Hume's View of Miracles


In explaining Hume's critique of the belief in miracles, we
must first understand the definition of a miracle. The
Webster Dictionary defines a miracle as: a supernatural
event; one of the acts worked by Christ which revealed his
divinity; an extremely remarkable achievement or event; an
unexpected piece of luck. Therefore, a miracle is based on
one's perception of past experiences, what everyone sees.
It is based on an individual's own reality, and the faith
in which he/she believes; it is based on interior events
such as what we are taught, and exterior events, such as
what we hear or see first hand. When studying Hume's view
of a miracle, he interprets or defines a miracle as such; a
miracle is a violation of the laws of nature, an event
which is not normal to most of mankind. 
Hume explains this point brilliantly when he states,
"Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it has ever happened in
the common course of nature. It is no miracle that a man
seemingly in good health should die on a sudden." (Hume
p.888) Hume states that this death is quite unusual,
however it seemed to happen naturally. He could only define
it as a true miracle if this dead man were to come back to
life. This would be a miraculous event because such an
experience has not yet been observed. Hume critiques and
discredits the belief in a miracle merely because it goes
against the laws of nature. Hume defines the laws of nature
to be what has been "uniformly" observed by mankind, such
as the laws of identity and gravity. He views society as
being far too liberal in what they consider to be a
miracle. He gives the reader four ideas to support his
philosophy in defining a true miracle, or the belief in a
miracle. These points leads us to believe that there has
never been a miraculous event established. 
Hume's first reason in contradicting a miracle is that
throughout history there has not been a miraculous event
with a sufficient number of witnesses. He questions the
integrity of mankind and how we can trust the testimony of
men. Throughout the passage, Hume is constantly looking for
proof to support a miracle. He asks questions such as; Who
is qualified? Who has the authority to say who qualifies?
As there are no plausible answers to these questions, the
validity of having witnesses to miracle becomes impossible.
Hume's second reason in contradicting the validity of a
miracle is that he views all of our beliefs, or what we
choose to accept, or not accept as a result of past
experience and what history dictates to us. Furthermore, he
tends to discredit an individual by playing on a human
being's consciousness or sense of reality. An example of
this is when words such as the individual's need for
"excitement" and "wonder" arise from miracles. Even the
individual who cannot enjoy the pleasure immediately will
still believe in a miracle, regardless of the possible
invalidity of the miracle because it leads the individual
to feel a sense of belonging and a sense of pride. These
individuals tend to be the followers within society and
will believe faster than the leaders in the society.
Miracles lead to such strong temptations, that we as
individuals tend to lose sense of our own belief of fantasy
and reality. As individuals we tend to believe to find
attention, and to gossip of the unknown. Through emotions
and behavior Hume tends to believe that there have been
many forged miracles, regardless if the information is
somewhat valid or not. 

Hume's third reason in discrediting the belief in a miracle
is testimony versus reality. Hume states, "It forms a
strong presumption against all supernatural and miraculous
events, that they are observed chiefly to abound among
ignorant and barbarous ancestors; or if civilized people
has ever given admission to any of them, that people will
be found to have received them from these barbarous
ancestors, who transmitted them with that inviolable
sanction and authority, which always attend perceived
opinions." (Hume p.891) In any case many of the miraculous
events which happened in past history would not be
considered a miracle in today's world, or at any other time
in history. The reality most people believed at that
period, as a result can be considered lies or
exaggerations. Hume discredits the miracle as to the time
period in which the miracle is taking place, the mentality,
or the reality of individuals at that given time. Hume
suggests that during certain times in history we are told
of miraculous accounts of travelers. "Because we as
individuals love to wonder, there is an end to common
sense, and human testimony, in these circumstances, loses
all pretensions to authority." (Hume p.890) 

The final point Hume gives to discredit the validity of a
miracle is that there must be a number of witnesses to
validate the miracle. "So that not only the miracle
destroys the credit of testimony, but the testimony
destroys itself." (Hume p.892). This basically means that
the witnesses must all give the exact same testimony of the
facts of the event. Hume finds difficulty in the belief or
integrity of any individual, and the difficulty of
detecting falsehood in any private or even public place in
history. "Where it is said to happen much more when the
scene is removed to ever so small a distance." (Hume p.892)
A court of justice with accuracy and judgment may find
themselves often distinguishing between true and false. If
it is trusted to society through debate, rumors, and man's
passion, it tends to be difficult to trust the validity of
the miracle. 

Throughout the rest of the readings Hume states a few
events which many believe are miracles. He discredits many
of these miracles through his critiques. I have chosen to
illustrate two "so-called" miracles from the New American
Bible and to show how Hume would view these miracles. The
stories are of Noah's Ark and The Burning Bush. The story
of Noah's Ark took place when the Lord began to realize how
great man's wickedness on earth had become. He began to
regret the fact that he had created man on earth. The lord
decided the only way to rid the wickedness would be to
destroy all men, and all living creatures living on the
earth. The only men which he would not destroy were to be
Noah, his sons, Noah's wife and his son's wives. He also
would save a pair of animals of each species. The rest were
to perish from the earth. He chose Noah to be the favor and
carry out the task. The Lord requested Noah to build an ark
explained exactly how it was to be made. Noah spent six
hundred years of his life building the ark. When the ark
was finally completed, The Lord told Noah it was time to
gather the selected few as the floods were about to come.
These floods lasted forty days and forty nights. The floods
wiped out all living creatures on earth, except those on
the ark. In the six hundred and first year of Noah's life
the floods stopped and the earth began to dry. As God
states "Never again will I doom the earth because of man,
since the desires of man's heart are evil from the start;
nor will I ever strike down all living beings, as I have
In deciding upon whether this is a valid miracle in Hume's
opinion of miracles, I believe he would consider it to be a
miracle but would have a hard time validating the testimony
of it. He would question the validity of the event because
of the time period in which it happened and the few people
that witnessed it. Although this miracle was an act of God,
we can still question the validity of the event. Hume would
not be satisfied with the integrity of the individuals or
the amount of witnesses at the given time. Therefore we can
only view this as a miracle depending upon our own
individual perceptions of what we believe to be true. This
leads to a non uniform event since we as individuals hold
different beliefs of what we hold true, and false.
The second miracle which I will discuss was that of Moses
and the burning bush. As Moses was working in the fields,
an angel of the Lord appeared to him in fire flaming out of
the holy bush. As he walked closer, he heard the voice, the
voice of God telling Moses that he was the chosen one to
take the Israelites out of Egypt and away from the cruel
hands of the Egyptians. In disbelief that he was the chosen
one he set forth on his journey to Egypt with God watching
over him and leading the way. As Moses leads the
Israelite's out of Egypt he comes to the Red Sea with the
Egyptians close behind. As the Bible explains, the miracle
takes place when the Red Sea splits allowing the
Israelite's to gain freedom. As the Egyptians were crossing
the sea in close pursuit, the sea "closed it's gates" and
let them drown within the waters of the sea. In justifying
whether Hume would discredit this miracle he would
definitely see how one may say it is a miracle, but again
would have a hard time validating the testimony of the
miracle. Again we see the pattern that there is no one to
testify for the event. We can only view this as a truthful
experience through our belief in God and the Bible. It is
what we are taught to believe through religious texts, and
our house of worship. It is the individual's perception of
reality and what he or she believes to be a valid event.
Following Hume's philosophy, a miracle is actually based on
an individual's own perception of past and present
experiences. The belief in a miraculous event tends to have
no real evidence but appears to be based on man's hope and
individual sense of reality. 


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