Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is a philosophical book by David Hume. It examines various arguments for and against the existence of God. The book is written as a dialogue between main three characters: Cleanthes, Philo and Demea. While all three profess to be theists, they rigorously critique each other's arguments. The dialogues are supportive of mainstream theism in an ironic fashion and the book is essentially a counter apologetic work. The argument from design, the first cause and the problem of evil are addressed. The book argues for scepticism in subjects that are so far removed from human experience.
First begun in 1750, it was completed in 1776, the year of Hume's death. Hume did not publish the book in his lifetime because he was "desirous to live quietly, and keep remote from all Clamour". Although he specified that the work should be published soon after his death, it was delayed by his publisher and nephew because of fears of a damaging backlash. The book finally appeared in the middle of 1779.
Cleanthes argues that the existence and attributes of God may be determined using empirical evidence and a posteriori reasoning, specifically the argument from design. Cleanthes believes that God is similar to humans, although far exceeding human attributes. He has an optimistic disposition and regards the world as mostly benign. Cleanthes goes to great lengths in instructing his pupil, Pamphilus, in literature and science. The dialogues are set in Cleanthes's library.
Demea argues for orthodox theism supported by a priori arguments, such as the first cause argument. Demea is an agnostic theist in that he believes God exists and is significantly different from humans but is otherwise unknowable. Demea does not relish the discussion of the problem of evil and departs at the end of the penultimate part.
Philo is a sceptical theist. He is the most imaginative in his arguments and quick to raise objections in debates. Philo attacks what he regards as vulgar and false religion to the point of "absurdity" and "impiety". While Philo has significant criticism for the argument from design, he reveals in the last part his previous objections were a sham and he is a firm believer in the argument's validity. He finally argues that philosophical scepticism is the most sound form of theism. Philo has a close friendship with Cleanthes.
The dialogues are introduced and narrated by the character Pamphilus as a letter to Hermippus and recounts a conversation between the three main characters. The book ends with Pamphilus judging that Cleanthes, his teacher, is closest to the truth and Demea is the less near the truth than either Philo or Cleanthes.
Outline of Arguments and Commentary
While the text contains many logical fallacies, most or all were intentionally crafted by the author to fulfil the aims of the book.
The introduction is an epistle from Pamphilus to Hermippus. It observes that while the format of a dialogue has disadvantages, it is suitable for obscure and uncertain topics in which reasonable men may hold differing opinions. The other parts of the book are Pamphilus's account of the three main characters' debate.
Part 1: What is Scepticism?
The first part discusses scepticism, the relationship between reason and religion, and sceptical extremism.
Part 2: The Design Argument
[Part 2 introduces the argument from design and begins criticism of it being a comparison between two vastly different things (human originated order and order in the universe).]
Demea: While the existence of God is self-evident, his nature is incomprehensible because of the infirmities of human understanding. Quoting Father Malebranche, "neither ought we to imagine that the spirit of God has human ideas, or bears any resemblance to our spirit, under colour that we know nothing more perfect than a human mind".
Philo: Indeed, the existence of God is self-evident and an uncaused cause. While God has wisdom and knowledge, we ought not to think our ideas correspond to the perfection of God. We are limited in our knowledge of God due to the lack of empirical evidence.
"Our ideas reach no further than our experience. We have no experience of divine attributes and operations. I need not conclude my syllogism. You can draw the inference yourself."
- — Philo
Cleanthes: The existence and nature of God is known by the Argument from design:
- Premise: The world is adjusted and fine tuned.
- Premise: The adjustment of the world "resembles exactly, though it much exceeds, the productions of human contrivance; of human designs, thought, wisdom, and intelligence."
- From (1) and (2), we can conclude that the causes of both have a resemblance, in that they both have a designer.
Only this argument a posteriori proves the existence of God and his similarity to the Human mind.
Demea: Cleanthes, you are rash to dismiss a priori arguments.
Philo: I am more concerned with the strength of the conclusion. Knowledge is based on repeated experiences: a stone will fall, fire will burn, etc. However, in cases that are dissimilar, analogical reasoning is prone to error. For instance, we can have a strong expectation that blood circulates in flogs and fish, but it would be incorrect to compare blood circulation to the flow of nutrients in vegetables. We know a house has a designer from direct experience. However, a universe is strikingly dissimilar to a house! The argument from design's conclusion is therefore only a guess or conjecture. [Note: Philo here attacks Premise 2.]
Cleanthes: Stairs are designed for climbing by human legs. Legs are designed for walking and climbing and while this inference is not as certain, does it only deserve the name of guess or conjecture?
Demea: I am shocked you think the basis for the existence of God falls below perfect evidence.
Philo: I hope to show Cleanthes the dangerous consequences of his position. However, the argument from design may be clarified as follows:
- Pure reason is not sufficient to determine the cause of the universe.
- Experience alone allows the true cause of any phenomena to be discovered. [See Evidentialism.]
- "Order, arrangement, or the adjustment of final causes, is not of itself any proof of design; but only so far as it has been experienced to proceed from that principle". [He argues we can use an argument of anology from known sources of order.]
- Matter may contain the source of order within itself.
- Premise: Experience shows matter does not self organise (according to Cleanthes) [See also the 747 Junkyard argument.]
- Premise: Humans are known to design and order using their mind.
- Premise: The universe is ordered.
- From (5) and (6): Experience shows that order originates from a mind, not in matter.
- From (7) and (8): The universe has a designer.
However, I object to the asserted resemblance between God and Human mind.
"With your assistance, therefore, DEMEA, I shall endeavour to defend what you justly call the adorable mysteriousness of the Divine Nature, and shall refute this reasoning of CLEANTHES, provided he allows that I have made a fair representation of it."
- — Philo
For analogical reasoning, a difference in the cases can undermine the strength of the conclusion. How similar is the universe to human works? There are many principles in the universe apart from reason. We know something of our local neighbourhood of the universe, but can this knowledge be transferred to the whole universe by analogy? The difference in scale bars all comparison or inference. Also, why only consider the principle of reason as which appears on Earth? The inhabitants of other planets may possess reason and design that are very different to ours. How are we justified in making something similar to human reason the cause for the entire universe? This is the spotlight fallacy. We have only observed the universe for a short time and only in its mature state. What unknown principles may have acted in the early universes?
"Is nature in one situation, a certain rule for nature in another situation vastly different from the former?"
- — Philo
Since this topic is vastly beyond human comprehension, scepticism is the more preferable option. To compare the creation of a universe to the creation of a house, we would need experience of both.
"And will any man tell me with a serious countenance, that an orderly universe must arise from some thought and art like the human, because we have experience of it? To ascertain this reasoning, it were requisite that we had experience of the origin of worlds; and it is not sufficient, surely, that we have seen ships and cities arise from human art and contrivance..."
- — Philo
Cleanthes: The objections you raised are absurd because they would also apply to Copernican heliocentrism. We have only observed this Earth. "Have you other earths [...] which you have seen to move? Have..."
Philo: "Yes! [...] we have other earths. Is not the moon another earth, which we see to turn round its centre? Is not Venus another earth, where we observe the same phenomenon?" Galileo found multiple specific resemblances between each planet, so that knowledge may be transferred from one planet to the other planet, by analogy.
"In this cautious proceeding of the astronomers, you may read your own condemnation, CLEANTHES; or rather may see, that the subject in which you are engaged exceeds all human reason and inquiry. Can you pretend to show any such similarity between the fabric of a house, and the generation of a universe? Have you ever seen nature in any such situation as resembles the first arrangement of the elements? Have worlds ever been formed under your eye; and have you had leisure to observe the whole progress of the phenomenon, from the first appearance of order to its final consummation? If you have, then cite your experience, and deliver your theory."
- — Philo
Part 3: Defending the Design Argument and Are God's Attributes Similar to Humans?
[Part 3 rebuilds the argument from design but with no better foundations than in Part 2. The implicit comparison the design argument makes between humans and God is discussed, which is the subject of several later parts.]
Cleanthes: It not necessary to demonstrate the similarity between human works and the universe because it is self evident and undeniable. Suppose there was a disembodied voice that spoke to all people in their own language and conveyed instruction worthy of the supreme being, it would be clearly attributable to God. Your objections in this situation might be the same: this extraordinary voice is unlike any voice we have previously experienced and therefore we may not attribute any cause for the voice. By your reasoning, you might say the cause is the accidental whistling of the winds. Clearly, your objections are trivial.
[Cleanthes first claims the similarity between human works and the universe is "obvious" without providing specific evidence. He then begs the question by inferring "god" from "a voice worthy of God". The point that a disembodied voice is dissimilar to a human voice is valid, but is in agreement with Philo. Saying the scepticism of Philo would attribute the voice to the "accidental whistling of the winds" is a straw man argument.]
Suppose books reproduced themselves while preserving their contents, written in a universal, invariable language. Support then that you entered a library filled with these books. If you were to read any of them, you would be struck by the fact that the original cause of the books is an intelligent mind. Would you still conclude they originated from something other than thought and design?
[Cleanthes makes an analogy between human works and a self reproducing book. This analogy is not similar to comparing human works to the universe and therefore a red herring. Philo does not claim that the universe is not intelligently designed by rather we should exercise scepticism and suspend judgement. The second point is therefore a straw man argument.]
Animals are stronger evidence of design than even a self reproducing book.
"Choose, then, your party, PHILO, without ambiguity or evasion; assert either that a rational volume is no proof of a rational cause, or admit of a similar cause to all the works of nature."
- — Cleanthes
[Animal bodies are highly ordered but Cleanthes is begging the question by assuming they are designed. Also, order in animal bodies is not similar to a self reproducing book, so this point is a false or weak analogy. Even if an animal is more ordered than a book, it does not mean it was more likely to be designed.]
Sceptics reject weak arguments but to "adhere to common sense and the plain instincts of nature". They would therefore accept the Argument from design.
[This point misrepresents scepticism.]
Many written works contain controversial sections that are contrary to normal rules of writing. However, order dominates disorder in written work and this is similar to nature. Philo's disbelief of the argument from design is a result of his over-scepticism rather than stupidity.
[At this stage Philo is little embarrassed and confounded. This is probably a literary device to avoid Philo repeating the objections which Cleanthes did not properly address.]
Demea: Is it presumptuous to think we understand God, his nature and his attributes? When we read a book, we enter into the mind of the author. Be we cannot say we approach an understanding of God when we contemplate the great and inexplicable riddle of nature. If we do, we are guilty of partiality by making ourselves the model of the whole universe. All our emotions and faculties are suited for preserving us in our current circumstance. It seems unreasonable to transfer these faculties to the supreme existence. Our thoughts are fluctuating, uncertain, fleeting, successive, and compounded and if these terms where applied to the mind of God, their meaning would be incomprehensible by our infirm nature.
[Demea ends by arguing for scepticism in situations outside our experience.]
Part 4: A Static God and What Created God?
[Part 4 criticises the concept of a static, perfect God as not having a mind at all. The issue of "what caused God?" is introduced.]
Cleanthes: It is strange that you, Demea, insist on the incomprehensible nature of God. By reducing God to only a name, without any meaning, is God of such mighty importance? How are you different from atheists that insist that the cause of the universe is unknown?
Demea: A humans ideas arrange themselves in a particular form but this is immediately replaced by another arrangement. Humans are unlike God, who exists in one simple, perfect state and has no succession, no change, no acquisition, no diminution.
Cleanthes: To insist on the simplicity of God is to be a mystic and without knowing it: atheist. We should acknowledge the attributes of God that are necessary to his nature.
"A mind, whose acts and sentiments and ideas are not distinct and successive; one, that is wholly simple, and totally immutable, is a mind which has no thought, no reason, no will, no sentiment, no love, no hatred; or, in a word, is no mind at all."
- — Cleanthes
Philo: Most orthodox theologians maintained the principles you have condemned. If idolaters be atheists, as well as the theologians, where is the celebrated universal consent of mankind for the existence of God?
There is no grounds to suppose a plan of the world can form in the creator's mind in a similar way as an architect forms the design of a house. I will endeavour to show this and other inconveniences of Cleanthes's anthropomorphism.
The mental world or the universe of ideas requires a cause as much as the material world. From experience or indeed by pure reason, they are both similarly arranged and both require a similar cause. We have miniature examples of order in both cases: our minds (which are formed of ideas) and vegetable or animal bodies (which are formed of matter). Let our inference be based on experience of these cases. The cause of ideas is subject to many circumstances, including age, weather, books, food or company. The causes of the material world are not more complex than the cause of ideas.
How shall we determine the cause of the author of nature? Or the cause of the world of ideas which in turn caused the material world? Is the world of ideas traceable back to another world of ideas, and so on to infinity? What satisfaction is there in an infinite series? It would be better to confine ourselves to the present material world. Moving beyond the mundane system only excites our inquisitiveness but can not satisfy it.
To say the reason of the supreme being falls into place by its own nature is to talk without a precise meaning. Or why is it not good sense to say the universe falls into place by its own nature? Can one be intelligible and the other not so?
[The term necessarily existent being is sometimes used for this type of argument.]
We have instances of both ideas and matter falling into an arrangement without an external cause; for instance the case of ideas and in the reproduction of life. We also see systems of ideas and matter with no order. What is gained by assigning ideas as the cause of order in matter? Since this leads to an infinite chain of causes, it would be better to limit our inquires to the present world.
It is a cheat to say that bread nourished by its nutritive faculty or it is "the nature of bread". In a similar fashion, if asked "what produces order in the ideas of the supreme being", it is a similar cheat to insist that "such is the nature of God". Further, could we not insist that it is the "nature of the world" for it to exist? There is no advantage of one hypothesis over another.
[This explains the concept of begging the question, rather like saying "Opium induces sleep because it has a soporific quality". Also, can the universe itself be the "necessarily existent Being"?]
Cleanthes: If I were to determine the cause of some effect, it is no objection if I cannot answer "what is the cause of that cause?".
"You start abstruse doubts,, and objections: You ask me, what is the cause of this cause? I know not; I care not; that concerns not me. I have found a Deity; and here I stop my inquiry. Let those go further, who are wiser or more enterprising."
- — Cleanthes
Philo: I would have gone no further than the present world since the hypothesis of a self arranging, world of ideas has no advantage over a material cause which attains order in a like manner.
[Philo ends on a characteristically sceptical point.]
Part 5: A Finite Universe Implies a Finite Designer
[Part 5 points out the argument from design also implies many other attributes of God that are absurd or not favourable to theists.]
Philo: Like causes prove like effects (by analogy). Differences of either the cause or effect results in a weak analogy. In true theism, the grandeur of the universe imply a deity, but under experimental theism the universe's vastness becomes an objection. The each new astronomical discovery increases the difference between the universe and human works. Ancient writers marvelled at the vast undertaking in the creation of the universe and doubted any being could be equal to the task. If this argument had force in earlier ages, must not its force have increased with recent discoveries?
[The concept of "true" theism is a No true Scotsman fallacy.]
"And what say you to the discoveries in anatomy, chemistry, botany?... These surely are no objections, replied CLEANTHES; they only discover new instances of art and contrivance. It is still the image of mind reflected on us from innumerable objects. Add, a mind like the human, said PHILO. I know of no other, replied CLEANTHES. And the liker the better, insisted PHILO. To be sure, said CLEANTHES.
Now, CLEANTHES, said PHILO, with an air of alacrity and triumph, mark the consequences."
- — Part 5
Philo: The observed universe is not infinite. The cause must be proportioned to the effect. Therefore, we cannot ascribe infinity to the Divine Being.
Secondly, the universe is imperfect and filled with inexplicable difficulties, therefore the designer is imperfect. Alternatively, we can admit that our limited view provides no way to evaluate the universe to support any praise or blame.
[This is the Argument from poor design, which is discussed more fully in later parts.]
Given a single example of excellent workmanship, can we be sure to ascribe all the excellencies to the workman? If we see a majestic ship, we might be surprised to find the carpenter to be a dull mechanic who copied the designs of others. The source he copied from might have been formed based on many mistaken attempts, corrections and trials that accumulated over time. Similarly, many worlds may have been attempted and botched over long ages, until the current form was struck out.
How does the argument from design support the unity of the deity? From experience, we know many people join to construct a city, a ship or a commonwealth. Why not several deities working to form a world? The hypothesis of several creation deities has an advantage, because a single great intelligence is not require and the lesser deities are more similar to the observed phenomena of mind. If balancing scale was placed in front of us with the weights on one side are hidden, we could not determine if there was a united mass or collection of smaller weights. If the required united single weight was larger than any previously observed, the idea of composite weight becomes more natural and probable.
To multiply causes without necessity is not philosophical, but this does not apply to the case of multiple creators or a single creator. Neither possibility is absurd and we have no way to resolve the controversy. However, a single being powerful enough to create the universe exceeds all analogy or comprehension.
Also, if God has similar attributes to humans, we observe that people reproduce and are divided into male and female. Why should these universal and essential principles be excluded from those numerous deities? And why not perfect our anthropomorphism and suppose God has eyes, nose, mouth and ears?
"This world, for aught he [man] knows, is very faulty and imperfect, compared to a superior standard; and was only the first rude essay of some infant deity, who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance: it is the work only of some dependent, inferior deity; and is the object of derision to his superiors: it is the production of old age and dotage in some superannuated deity; and ever since his death, has run on at adventures, from the first impulse and active force which it received from him. You justly give signs of horror, DEMEA, at these strange suppositions; but these, and a thousand more of the same kind, are CLEANTHES's suppositions, not mine."
- — Philo
[The general approach used by Philo is to show the supposedly absurd implications of the argument from design. It is related to the Argument from poor design. The belief in a subordinate imperfect creator deity was common in Gnosticism.]
Alternatively, the argument from design may support the universe arose from something like design but it cannot tell us anything about the designer.
Cleanthes: These suppositions I absolutely disown. However, I am please you have not been able to get rid of the hypothesis of the design of the universe and I adhere to this concession steadily.
[Cleanthes claims that merely giving a subject attention is tacit agreement and concession of the argument in earlier parts.]
Part 6: The Design Argument Allows for Many Types of Designer
[Part 6 shows the design argument allows for deism, pantheism, eternally existing order or a non-contingent designer.]
Demea: What worship or obedience should be paid to these deity or deities, if their attributes are unknown? To all purposes of life, the theory of religion becomes altogether useless.
Philo: There occurs to be a further unsatisfactory consequence of insisting on the similarity between God and humans. If we see the co-occurrence of two phenomena in several known circumstances, we should expect to see one phenomena accompanied by the other phenomena in any later situation. Thus if we observe human limbs, we expect they are accompanies by a human head.
[This is also called inductive reasoning.]
The universe is more similar to an animal body than a machine. "The world, therefore, I infer, is an animal; and the Deity is the SOUL of the world, actuating it, and actuated by it." This opinion was held by nearly all theists of antiquity. This theory has some advantages: a mind without body has not been observed but always occur together. The possibility of a body being ordered of itself, or by unknown causes, is just as likely as a similar order belong to mind.
Cleanthes: I have no opinion of this theory, on so short an examination. While the world does resemble an animal in many respects, there are some defects in the comparison: no senses, no seat of thought, no precise origin of action. In short, the universe bears a stronger resemblance to a vegetable. Your inference regarding the soul of the world would be inconclusive in this case.
Another objection is your theory implies the eternity of the world. Many arts and sciences are recent discoveries or creations. However, the written histories of the ancient world were nearly lost and if they were, we may falsely ascribe an ancient origin rather than the correct, recent time of discoveries. A stronger argument is found in the absence of plant and animal species in habitats that would be expected to be ideal indicates the world is young or in infancy. Nothing less than total convulsion of the elements would erase this evidence.
[Cleanthes assumes the God is eternal and if God and the world are the same thing, the world must also be of infinite age. He points out that this is contrary to observations of the world.
Hume probably would reference the Big Bang theory, if modern science was available to him. The age of the Earth was significantly underestimated until 1895 and only accurately estimated in 1956. Arguably the Big Bang is unlike any event observed since and beyond any possible analogy (or at least any hypothesis that we can currently test).]
Philo: What argument have you against such convulsions? The whole earth has undergone incessant changes, such as being submerged by water. However, all these changes have been transitions from one state of order to another and no total transformation. According to the reasoning that "what we see in a part we may infer in the whole", we may find an eternal order in the universe although attended by continual revolution and alteration. While this theory has no obvious objections, it is not complete or satisfying. However, we must have recourse to it, since how could order arise without an original order, in thought or in matter?
[The Big Bang theory is generally accepted by scientists, implying a finite age of the universe. Other models suggest a oscillatory view of the universe, in a huge Big Bounce. The latter point in the text touches the main theme of the next park: where can order come from?]
We see the universe is governed by steady, inviolable laws. Instead of admiring the order of natural beings, we should see the impossibility of it being otherwise, to the smallest article.
["What really interests me is whether God had any choice in the creation of the World." Einstein. If natural laws governed the creation of the universe and the design was non-contingent, the designer was more of a blind watchmaker. The Fine-tuning argument also addresses cosmology, physical constants and contingency of design.]
The argument from design admits the hypothesises of scepticism, polytheism and (mono)theism, and none have advantage over the others.
[See also Which god? ]
Part 7: What Other Principles Give Rise to Order?
[Part 7 discusses other principles that are observed to result in order, apart from design.]
Philo: The universe bears a greater likeness to an animal or vegetable than human works. The cause must therefore be similar. The cause of order in animals and vegetables is reproduction. The universe therefore originated by reproduction rather than design.
Demea: Please explain this argument a little further.
Philo: Cleanthes has argued that, by experience, the world resembles human works, therefore their causes are similar. If we waive my previous objections to this reasoning, we find there are other parts of the universe that resemble the fabric of the world. These parts are animals and vegetables. The world plainly resembles an animal or vegetable more closely than a knitting loom or watch. Therefore, the cause of order in the world is more probably resembles the causes of animal or vegetable forms. This cause is reproduction.
Demea: But how can a world arise from reproduction?
Philo: In a similar manner to a tree giving rise to neighbouring trees, the world produces nearby worlds in the surrounding chaos. Or like an animal, which leaves eggs that hatch without further intervention...
[A recent theory of a reproducing universe was proposed by Lee Smolin and called cosmological natural selection or fecund universes.]
"I understand you, says DEMEA: But what wild, arbitrary suppositions are these! What data have you for such extraordinary conclusions? And is the slight, imaginary resemblance of the world to a vegetable or an animal sufficient to establish the same inference with regard to both? Objects, which are in general so widely different, ought they to be a standard for each other?
Right, cries PHILO: This is the topic on which I have all along insisted. I have still asserted, that we have no data to establish any system of cosmogony."
- — Part 7
Philo: Our limited experience prevents us finding a probably conjecture for the origin of order and if we ignore that, by what rule are we to determine the debate?
Demea: Can you explain the operation of reproduction, in this case?
Philo: I can as well as Cleanthes can explain the principle of reason and design.
[This references the discussion at the end of Part 4]
When I see an animal, I know it arose from reproduction as surely as I know a house had a designer. The principles of design and reproduction have known effects but an unknown essence. Neither principle has privilege over the other to be proclaimed the model of the entire universe.
In this little corner of the universe, we know of reason, reproduction and instinct. What other unknown principles might exist in the universe?
Demea: If the universe arose from vegetation or reproduction, is this evidence of a designer?
Philo: A tree bestows order on offspring trees without knowing the order, an animal in a similar fashion. These examples are more common then order from design. When Cleanthes asks me the cause of reproduction, I am equally entitled to ask him the cause of this reasoning principle. He argued that we need not trace causes to earlier causes indefinitely. Judging from our limited experience, we see reason arise from reproduction but never reproduction arising from reason.
Explaining creation by reproduction was popular in ancient mythology. The Brahmins assert an infinite spider spun the world from its bowls and will eventually reabsorb it into its essence. We find this idea ridiculous because a spider is a little contemptible animal. However, on a planet inhabited entirely by spiders, this idea would be considered obvious and natural. Why may a universe be spun from the brain and not from the bowls?
[Hume is probably referencing the Hindu text Mundaka Upanishad (1.1.7).]
Cleanthes: I am unable to solve such out of the way difficulties but I generally see their fallacy and error. You must be aware that common sense and reason are entirely against you.
[The part finishes with an argument from personal incredulity.]
Part 8: Does Order Need A Cause?
[Part 8 discusses if a "cause" is even required for order to arise.]
Philo: Reasonable people find a single probable explanation for subjects that are suited for our narrow human reason. But in the question at hand, a hundred contradictory views may be proposed that have as much merit as the design hypothesis.
We could revive the Epicurean hypothesis, absurd as it is, and modify it to have some appearance of probability.
[ Epicurus considered that the universe was infinite, continually changing and the order we see are the result of necessity and happenstance and will eventually dissolve.]
Let us consider the universe to be finite. A finite number of particles have only a finite number of possible states. Over an infinite time, every possible state must have previously existed an infinite number of times.
Demea: This supposes that matter can attain motion without a voluntary agent.
Philo: Every event, before experience seems incomprehensible and after experience often considered intelligible. Motion often originates in matter without a voluntary agent, such as with gravity. To suppose a voluntary agent is required is a mere hypothesis without any evidence.
Perhaps the same motion in matter has persisted for eternity. Irrespective of the cause of motion, there is hardly any matter in the present world that is stationary. This observation suggests a new cosmogony that is not absolutely absurd: is there a system that maintains continual motion while preserving its order? That case is the present Earth. Matter in finite states will eventually reach an ordered state and that state supports and maintains itself for many ages, or for eternity. The order resulting from continual motion would appear to have all the attributes of being the result of design. If disorder dominates in the universe, innumerable revolutions occur until some forms are produced which can support themselves in the surrounding chaos. If matter continues to change from state to state, no particular order will be maintained but every possible situation will be produced.
[This echoes the theory of abiogenesis (the conjectured natural process of life arising from non-living matter) but in this case Hume is using a similar idea to explain order. Philo's concept of an order persisting for eternity is not compatible with the modern theory of Thermodynamics but "order" in Hume's usage probably relates to teleology or local entropy more than entropy in a closed system.]
Perhaps this universe alternates between order and disorder. If the universe was to finally settle into a state of order but without losing the motion in matter, it would resemble the currently observed universe. Every individual element is perpetually changing but the whole remains. We observe a similar phenomena in animals. Each part of the animal is well adjusted to the others; if this adjustment ceases, the animal dies. However, the matter is taken up in new forms that are again ordered. This pattern is repeated throughout the world.
Cleanthes: How can this system give rise to useful conveniences such as organs that are not necessary for survival, goods for our enjoyment, camels for traversing deserts, magnetism for navigating oceans? These instances are evidence enough for benevolent design.
Philo: All theories that have been proposed are somewhat incomplete or have some objection, particularly from our limited experience and nature. All ideas of usefulness are based on real objects but you have reversed this order and give thought precedence.
"All religious systems, it is confessed, are subject to great and insuperable difficulties. Each disputant triumphs in his turn; while he carries on an offensive war, and exposes the absurdities, barbarities, and pernicious tenets of his antagonist. But all of them, on the whole, prepare a complete triumph for the Sceptic; who tells them, that no system ought ever to be embraced with regard to such subjects: For this plain reason, that no absurdity ought ever to be assented to with regard to any subject."
- — Philo
[This quotation summarises the main goal of the book.]
Part 9: The First Cause Argument
[Part 9 introduces the uncaused cause argument. The argument is criticised for its avoidance of evidence, the assumption the universe cannot self-create or always exist (in contrast to God) and ignoring the possibility that the universe's design is non-contingent.]
Cleanthes: Which specific argument would you use? By examining it, we can best determine its value.
Demea: I would insist on the common (uncaused cause) argument:
- Nothing can cause itself
- From (1), everything that exists has a cause
- The chain of previous causes is either infinite or finite
- Each cause only explains its immediate effect
- From (2), the entire chain of causes, either infinite or finite, requires a separate explanation for existence, rather than any alternative or nothing at all. "What was it, then, which determined Something to exist rather than Nothing, and bestowed being on a particular possibility, exclusive of the rest?"
- There are no other external causes, chance is a word without [philosophical] meaning.
- From (5) and (6): "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 are many problems with this argument, particularly the final step not being informative about the nature of God.]
Cleanthes: It is absurd to use a priori arguments to demonstrate or prove matters of fact.
- Premise: Nothing can be proved to exist a priori unless its non-existence would imply a contradiction.
- Premise: Nothing that is demonstrable or distinctly conceivable implies a contradiction.
- Premise: For everything that conceivably existing, we can also conceive its non-existence.
- From (2) and (3), there is no being whose non-existence implies a contradiction.
- From (1) and (4), there is no being who's existence is demonstrable a priori.
"I propose this argument as entirely decisive, and am willing to rest the whole controversy upon it."
- — Cleanthes
You have claimed that if we were to know the whole essence of God, we would see that his non-existence is impossible. However, this cannot happen because our limited faculties cannot lie under the necessity of supposing any object remaining in existence, in the same fashion as two plus two equals four. We can, at any time, conceive God's non-existence.
Further, why may not the universe be the necessarily existence being? It is possible that an unknown property of matter makes its non-existence impossible. And if we consider matter to be conceivably alterable and conceivably non-existent, why not the deity?
Regarding the cause of a chain of causes, if I show you a collection of twenty particles and explained the cause of each individual, I would think it unreasonable to ask for a cause for the entire collection. This uniting of several parts into a whole is only an act of mind and has no influence on the nature of things. It is sufficiently explained by the known cause of each part.
Philo: There exist some curious patterns in arithmetic, such as the addition of digits from any multiple of 9 always results in a lesser product of 9 . A superficial view of this might be that it was the product of design or chance. However, a skilled mathematician might observe this pattern is necessity from the properties of the numbers. Might not the universe also be under similar laws of necessity, although humans may never solve the riddle of observed order? Instead of admiring the order in the universe, we might see it could never be in any other state? It is dangerous to introduce the idea of necessity into the cause of the universe because it results an opposite conclusion than theism.
[Philo already raised the possibility of the non-contingent design of the universe in Part 6.]
Arguments based on a priori reasoning are only convincing to philosophers and mathematicians, while other people may find an alternative basis for their religion.
Part 10: The Problem of Evil
[Part 10 introduces the problem of evil, and the related problem of "where does evil come from?"]
Dema: Although every person feels religion in their own heart, what wretched creatures we are!
Philo: The misery and wickedness of men support the case of religion. It is not necessary to logically prove what every person feels.
Demea: From experience, people are generally convinced of their unhappiness and the unsatisfactory enjoyment of pleasure.
Philo: "In this point, [...] the learned are perfectly agreed with the vulgar [...]"
Demea: Almost every author that has written about human life has complained about it. At least, there is no philosopher who has denied is misery of life.
Philo: Except for Leibniz.
[And some of lesser fame, including bishop William King.]
Demea: And being the first to claim that, Leibniz should have realised his error. Can he contradict the united testimony of mankind?
Philo: All animals are born and live in distress; why would humans be exempt? Every creature is surrounded by predators and parasites.
Demea: Man alone can seem to overcome these threats by their cooperation in society.
Philo: On the contrary! While man can overcome these enemies but immediately creates imaginary enemies. His thoughts and superstitions destroy all pleasure and rest. Also, man is the greatest enemy of man.
Demea: And these are nothing compared to the suffering of disease. And no worse is suffering from a disorder of the mind. It is easy to find examples of human distress but were could look to find as great happiness or joy?
Philo: If these complaints originate from our discontented disposition, this is another guarantee of our misery. While we are miserable in life, we are afraid of death. "We are terrified, not bribed to the continuance of our existence."
A few refined people may be the source of spreading this negative judgement. However, this is only the result of being more aware of the world and thereby unhappy. Taking rest from these troubles only results in further misery.
I can observe something like what you mention in some others, replied CLEANTHES: but I confess I feel little or nothing of it in myself, and hope that it is not so common as you represent it.
If you feel not human misery yourself, cried DEMEA, I congratulate you on so happy a singularity.
Demea: Consider Charles V, who claimed every pleasure was mixed with so many adversities. Or Cicero's account of Cato, who said that "had he a new life in his offer, he would reject the present."
[Presumably Hume is referring to Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. After ruling vigorously for 34 years, Charles V abdicated due to illness and exhaustion, saying he was not "so fond of reigning, as to retain the sceptre in an impotent hand, which was no longer able to protect his subjects" .
Cicero put these words in the mouth of Cato the Elder:
"The sincere truth is, if some divinity would confer upon me a new grant of my life, and replace me once more in the cradle, I would utterly, and without the least hesitation, reject the offer; having well-nigh finished my race, I have no inclination to return to the goal. For what has life to recommend it? Or rather, indeed, to what evils does it not expose us?"
- — "Cato Maior de Senectute" by Cicero, 44 BC
Both these sources, when taken in context, are approving of life and look forward to retirement or death with magnanimity and satisfaction. This might be a case of Cherry picking by Demea and probably a deliberate choice by Hume to indicate his true view by the use of irony.]
Ask anyone if they would live their last 20 years, they say : "No! but the next twenty, will be better", in the vain hope the dregs of life will compensate them.
Philo: Can you, Cleanthes, still persist in your anthropomorphism of God and suggest that God is similar to human in his virtues and moral attributes?
"EPICURUS's old questions are yet unanswered. Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?"
- — Philo
[This is the problem of evil.]
Philo: The design of animals seems to merely maintain individuals and propagate each species. There are scarce few sources of pleasure, such as music, that is not mixed with misery. The beneficial examples are easily outnumbered by causes of pure suffering, such as disease. How do you account for this and the benevolence of the designer?
"And have you at last, said CLEANTHES smiling, betrayed your intentions, PHILO? Your long agreement with DEMEA did indeed a little surprise me; but I find you were all the while erecting a concealed battery against me. And I must confess, that you have now fallen upon a subject worthy of your noble spirit of opposition and controversy. If you can make out the present point, and prove mankind to be unhappy or corrupted, there is an end at once of all religion. For to what purpose establish the natural attributes of the Deity, while the moral are still doubtful and uncertain?"
- — Cleanthes
Demea: Have not all theologians observed the wickedness of man? And have they not given the solution to this problem? The present evil phenomena are rectified in other regions, and in some future period of existence.
"No! replied CLEANTHES, No! These arbitrary suppositions can never be admitted, contrary to matter of fact, visible and uncontroverted. Whence can any cause be known but from its known effects? Whence can any hypothesis be proved but from the apparent phenomena? To establish one hypothesis upon another, is building entirely in the air; and the utmost we ever attain, by these conjectures and fictions, is to ascertain the bare possibility of our opinion; but never can we, upon such terms, establish its reality."
- — Cleanthes
Cleanthes: The only solution to this problem is to deny the wickedness and misery of man. Health is more common than sickness; pleasure than pain; happiness than misery.
Philo: Even if this were the case, observe that pain is more intense than pleasure. You also put you position on a dangerous footing by insisting that the happiness of humans proves the existence and nature of the designer. It is difficult to evaluate all suffering and all happiness, and conclusions based on this are therefore doubtful.
And yet it is not enough to show happiness is more common that misery. While we assert that God has infinite power, knowledge and benevolence, the existence of any suffering at all will be problematic.
"Nothing can shake the solidity of this reasoning [of the problem of evil], so short, so clear, so decisive; except we assert, that these subjects exceed all human capacity, and that our common measures of truth and falsehood are not applicable to them; a topic which I have all along insisted on, but which you have, from the beginning, rejected with scorn and indignation."
- — Philo
[Again, Philo asserts that scepticism or mysticism are the only refuge from these philosophical difficulties.]
And even if misery is compatible with an infinite God, a mere compatibility is not sufficient to prove the existence of an infinite God from these mixed phenomena.
"Here, CLEANTHES, I find myself at ease in my argument. Here I triumph."
- — Philo
Formerly, I needed all my subtlety to contest the argument from design.
"It is your turn now to tug the labouring oar, and to support your philosophical subtleties against the dictates of plain reason and experience."
- — Philo
Part 11: A Finite God and the Imperfect Design of the Universe
[Broadly speaking, this part is an argument from poor design and continues expanding on the problem of evil. Cleanthes suggests God is finite to try to solve the problem of evl but Philo argues this doesn't solve the difficulty.]
Cleanthes: When we speak of "infinite", this is more a term of adoration than of philosophy and we are better using more accurate terms. We base our conception of God on our limited experience and anything beyond that leads to absurdity or to abandonment of all religion. While we consider God as similar to humans, it is difficult to reconcile an infinite God with the existence of suffering. Suppose God was finite but far exceeding men. He would choose lesser evils to avoid greater evils but limited by necessity. This would perhaps resemble the phenomena we observe?
Philo: Even if God had finite power or knowledge, the universe does not resemble what we would expect from such a God. However, if a person was convinced on other grounds, he may rationalise the compatibility of a finite God with the observed world based on the limits of his narrow view of the world. However, he cannot form an idea of goodness of God from what he does not know.
If you visited a poorly designed house, you would certainly blame the architect. The architect may defend each of the particulars of the design, but while overall design could conceivably be better we will continue to blame the architect. Ignorance of a better design will not convince us of the impossibility of it.
While the problem of evil is unanswered, we cannot infer the existence of God from the moral phenomena of the world. There are four types of evil which encompass most human misery, which appear to humans as avoidable and unnecessary:
- why is pain necessary when the feeling of pleasure alone might be sufficient,
- the world operates by general laws rather than by some other system, such as subtle divine interventions: he who knows the secret springs of the world could influence sickness, weather and circumstances to reduce evil without our awareness,
- the precariousness of life, in that all our faculties are required for mere survival without any faculties to prevent accidents, (e.g. if humans were more industrious, this would mitigate many evils without exalting our status in the universe)
- natural evil, where rains are often too much or not enough, tempests and hurricanes, extreme heat and cold as well as excessively strong passions and desires.
Can we say this apparent phenomena are unnecessary, from our limited understanding? Let us be more modest: let us admit these phenomena are compatible with God, however we cannot infer the goodness of God from them.
You admire the design in individual animals, but taken together:
"[Regarding living things,] How hostile and destructive to each other! How insufficient all of them for their own happiness! How contemptible or odious to the spectator! The whole presents nothing but the idea of a blind Nature, impregnated by a great vivifying principle, and pouring forth from her lap, without discernment or parental care, her maimed and abortive children!"
- — Philo
Given the mixed phenomena, a better hypothesis is Manichaeism. However, there is no evidence of a conflict in the other parts of the universe. But considering the mixture of pleasure and pain in individuals, and other principles in opposition throughout the universe, the true conclusion is the original source of the universe is indifferent to all these principles.
[This is similar to Deism in the belief that God does not intervene in the world, but contrasts with Philo's point that God is amoral.]
There are four hypothesis concerning the attributes of the first cause of the universe:
- perfect goodness
- perfect malice
- both goodness and malice
- neither goodness nor malice
The mixed phenomena cannot prove (1) or (2). [Philo apparently dismisses these by an argument from ignorance.] The uniformity of general laws appear to discount (3). Therefore (4) is most probable. Moral and natural evil are similar in this regard, except perhaps moral evil is more predominant than moral good, relative to natural phenomena. While there is any evil at all, it will be an objection to an anthropomorphic God.
[PHILO:] You must assign a cause for [evil], without having recourse to the first cause. But as every effect must have a cause, and that cause another, you must either carry on the progression in infinitum, or rest on that original principle, who is the ultimate cause of all things...
Hold! hold! cried DEMEA: Whither does your imagination hurry you? I joined in alliance with you, in order to prove the incomprehensible nature of the Divine Being, and refute the principles of CLEANTHES, who would measure every thing by human rule and standard. But I now find you running into all the topics of the greatest libertines and infidels, and betraying that holy cause which you seemingly espoused. Are you secretly, then, a more dangerous enemy than CLEANTHES himself?
And are you so late in perceiving it? replied CLEANTHES. Believe me, DEMEA, your friend PHILO, from the beginning, has been amusing himself at both our expense [...]
Cleanthes: In ignorant ages, theologians argued that God was unknowable, humans were wicked and fallible but in modern times...
Philo: Theologians adapt their arguments to suit their times. Now they argue there is more good than evil in the world.
[Demea leaves the debate at this point, leaving Philo and Cleanthes to continue.]
Part 12: Religious Belief
[Part 12 covers miscellaneous issues that are not related to the existence or attributes of God. Firstly, is the debate just semantic differences? The emotions related to religion. Does religion have a positive impact on people? Philo changes his position on the argument from design. The book concludes with a call for scepticism regarding the attributes of God.]
Philo: I am not cautious in my arguments because the universe is obviously designed. Nature operates by the simplest principles, such as with the Copernican system. The same is true in philosophy, in which science implies a first intelligent author.
In the human body there are thousands of instances of adjustment, which also implies a God. What better proof of a God could we expect than the design of the universe? We have many instances of design, and we can expect vastly more to be discovered which again imply a designer.
[See Argument from ignorance.]
Cleanthes: While a man may argue that scepticism is preferable of the design argument, he cannot maintain a non-system in his mind as consistently as even a false system.
Philo: We can infer the existence of God from design, however the differences in causes leads us to infer the higher power of the creator. Considering the difference between humans and God, any controversy over his attributes (such as if he is a "mind" or "intelligence") is merely an insignificant disagreement about words. This is similar to an argument over Hannibal being a "great" or a "very great" person.
The most pious people stress the difference between humans and God. Even an Atheist admits there is order in the universe and it is somewhat analogous to many everyday experiences and principles, and these phenomena also have some resemblance to human intelligence. Where is the controversy when theists argue for a creator that is very different to human reason and Atheists admit there is a remote resemblance? This is a similar argument about words and degrees of meaning.
The design of the universe resembles the artistic works of humans, rather than the moral works. This is due to the relative deficiency of human morality.
There is little difference between a dogmatic and a sceptical person. Both admit that there are difficulties with the reliability of our senses and thoughts, as well as the need to assert with certainty in many circumstances. The difference is only in their habits and emphasis.
Cleanthes: Corrupted religion is better than no religion at all. Religion is also necessary for morality, and it is particularly effective since it offers infinite rewards.
Philo: How do we account for evil in public affairs? It seems that lack of religion leads to happiness and prosperity, rather than religion.
[Studies show that religiosity is correlated with various negative behaviours and atheism with societal wellbeing including "higher levels of education and verbal ability, lower levels of prejudice, ethnocentrism, racism, and homophobia, greater support for women’s equality, child-rearing that promotes independent thinking and an absence of corporal punishment, etc".  See also Atheism is immoral.]
Cleanthes: Religion operates silently and is easily overlooked in history. Only when to steps out of its proper bounds does it become noticeable and pernicious.
[If it operates silently, what evidence is there that this is the case?]
Philo: The present moment distracts people from the vague promise of infinite reward in the future. Vulgar religion on one hand claims:
- humans mankind's conduct is generally immoral, and
- religion is necessary for morality and for civil society to continue.
This is a contradiction, given religion exists. Peoples inclinations dominate over their religious beliefs and engages all a person's faculties. Religion has a sporadic influence and people easily find excuses for ignoring their religious duty. However, the cumulative effect of religion, like the weak but continual pull of gravity, will come to exert a great influence. Beware anyone who makes a great profession of religion or of atheism.
Morality that is dependant on religion is vulgar. Philosophical religion needs no such crude basis for it and considers religious ceremonies and observances to be frivolous or bigoted. Religious morality has justified modern atrocities, while ancient religious did not have this tendency.
Morality, while not the opposite of religion, often leads to frivolous and preposterous standards that have negative outcomes. Such unnatural morality cannot be maintained in a person, except by increasingly extreme actions while the heart gradually becomes cold and fatigued. This contradiction becomes contagious, so that the extreme religious zeal leads to the deepest hypocrisy. No morality can bind the zealot from his deranged ideas; the sacredness of the cause sanctifies every measure which can be made use of to promote it. An extreme focus on eternal salvation can extinguish all benevolent actions and encourages selfishness. Therefore vulgar morality has no great or positive influence on behaviour.
[A study of protestant adolescents found a positive link between religious belief and professing positive views of altruism. However, religious belief was negatively correlated with altruistic actions!]
"Is there any maxim in politics more certain and infallible, than that both the number and authority of priests should be confined within very narrow limits; and that the civil magistrate ought, for ever, to keep his fasces [bound wooden bundle symbolising judicial authority] and axes from such dangerous hands? But if the spirit of popular religion were so salutary to society, a contrary maxim ought to prevail."
- — Philo
We would expect priests, who are guided by the spirit, to act with greater benevolence and moderation but their wealth and power is an argument against morality based religion. If society only allows one religion, it loses its freedom. To avoid endless quarrels, different religions should be treated indifferently by judges and the prevailing sect should be restrained.
True religion has none of these negative effects but we must remember how commonly occurring religion is actually manifested in the world. One option (which I reject) is to limit religion and its benefits to a select few. Oaths in a court of law are not given weight by religion but by the setting in which they are taken.
["True religion" is a form of the No true Scotsman fallacy.]
Cleanthes: In your cause of attacking false religion, do not go so far as to attack true religion, which is the only comfort of humans. True religion is the most agreeable reflection and the happiest circumstance is to be born under God's guardianship.
Philo: While this is true for philosophical religion, the majority of religious are more aware of the terror of religion rather than its comforts. People are more inclined to religion when dejected and are less inclined when joyful.
Cleanthes: The dejected find consolation in religion.
Philo: Those in a gloomy mood are likely to imagine hostile divine power. We exalt the deity but contradict ourselves by stating people going to hell outnumber those going to heaven. Death is so shocking that it casts a gloom on all religions and makes us imagine a terrifying afterlife. Happy people apparently have little inclination for religion. When miserable, people are likely to consider religion and may maintain the idea after a change of their situation.
"[...] terror is the primary principle of religion [...]"
- — Philo
For the religious, happiness is always followed by a deeper sadness at the uncertain of a future eternity of happiness or an eternity of misery. Religion causes confusion and the gloom that is so characteristic of devout people. However, it is unreasonable to be terrified by baseless opinions or wild imaginings.
[The link between positive and negative emotions and religion is mixed. Saroglou et al. found self-transcendent emotions were correlated with religion but not all positive emotions showed this effect (such as humour). However, a variety of negative emotions increase religiosity, including socioeconomic problems, insecurity in relationships, bereavement, illness, personal crises, and thinking about mortality .
"It is an absurdity to believe that the Deity has human passions, and one of the lowest of human passions, a restless appetite for applause."
- — Philo
If God is like a human, he would ignore us, being creatures so inferior to himself.
Worship of God lowers him to the state of mankind, who is delighted in presents and flattery. Worse than this, God is thought a demon who exercises his powers without reason. If God were susceptible to offence, this might result in ill for the proponents of these superstitions. The only believers that God might approve of is the philosophical religious, who have a more appropriate view of him or suspends all judgement in such sublime subjects.
The order in the universe implies an intelligence. This intelligence is unknowable and while it possibly has some remote resemblance to human intelligence, we cannot infer any other quality of its mind. Humans will continue to wish for this ignorance to be alleviated and for knowledge of the divine object of our faith.
"[...] PHILO's principles are more probable than DEMEA's; but that those of CLEANTHES approach still nearer to the truth."
- — Pamphilus
Ironic Support of Theism and Criticism of Atheism
David Hume was a renown sceptic and disbeliever in mainstream religion. His book contains several sections that are critical of atheism and agnosticism. Given the author's views, this sections take on an ironic and humorous quality, particularly since they are generally put in the mouth of Philo, who most often reflects Hume's true position.
"The former truth [the being of God], as you well observe, is unquestionable and self-evident. [...] Whoever scruples this fundamental truth, deserves every punishment which can be inflicted among philosophers, to wit, the greatest ridicule, contempt, and disapprobation."
- — Part 2
"In many views of the universe, and of its parts, particularly the latter, the beauty and fitness of final causes strike us with such irresistible force, that all objections appear (what I believe they really are) mere cavils and sophisms; nor can we then imagine how it was ever possible for us to repose any weight on them."
- — Part 10
"I next turn to the Atheist, who, I assert, is only nominally so, and can never possibly be in earnest [...]"
- — Part 12
"[...] none but fools ever repose less trust in a man, because they hear, that from study and philosophy, he has entertained some speculative doubts with regard to theological subjects."
- — Part 12
In the final part, Philo reverses his position and supports the argument from design. The book ends with Pamphilus declaring that mainstream religion including the design argument, as espoused by Cleanthes, was the winner of the debate. These sections may have been a tactic to make the book less controversial and more palatable to religious readers.
- ↑ wiki.answers.com
- ↑ The History of the Reign of the Emperor Charles V., Volume 4 by William Robertson
- ↑ Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions, Phil Zuckerman, 2009
- ↑ Ji, Chang-Ho C., Lori Pendergraft, and Matthew Perry. "Religiosity, altruism, and altruistic hypocrisy: Evidence from Protestant adolescents." Review of Religious Research (2006): 156-178.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 "Positive emotions as leading to religion and spirituality", Vassilis Saroglou, Coralie Buxant, Jonathan Tilquin, The Journal of Positive Psychology (Impact Factor: 1.67). 07/2008; 3:165-173. DOI:10.1080/17439760801998737