Unmasking the Pretenses of Reason
, pages 417-421, Is it Reasonable to Believe in God? and Notes on Hume Part 2; John Hick, â€œSuffering and Soul-Makingâ€
Your essay should be approximately 600 words. Â This gives you an idea of the length I expect, but I donâ€™t count words or pages. Â Write the best essay that you can.
Answer all topics and questions (they are in bold).
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Essay on Hume: The Argument from Design and the Problem of Evil
The essay by John Hick is on Blackboard, under â€œWeek by Weekâ€
* * * * *
The argument from design (p. 419-420 of our reading) is supposed to show that it is reasonable to believe that the world was created by an intelligent being, namely, God. Â But a problem arises from the fact that evil is pervasive. Â Did God, then, create evil? Â Is it possible to reconcile the traditional religious conception that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good with the undeniable fact of evil?
Hume did not think so. Â He used his methodology to ask: from our
of how the world actually is, is it reasonable to conclude that God is good, and he answered, No, it is not reasonable to believe it. Â He does not say that he has proved that God is not good, or that God does not exist, merely that it isnâ€™t reasonable to believe that God (if there is one) is good.
Hume presents his arguments in a book called
Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
. Â Natural religion is quite different from revealed religion. Â The question Hume pursues is: how much can we understand about God, whether he exists or not, and if he does, what qualities does he possess,
based solely on our power to observe the world, to think, and to reason about what we observe
. Â No allegedly revealed sources, such as the Bible, count in this dialogue. Â Please keep this in mind when reading what follows.
Here are some reasons that Hume gave why it is not reasonable to believe that God exists, or even if he does, that he cannot be said to be good. Â Suppose you observe a house and find it to be imperfectly built. Â As Hume says, you observe that â€œit is the source of noise, confusion, . . . , darkness and the extremes of heat and cold.â€ Â (Would you want to live there?) Â You would immediately blame the architect. Â Hume adds, â€œThe architect would in vain display his subtletyâ€ by explaining that if he changed anything in the house, it would make things worse. Â But even if this were true, Hume says, you would wonder: why could he not do better and get things right in the first place?
point of view, if the architect did not do better and get things right in the first place, what would we say about the architect?
The analogy with the design argument should be apparent. Â The analogy here is that God is
like the architect of the world
. Â So if we find that the world has defects, just as we blame the architect of a house, we will blame God (if we believe there is a Creator). Â Hume notes that in nature, there are so many forces that are destructive and cause so much suffering: winds, hurricanes, rains, floods, droughts, etc. Â But that is how the world works.
point of view, if God is the architect of the world, and we would blame the architect for that house in the paragraph above, then, in the light of these destructive forces, what should we conclude about God?
Hume goes on to note the sort of evils that make him wonder why God did not prevent them, in the same way that we might wonder why the architect did not correct the defects in the house: for example, a cruel tyrant or dictator: when he was born, why didnâ€™t God change the nature of his brain so that he would not grow up to be a cruel tyrant? Â Would not the world be better if Hitler, or Stalin, or any other vicious dictator had not existed? Â Another example, not from Humeâ€™s time: in 1972, a relief plane on its way to help earthquake victims in Nicaragua went down in a storm; everyone on the plane died and all the supplies were lost. Â So Hume would ask: why didnâ€™t God intervene and guide the plane safely? Â Hume argues that the world would be a better place if God prevented such evils, but obviously God doesnâ€™t. Â So, why not?
had the power to prevent a vicious tyrant from coming to be, and did nothing to stop it, what would we say about
? Â If
had the power to help relief supplies get through to earthquake victims, and without your help they wouldnâ€™t get through, but you did nothing, what would we say about
? Â So, from
point of view, what should we say about
In answering these question, be sure to keep in mind Humeâ€™s perspective: based
on our experience of the way the world actually is, what can we conclude about God?
So, Hume concludes, we have no reason to believe that God (if there even is one) is good.
Now, for a critic of Hume, John Hick. Â In his essay â€œSuffering and Soul-Makingâ€ he argues that Hume is wrong to conclude that we cannot reasonably believe that God is good in the face of the evil we know exists. Â So, in his explanation,
what does Hick mean by â€œsoul makingâ€?
And what analogy does he offer to replace Humeâ€™s analogy that God is supposed to be like a master designer or builder of the universe?
How does this enable Hick to try to deal with the problem of evil in a very different way than Hume did?
think is right about the problem of evil, Hume or Hick? Â Be sure to explain your answer.
Hume Notes 2 on the reading:
David Hume, Unmasking the Pretensions of Human Reason pages 412-421
Use these notes to guide your reading. I know that some of the reading will seem very difficult.
If you focus on these notes, you will know what is most important for us in the reading. You
will notice that I do not include notes about everything covered in every selection, but that does
not mean you donâ€™t have to read the selection. I am not asking you to write answers to the
questions below, but you should be able to answer them.
The Disappearing Self (pages 412-415):
What does Humeâ€™s â€œscience of human natureâ€ have to say about who we are? Hume uses the
term â€œselfâ€ (see page 413 left-hand column for the meaning of this term.) Most of us probably
think in this way: my self accounts for the fact I am one and the same person throughout my life,
despite all of the changes I undergo. Humeâ€™s way of understanding the self is the same as how
he tries to understand any idea: trace the idea of the self back to impressions. On why Hume
thinks, perhaps strangely, that we have no idea of the self, see the quote on page 413 from the
bottom left-hand column to the top right column.
So why does Hume believe that we have no idea of the self? Because there is no impression that
corresponds to the idea of the self. See the quote on the top left column of page 414. All we find
when we examine ourselves are fleeting perceptions, but no stable, enduring self. Hume uses an
analogy to express this: the mind is a kind of theater (top right column, page 414). Hume in
effect invites each of us to try this â€œself-examinationâ€ â€“ if you try to examine your own
mind, what do you find? Do you agree with Hume?
What, then, are we? Nothing but a â€œbundle of perceptions.â€ If we are anything more, there is,
fortunately or unfortunately, no reason to believe it. From Humeâ€™s point of view, the idea of the
self is a fiction. My idea of my self is a fiction! I am nothing but a bundle of perceptions! And
note the sharp contrast with Descartesâ€™ conception of who we are (page 414, bottom right to
To appreciate this startling conclusion, just remember how Hume gets there: his theory of ideas.
In his terms, he might be quite right about who we are. So for us the first point is to understand
Hume. Only later would we be in a position to criticize him.
Is it Reasonable to Believe in God? (pages 417-421)
The author of our reading first reviews how Descartes tried to prove that belief in God is
reasonable, then shows how Hume criticizes those arguments. The first of Descartesâ€™ arguments
is reviewed in the notes for Week 3.
The argument we will study in this section on Hume is the argument from design, pages 419420.
The author of our reading notes the relevance of the work of Isaac Newton to this argument. The
argument can be displayed thus:
The world (the universe) is like a machine
Machines are designed by intelligent beings.
Therefore, the world was designed by an intelligent being.
That the world is like a machine is supported by lots of empirical evidence. The organs of the
human and animal bodies are very like machines: the heart is like a pump, the kidneys act as a
filter, and so on. The way the planets orbit the sun is also very machine-like because they are so
regular and predictable. That is why we have been able to send spacecraft to the moon and even
to land on Mars; we know where they will be in the future because their orbits are so regular.
One key point here: human and animal organs are not themselves intelligent, so they donâ€™t direct
their own actions. And the planet Mars does not orbit the sun as the result of its own intelligence
deciding to do so. Human and animal organs, and the planets, are mindless things.
We know from our own experience that machines are designed by intelligent beings: machines
such as automobiles, watches, computers, etc., are designed by human beings.
The idea, then, is that these things that are mindless and that we did not design â€“ animal and
human organs, and the solar system â€“ are so machine-like that they must have been designed by
some intelligent being. And only a very powerful and intelligent being could have done that.
So, the argument says, that Grand Designer of the universe must be God.
Both Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein were very impressed with this argument. Newton, for
example, said that the system of the planets in the solar system is evidence that there must have
been an intelligent creator.
The argument, as our author points out on page 419, is an example of analogical reasoning. The
notes from week 4 on Hume cover that important topic in his philosophy. On 419-420 the author
reviews some reasons why Hume did not think that it is reasonable to believe the conclusion of
that argument, that the world was designed by God.
Note the second of those reasons on page 420: does this argument give us any reason to believe
that God is supremely good? Why, then is there so much evil in the universe? Did God, in
designing this great machine of the universe, also create the evil we find?
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