In order to understand Hume’s critique of the belief in miracles, it is crucial to begin by defining what a miracle means. Pojman and Rea (2008) define a miracle as a supernatural event that work beyond human control. This is made clear by several instances in the Bible where miracles are said to have taken place.
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One such is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is strongly believed that no human being can rise from the dead meaning that it was a miraculous act for Jesus to resurrect. In this regard, it is apparent that a miracle is based on one’s own reality and faith.
However, Hume being a critic of miracles provides his own interpretation of what miracles means. According to Hume, a miracle is an infringement of the laws of nature, an occurrence, which is abnormal to a majority of humankind (Hume, 1985). Hume makes his point clear when he asserted, “Nothing is esteemed in a miracle if it has ever occurred in the common course of nature…” (Hume, 1985, p.888). He proceeds to state that it is not a miracle when an individual in good health dies a sudden death.
Hume claims that despite this death appearing peculiar it is natural. According to his understanding of miracle, he could only define it as a true miracle in case the deceased were to rise from dead the same way Jesus is claimed to have arisen. Hume (1985) argues that this will be considered a miracle because no such event has ever been witnessed. Therefore, Hume’s critique of miracle is purely based on his belief that miracles goes against the laws of nature.
Van Inwagen’s problem with Hume’s understanding of miracles
Peter Ivan Inwagen criticizes Hume’s understanding of miracles when Hume states that a miracle pertains to events, which run contrary to the experience of humankind. Inwagen criticizes this idea arguing that seeing what this idea amounts to is not easy. Therefore, by failing to find any other meaning of ‘contrary to experience’ capable of proving Hume’s assertions, Inwagen concludes that Hume’s understanding of miracles is a fallacy (Pojman and Rea, 2008).
Hume’s four reasons in proof that miracles does not happen
In defending his philosophy of what a true miracle means Hume provides four reasons to prove his claims. In his first criticism of miracles, Homes argue that there has never been a witness of a miraculous event throughout history to prove that a miracle has ever happened. Secondly, Hume disputes the existence of a miracle arguing that all that people chose to accept or believe in are based on experience and history.
Hume’s third reason contradicting the belief in a miracle is based on testimony versus reality. In his argument, he states that what used to be considered miracles in the past can no longer be considered so in the present world or future. He claims that what somebody might have considered a miracle in the past must have been based on the individual’s perceptions and beliefs at that given time, which is bound to change with time.
Lastly, Hume discredits the belief in miracles arguing that for miracles to be said to have happened, there must be several witnesses to prove the miracle. In fact, Hume narrates several incidences that are claimed to have been miraculous while criticizing them using his four reasoning against miracles (Hume, 1985).
Of all his reasons discrediting the belief in a miracle, I find the fourth point to be the most plausible. This is because, for us to belief that a questionable event like a miracle has happened witnesses must be present to prove the event otherwise the happening would not amount to a miracle.
Hume, D. (1985). Of miracles. New York, NY: Open Court.
Pojman, L.P., & Rea, M.C. (2008). Philosophy of religion: an anthology. Manson, OH: Cengage Learning.