David Hume on Miracles: A Philosophical Critique
1. David Hume on Miracles: Philosophical Critique
David Hume, a Scottish empirical philosopher of the XVIIIth century, presented his own vision of the miracle phenomenon and discussed this topic from the practical point of view. He started with the definition of a miracle as «a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent» and then analyzed different aspects of this phenomenon such as natural law, eyewitness testimonies, scientific evidence etc. In general, Hume was skeptical about miracles and believed that they were highly improbable. However, he did not deny their existence completely and stated that it was possible to imagine some circumstances in which a miracle could take place.
2. The Definition of a Miracle
Hume’s definition of a miracle is quite specific and includes two main elements: first, a transgression of a law of nature and second, the involvement of divine or supernatural forces. A law of nature is understood as a general rule which governs the behavior of physical objects and events in the universe. It is important to note that for Hume a law of nature is not something unchangeable or absolute but rather a description of how things usually happen. This means that a miracle can be seen as an event which goes against the usual course of nature and can only be explained by invoking the intervention of God or some other supernatural being.
3. Natural Law and Miracles
Hume’s discussion of miracles is closely connected to his views on natural law. He believed that our knowledge of natural law is based on experience and observation, that is, on what we have seen happen in the world around us. This means that our understanding of natural law is always provisional and subject to change as new evidence comes to light. From this it follows that miracles, which are by definition violations of natural law, are also highly improbable since they would require an intervention by forces beyond our current understanding.
4. Eyewitness Testimonies and Miracles
Another important aspect of Hume’s discussion is his analysis of eyewitness testimonies. He pointed out that testimonials are often unreliable, especially when they come from individuals who are not impartial observers (such as those who stand to gain from claiming that a miracle has occurred). In addition, eyewitnesses are often mistaken in their observations or may even deliberately misrepresent what they have seen in order to support their claim. For all these reasons, Hume argued that testimony can never be used as conclusive proof that a miracle has actually taken place.
5. Scientific Evidence and Miracles
Hume also addressed the question of scientific evidence in relation to miracles. He pointed out that science deals with observed facts and laws which can be verified through experimentation. This means that science cannot provide any direct evidence for or against the occurrence of miracles since they lie outside its scope. However, Hume did not believe that this made miracles automatically impossible since there may be some cases where indirect evidence could be used to support their occurrence (for example, if there were reports of miraculous events in well-documented historical accounts).
6. The Objective and Subjective Nature of Miracles
Another important issue raised by Hume is the question of whether miracles are objective or subjective phenomena. On the one hand, he argued that they must be objective since they involve a transgression of natural law which is an objective reality (that is, it exists independently of our perceptions or beliefs). On the other hand, Hume also pointed out that miracles are often interpreted differently by different individuals, which suggests that they also have a subjective component. In the end, Hume concluded that miracles are best seen as mixed phenomena which have both objective and subjective elements.
In conclusion, Hume’s discussion of miracles is characterized by a number of important insights. He provides a detailed definition of what a miracle is and shows how it differs from other events which may appear to be miraculous (such as those which can be explained by natural causes). In addition, he critically examines various aspects of the miracle phenomenon such as natural law, eyewitness testimonies, and scientific evidence. Finally, Hume raises the question of the objective and subjective nature of miracles and concludes that they are best seen as mixed phenomena.