Monday, May 28, 2012


Chapter 5 of the Hopfe/Woodward text discusses Jainism.  This is a religion that arose in India about the same time as Buddhism, in the 6th century B.C.  As with the other religions I'm discussing on this blog, I rely on the text to provide historical details, discussion of rituals, texts, and notable leaders.  My goal is to help bring these into focus in relation to the basic beliefs of the religion.

In the case of Jainism the text is very helpful in this regard.  On page 119 of the 12th ed., the authors say "The philosophical worldview of Jainism is dualistic.  According to Jainism, the world is comprised of essentially two substances--soul (jiva) and matter (ajiva).  Soul is life; it is eternal and valuable.  Matter is lifeless, material, and evil. . . . Jains have no need for a creator god because they believe that matter is eternal.  Thus there never was a creation of world.  It has been here forever and will continue to exist forever."

This kind of dualism is not unique to Jainism, and the idea that matter is evil or lesser while spirit is good and somehow higher has been very influential in the West.  I'd like to suggest that this view of release from the material world is not essentially different than the popular belief that the goal of life is to be good in order to go to heaven which is a spiritual realm.  Indeed, perhaps Jainism is preferable in that in this worldview one is given many attempts to attain release from the material world, whereas the standard story taught here in the West is that there is only one chance.

Furthermore, can someone who holds to this view of matter and spirit claim to also believe in God?  On this point Jainism also seems more consistent than much of what is taught in the West.  God is said to be the creator, and yet is distant and has little power in the world.  One must obey God's rules or else one does not get into heaven.  In Jainism, the system is inpersonal in the sense that if one does what is needed to be released from reincarnation then one will be released, but if not one continues in reincarnation until such a time as release is attained.

So we have a comparison of the popular forms of theism taught here in the West with Jainism, but we also have the comparison of the basic beliefs of theism (only God is eternal) with Jainism (matter and spirit are both eternal).  The final question is: if spirit is eternal and the individual has been striving for eternity to attain release from reincarnation, why hasn't this goal been attained?  If, after eternity, the goal has not been attained then it can never be attain and continued suffering is unjust.  On the other hand, if there is a chance for release then the implication is that the soul has not been striving for this from eternity.  Either the soul is not eternal or the system is not just like it claims to be.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


Continuing my series for summer Religions of the World class, this post is about chapter 4 from the Hopfe/Woodward text on Hinduism.  The book takes a geographical approach to categorizing religion and so this is part of the section on religions from India.  The text points out that this is perhaps the oldest religion in the world, and is certainly one of the most diverse.  Indeed, there is a tendency today for scholars to speak about Hinduisms, rather than Hinduism.  The argument is that Hinduism as a kind was developed for cataloging purposes by the British.  A person in India was either British, Muslim, or other which was called Hindu.  This approach would also have been true during Islamic control of India in that one was either Muslim or an idol worshiper.

Nevertheless, there are two ways I'd suggest we can understand how Hinduism as a concept holds together: one is in terms of historical development of basic beliefs, and the other is in terms of a worldview with concepts developed from basic beliefs.

In terms of the first, the text gives the history of Hinduism from classical, to post-classical, to modern and post-modern times.  I'd like to suggest that there is a development from the worship of gods, to the work of the priests, to the focus on consciousness.  This is a movement from explanation to explanation as each step is challenged.  For instance, the worship of gods does not bring about the desired end and therefore greater purity must be required.  This requires a priestly class that can be set aside in ritual purity at all times.  However, when the desired ends are still elusive, there is a shift in focus to the consciousness and desires.  The Hindu Vedas follow this path in their path from teachings about gods, to the priests, to the Upanishads at the end which are philosophical reflections on the nature of consciousness.

The philosophical development of Hinduism relies on this last past of the Vedas, and so is called Vedanta, or the end of the Vedas.  These teach non-dualism, that all is one, and different schools look to explain how all is one in the face of appearance difference.

Indeed, as I shift to the second part of how to understand Hinduism it centers on this idea that "all is one." Beginning with the assumption that the self is eternal and that the self (consciousness) is the highest reality, the rest of Hindu teachings follow.  If the self is eternal, then death is not the end of existence and some form of reincarnation must be posited (samsara).  The cycle of reincarnation is guided toward the end of enlightenment and therefore a kind of justice governs the system (karma), which is influenced by doing one's duty (dharma).  Since all is one and all is eternal, any appearance of change is simply that, appearance and not reality.  Therefore, this world of change is not real and the highest end of existence is coming to understand this.  Such awareness or enlightenment means release from the power of the world of change and the end of the reincarnation cycle (moksha).  The failure to understand this is due to ignorance (avidya).

In each case, the history of the development of Hinduism or Hinduism as a worldview, the basic belief that all is one and this is consciousness is key to understanding.  The text considers materialistic and theistic forms of Hinduism, yet in each case there is the background belief that all is one at the basic level. As we compare Hinduism with other religions developed in India I'd like us to compare them at this level: do they teach different basic beliefs or are they variations of this same basic belief?  If the latter, in what ways are they variations and how do they develop differently.  Then as we begin to consider and compare other religions I'd like us to also ask how they are the same or different with respect to their basic beliefs.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

African Religions

Continuing my posts for World Religion class, chapter 3 of the Hopfe/Woodward texts discusses African Religions.  After noting their diversity (given that they cover a large continent) and obvious mistakes made in evaluating these religions (either as savage or as idealized), the book looks at some specific examples.  There are two points I'd like to focus on.

First, the book notes that it is common for these religions (as it is for most polytheists according to the book) to claim that there is a High God who is the creator or co-creator but who is now disinterested and not involved in the world.  The book gives examples of such stories.  In each case, this "creator" seems to fashion the world out of pre-existing stuff and is therefore a "maker" rather than the creator that gives being to what did not exist before.  Second, it is notable that this maker is not infinite (all powerful, all good, all knowing), but is limited in power, can be tricked or fooled and so is limited in knowledge, and does not care anymore so is limited in goodness.  Consequently, it can be confusing to liken this High God to any theistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, or Islam).

Three examples from the book are from Mozambique, the Yoruba, and the Nuer.  The first two have the belief that the High God is now distant and uninterested.  The latter believes that the High God is actively involved in life and is the focus of their religion.  My question: is it possible to resolve these two different views of the High God, and if so how?

The second point I wanted to focus on concerns the rituals that address the lesser spirits, ancestors, and life stages (such as coming of age).  Why is this "religion?"  In what way is it different from "science."  It seems to me as I read about these practices that the participants are trying to understand the cause and effect of the world.  However, because they do not believe that the world is limited to the material it is necessary for them also to incorporate the other aspect of reality, the spiritual.  Now, someone might argue that these rituals are not efficacious, but isn't that just an issue of trying to understand cause and effect more fully rather than religion?

I'm not suggesting these are equivalent to modern science, but I am wanting us to explore the claim by some modern scientists that all of existence can be reduced to the material causes seen in nature.  Are religions such as those discussed in this chapter also trying to understand causes, and in what ways might these causes come under question?

These two focal points come together in this way: If God is the creator, what does the creation reveal about God?  Are we merely involved in the creation in order to get what we want out of it, such as beneficial results, or is the creation an object of study because it reveals something about its creator?  And what can it reveal about the creator?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Native American Religion

As chapter 2 of the Hopfe/Woodward "Religions of the World" text points out, Native American religion is diverse and difficult to identify as either polytheistic, animistic, or pantheistic.  Indeed, it may be a feature of these religions to set aside clarification and speculation about such differences and instead focus on practical concerns related to overcoming suffering and natural evil.

This is a theme that runs through the kinds of categories discussed in the chapter, such as animism, ritual dances, sacrifice, taboos, vision quests, the spirit world, and life after death.  The underlying idea appears to be that there is a harmony to nature, and that when this harmony is disrupted bad things happen.  Humans contribute to this disruption by harming nature or ignoring the natural cycles, but can also repair the harmony through observing the correct rituals and understanding that they are but part of the natural order.  This identification of humans as part of nature, even a lesser part that is ruled by the spirits forces and guided by animal totems, is a distinct feature of these religions.

Nevertheless, interactions between European missionaries and Native Americans show that the latter grasped the challenge posed by European religious beliefs.  Since there was some sense of a supreme creator in many Native American religions (although he was distant and unapproachable and sometimes impersonal), missionaries often made an appeal to this as the same God believed in by Europeans.  I'd like to give some quotes from notable chiefs who raised questions about this idea of God, and about why they should accept the religious beliefs being offered by Europeans:

From Chief Red Jacket:

There was a time when our forefathers owned this great island. [The Seneca, like many other tribes, refer to this continent as a “great island.”] . . . The Great Spirit had made it for the use of Indians. . . All this He had done for His red children because He loved them.  If we had any disputes about hunting grounds, they were generally settled without the shedding of much blood.  But an evil day came upon us.  Your forefathers crossed the great waters and landed upon this land.  Their numbers were small.  They found friends not enemies.   They told us they had fled from their own country for fear of wicked men, and had come here to enjoy their religion . . . You say that you are right, and we are lost.  How do we know this to be true?  We understand that your religion is written in a book.  If it was intended for us as well, why has not the Great Spirit given it to us; and not only to us, but why did He not give to our forefathers the knowledge of that book, with the means of understanding it rightly?  We know only what you tell us about it.  How shall we know when to believe, being so often deceived by the white people?  Brother, you say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit.  If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it.  Why not all agree, as you can all read the book? . . . We are told that your religion was given to your forefathers and has been handed down, father to son.  We also have a religion which was given to our forefathers, and has been handed down to us, their children.  We worship in that way.  It teaches us to be thankful for all the favors we receive, to love each other, and to be united.  We never quarrel about religion.  Brother, the Great Spirit has made us all.  But He has made a great difference between His white and red children.  . . . Brother, we do not wish to destroy your religion, or to take it from you.  We only want to enjoy our own.

From Tecumseh:

Sell a country?! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?  How can we have confidence in the white people? We have good and just reasons to believe we have ample grounds to accuse the Americans of injustice, especially when such great acts of injustice have been committed by them upon our race, of which they seem to have no manner of regard, or even to reflect. When Jesus Christ came upon the earth you killed him and nailed him to the cross. You thought he was dead, and you were mistaken. You have the Shakers among you, and you laugh and make light of their worship. Everything I have told you is the truth. The Great Spirit has inspired me.

From Chief Seattle:

Your God is not our God.  Your God loves your people and hates mine.  He folds His strong protecting arms lovingly about the white man and leads him by the hand as a father leads his infant son.  But He has forsaken His red children—if they are really His.  Our God, the Great Spirit, seems also to have forsaken us.  Your God makes your people wax strong every day.  Soon they will fill all the land.  Our people are ebbing away like a rapidly receding tide that will never return.  The white man’s God cannot love our people or He would protect them. . . Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors—the dreams of our old men, given them in the solemn hours of night by the Great Spirit, and in the visions of our sachems—and is written in the hearts of our people . . . Your dead cease to love you and the land of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb and wander away beyond the stars.  They are soon forgotten and never return.  Our dead never forget the beautiful world that gave them being. . . . Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people.

These quotes show sophisticated responses to the European message.  They raise questions about how we know God and God's will, how we understand the problem of evil and suffering, and how we explain the relationship between different groups of people.  They ask questions about salvation and redemptive revelation.  I believe these are the kinds of questions that must be asked and discussed if there is to be progress made between discordant groups.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Basic Religions

Chapter 1 of "Religions of the World" (Hopfe/Woodward 12th ed) discusses what the authors call "basic religions."  These are religions that are passed along through oral tradition.  The belief put forward by the chapter is that these are the closest examples of how religions began.  Since they are not recorded in written texts, archeologists rely on cave paintings, statues and other objects, and monuments to piece together the beliefs of these religions.

There are contemporary groups that the chapter says practice these same kind of basic religions, with features such as animism (the world is inhabited by spirits), magic (post-hoc reasoning-after this therefore because of this), divination, taboo (set aside objects considered too holy for ordinary people), totems (identification of clan or person with animal), sacrifice, myth, rituals, rights of passage, and ancestor veneration.

It may be true that this form of religion is very ancient.  It may also be true that it generally persists in groups that are isolated in various ways from the kind of interaction with other humans that creates dialogue and critically questions assumptions.

And yet I'm not sure we can conclude that it is the original religion.  The book argues that we do not know when humans invented religion.  In my last post on the origin of religion I argued that religion is co-extensive with human history in that humans are thinkers who interpret their experiences in light of basic beliefs.  The question is not whether a person is religious, the question is what religion that person holds.

It is noteworthy that many of the groups that the book considers are focused on overcoming natural evil through integration into the natural cycles.  This is one way of affirming that the earth, or nature, or the material system, is eternal and the good is to be in harmony with this eternal cycle.  These almost inevitably worship the mother goddess or the mother earth.

There are other groups that affirm the existence of the creator God, although they also argue that God is distant and uninterested in humans (even asleep).  Both groups seem to affirm that the current system is somehow broken and needs to be fixed.

As a philosopher here is my question: the chapter seems to imply that persons in these basic religions are doing the best they can with the material at hand.  Is this true?  Is it consistent to believe that God who created all things is uninterested and asleep?  Or that the material system is involved in an eternal cycle which at some point (after an eternity of existence) got broken and human efforts can fix it?  Or while there is a "high God," he is so distant that he leaves humans to be tormented by lesser gods and spirits who must be placated by rituals and sacrifices?

The claim that the book seems to hold is that persons in these religions aren't critical thinkers or haven't been exposed to advanced philosophy classes.  I'm arguing that one doesn't need to have had an advanced philosophy class, indeed I've known people who go through such classes and still can't recognize the contradictions in the above.  As thinkers, any human can ask questions about the beliefs they are being asked to accept, and any human who accepts a belief that involves a contradiction is responsible for this failure.

To conclude, I'd argue that as humans it is our basic responsibility to critically examine our most basic beliefs for meaning and coherence.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Origin of Religion

One of my graduate professors, Mark Woodward, is the co-author of a widely used textbook titled "Religions of the World."  It is now in its 12th edition.  The publisher of this textbook added a page explaining why we need this new addition.  The first point it lists is that there is a revised section on the prehistorical basic religions emphasizing that it is impossible to know much about the earliest forms of religion.  As I will argue below, this presupposes the worldview of "naturalism" which interprets the world in terms of material causes alone and therefore relies on archaeology to explain human origins.  By way of contrast, I'll be arguing that religion is part of thinking and interpreting, and therefore has been present with humans from the beginning.  Furthermore, naturalism cannot explain the origin of thought because thought does not arise in degrees (one is either a thinker or a non-thinker) and it cannot be reduced to material causes.  For a helpful presentation on this you can view Professor Alvin Plantinga's "An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism" lectures.

The introduction to this text asks why we study religion, and then works to define religion and give some explanation of the origin of religion.

Although religion is of interest in itself as a subject of study, the text suggests there are also practical reasons for studying religion.  Specifically, by doing so we can come to understand how other people think about the world and do our best to avoid conflict.  However, there is no suggestion that humans can come to agreement on the answers to religious questions.  This is typical of pragmatism, which sets aside questions of truth for "what works" where the latter is defined as people getting what they want.

This pragmatic approach is also found when the text relies upon William James to define religion.  James argued that there is not one definition, but a family resemblance of various kinds.  These particularly involve the unseen, such as beliefs in God, gods, demons, souls, the afterlife, heaven, as well as the texts, rituals, and morals that support these.  Therefore, a dichotomy is establish in the definition of religion between religion and naturalism where the latter is understood to be neutral and therefore able to study religion without bias.

The privileged postion of naturalism is also seen in the theories of the origin of religion that are considered.  These are mainly taken from anthropologists influenced by 19th century theories of human development such as Darwinism (humans evolved from no religion, to basic religion, to complex religion), Feuerbach (belief is God is a project of human wish fulfillment), Marx (human society develops through economic tensions and religion is one tool of controlling the ignorance masses), and Freud (religion is infantile illusion).

Others included anthropologists who believed that "primitive" societies were the remnant of past human evolution and therefore could be studied to understand what human society looked like in the past.  Of course, another possibility is that these groups were isolated from the rest of human development and so this explains their stage of development.

From here, the chapter categorized religions by geography.  Of course there is something to this in that ideas spread from person to person.  Francis Schaeffer said that most people get their religion the way children get the measles, by being around others that have it.  Most people simply seek to explain and defend what they already believe, rather than going through the process of critical analysis.  However, focusing primarily on geography is another aspect of naturalism and pragmatism in that it downplays the role of ideas.

I'd like to suggest that religion involves a set of answers to basic questions which are then used to interpret one's experiences.  I believe this unites all of the kinds that the textbook studies.  However, it also allows us to include naturalism as one of the religions.  Naturalism is not neutral, but instead it also gives answer to basic questions and it cannot be given a privileged status but must defend those answers.  The persons mentioned above (Darwin, Feuerback, Marx, Freud) are the "priests" of naturalism who give the naturalistic "myths" or "stories" of origins, authority, and value that then shape how their follows interpret the world.

The naturalist interpretation of the origin of religion relies on philosophical materialism and methodological atheism.  It assumes that 1) there was no original special revelation given to humanity; and 2) there is not a clear general revelation about God and the good.  Rather than making these assumptions a full consideration of the origin of religion requires exploring what all humans at any time can know about God and the good.  Rather than assuming an original polytheism, it may be that polytheism occurs further along in human history and is a corruption of an original monotheism.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Definition of Religion

In order to study religion we must know what we are studying.  At first thought this might seem easy, but there are some difficulties that arise. Although we can identify religious places of worship as we drive down the street, can we give a definition that explains how they are all the same?  There are at least two problems that arise: first, defining religion without appealing to one of the items that fall into the definition ( for instance, defining religion terms of belief in God or Christianity); and second, defining religion in light of a less basic aspect of human nature that does not capture of all of human nature and religion (for instance, rituals, reverence of the holy, etc).

As Europeans began to explore the world, they encountered people with established religious traditions.  The then contemporary understanding of religion was limited to theism and European polytheism.  Since both recognize, in some broad sense, the worship of god, this was taken as the basis of religion.  All persons are religious, so the theory went, because all believe in God.  The problem, according tot his theory, is whether they worship the true God and whether they are saved through Christ or not.  

As an example, John Calvin argued that all persons are idol factories in that while all persons believe in God due to an original innate sense, all persons are also fallen and therefore misconceive of God.  Benjamin Warfield, in his study of Calvinism, explained Calvin's theory of religion which has been extremely influential down to the present through thinkers like Friedrich Schleiermacher and Rudolf Otto.

"In the first of these aspects, as we have already pointed out, religion is with him the vital effect of the knowledge of God in the human soul; so that inevitably religions will differ as the conceptions of God determining our thought and feeling and directing our life differ.  In the estate of purity, the knowledge of God produces reverence and trust: and the religion of sinless man will therefore exhibit no other traits but trust and love. In sinful man, the same knowledge of God must produce, rather, a reaction of fear and hate -- until the grace of God intervenes with a message of mercy.  Sinful man cannot be trusted, therefore, to form his own religion for himself, but must in all his religious functioning place himself unreservedly under the direction of God in His gracious revelation.  In its second aspect, then, we perceive Calvin carefully framing his definition so as to exclude all 'will-worship' and to prepare thew ay for the condemnation of the 'formal worship' and 'ostentation in ceremonies' which had become prevalent in the old Church.  The position he takes up here is essentially that which has come down to us under the name of 'the Puritan principle.'  Religion consists, of course, not in the externalities of worship, but in faith, united with a serious fear of God, and a willing reverence.  But its external expression in worship is not therefore unimportant, but is to be strictly confined to what is prescribed by God: to 'legitimate worship, agreeable in the injunction of the law'" (B.B. Warfield, Calvin and Calvinism, 38-39).

There is much that is helpful here and I can only consider this passage from one perspective in this post.  I think Calvin can be taken in the way of defining religion I'll suggest below, but that he is often taken to mean everyone knows God and this is the beginning of religion.  What must be done is rekindle this awareness, rather than dealing with answering basic questions. 

This definition of religion treats religion as more and less pure in its conception and worship of God.  A person is therefore either religious or not religious, and if religious then either more or less pure in worship.  The consequence was that as Europeans encountered persons from around the world, the assumption was that they were somewhere on this continuum with respect to religion.  Since they were not atheists they were religious (and therefore believed in God in some sense), and the problem was a matter of correcting errors about God and worship and in offering salvation through special revelation.

By way of contrast, we find that there are examples of what seem to be religious groups and yet are not theistic.  Rather than there being "religion," there are "religions."  We need to define these formally so that we find what makes them similar in the face of their dissimilarities.  It cannot be belief in God, or use of scripture, or rituals, since not all religions have these.

What these do share in common is that they all give answers to the most basic questions that can be asked, and use these answers to interpret the experiences of life.  So we can define religion as the set of basic beliefs used to interpret experience.  While not all religions believe in God (as defined in theism), all religions answer the question "what has existed from eternity?".  While not all religions have scriptures or a hierarchical leadership, all religions answer the question "what is the highest authority?".  And finally, while not all religions affirm the need for redemption, all answer the question "what is the highest value?".

There are implications of this definition.  The definition considered from Calvin allows that there are perhaps some that are atheists and therefore not religious.  The definition I've given implies that all persons (even atheists) are religious in that all persons answer basic questions and use these answers to interpret their lives.  This is a formal truth about people and how thinking works.

However, it also follows that people are more and less consistent in their awareness and thinking about basic questions and the answers that influence their lives.  As we look at how someone lives we can discern the answers by which they are living, and yet when we talk with the person it often becomes clear that he/she is unaware of these questions and basic beliefs.

And yet these answers are beliefs, which means they are cognitive and therefore either true/false.  Religion is not fundamentally mystical or experiential, but is fundamentally giving answers to basic questions.  This is true of those who emphasize the mystical or experiential.  All experiences must be interpreted including mystical experiences.  The manner of interpretation will differ depending on the basic beliefs of the interpreter.

Finally, religion is not a matter of blind belief.  When I see movies or television shows that are promoting religion, they invariably do so by promoting the need for blind belief in some areas of life.  They think this is doing religion a favor.  However, this is accepting the dichotomy between faith/reason.  By way of contrast, I'd suggest blind faith is not the same as faith itself.  When persons have faith, they believe some proposition such as "God is one being and three persons."  They are able to have faith only to the extent that they understand what this means.  Therefore, a trial of faith is a trial of understanding.  The primary question is not whether a faith commitment is true/false, but what does it mean?  If it is meaningless then it cannot be an object of faith.  We cannot say "I have faith so that I might understand," but "I have faith to the extent that I understand."

This definition of religion and these implications allow us to formally compare answers to basic questions given by the various religions of world history.  Other definitions that presume all persons believe in God actually hinder such comparisons and keep us from studying basic beliefs by shrugging them off as unimportant since everyone already knows.  The reality of the matter is that people do not know, and history is full of conflict between groups with competing answers to these questions.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Natural Religion

Three years ago I started the Natural Religion Study Group at the American Philosophical Association's Pacific Division.  I took the name from David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and thought it more appropriate given the APA setting than the title Natural Theology.  We have had three years of very interesting presentations.

The question that is asked in Natural Religion is what can be known about God and the good through the use of reason to understand general revelation.  Hume's answer is a skeptical one.  Much of the consensus since his time, both among believers and unbelievers, is to accept his conclusion.  Believers see it as proof of the need for blind faith, and unbelievers see it as proof that religion should be rejected.

In his study of Calvin, Benjamin B. Warfield took note of Calvin's view of Natural Religion.  Much has been made of Calvin's reliance on the sensus divinitatis, including at Princeton Theological Seminary where Warfield studied and taught.  This sense of the divine was linked with common sense and the assertion made that everyone knows God so that theistic arguments are nice but not necessary.

And yet Calvin, and those at Princeton, did give interesting analysis of theistic arguments.  I'd like to consider a passage here in which Warfield studies Calvin's consideration of what is eternal.  I do this because this is the most basic metaphysical question that can be asked, and so is the central question of Natural Religion: what is eternal?

"In developing this statement of the external natural revelation of God, Calvin presents first His patefaction in creation and then His patefaction in providence, and under each head lays the primary stress on the manifestations of the divine wisdom and power.  But the other attributes which enter into His glory are not neglected.  Thus, under the former caption, he points out that the perception of the divine power in creation 'leads us to the consideration of His eternity; because He from whom all things derive their origin must necessarily be eternal and self-existent,' while we must postulate goodness and mercy as the motives of His creation and providence"  (B.B. Warfield, Calvin and Calvinism, 40).

It is formally true that whatever is the origin of all other being must itself be eternal and self-existent.  To argue otherwise is to argue that all being is temporal, with beginning, and therefore came from non-being. What Calvin does here is lays the grounds for knowing God from Natural Religion.  If we know that what is eternal is not material, but is a spirit (and therefore personal/conscious), we can argue to the goodness and mercy of God (those mentioned by Calvin above, although I'd say knowledge, power, and goodness).

Hume's argument against this is based on what has come to be called Hume's Fork.  Hume said that all knowledge is either of the relation of ideas or sense data.  The former tell us nothing about existence.  Applied to arguments about God, the contention is that the above considerations about eternality have to do with the relations of ideas and therefore do not tell us about existence.

As an empiricist, Hume must go in this direction.  What empiricism misses is that reason applies to both being and thought.  In my book "Clarity" I demonstrate how Hume had the tools to see this.  In his Treatise he did affirm that what is a contradiction cannot exist.  Therefore, if it is shown that being from non-being is a contradiction, then there must have existed something from eternity.  If it can be shown that what is eternal is not material, then the alternative must be true which is that what is eternal is a spirit.  We can proceed in a similar fashion to theism.

This is Natural Religion.  I'd like to argue that we need not end in Hume's skepticism.  Rather, we can come to know some things about God and the good.