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Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion | Study Guide

David Hume

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David Hume

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Argument, Philosophy

At a Glance

In his book Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion skeptical Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711–76) takes on religious orthodoxy, which he perceived to be dogmatic, superstitious, and harmful, as a means to argue that the nature of God is an unsolvable mystery that cannot be unlocked through deductive reasoning. Hume, who was stigmatized during his life for being an atheist (though what he believed is unknown) has since been both lauded and despised for his writings. Hume's body of work has had an enormous influence on Western culture, particularly in the fields of philosophy and theology. Urged by his friends to avoid controversy, Hume did not publish the Dialogues while he was alive. They were first published in 1779, three years after Hume died.

The Dialogues discusses the extent to which a belief in God can be justified by different methods of reasoning. The concept of God under discussion is specifically the idea of a wholly perfect being—a deity who has every good quality to the maximum extent and no bad qualities. Primarily, the Dialogues' characters discuss a teleological argument in favor of God's existence: that is, an argument that states that the natural world is similar in relevant ways to art and machines made by humans and, therefore, must be purposefully created as art and machines are. One character, Philo, points out that the similarity between nature and machines is not strong enough to conclude that a wholly perfect divine being exists.

Teleological arguments under the terminology intelligent design gained popularity again in the 20th century. The term intelligent design describes an argument that biological creatures were produced in their current structures by an "intelligent designer." Hume's Dialogues remains an important yardstick for what such arguments must do—and what they must not do—to be successful.

Perspective and Narrator

In Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, the fictional character Pamphilus narrates, mainly in the third person, a past conversation he recalls among the three main fictional characters—Philo, Cleanthes, and Demea.

About the Title

The title, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, describes both the content and the format of the work. A dialogue is a record of a conversation among multiple participants, written much like the script of a play. The subject matter—natural religion—is a view about the existence of God, stating either of two things: 1) that divinity is a part of nature rather than apart from nature, and 2) that divinity is known by reason rather than by revelation—or by both. Scottish philosopher David Hume's (1711–76) dialogue provides a compelling treatise against the influential teleological argument of the time, which claimed that the world was purposely created by design for the existence of God.


This study guide for David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion offers summary and analysis on themes, symbols, and other literary devices found in the text. Explore Course Hero's library of literature materials, including documents and Q&A pairs.

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