Mercy asked:

What are David Hume’s contributions to the debate on God, especially her/ his/ its attributes of first cause?

Answer by Tony Fahey

Religion holds that the world operates on cause and effect and that there must therefore be a First Cause, namely God. In Hume’s world view, causation is assumed but ultimately unknowable. We simply do not know there is a First Cause, or a place for God.

In his Natural History of Religion Hume argues that religious beliefs arise from Man’s propensity to attribute anthropomorphic attributes to unseen forces. In his Dialogue Concerning Natural Religion, he shows how the Argument for Design cannot survive careful application of the scientific standards.

According to Hume, God is a complex idea which we cobble together in our minds. Whilst he accepted that the degree of order evidenced by the universe suggests some kind of designing intelligence, he rejected the notion that this was proof of the existence God on the grounds that human reason was insufficient to provide such evidence.

Hume is generally believed to be an atheist, particularly given that his Dialogue concerning Natural Religion, notwithstanding its polite and careful ambiguity, was deemed to be powerfully anti-theistic. However, since he argued that the existence of God could neither be proved nor disproved, some philosophers, such as Jostein Gaarder, suggest that is more likely that was an agnostic. However, since Hume died without holding out any hope of an afterlife it seems there is no substance in this argument. Indeed, in his book, The Book of Dead Philosophers, Simon Critchley tells us that Hume, responding to arguments in favour of the immortality of the soul, said, ‘By what arguments or analogies can we prove any state of existence, which no one ever saw, and which no wise [no way] resembles any that was ever seen’. (2008, p.175)