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

    That’s worse. Now you argue Hume was a time-wasting fool.

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  16. Alan Fox: 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?

    See? You can search.

    If it matters, I think they’re both miracles. But this particular refutation of Hume deals only with those involving suspension of the laws of nature as we know them.

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  17. Nonlin.org: But this particular refutation of Hume deals only with those involving suspension of the laws of nature as we know them.

    OK, then. We have zero examples to consider.

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  18. Kantian Naturalist: Hume does not argue against miracles, period.

    Then he was a time wasting fool. The Bible is full of warnings against false prophets. There was no need for a random 18th century atheist to also ring that particular bell.

    Kantian Naturalist: In witness testimony, what someone tells us conforms to our overall sense of what people are like and how the world works.

    Miracles also “conforms to our overall sense” of reality. Else the message would not be spread.

    And it’s not just about the legal system. 99.(9)% of what you and I know comes from testimony. Stuff you never knew it “conforms to our overall sense”. But now you do only because someone told you and you believed.

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

    Not how miracles work according to religious texts. Feel free to read them and understand.

    Kantian Naturalist: 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.

    Irrelevant given you can’t prove your belief.

    Kantian Naturalist: 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.

    Yes. The story of ice and the Indian prince as mentioned.

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  19. Nonlin.org: What “examples”? This essay deals with faulty logic, not with examples you may or may not like.

    Oh, my mistake. I thought there was some argument involving “miracles” that violate the laws of physics. If such don’t form part of the discussion then I’ll leave it there.

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  20. Nonlin.org: That’s worse. Now you argue Hume was a time-wasting fool.

    Say what? regardless if you think Hume is a time wasting fool contrary to your previous posting he did allow for miracles to be reported. If the claims stand up to scrutiny is another question all together.

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  21. Nonlin.org: Kantian Naturalist: You keep on saying that “we will not be served individual miracles,” but why not?

    Not how miracles work according to religious texts. Feel free to read them and understand.

    Someone is getting these alleged miracles and if they aren’t individuals what are they?

    Also the Catholic church is rather fond of attributing miracles to individuals prayers at various venues desgined for that purpose. So I guess yoru claim is that these individuals praying at Lourdes and allegedly receiving the miracles they prayed for are mistaken. You’ve singlehandedly refuted the entire concept of the Catholic church documenting individuals being granted the very miracles they pilgramaged and prayed for. Congratulations!

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  22. Alan Fox: Oh, my mistake. I thought there was some argument involving “miracles” that violate the laws of physics. If such don’t form part of the discussion then I’ll leave it there.

    They are part of the discussion, but not its focus. You missed the point. A re-read might help.

    PeterP: regardless if you think Hume is a time wasting fool contrary to your previous posting he did allow for miracles to be reported.

    It’s your choice: he was either a fool or wrong. I give him more credit than you do, hence he was just wrong.

    PeterP: Someone is getting these alleged miracles and if they aren’t individuals what are they?

    Looks like you don’t even understand the argument on either side.

    PeterP: So I guess yoru claim is that these individuals praying at Lourdes and allegedly receiving the miracles they prayed for are mistaken.

    You guess wrong.

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  23. Alan Fox: Oh, my mistake. I thought there was some argument involving “miracles” that violate the laws of physics. If such don’t form part of the discussion then I’ll leave it there.

    That is what Hume is taking for granted. As I keep stressing, the key issue for Hume is whether it is reasonable to take someone else’s word for it — without any additional or corroborating evidence — that some law of physics has been violated.

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  24. Nonlin.org: You guess wrong.

    No, I don’t think so given your erronious statements that individual miracles are not granted. Pilgramages and prayers from the afflicted at lourdes seem quite important to religious folks especially the instances where they claim individual miracles were granted. You might try and hide from that but it isn’t a succesful tact given the ease with which it was debunked.

    Nonlin.org: It’s your choice: he was either a fool or wrong. I give him more credit than you do, hence he was just wrong.

    LOL it was your stance that Hume did not allow for miracles to be reported his words underscore your misunderstanding of his writings hence your attempted quote mine.

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  25. Nonlin.org: Kantian Naturalist:

    Hume does not argue against miracles, period.

    Then he was a time wasting fool.

    Pots and kettles. Me! I’m arguing against miracles as events that are claimed to violate the laws of this universe.

    ETA perhaps mote and beam is more appropriate.

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  26. Nonlin.org: They are part of the discussion, but not its focus. You missed the point. A re-read might help.

    Frankly, I have better things to do. What you might consider is linking or quoting the point that you think I missed?

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  27. @ nonlin

    Anyway, looking upthread, I see many commenters are unimpressed with your (well shall we say) text and that they are making points that I agree with more eloquently than I might have So I’ll leave you to their tender mercies. I’ll push a few like buttons now.

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  28. So where are we?
    1. No serious attempt to even address any of the claims, except a very weak failed attempt to dispute 3.d. “Let’s just talk about something else, anything, as long as it is not this OP”.
    2. “Unimpressed” atheists, meaning no good answers.
    3. The incoherent claim that Hume did not argue against miracles, and at the same time he was not an atheist fool for impersonating theists warning against false prophets.
    4. The laughable request that miracles be kept personal. So if you are Saul, don’t bother telling anyone about your experience because they are not supposed to believe you, unless everyone had the same exact experience. And this despite the fact that 99.(9)% of what we all know (including atheists) comes not from experience, but from witness testimony.
    5. Anything else missed?

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  29. Nonlin.org: 5. Anything else missed?

    Yeah that you seem to have completely missed where it was pointed out that you’ve misunderstood Hume’s argumen to begin with, which was one of the very first things pointed out to you by Kantian Naturalist back on page 1.

    Let me quote it for you here: “There are so many misunderstandings and errors here it’s hard to know where to begin. But let’s start here: Hume’s question is not “is it reasonable to believe in miracles?” but the very different “is it reasonable to accept that a miracle took place on the basis of testimony alone?””

    So where are we? You’ve failed right out of the gate. As usual.

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  30. Rumraket: Yeah that you seem to have completely missed where it was pointed out that you’ve misunderstood Hume’s argumen to begin with, which was one of the very first things pointed out to you by Kantian Naturalist back on page 1.

    No, that claim was addressed as shown – again – in 3. and 4. above.
    Show your work if you continue to disagree.

    A few more notes to summarize this thread:
    Con: Which miracles is this about? Everyday or one off?
    Pro: One off as. Everyday miracles are not the topic of religious texts or “Of Miracles”, hence not a topic of this essay.

    Con: You have to believe in miracles to believe a story is miraculous. Hence no miracles.
    Pro: Like “Of Miracles”, this argues that miracles are not at all possible, meaning the laws of nature as we know them cannot be violated ever. This claim is impossible to prove as, per 3.d., we do not and never will have full knowledge of all instances of natural laws trials.

    Con: Testimony is not enough. Not when it does not conform to our overall sense of what people are like and how the world works.
    Pro: Testimony is enough in the legal court. In addition, 99.(9)% of what we know comes from testimony. Finally, miracles also “conform to our overall sense” of reality. Else the message would not be spread.

    Con: Hume leaves open the possibility of miracles and for them to be reported.
    Pro: Then he was a time wasting fool. The Bible is full of warnings against false prophets. There was no need for a random 18th century atheist to also ring that particular bell. But to give him credit, he was just wrong.

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  31. Nonlin.org: Con: Testimony is not enough. Not when it does not conform to our overall sense of what people are like and how the world works.
    Pro: Testimony is enough in the legal court. In addition, 99.(9)% of what we know comes from testimony.

    Maybe not always.

    “ The Innocence Project states that “Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing.”This non-profit organization uses DNA evidence to reopen criminal convictions that were made before DNA testing was available as a tool in criminal investigations”

    Per wiki

    Finally, miracles also “conform to our overall sense” of reality. Else the message would not be spread.

    Perhaps they conform to how we wish reality is.

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  32. Nonlin.org: Pro: Like “Of Miracles”, this argues that miracles are not at all possible, meaning the laws of nature as we know them cannot be violated ever. This claim is impossible to prove as, per 3.d., we do not and never will have full knowledge of all instances of natural laws trials.

    Indeed!

    But it would be possible to disprove the claim that the laws of this universe are never violated by referencing an example where laws are violated.

    Anyone?

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  33. Alan Fox: Indeed!

    Then you agree with this essay. Then why all the kicking and screaming?

    Alan Fox: But it would be possible to disprove the claim that the laws of this universe are never violated by referencing an example where laws are violated.

    1. Not the purpose of this writing.
    2. Example is not the only to show that. Showing faulty logic (Hume’s in this case) is sufficient. Done.
    3. You would find a way to deny the example anyway.
    4. Conclusion: you’re still kicking and screaming despite your “indeed”.

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  34. Nonlin.org: Then you agree with this essay. Then why all the kicking and screaming?

    1. Not the purpose of this writing.
    2. Example is not the only to show that. Showing faulty logic (Hume’s in this case) is sufficient. Done.
    3. You would find a way to deny the example anyway.
    4. Conclusion: you’re still kicking and screaming despite your “indeed”.

    Just a few brief points: no off-topic rule here, logical arguments don’t settle views on reality and I can’t deny what you haven’t presented.

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