A belief in God or religion has often been used to advance scholarly arguments that attempt to discredit the notion of a human-like God. For example, David Hume’s Dialogues is a simulated conversation between philosophers who use reason in an attempt to gain a greater understanding about the nature of God. One character, Philo, affirms his belief in god as “the original cause of the universe,” treating his existence as “unquestionable and self-evident,” but he challenges his friend Demea for using analogical reasoning to ascribe human characteristics and traits to God (Hume, 44). Philo argues that God is “infinitely superior to our limited view and comprehension;” therefore, it would be unfair to attempt to describe God’s nature as having a “likeness to the perfections of a human creature” (Hume, 44). Since “we have no experience of divine attributes and operations,” even traits such as “wisdom, thought, design, and knowledge” – traits that are considered virtuous among men – are inappropriate to describe God’s nature since they are concepts that only operate within the scope of human understanding (Hume, 45).
Another character, Cleanthes, objects to Philo’s claim and explains how his observations of the world around them – as “one great machine subdivided into lesser machines” – lead him to believe that nature’s complexity is indeed indicative of an intelligent designer, who he likens to a craftsman (Hume, 45). Philo responds in turn by pointing out that Cleanthes’ argument is flawed for its use of “weak analogies,” because he is drawing comparisons between the universe as a whole and certain parts of the universe; for example, it is reasonable to conclude that a house has an architect behind it, but when a house is compared to the universe the dissimilitude between both cases will “diminish proportionally the evidence” (Hume, 46).
However, Philo continues to take issue with the idea of anthropomorphizing God, and he states that doing so will “renounce all claim to infinity in any of the attributes of the deity” (Hume, 68). He explains that the mind of God should not have the likeness of a human mind, when our minds are possessed of limited understanding. Moreover, Philo points out that it becomes impossible to assert that God created the world perfectly; in short, if God’s work bears a likeness to “human art and contrivance,” then it is unreasonable to believe that he is “free from every error, mistake, or incoherence in his undertakings” (Hume, 68-9). Lastly, Philo debunks the analogical argument by arguing that it leaves open the possibility of polytheism, since multiple gods can be responsible for creating the universe in the same sense that it can take several people to build a house – thereby further “limiting the attributes of each” deity (Hume, 70).
Later on, these philosophers decide to confront the ‘problem of evil,’ or why a monotheistic god would allow moral disorder and a miserable world to exist when it is assumed that he has “infinite power, infinite wisdom, and infinite goodness” (Hume, 103). Philo expounds on the futility of proving these assumptions, given the requirement: “you must prove these pure, unmixed, and uncontrollable attributes from the present mixed and confused phenomena, and from these alone” (Hume, 103). Ultimately, Philo is asserting that if God’s attributes cannot be inferred from nature with certainty, then there can be no conclusive way to establish the nature of God; hence, the analogical argument is a failure.
Written By: Eddie Morles