Hobbes’s empiricist scepticism concerning our idea of God had three basic options. One was to reject his empiricist principles concerning the origin of all our ideas and argue that our idea of God is either innate or derived from reason. Another alternative was to accept empiricism about the origin of our ideas but deny that this has any sceptical implications for our knowledge of God. This is the route Locke takes in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, where it is argued that our idea of God is a complex idea arrived at by augmenting simple ideas acquired through reflection on our experience of the operations of our minds. A third alternative, which had been favoured by Catholic and Protestant orthodoxy, was to allow the experiential origin of ideas but then go on to say that ideas of creaturely attributes can be applied to God analogously, on the basis of a supposed degree of similarity or resemblance between God and creatures. This route was taken by, among others, the Irish theologian Peter Browne in Things Divine and Supernatural Conceived by Analogy with Things Natural and Human (1733). This issue concerning our idea of God was fundamental to the whole early 18th century theological debate as it concerned the various schools of “religious philosophers.” During this period freethinking critics (e.g. Toland and Collins) used these difficulties to argue, along the lines of Hobbes, that we have no clear idea of God. Hume’s views about the origins and nature of our ideas should be considered with reference to this controversy.

What is fundamental to Hume’s entire empiricist program in the Treatise is his “copy-principle” or the claim that “all our ideas, or weak perceptions, are derived from our impressions, or strong perceptions, and that we can never think of any thing which we have not seen without us, or felt in our minds” (TA, 16–7/ 647). Hume goes on to observe that this “discovery” is of considerable importance “for deciding all controversies concerning ideas”. “Whenever any idea is ambiguous”, he continues, we always have “recourse to the impression, which must render it clear and precise” (TA, 7/648). If we suspect that “any philosophical term has no idea annexed to it”, Hume suggests, we can always ask “from what impression that pretended idea is derived?” (TA, 7/648–9) If no impression can be produced, we must conclude “the term is altogether insignificant” (TA, 7/ 648).

Given the prominence of the copy-principle in Hume’s philosophical system, and its obvious relevance to the debate concerning our idea of God, it is surprising to find that in the Treatise Hume barely mentions our idea of God, much less provides any detailed account of the nature and origin of this idea. It would be a mistake, however, to conclude from this that theological problems, as they concern our idea of God, are far from his mind. On the contrary, neglecting this topic, in face of the ongoing debate and its obvious relevance for Hume’s philosophy in the Treatise, could be a way of suggesting a (strong) sceptical message.

In the Enquiry, Hume offers a Lockean account of the origination of the idea of God, saying that “[the] idea of God, as meaning an infinitely intelligent, wise, and good Being, arises from reflecting on the operations of our own mind, and augmenting, without limit, those qualities of goodness and wisdom” (EU, 2.6/19; and cp. TA, 26/656; EU, 7.25/72). Here our idea of God is treated as complex and derived from simple ideas based on reflection on the operations of our own minds, which we “augment without limit.” We would be misguided if we took this account at face value, however.

For, to start with, we know from Hume’s private correspondence that he considered the idea of God to be problematic, writing to William Mure in 1743 (i.e., in the period between the publication of the Treatise and Enquiry) that inasmuch as God is not the object of “any Passion or Affection” or of “the Senses or Imagination,” and “very little of the Understanding” as well, it follows that God is “unknown to us” and cannot “excite any Affection” in us (LET, I, 51/#21). Hume goes on to recognize that “enthusiasts” distort God “into a Resemblance with themselves, & by that means render him more comprehensible,” but this, he notes, is a degradation of the idea of God. This take on the idea of God is clearly more Hobbesean than Lockean.

Second, in Enquiry XI Hume presents a critique of our “conjectures” about God’s nature and attributes, as based on evidence of design in this world. In this section Hume emphasizes the point that God’s being is “so different, and so much superior” to human nature that we are not able to form any clear or distinct idea of his nature and attributes, much less one based on our own qualities and characteristics.

The Deity is known to us only by his productions, and is a single being in the universe, not comprehended under any species or genus, from whose experienced attributes or qualities, we can, by analogy, infer any attribute or quality in him… (EU, 11.26 / 144)

In a later passage Hume goes on to remark that God is “a Being, so remote and incomprehensible, who bears much less analogy to any other being in the universe than the sun to a waxen taper, and who discovers himself only by some faint traces or outlines, beyond which we have no authority to ascribe to him any attribute or perfection” (EU, 11.27 / 145–6 — my emphasis). It is, evidently, Hume’s considered view that in respect of our idea of God we lack the relevant impressions that can serve as the origin of this idea.

Third, in Dialogues X Hume goes on to argue, even more radically, that the analogy between creaturely attributes and the supposed attributes of God is not only weak, but breaks down altogether in view of the evil that the theist believes God allows in the world. For since “neither man nor any animal are happy” it follows that an omnipotent God must “not will their happiness,” in which case God’s “benevolence and mercy” cannot in any significant way be said to resemble or be analogous to “the benevolence and mercy of men” (Dialogues, X, 23).

We see then that Hume is in substantial agreement with Hobbes that in respect of our idea of God, our predicament is much the same as that of a blind man trying to form the idea of fire.

3. The Cosmological Argument and God’s Necessary-Existence

In Lucretius’s The Nature of the Universe – which is the greatest classical statement of a system of atheism – it is argued that it is impossible that matter was created and that it must, therefore, be eternal and uncreated. The basis of this argument is the general causal principle: “Nothing can come from nothing” [Ex nihilo, nihil fit.] In the late 17th and early 18th centuries this principle was turned against the Epicurean atheism of thinkers such as Lucretius and his modern counterparts. More specifically, the principle “Nothing can come from nothing” was taken to ground two derived principles of causal reasoning. The first is the causal maxim: Whatever exists must have a cause or ground for its existence. The second principle is that of causal adequacy or the order of causes: No cause can produce or give rise to perfections or excellences that it does not itself possess. These two (derived) causal principles were used by religious philosophers like Cudworth, Locke and Clarke as the philosophical foundation for their own versions of the cosmological argument. It fell to Hume to argue that the causal foundations of this argument were too weak to support the philosophical weight placed upon them.

Hume’s most explicit assault on the cosmological argument appears in Part IX of his Dialogues. In this context, he specifically mentions Clarke and condenses his argument into a few sentences:

Whatever exists must have a cause or reason of its existence; it being absolutely impossible for any thing to produce itself, or to be the cause of its own existence. In mounting up, therefore, from effects to causes, we must either go on in tracing an infinite succession, without any ultimate cause at all, or must at last have recourse to some ultimate cause, that is necessarily existent… (D, 9.3/188 — Hume’s emphasis)

There cannot be an infinite succession of causes and effects without any ultimate cause at all, the argument runs, because this would fail to provide any cause or reason for the whole series or causal chain. That is to say, we need to explain “why this particular succession of causes existed from eternity, and not any other succession, or no succession at all.” Clearly the series cannot be produced by nothing. We may conclude, therefore, that the universe must have arisen from some “necessarily existent Being, who carries the Reason of his existence in himself; and who cannot be supposed not to exist without an express contradiction.” (D, 9.3/189). This necessarily existent being is God.

It is also essential to this argument to prove that the necessarily-existent being cannot be (unintelligent, inactive) matter. Clarke’s argument, as paraphrased by Hume, is based on the contingency of matter and particular form of the world.

“Any particle of matter”, it is said, “may be conceived to be annihilated; and any form may be conceived to be altered.” Such an annihilation or alteration, therefore, is not impossible. (D, 9.7/190)

Another argument that Clarke provides (not mentioned by Hume in the Dialogues) to show that it is impossible for matter to be “the final and original being” is that we cannot explain the origin of motion and intelligence in the world if matter is the first, original self-existing being. The basic principle that Clarke relies on to establish this conclusion is, once again, that “nothing can come from nothing”. In this case the principle is interpreted as implying that “in order of causes and effects, the cause must always be more excellent than the effect.” [Clarke, Demonstration, 38] It is impossible, on this account, “that any effect should have any perfection, which was not in the cause”. On the basis of this principle — the causal adequacy principle — Clarke and other like-minded thinkers maintained that it is demonstratively certain that matter and motion cannot produce thought and intelligence. Therefore, the original, self-existent being must be an intelligent, immaterial being. To suppose the contrary, they claim, would be a plain contradiction.

It is evident that the foundations of this argument rest with the related causal principles that everything must have a cause or ground for its existence and that no effect can have any perfection that is not also in its cause. To deny either of these causal principles is, on Clarke’s account, to reject the more general principle that “nothing can come from nothing” (a principle that the atheists such as Lucretius have themselves acknowledged). In the Treatise Hume develops an account of causation that directly contradicts these causal principles. Contrary to the causal maxim, Hume maintains, it is entirely possible for us to conceive of something beginning to exist without any cause. To deny this implies no contradiction and, therefore, this principle is neither intuitively nor demonstratively certain (T, 1.3.3/78–9). Granting that whatever is conceivable or non-contradictory is possible, it follows that it is possible that there exists a causal series that came into existence uncreated or has always existed without any further cause or ground for its existence.

Just as Hume rejects the claim that it is absurd or contradictory to deny that there must be a cause for everything that comes into existence, he also denies that it is impossible for an effect to have perfections that its cause lacks. Contrary to this view, Hume maintains, “any thing may produce any thing” (T, 1.3.15.1/ 173; 1.4.5.30/247–8; EU, 12.29/ 164). All that there is to causation, as we experience and know it, is the constant conjunction or regular succession of resembling objects. In other words, to say X causes Y is to say that in our experience we discover that objects resembling X’s are always prior to and contiguous with objects resembling Y’s (T, 1.3.14.28–31/ 168–70). Our idea of causation as it exists in the world reaches no further than this. (See the entry on the metaphysics of causation.) On this basis Hume argues:

Creation, annihilation, motion, reason, volition; all these may arise from one another, or from any other object we can imagine. (T, 1.3.15.1/173; cp. 1.4.5.30/247)

In this way, Hume stands Lucretius on his head with a view to refuting those “religious philosophers” who aimed to refute Lucretius’s atheism using his own causal principle:

That impious maxim of the ancient philosophy, Ex nihilo, nihil fit, by which the creation of matter was excluded, ceases to be a maxim, according to my philosophy. Not only the will of the supreme Being may create matter; but, for aught we know a priori, the will of any other being might create it, or any other cause, that the most whimsical imagination can assign. (EU, 12.29n/164n)

Clearly, however, under cover of rejecting Lucretius’s general causal principle, Hume has established that a priori it is not impossible for matter and motion to produce thought and consciousness. On the contrary, not only is it a priori possible for matter to be as “active” as thought and consciousness, and actually produce thought and consciousness, this is exactly what we discover from experience (T, 1.4.5.31/248–9). The clear implication of all this is that there is no basis for the a priori claim that the material world is incapable of activity or producing thought and consciousness. Indeed, experience shows that this claim is actually false. There is, therefore, no basis for the a priori claim that there necessarily exists an original, self-existing being that is an immaterial, intelligent being (i.e., God).

Closely related to Hume’s critique of all efforts to demonstrate the existence of any being by means of a priori reasoning, is his critique of the notion of necessary-existence in general. In the Dialogues Hume explains his position as follows:

… there is an evident absurdity in pretending to demonstrate a matter of fact, or to prove it by arguments a priori. Nothing is demonstrable, unless the contrary is a contradiction. Nothing, that is directly conceivable, implies a contradiction. Whatever we conceive as existent, we can also conceive as non-existent. There is no being, therefore, whose non-existence implies a contradiction. Consequently there is no Being whose contradiction is demonstrable. (D, 9.5/189; cp, EU,12.28–34/ 164–5)

As Hume puts the point in the Treatise, when we believe that God exists our “idea of him neither encreases nor diminishes” — we simply conceive of “the idea of such, as he is represented to us” in a more forceful or vivid manner (T, 1.3.7.2/94; cp. 1.3.7.5n/96n). We join nothing to our idea of his parts or qualities, nor do we have a distinct and separate idea of existence itself (e.g., qua abstract idea). In so far as we have any clear idea of God we can conceive of him existing or not existing. From these observations Hume draws the conclusion that the words “necessary existence, have no meaning; or what is the same thing, none that is consistent” (D, 9.6/190).

Hume applies this point directly to the claim that “the material world is not the necessarily existent Being”. If it is possible to conceive of the material world as not existing the same is true of God: we can imagine him “to be non-existent, or his attributes to be altered” (D, 9.7/190). If God’s non-existence is impossible because of some “unknown inconceivable qualities”, why should we assume that these qualities do not belong to matter? All this puts an end to the efforts of Clarke and likeminded “religious philosophers” to prove that God necessarily-exists.

Another argument that Hume presents, in criticism of the cosmological argument, concerns the assumption that an infinite series of causes and effects requires some explanation or cause for its existence.

… The WHOLE, you say, wants a cause. I answer, that the uniting of these parts into a whole, like the uniting of several distinct counties into one kingdom, or several distinct members into one body, is performed merely by an arbitrary act of mind, and has no influence on the nature of things. Did I show you the particular cause of each individual in a collection of twenty particles of matter, I should think it very unreasonable, should you afterwards ask me, what was the cause of the whole twenty. This is sufficiently explained in explaining the cause of the parts. (D, 9.9/190–1)

The step in this argument that seems most questionable is the claim that because each element in the causal chain has been explained, in terms of some earlier member of the chain, we have “sufficiently explained” why there exists any such chain or why this particular chain exists. Critics will argue that this has plainly not been done. One response to this is argue that it is a philosophical mistake to look for an explanation of this kind, on the ground that a cause must be prior to its effect in time and it is evident that nothing can be prior to a series of causes and effects that is without any beginning or exists for eternity (D, 9.8/190). Related to this point, it may also be argued, more generally, that it is impossible for us to frame any idea of Creation (i.e., God creating the whole world) because our idea of causation presupposes a framework of ideas that already requires the existence of objects in the world (cp.T,1.3.15.1–10/ 173–4). That is to say, it is a mistake to conceive of the cosmological question in causal terms because this takes us beyond the scope of human ideas and understanding. Hume’s general analysis of the nature of causation, as developed in the Treatise and first Enquiry, makes clear that this is his view of this matter. For human beings, therefore, given our epistemological limits, the existence of this world must be treated as a basic brute fact that is incapable (for us) of further explanation.

Finally, Hume’s against the notion of necessary existence have obvious relevance also for Descartes’s effort, in Meditations III, to prove that God necessarily exists by way of reasoning from our (innate) idea of God. Since a priori any thing may cause any thing, it follows that even if we had an idea of a perfect being there would be no basis for the claim that God must be the source of this idea. Similarly, since we have no (abstract) idea of existence, distinct from the conception of particular objects, there is no basis for claiming, as does Descartes in Meditations V, that the idea of God implies his actual existence. Whatever idea of God we are able to frame is an idea of something that we can conceive of as either existing or not existing. Existence is not some further quality or “perfection” which a being possesses along with its other attributes. There is, therefore, no contradiction involved in denying that God exists.

4. The Argument from Design

An obvious limitation of the cosmological and ontological arguments is that they are highly abstract and, while they may convince a few philosophers and theologians, they cannot serve as the basis of religious belief for most ordinary people (D, 9.11/191–2). Things are very different, however, in the case of the argument from design. The defenders of this argument have often claimed that it is so obvious and convincing that even sceptics cannot seriously doubt or deny it (D,3.7/154, 12.2/214). The argument from design is discussed by Hume in Section XI of the first Enquiry and, at greater length, in the Dialogues (Parts II-VIII, XII). There are also several references to the argument from design in The Natural History of Religion (NHR, Intro, 5.2,6.1, 15.1), where Hume presents it as the most plausible and convincing of the various arguments that have been advanced on this topic (cp. LG, 24–6). It is, nevertheless, Hume’s plain intention throughout these works to expose the weaknesses and limitations of this argument.

At the beginning of Part II of the Dialogues Philo, who speaks as the “careless sceptic” and is generally identified as representing Hume’s views, presents a challenge to the orthodox theist position similar to that which Hobbes had presented.

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)

In this way, it is Philo’s position that all we know about God is that he exists (qua cause of the universe) but beyond this we have no idea or understanding of his nature or attributes. “Our ideas”, says Philo, “reach no further than experience: We have no experience of divine attributes and operations: I need not conclude my syllogism: You can draw the inference yourself.” The conclusion is that God’s nature is “adorably mysterious and incomprehensible.” (D,2.4/143)

Philo’s sceptical challenge is met by Cleanthes, who has the role in the Dialogues of presenting and defending the argument from design.

Look around 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… 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, exceeds the productions of human contrivance; of human design, thought, wisdom, and intelligence. 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. (D, 2.5/143 — our emphasis)

The structure of this argument seems clear. (1) There is an analogy or resemblance between the world and man-made machines in respect of their shared features of order, structure, harmony and the evident way that their parts are suited to perform some function or serve certain ends. (2) When we discover an object that has these features (i.e. order, structure, harmony, etc.) we infer that these objects have not just come together by chance. For example, if we discover a watch or a house our experience leads us to believe “that there is an original principle of order in mind, not in matter” (D, 2.14/146; cp. EU, 4.4/26; 5.7/45). (3) The principle that guides this inference is that similar effects must arise from similar causes. (4) It follows from these premises that we can (rationally) infer the existence of God and “his similarity to human mind and intelligence” (D, 2.5/143).

Philo maintains that this argument, although methodologically sound in so far as it is based on experience and not on a priori reasoning, nevertheless falls well short of what it claims to prove. The first point that Philo draws our attention to is the weakness of the analogy between the world and “human productions”. When there is a close resemblance or “exact similarity” among objects then we may infer a similar cause.

The exact similarity of the cases gives us a perfect assurance of a similar event; and a stronger evidence is never desired nor sought after. But wherever you depart, in the least, from the similarity of the cases, you diminish proportionably the evidence: and may at last bring it to a very weak analogy, which is confessedly liable to error and uncertainty. (D, 2.7/144; cp. T, 1.3.12.25/142)

The importance of this for the argument from design is clear. The gap between human artifacts and the whole universe is “vast” (D, 2.8/144, 12.6/216–7, 12.33/227). Any resemblance or similarity of this kind is so remote and slight that all reasoning on this basis is “both uncertain and useless” (EU, 11.23 /142). When we use analogies that are this weak and imperfect then only doubt and uncertainty can result (D, 2.17/147,5.1/165; T, 1.3.12.25/142).

In order to bring out the particular difficulties of the argument from design, and the way in which it has only the façade of ordinary experimental reasoning, Hume suggests the analogy of a house. When we see a house we naturally and reasonably conclude (i.e., with moral certainty) that “it had an architect or builder; because this is precisely that species of effect, which we have experienced to proceed from that species of cause” (D, 2.8/144). When we consider the universe, however, things are very different. In this case, we have experience of a unique effect: the universe. Moreover, our experience of this effect is limited to a small part or a “narrow corner” of it — from which we must make conjectures about the whole. Beyond this, we have no experience at all of its cause. Clearly, then, in a case of this kind we have no experience of “two species of objects” that are constantly conjoined on the basis of which we may draw some (reliable) inference (EU, 11.30/148; D, 2.24/149–50).

The contrast between ordinary cases of inference (e.g., house to human builder) and the design argument may be illustrated this way.

X=causes (builders, architects, etc.)
Y=effects (houses)
1. Y1 ---- X1
2. Y2 ---- X2
3. Y3 ---- X3
*. Yn / [Xn]?

In this case our experience of the constant conjunction of Xs/Ys enables us to draw the inference to Xn, the unobserved cause of Yn. Our experience is of a series of conjunctions (1,2,3) where there is a close resemblance within each species of objects (i.e., among Xs and among Ys). We have direct experience of both kinds of objects (i.e., both Xs and Ys). In the case of the design argument our inference has this form.

Z=cause (God/creator)
W=effect (world/universe)

* <W> / [Z*] ?

We have experience of only oneW (i.e., our experience of W is unique). Our experience of W is partial and incomplete (hence <W>), since we know only a small part of it in both spacial and temporal terms. We have no experience of anyZs at all. In these circumstances the only basis for drawing any conclusion about the nature of Z* from our (unique and partial) experience of W is by supposing that W bears some resemblance to objects such as Ys, broadly conceived to cover all human artifacts and productions. There is, however, a vast difference between these effects. It follows that there is little or no basis for assuming that Z resembles something like Xs (i.e., human mind or intelligence). God’s nature, therefore, remains altogether “mysterious and incomprehensible” from the point of view of human understanding.

Cleanthes responds to this set of objections with a counter-example that is meant to discredit these criticisms and doubts. Suppose we heard an articulate voice coming from the clouds and the words uttered contain a message instructing us in a way that is worthy of a great, superior being. It is not possible, Cleanthes argues, that we would hesitate for a moment to ascribe some design and purpose to this voice and conclude that it bears some resemblance to the intelligent source of a human voice (D, 3.2–3/152–3). The situation is not so dissimilar as “when we hear an articulate voice in the dark and thence infer a man” (D, 3.3/152; cp. EU, 4.4/27). According to Cleanthes, it is similarly perverse and unnatural to deny that the various parts of the body and the way in which they are suited to our environment (e.g., legs for walking) are “incontestable proof of design and intention” (D, 3.8/155; cp. 2.9/144–5).

The fundamental difficulty with Cleanthes’s example is, however, that it suggests a non-traditional, anthropomorphic conception of God’s nature that cannot be overcome other than by arbitrary stipulation. Given the nature of the analogy, how are we to understand the nature of God’s mind? Does it have successive, distinct thoughts? If so, what sense can we make of God’s simplicity and immutability (D, 4.3/159)? Why should we not assume that God has other human features such as passions and sentiments, or physical features such as a mouth or eyes (D, 3.13/156, 5.11/168)? In all cases that we have experience of, human intelligence is embodied, so why not also assume that God has a body (D, 6.4–5/171–2)? What this plainly manifests is that the anthropomorphic conception of God, as defended by Cleanthes, reflects an egocentric outlook and delusions about the significance of human life in the universe.

Any experimental reasoning of the kind that the argument from design employs must ensure that the cause is proportioned to the effect. That is to say, we cannot “ascribe to the cause any qualities, but what are exactly sufficient to produce them” (EU, 11.12–3/136; D, 5.8/168). If we follow this principle, however, we are no longer in a position to assign several fundamental attributes to God. We cannot, for example, attribute any thing infinite to God based on our observation and experience of finite effects. Nor can we attribute unity to the original cause of the universe on the basis of any analogy to human artifacts such as houses; as they are often built by a number of people working together. Perhaps, therefore, there is more than one God involved in the creation of the universe? More importantly, we are in no position to attribute perfection to God unless we observe perfection in his creation. Since there are evidently “many inexplicable difficulties in the works of nature” we are not justified in making any inference of this kind (D, 5.6/166–7).

The mistake that Hume particularly warns against, in respect of the issue of God’s perfection, is that we cannot begin from the assumption that God is perfect, then assume that his creation is worthy of him, and then argue, on this basis, that we have evidence that God is perfect.

You find certain phenomena in nature. You seek a cause or author. You imagine that you have found him. You afterwards become so enamored of this offspring of your brain, that you imagine it impossible, but he must produce something greater and more perfect than the present scene of things, which is so full of ill and disorder. You forget, that this superlative intelligence and benevolence are entirely imaginary, or, at least, without any foundation in reason; and that you have no ground to ascribe to him any qualities, but what you see he has actually exerted and displayed in his productions. (EU, 11.15/ 137–8)

This problem is, of course, most acute when it comes to the “reality of evil” that we observe in the world. How do we vindicate God’s “infinite power and goodness” when we are faced with overwhelming evidence of (unnecessary and inexplicable) evil in the world? What we cannot do, Hume argues, is explain away all evidence of this kind by way of assuming that this world is the perfect creation of a perfect being. It is this assumption that needs to be established, so we must not assume it in our reasoning.

Hume’s aim, in this context, is not to argue that it is impossible that God is perfect but only that we are in no position to infer this unless our experience of this world, which is the sole source of our evidence concerning this issue, is both sufficiently comprehensive and uniformly consistent with the hypothesis. Plainly, however, it is neither. It follows from this that many other hypotheses and conjectures, consistent with the evidence presented, may be considered as no less plausible. Philo puts this point to Cleanthes:

In a word, Cleanthes, a man who follows your hypothesis is able, perhaps, to assert, or conjecture, that the universe, sometime, arose from something like design: But beyond that position he cannot ascertain one single circumstance, and is left afterwards to fix every point of his theology, by the utmost license of fancy and hypothesis. (D, 5.12/169 — our emphasis)

Philo goes on to suggest that, for all we know, this world “is very faulty and imperfect, compared to a superior standard”. Given this, we may also conjecture that this world was created by “some infant Deity, who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance” or it is “the production of old age and dotage in some superannuated Deity”, and so on (D, 5.12/169). The general point being made is that in the absence of clear evidence of perfection in this world we must “proportion the cause to the effect” and resist the temptation of “exaggeration and flattery to supply the defects of argument and reasoning” (EU, 11.14/137).

Hume’s line of reasoning criticizing the argument from design presents theists with a basic and seemingly intractable dilemma in respect of their idea of God. On the one hand, theists such as Cleanthes want to insist that the analogy between this world and human productions is not so slight and maintains, on this basis, that God in some significant degree resembles human intelligence (D, 3.7–8/154–5). The difficulty with this view, as we have seen, is that it leads to “a degradation of the supreme being” by way of an anthropomorphism which from the standpoint of traditional theism involves idolatry and is no better than atheism (D,2.15/146,3.12–3/156, 4.4–5/160, 5.11/168). On the other hand, if we follow mystics, such as Demea, we end up no better off than sceptics and atheists who claim that we know nothing of God’s nature and attributes and that everything about him is “unknown and unintelligible” (D, 4.1/158). Hume’s sceptical technique in the Dialogues, therefore, is to play one group of theists off against the other, showing that both their positions end up as nothing better or different from the atheism that they both claim to abhor.

On the interpretation provided, it is clear that Hume’s critique of the argument from design is deep and radical. There are, however, several passages in the final Part of the Dialogues (XII) that suggest that Philo (Hume) reverses or at least moderates his position — making some significant concessions to Cleanthes’s position. The most important evidence of this appears in a passage at the beginning of Part XII where Philo says that no one can be so stupid as to reject the view that there are signs of intention and design in this world and that it is evident, as Cleanthes has argued, “that the works of nature bear a great analogy to the productions of art” (D, 12.6/216–7 — my emphasis). Immediately after this, however, Philo proceeds to reverse his reversal (i.e., he performs a double-reversal). He insists, in particular, on the verbal or trivial nature of the whole dispute about whether we should call God a “mind” or “intelligence” and emphasizes, once again, “the vast difference, which may reasonably be supposed between him and human minds” (D, 12.6/216–7 — my emphasis). In an especially important passage, which was inserted into the Dialogues shortly before Hume died, Philo elaborates on his view. The truly pious, he argues, will acknowledge “that there is a great and immeasurable, because incomprehensible, difference between the human and the divine mind” (D, 12.7/218 — my emphasis). On the other hand, the atheist may allow that there is some “remote analogy” among the various operations of nature, including “the rotting of a turnip, the generation of an animal, and the structure of human thought” (D, 12.7/218). In other words, the atheist can concede that there is some remote analogy between the first principle of the universe and several other parts of nature—only one of which is human thought and mind (D, 12.7/218; and cp. 7.1/176–7). Hume’s point is that there are other analogies that are no less plausible than that which Cleanthes has suggested. These other analogies do not suggest that the cause of this world is something like mind or human intelligence. Clearly, then, the atheist may concede that there is some remote analogy between God and human minds and still insist that there remain other analogies and hypotheses that are no less plausible. The conclusion to be drawn from this is that all such analogies are so weak and “remote” that God’s nature remains an “inexplicable mystery” well beyond the scope of human understanding (D, 12.33/227; cp. NHR, 15.13).

Hume never retreats from the view stated in the first Enquiry that God (i.e., the cause of the world) is “a Being, so remote and incomprehensible, who bears much less analogy to any other being in the universe than the sun to a waxen taper, and who discovers himself only by some faint traces or outlines, beyond which we have no authority to ascribe to him any attribute or perfection” (EU, 11.27/146). This position is indistinguishable from the scepticism that Hume’s contemporaries associated with Hobbes’s perceived atheism.

5. The Problem of Evil

The arguments of Hume’s that we have considered so far may all be described as sceptical arguments that are critical of efforts to prove the existence of God. No argument considered so far aims to prove that God does not or cannot exist. However, in the Dialogues Hume considers an ancient argument based on the existence of evil that is intended to establish this negative conclusion. It comes in the form of “Epicurus’s old questions” which remain “unanswered” (D, 10.25/198). The questions are these: Is God willing to prevent evil but unable to do so? Then he is not omnipotent. Is God able to prevent evil but unwilling to do so? Then he is malevolent (or at least less than perfectly good). If God is both willing and able to prevent evil then why is there evil in the world? (See the entry on the problem of evil.) What is at stake here is the possibility of vindicating God’s moral attributes in face of the existence of evil in this world. It is clear, as Cleanthes acknowledges, that if this cannot be done then the case for theism in any traditional form will collapse (D, 10.28/199).

Several different strategies are available to the theist to defuse this problem — that is, theodicies of various kinds. One strategy is to deny the reality of evil and insist that the evils we experience or observe in the world are really “goods to the universe” which are essential for a perfectly good whole. In other words, these are only evils relative to our individual, narrow, human perspective. From the divine perspective, viewing the universe as one system, the removal of such ills or afflictions would produce greater ill or diminish the total amount of good in the world. This strategy may be interpreted as arguing either that there are no real evils in the world (i.e., only apparent evils) or that there are real evils in the world but they are all necessary evils — without which the whole system of nature would not be so perfect (Cp. D, 10.5–7/194; EU, 8.34/101).

In respect of the first view, that there is no real evil, Hume takes the view that it is plainly contrary to human experience. The reality of the distinction between good and evil — whether physical or moral — depends on “the natural sentiments of the human mind”. These distinctions, based on feeling, cannot be altered or amended “by any philosophical theory or speculation whatsoever” (EU, 8.34–5/101–03). In the Dialogues Hume opens his discussion of the problem of evil by having Philo (the sceptic) run through a long catalogue of the variety and extent of misery and suffering in this world. He begins with animal suffering of various kinds (the strong preying on the weak etc.) and moves on to human suffering in its numerous forms (illness, emotional torments, war etc.). Even religion (i.e., “superstition”) is a source of fear and anxiety. Despite this catalogue of human suffering and grief, we find ourselves too afraid of death to put an end to our miserable existence. “We are terrified, not bribed to the continuance of our existence.” (D, 10.17/197) The conclusion that Philo draws from all this is that “the course of nature tends not to human or animal felicity” –which brings us back to “Epicurus’s old questions” (D, 10.25/198).

The first line of reply to this comes from Demea (the mystic) who argues that “the present evil phenomena … are rectified in other regions, and in some future period of existence” (D, 10.29/199). This is a view that is immediately corrected by Cleanthes along similar lines to those that Hume also presents in the first Enquiry. The problem here is that if we grant, with Demea, the reality of evil in this world then in so far as our understanding of God’s attributes is based on the evidence of his creation in this world, we are in no position to infer the “perfect goodness of the Deity”.

Now without some such license of supposition, it is impossible for us to argue from the cause, or infer any alteration in the effect, beyond what has immediately fallen under our observation. Greater good produced by this Being must still prove a greater degree of goodness: a more impartial distribution of rewards and punishments must proceed from a greater regard to justice and equity. Every supposed addition to the works of nature makes an addition to the attributes of the Author of nature; and consequently, being entirely unsupported by any reason or argument, can never be admitted but as a mere conjecture and hypothesis. (EU, 11.26/ 145)

Hume’s point is not that the reality of evil proves that God cannot be both omnipotent and perfectly good but that we are in no position to claim that we know that God will “rectify” the evil of this world (e.g., its unjust distribution of good and evil) in a future state, since the evidence of this world does not support such a conjecture. Our predicament is like that of a person who stands in the porch that leads into a very different building or structure and must conjecture what the complete or whole plan is like. We may hope or imagine that something better awaits us but the present phenomena do not license a conjecture or hypothesis of this kind (EU, 11.21,24/ 141,143).

Faced with this difficulty, Cleanthes insists that contrary to all that Philo and Demea have claimed, we must allow that there is more happiness than misery, more pleasure than pain, in this world. Failing this, “there is an end at once of all religion” (D, 10.28/199). Philo’s response is that this is a fatal concession. Not only will it be hard to prove that there is more happiness than misery in the world, much more than this is needed to vindicate God’s moral attributes. Unless all evil is essential or necessary the religious position will collapse. Any degree or kind of unnecessary evil — however small — would tell against the existence of God as an infinitely powerful and perfectly good being. The usual reply to this (echoing God’s answer to Job) is that we humans are in no position to tell whether there is any unnecessary evil in this world –for all we know, all the evil in this world is indeed necessary evil. It is arrogance to question God’s existence and goodness when we lack understanding of the infinite complexities of his creation.

The central thrust of Hume’s discussion of evil in the Dialogues is to show that this kind of theodicy fails.

I will allow, that pain or misery in man is compatible with infinite power and goodness in the Deity, even in your sense of these attributes: What have you advanced by all these concessions? A mere possible compatibility is not sufficient. You must prove these pure unmixed, and uncontrollable attributes from the present mixed and confused phenomena, and from these alone. (D,10.35/201)

Philo goes on to point out that even if the phenomena of nature were “pure and unmixed” (i.e., entirely good) they are still finite and so insufficient to prove God’s infinite perfection and goodness. The phenomena of nature are, in any case, not only finite, they are a mixture of good and evil, so any effort to prove God’s “infinite power and goodness” on this basis is a hopeless task. Here Philo claims to “triumph” (D, 10.36/201). Further on, Philo returns to this point.

… as this goodness is not antecedently established, but must be inferred from the phenomena, there can be no grounds for such an inference, while there are so many ills in the universe, and while these ills might so easily have been remedied, as far as human understanding can be allowed to judge on such a subject. I am sceptic enough to allow, that the bad appearances, notwithstanding all my reasonings, may be compatible with such attributes as you suppose: But surely they can never prove these attributes. (D, 11.12/211)

Clearly, then, the task required of traditional theism cannot be to establish merely the possibility that the existence of evil is consistent with God’s existence, it is to explain how we can infer God’s infinite power and goodness on the basis of our experience of finite phenomena that presents us with a mixture of good and evil in this world. It is this task, Philo maintains, that Cleanthes has failed to perform.

The subtlety of Hume’s argument is now clear. There is no need for the sceptic to launch a strong argument that aims to prove that God cannot exist on the basis of the real existence of evil in this world. All that the sceptic needs to do is to show that the theist is unable to prove or establish God’s attributes of infinite power and goodness given the evidence of creation as we observe it. What the theist must do, in order to meet this challenge, is to show that all the evil that exists in this world (i.e., every last degree and measure of it) is necessary and unavoidable. It is clear that the theist is in no position to support this claim. The mere possibility that this is the case will not suffice to justify the inference to God’s infinite power and goodness. We cannot, therefore, establish God’s moral attributes along the lines that Cleanthes has suggested.

Hume’s “concession” that evil and God’s existence are compatible may have the appearance of (another) “retreat” from a stronger sceptical position. The significance of this concession should not be exaggerated. While the sceptic cannot prove that there does indeed exist some unnecessary evil in the world, it is nevertheless possible to show that this view of things is in no way unreasonable. Hume describes a fourfold catalogue of causes of evil in this world none of which “appear to human reason, in the least degree, necessary or unavoidable” (D, 11.5/205). He asks, for example, why animal creation is not animated entirely by pleasure, as it appears “plainly possible to carry on the business of life without any pain” (D, 11.6/206). Similarly, why could God not have been more generous in providing his creatures with better endowments for their survival and happiness (i.e., why is God not more of an “indulgent parent”)? (D, 11.9/208) Again, why does nature run into such extremes in relation to heat and cold, rains, winds, and so on? Surely things could have been arranged so that these extremes and their destructive consequences could be avoided? Finally, Hume asks why God does not act through particular volitions to prevent specific catastrophes and disasters (e.g., why not ensure there is no storm blowing when a fleet is out at sea)? (D,11.8/206) In all these cases, Hume grants, there may “be good reasons, why providence interposes not in this manner; but they are unknown to us” (D, 11.8/207). The implication of all this is not just that we have no reason to infer the existence of an infinitely powerful and good God but that we have considerable reason for doubting it.

Given these considerations regarding the causes of evil, and the limits of human understanding, what is the most reasonable hypothesis concerning the first cause of the universe? Philo dismisses the suggestion that the first cause is either perfectly good or perfectly malevolent on the ground that “mixed phenomena” can never prove either of the unmixed principles as the first cause. This leaves only two other possibilities. Either the first cause has both goodness and malice or it has neither. Philo argues that the steady and orderly nature of the world suggests that no such (Manichean) “combat” between good and evil is going on. So the most plausible hypothesis is that “the original source of all things” is just as indifferent about “good above ill” as it is about heat above cold (D, 11.14/211–2). Nature is blind and uncaring regarding such matters and there is no basis for the supposition that the world has been created with human or animal happiness or comfort in mind. Any supposition of this kind is nothing better than an anthropomorphic prejudice (EU, 11.27/146; cp. D, 10.31/200).

The tendency of Hume’s discussion of evil, in both the Enquiry and Dialogues, is to insist on the reality of evil and the doubts that this casts on any claim that the beauty, harmony and order of this world provides us with clear evidence that an infinitely powerful and good being created and governs it. As we have noted, Hume’s argument falls short of categorically denying that God exists on the ground that there is unnecessary evil in this world. What Hume’s arguments do show, however, is that while it is possible that the reality of evil is consistent with the existence of God this leaves theism with a large and significant problem that remains unanswered. The enormous degree of evil in this world, and the vast range of forms that it takes, are impossible to explain or justify from our human perspective (i.e., given the limits of human understanding). There is, therefore, no basis for inferring the existence of an infinitely powerful and good God in face of contrary evidence of this kind — evidence that provides us with considerable grounds for doubting this conjecture or hypothesis.

6. Miracles

Miracles are an essential and fundamental element of the major monotheistic religions (i.e., Judaism, Christianity, Islam). The accounts of miracles, as presented in scripture and elsewhere, are supposed to confirm the authenticity and authority of scripture and the prophets and, more importantly, establish that God has revealed himself to human beings through these special acts or events. From the point of view of Christianity, one miracle of particular significance is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. To doubt or question the truth of this event is to doubt the core and distinct meaning and doctrine of the Christian religion. It would be to cast doubt on the claim that Christ is God and the saviour of human kind. A major concern of Hume’s, especially as presented in Section X of the first Enquiry, was to discredit miracle claims of this kind — a concern Hume shared with many other religious critics of his day (see Burns 1981).

According to Hume’s account, “a miracle is a violation of a law of nature” (EU, 11.12/114). More specifically, it is “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent” (EU, 11.12n/115n). As defined, a miracle may occur without any person observing it (i.e., it may be completely unknown). Hume’s additional proviso that a miracle is not only a violation of a law of nature but also requires the direct activity of God (or some “invisible agent”) is a significant qualification. It follows from this that we cannot establish that a miracle has occurred by showing only that the laws of nature have been violated, as this may only be a chance or capricious event (EU, 8.25/96; cp. T, 1.3.13.33/171). Nevertheless, the key issue, for Hume’s critique of miracles, is whether or not we ever have reason to believe on the basis of testimony that a law of nature has been violated. Hume’s arguments lead to the conclusion that we never have reason to believe miracle reports as passed on to us.

A law of nature, as Hume interprets it, involves a uniform regularity of events. We discover laws of nature on the basis of our experience of constant conjunctions of events or objects. An obvious example of this, provided by Hume, is that “all men must die” (EU, 11.12/114). It would, therefore, be “a miracle, that a dead man should come to life” because we have “uniform experience” that tells against such a claim (EU, 11.12/ 115). When we have uniform experience that confirms the existence of regularities of this kind we have, says Hume, “a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of the miracle” (EU, 11.12/115). The point that Hume is concerned to make here is that the “ultimate standard” by which we must judge whether a miracle has occurred is (much) higher than it is in the case of other reports claiming to establish some unusual or unexpected event. It is, for example, no miracle that a man in good health should suddenly die. Although an event of this kind may be improbable, it does sometimes occur. In the case of miracles, however, we are asked to believe something that is contrary to all other experience and observation (e.g., resurrection from the dead). Miracles must be unique (or nearly unique) events otherwise they fall within the “common course of nature”, no matter how rare and unusual the event may be.

Given this account of miracles, understood as violations of laws of nature, how should we evaluate claims that miracles have occurred? The principle that Hume relies on, for this purpose, is that a reasonable person “proportions his belief to the evidence” (EU, 11.4/110). In the case of miracles, the relevant evidence that we need to weigh comes from two distinct sources that must be balanced against each other. On one side, there is the question of the credibility of the witnesses to the event. That is to say, we need to ask if we can rely on the truthfulness and judgment of the individual(s) who report that the relevant event took place. On the other side, there is the question of the credibility of the fact itself (i.e., that a violation of a law of nature occurred). Clearly, in circumstances where there is some opposition between these two sets of considerations, the reasonable person will believe that which has the superior evidence in its support.

If we follow this procedure, Hume claims, we must conclude that “no testimony for any kind of a miracle has ever amounted to a probability, much less to a proof; and that, even supposing it amounted to a proof, it would be opposed by another proof….” (EU, 11.35/ 127). Hume establishes this general point in two related moves. The evidence telling against the occurrence of a miracle must always constitute a full proof — since we have uniform human experience in support of the laws of nature (EU, 11.12/115). It follows from this:

That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish; and even in that case there is a mutual destruction of arguments… (EU, 11.13 / 116)

The only basis for giving any credibility to miracle reports – since by their nature they are wholly unlikely — is to give weight and credibility to the character and authority of the witnesses to the event(s). However, even in the optimal case, where the credibility of the witnesses and their reports are judged to be beyond doubt and wholly reliable, we are faced with evidence that is equally opposed — “proof against proof”.

Hume’s argument, up to this point, supposes that the testimony in support of a miracle “amounts to an entire proof” and is wholly reliable. However, the fact is, Hume argues, that this concession is “a great deal too liberal”. If we consider the specific circumstances and conditions in which miracle reports generally occur, and the sources they come from, Hume believes we will have to conclude that testimony in support of actual historical miracles, of the kind that the major religions rely on, are far from reliable. The relevant standards by which we judge the reliability of testimony (i.e. in ordinary life — including law and history, as well as religion) involve several different considerations. Hume mentions four categories of consideration about the reliability of testimony. Each of them is such that the credibility of the testimony may be diminished when we give due weight to these factors.

The first category concerns the witnesses to the event. Obviously the credibility of an event increases when more witnesses attest to it. We also need to know about the character and competence of the witness(es). If they are educated, sensible and critical we will more readily believe them than if they are ignorant and gullible. A second category of consideration that Hume mentions is that there is a general psychological weakness in human nature whereby we want to believe in events that produce feelings of surprise and wonder because these are “agreeable emotions” (EU, 11.16/117).

As belief is almost absolutely requisite to the exciting our passions, so the passions in their turn are very favourable to belief… Admiration and surprise have the same effect as the other passions; and accordingly we may observe, that among the vulgar, quacks and projectors meet with a more easy faith upon account of their magnificent pretensions, than if they kept themselves within the bounds of moderation. The first astonishment, which naturally attends their miraculous relations, spreads itself over the whole soul, and so vivifies and enlivens the idea that it resembles the inferences we draw from experience. (T, 1.3.10.4 / 120)

This natural disposition leads to credulity and “subdues the understanding” (EU, 11.17/ 117–8; T, 1.3.9.12 / 113). “Love of wonder” is often joined with “the spirit of religion” whereby the religionist, “with the best intentions in the world, for the sake of promoting so holy a cause”, is more powerfully drawn to belief (EU, 11.17 / 117–8). Hume also notes that lies have been told in all ages and that the frequent repetition of lies promotes belief (T, 1.3.9.19 / 117; cp. T, 1.3.5.6 / 86). More generally, custom and education influence belief and in many cases “take such deep root that ‘tis impossible for us, by all the powers of reason and experience to eradicate them” (T, 1.3.9.17 / 116). The third range of factors Hume mentions are the variable historical and social conditions that affect credulity. Although there is a universal propensity to credulity, Hume notes that miraculous and supernatural events “are observed chiefly to abound among ignorant and barbarous nations” (EU, 11.20 / 119). Finally, the authority of miracle reports is diminished by the consideration that the miracle reports coming from rival religions tend to diminish the authority and credibility of all of them (EU, 11.24 / 121–2). The result of giving weight to these various considerations is that the credulity of actual historical miracle claims is radically diminished. Hume believes that there is no probability left in support of them.

Hume’s views on miracles have been criticized from a variety of perspectives. Some critics have claimed that Hume, in laying down that miracles run up against uniform experience, is simply assuming at the outset that the probability of miracle occurrences is equal to zero (see Johnson 1999 and Earman 2003). In response to this is has been pointed out that Hume’s concern is not with the factual question as to whether miracles have occurred or not, but with the epistemic question of whether it can be rational to believe miracle reports (see, e.g., Fogelin 2003). An even more problematic line of criticism consists in claiming that Hume denies the very possibility of miracles occurring. As it stands, this misrepresents his view. According to Hume, miracles are entirely possible in the sense that there is no absurdity or contradiction involved in suggesting that the laws of nature are violated — this is at least conceivable. Nor does Hume deny that rare, unusual, surprising and wonderous events do actually occur. There may even be circumstances when extraordinary events of this kind may be justifiably believed on the basis of testimony (EU, 11.36 /127–8). Moreover, Hume also recognizes that events frequently occur that are unexpected and which we do not know the cause(s) of (EU, 8.12–4 / 86–7). None of these considerations, however, show that the laws of nature have actually been violated. On the contrary, our experience shows that when “irregular and extraordinary” events do occur a closer examination and investigation generally uncovers the relevant “hidden” or “concealed” causes that were at work. Only the ignorant and vulgar conclude, in circumstances of this kind, that the laws of nature have been violated or that a miracle has occurred. It is in this sense that Hume maintains that miracles do not occur. In this way, the evidence of experience shows us, Hume suggests, that nature is uniform and regular. When this appears not to be so, subsequent experience and closer investigation reveals that this is a sign only of human ignorance and credulity, not of any (incomprehensible) divine activity.

What really matters for assessing Hume’s critique of miracles is to keep in mind that his primary aim is to discredit the actual historical miracle claims that are supposed to provide authority and credibility for the major established religions — most obviously, Christianity. From this perspective, the central issue is not whether Hume is right in claiming that it is impossible for any miracle claim to be established as morally certain (i.e., “proved”), but if he is right in claiming that the historical miracle claims supporting the major religions such as Christianity pass this standard. It is Hume’s judgment that when we weigh the relevant evidence, and proportion our belief accordingly, we will find that these claims are rationally unbelievable.

7. Immortality and a Future State

According to Joseph Butler, an influential contemporary of Hume’s, the most important question that can possibly be asked is whether we are to live in a future state. It was Butler’s view that the doctrine of future rewards and punishments is fundamental to religion and essential for its practical influence over human life and conduct. This view of the importance of the doctrine of future rewards and punishments was accepted by almost all the leading theologians at this time (and is, of course, still widely accepted among religious thinkers today). It is evident that the immortality of the soul is an essential part of this doctrine. For Hume’s contemporaries, proofs of the immortality of the soul generally depended upon showing that the soul is immaterial.

There are two “metaphysical” arguments that aim to establish the immateriality of the soul that Hume is especially concerned with. The first argument, which is Platonic in origin, maintains that whereas mind is simple, unitary and indivisible, matter is compounded and infinitely divisible. It follows from this, according to this argument, that mind is distinct from matter and that only an immaterial being or substance is capable of thought and consciousness. Moreover, since immaterial minds are simple and indivisible they are incapable of destruction and continue to exist eternally (unless annihilated by divine power). A second and related argument is that it is impossible for matter and motion to produce thought and consciousness. For this to be possible we must suppose that a cause can produce effects that possess perfections that it lacks. Once again, this would be to suppose that something could be produced by nothing, which is absurd and contradictory.

Hume rejects both these metaphysical arguments for the immateriality and immortality of the soul. His refutations are presented, first, in the Treatise 1.4.5–6 and, later and more briefly, in his essay “Of the Immortality of the Soul”. (It is possible that this essay contains material that was originally intended for publication in the Treatise but was withdrawn.) Regarding the suggestion that thought and consciousness must belong to or inhere in an immaterial substance, Hume objects that we have no idea of either immaterial or material substance.

But just as metaphysics teach us, that the notion of substance is wholly confused and imperfect, and that we have no other idea of any substance than as an aggregate of particular qualities, inhering in an unknown something. Matter, therefore, and spirit are at bottom equally unknown; and we cannot determine what qualities may inhere in the one or in the other. (ESY, 591)

The important and intelligible issue, according to Hume, is not the question of the substance of thought but that concerning the cause of our perceptions (T, 1.4.5.29/ 246f). In respect of this issue, Hume invokes his general causal maxim that “any thing may produce any thing” in order to establish that a priori it is possible that matter may be the cause of thought (T, 1.4.5.30 / 247). Furthermore, experience shows us, Hume maintains, that there do exist constant conjunctions between matter and motion, on one side, and thought and consciousness on the other. Clearly, then, in so far as we have any idea of causation as it exists in the world, we must conclude that thought and consciousness can indeed arise from matter and motion (as the materialists maintain). In his essay on “Immortality” Hume expands on these points to argue that the evidence of experience shows us that thought and consciousness depends on our bodily existence and, therefore, bodily death must imply death of the mind as well (ESY, 596; cp. D, 6.5/171).

Apart from Hume’s sceptical arguments directed against the immateriality and immortality of the soul, he also advances sceptical arguments concerning the doctrine of future rewards and punishments. In the context of Section XI of the first Enquiry, as we have already noted, Hume argues that we have no adequate evidence, “derived from the present phenomena” of this world, that a future state will correct the injustices of this world. Hume presents the “religionist” with the following difficulty:

Are there any marks of a distributive justice in this world? If you answer in the affirmative, I conclude that, since justice here exerts itself, it is satisfied. If you reply in the negative, I conclude, that you have then no reason to ascribe justice, in our sense of it, to the gods. If you hold a medium between affirmation and negation, by saying, that the justice of the gods, at present, exerts itself in part but not to its full extent; I answer, that you have no reason to give it any particular extent, but only so far as you see it, at present, exert itself. (EU, 11.22 / 141–2 — Hume’s emphasis)

In the Treatise Hume advanced another set of arguments against the doctrine of a future state. In this context he argues that any idea or belief in life in a future state is too faint and weak to have any practical influence over our passions and conduct.

A future state is so far remov’d from our comprehension, and we have so obscure an idea of the manner, in which we shall exist after the dissolution of the body, that all the reasons we can invent, however strong in themselves, and however much assisted by education, are never able with slow imaginations to surmount this difficulty, or bestow a sufficient authority and force on the idea. (T, 1.3.9.13 / 114)

In general, says Hume, the lack of resemblance between this life and a future state destroys belief and, consequently, has little influence on our passions and conduct. Hume claims “there scarce are any, who believe the immortality of the soul with a true and established judgment” (T, 1.3.9.14 / 114–5). The evidence for this is that our conduct is usually guided with a view to the pleasures and pains, rewards and punishments, of this life and not a future state (T, 1.3.9.14 / 115; cp. D, 12.13/220–01).

Hume adds a further set of objections relating to the morally pernicious aspects of the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments. Among the several arguments that he puts forward on this score, four points are especially important. In the first place, Hume asks, what is the point or purpose of punishment in a future state? In this life we assume that punishment must not only be deserved, it must also achieve some relevant social end or value (e.g., contribute to the stability and peace of society). When we are removed from this world these goals are taken away and punishment becomes pointlessly retributive (ESY, 594). The implication of this is that punishment without any further point or purpose is mere vengeance that lacks any proper justification. Second, Hume asks on what basis God determines the extent of our merit and demerit. Among human beings the standard of merit and demerit depends on our moral sentiments and our sense of pleasure and pain. Are we to suppose that God also has human passions and feelings of this kind? (ESY, 594,595; cp. LET, I, 40 [#16]; D, 3.13/156) Third, the doctrine of eternal damnation clearly involves excessive punishment — even for the worst of crimes. Finally, the split between Heaven and Hell supposes “two distinct species of men, the good and the bad. But the greatest part of mankind float between vice and virtue.” (ESY, 594)

Hume’s position on the doctrine of a future state is clear. From every point of view this doctrine is considered unsound. It depends on metaphysical assumptions about the nature of mind (soul) that are philosophically unconvincing, involving obscure ideas that are plainly at odds with our everyday experience and observations concerning the relationship between mind and body. It also depends on assumptions about God’s goodness and justice that lack any adequate philosophical justification. Moreover, because the ideas and arguments involved in this doctrine are considered by Hume to be obscure and unconvincing, we find, in practice, that the doctrine has little or no influence in directing human conduct. Finally, not only is this doctrine considered by Hume to be philosophically flawed and psychologically feeble, it depends on moral principles that are both unjust and corrupting.

8. Hume’s Genealogy of Religion: Causes and Dynamics of Religious Belief

In 1757 Hume published “The Natural History of Religion”, a work that proposes to identify and explain the origins and evolution of religious belief. This project follows lines of investigation and criticism that had already been laid down by a number of other thinkers, including Lucretius, Hobbes and Spinoza. Hume’s primary objective in this work is to show that the origins and foundations of religious belief do not rest with reason or philosophical arguments of any kind but with aspects of human nature that reflect our weaknesses, vulnerabilities and limitations (i.e., fear and ignorance). Related to this point, Hume also wants to show that the basic forces in human nature and psychology that shape and structure religious belief are in conflict with each other and that, as a result of this, religious belief is inherently unstable and variable. In arguing for these points, Hume is directly challenging an opposing view, one that was widely held among his own orthodox contemporaries. According to this view (e.g., as presented by Cleanthes), the evidence of God’s existence is so obvious that no one sincerely and honestly doubts it. Belief in an intelligent, invisible creator and governor of the world is a universal belief rooted in and supported by reason. From this perspective, no person sincerely accepts “speculative atheism”. Hume’s “naturalistic” approach to religion aims to discredit these claims and assumptions of theism.

According to Hume, all that the various religions in the world have in common is belief that there is an invisible, intelligent power in the world (NHR, Intro, 4.1). Although there is a “universal propensity to believe in invisible, intelligent power” (NHR, 15.5), even religious belief of this limited kind is not entirely universal or any sort of “original instinct”. Hume also points out that religion of this most general kind is not to be confused with “genuine theism”. Genuine theism involves a more specific set of beliefs: that there is only one god and that god is the invisible, intelligent creator and governor of the world (NHR, 4.2). In several different contexts in The Natural History of Religion Hume suggests that the argument from design — based on our observation of beauty and order in the world — is a convincing and plausible basis for genuine theism (NHR, Intro, 6.1, 15.1). However, despite this veil of orthodoxy, his objective throughout this work is to show that the actual foundation of genuine theism, as we find it in the world, does not rest with reasoning or arguments of any kind. The true roots of genuine theism can be discovered in the psychological dynamics that first give rise to polytheism. The same (irrational) forces that shape polytheism serve to explain the rise of theism and the instability and variations that we discover within it.

Hume maintains that “polytheism or idolatry was, and must have been, the first and most ancient religion of mankind” (NHR, 1.1). Not only does the evidence of history make this clear (Hume discounts the historical reliability of the Hebrew Bible, which, as is well-known, presents a different picture), we know as well that if theism, based on the (obvious and convincing) argument of design, were the original religion then it would be impossible to explain how polytheism could have ever arisen out of it. That is to say, the argument from design would continue to have the same force and so we should not expect any deviation from it. What, then, is the origin of polytheism? The basis of polytheism is not the beauty and order we discover in the works of nature, as that leads us to genuine theism, it is rather “the various and contrary events of human life”. These are events (e.g., weather, illness, wars, etc.) that are unpredictable but important to us because they directly influence human happiness and misery. In respect of these events, which engage our deepest hopes and fears, we are generally ignorant of the causes that are involved in producing them — especially when human beings are in a more primitive and backward state of society. In these circumstances, the “ignorant multitude” conceives of these unknown causes as depending on invisible, intelligent agents who they may influence by means of prayers and sacrifice. By this means, human beings hope to control what they do not understand and are afraid of. As a result of this process, as shaped by human fears and ignorance, the world becomes populated with human-like invisible, intelligent powers that are objects of worship.

The religion of polytheism is very different from genuine theism in so far as it does not concern itself with the (abstract and speculative) question concerning the origin or supreme government of the universe. These are questions that primitive people who are struggling for their daily survival do not have time to speculate about. To this extent, therefore, polytheists and idolaters may be regarded as “superstitious atheists”, as they plainly have no idea of a being that corresponds to our idea of God (NHR, 4.2). From their perspective, however, genuine theists are guilty of atheism, since they deny the existence of the “subordinate deities” that polytheists worship (NHR, 4.10n27). The clear implication of these observations is that the notion of “atheism” — along with its negative connotations – is entirely relative to a particular religion and its particular conception of god or gods.

The question that Hume now turns to is how theism arose from polytheism. In respect of this issue, Hume observes that there are two conflicting tendencies in human nature.

And thus, however strong men’s propensity to believe invisible, intelligent power in nature, their propensity is equally strong to rest their attention on sensible, visible objects; and in order to reconcile these opposite inclinations, they are led to unite the invisible power with some visible object. (NHR, 5.2)
WATCH THE VIDEO ON THEME: Daniel 12 False Religion in History and Prophecy - Eschatology #16

What are the main differences between true and false religion? . wise, and loving in religion will cease because religion will lose that tinge of hypocrisy and .

religion is considered false by the wise
Written by Kajimi
Write a comment