Text of Miracles – Do They Exist? Hume’s Skeptical Challenge
Miracles Do They Exist? Humes Skeptical Challenge
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
Miracles Definitions Revisited Swinburne and the Philosophical
Issues Connected to Miracles
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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)