divine irony

Hume

I suspect that many professional philosophers, including ones such as myself who have no religious beliefs at all, are slightly embarrassed, or even annoyed, by the voluble disputes between militant atheists and religious apologists. As Michael Frayn points out in his delightful book The Human Touch, the polite English are embarrassed when the subject of religion crops up at all. But we have more cause to be uncomfortable. The annoyance comes partly because of the strong sense of deja vu. But it is not just that old tunes are being replayed, but that they are being replayed badly. The classic performance was given by David Hume in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, written in the middle of the 18th century. Hume himself said that nothing could be more artful than the Dialogues, and it is the failure to appreciate that art that is annoying. In the Dialogues, there are three principal characters. The first is Philo, a religious sceptic, whose voice is clearly that of Hume himself. Cleanthes is an apologist whose stock in trade is the argument that design is evidence of the existence of a deity: the familiar argument that the delicate and wonderful adjustments of nature irresistibly point to the existence of a divine architect – all nature declares the Creator’s glory.

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