Posts Tagged ‘Monotheism’

Books on God and Religion

March 17, 2018

On Thursday, Jo, one of the great commenters to this blog, asked my a couple of questions on the nature of the Almighty, which I tried to answer as best I could. I offered to put up here a few books, which might help people trying to explore for themselves the theological and philosophical ideas and debates about the nature of God, faith, religion and so on. I set up this blog about a decade and a half ago to defend Christianity against attacks by the New Atheists. I don’t really want to get sidetracked back there, because some of these issues will just go on forever if you let them. And I’m far more concerned to bring people of different religions and none together to combat the attacks by the Tories and the Blairites on the remains of the welfare state, the privatisation of the NHS, and the impoverishment and murder of the British public, particularly the disabled, in order to further enrich the corporate elite. Especially as the Tories seem to want to provoke war with Russia.

But here are some books, which are written for ordinary people, which cover these issues, which have helped me and which I hope others reading about these topics for themselves will also find helpful.

The Thinker’s Guide to God, Peter Vardy and Julie Arliss (Alresford: John Hunt Publishing 2003)

This book is written by two academics from a Christian viewpoint, and discusses the Western religious tradition from Plato and Aristotle. It has the following chapters

1. Thinking About God – Plato and Aristotle
2.The God of the Philosophers
3. The God of Sacred Scripture
4. Religious Language
5. The Challenge of Anti-Realism
6. Arguments for the Existence of God
7. The Attributes of God
8. Life After Death
9. Miracles and Prayer
10. Jesus, the Trinity, and Christian Theology
11. Faith and Reason
12 Attacks on God, Darwin, Marx and Freud
13 God and Science
14 Quantum Science, Multi-Dimensions and God

God: A Guide for the Perplexed, Keith Ward, (Oxford: OneWorld 2003)

1. A Feeling for the Gods
God, literalism and poetry, A world full of Gods, Descartes and the cosmic machine, Wordsworth and Blake, the gods and poetic imagination, Conflict among the gods, Friedrich Schleiermacher: a Romantic account of the gods; Rudolf Otto: the sense of the numinous; Martin Buber: life as meeting, Epilogue: the testimony of a secularist.

2. Beyond the gods
Prophets and seers; The prophets of Israel and monotheism; Basil, Gregory Palamas and Maimonides: the apophatic way; Thomas Aquinas: the simplicity of God; The five ways of demonstrating God; Pseudo-Dyonysius the Areopagite; The doctrine of analogy; Three mystics.

3. The Love that moves the sun
The 613 commandments; Pigs and other animals; the two great commandments; The Ten Commandments; Jesus and the Law; Calvin and the Commandments, Faith and works; Theistic morality as fulfilling God’s purpose; Kant, the categorical imperative and faith, God as creative freedom, affective knowledge and illimitable love.

4. The God of the Philosophers

God and Job; Plato and the gods; the vision of the Good; Appearance and Reality; Augustine and creation ex nihilo, Aristotle and the Perfect Being; Augustine and Platonism; Anselm and Necessary Being; Evil, necessity and the Free Will defence; Creation as a timeless act; Faith and understanding.

5. The Poet of the World

The timeless and immutable God; The rejection of Platonism; Hegel and the philosophy of Absolute Spirit; Marx and the dialectic of history; Pantheism and panentheism; Time and creativity, The redemption of suffering; History and the purposive cosmos; Process philosophy; The collapse of the metaphysical vision.

6. The darkness between stars

Pascal: faith and scepticism; A.J. Ayer; the death of metaphysics; Scientific hypotheses and existential questions; Kierkegaard: truth as subjectivity; Sartre; freedom from a repressive God; Heidegger and Kierkegaard: the absolute
paradox; Tillich: religious symbols; Wittgenstein: pictures of human life; Religious language and forms of life; Religion and ‘seeing-as’; Spirituality without belief; Non-realism and God; The silence of the heart.

7. The personal ground of being

God as omnipotent person; The problem of evil; Fichte, Schelling, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche: beyond good and evil; Omniscience and creative freedom; God: person or personal; Persons as relational; The idea of the Trinity; The revelatory roots of religion; Conclusion: Seven ways of thinking about God.

Bibliography

Teach Yourself Philosophy of Religion, by Mel Thompson, (London: HodderHeadline 1997)

Introduction
What is the philosophy of Religion?
Why study religion in this way?
What is involved?
The structure of this book
What this book aims to do.

1. Religious Experiences
Starting with experience
What happens when you experience something?
What is religious experience?
Induced religious experiences
Prayer
Conversion
Mysticism
Charismatic experiences
Revelation
Some features of religious experience
What can we know?
Authority and response
Conclusion

2.Religious Language
A private language?
Knowledge and description
Faith, reason and beliefs
The rational and the non-rational
Interpreting language
Cognitive and non-cognitive
Language games
The limitations of language

3. God: the concepts
God as creator
Eternal
Omnipotent
Omniscient
Transcendence and immanence
Theism, pantheism and panentheism
Atheism, agnosticism and secularism
Nietzsche: God is dead
Secular interpretations of God
A postmodernist interpretation
The Christian concept of God: the Trinity
Beliefs, language and religion
Saints?
Religious alternatives to theism
Basic beliefs

4. God: the arguments
The ontological argument
The cosmological argument
the teleological argument
the moral argument
the argument from religious experience
Conclusion

5. The Self
Bodies, minds and souls
Dualism
materialism
Idealism
Knowing our minds
Joining souls to bodies?
Identity and freedom
Freedom?
Life beyond death
Some conclusions

6. Causes, providence and miracles
Causes
Providence
Miracles
Summary

7. Suffering and evil
The challenge and the response
the problem
God as moral agent
Suffering and the major religions
Coming to terms with suffering
The devil and hell
Religion and terrorism
Summary

8. Religion and Science
The problem science poses for religion
the key issues
the changing world view
the methods of science and religion
the origin of the universe
evolution and humankind
Some conclusions

9. Religion and ethics
Natural law
Utilitarianism
absolute ethics
Morality and facts
How are religion and morality treated?
Values and choices
Conclusion

Postcript, Glossary, Taking it Further

God and Evolution: A Reader, ed. by Mary Kathleen Cunningham (London: Routledge 2007)

Part One
Methodology

1. Charles Hodge ‘The Protestant Rule of Faith’
2. Sallie McFague ‘Metaphor’
3. Mary Midgley ‘How Myths work’
4. Ian G. Barbour ‘The Structures of Science and Religion’.

Part Two
Evolutionary Theory

5. Charles Darwin, ‘On the origin of species
6. Francisco J. Ayala ‘The Evolution of life as overview
7. Michael Ruse ‘Is there are limit to our knowledge of evolution?

Part Three
Creationism

6. Genesis 1-2
7. Ronald J. Numbers ‘The Creationists’.

Part Four
Intelligent Design

10. William Paley ‘Natural Theology’
11. Michael J. Behe ‘Irreducible complexity: Obstacle to Darwinian Evolution’
12. Kenneth R. Miller, ‘Answering the biochemical argument from Design

Part Five
Naturalism

13. Richard Dawkins, ‘The Blind Watchmaker’
14. Richard Dawkins, ‘God’s utility function’
15. Daniel C. Dennett, ‘God’s dangerous idea’
16. Mary Midgley, ‘The quest for a universal acid’
17. Michael Ruse, ‘Methodological naturalism under attack’.

Part Six
Evolutionary Theism

18. Howard J. Van Till, ‘The creation: intelligently designed or optimally equipped?’
19. Arthur Peacock, ‘Biological evolution-a positive theological appraisal’
20. Jurgen Moltmann, ‘God’s kenosis in the creation and consummation of the world’.
21 Elizabeth A. Johnson, ‘Does God play dice? Divine providence and chance’.

Part Seven:
Reformulations of Tradition

22. John F. Haught, ‘Evolution, tragedy, and cosmic paradox’
23. Sallie McFague, ‘God and the world’
24. Ruth Page, ‘Panentheism and pansyntheism: God is relation’
25. Gordon D. Kaufman, ‘On thinking of God as serendipitous creativity’.

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Mike’s Hearing before Labour Disputes Tribunal: a Show-trial and Travesty of Justice

January 20, 2018

The following comments below are mine only and do not necessarily reflect the views of Mike Sivier or his blog, Vox Political.

Mike this week put up a long blog post describing the results of his hearing for alleged anti-Semitism before the Labour Disputes Committee. It was not encouraging, and shows how these committees are nothing but Kafkaesque travesties of justice, designed to protect the mendacious and intolerant, and persecute their ideological adversaries.

To recap, last year Mike put up a series of posts on his blog defending some of the Labour and Momentum supporters, who had been accused of anti-Semitism, such as Jackie Walker and Ken Livingstone. Livingstone was historically correct when he said that Hitler initially collaborated with the Zionists to send Jews to the nascent Jewish colony in Palestine. It was part of the Ha’avara agreement, which is mentioned in mainstream textbooks and on websites connected with the Holocaust Museum at Yad Vashem in Israel. You can find mementoes, such as medal, struck by the Nazis in commemoration of the agreement and the visit by a Nazi to the colony over at Tony Greenstein’s website.

It is not anti-Semitic to point this out. But it annoyed and terrified the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, a badly misnamed Zionist organisation, that was formed in 2014 to counter public opposition to Israel after the bombardment of Gaza. To do this, they followed the standard Zionist tactic of spuriously connecting this to anti-Semitism. So does the Jewish Labour Movement, which decided that Jackie Walker was an anti-Semite last year, because she didn’t go along with their tortured definition of anti-Semitism, which also connects it to opposition or criticism of Israel.

Mike wrote a pamphlet about this, and sent it off the Labour party. Then some little snitch decided to complain and accuse him, in turn, of anti-Semitism.

Tony Greenstein, the very Jewish anti-racist, Socialist and anti-Zionist, posted a little snippet on his blog showing this to be unJewish. Medieval Jewish law was firmly against Jews informing on other Jews to the authorities. Okay, Mike’s a gentile, but very many of those accused of anti-Semitism by this squalid organisations are god-fearing, Torah observant, or secular, self-respecting Jews. And this issue affects gentiles as well as Jews. Greenstein came out with the Jewish dictum prohibiting informing. It’s in Biblical Hebrew or perhaps Talmudic Aramaic, so it sounds very grand. But it essentially boils down to ‘snitches get stitches’. As you’d expect from when it was written. The Middle Ages were a period of terrible persecution for the Jews, and the authorities would find any excuse to terrorise Jewish communities.

Mike was called in to a disputes hearing to answer the charge. And here it becomes very Kafkaesque. In Kafka’s great novels The Trial and The Castle, the hero is arrested and tried. But he does not know who his accuser is, nor what the charges against him are. It was a terrible prefiguration of the perversions of justice in Nazi Germany and the Fascist states, and Stalin’s Russia. As well as the secret courts Blair, Cameron and Clegg, and Tweezer want to set up in this country.

It’s also unBritish. And I mean this in an inclusive sense, as part of the core British values that should protect all Brits, regardless of creed and ethnicity. Under British law, you are innocent until proven guilty. Unlike the continent, where you are guilty until proven innocent. You are also supposed to know who you are accuser is, so you and your lawyer can cross-examine them and you can defend yourself. This has been the case ever since Magna Carta and the Middle Ages. Under medieval law, you could only be tried if there was an accuser. So quite often county sheriffs would round up the local neerdowells and crims, lock them up in their castles, and then appeal for someone to come forward and accuse them of a crime, so that they could be tried.

Then there were the accusations themselves. Mike stated that it was clear that they had not read his pamphlet or articles, but just relied on the accusation, which was simply quotes ripped out of context. One of these numbskulls asked Mike why he called the JLM, formerly Paole Zion, a Zionist organisation. Mike replied quite truthfully because that’s how they define themselves in their constitution and their mission statements, and quoted them. On another point, he was asked why he made a particular statement, and could he not understand how that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic. So Mike pointed out that the answer was to be found elsewhere in the text. Hadn’t the official read it. Well no, actually he hadn’t. He’d been told only to read the bits highlighted. This raises the question of who gave him this instruction. It sounds like a deliberate move to find Mike guilty by stopping his interrogators reading the evidence to the contrary.

Mike’s case then went to Labour’s constitutional committee. Jon Lansmann, one of the leading lights in Momentum, who does not know Mike, argued strongly in his favour. Others wanted Mike passed along to another committee, so that he could be expelled. Another suggestion was that he should be given a warning, and made to do a training day with Paole Zion, I mean, er, the Jewish Labour Movement. Mike rejected this, because he’s innocent and does not want to do anything that may indicate that he accepts that he is guilty. As more Mike saying that Paole Zion, or the Jewish Labour Movement, does not represent Jews – this is a fair comment. The Jewish Labour Movement accepts gentiles as members. Moreover, many Jews, including an increasing number in America, are becoming increasingly estranged and hostile to Israel because of the barbarous and inhuman way it treats the Palestinians. This includes young Jews, who have been on the heritage tours the Israelis organisation for Jewish Americans, and those who have personally suffered anti-Semitic abuse or worse. So with gentile members, and the opposition of many Jews to its support of Israel, it’s a fair question whether it does represent Jews, or whether it exists to defend Israel disguised as representing them.

They also accused him of anti-Semitism when he talked about a conspiracy involving the Israelis. Was this, they asked, referring to all the stupid, murderous Nazi lies about a worldwide conspiracy by Jews to control and exterminate the White race? No, replied Mike, this was about Shai Masot at the Israeli embassy being filmed by Al-Jazeera discussing how they wanted various Tory MPs removed from office. This is a conspiracy, and it is odious and disgusting that the Zionists should try to make discussion of it off-limits, by accusing those who do of anti-Semitism through connecting it to historic lies about them. But it’s also very, very much par for the course for Zionists.

Mike has also commented on the ant-gentile racism of the comments he was subjected to by the Campaign Against Anti-Zionism. Many of them made needling, niggling comments about gentiles. This was probably done to provoke an anti-Semitic reaction, so they could go running to the authorities screaming ‘See, we were right! He is an anti-Semite!’ It’s the actions of the bully in school, who hits you just before the teacher comes into the room. When you retaliate, the bully screams out ‘Miss! He hit me!’ in order to get you into trouble. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all if these Zionists really didn’t believe that their Hebrew ancestry made them superior to everyone else. A few years ago, the IDF found itself in hot water and having to apologise to the world after they published a pamphlet claiming that Jews were racially superior to gentiles. But what do you expect from a White colonial settler state, where only Jews, and preferably only full-blooded Jews, can become full citizens. When it was suggested a few decades ago that people, who were only half-Jewish, but who had converted to Judaism and made the profession of faith, could become citizens, the Jewish Right in the country was horrified.

This seems to be the attitude of the Campaign Against Anti-Zionism, and it is directly opposed to mainstream Halaskah – Jewish Enlightenment – Judaism. They have been keen to play down and remove any notion that their ancestry as God’s chosen people make them in any way superior to others. Rather, it means that Jews are God’s servant nation. Moses Mendelsohn, one of the founders of the Jewish Enlightenment in the 18th century and the grandfather of the composer, Felix, dreamed of uniting Jews and Christians in a single, Platonist monotheistic faith. It’s impossible, as the religions are too different, although some Christians remained on the fringes of the Jewish community as late as the 4th century, when some historians believe that the split between Jews and Christians finally occurred. And absolutely none of the Jewish people I, Mike or any of my family have met, have ever experienced any kind of racial animus from their Jewish friends. Far from it. Dad remembers with affection the kindness he was shown by his Jewish mates in the army.

At the moment Mike’s left in the air, while the inquisitors in the Labour party ponder what to do with him. I wonder who did make the complaint. It looks like someone connected with the Campaign Against Anti-Zionism, I mean, er, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, but it could equally well be the Blairites or the Jewish Labour Movement. Blair was heavily involved with the Israel Lobby. He was supported by the Labour Friends of Israel, while one of his staunchest supporters, Lord Levy, supplied him with money from Jewish Zionist businesspeople in Britain, money that made him independent of the trade unions and which ultimately allowed him to attack them. Does anyone remember when he was threatening to cut trade union ties just before he took power?

This all seems to be another tactic of the Blairites and Zionists. The American socialist journalist, Chris Hedges, remarked in one of his speeches attacking Israel for its maltreatment of the Palestinians about how they infiltrated groups like the one he was speaking to, to pass on reports to Zionist organisations and the Israeli embassy. But the situation was being reverse. Those, who skulked in darkness were being dragged into the light.

So should these anonymous snitches, liars and false accusers. Back in ancient Rome, those who made a wrongful accusation against someone had the letter ‘K’ for ‘Kalumniator’ – libeller – branded on their forehead. This is how it should be with these people.

What is frustrating is that there seems to be no-one to complain to about this kangaroo court. The Blairites presently in control of the Labour party aren’t interested, and have effectively closed off any chance Mike has of defending himself. And the press don’t want to know. They hate Corbyn and Momentum with a passion, and have used every opportunity to smear him and them as anti-Semites. Because Corbyn wants to do something for working people, and has sided with the Palestinians in their struggle. While also making it very clear that he isn’t automatically against Israel, as was pointed out by a commenter on here. And with the Blairites losing power, and the Tories losing patience with May, you can expect more of these vile smears in the future.

But enough’s enough. This has got to stop. The finest elements of British legal tradition are against such kangaroo courts. I want to know who accused Mike, and I want a proper hearing, where he is told what the charges against him are, rather than vague waffle about ‘anti-Semitism’, by people who’ve actually read everything he’s written. And are actually able to take what he says on board, rather than lie in their official report that his answer were vague – they weren’t – and he didn’t seem to understand that what he’d written could be considered anti-Semitic. No, he dealt with that at the kangaroo hearing as well. More lies from people determined to find him guilty. I wonder what their names are, so an accusation can be made against them.

Until those, who make such libellous smears against the critics of Israel, both gentile and Jewish, are dragged into the light, and forced to defend themselves before those righteous individuals they’ve besmirched, disciplinary hearings like Mike’s will always be kangaroo courts. It is not Corbyn who’s a Stalinist, but these grotty Blairites and Zionist Fascists.

Black Parisians Protest against Islamist Slave Auctions in Libya

November 25, 2017

This is another great piece of reporting from RT. It’s horrendous, and shows the depths of sheer barbarism that the country has been reduced since we and the American helped the Islamists overthrow Colonel Gaddafi.

Gaddafi was no angel. He was a tyrant who ruled by fear and used the Islamists himself to assassinate his enemies in Africa and the Middle East. But he did much to improve his country. His official ideology was a mixture, so I gather, of Arab socialism and Islam. Libya was a modern, secular state, where women enjoyed western style rights under the law. Like the old boy at one point had an all-female bodyguard. Education and healthcare was free. Previously, the oil companies had run the place as they liked. When he took power, they had to pay a fair price for the oil, and fund public works projects, like building roads. He was a monster, but not half as monstrous as those, who have replaced him.

Slavery is recognised and regulated in the Qu’ran, as it is also in the Bible and in many other religions. Mohammed, however, praised the emancipation of slaves as a meritorious act, and the Qu’ran instructs Muslims to treat their slaves gently. The Prophet was also anti-racist, and the Qu’ran also tells Muslims that they are not to distinguish between Black and White. The Muslim states, like the Ottoman Empire, enslaved both Blacks and Whites. After the Ottomans put down a nationalist rebellion in Crete in the 1820s, it was estimated that about 20,000 White, Greek slaves filled their slave markets, and furnished the Georgian painters of the era with pictures of murderous, tyrannical Turks dragging heroic-looking men, and young, virginal, naked women off into captivity. In Egypt there were two guilds for slavers, one for those, who dealt in Blacks and another for those selling enslaved Whites.

In fact, Europeans had also enslaved Whites through the Middle Ages, The word ‘slave’ is derived from ‘Slav’, as so many of the enslaved people finding their way to western slave markets came from the Slavonic countries to the East. This was stopped by the rise of the Mongol Empire and the expansion of Ottoman Turkey in the 15th centuries, and so western Europeans turned instead to importing and exploiting enslaved Africans. Hence the connection of slavery in the Western mind with negritude and African heritage.

After the British ended slavery in their empire in 1839, they turned to trying to stamp it out elsewhere in the world, including Africa and the Ottoman Empire. They were helped in Egypt by the reforming pasha, Khedive Ismail, who was sincerely opposed to it. However, it was blocked by vested mercantile interests, particularly in the Sudan, where it formed an important fabric of the economy of the upper classes. The British attempts to exterminate slavery there, with General Gordon acting in charge of the Egyptian forces, was one of the causes of the Mahdi’s revolt. Throughout the 19th century there were complaints by British ambassadors and diplomatic staff about slaves continuing to be imported into Libya from further south in Africa. These imports were disguised as ‘personal servants’, which the law permitted slave-owners to take with them on their travels. The British also tried to avoid a direct confrontation with the religious authorities as far as possible, by granting certificates of liberation to those enslaved people, who came to them to ask for their freedom.

What finally discredited slavery in Egypt was a prosecution brought by a Circassian slave woman, Shanigal, against her master for raping her. The Circassians are a people from the Caucasus mountains, and converted to Islam after they were conquered by the Turks in the 17th century. Shanigal went to the British authorities to obtained justice, and got it. In doing so, she showed up the massive injustice and hypocrisy towards slavery in the upper and middle classes, with the result that she dealt a major blow against it.

While studying Islam at College, I did read in one of the books on the Islamic Revolution that some of the Muslim fundamentalists then wanted to bring it all back, but they were successfully blocked – thank heaven! – by the rest of the revolutionaries.

However, there is still a widespread racial prejudice against Blacks in the Islamic world. Flicking through a Teach Yourself book on the Arabic of the Levant, way back when I was at school, I found a bit that described how common term for Blacks in the Syrian Arabic dialect literally translates as ‘the slaves’. And in Sudan, the indigenous Black population are still treated very much as slaves by the Arabs. One of the civil rights leaders for the Beja people died back in the 1990s. In the obituary for him in the Independent it mentioned how his Arab teachers really didn’t want him to go to school, because there was no point educating slaves. I mentioned this in a long letter to a Black organisation, that really only wanted to discuss White racism. They really didn’t like it, and politely told me to take my correspondence elsewhere. The problem is that slavery and racism are found all over the world, and in the globalised societies of the 20th century they need to be tackled together.

Most of the crowd in the video looks to be Black. My guess is that many of them, if not the majority, are probably asylum seekers, who came to Europe and France through Libya, and so this has an acute personal meaning for them.
Along with signs with the slogans ‘Ons dit non a l’esclavage’ – ‘We say ‘No’ to slavery’, there are other signs directly attacking Bush, Clinton and Blair as war criminals.

Yes, they are. No argument from me. Bush and Blair started the illegal wars in the Middle East, but it was Obama and Killary, who authorised the bombing of Libya. With Killary smirking and giggling like an excited schoolgirl over Gaddafi’s death. ‘We got him!’, she rejoiced.

Yeah, you got him. But you destroyed a modern, secular state with the highest standard of living in Africa.

The secular state and its infrastructure have been destroyed. The Islamists massacred and butchered whole towns, and particularly those occupied mostly by Blacks. Women are being deprived of their hard-won, modern, western style rights, despite the fact that in Egypt and elsewhere in the Muslim world there are Islamic feminist groups. When I was studying Islam at College, we were told that one year they had a seminar given to them by a Black, Muslim feminist talking about the status of ‘protected peoples’ – that is, those monotheist peoples that Muslims are forbidden to convert by force.

So despite the best efforts of Muslim and Arab reformers, the country has been plunged back to medieval barbarism.

And Killary Clinton is the direct cause of this. And she has the sheer, unmitigated gall to claim that she’s some kind of ‘everywoman’ feminist.

She isn’t, and has never been. She’s a rich, entitled corporate boss, who’s in the pocket of Wall Street and a hundred other corporations, no doubt. She’s as corrupt and bloodthirsty as the male hawks and corporate whores, who surround her.

At home, she stands for corruption, inequality and lack of single-payer healthcare, all to drive up profits for her friends in big business. And abroad, well, she stands for American corporate interests there too. The Americans weren’t interested in freeing the Libyan people from a dictator. They wanted Gaddafi out because he defied American imperial power. And he also threated the petrodollar. He was planning to abandon that, and have it replaced with the gold dinar, which would be used through the Middle East and Africa. If that happened, America wouldn’t be able to remonetise its debts, and the economy would collapse. Or collapse even further.

So Killary sent the planes in to destroy a country, and murder its leader. then she giggled about it.

And the result is this return to savagery and barbarism.

18th Century Religious Scepticism Not Based on Science: Part 3 – David Hume and Scepticism

June 9, 2013

David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is one of the classic anti-religious texts. Hume was an agnostic sceptic, rather than an atheist materialist. Published after his death in 1779, the Dialogues are a sustained attack on Natural Theology. In them, Hume attacked the idea of the universe as a machine, and suggested other, organic metaphors. The universe could have grown instead like some kind of vegetable. He also criticised the idea that the features and characteristics of animals were proof of the existence of a Designer. He argued instead that an animal with a particular set of characteristics would have to follow a particular lifestyle or die out. This did not, however, show that those features were designed, or that the animal was intended to pursue this particular manner of existence. He also argued that the immense suffering in nature also argued against the existence of a benevolent deity. He also argued that the regular operation of natural laws also did not show that they were grounded in God’s will. He also argued that miracles were so highly improbably that they should not be accepted, and that if they did exist, they were not necessarily proof of God’s existence as every religion had them. As for the origin of religion itself, in his unpublished book, the Natural History of Religion, he believed that the original religion of humanity had been polytheism, the belief in many gods. This was in stark contrast to the Deists and orthodox Christians, who believed that the first religion had been monotheism. He also saw all religions as leading to fanaticism, and attacked religious virtues as being useless to society.

Hume’s Arguments not Accepted at Time, Criticism by Joseph Priestly

Hume’s Dialogues are considered by the majority of scholars as totally destroying the arguments for the Almighty’s existence based on nature. This is, however, very much a post-Darwinian view. Matt Ridley, in his collection of texts on evolution, places an extract from the dialogues in a section entitled ‘Philosophical Consequence of Evolution’. At the time it was felt that Joseph Priestley had decisively refuted Hume’s arguments in his 1780, Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever. Priestley stated that

‘With respect to Mr. Hume’s metaphysical writings in general, my opinion is, that, on the whole, the world is very little the wider for them. For though, when the merits of any question were on his side, few men ever wrote with more perspicuity, the arrangement of his thoughts being natural, and his illustrations pecularliarly happy; yet I can hardly think that we are indebted to him for the least real advance in the knowledge of the human mind.’

Regarding Hume’s ideas on how humans form concepts, Priestley believed that they had all been refuted by Hartley’s Observations on Man, which Hume didn’t appear to have read.

‘He seems not to have given himself the trouble so much as to read Dr. Hartley’s Observations on Man, a work which he could not but have heard of, and which it certainly behoved him to study. The doctrine of association of ideas, as explained and extended by Dr. Hartley, supplies materials for th emost satisfactory solution of aolmost all the difficulties he has started, as I could easily show if I thought it any consequence; so that to a person acquainted with this theory of the human mind, Hume’s Essays appear the merest trifling. Compared iwth Dr. Hartley, I consider Mr. Hume as not even a child.’

Priestley was also highly critical of the quality of the arguments for the non-existence of God advanced by the character of Philo in the Dialogues. According to Priestly, the character of Philo advanced ‘nothing but common-place objections against the belief of a God, and hackneyed declamations against the plan of providence’.

Priestly was also unimpressed by Hume’s argument that analogies from animals and plants could also equally be used to explain the cosmos. Hume had suggested that if the universe were an animal, then comets could be viewed as this creature’s eggs. Priestley said of this

‘Had any friend of religion advanced an idea so completely absurd as this, what would not Mr. Hume have said to turn it into ridicule. With just a smuch probability might he have said that Glasgow grew from a seed yielded by Edinburgh, or that London and Edinburgh, marrying, by natural generation, produced York, which lies between them. With much more probability might he have said that pamphlets are the productions of large books, that boats are young ships, and the pistols will grow into great guns; and that either there never were any first towns, books, ships, or guns, or that, if there were, they no makers.

How it could come into any man’s head to imagine that a thing so complex as this world, consisting of land and water, earths and metals, plants and animals, &c &c &c should produce a seed, or egg, containing within it the elements of all its innumerable parts, is beyond my powers of comprehension.’

Hume’s Argument on Organic Nature of Universe Scientific Nonsense, According to Priestly

Priestly even suggested that this view of the origin of the cosmos was based on ignorance, not science.

‘What must have been that man’s knowledge of philosophy and nature, who could suppose for a moment, that a comet could possibly be the seed of a world? Do comets spiring from worlds, carrying with them the seeds of all the plants, &c that they contain? Do comets travel from sun to sun, or from star to star? By what force are they tossed into the unformed elements, which Mr. Hume supposes everywhere to surround the universe?> What are those elements: and what evidence has he of their existence? or supposing the comet to arrive among them, whence could arise its power of vegetating into a new system?’

Priestly had possibly missed the point about HUme’s organic analogies. They were not serious suggestions, but intended to show that the machine metaphors used for the universe were only one of several that could equally be used. Nevertheless, Priestly showed that these metaphors were just as, if not more vulnerable, to criticism as those which likened the cosmos to a machine.

Hume’s Spokesman for Design Champion of Science in these Debates

Most of Hume’s arguments against religion and the evidence for design in the universe are philosophical, not scientific. He does use Newton’s suggestion that the cosmos was permeated by an ether to argue that it was movements in this, rather than the actions of the Almighty, that resulted in the effects of gravity. Despite this it is Hume’s character, Cleanthes, who idealises and defends science. Cleanthes states that ‘The true system of the heavenly bodies is discovered and ascertained … Why must conclusions of a (relgious) nature be alone rejected on the general presumption of the insufficiency of human reason?’

Hume’s Empiricism also Used to Attack Not Yet Verified Scientific Concepts

Furthermore, Hume’s agnosticism could act against scientific investigation. Hume believed that just because two events were seen to occur together did not mean that one caused the other. Hume did not wish to attack science. He was an empiricist, and this attitude that no concepts should be accepted unless they were directly experienced could be used against scientific ideas as well as religious, if taken to extremes. Atoms and genes, for example, were theoretical suggestions long before they were verified by science. These concepts would have had to be rejected if the standards of evidence Hume levelled against religion were applied to science. Those secular scientists that did not believe in them frequently attacked them on the basis that such ideas were exactly like those of religion in their lack of a sound scientific basis. The great 19th century chemist, Marcellin Berthelot, stated:

‘I do not want chemistry to degenerate into a religion; I do not want the chemist to believe in the existence of atoms as the Christian believes in the existence of Christ in the communion wafter’.

Refutation of the Argument against Miracles and Other Arguments

As for Hume’s arguments against miracles, they have been refuted by the secular, agnostic philosopher Earman. Earman’s article attacking them was called ‘The complete Failure of Hume’s Arguments against Miracles’. Hume’s arguments against design in the cosmos have also been attacked by Robin Attfield in his Creation, Evolution and Meaning (Aldershot: Ashgate 2006). Attfield argues against atheism from a theistic evolutionist perspective.

As for Hume’s argument that monotheism originally arose from polytheism, this has been accepted by theologians as not actually affecting the truth of the Christian revelation. I was taught it at my old Anglican church school. There is another theory that the original religion was monotheism. This is based on similarities to Judeo-Christian conception of the Almighty in other cultures, and by the fact that rather than developing into monotheism, the number of gods in polytheist religions actually increases over time.

Conclusion: Hume’s Arguments Philosophical, Not Scientific, and Could be Used Against Science

Thus Hume’s arguments against religion have been attacked in turn, and were largely not based in science. Joseph Priestly, who was a scientist as well as Unitarian minister, attacked them for their lack of a scientific basis. Indeed, Hume’s empiricism, when taken to extremes, could and did occasionally act against scientific discovery, as Berthelot’s rejection of atoms shows.

Source

John Hedley Brooke, Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1991).