This article was first published in the November 2007 ABR Newsletter.
David Hume, the infamous yet renowned 18th century Scottish philosopher and historian, enjoyed the pursuit of the destruction of religion. He perceived that in religion, and especially in the Christian faith, resided a cesspool of irrational speculation and meaningless trust in ungrounded and unproved dogma. For Hume, Reason was king. Indeed, any belief system failing to have a "scientific" foundation and structure built upon empirical evidences was surely a mirage, unable to stand the test of reason. Hume desired greatly to replace the Christian religion with the untainted "purity" of human rational thought. Meaning, under Hume's philosophy, would find its truest expression in unadulterated Reason. Hume boldly and unashamedly stated:
If we take in our hand any volume of divinity or school metaphysics (works on religion and philosophy) let us ask this question, does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact or existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can be nothing but sophistry and illusion.1
In spite of the perception of greatness among certain academics and philosophers, David Hume's reasoning is seriously flawed on a number of fronts. First, since his statement is philosophical and not scientific, it deserves to be treated like all the other religious beliefs, writings and statements he condemns: his philosophy too should be cast to the flames! It is neither scientific nor rational, but ends up being nothing more than the philosophical rant of a pompous intellectual elitist. As Ravi Zacharias has effectively pointed out, Hume's argument is self-contradictory and self-refuting:
His test for meaning has failed its own test. He is looking for the universal solvent but does not know where to store it because it dissolves whatever it is coming into contact with.2
Second, Hume displayed profound ignorance of the Bible, even with the level of knowledge of the Bible and Biblical history available in his own day. Was it conceivable that he was unaware of the centrality of facts and the underpinnings of true historical events as a basis for Israel's development as a nation? The Salvation History that unfolds in the Old Testament, although spiritual, is essentially and intrinsically bound to the actual course of historical events, both the miraculous and the non-miraculous. Or could he really have been unaware that Luke, John, Paul and other New Testament authors based much of their reasoning and logic on eyewitness testimony and public, historic events? Indeed, the New Testament is shocking in that it reads at times like a truly modern text of western civilization. So much for the belief that the Bible is nothing more than religious and philosophic platitudes!
In our day, archaeology is one of the modern sciences being used to help connect us with those historical events of biblical history. Never has it been more important and more astounding to see how artifacts from ancient times help us to see the historical reliability of the Bible. Hume's bold dismissal of the Christian faith was not just simply a rejection of logic and history...it was a dismissal of the moral truths that come forth from that true history. Many today embrace Hume's philosophy of the superiority of Reason not because it is logical or even reasonable, but because they perceive that it removes their moral accountability under the God of history. With the ever growing evidence from the science of archaeology, may the atheists and agnostics of our age re-evaluate the religion of David Hume and find it truly wanting! May they come back to the facts and faith of Biblical history and place their trust in the One who is over all time and eternity.
Recommended Resources for Further Study
1. Hume, David
1748 An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Section xii: Of the academical or skeptical Philosophy, Part iii, Paradigm 132.
2. Zacharias, Ravi
2007 The Anatomy of Faith and the Quest for Reason. Let My People Think Broadcast Archives, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
Scott Lanser is Executive Director of ABR, and has served as a pastor in Lancaster County, PA for the past 20 years.