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In Defense of Natural Theology 5: Hume’s Stopper and the Natural Theology Project


Sennett is responding to “Hume’s Stopper” which states that even if certain natural theology proofs succeed, they only get to a generic God, or to some generic ‘beginning,’ not the God of theism.

Sennett’s response is to say that this may be true, but all we need to do is view the proofs of God as first steps narrowing down the possibilities, and then it stops being unreasonable to bring these things up.

Next, he goes on to say what happens after these first steps succeed. He cuts away the possibilities of other religious traditions being good candidates because (1) no other religions have undergone the philosophical scrutiny that theism has, (2) theism can answer many philosophical questions without much alteration, and (3) theism answers these questions in a form that has lasted for centuries.

He cuts away the possibility of other Gods being good candidates by saying that we shouldn’t take them seriously, since they are assumed to be simple flights of fancy. He also calls such God postulations hopelessly ad hoc.

I hope that’s a sort of fair representation. I’m struggling. This book is at the tip of my comprehension level. It’s understandable, but it takes effort, and often rereadings of paragraphs.

First, Sennett’s dismissal of other religions assumes that theism has in fact survived philosophical scrutiny. Isn’t that the very thing in question? Although people continue to maintain it as true, that may speak to the ability of people to hold ridiculous beliefs. Next, Sennett assumes that theism actually answers questions. If it doesn’t, his last two points fail.

Next, it seems strange that Sennett would dismiss other gods for being ad hoc. This is almost an appeal to antiquity. He’s saying “my God is older than yours” so that therefore makes his more likely? It seems that people, even ancient people, went too far with their conclusions, and that is what Hume’s stopper might show. Perhaps our understanding of God was primitive, and people came up with primitive ideas at first.

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