Hume's Miracles


Hume's definition

A trangession of a law of nature brought about by a particular violation of a Deity 

He believe this as he was an empiricist (a person who bases knowledge on experience). He said it was more likely that the report of the miracle was mistaken than the laws of nature were violated. 

He didn't say that miracles don't happen but that it would be impossible to prove them. 

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Hume's Criticisms

1) Not enough evidence of miracles to outweigh our general experience. Rationality requires that belief is proportionate to evidence.

2) Insufficient witnesses- must be witnessed by a highly credible, good sense, well educated person. Miracles are only seem to happen to the uneducated, according to Hume.

3) The testimonies usually came from 'ignorant' and 'barbarous' nations. 

4) People tend to exaggerate and are drawn towards the sensational and dramatic. They often have a desire to believe. 

5) If a religion claims that a particular miracle proves their religion tp be true then this claim is devalued by similar claims from other religions. The probablity weakens with each further contracdictory claim; therefore it is more reasonable to believe that either none of them are true or to establish the truth of one particular religion. 

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Evaluating Hume

  • Hume's argument from induction can be challenged; high probability counts against the explanatory power of a theory. This does not necessarily mean that Hume is wrong but we need to question whether our experiences of the world and our knowledge means that miracles are improbable or not. 
  • Hick said that we do not know the laws if nature, and that they appear to have been broken before. He believed that when new things are observed our understanding of the natural law should simply be widened. 
  • Swinburne also had reservations about the laws of nature and said they could be seen as probalistic generalisations as shown by quantum physics. However, these are subject to change as future experience may change our generalisations. Swinburne means by this that a miracle may simply not fit the laws of nature as we understand them. 
  • Swinburne also adds that the more evidence there is for a miralce, the stronger the possibility that it happened, providing that the sources of evidence support each other. 
  • There is no such thing as an unbiased perspective- maybe an atheist like Hume wants to fail to see the miraculous. 
  • Although contradictory claims from other reilgions devalue a religion's report of a miracle, it only shows it is not the most rational position to believe in, not they are impossible. 
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