Assess Humes’ Reasons for Rejecting Miracles

Miracles are often defined as events that are in relation to God or seen as an extraordinary event. They can also be noticed to be events that happen everyday, such as giving birth or the sheer fact that we’re alive on this planet is a miracle in itself. Yet, it was David Humes who defined miracles as ‘a violation of the laws of nature’ in his book ‘enquiry concerning human understanding’ signifying that it clearly does not coincide with the natural laws around us. However, Humes continues this idea by showing that miracles are reliant on human testimony which in itself is not reliable bringing upon his argument the fundamental concept that miracles cannot be accepted without empirical evidence. By the end of the essay I hope to show that Humes is correct to reject miracles with his following reasons.


Miracles in themselves are events that are difficult to find empirical data of, apart from human testimony which Humes highlights with suggesting ‘No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish.’ For example- if one was to suggest that last Tuesday when one was walking across the road, a stranger noticed a car about to drive into me and acted upon the sight by flying and saving me in such time that the car didn’t hit me. Now, this example can be a representation of a modern day miracle however the falsehood would be more reliable than the belief in the stranger having a super power. If the stranger had pushed me out the way rather than flying, this could be more believable but is this a miracle? If according to Humes definition- it certainly does not break the laws of nature therefore is it actually possible to find a miracle which the falsehood would be seen as more miraculous? It’s far too difficult to even suggest such an event due to anything which breaks the laws of nature would be easily accepted as false testimony due to human understanding of anything breaking the laws of nature being too complex to accept as the truth. Therefore, leaving Humes with a slight complexity within his argument that if one was to rely on testimony then it simply is not possible. So, Humes reason for rejecting miracles is actually difficult to understand.


Yet, Humes could reply by suggesting that empirical data could be found, especially considering the multi-technological age in which we live in- it would seem obscure to suggest that no visual representation could not be found thus suggesting that perhaps miracles are impossible? Or is this simply believing that miracles have to be such a profound event. R.F Holland famously suggested that a miracle is nothing more than an extraordinary coincidence that is seen in a religious way. Implied by his quote of ‘A coincidence can be taken religiously as a sign and called a miracle.’ Now, although this may be implying that individuals may interpret events as signs of God intervening despite a logical explanation given for the contrary, it could also be suggested that perhaps- miracles aren’t these great events that happen to occur above the laws of nature and are in fact happening within our world as we see it. Happening in the natural order may mean that the ‘miracle’ can be elucidated but maybe this is the only way God can intervene and cause miracles to occur everyday- using rational ways rather than these extraordinary events. This could have been because if miracles were to occur as these events that are portrayed as ‘out of this world’ then surely if they were to occur in a much less arbitrary time-zone then miracles in themselves would become part of the natural order all together altering the laws of nature to allow for miracles to be a regular occurrence. Meaning that, miracles that are, in Humes’ case’: A ‘transgression of the laws of nature’ would have become a part of the natural order and would no longer be miracles and another form of event would be needed to be seen as a ‘miracle’ that’s beyond the new laws of nature leaving an ever-changing cycle if miracles weren’t random.


So, when Maurice Wiles wonders why God did not use miracles to stop Hiroshima or Auschwitz- this may have been a valid point to continue that not everything can be stopped. Or the point of being able to do anything would occur causing commotion and even the possibility of testing Gods strength by purposeful catastrophic events in hope of Gods help. Thus meaning that David Humes’ reasons for rejecting miracles can be seen as confusing if they simply cannot be acted upon above the laws of nature- as this is surely what a miracle is. Yet if this was possible, people would be claiming so often that God isn’t looking out for them but is for many others by performing these great miracles to the point that if God was to please every-bodies desire for miracles then it would defeat the object of miracles in the first place therefore proving Humes to have a falsehood in his rejection.


However, if one is to look at considering another of David Humes points, he states that laws of nature are fixed and cannot be violated, which in some sense, means that his definition for miracles is pointless because it means no miracles can occur if the laws of nature cannot be violated. Dismissing any testimony as uncompromising. He reinforces this by suggesting that ‘there has not been in all history, any miracle attested by a sufficient number of men, of such unquestioned good sense, education and learning, as to secure as against all delusion.’ This quote is used as an emphasis on Humes behalf that testimony- even in the past – has been falsely suggested by those who do not know enough to suggest a correct response. The use of ‘delusion’ clearly informs that one is blinded by the acknowledgement of a miracle. This could be due to religious expectation with the use of bias views by religious believers that certain events are seen with a tendency towards a belief of religious experience. When in fact, the reality is a mere set of events that is just a form of causes leading to an action. This is rather like R.F Holland’s point as explained earlier and is shown by his analogy of the boy on the train track. This goes that a mothers son ends up falling onto a train track and in doing so is about to be hit. However, the train stops just in time. The mother believes this is a miracle and therefore takes it as a sign from God however the reality was that the train driver collapsed and let go of the steering which triggered the automatic breaking system leading to the train stopping just in time. When this could be taken as truthful testimony, the reality would not be explained- rather like the possibility of many other testimonies true account not being told. This is considerably a good point that could have been made by Humes and Holland so Humes would be right to reject miracles.


In conclusion, Humes rejects miracles for lack of truthful testimony and the fact that miracles cannot occur due to the laws of nature being fixed. He points out the testimony cannot be empirically verified causing the belief in miracles to only be down to individual interpretation. With this is mind, one can also actually take that Humes has multiple unconvincing points within his assessment that can be picked out with the confusing nature of how he does not allow a miracle to even be considered if the laws of nature cannot be violated. This shows a lack of thought with Humes having no counter argument if a miracle was too occur therefore altering ones viewpoint to say that- despite miracles being shown to be unconvincing- Humes reasons for rejecting are not convincing enough in themselves to be accepted as a sustainable argument therefore one can go against ones original point of view and suggest that Humes requires further arguments in order to be accepted as convincing.

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