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Philo and Cleanthes Views on Natural Religion Essay


Cleanthes, who is an empirical theist, faults Demea’s belief that God is immutable and simple. Demea is a conventional Christian, and thus he holds that religious beliefs cannot be grounded on rationality. He argues that religious beliefs have to be purely grounded on irrational faith.

In this part, Cleanthes tells Demea that arguing that God is changeless and elementary is an equivalent of maintaining that He cannot think due to lack of mind. In this argument, Philo, who does not believe in natural religion, introduces a novel perspective of faulting Cleanthes’ design hypothesis.

Philo states that the argument that the cosmos has an intelligent designer, who ordered it, leads to the conclusion that the maker’s cognitive abilities are unparalleled. This aspect further leads to the question of who orders the designer’s thoughts. Philo argues that if order then needed to be explained by subscribing to the design hypothesis, then philosophers replace the question why the universe has order, with the question why do God’s thoughts have order without answering any of the questions.

The argument between Philo and Cleanthes hinges on the belief on the existence of a genius designer of the cosmos who gives it order. Philo questions this belief while Cleanthes challenges his objection. Philo states that contrary to Cleanthes’ presumption, he is not pretending by seeking to understand the designer theory. He also notes that he should not attempt to dig deeper into the theory especially knowing that he might go back to the same answer as Cleanthes. However, he terms such a decision as ignorant.

Philo argues that naturalists have failed to explain why one ideal system has been in a position to arrange itself without a prior design while another one cannot do it by itself. Philo does not understand why one ideal system is in a position to arrange itself perfectly while the material one cannot, and it has to depend on the ideal one and the lack of explanation for this aspect leads to a regression in the naturalist’s theory.

Philo also faults Cleanthes’ theory by stating that it lacks the reason for regarding God as a perfect being, who is immune of making any mistakes. Therefore, this argument by Philo ends up in retroversion (Hume 33).

Cleanthes’ opinion is correct because most modern scientific studies on theories of origin have not determined the final cause (Garrett 102). For example, the Big Bang theory does not reveal what led to the so-called Big Bang even though it gives a good explanation on the genesis of the universe.

Therefore, this issue leaves people with a hanging final cause that cannot be attributed to anything. People cannot just place their faith in God simply because others have failed to establish the final cause. Instead, people need to dig deeper and find the final cause in a bid to avoid being accused of basing their faith on the findings of others.

Cleanthes’ response to Philo when he is challenged on his design argument shows that he is least interested in research about the design hypothesis. In his words, he tells Philo that he is satisfied by the fact that there is a God and he does not need to go further than that by questioning the cause of the order of God’s thoughts.

This response shows his laxity to engage in a religious research. This assertion holds because Cleanthes is afraid that if he engages in such a research, the results might challenge his beliefs. As such, Cleanthes would rather stay in his comfort zone than engage in an informative research that enriches his beliefs.

On the other hand, Philo does not allege that there are unanswered questions by the design argument. Rather, he is saying that the argument does not provide convincing explanations concerning the order of the universe. This assertion holds because if people accept the design hypothesis, then they have to replace the question, what exactly brings about the order of the universe with what exactly creates God’s order of thoughts.

According to Philo, in the end, this particular replacement does not explain anything about the order of the universe. This aspect is manifested in Cleanthes’ argument that from the beginning, the replacement of the questions does not intend to answer any issue. Instead, the replacement comes out as a final answer to an argument that the arguer is not willing to engage in further controversy. As such, Cleanthes’ reply does not respond to Philo’s issues adequately.

Philo asks Cleanthes how exactly philosophers like him are supposed to satisfy themselves in understanding the cause of the deity that he believes in. He argues that due to the loopholes in the system of the design theorists, they are bound to trace the ideal world of the deity to another ideal world. He argues that telling people to stop at the material world is not satisfactory.

He holds the opinion that if the material world were dependent on another ideal world, then the ideal world would be dependent on another ideal world and the cycle goes to infinitum. He says that this assertion holds because the design theory has failed to provide the cause of the infinite world. This argument by Philo portrays the research by Cleanthes as half way finished. Cleanthes has left a hanging conclusion. He ought to have gone beyond establishing the existence of God to showing how exactly He comes into being.

Philo is of the opinion that basing the ordered universe on the idea of God’s order is similar to explaining why one got into a fight by stating that s/he just wanted to fight. This explanation does not explain the main reason why one fought; on the contrary, it leaves the answer to the cause open to assumptions. In a bid to explain why one fought, s/he would have to tell a story of what exactly prompted him/her into a fight irrespective of whether the reason is accidental or intentional.

Cleanthes’ design argument has a similar problem. It places the enigma surrounding the order from one state to another. People can only understand how the universe was ordered if there were general principles and laws explaining the process.

This assertion by Philo, which sticks with the need to have conventional principles, takes after the Darwinian precept, which gave way to the controversial hypothesis of natural selection. Natural selection, “as a general law, explains how order comes about in a natural world” (O’Connor 75). The hypothesis behind Philo’s argument passes over the enigma of order from one state to another.

Instead, the theory sticks to one realm, viz. the realm of matter. In this domain, the theory shows that order is a natural occurrence, which is supported by the principles of natural laws. This argument hinges on the conventional natural occurrences, whereby nature appears to be self-regulatory in a bid to avoid extremes.

However, Philo does not primarily seek to question the validity of the design argument. He is interested in answering the question who orders the universe and the thoughts of the designer. On the other hand, Cleanthes is interested in establishing that a deity exists and He is in charge of the material world and free from errors and faults. Therefore, Philo misunderstands Cleanthes’ goal.

His goal is to show that God exists rather than explaining the order of the universe. Cleanthes reflects this issue in his response to Philo by stating that the heavens and the earth are evidence that there exists a creator. He further charges that only Philo is seeking to disturb this general impression. He further answers the question posed by Philo on what causes the order by stating that he does not know, he does not care, and it does not concern him.

He adds that he has discovered a God, and thus to him, there is no need of asking further questions on the issue. Cleanthes is not concerned with digging deep to understand how the design comes into place or what influences the design. He is only interested in establishing that a deity exists and He is in charge of the activities in the material world. The fact that the design argument has failed to improve the people’s understanding on the universe, as Philo would have wanted, does not nullify the entire theory.

Works Cited

Garrett, Don. Cognition and Commitment in Hume’s Philosophy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. Print.

Hume, David. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Ed. Richard Popkin. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1998. Print.

O’Connor, David. Routledge Philosophy Guide Book to Hume on Religion, London: Routledge, 2001. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020, May 6). Philo and Cleanthes Views on Natural Religion. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/philo-and-cleanthes-views-on-natural-religion/

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"Philo and Cleanthes Views on Natural Religion." IvyPanda, 6 May 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/philo-and-cleanthes-views-on-natural-religion/.

1. IvyPanda. "Philo and Cleanthes Views on Natural Religion." May 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/philo-and-cleanthes-views-on-natural-religion/.


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IvyPanda. 2020. "Philo and Cleanthes Views on Natural Religion." May 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/philo-and-cleanthes-views-on-natural-religion/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Philo and Cleanthes Views on Natural Religion'. 6 May.

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