Friday, November 05, 2010

Hume on miracles

Here is one of Hume's stock objections to reported miracles:
[T]here is not to be found, in all history, any miracle attested by a sufficient number of men, of such unquestioned good sense, education, and learning, as to secure us against all delusion in themselves; of such undoubted integrity, as to place them beyond all suspicion of any design to deceive others; of such credit and reputation in the eyes of mankind, as to have a great deal to lose in case of their being detected in any falsehood; and at the same time attesting facts, performed in such a public manner, and in so celebrated a part of the world, as to render the detection unavoidable: All which circumstances are requisite to give us a full assurance in the testimony of men.
However, Hume's objection easily reversible. Suppose the "educated and learned" move in social circles where belief in miracles is disdained as backward superstition–or worse? If they value their reputation, they have a powerful incentive to remain mum about a miracle even if they were to witness a miracle, or hear a credible report of a miracle from someone they trusted.

Indeed, this is more than hypothetical. We live in a time and place where peer pressure among the "educated and learned" deters the elites from admitting to belief in miracles.


  1. "Miracles are folly I simply must insist.
    They can never happen because they don't exist.
    I can't believe that Jesus ever came to save,
    I even tried to find him... he wasn't in his grave."

    - The late, great One Bad Pig

    Sorry, every time I see a discussion of Hume on miracles this song runs through my head. Carry on.

  2. There is more sufficiently historical attestation to the resurrection of Jesus than many Roman Emperors, and certainly Egyptian pharaohs.

    Hume is wrong to assert there are insufficient witnesses to miracles.

  3. Problem is, I, as a non-charismatic pastor have witnessed miracles, specific, detailed, answers to prayer, and special acts of providence not only in my own Christian life, but in the lives of those in my congregation.

    I would encourage anyone to read the Autobiography of George Muller if you want to see a modern example of specific, detailed answers to prayer that span from the providential to the miraculous.

    I usually don't put it this bluntly, but Hume was just plain wrong. He knows better now. :-)