You are on page 1of 4

Deism is such an engaging and difficult topic to discuss, that I think a definition on it would be quite appropriate to begin my essay.

The Oxford dictionary defines Deism as the belief in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe. The deist I have chosen to discuss in my essay is the Scot David Hume (1711-1766). Hume was a most prolific writer on the topic of religion and deism, he criticized the standard proofs of God, he slandered the traditional notions of Gods nature and divine governance. And he ridiculed the literal intepertation of miracles. Hume wished to completely sever all ties between religion and philosophy. Humes writing on religion is confined mainly to six items, the first I shall discuss is Humes Enquiry concerning human understanding. In the time of Hume, there existed two pillars of Christian belief: natural and revealed religion. Humes first sustained attack on religion is contained in the text mentioned above. In section X named Of Miracles, Hume begins by telling the reader that he believes that he has "discovered an argument [...] which, if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion".i Furthermore Hume argues uniform experience of natural law outweighs the testimony of any alleged miracle. Hume explains his principle of evidence, stating that we can only judge between two empirical claims by weighing the evidence of each. Hume defines a miracle as "a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent.ii" Hume further strengthens this definition by giving an example "Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it ever happen in the common course of nature. It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country.iii" Hume writes that since miracles are a single occurrence, a mere one off. The evidence for the miracle will be heavily outweighed by the natural law; which is broken in causing the miracle. Hume in gives criteria in which a miracle could be deemed plausible. First ly, if the witnesses of the miracle outnumber the witnesses of the operation of the law. Secondly, if the witness is a 100 percent trustworthy and reliable. Hume lays out in the second part of Section X, reasons why this criteria has never been met. Hume claims that no miracle has ever had enough witnesses of sufficient intelligence, honesty, and education. Furthermore, Hume states the ways in which human witnesses lack all reliability. He believes human beings to be overly emotional beings prone to accept the far-fetched, which create positive feelings of surprise and wonder. Hume feels that people with strong religious convictions are often prepared to give knowingly false accounts "with the best intentions in the world, for the sake of promoting so holy a cause". Also, Hume thinks that people put too much trust in those witnesses whom step forward. Whos apparent honesty and eloquence my sway the curtain of normal scepticism. Finally, I think Hume puts forward his strongest attack on miracles, with describing their prevalent nature in all cultures. To summarize he states that Miracle stories tend to have their origins in "ignorant and barbarous nations". He believes they occur in a civilised nations past, or a superstitious underdeveloped nation. I think the history of every nation is peppered with a wealth of supernatural events. Which decrease as knowledge increases. Hume ends his essay on

miracles, by cleverly dismissing the argument for God from miracles. Hume points out that all relgions have their own individual miracle stories. And, Given that there is no recognised criteria for accepting one over the other; apart from personal bias. We must therefore hold all religions to be have been proved true. Thus, bearing in mind that all relgions contradict each-other, this is impossible. I find this particular argument of Humes to concur with the general deist view on miracles. This argument of Humes particular ingenuity is found in its inherent simplicity. R.F Holland argues that Humes definition of a miracle is incorrect, as God need not to break the natural law to intervene. But, I must share the deist viewpoint of Hume, in which Gods mere intervention would be a break in the natural law; in which the universe operates and obeys. On Miracles, marks Humes attack on revealed religion. An attack on natural religion is found in his essay Of a Particular Providence and of a Future State. Hume to protect himself employs two characters acting out a dialogue. The essay contains three chief criticisms of natural religion. Our knowledge of God is itself flawed and contained to what we witness in this world. Firstly, we observe the world to be imperfect and therefore cannot deduce God the creator to be absolute perfection. Secondly, justice in the universe is restricted to the imperfect justice we see all around us.Thirdly, the singular and unparalleled nature of the universe prevents us from making analogical inferences about the creator. I think the above comments lie on the border of Atheism and Deism. I find this arguments quite complex and engaging, yet agree with the flaw Hume describes. He offers his friend an objection: if we see an unfinished building, then can't we deduce that it has been created by humans with certain intentions, and that it will be finished in the future? His friend concurs, but indicates that there is a relevant disanalogy that we can't pretend to know the contents of the mind of God, while we can know the designs of other humans. Hume seems essentially persuaded by his friend's reasoning. Humes greatest philosophical work is his Dialogues concerning nautral religion. Again, Hume employs three fictional characters named Philo, Demea, and Cleanthes. Philo represents Hume, a skeptic who attacks the the views of the other two characters. Hume through the character of Philo attacks the design argument. Philo illustrates a massive flaw in the design argument. We can never truly know if the inherent order of nature stems from design. We can witness the formation of machines, but never the world in which we exist. Philo argues although the Universe seems ordered on Earth, chaos could reign supreme elsewhere. Likewise, if intelligent design is seen only in a small part of our universe, then we cannot say that it is the principle force of the entire universe. Philo also contends that natural design may be accounted for by nature alone, such as matter may contain in itself a structure of order. And even if the design of the universe is of divine origin, we are not fully justified in concluding that this divine cause is a single, all powerful, or all good being. As to the causal argument, Philo argues that once we have a good explanation for each particular fact in the infinite sequence of facts, it makes no sense to ask about the origin of the collection of these facts. That is, once we adequately account for each individual fact, this constitutes a sufficient explanation of the whole collection. These arguments are deeply engaging, Hume makes an excellent point in conveying our assumptions on the nature of God. We assume him to be good, yet if one reflects on the imperfect justice contained in our world. We observe through Hume that this may not be the case. Although, I find his theory on the orgin of world quite practical, but opposed to

the nature of man. Mankind since its birth as asked the question why? If one has all the facts, one would find it impossibly difficult to ignore the origin of these facts. Hume in his essay Of the Immortalailty of the Soul, disputes against physical, moral, and metaphysical arguments for the exsistance of the soul. Hume on the metaphysical side states the Soul if immortal, existed before our birth; and if the former existence no ways concerned us, neither will the latter,. Animals undoubtedly feel, think, love, hate, will, and even reason, although in a more imperfect manner than us; are their souls also immaterial and immortal? On the moral argument Hume disputes chiefly those coming from the apparent justice of God, which is supposed to punish the vicious and reward the virtuous. Yet, if one views the justice of the world the argument for correct justice prevailing, is inadequate. On my reading of Humes works, I have found his thoughts deeply provoking and complex. I believe his personal viewpoints border on atheism with his character, the deeply skeptic Philo. However Of Miracles, and Of the Immortailty of the Soul, are deist. I wholeheartedly believe that Hume paved the way for the age of atheism.

i Hume,

An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding X, i, 86

ii op.

cit., X, i, 90n

iii a

b loc. cit. Bibliography: 1. David Hume An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748). Section X Of Miracles. 2. David Hume Of a Particular Providence and Of a Future State. 3. David Hume Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. 4. David Hume Of the Immortailty of The Soul.