David Hume and Self-Refuting Skepticism

Scotland produced perhaps the greatest skeptic that ever lived, David Hume. He applied a thoroughness and rigor to his doubt and skepticism that few take. His effort to provide a solid reason to doubt religion was taken to an extreme. In trying to cast doubt on what could be believed, he doubted whether cause and effect could be knowable. Hume gave one example of when one billiard ball hits another, all we really know is that one moves and then the other moves, but what causes the motion, Hume maintained that we cannot be sure. Hume was trying to eliminate all faith by rigorous skepticism.

His view is one that is widely held today. Many today would agree with the last sentence in his book An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, which ends with this:

“If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity of school of metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experiential reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”

What Hume is saying is that we should not consider any book or idea on which we cannot do a scientific experiment. Can we measure it with numbers? Can we experience an objective fact in a repeatable test? If no, then the work might as well be burned, for it contains nothing but smooth words and illusions.

Of course, this is the position held by many today. They believe that if we can’t count it or do a repeatable experiment with some sort of instrument to measure it, then we’re dealing with a useless endeavor. Today they might add “Can we make money with it?” but the idea is similar. This would wipe out all religion and most any other belief system.

It also shows the blindness of Hume and all moderns who hold to this view. In Hume’s desire to exorcise all religion, he slit his own throat. If we take Hume at his word, then let’s put his own work to the test. Does Hume’s book contain any reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does Hume’s words contain any experiential reasoning concerning facts of existence? No. Then commit Hume’s work to the flames, for it contains nothing but sophistry and illusion.

Well, perhaps we should hold off on the fire for a bit, for Hume’s work is good for something. Hume, and the other modern skeptics that would hold this view, show themselves to be self-refuting. Where is the scientific proof that all truth is only proven by scientific proofs? In fact, the skeptics that hold so much to science are holding a philosophical position without realizing it, and since they don’t study philosophy they are blind to the contradiction. Even David Hume, who was a brilliant man, let his passion for eliminating faith get in the way of his logic. In the end, we can learn from his self-refuting argument.


About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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