David Hume on Miracles

David Hume on 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 regarded as to define action, 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 a individuals own reality, and the faith in which he/she believes in, it is based on interior events such as what we are taught, and exterior events, such as what we hear or see firsthand. 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 commonly observed. In which case, his philosophical view of a miracle would be true.

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, in all of history there has not been a miraculous event with a sufficient number of witnesses. He questions the integrity of the men and the reputation in which they hold in society. If their reputation holds great integrity, then and only then can we have full assurance in the testimony of men. Hume is constantly asking throughout the passage questions to support proof for a miracle. He asks questions such as this; Who is qualified? Who has the authority to say who qualifies? As he asks these questions we can see there are no real answers, in which case, it tends to break the validity of the witnesses to the miracle.

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 through past experience and what history dictates to us. Furthermore, he tends to discredit an individual by playing on a human beings consciousness or sense of reality. An example is; using words such as, the individuals need for "excitement" and "wonder" arising from miracles. Even the individual who cannot enjoy the pleasure immediately will still believe in a miracle, regardless of the possible validity of the miracle. With this, it leads the individual to feel a sense of belonging and a sense of pride. These individuals tend to be the followers within society. These individuals will tend to believe faster than the leaders in the society. With no regard to the miracles validity, whether it is true or false, or second hand information. 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 there has been many forged miracles, regardless if the information is somewhat valid or not.

His 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 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 in which he would not destroy were to be Noah, his sons, Noah's wife and his sons 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 a ark explained exactly how it was to be made. Noah spent six hundred years of his life building the ark in which God insisted upon. When the ark was finally complete The Lord told Noah it was time to gather the selected few the floods were about to come. These floods lasted forty days and forty nights. The floods wiped out all living creatures on earth, except all on the ark. In the six hundred and first year of Noah's life the floods stopped and the earth began to dry. Noah then built an alter to the Lord and choosing from every clean animal he offered holocaust on the alter. 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 done."

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. The reasons in which he would criticize the validity with in the testimony would be as follows. The testimony versus the reality. To further support the theory he would argue the time period in which the miracle had taken place. And would find it difficult to believe without a reasonable doubt. There is a question to whether it could be lies or exaggerations. Furthermore, it could not possibly be a validated miracle considering the amount of men in which witnessed the event. As well as questioning the integrity of the men. Although this miracle was an act of God we can still question the validity of our ancestors or God for that matter. Hume would not be satisfied not only with the integrity of the individuals but 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 in 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. Almost amazing the bush was full of flames but was yet not consumed. As he walked closer he heard the voice, the voice of God telling Moses he was the chosen one to take the Israelite's out of Egypt 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 the Red Sea splits leading the Israelite's to freedom. As the Egyptians were crossing the sea it closed its gates and let them drown with in 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 of the fact 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 individuals perception of reality and what he or she believes to be a valid event.

In conclusion, 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 through man’s hope, it tends to be something better through our expectations. I cannot debate the belief of a miracle.

There is no right or wrong belief. It is viewed through our own Individual perception and faith, our existence and sense of reality.

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