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Assess Hume's Reasons for Rejecting Miracles

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Assess Hume’s reasons for rejecting miracles

For Hume a miracle is a “transgression of a law of nature by a particular violation of the deity or by the interposition of some invisible agent”, and in his dismissal of miracles Hume argued not that miracles were impossible, but that it would be impossible to legitimately prove that one had actually happened. He said, for example, that if one was to say that through miracle a person returned to life after death then this would go against the laws of nature, which have been repeatedly supported over hundreds of years вЂ" in an вЂ?Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding’ Hume writes that “No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish.”

Hume, as an empiricist, unsurprisingly evaluates the existence of miracles via the use of empirical evidence. Hume states four main reasons as to why the existence of miracles is highly improbable; firstly, he only accepts the truth of conclusions if they have been founded on an “infallible experience” and experienced by a significant number of cogent, rational people вЂ" Hume asserted that there has never been “in all history any miracle attested by sufficient number of men, of such unquestioned good sense, education and learning, as to secure us against all delusion”. Since miracles are faith-based, and are often experienced individually, Hume therefore postulated that miracles could not exist. Secondly, he believed those who testified for the existence of miracles were those likely to have “a natural tendency to suspend their reason and support their claim”, so the evidence is therefore flawed вЂ" “a religionist may be an enthusiast and imagine he sees what has no reality: he may know his narratives to be false, and yet persevere in it…for the sake of promoting a holy cause.” Thirdly, and perhaps more controversially, Hume believed that claims for the existence of miracles only came from, “ignorant and barbarous nations”. While this claim can perhaps be attributed to the nationalistic and imperialist society and time at which he was writing, the politically correct world we have created, in which tolerance is key, encourages us to condemn such beliefs. Finally, Hume states that miracles from different religious systems cancel each other out, “Every miracle as its direct scope is to establish the particular system to which it is attributed; so has it the same force, though more indirectly, to overthrow every other system.” This attempt by Hume to evaluate the existence of faith based occurrences such as miracles using empirical evidence is seen by some as superfluous, since those who believe originally are unlikely to be convinced by his argument.

Hume’s arguments can easily be challenged. A miracle, by definition, is a highly unusual event, and it therefore in no way challenges the general laws of nature except on that particular occasion. As Brian Davies comments, “Until someone walked on the moon, people were regularly observed not to walk on the moon. And people, in time, have come to do what earlier generations would rightly have taken to be impossible on the basis of their experience.” Richard Swinburne also criticises Hume’s arguments by referring to what he believes to be the three types of historical evidence, rather than scientific evidence, that support the existence of miracles: the memories of those who experience them, the testimony of others and physical traces left by the events in question. Swinburne argues that the scientific laws, which apparently disprove miracles, are in fact based upon these three types of historical evidence. Therefore, if such historical evidence is not sufficient to prove the occurrence of miracles it is then insufficient to prove the certainty of natural laws and scientific evidence.

When considering these three further points one can find further faults with Hume’s argument. Hume’s first assertion remains unclear, as he does not state how many people would need to witness a miracle to deem it true. Furthermore, Hume does also not explain why he considers previous claims regarding



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