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Philo's Argument from Design

Updated on April 22, 2015

The Dialogues: Philo


In the dialogue, Demea asks whether it is the nature of God, and not his existence that is subject to skepticism. Philo assures him that this is actually the case. In this discussion and dialogue, Philo criticizes the design argument through the introduction of a number of alternative hypotheses meant to explain the apparent design. Although he agrees on the existence of God, he points out that the nature of God can not be known. To support hi argument, Philo provides a number of arguments for the two claims (Penelhum, 1987 pp. 253–78, 270).

The role of his conclusions

In his argument about design, Philo implies that the analogy presented is not good enough. By pointing out the inconveniences he perceives in Cleanthes's experimental theism, Philo goes on to conclude that the method can not establish divine infinity, divine unity or divine perfection. As so, Philo forbids any inference from the apparent goodness in the world to the goodness of a deity. This leads Philo to also conclude that, given that there is so much evil, God can not be completely beneficent, otherwise, he would have eliminated all evil. However, since He has not eliminated all evil, God can not be all powerful.

On the other hand, if he is not aware of evil, he can not be all knowing. Finally, Philo points out that if nature is evidence of God's nature, then it can be concluded that God does not care about human beings at all, and is therefore morally ambiguous.

Although Philo believes that there is a God, his argument questions the divinity of God, and even goes on to equate God to human beings, but with more power. This argument also proved significant to J. L. Mackie (1917- 1981) who used the same argument to argue that God can not exist. This argument challenges the religious dogma as both morally and psychologically harmful. This challenges the belief of God as being perfect and infinity (Hume, 1966 pp. 21). This is because of the fact that his arguments lower God to an almost human like being, with questionable morals (Crouch, 2007).

Philo also points out that that there is a false connection between reason and theism, and suggests that philosophical skepticism is the most appropriate route to true Christianity since it forces people to rely on faith (Penelhum, 1987 pp. 253–78, 270

By challenging the perfection of God, Philo basically introduces us to the Problem of Evil. Given that the theists want to maintain the position that God is infinitely powerful, good, perfect and wise, the problem of evil in the world challenges this stand since an all good and perfect God can not allow evil to continue. With this argument, Philo says that the only other alternative would involve admitting that God is incomprehensible. In this case, it would be possible to agree that whereas the infinite perfection of God can in fact be reconciled with the existence of evil, it is impossible for us to understand how such reconciliation can exist.

Although Philo confirms his belief in a God, the arguments still bring in to question the existence of God as well as the origin of religious moral (Crouch, 2007). However, through Philo, Hume points out that the two issues are distinct from each other. As a result, any positive stance on the first one does not necessarily confirm the second issue. In this argument, Philo leads us to question whether sufficient evidence exists in the world that can prove that there is an infinitely good, wise and powerful God from whom morality naturally originates. According to Philo, the answer to this question is that none exists (Crouch, 2007).


By looking at Philo arguments, it is clear that he has not necessarily been used to show the probable amorality of the Deity. Rather, Philo has been used to show the others, and particularly Cleanthes that the tools of his experimental theism can as well be used in an argument of a wholly incompatible view.

Through the arguments he puts forward in his own way (Cleanthes), Philo proves that he can do well to ponder his own questions. In this case, the role of Philo is not to simply reject or agree with the other arguments put forward. Rather, he raises questions from such arguments and uses them to give his own answers and arguments. In so doing, Philo raises a number of points on both sides of the argument. For instance, although to a certain degree he touches on the problem of evil, he also concludes that the other alternative would be to conclude that it is not possible o comprehend God and his way. Philo therefore shows us how questions, conclusions and methods used on both sides of the argument can be used to argue the various points raised.


William Crouch, (archived December 5, 2007) "Which character is Hume in the "Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion"?" at the Wayback Machine.

Terence Penelhum, (1987) “Hume’s Skepticism and the Dialogues,” in Norton, McGill

Hume Studies, 253–78, 270

David Hume, (1966) The Natural History of Religion (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 21.


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