David Hume’s Genuine Theism

David Hume

“All the new discoveries in astronomy,” explained David Hume quo Philo, “which prove the immense grandeur and magnificence of the works of Nature, are so many additional arguments for a Deity, according to the true system of Theism.” (DNR 165)

Superstition, following Hume, ravishes from us the “presents of God and Nature”. Liberation from the slavery of the grossest superstition and false religion was Hume’s driving force in his campaign against superstition (Roman Catholicism) and enthusiasm (Protestantism) orthodoxy theism.  He explained,

That the corruption of the best things produces the worst, is grown into a maxim, and is commonly proved, among other instances, by the pernicious effects of superstition and enthusiasm, the corruptions of true religion. (E 73)

Sound philosophy and philosophical skepticism were not only the route to weed out superstition, man’s worst enemy, and false religion but also the route to establish a “true system of theism” and true religion.

Hume went head-on against rationalist orthodoxy, which assumed that religious beliefs can be defended by the principles of human reason. In its place he resurrected a “genuine theism” or “true religion” that is aesthetically founded. After dismantling rationalist argument from miracles, for example, Hume resolved that: “Our most holy religion is founded on Faith, not on reason; and it is a sure method of exposing it to put it to such a trial as it is, by no means, fitted to endure.”(EHU II, 135).

True theism emerges from aesthetic escalation of beauty and wonderful scenes in nature. There is no intelligent person who is so blind and senseless not to see the “regularity and uniformity of nature” and the awareness it strikes us (DNR 214¹). Hume rhetorically inquired:

Can we then be so blind as not to discover intelligence and a design in the exquisite and most stupendous contrivance of the universe? Can we be so stupid as not to feel the warmest raptures of worship and adoration, upon the contemplation of that intelligent being, so infinitely good and wise? The most perfect happiness, surely, must arise from the contemplation of the most perfect object. But what is more perfect than beauty and virtue? And where is beauty to be found equal to that of the universe? Or virtue, which can be compared to the benevolence and justice of the Deity(E 158)

The “regularity and uniformity of nature” is for Hume the “strongest proof of design and of a supreme intelligence”(NHR 329). Philo’s skepticism is relaxed when it came to aesthetic appreciation that is poured out from reflecting the wonderful scenes of the parts of universe. “[T]he beauty and fitness of final causes strike us with such irresistible force, that all objections appear (what I[Philo] believe they really are) mere cavils and sophisms”( (DNR 201)

Cleanthes resounded the role of true religion², which Hume drafted in History of England vol. II but did not publish³. He contended that:

The proper office of religion is to regulate the heart of men, humanize their conduct, infuse the spirit of temperance, order, and obedience; and as its operation is silent, and only enforces the motives of morality and justice, it is in danger of being overlooked, and confounded with these other motives (DNR 220)

Hume’s criticism against rationalist orthodoxy should not be read as leading to atheism but  “pure theism” and “true religion”. Hume’s aim was to restore the gifts of a Deity and nature that was kept captive by superstition. Belief in the designer and supreme intelligent Deity is not founded through human reason but aesthetic appreciation of the “regularity and uniformity of nature”.


[1] See also NHR 309, 311, 317 & 325

[2] See E 581 for the providence of Hume’s Deity

[3] Mossner, Ernest C. (1954) The Life of David Hume. Austin: University of Texas Press. pp. 306-7

Bib.

Hume, David (1947) Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, ed. Norman Kemp Smith. Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill.

_________ (1978) A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge, 2nd  ed. revised by P. H. Nidditch. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

_________(1882) The Natural History of Religion, from Philosophical Works of David Hume, ed. T. H. Green and T. H. Grose. London: Longmans, Green.

_________ (1987). Essay, Moral, Political, and Literary. E. F. Miller (Ed.) Indianapolis: Liberty Classics Pub.

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18 thoughts on “David Hume’s Genuine Theism

    • For our “being still in the dark” (sic), even in matters of knowledge of God, the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the leaders in the churches, a.k.a., theologians, whose raison d’être has no Biblical justification.

  1. John Zande presents some outright falsehoods and some classic fallacious diversions. First of all biologists are 99% atheists? I’ve been in medical and basic science research for 30 years and it’s probably closer to 50/50. And many of the folks I know are ‘closet theists’, afraid of being open abut their faith for fear of shunning by a vocal, aggressive minority.
    One major misunderstanding is what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery” Hume was just as qualified to address the big metaphysical and philosophical questions as we are today and he did so better than most moderns. The details of our solar system, etc. had no bearing on the accuracy of his analysis. And, BTW, our knowledge today, whilst it is greater than in 1776, is only greater by a relative degree. We are still in the dark re. most things.

    • CROCODILE TEARS
      What we are lamentably in the dark about is personal knowledge of the self-revealing God, in visions of eternal life, which “not even death will ever be able to overcome”.
      The LITMUS TEST is found in Christ’s death on the cross whose power the church has robbed to its own loss.
      (Matt. 16: 13-28; 17: 1-13; 27: 50-56)

  2. Pingback: Really Recommended Posts 11/22/13- Miraculous Gifts, Concordism, Archaeology, and more! | J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason"

  3. Even the combined wisdom, knowledge and power of the greatest of men fades in comparison to Jesus Christ’s ONE-STOP SOLUTION, viz.: Spirit-active, perfect and diacritical death on the cross with a point of change for transformation of all mankind.

    The light still shines in spite of the darkness!

  4. The “regularity and uniformity of nature” is for Hume the “strongest proof of design and of a supreme intelligence”

    He died in 1776. The established scientific theory of that day believed the sun wasn’t even hot, rather a cold, possibly inhabited, solid globe surrounded by a luminous atmosphere, as Sir Frederick William Herschel suspected, and that our solar system was the greater part of the entire universe. Darwin wouldn’t publish his seminal work for another 80 years, and Dmitri Mendeleev wouldn’t publish the first periodic table until 90 years after Hume’s death.

    Why, Prayson, are you so obsessed by these men (great as they were for their day) who were, for all intentional purposes, ignorant of the nature of nature. Why are you so determined to use these “ignorant” men to forward some cause of yours? We live in the 21st Century, Prayson, so it might be more worthwhile if you try and use modern thinkers and modern knowledge sets.

    • Not that Prayson needs help, for we all know he is more than capable of taking care of himself, but labeling David Hume as ignorant is a stretch. I suppose your resume would blow his away? Are all philosophers ignorant then? If not, then which of the dozens are ignorant and which arn’t??? My gut tells me that if the philosophers opinion differs from yours then he’s ignorant.

      Did they have all the knowlege we have now? NO. Do we have all the knowlege there is to know? No.

      • Calm down, Roy…. Read my words slowly if it helps. Hume was “ignorant” of the nature of nature. I provided just three examples of things unknown to him. Ignorance, here, is not an insult, rather a factual statement.

        Think before you write, Roy… Think.

        • Read my words,one more time and slowly if it helps John. “Did they have all the knowlege we have now? NO. Do we have all the knowlege there is to know? No.”

          What year do you suppose mankind attained all there was to know about the nature of nature?

          Regularity and uniformity of nature has to be real, right?

          The importance of this uniformity of nature is well described by the philosopher of biology Michael Ruse: “I believe the key distinguishing factor about science to be its appeal to and reliance on law : blind, natural regularity. Everything else follows from an unpacking of this notion:explanation, prediction, testing, confirmation, falsifiability, tentativeness”.This regularity of natural law, he says , is “that which makes science possible”.

          • Regularity and uniformity of nature has to be real, right?

            No, actually. Retrocausality has already been demonstrated. Particles pop in and out of reality at random, leaving tiny positive energy residues… Something from nothing! Natural mutations and adaption to changing environments lead to the separation of species… None of it is regular and none of it is uniform, Roy.

    • I don’t understand why you quote the portion about regularity and uniformity, and than talk about all the modern scientific hypothesis. They would be following the very idea of regularity and uniformity that Hume pointed out. Furthermore, as Hume pointed out, along with Descartes, the causes of these things aren’t observed in any strict sense, but only in a metaphorical sense.

      • No, i understood all that, i just don’t see the point. You’re trying to assess a man’s position on nature when he didn’t even know what stars were. If you want to be relevant ask the question, why 93% of all scientists in the National Academy of Science dismiss the idea of a god altogether. Further, why 99% of all biological scientists dismiss the notion. Use modern minds, Prayson, modern knowledge sets… not the poetic meanderings of ignorant men from a bygone era who were great for their day, but whose thoughts have little to no application in the 21st century.

        • John, it seems that you have not understand because I am not addressing the issue of whether Hume’s understanding is right or wrong but whether Hume was an atheist or not.

          Scientists’ now or then position is irrelevant in my quest to answer the question of where Hume was an atheist or not.

          • I completely disagree. It makes no difference whatsoever if Hume was or wasn’t an atheist. It changes nothing. Discussing it is pointless. He was a thinking man who arrived at positions based on what he knew, and what he “knew” was frightfully little.

            Regardless, if you want to pick his brains go right ahead. I just don’t see the purpose in it, not in isolation, not without a larger view.

            Hope your day is going well

          • I am not following why you disagree John. Have you read my two articles and understood?

            It appears that you are barking up a wrong tree, namely “Was Hume’s views on design correct/false/outdated?”, to which none of my articles addressed. The right tree is: “Was Hume an atheist?” Whether his view is correct or not or outdated is not the aim of my posts.

            My answer is no. Hume was not an atheist and I presented passages and proposed a view to understand his criticism against orthodox theism. If you wish to address something, then it should be on that topic. Other issues are simply red herrings.

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