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Can you apply Hume's fork to agnosticism, as an argument for atheism?

e,g,

It's not contained in the premise of existence, else we would all be theists. But then you cannot inductively argue for God, because God is not an empirical entity.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hume%27s_fork

Just curious if that way of breaking down reasoning and proof has been claimed might entail atheism.

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  • I am guessing that a theist would simply respond that people e.g. misunderstand exixstence, but the question is still sensible I think
    – user70563
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 9:46
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    People who haven't seen a miracle should not be evaluating them. Remember about how "black swan" meant 'impossible', until someone went to Australia?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 13:38
  • Maybe @ScottRowe though I would be reluctant to take testimony as authority. I suppose we could induce that something is an act of God, but when is nature repeatedly contravened rather than restablished? Supposing Jesus could perform miracles, then was he minimally acting with God's agency?
    – user70563
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 16:53
  • So I did say seen a miracle. Nonduality figures in prominently to my statement. Testimony is worth... little.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 0:15

2 Answers 2

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If I understand your question, you are asking: since, "God exists," can't be supported by either prong of Hume's fork, then rather than merely be agnostic about God, we may as well go ahead and be atheists?

That God is not an empirical entity might be disputed, then. At its most bare, the concept of empirical sensation is of something that we passively undergo, of something that "happens to" us. Since God in Itself is said to be impassible or "pure activity", then when It is revealed to us, this is by Its acting upon us. When Dante speaks of seeing God "face to face" in the Empyrean, he doesn't speak of merely thinking about God and deducing the truths of Its nature and relationship with other natures, but he offers a vivid picture of an experience (I will quote my imperfect memory of the Ciardi translation):

So dazzling was the splendor of that ray / That I would have surely lost my senses [emphasis added] / Had I but for an instant turned away.

But so it was, as I recall, I could / The better bear to look / Until at last my vision made one with the eternal good.

Oh grace abounding that made me fit / To fix my eyes on the eternal light / Until my vision was consumed within it!

... Like geometers wholly dedicated / To squaring the circle, but who cannot find, think as they may, / The principle indicated:

So did I study the supernal face. / I yearned to know just how our image merges into that circle, / And how it there finds place.

But mine were not the wings for such a flight. / Yet, as I wished, the truth I wished for came to me, / Cleaving my mind in a great flash of light.

Some further reading (from the SEP):

  1. Divine Revelation
  2. Religious Experience
  3. Mysticism
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  • Thanks for the reply. Is there something you're not telling me?
    – user70563
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 17:00
  • @user66697 I suppose Hume might reply, "We don't see, hear, smell, etc. God," and then the Calvinist might reply, "Ah, but we've this sense of having been created," and then Hume might go on, "That's because you were: by your parents," etc. Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 17:13
  • No I'm asking whwther I left for a week and everyone has seen a miracle in the mean time?
    – user70563
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 17:33
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    @user66697 I haven't seen any miracles recently, though I also might not be disposed to recognize one as a miracle even if I saw it. Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 17:38
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    The poem sounds rather like Emily Dickinson.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 0:17
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I think Hume would have agreed with you. At the end of chapter X of his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, which is about miracles, he says:-

So that, upon the whole, we may conclude, that the Christian Religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one. Mere reason is insufficient to convince us of its veracity: And whoever is moved by Faith to assent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience.

There are some complications. First, he has an escape hatch in the idea that Christianity is believed on faith, not on proof. Second, the word "agnosticism" was not coined until 1869 ( See Wikipedia entry on Agnosticism.

But for us, his fork definitely leads to agnosticism. You'll find a summary of what some other philosophers have said about agnosticism in that Wikipedia article.

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  • Tertullian, a lawyer around 200 AD I think, said (full quote, not that inane abbreviated one): "That Jesus Christ is the Son of God is true because it is absurd. And dying He rose again is certain because it is impossible." I think it is a variant on Teleological reasoning, but I don't know what it is called. Perhaps similar to the basis of absurdism in Existentialist writing? Like the quote, "A bet on Truth alone." Which is like Rumi: "Gamble everything for Love." Why not? What have we got to lose?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 13:28
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    Yes. There are alternatives to faith that are not reason or experience.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 14:02
  • What have I got to lose? Well, perhaps, like Luther, I can do no other. The wager argument doesn't weigh the downsides, which a rational person would want to do. Perhaps I would lose the respect of myself and others (including, especially, God). Perhaps God would punish me for hypocrisy. Perhaps I could have lived a happier life without the bet. (Like getting better value from £5 if I don't bet.)
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 14:11
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    "You can't win. You can't break even. You can't even quit the game." I guess I wasn't referring to Pascal's Wager, but something more intuitional.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 15:07
  • Oh, I do like a really cheerful philosophy. Life's a crock of something unpleasant and then you die. All you can do is choose whether to laugh or cry.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 18:34

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