David Hume’s Conception of God and View of ReligionsJune 26, 2021
Look at one of your eyes in the mirror. It has a lens that focuses the image, an iris that adapts to changing light, and eyelids and eyelashes that protect it.
If you look to the side, your eye socket appears to rotate in the orbit. This image is also very beautiful. So how does all this happen? Our eyes are marvels of engineering. Could this have happened by chance? Imagine stumbling across a deserted island and coming to a clearing. You pass through the ruined walls, stairs, paths and courtyards of a palace. You know that all these things you see didn’t just get there. Someone must have designed them, some kind of architect. If you find a watch while walking on the street, you think that a watchmaker made it, that it has a purpose (to tell the time). The small wheels of the clock did not come together by themselves. Someone must have thought of all this. All these examples say the same thing: Objects that seem designed are almost certainly designed.
Well, think about nature: trees, flowers, mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, and even amoebas. They also seem designed… Of course, the mechanism of living beings is much more complex than that of a clock. Mammals have highly complex nervous systems, blood circulation, and are often perfectly adapted to their habitat. They must have been created by an incredibly powerful and intelligent Creator. This creator must be the Divine Clockmaker or Architect God.
Many people shared this view in the eighteenth century, when David Hume wrote his works, and many still do today. This argument to prove the existence of God is often known as the Design Argument. New scientific discoveries in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries also seemed to support this idea. Microscopes revealed the intricacies of tiny aquatic creatures, telescopes showed how beautiful and orderly the solar system and Milky Way were. These, too, seemed to have been put together with great care.
This argument did not convince the Scottish philosopher David Hume. Under the influence of John Locke, he tried to explain the nature of humanity and our place in the universe by considering how we acquire knowledge and the limits of what we can learn through reason. Like Locke, he believed that our knowledge comes from observation and experience. For this reason, he focused on the argument that tries to prove the existence of God by observing certain qualities of the world. Hume said that the Design Argument was based on false logic. In his work “An Inquiry into Man’s Understanding” (1748), there was a section that opposed the idea that we could prove the existence of God in this way. This episode and the argument that it is not reasonable to believe eyewitness accounts of miracles was highly controversial. It was difficult to speak out against religious beliefs in Britain at the time. It is precisely for this reason that Hume, despite being one of the greatest thinkers of his time, never got a job at the universities. His friends, who told him not to publish “Dialogues on Natural Religion” (1779), in which he attacked the familiar arguments about the existence of God, gave him the right advice.
Does the Design Argument prove the existence of God? Hume thought he hadn’t proven it. This argument did not contain sufficient evidence that there must be an omniscient, omnipotent, and absolutely good being. Much of Hume’s philosophy focused on the kind of evidence we could give to support our beliefs. The Design Argument is based on making the world look like it was designed. Just because it looked designed, Hume said, does not mean that it was actually designed, or that the designer was God. So how did Hume arrive at this conclusion?
Think of an old-fashioned scale, part of which is hidden behind a curtain. You can only see one of the two pans. If you see this pan rising, all you can know is that the object on the other pan is heavier. You can’t know the color of the object on the pan you can’t see, you can’t tell if it’s shaped like a cube or round, if there’s something written on it, or if it’s covered with something like fur. In this example, we consider causes and consequences. “What is the reason for the shroud rising?” The only answer you can give to the question is “the reason is the heavier thing on the other side”. You try to infer the cause from the result you see (raising the shroud). But without more evidence, you can’t say anything else. Everything you say will be guesswork, and you have no way of knowing whether your guess is right or wrong unless you look behind the curtain.
Hume thought we were in a similar situation with the world around us. We see the consequences of various causes and try to find the most realistic explanation for these effects. We see an eye, a tree, a mountain, and they may well look designed. But what can we say about the possible designer? To eye