Humbling Hume: A Concise Way To Force Humeans And Neo-Humeans To Wrestle With The Evidence For Miracles -- By: Jim A. Stewart

Journal: Global Journal of Classical Theology
Volume: GJCT 11:1 (Jun 2013)
Article: Humbling Hume: A Concise Way To Force Humeans And Neo-Humeans To Wrestle With The Evidence For Miracles
Author: Jim A. Stewart

Humbling Hume: A Concise Way To Force Humeans And Neo-Humeans To Wrestle With The Evidence For Miracles

Jim A. Stewart

Abstract. Consistency demands that neo-Humean skepticism toward second-hand reports of miracles must also apply to first-hand experiences, since the premises are equally applicable in both cases. Taking the neo-Humean argument to its logical conclusions, thought experiments allow us to imagine scenarios where someone would be judged irrational for believing in a miraculous event that they personally experienced. Thus, the argument leads to serious epistemic difficulties.

A better approach is to say that someone who experiences a miracle is indeed rational for believing it actually happened if he has good reasons for also believing that he was in a good epistemic position to judge whether or not the event really happened. This approach also justifies belief in second-hand miracle reports that are provided by credible witnesses.

Since the eighteenth century opponents of the miraculous have not focused so much on formulating arguments against miracles per se (such as Spinoza did in the seventeenth century) as they have focused on formulating arguments against belief in miracles. To put it more precisely, it is now more commonly argued that, whether miracles are possible or not, it is not rational to believe any reports of them. These arguments, therefore, are primarily concerned with epistemology, not with ontology. Those who employ them seek to do an end-run around the thorny question of whether or not miracles are metaphysically possible. Instead, they simply seek to argue that reports of miracles should never be believed, regardless of whether or not they are possible.

This is an extremely common strategy among sceptics. Indeed, it shows up in public, formal debates with surprising frequency. Many scholars, who have never employed this argument in their written work, quickly repair to it whenever they are publicly confronted with the evidence for a miraculous event like the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. To confirm its popularity, one only needs to listen to a small sample of the recorded debates in which Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, or Michael Licona have argued in the affirmative for the resurrection. With astonishing regularity one hears their opponents repeating this argument, and frequently assuming that it is utterly unanswerable.

In its printed form, the most famous enunciation of this epistemological argument against miracles, by far, is David Hume’s. But there were many notable variations in the twentieth century produced by Antony Flew, J.L. Mackie, and Simon Blackburn. Not surprisingly, these arguments have received numerous responses and attempted rebuttal...

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