Analysis of Diaglogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume Essay

Word Count: Professor Nelson Philosophical Perspectives 12 October 2012 Writing Assignment #1 Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume is a philosophical piece concerning the existence of God. Arguments for and against the existence of God are portrayed in dialogue through three characters; Demea, Cleanthes, and Philo. All three agree that God exists, but they drastically differ in their opinions of God’s attributes or characteristics, and if man can understand God. The characters debate such topics as the design and whether there is more suffering or good in the world.

It is a very common view among philosophers that Philo most represents Hume’s own views. Philo doesn’t go as far as denying the existence of God but attacks the others views and clearly has the most doubt or concerns of the three characters. In part X of the dialogue Philo brings up “Epicurus’ old questions”. The questions concern God’s Omni attributes. The questions ask “Is He [God] 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 he evil? ” (Hume 198).

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As stated before, Philo is the character that most closely represents Hume himself. Clearly, Hume, represented through Philo, has deeply thought about, or at least pondered these “old questions” stated above. These questions hit me quite deeply as well and are very thought provoking. I believe they make a good deal of sense and should be considered carefully. The first question asks if God is willing to prevent evil, but if he is not able to do this? If this is the case, that would make God impotent, or in other words, not able to do everything he desires.

As Christians, we would like to believe that God is able to do everything he desires, and if it is the case that he cannot do this, some of our major beliefs would break down. For example, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as many of his miracles, becomes much less believable. For an omnipotent God, the resurrection is a definite possibility and a likely occurrence. For a God who does not have infinite power, the defeat of all sin and the defeat of the grave is almost a definite impossibility. To elieve an impotent God could resurrect would be as illogical as to believe any human could complete this task. The second portion asks if he is able but not willing. This would make him malevolent. God is supposed to be omnimalevolent, all loving and all good. A God who is able to stop all evil but doesn’t is clearly not loving then, correct? Christians would respond that this apparent ignorance from God is actually human sin and not God turning his back on us. The final portion of the old questions asks “is he both able and willing?

Whence then is evil? ” (Hume 198). It would seem logical that if God is omnipotent and omnimalevolent as Christians believe then he would be able and willing to stop all evil. Since there is clearly evil in this world, wouldn’t that mean that God is just evil and relishes in the suffering of humans? Of the three questions, this is the least logical. God could not be omnimalevolent and evil because, by definition, these two characteristics contrast. Someone could not be all good and evil at the same time.

Later on Philo, clearly the skeptic, brings up four sources of misery in the world that are, according to him, unnecessary. These four sources are physical pain, general laws, limited abilities, and the fragile nature of the universe. The first source of misery that Philo addresses is physical pain. Philo argues that the world could and would be better off if physical pain was not in existence. Obviously it does some good, in preventing us from further injuring ourselves, but there are other ways to go about this prevention of injury.

Philo states that instead of pain, humans experienced different levels of pleasure. Things that are good for us would cause pleasure and actions that are bad for us cause a lessening of that pleasure. This way, when the pleasure went away we would realize we were doing something wrong, and we would therefore stop this action. This relates to the old questions in a sense that, an all good all powerful God would not want to create pain and would be able to create a world without pain. The second source of misery is the general laws.

Essentially, Philo believes that in necessary situations, it would make sense for God to suspend laws of physics or any other general law. For example, if a bullet was heading right toward a small child, God could make the bullet vanish into thin air. Since God does not do this, Philo stirs up the notion that God is either not able to or he is not all good. The third source of misery in the world is the limited abilities of every species. God only gave species what they need to survive but not what they need to thrive, or even be constantly comfortable.

God gave certain humans different attributes than others, which allow some to succeed much more easily than others. The point is that good God would not be unjust and unfair and specifically create some human superior to others. Lastly, the fourth source of misery is fragile nature of the universe. Too much of too little or things can cause our environment or even our universe to fall apart. For example without rain, plants, animals, and even humans die. On the contrary, with too much rain, there is flooding and plants, animals, and human die.

The same can be said about each other element such as fire or wind. An all-powerful God would be able to create a universe that is not so reliant on outside elements. I believe there are flaws in most, if not all of Philo’s arguments here but the flaws do not necessarily prove the existence of God. At first glance, Philo’s arguments can seem very convincing. But upon further concentration one can realize that pain is in fact necessary, general laws have a purpose, limited abilities push us to greatness, but a perfect universe may be a good point. First off, pain is necessary.

Although he makes a good point in thinking that humans could thrive in only experiencing pleasure, it is highly flawed. Once the human did an action that caused a lessening of pleasure, that lessening of pleasure would be what we call pain. Losing the pleasure would be the same thing as hurting. So although in theory this is a good idea, it is not possible. Secondly, all general laws have a purpose. If God could stop a bullet from hitting a child, or a bus from running into a father, where does God draw the line? When does he allow someone to die, because after all, all death is tragic and should be suspended.

If God eliminated death, then there would either be an abundance of living creatures on earth or no need to repopulate. So the circle of life needs parameters or in this case general laws. Third off, limited abilities push humans towards greatness. For example, if every human in the world were a phenomenal baseball player, then no one would be extraordinary. There would be no separation of talent and essentially, no one would be a good baseball player. If everyone in the world had the same abilities there would be no separation and no creativity.

Philo’s last point is his one and only sound argument. The fragile universe is somewhat flawed. A completely self-sufficient universe would be perfect. A universe where it was always the perfect temperature, always the correct amount of moisture in the air, and, among other things, the perfect balance of nutrients in a human’s body would be a good design. This point does not combat a perfect God but only shows that there are reasons we cant understand or maybe the universe is truly created perfectly and we are the cause of flaws in it.

Overall Philo makes good points but Christian theists can make adequate replies to all his points. He is clearly incorrect about his first three points but the fourth is still up for debate. Until we find out more about our universe we may never know if Philo has a groundbreaking claim in his fourth source of misery. Works Cited SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. ” SparkNotes. com. SparkNotes LLC. n. d.. Web. 2 Oct. 2012. Hume, David. Ethics ; Dialogues concerning Natural Religion. Chicago: Great Foundation, 1957. Print.


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