The Enlightenment Period

David Hume

What was new in Hume’s views on religion?

In his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (c. 1750s), Hume argued against both a priori and empirical proofs for the existence of God. This was an attack on rational grounds for religious belief. His argument against a priori arguments or the ontological argument used by René Descartes (1596–1650) was to claim that nothing that exists can exist necessarily. That is, it is not a logical contradiction to assert the non-existence of anything, including God.

His empirical arguments were mainly directed against the cosmological argument and the argument from design. Against the cosmological argument that held the world must have had a maker, Hume claimed that we do not have enough knowledge about the origins of worlds to justify a hypothesis about how this one came about. The “argument from design” held that just as things such as houses and watches must have builders, the world, insofar as it works well within itself, must have a designer. Hume’s response was that we have no grounds to reason from what is true of any one thing within the world to the entire world itself. If Hume’s arguments hold, then the only grounds left for religious belief are those of pure faith.


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