“Of Miracles” – why wrong

  1. Hume’s often cited argument against miracles is, in brief, that these should be rejected because they contravene the laws of nature that have been verified over and over again. The argument continues with the claims that the human mind is unstable and no miracle has in fact had enough witnesses of sufficient honesty, intelligence, and education. In addition, given that miracles are common in most religions and, given the fact that religions contradict each other, these miracles cannot be all true therefore is best to reject all. Furthermore, an Indian prince not having experienced frozen water is simply adjusting his knowledge rather than accepting a miracle testimony when told by several experts about the effects of coldness on water. The Indian prince witnesses scientific progress, not a miracle.
  2. To date, the pro-miracles reply is weak and includes:
    1. The definition given need not be accepted and “an event need not violate a natural law in order to be accounted miraculous”
    2. Hume’s argument is circular because it rests upon the claim that laws of nature are supported by exceptionless testimony, but testimony can only be accounted exceptionless if we discount the occurrence of miracles.
    3. Non-believers simply refuse to understand
  3. Better pro-miracle arguments are:
    1. Miracles are consistent with an all powerful God above the laws of nature.
    2. Miracles do stand out by necessity (to be impactful), therefore they are unique and clear departures from the norm. Common occurrence miracles lose their power of persuasion just as novel technologies (human flight, microbiology, nuclear energy, etc.) are perceived as quasi-miraculous when first introduced and become banal in time.
    3. All aspects of the universe in general and life in particular are of course common miracles that remind some of us of God’s power. But dull minds get used to them and eventually offer clearly ridiculous Godless alternative explanations to these daily miracles (such as “evolution”). To jolt mankind out of its lethargy, God sends periodic messages in the form of unique miracles. How else other than through miracles would God show His powers to the mortals?
    4. Hume had no clue about, hence misused probabilities. Because miracles are by their nature unique (as shown), Hume’s followers should compare their probability to the probability of “no miracles whatsoever given an infinity of samples”, not with the probability of a sample conforming to the laws of nature. In other words, the probability of Jesus walking on water should not be compared with that of the few observed sinking bodies in water (100%), but with the probability of “ALL current and past contacts with the water resulted in sinking” (0% or very low). And since none of us has observed more than a very tiny fraction of these events, it is fallacious to conclude from these that all bodies always sink in water. To be absolutely positively sure about all-always, one would have to observe all events and confirm the always hypothesis. Clearly, neither Hume, nor any of his followers has done that.
    5. Just because many imitators are evidently lying, it doesn’t follow that there are no authentic miracles. This is self evident and requires no further explanation.
    6. While religions do generally disagree, miracles do not necessarily disagree with one another. And even religious disagreements are much more likely to be caused by misunderstanding of God and His will rather than by one religion being true when all others are false (and Hume’s followers hope atheism is the one true religion).  

Links:
https://www.mbu.edu/seminary/a-critique-of-david-humes-on-miracles/
https://www.bartleby.com/37/3/14.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Of_Miracles

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116 thoughts on ““Of Miracles” – why wrong

  1. newton,

    Sounds you don’t need to know how something happened or didn’t happen to have evidence God did it .at some point.

    You can infer intelligent cause or mind behind the observation without the details. Just as you can infer matter as a causal factor of the motion of the planets without the detail of how matter causes this.

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  2. Although Hume leaves open the possibility for miracles to occur and be reported, he offers various arguments against this ever having happened in history.[163] He points out that people often lie, and they have good reasons to lie about miracles occurring either because they believe they are doing so for the benefit of their religion or because of the fame that results. Furthermore, people by nature enjoy relating miracles they have heard without caring for their veracity and thus miracles are easily transmitted even when false. Also, Hume notes that miracles seem to occur mostly in “ignorant and barbarous nations”[164] and times, and the reason they do not occur in the civilised societies is such societies are not awed by what they know to be natural events. Finally, the miracles of each religion argue against all other religions and their miracles, and so even if a proportion of all reported miracles across the world fit Hume’s requirement for belief, the miracles of each religion make the other less likely.[165]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hume#Problem_of_miracles

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  3. colewd: The secular positioning of Christians as only containing blind faith is nonsense.

    Exactly!

    Alan Fox: I’ll be brutally honest. I’m not impressed with your OP nor your responses to requests for clarification.

    Your brutality may hurt someone 🙂
    Look, you got answers on all requests. But if you repeat someone else’s point, it’s only fair to be referred to that reply.
    It’s your right to be impressed or not – free country and all.

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  4. Kantian Naturalist: You claimed that Hume had no clue about probabilities. Pointing out that he had a section about probabilities in the Enquiry shows that he knew about them. If you want to argue that he misunderstood probabilistic reasoning, by all means, make your case.

    Having a section on probabilities doesn’t mean much when you misuse the concept as per 3.d. Hence “no clue” as proven.

    Kantian Naturalist: 3.b and 3.c are irrelevant to Hume’s argument, for reasons I’ve already clarified several times in this thread.

    Then we disagree. One of his arguments is that miracles contravene the laws of nature that have been verified over and over again. This argument of his & followers is disproved by 3.b and 3.c.

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  5. Kantian Naturalist:
    Nonlin: On another note, why don’t you try to make Kant proud instead?

    That’s what I write about when I’m not wasting time or blowing off steam here.

    Just curious: you write about what? Kant? And is writing enough to make him proud?

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  6. PeterP: Although Hume leaves open the possibility for miracles to occur and be reported, he offers various arguments against this ever having happened in history.

    I don’t know how you read that other than he urges us to reject all miracles. Hence a 300 years discussion and this OP.

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  7. Nonlin.org: Hume leaves open the possibility for miracles to occur and be reported

    I don’t know how you read that other than he leaves open the possibility of miracles and for them to be reported.

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  8. Nonlin.org: Look, you got answers on all requests.

    Utter nonsense! You have not said what you mean when you use the word “miracle”.

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  9. colewd:
    newton,

    You can infer intelligent cause or mind behind the observation without the details.

    Sure, first you assume both such a being exists and it actually caused the observation.

    Just as you can infer matter as a causal factor of the motion of the planets without the detail of how matter causes this.

    Per your logic there is no way to tell what the causal factors are . It is as likely that the divine caused any observation.

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  10. Nonlin.org: Having a section on probabilities doesn’t mean much when you misuse the concept as per 3.d. Hence “no clue” as proven.

    Except that you badly misunderstand Hume’s argument and thus far you don’t seem interested in getting it right.

    Then we disagree. One of his arguments is that miracles contravene the laws of nature that have been verified over and over again. This argument of his & followers is disproved by 3.b and 3.c.

    When Hume stipulates that miracles are violations of laws of nature he is granting how his theistic opponents are defining miracles. It has become standard amongst theologians to define miracles as divine actions whereby He breaks the laws that He Himself established, in order to convey some message relevant to His plan or design.

    So it would be nonsense, by the lights of the Enlightenment theologians that Hume is arguing against, to say that the law of nature are themselves miraculous.

    In other words, it seems your complaint isn’t with Hume but with Enlightenment era Protestant theologians.

    However, if you are willing to grant that miracles are acts in which God suspends laws of nature, then we face Hume’s question: should one accept that a miracle has occurred solely on the basis of someone telling us that it has?

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  11. Nonlin.org: Just curious: you write about what? Kant? And is writing enough to make him proud?

    I write about Kant’s influence on various 19th and 20th century philosophers who are trying to improve on Kant. I don’t understand the question “is writing enough to make him proud?” Kant has been dead for 215 years; he’s not proud of anything.

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  12. Kantian Naturalist: He breaks the laws that He Himself established, in order to convey some message relevant to His plan or design.

    OK. So?

    Kantian Naturalist: So it would be nonsense, by the lights of the Enlightenment theologians that Hume is arguing against, to say that the law of nature are themselves miraculous.

    Who is saying that, and what’s your point?

    Kantian Naturalist: However, if you are willing to grant that miracles are acts in which God suspends laws of nature, then we face Hume’s question: should one accept that a miracle has occurred solely on the basis of someone telling us that it has?

    It’s not a “question”. Instead, Hume argues against miracles period. Else we would not be discussing this.

    I already asked: since you will not be served individual miracles on demand, what basis other than “someone telling” do you see possible? After all, witness testimony is the basis of the legal system everywhere. Would you cancel the legal system?

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  13. Nonlin.org: You didn’t look back at the reply given to Corneel, did you?

    This?

    Religious texts call “miracles” only the first category, and this is what “Of Miracles” deals with, hence this discussion.

    In “secular” parlance, we sometimes rightfully refer to “common miracles”. Read again and see this is not the focus of this OP.

    It’s like pulling teeth. My question was “what does nonlin mean when he uses the word “miracle”? Are you saying a “miracle” must involve suspension of the laws of this universe?

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  14. Nonlin.org: It’s not a “question”. Instead, Hume argues against miracles period. Else we would not be discussing this.

    Hume does not argue against miracles, period. What we’re discussing is your misunderstanding of what Hume actually says.

    I already asked: since you will not be served individual miracles on demand, what basis other than “someone telling” do you see possible? After all, witness testimony is the basis of the legal system everywhere. Would you cancel the legal system?

    In witness testimony, what someone tells us conforms to our overall sense of what people are like and how the world works. It does not defy credulity to be told that someone broke the law or committed murder, since we are aware that such things are not completely out of keeping with general truths of human nature.

    You keep on saying that “we will not be served individual miracles,” but why not?

    I think that if a good Humean skeptical empiricist were to observe something that she would have to regard as a miracle (because it is not consistent with any laws of physics), she would happily accept it as one.

    Suppose one observed — under good viewing conditions, my eyes and brain functioning correctly — a dead person coming to life, or flying, or $1000 suddenly appearing in their wallet. If this happened on a regular basis, a good Humean would have to conclude that she had previously been mistaken about what the laws of nature are. But if there is no regularity, then there are no laws. Under those conditions the Humean ought to conclude that what she has experienced is miraculous.

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