The Characteristics of God
In Section eleven of An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding Hume argues that if a teleological argument is sufficient proof for a god, then that god must have deficiencies in morality, power, benevolence and intelligence. I will present Hume’s argument and the subsequent objections he considers. As well, I will defend Hume’s final position by giving my best objection to it and explaining how that objection fails.
Hume chooses to speak about the matter in the style of an imaginary dialogue between the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus and the Athenian populace. I assume Hume did not do this to take a stance against the Greek pantheon but rather because the positions he presents in this argument could easily be seen as atheistic and openly being atheist was illegal in Scotland during Hume’s time.
The teleological argument that Hume allows for the purpose of building an argument for God’s imperfection is represented as follows:
-All things which appear intelligently designed have a creator.
-Nature (the universe) appears intelligently designed.
-Therefore nature has a creator (we will refer to the creator as god).
An auxiliary thought is added to this conclusion by apologists, that the aforementioned creator is a perfect god. Hume’s argument claims however, that this addition to the creator is not logically permitted and further still there are in fact other attributes which we should reason the creator to have. To justify this position, that from an effect we can infer of its cause only what is necessitated by the effect, Hume uses two examples of scales and of artists. In the example of scales Hume explains that if an object of unknown weight is placed on one side of a balance and an object known to weigh ten ounces on the other and the unknown object is seen to outweigh ten ounces, then we may only know that the unknown object weighs more than ten ounces; we may not infer from the scales that the unknown object weighs a specific amount or any threshold amount greater than ten ounces. Similarly if you happen upon a fine painting and have no knowledge of its painter, you are not justified in saying that the painter is as well a skilled stoneworker (though this remains a possibility). (EHU 11.13-14)
Hume’s argument that God is imperfect is viewed as follows:
-All things which are created reflect, in their qualities, the qualities of their creator.
-Nature was created. (from the teleological argument; we will refer to the creator as god.)
-Nature is flawed in moral order and in happiness.
-Therefore god is flawed in moral order, intelligence, or power, or benevolence (these being the causes which result in the aforementioned flaws in nature)
Hume is sympathetic to those who after accepting a teleological argument assert the stronger proposition that god must be capable of anything and that god is perfection, But he also points out that by making this assertion we are also required to give an explaination of the...