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Miracles – Do They Exist? Hume’s Skeptical Challenge

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  • Slide 1
  • Miracles Do They Exist? Humes Skeptical Challenge
  • Slide 2
  • Which if any - of these are miracles? Someone who has been pronounced dead comes back to life. A person correctly predicts a future earthquake. A large tiger suddenly disappears from a cage in front of a large audience. Water is changed into wine.
  • Slide 3
  • Brief Review of Empiricist Epistemology Empiricism is the view that all claims to knowledge must be based on: sense experience (evidence or matters of fact truths of reason (conceptual relations or relations of ideas) Knowledge developed from these bases must follow all the rules of careful reasoning.
  • Slide 4
  • Empiricism and belief-formation Because the strength of evidence can vary, wise men will proportion their beliefs to the evidence. Frank was caught having sex with Joan multiple times. Franks credit card bills show charges for a local motel, and he has been spotted leaving the hotel once with Joan. Frank brought flowers home to his wife. He must be having an affair.
  • Slide 5
  • Empiricist Principles Beliefs should only be as strong as the evidence supporting them. Claims with prima facia implausibility should not be accepted without strongly supportive evidence and argument. The authority of witnesses derives from witness reliability and conformity with other facts and other witnesses
  • Slide 6
  • Empiricism and Miracles Definition: A miracle is a violation of a law of nature. p. 513. Thus: the argument against miracles from the start is as powerful and compelling as natural law itself. only equally powerful and compelling argument/evidence can override this presumption of falsity.
  • Slide 7
  • Humes Basic Position 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 p. 513 In other words the miraculous claim should be so obviously true that the conditions under which we would question it are not apparent.
  • Slide 8
  • Argument for Skepticism - 1 No miracle is affirmed by enough of the right kind of witness, to dispel our doubt of their testimony. p. 514 No self-delusion Complete integrity/reliability Possessing a good reputation they would not want to lose Attesting to facts that are/were widely public and known
  • Slide 9
  • Argument for Skepticism - 2 Certain human emotions tend to override our normal skeptical tendencies with respect to that which is called miraculous. Our thinking is naturally and usefully conservative: we tend to give credit to thinking/observations supported by past experience. In contrast, our fascination and wonder at the unusual and exotic tend us to believe in the apparently miraculous.
  • Slide 10
  • Argument for Skepticism - 2 People respond as much to eloquence as to evidence and reasoning. There are many instances of forged miracles or supernatural events.
  • Slide 11
  • Argument for Skepticism 3 & 4 Testaments to miracles tend to occur more frequently in ignorant and barbarous nations, or as handed down from such primitive origins. Every miracle confirming the beliefs of one religion counts, eo ipso, against those of every other religion, in a mutually destructive pattern. p. 515
  • Slide 12
  • Miracles Definitions Revisited Swinburne and the Philosophical Issues Connected to Miracles
  • Slide 13
  • A New Definition of Miracle An event of an extraordinary kind but what counts as extraordinary? An event caused by a God or perhaps by any rational agent with unusual powers? An event of religious significance but what counts as religiously significant?
  • Slide 14
  • Extraordinary Events These are events that do conflict with natural law, in the strong sense, as Hume argued. A miracle is a non-repeatable counter-instance of a law of nature (it would not happen again under similar instances), no matter how laws of nature are interpreted.
  • Slide 15
  • Natural Law - 1 Universal laws those which state what must happen. Example: All material objects are subject to the law of gravity. Universal laws by definition do not allow for natural exceptions or extraordinary but still actual events.
  • Slide 16
  • Natural Law - 2 Statistical laws those which state what is likely to happen in a particular population of things or events Example: in a large sample of coin tosses, half will result in heads and half in tails Statistical laws allow for individually unpredictable or highly improbable, but still actually possible events.
  • Slide 17
  • How Can the Extraordinary Happen? All natural laws apply, only given certain initial conditions. Its not the case that all objects fall. It is the case that, given an objects being in a certain state under certain conditions, it will fall. A miracle could be the result of extraordinary initial conditions which still follow natural law given those conditions.
  • Slide 18
  • Gods Hand in Miracles Unusual events are not miraculous, in the common-sense understanding of the term. Miracles, then, are also considered the work of a unique power be it God, or gods or even some rational agent acting intentionally Correctly predicting an event in the future is unusual but not necessarily miraculous, in the sense that the prediction could have been correct for purely natural or coincidental reasons.
  • Slide 19
  • Religious Significance an event must contribute significantly toward a holy divine purpose for the world. p. 520 Unusual, and purposive but this could be the activity of a malevolent being. To retain the common-sense understanding of a miracle, Swinburne adds this condition.
  • Slide 20
  • Summary of Swinburnes Definition of Miracle Statistical natural laws may allow of extraordinary but not miraculous events Universal natural laws are consistent with non-repeatable counter-instances Miracles - or Demonstrations of the limits of our current understanding of natural law
  • Slide 21
  • Response to Hume Are there sufficient numbers of witnesses whose testimony does agree? Is there historical but non-testamentary forms of evidence (confirmation of prophecy)? Miracles arent necessarily offered as proof of specific theological doctrines (answers to prayers, v. resurrection of Christ)