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Christian Tractatus

(Text as at 12/08/2007 10:17:46)

The alleged view of David Hume, that no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, would appear to be tautological and, therefore, to say nothing about the world. Hume is alleged to define a miracle as an impossible event, rather than as one that is merely very improbable, because according to Hume no amount of evidence is sufficient to establish a miracle.

  1. I suspect that Hume has been much maligned in this. He states that a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against miracle, from the very nature of the case, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined (Enquiry, X).
  2. The objection easily seized on is that Hume was wrong to assume the laws of nature as established. however, true though this is (and especially so in Hume's day), it is not the key issue.
  3. The question is : presented with a phenomenon that I do not understand, how am I to come to the conclusion that it is a miracle ? The question divides into two, depending upon whether I have witnessed the event personally or have heard it from others.
  4. If I had witnessed the supposed miracle myself, I would have to ask myself whether it was more probable that I had been hallucinating or had been deceived than that a law of nature had been violated.
  5. If I had received the account from others, I would have to ask whether it is more probable that the testimony is unreliable than that the miracle is genuine. The former must always be more probable.
  6. Alleged miracles tend not to be random portents, but evidence for some contentious proposition (eg. for the immaculate conception). Those that accept miracles incline towards those miracles that support their own ideas, especially those of which they are unsure. The key question to ask ourselves when tempted to believe the report of a miracle is "would I believe this report (or its analogue) if it were reported to me by my enemies in support of a proposition I find obnoxious"?

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12/08/2007 10:17:46 439 (Miracles - Hume) Miracles

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