Hume on miracles

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  • Hume
    • Hume's views on miracles
      • Empiricist - bases understanding of world on experiences
        • Probability & not certainty
        • Effects can be verified - causes cannot
      • Hume's definition
        • It is willed by God
        • It violates the laws of nature
        • It may be performed by some other spiritual agent
      • Realist - assumes that religious believers claims are factual and literally true
      • Based on consistency of human experience
        • Although unusual, it is not a miracle if an apparently healthy man dies suddenly
        • If a dead man actually came back to life, that would be a miracle as it runs counter to universal sense experience
    • Hume's arguments against miracles
      • Witness testimony has to become more reliable in direct proportion to the improbability of what the witness claims to have observed. The more improbable the claim
      • The most improbable event would be a violation of the laws of nature, because the evidence on which the law is based must, by definition, contradict the claim that a miracle has happened
      • So, by definition, the reported is improbable
      • So the probability that the witnesses are lying or mistaken is always greater than the probability
    • The significant of Hume's views in relation to religious belief
      • It is an inductive argument, so can neither definitely prove nor disprove the existence of miracles
      • It is possible to construct a theistic argument along the lines of Hume's and conclude logically that miracles probably do happen
      • Hume's four arguments supporting his main argument are not particularly strong and can all be challenged with supporting evidence
      • Hume's concluding statement that Christianity is founded on faith and not reason makes an important point: the pre-scientific nature of biblical as well as of early and medieval writing needs to be taken into account
    • Critique of Hume's views on miracles
      • Hume's account of miracles is inductive - cannot be a knockdown argument - Hume suggested his argument is as close to a proof as possible - but inductive arguments deal in probabilities not proofs
        • Science cannot say that something can never happen - only that it is highly improbable - e.g. light goes in straight lines (not absolute rule) near planets light bends
        • Hume - there can never be enough evidence to prove a miracle, not that they can never occur
      • Hume's main inductive argument is perhaps not as strong as it looks
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