Monty Python and David
Hume on Religion
“Is God really real?” This is a perennial question for the philosophy of religion. Fortunately, the Pythons have answers to it. Perhaps too many answers. If we asked Arthur, King of the Britons, he would certainly testify that God exists, speaks English, and can't stand people groveling, averting their eyes, ceaselessly apologizing, and deeming themselves unworthy. Yet when we begin inquiring into Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, “there is some doubt” about whether God is really real, or, to put it more philosophically, there is doubt over whether God's existence can be established through a valid argument. There is a long philosophical tradition of constructing rational arguments for the existence and attributes of God, and an equally long skeptical tradition of deconstructing those same arguments. The Pythons have been exemplary participants in the latter tradition, either through parody, or by echoing in a funnier and more succinct way the skeptical arguments of such philosophical predecessors as Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711–1776).
In the Natural History of Religion (1757), Hume made an important philosophical distinction between causes of and reasons for religious belief. By the reason for a belief, Hume meant an argument in its favor that appeals to shared norms of rationality, premises, and