Hume’s Reasons for Rejecting Miracles
One of the main philosophers in the debate about miracles is David
Hume. I will start this essay with a basic summary of Hume’s argument.
Hume’s argument is not that miracles cannot happen, but that, given
the amount of evidence that has established and confirmed a law of
nature, there can never be sufficient evidence to prove that a law of
nature has been violated. He believes that miracles have no rational
Hume was an empiricist, in other words, he believed that all knowledge
is based on evidence that we gain through our senses. He argues that
if a miracle goes against a law of nature, then it represents a single
piece of evidence that goes against all the rest. So, for example, if
we let go of a heavy object, it falls to the ground. That observation,
repeated many times, confirms our understanding of the law of gravity.
If then, an account is heard of the heavy object floating upwards of
its own accord, you can ask yourself, which is the more likely: that
the report is mistaken or that it actually happened.
However, Hume talks of laws of nature as if set in stone implying that
Natural Law can never be shown to be false. The possibility for laws
of nature to be false must be left open.
Hume claims that, if we balance on one hand the improbability of
miracles occurring and on the other hand the evidence that they have
occurred, we will always come to the conclusion that it is more likely
that natural laws occurred rather than miracles.
On the other hand, Hume was working with Newton’s understanding of
Natural Laws being fixed whereas the modern understanding is that of
the chaos theory. The chaos theory teaches us that the movement of
particles is random and therefore exceptions to natural laws are
Hume argues that a miracle is a breach of a law of nature. As I said
earlier, he believes that the belief in miracles is not rational. He
maintains that if you were a rational human being, you would not
believe in miracles. Hume states that we have a uniform past evidence
for laws of nature. For example, when people walk on water, they sink
and when someone dies, they do not rise from the dead.
However, Hume only deals with reports of miracles and doesn’t look at
them from first hand experience.
Hume furthers his argument by saying that the reports of witnesses are
unreliable and untrustworthy. He makes the point that people who are
claiming a miracle has happened should have a reputation to lose and
absolutely nothing to gain.
Hume advances on this argument to say that reports of miracles
generally come from ignorant and barbarous people. He states that
humans love the fantastic. People love the idea of something unlikely
happening since wonder and excitement are enjoyable emotions.