• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

David Hume and Miracles.

Extracts from this document...


David Hume and Miracles Martin Dobson and Dominic Gibben Hume characterised miracles to be 'a transgression of the law of nature by a particular volition of the deity or by the interposition of some invisible agent'. His essay on miracles published within the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding has long been the definitive text on miracles and as such has been attacked by numerous critics. Part One of the essay is primarily concerned with a priori arguments. A priori literally means 'from what comes before'; hence arguments that can be known to be true or false without reference to experience. To establish the argument employed in Hume's first part of his essay, it may be useful to state his argument in logical form: * Miracles are violations of the laws of nature. * A firm and unalterable experience has established these laws of nature. * Improbable events need witnesses of higher credibility than witnesses required for more probable events. * Miracles are improbable events. Therefore: Miracles are the least likely event possible, and the most impressive testimony at most will counterbalance the unlikeliness of the event. In each case where a witness reports a miracle Hume requires us to evaluate the evidence presented for and against the incident occurring and always reject the greater miracle. This quite clearly means that Hume is asking us a simple probability question. Which is more likely - that someone is mistaken, hallucinating, lying or even dreaming, all of which are common occurrences, or that a miracle has happened? The answer is plain; exceptional events are by definition unusual and improbable. Hume arrives at the conclusion that 'no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood be more miraculous than the event it endeavours to establish'. ...read more.


This, Hume maintains, forms a strong presumption against all supernatural and miraculous relations. Hume's fourth point is that miracles form part of the base of many religions. If then these religions have an equal claim to the incident of miracles as part of the foundations of their faith, this causes severe problems according to Hume. Primarily, most religions accept the existence of one God, but these Gods are not necessarily and in fact not likely to be the same God. This leads Hume to the conclusion that if all religions report individual miracles then these reports are self-cancelling. Hume goes on to exemplify his rules by giving examples of some miracles and describing how his rules would relate to them. The first miracle that Hume reports is an incident, recorded by Tacitus, where Vespasian cured a blind man and a lame man in Alexandria. Hume was munificent in his praise for this account largely because the report came from Tacitus who in Hume's opinion satisfied many of the criteria laid down. He was a great historian who consistently maintained an impersonal and unbiased view of events. Vespasian also had a lot to lose if it was later discovered that the miracle was actually faked. In addition to the recorder of the events the public nature of the facts would suggest that there were numerous eyewitnesses. Despite ninety percent of the criteria being satisfied, which Hume readily admits to, it does not prevent him from naming it 'so gross and so palpable a falsehood'. Hume's personal criteria would appear to be even more stringent than those he published. The second miracle that Hume feels deserves our attention is one related by Cardinal de Retz who was fleeing into Spain to avoid persecution. ...read more.


This is partly contained with his evaluation of evidence in Part One, but it never fully expands along these lines. Hume said that miracles of opposing religions cancel each other out in effect but Hume had clearly not thought this through. He made the presupposition that there is only one God and hence only one religion is true. The possibility of polytheism or one God being all things to all men escaped Hume. In a polytheistic universe there would be many gods all free to interact, perform miracles and basically do what they want. This would be entirely consistent with numerous religions having one or more gods, including the dualistic concept of God and the devil both performing their supernatural roles. The theistic solution would be to have a supernatural being who is capable of interacting with humanity. Of course Hume does not have to be correct that all religions would cancel out all other religions if the evidence for one religion was particularly strong. If for instance this one religion was the religion with genuine miracles, it may be able to withstand the destruction of all other religions without itself being obliterated. Hume's status as an empiricist is once again used to highlight an inadequacy within his text, namely that in keeping with the definition of an empiricist Hume's philosophical outlook predisposes his rejection of the supernatural world. Therefore it is folly to talk of miracles with a supernatural originator as it is apparent that Hume by nature of his empirical stance will not be able to discuss these phenomena without bias. Given Hume's questionable methodology and logic, he perhaps displays the intellectual trait of entering the argument with presuppositions yet exiting without some of the questions in his mind fully answered. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Miracles section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related GCSE Miracles essays

  1. R.S. Coursework - miracles

    so from heaven, from a distance just as he cured the centurion's servant. The Christian church understands this and therefore still practises healing today, physically, emotionally or spiritually. It may be praying over someone who is ill or anointing the sick with oil, water and the laying of the hands.

  2. Examine the arguments, which can be used to discredit belief in miracles - In ...

    An event such as this would take place within the normal, natural order of things, however, the means by which God allows it to occur without the assistance of nature, deems it a miracle. Therefore, Aquinas thought of God as an interventionist and that when he does so, miracles occur.

  1. Miracles essay.

    There are many points to why miracles could be discredited. Firstly it would be necessary to ask why an omnipotent God needs to carry out miracles. The world must be flawed if God has to carry out miracles as a 'quick fix' in an attempt to plaster up cracks in the universe.

  2. Examine two philosophical reasons for believing in miracles

    However, this is not the case for many, and it is also known that people do tell the truth. Swinburne believed the opposite to Hume, and claimed that we should believe people's testimonies. Testimony is also the only evidence we have for miracles, so without these, there is no way of proving that miracles do or do not exist.

  1. What problems are there in defining miracles? (7)

    happened and even if they don't believe it would promote it to further their religion. Hume's third reason makes the further claim that: 'It forms a strong presumption against all supernatural and miraculous relations that they are observed chiefly to abound among ignorant and barbarous nations' Hume's fourth reason is

  2. Analysis of 'Young Goodman Brown'

    As Brown is living out the rest of his days he scorns everyone else and distrusts everyone, in the meantime he forgets that he needs to repent his sins as well. The fact that nothing was carved on his grave shows that he stopped paying attention to his own faith

  1. Miracles. Many people have different views on what a miracle really is. For ...

    His miracles were seen as supreme acts of kindness and they were signs of God's Salvation. Jesus' miracles showed he is the Messiah and the Son of God. The miracles Jesus performed are divided into four groups, Healing the Sick, Power over Nature, Raising from the Dead and Power over spirits/demons.

  2. What are Miracles?

    miracle as someone has controlled an evil spirit in another human being, and doing this would be classed as supernatural. An example of a miracle involving exorcism would be when Jesus casts out an evil spirit from the man in the synagogue in Capernaum.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work