David Hume On The Flaws Of Religion’s Explanatory Power

In conjunction with our meet-up on August 20th to discuss the philosopher, David Hume, this is the second post in a series about his philosophy as it relates to empiricism and skepticism.

In the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, David Hume introduces a skeptic philosopher named Philo who has conversations with other characters that represent competing philosophies in Hume’s era.  Philo challenges the foundational assertions of religion that one can infer about an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omnipresent designer and creator of the universe.  From Philo’s arguments, a person can not come to a belief in God based on observational experience in the natural world.

Philo believed that explanatory powers of religion based on experience had several flaws:

1) If explanation of the natural world is based on experience, then the explanations by religion can only be partially explanatory because ongoing experience continues to provide explanatory powers.

2) The flaws of religion’s explanations based on experience emerge when analogies are made between the natural world and the characteristics of humans (i.e. God as a ‘Designer’).  There are more dissimilarities between the mechanisms of the natural world and the mechanisms of humans than similarties.

3) Because our universe is the only one of its kind, we can not fully explain the causes of the universe based on experience.  If we had experiences of the causes of multiple universes, then we would be better positioned to explain the causes of our universe.

4) When tallying up observational experiences, theological philosophers cite the evidence of order and dismiss the evidence of disorder.  Philo argues that to make scientific arguments, you need to consider the evidence of disorder as well.  And therefore, an explanation must be made to account for both, contradictory lines of evidence.