Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Hume on religion

Hume on Religion
The Case for Agnosticism
I. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
Hume’s most systematic work on religion was published after his death. This may have been because, earlier in the 18th century, someone did jail time for writing a book critical of Christianity.
This is the link to the text of that work:
II. The Three Characters in the Dialogues
Cleanthes, the defender of the argument from design.
Demea, a defender of cosmological arguments but sometimes sounds like a fideist (one who believes on faith).
Philo, a religious skeptic who, for the most part, speaks for Hume.
III. Why Hume reject a priori arguments
Reason alone can establish nothing concerning matters of fact.
You will remember that Aquinas overcame the “who made God” problem by saying that God is a necessary being, while other beings exist contingently.
But according to Hume, necessary existence has no meaning. What can be necessary are relations of ideas. Whatever we can conceive of as existing, we can conceive of as not existing.
IV. Causal arguments
Hume maintains that we cannot use the principle “Every event has a cause.” Causal inferences occur when we perceive spatial contiguity, temporal succession and constant conjunction. When these conditions obtain, our natural habits of mind lead us to conclude that there is a causal relation. But with God’s causing the cosmos, this doesn’t meet these criterion. So we are extending causal reasoning beyond its legitimate boundaries. We know only one universe, and we have not seen a constant conjunction between universes and the activities of universe-makers.
V. The argument from similar causes (the design argument)
One might argue for theism as follows:
Similar effects have similar causes.
The universe is similar to various things that have intelligent causes (like a watch).
Therefore, (probably) the universe has an intelligent cause.
Arguments of this type were very popular in Hume’s day, and they are sometimes used today.
VI. Hume’s first objection
From a finite effect you cannot conclude an infinite cause. So if the argument works it only proves the existence of a being powerful enough to create our universe, not an all-powerful being.
VII. Hume’s second objection
We can’t assume that the cause is perfect. After all, the cause of the universe didn’t produce a perfect universe, so on what basis do we say that the cause is perfect? There are lots of things in it that could be better (tornadoes, floods, terrorists, Bush, the Arizona Cardinals). Consider how we grade car manufacturers. We grade them on how good their cars are. So how should we grade universe-makers? And when we grade whoever or whatever made the universe by this standard, how does the universe-maker come out? Less than perfect maybe? (This is the basis of what is by far the most popular argument against theism, the argument from evil).
VIII. Objection three: What if the universe were perfect?
Even that wouldn’t prove that the universe-maker was perfect. After all, he could have honed his or her universe-making skills through eons of practicing.
IX. Objection four: Why only one God?
If we are going to use the analogy of human contrivances, then we must recognize that many human contrivances have many makers. So why not be a polytheist, and say that the universe was put together by a committee, or an assembly line.
X. What does the universe resemble?
A watch you say? How about a vegetable, which is not produced by intelligent design. Or an animal, which is produced by sexual reproduction. Let’s see, the universe is like an animal, like effects produce like causes, so….that would be the big bang theory now wouldn’t it?
XI. Hume and evolution
Hume, in one passage, considers the possibility attributing the complex, design-appearing features of the universe to an evolutionary process, though he does not endorse this explanation. Full-blown atheism was rare in Hume’s time, and Hume was not an atheist.

Contemporary atheist Richard Dawkins wrote:
An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: "I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn't a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one." I can't help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. -- Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, p. 6

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A creator is not a GOOD explanation for the universe says Dawkins and Hume. And of course, they know what it takes to create universes, since they are the smartest beings that ever lived and have created multiple universes themselves. Right?