What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Hume, science, and religion

Can a follower of David Hume consistently accept modern science while rejecting First Cause arguments for God's existence? It seems not, for reasons I explore here.

UPDATE: By popular demand -- OK, one guy asked me -- here is a further post on empiricism and Aristotelianism, expanding on some themes of the post linked to above.

Comments (9)

Great article. I LOVE learning about new instances of philosophical autophagy (I encounter it so often that I needed a name for it).

I had for years had a hunch that false doctrines of perfectly general scope, such as Hume's skepticism about causation, must when pursued to their logical ends imply the impossibility of experience per se. Only recently did I realize that the integrity of truth entails that that must be so: for a contradiction of any part of the integral body of truth contradicts the whole of it, thus ipso facto each particular part of it - including the truth that there are truths.

Kristor: "... philosophical autophagy ..."


This is the first chance I've had to say hello to you (and to gush that I admire the workings of your mind, though I've so-far merely seen it filtered on VfR).

I guess Hume did not regard medicine as a science, wherein one could trace the relation of cause and effect, both from initiation of symptoms to advanced illness, to cure.

Thanks for posting these, Ed. Very nice work. As you may know, I did my dissertation on Hume's argument against miracles, but have drifted into other areas of philosophy since then. So, your pieces have helped reduce the mental rust!

In Boswell's "Life of Johnson" Boswell recounts the story of a learned doctor who engaged Hume in debate over God and miracles, a written exchange. Upon their encountering one another Hume thanked the doctor, saying, You could have been much harder with me", and thanked him. Such is the force and attraction of skepticism that the doctor is forgotten and Hume still debated.
And I am too lazy to locate the doctor in my copy of Boswell.

As to First Cause and science in general; they are incommensurable. They require a different metaphysics and different foundational belief systems. And Hume, with his billiard ball example, would in neither case, offer much hope.

Mr Feser, thanks for the links, keep them coming.


As to First Cause and science in general; they are incommensurable. They require a different metaphysics and different foundational belief systems.

Could you elaborate? How come?

Kristor, How Come? The religious account of Genesis just happens to be markedly different from the scientific attempts to explain what is called the Big Bang. The first posits Faith connected to belief, the second offers the research and theories of physics to arrive at belief or knowledge.
Not to say there isn't crossover between them, but starkly put they are distinct human endeavors. "Science in general", science whatever it's explanatory efforts at Creation must and does move on to other problems, you might say, in it's pursuit of causes & more important, of answers.
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Do not take anything here as a denigration of faith, for it is intrinsic to the human, whatever form it takes.

Ilion: Thanks! I'll try to keep my mind working. Re those workings being filtered on VFR, that hasn't really happened. Lawrence either publishes what I submit without changing it, or doesn't publish it at all - he quickly identified my besetting rhetorical sin of logorrhea. The stuff he doesn't publish is generally way way too long to be foisted on to the innocent reader who would like to get through a thread post within the limits of a lunch hour. None of the filtration is substantive.

Johnt: Oh. Thanks for the clarification. While I agree that science and religion proceed via different methods, I much doubt that they are in truth and in principle incommensurable, for they both refer to and seek to understand the same reality. If a scientific doctrine and a religious doctrine appear to disagree, that must be because one of them is false, or because one or (more likely) both have somewhat mistaken the reality to which they both seek adequacy.

Post a comment

Bold Italic Underline Quote

Note: In order to limit duplicate comments, please submit a comment only once. A comment may take a few minutes to appear beneath the article.

Although this site does not actively hold comments for moderation, some comments are automatically held by the blog system. For best results, limit the number of links (including links in your signature line to your own website) to under 3 per comment as all comments with a large number of links will be automatically held. If your comment is held for any reason, please be patient and an author or administrator will approve it. Do not resubmit the same comment as subsequent submissions of the same comment will be held as well.