Why Hume Wasn't an Atheist: A Reply to Andre
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Hume Studies Volume XXII, Number 1, April 1996, pp. 193-202 Why Hume Wasn't an Atheist: A Reply to Andre BERYL LOGAN In a recent issue of Hume Studies,1 Shane Andre argues that, as Hume's position on theism can be read primarily from Philo's position in the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and since Philo's position in the Dialogues is one of "limited theism," Hume was also a "limited theist" and therefore not an atheist. According to Andre, a "limited theist" is one like Epicurus, "who denied, not that the Gods exist, but that they intervene in human affairs" and, he continues, "...at least in philosophical circles, the term 'atheist' is generally restricted to people who disbelieve any form of theism, and this is the sense in which I propose to enquire whether Hume was an atheist" (142). Andre's claim then is that Hume is not an atheist in this latter sense, but is a limited theist in the former sense. This is shown in "three major objections to standard theism" in the Dialogues: those addressing the Argument from Design and the problem of evil, as well as the lack of debate on whether or not God exists. Philo's criticisms of the Argument from Design amount to the claim that, "not that there is no God, but that, if there is a God," empirical evidence cannot show that God has any of the traditional characteristics of wisdom, power or goodness. The "proper conclusion" of Philo's argument from evil does not concern God's existence, but establishes that God is "limited in some important respect." Philo's "limited theism" is expressed in his ambivalent attitude toward Cleanthes' Argument from Design in Part 12 ("that the cause or causes of order in the universe probably bear some remote analogy to human Beryl Logan is at the Department of Philosophy, Scarborough College, University of Toronto, 1265 Military Trail, Scarborough, Ontario MlC 1A4, Canada, email: logan@lake.'scar.utoronto.ca 194 Beryl Logan intelligence"). In sum, Philo and Cleanthes never debate God's existence, and they accept a limited Deity, therefore they hold positions of limited theism, therefore Philo is not an atheist. While I agree with Andre's conclusion that Hume is not an atheist, I will show in this paper first, that the interpretation which provides his means for arriving at this conclusion is not consistent with the text and faces a number of difficulties, and second, that the sense in which Hume is a limited theist has to do with the limitations of human reason and experience, and not with God's limited nature. My criticisms of Andre's position will be directed at three points in his argument: (1) his claim for Philo's theism based on Philo's lack of scepticism about God's existence; (2) what he regards to be the "proper conclusion" (153) to the problem of evil, as this directly influences his view of Philo's scepticism and the nature of the Deity; and (3) his view that Philo's theism is to be found in his acceptance of the Argument from Design (Philo's limited theism). My arguments will centre upon the "suspense of judgement," and where and how this.mental stance is used by Hume in the arguments of the Dialogues.2 Scepticism about God's Existence Andre claims that the arguments in the Dialogues are directed only to God's nature and do not address God's existence in spite of the fact that Cleanthes concludes his Argument from Design by claiming that the data in the world provide conclusive analogical support for the existence and (human-like) intelligence of the (traditional) Deity.3 Cleanthes' anthropomorphic Argument from Design purports to "prove" that the world has an intelligent divine designer just like machines have intelligent human designers and the only difference between the causes based on the effects is one of degree and not one of kind: the designer of the world is far grander than the designer of a computer because the world is more complex than a computer. I would urge, though, that Philo's scepticism is directed at both aspects of the Argument...