Those of you, who like me, spend some time discussing religion, one is bound to hear the name of Hume mentioned. Being that I like such debates and would, for all that is reasonable, want to participate in a discussion where I could say something, I endeavored to read Hume. I started with the above book which is going to be the subject of our discussion today.
Natural religion is defined here as the “religion of nature,” in which God, the soul, spirits, and all objects of the supernatural are considered as part of nature and not separate from it.
In this dialogue, we have Cleanthes, Demea and Philo all arguing from different viewpoints. When we first meet the three friends, Philo is telling them he intends to postpone the teaching of religion to his children until they have a firm foundation in philosophy, a proposition which doesn’t sit well with Cleanthes. His [Cleanthes] first response is a rejection of skepticism and argues no one can live in that manner. He says
in a flush of humour, after intense reflection on the many contradictions and imperfections of human reason, may entirely renounce all belief and opinion, it is impossible for him to persevere in this total scepticism, or make it appear in his conduct for a few hours. External objects press in upon him; passions solicit him; his philosophical melancholy dissipates; and even the utmost violence upon his own temper will not be able, during any time, to preserve the poor appearance of scepticism. And for what reason impose on himself such a violence? This is a point in which it will be impossible for him ever to satisfy himself, consistently with his sceptical principles.
Philo responds by saying
[..]To whatever length any one may push his speculative principles of scepticism, he must act, I own, and live, and converse, like other men; and for this conduct he is not obliged to give any other reason, than the absolute necessity he lies under of so doing.
Hume, through Demea wants us to believe
No man, no man at least of common sense, I am persuaded, ever entertained a serious doubt with regard to a truth so certain and self-evident. The question is not concerning the being, but the nature of God.
a doubt which I think was entertained at least by a few men of his time if not of an earlier time. Demea continues to tell us
next to the impiety of denying his existence, is the temerity of prying into his nature and essence, decrees and attributes.
but why should we not inquire into these questions? We have been told at least by some divines that the belief in god is important to us for the security of our life in the nether world. It is only natural that we must inquire into the being of such a deity, its nature and mode of existence.
Cleanthes then claims to establish the existence of god posteriori. He says
[..]The curious adapting of means to ends, throughout all nature, resembles exactly, though it much exceeds, the productions of human contrivance; of human designs, 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. By this argument a posteriori, and by this argument alone, do we prove at once the existence of a Deity, and his similarity to human mind and intelligence.
which here is anthropomorphism at work.
Cleanthes living before Darwin makes the argument that creationists are wont to employ whenever they argue for design in nature, that of complexity. Here he tells us
[..]Consider, anatomise the eye; survey its structure and contrivance; and tell me, from your own feeling, if the idea of a contriver does not immediately flow in upon you with a force like that of sensation. The most obvious conclusion, surely, is in favour of design; and it requires time, reflection, and study, to summon up those frivolous, though abstruse objections, which can support Infidelity.
which I have already said above is an argument from ignorance. We now know that the eye is a case of adaptation and natural selection that has taken several million years to develop.
The dialogue continues in this vain with Cleanthes maintaining the world resembles the working of a mind, only, superior to man’s, but a mind all the same. To dissuade him from this thought, Philo argues
[..]But were this world ever so perfect a production, it must still remain uncertain, whether all the excellences of the work can justly be ascribed to the workman. If we survey a ship, what an exalted idea must we form of the ingenuity of the carpenter who framed so complicated, useful, and beautiful a machine? And what surprise must we feel, when we find him a stupid mechanic, who imitated others, and copied an art, which, through a long succession of ages, after multiplied trials, mistakes, corrections, deliberations, and controversies, had been gradually improving? Many worlds might have been botched and bungled, throughout an eternity, ere this system was struck out; much labour lost, many fruitless trials made; and a slow, but continued improvement carried on during infinite ages in the art of world-making. In such subjects, who can determine, where the truth; nay, who can conjecture where the probability lies, amidst a great number of hypotheses which may be proposed, and a still greater which may be imagined?
he continues to question Cleanthes in this manner by asking
To multiply causes without necessity, is indeed contrary to true philosophy: but this principle applies not to the present case. Were one deity antecedently proved by your theory, who were possessed of every attribute requisite to the production of the universe; it would be needless, I own, (though not absurd,) to suppose any other deity existent. But while it is still a question, Whether all these attributes are united in one subject, or dispersed among several independent beings, by what phenomena in nature can we pretend to decide the controversy?
This is the same question raised in Aristotle’s first cause argument. For how, in the name of all that is reasonable, arrive at the number of designers or first cause[s] involved in the being of the universe? The argument that since man has been able to design a particular species of things, then the universe must also have been designed doesn’t help solve the problem. In fact as has been oft repeated, even allowing a designer, we still cannot get to the nature of this designer and whether such a designer is still extant.
Demea tells us
Whatever exists must have a cause or reason of its existence; it being absolutely impossible for any thing to produce itself, or 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: Now, that the first supposition is absurd, may be thus proved. In the infinite chain or succession of causes and effects, each single effect is determined to exist by the power and efficacy of that cause which immediately preceded; but the whole eternal chain or succession, taken together, is not determined or caused by any thing; and yet it is evident that it requires a cause or reason, as much as any particular object which begins to exist in time. The question is still reasonable, why this particular succession of causes existed from eternity, and not any other succession, or no succession at all. If there be no necessarily existent being, any supposition which can be formed is equally possible; nor is there any more absurdity in Nothing’s having existed from eternity, than there is in that succession of causes which constitutes the universe. What was it, then, which determined Something to exist rather than Nothing, and bestowed being on a particular possibility, exclusive of the rest? External causes, there are supposed to be none. Chance is a word without a meaning. Was it Nothing? But that can never produce any thing. We must, therefore, have recourse to a necessarily existent Being, who carries the REASON of his existence in himself, and who cannot be supposed not to exist, without an express contradiction. There is, consequently, such a Being; that is, there is a Deity.
To which Cleanthes responds by saying first
Nothing is demonstrable, unless the contrary implies a contradiction. Nothing, that is distinctly 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 existence is demonstrable.
and then continues to make what I consider a decisive argument against necessary existence, a line oft repeated by Craig and his many clones
It is pretended that the Deity is a necessarily existent being; and this necessity of his existence is attempted to be explained by asserting, that if we knew his whole essence or nature, we should perceive it to be as impossible for him not to exist, as for twice two not to be four. But it is evident that this can never happen, while our faculties remain the same as at present. It will still be possible for us, at any time, to conceive the non-existence of what we formerly conceived to exist; nor can the mind ever lie under a necessity of supposing any object to remain always in being; in the same manner as we lie under a necessity of always conceiving twice two to be four. The words, therefore, necessary existence, have no meaning; or, which is the same thing, none that is consistent.
and he asks further why
may not the material universe be the necessarily existent Being, according to this pretended explication of necessity?
These dialogues continued to cover pain and suffering in the world and how this affects belief in a benevolent deity.
At the end Hume says
I cannot but think, that PHILO’s principles are more probable than DEMEA’s; but that those of CLEANTHES approach still nearer to the truth.
Hume has here made a claim that the existence of a deity is a given, the question to be answered here is the nature of deity. I contend here that neither the nature nor the being of a deity is given or known and as such talk of deities leads to an abyss of meaninglessness and wild speculations that is the habit of those divines and frauds who speak of knowing the mind and intention of deities.