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Critically assess Hume's dismissal of miracles.

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Introduction

Critically assess Hume's dismissal of miracles. In his dismissal of miracles David 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: 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. (David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1748) Or in other words you cannot prove something to be completely reliable unless the alternative to what you are trying to prove is even more implausible. Therefore, if one uses Hume's theory it can be said that one is more likely to be hallucinating than to be experiencing a miracle, which is a direct violation of natural law. ...read more.

Middle

(David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1748) Hume's first point then is that those who have previously made claims concerning miracles have not been credible, as they were not of a high enough intelligence and reputation in Hume's eyes. Hume's second and third reasons support his first; the second point states that those who are testifying for a miracle will have 'a natural tendency to suspend their reason and support their claim'1: ...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. (David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1748) So in other words those who are testifying for a miracle are so enthusiastic about the existence of the said miracle that they have forgotten all common sense and are deluding themselves about the existence of miracles. The third reason is that he believed most miracles were said to have been observed among 'ignorant and barbarous nations' and therefore should be discounted, as these people are also not reliable sources. ...read more.

Conclusion

Hume said that: In destroying a rival system, it [a miracle] likewise destroys the credit of these miracles, on which that system was established. (David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1748) This fourth point can easily be questioned as the premise that all miracles are a mutually exclusive invention of their own religion is not a fact. It is true that miracles cannot be used to support a whole tradition as then all miracles would cancel each other out, but this does not mean that miracles cannot occur objectively. Therefore, when regarding Hume's argument as a whole, it is clear to see that to make the argument more solid Hume needs to go into further detail about his four points. However, there are some points, for example the assertion which states that for a miracle to be true, a certain type of person needs to testify for it, which do not hold up when subjected to scrutiny and therefore on a whole I do not find Hume's dismissal a convincing argument. 1 Philosophy of Religion for A level for OCR, PG 176 Vicki Rounding 11th January 2005 ...read more.

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