Reason and theology
Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, his main work in the philosophy of religion, is commonly held to be his most successful work. Indeed it is commonly held to have destroyed natural theology.1 Natural theology assumes that the existence of God can be inferred from the existence of the world. It is held that Hume in the Dialogues shows this to be impossible by undermining the so-called argument from, design. Now it is true that the Dialogues contains arguments which would have this effect, were they valid. In fact, as we shall see, they are fallacious. What is more to our present purpose, however, is that Hume never intended in the first place to destroy natural theology. The Dialogues itself affirms a version of the argument from design, not in passing, but at the climax of the work. In short, the work has been widely misrepresented. It has been eagerly received by numerous commentators who are sceptically inclined and has been interpreted in the light of their own scepticism. Thus they have assumed in its author motives he never entertained and conclusions he never attempted to prove. We must consider the matter in some detail.