A CRITICAL EVALUATION OF DAVID HUME’S CRITIQUE OF NATURAL RELIGION
STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM:
This research study is in the area of philosophy of religion. Joseph Omoregbe, in his book A philosophical look at Religion has defined philosophy of religion as “free, unprejudiced rational inquiry into the nature, meaning and purpose of religion or is a defence of religion, but and unprejudiced investigation into the nature, meaning and purpose of religion and the truth value of religious tenets. The truth value of religion has to do with the truth or falsity of the religion. It lets us know whether religion is worth practicing. The question of truth value has to do with whether to engage in a religious activity is worthwhile. Truth value the way we understand it is what makes a theory or a religious system reasonable to believe. If the truth of a religious system is verified and confirmed to be true, it will give its adherents the motive power to put more effort in the course they believe. This is our task in this study and this will be done within the context of David Hume’ view on Religion.
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher who is generally regarded as the greatest of the British empiricist and it is said that he took empiricism to its logical conclusion which is skepticism.
Hume applied his rigorous empiricist logic to examining religious matters and drew some skeptical conclusion, this is the issue we want to critically examine in this study. The central problem then and controlling question of this study is was Hume an atheist? Our response will be in the negative, as we shall argue subsequently.
1.2 OBJECTIVE OF THE STUDY
Our objective in this study is to critically analyse and evaluate the views of David Hume on religion with a view to determining the validity or otherwise of the description of Hume as an atheist. An atheist is one who maintains that there is no God. Now, the question is, was this the position of David Hume?
Stated differently, our objective in this study is to carry out a detailed critical study of natural religion.
We also aim to study Hume’s controversial essay “of miracles” which appeared in his An Enquiry Concerning Human understanding. A reading of these two pieces gives us a clear picture of Hume’s views on religion; and this is our objective in this study.
1.3 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
This study is significant because not much attention has been paid or interest shown in studying Hume’s Philosophy of religion. Hume is basically renowned for his empiricist epistemological principles, but not many know how he applied these principles in the realm of religion. Hume’s works, A treatise of Human nature and An enquiry concerning Human understanding have received more attention than his Dialogues concerning natural religion. Perhaps this is because the Dialogues were published post thumously.
Consequently, this study is significant as it draws our attention and invites us to critically reflect on Hume’s views on religion with the aim of appraising such views and establishing it validity or relevance.
1.4 METHOD AND SCOPE OF THE STUDY
Every discipline, every science has its peculiar method of investigation,, this being a treatise in philosophy, one would be expected to apply the method or methods of philosophical enquiry or investigation. The activity of philosophizing is essentially a reflective activity, thus the method of philosophy involves several related activities. Speculation, analysis, critical evaluation, logical explanation and prescription, since the philosophical method relies on ‘pure reason’ the critical temperament is carried all through the study.
David Hume’s philosophy of religion will be critically examined and its implication will be highlighted. This will clearly show the strengths or weakness of Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, but the scope of our study is not limited to the dialogues, we need to have a general understanding of Hume’s empiricist epistemological formulation, particularly his theory of impression, and ideas, because this is the foundation upon which his entire philosophical system rests, as well as his attack on religion.
1.5 ORGANISATION OF THE STUDY
The study is broken up into four chapters. The first chapter concerns itself with the methodological consideration. This chapter is introductory and states the problem, the objective and purpose of the study. Its significance and justification the method adopted in the study in the scope of the study.
Our concern in the second chapter is of broad over view of Hume’s philosophy. Here we will examine his postulations in epistemology for which he has won great renown in Ethics, in this chapter we will also attempt to bring to focus Hume’s place in the history of philosophy.
The third chapter focuses on Hume’s views on religion and this is the main concern of our study, we examine first Hume’s concept of God and then his criticism of the argument from design as a proof of God’s existence. We also in this chapter examine Hume’s views on miracles, Hume was highly skeptical of reports of miracle as we shall see subsequently.
Hume also addressed the question of the presence of evil in the world that an infinitely good and omnipotent deity created. We also concern ourselves with those issues in chapter three that chapter is rounded up with a discussion of Hume’s views on soul and his position on religion generally.
The fourth and concluding chapter is evaluation. Here we critically examine the postulations of Hume presented earlier with a view to discovering the strengths or weaknesses of his arguments. We also examine the position of some commentators and interpreters of Hume’s position. Generally Hume is considered to be an atheist in matters of God and religion. But we raise the critical question, is this classification of Hume correct?