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David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

1737 words - 7 pages

David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion provide conflicting arguments about the nature of the universe, what humans can know about it, and how their knowledge can affect their religious beliefs. The most compelling situation relates to philosophical skepticism and religion; the empiricist character, Cleanthes, strongly defends his position that skepticism is beneficial to religious belief. Under fire from an agnostic skeptic and a rationalist, the empiricist view on skepticism and religion is strongest in it’s defense. This debate is a fundamental part of the study of philosophy: readers must choose their basic understanding of the universe and it’s creator, upon which all other assumptions about the universe will be made. In this three-sided debate, Hume’s depiction of an empiricist is clearly the winner.
Three characters, Demea, the rationalist, Cleanthes, the empiricist and theist, and Philo, a skeptical, agnostic empiricist prepare to discuss their ideas about the universe in Part I. The discussion begins as the characters debate how they should teach their students philosophy, ethics, logic, and theology.
Demea believes that students should learn “logics, then ethics, next physics, last of all the nature of the gods.” (pg.127, Part 1) His immediate reasoning is that theology is “the most profound and abstruse of any, required the maturest judgment in its students; and none but a mind enriched with all the other sciences, can safely be entrusted with it.” Criticized by Philo, Demea further explains his plans: “To season their minds with early piety, is my chief care; and by continual precept and instruction, and I hope too by example, I imprint deeply on their tender minds an habitual reverence for all the principles of religion. While they pass through every other science, I still remark the uncertainty of each part; the eternal disputations of men; the obscurity of all philosophy; and the strange, ridiculous conclusions, which some of the greatest geniuses have derived from the principles of mere human reason. Having thus tamed their mind to a proper submission and self- diffidence, I have no longer any scruple of opening to them the greatest mysteries of religion; nor apprehend any danger from that assuming arrogance of philosophy, which may lead them to reject the most established doctrines and opinions.” (128) Demea believes that, although he will expose and make his students understand sciences first, he should first ensure that his students submit to God without knowing theology. When they are young, they will be taught about the supremacy of religion and the fallibility of philosophy and science. Demea’s theology resembles the “god of the gaps” perspective, where any failings of science and philosophy is more reason to believe that God exists within the things we cannot explain. He hopes that as his students learn of this, they will believe that the paramount objective of their education is to learn the nature...

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