debunking the debunker? hume

David Hume observed that a miracle claim overthrows something we take for granted such as that dead men stay dead. He used the expression violation of nature. Christians have distorted his true meaning in order to refute him. He did not mean nature is iron and fixed. He meant that if it is loose then the looseness still does not entitle us to believe say that there is a dog with only water in his veins not blood.

His argument is one against belief in miracles. That allows for ignoring or rejecting miracles. An opinion that a miracle happened would be almost okay and would not really matter for an opinion is little more than a guess and opinions are nothing compared to beliefs.


Lady Elizabeth Shepherd said Hume was wrong to define a miracle as a violation of nature. She said a miracle is an exception to nature. The way nature works is temporarily suspended and nature resumes again after the event. But notice what she has done. She has defined nature in such a way that makes you biased towards miracles. Nature is that which allows for miracles for it is not set in stone. That is assuming what she wants to prove - that nature allows for miracles. She has you assuming a miracle is possible and that leaves you open to unwittingly distorting evidence and thinking it points to a miracle. Worse she is not admitting that violation or exception could still be as good as splitting hairs. If a violation cannot happen that does not mean an exception may or can happen. She is risking calling a violation an exception!

Exceptions do not prove the rule.  People believe they do for they want each rule to have some exceptions but for rare and grave reasons.  They think that limit is enough to protect the rule for a rule that is too elastic is no longer a rule at all.

 The exception is a new rule against the old one. If you never give dogs custard and you give it to Buttons the dog then that is a contradiction not an exception. Her argument is supposing that the main message God gives when a miracle happens is, "The exception proves the rule." It is a kind of definition for miracle and what the miracle tries to say. Thus the miracle would be something to run away from. Fake miracles would be a very serious matter. It is bad enough if real miracles lie but if we have fakes ones doing it for them that is as bad or worse.
Anyway what if Hume has a biased definition too? Well it is nothing compared to her's! Hume would still have the most credibility and would remain the one to take seriously.

The Lady speaks for today's Christians for they think the way she does about Hume!

If the violation idea and the exception idea are biased then we end up with no reason to take miracles seriously at all. You can think a miracle is absurd but still check it out but an even playing field bans even that. So it is not looking good for the believer! 


The critic of Hume says, " Experience can give reasons to believe human testimony and it can also give us reasons not to listen. So with miracles which is it? Hume says of nature’s laws 'a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.' So this says that miracles are false for they contradict all our experience and not just some of what we experience. His quote is saying that the believer is not just stupid but grossly stupid. The smart theologian must be only pretending to believe."
A hidden premise in this is that Hume is saying that experience refutes miracle or magic claims and many other kinds of natural claims. But experience does the best job at undermining claims that are miracles or magical.
Hume does not deal with eye-witnessed miracles. This may or may not amount to denying a miracle experience counts or is real. But we must remember he did say we should believe a miracle if it would take a miracle for people to be lying. So he probably thought only eyewitnesses who know have the right to believe.

Hume is accused of forgetting that there is such a thing as non-testimonial evidence. It is thought that Hume is guilty of assuming all believers in miracles are just listening to testimony. What if you see for yourself? Believers say, "Hume ignores indirect evidence. People may say Jesus rose but if you go to his tomb and decide that there are clues saying only a miracle got him out by making him alive again then that is indirect evidence. The indirect evidence alone could tell you he rose. Indirect can be even stronger evidence than direct evidence such as testimony."

But we have no cases of people saying miracles happened just because indirect evidence says so. And we must remember that it will only be interpreted as something specific such as Jesus rising if somebody has already claimed he rose. That could be a testimony that Jesus rose or it could be somebody taking a guess. Either way, indirect evidence does not speak in a vacuum. Think of it this way. If there were clues that Jesus rose at the tomb they will not be seen as clues just because somebody says, "I think he rose." They will only be taken as clues if somebody says, "I met him and he is alive". The statement then makes it all about itself and it makes the indirect evidence evidence. The latter does not speak for itself. The indirect evidence argument is a mere distraction. We are back to testimony.

Believers then say, "Testimony against uniform experience has at times turned out to be correct. Science could never progress unless it assumed that we don’t know all about regularity and our perception of what is regular could be wrong." This is a strong objection to Hume until you realise, "Natural events that we all think cannot happen can happen" has nothing to do with, "Magical events that we all think cannot happen can happen." It is a category mistake. 


Believers say, "Hume thinks miracles are natural law breaking events and that as the laws all safeguard each other which is they they work regularity without interruption that the probability of a miracle is too low to believe in. Hume has a bad idea of probability – if it is 1 every minute for the last forty days it does not mean it will be 1 in the next minute. It does not even mean it probably will be 1. It could be 2."

That only allows us to believe a miracle might happen now or in the future. When we work with the past we will reason that nature just did what nature did so there is no room for a miracle. Hume was past looking.


Hard interpretations of Hume imagine he is saying that nature's course is just iron clad and unchangeable which amounts to saying that no matter how good the case for a miracle is, it did not happen for it is logically impossible. Logically impossible is just another way of calling it a contradiction. Hume is thought by such interpretations to be saying a miracle is impossible for the reason it is impossible for a circle to be square.
Even if you present good evidence that 3 and 3 are 7 logic has the final say and the evidence means nothing then. This is not bias. It is just logic. Logic defines what evidence is so to dismiss logic is to do away with evidence as well! Logic is how you learn from the truth and truth cannot be watered down or done away for it does not care what you think and is not about what you think.

A miracle may not be logically impossible in the way a circle is able to be a triangle at the same time. But there is an indirect link to that type of logical impossibility. Here is how.
John committing murder on Mars is logically impossible in that way when John is dead. John committing murder is logically possible but John committing it by squirting water is logically impossible. So the act may be logically impossible or doing the act in certain ways is what is logically impossible.

A miracle may not be logically impossible in itself but some essential cause of it may be. That means the miracle did not happen. So the miracle is indirectly logically impossible.

For example, if only God can do a miracle and God is an incoherent idea and makes no sense that that is why a miracle is logically impossible. It is the agent that is logically impossible and the result is only logically impossible for the agent is.

We understand the universe through mathematics. Miracle cannot be understood that way. We may not know if or how miracles are logically possible/impossible. We may not know if or how any INDIVIDUAL miracle is logically possible/impossible.

Is there a difference?


It is logically possible for toddlers to kill an elephant.

That does not mean it is logically possible for Amy to kill an elephant. Maybe she is too tiny.
It may be logically possible for men to return from the dead by a miracle.

It may be logically impossible for Jesus to return for God alone rules death and life and would not bring him back for he is a sinner.

So we cannot know if any particular miracle is logically possible. If it is not then our witness to it is wrong.

Let us talk about if a miracle in principle can happen. This is asking a different question to whether a particular miracle happened.

Logic is not about what we think or can think. It is dishonest and arrogant to act and speak as if it can. We are talking about a miracle being a logical possibility in principle. Do we say miracles in general are logically impossible or logically possible?

The answer depends on our worldview. If there is a supernatural to do them they are logically possible. If there is no such power then they are logically impossible.

Could we assert that it does not matter? If so we should be neutral.

If we should be neutral then instead of saying a specific miracle is logically impossible or logically possible we should assert that it does not matter. So we should be neutral.

This means we ignore miracle claims for it is best to avoid what may be logically impossible. It is an insult to logic and reason to take any other approach.

Which is wiser? Ignoring general claims that miracles are real or ignoring any specific claim? Any specific claim. Why? Because it is the specific claims that matter in our lives and that we will be confronted with. We all ignore miracles until we meet somebody who tells us one happened. 
Don't just assume miracles are logically impossible. Come up with valid reasons. What if all you can do is make an assumption?

Assuming miracles are logically possible indicates you are biased towards believing in them for you have no reason to assert they are logically possible.

Against that you can say that assuming miracles are logically impossible also indicates bias. One side accuses the other of standing for what is logically impossible. So take neither side. Accusing somebody without proof of adopting what is logically impossible (whether as in it being impossible for miracles to happen or not) means, "I will not learn and I don't want to listen and I cannot hear. It's impossible period." It's a nasty bias.

Anyway which bias is the best? Not all biases are equal. You invoke rarity. In a universe where all dead people stay dead then you assume that if there is an exception then it is not an exception but a fiction. If you are a believer you will say it is an exception. But at times it is right to dismiss something if it is so rare that the chance it is true is too slight or almost zero.

Believers by calling a miracle an exception should be saying, "It may be an exception, possible, or a violation of nature, impossible." So they should be neutral.


This is where the rarity subject comes in. The magic of a miracle is so rare that Hume says that is a reason for calling it unbelievable.

The reality is that something can be so rare it should not count. By rare, religion means that something is uncommon but common enough to register.

Christians make out that sceptics then are making demands that rare events get exceptional evidence. They see that as absurd for rare events do happen. They say a rare event needs no extraordinary evidence - just enough. They say the level of evidence that the dog ate the dinner is good enough for a rare event.

A rare event is not an event that necessarily lacks good solid evidence. Take an inept golfer who makes a hole in one twice in one day! Some point to the near-miraculous success of Alexander the Great. So when such events have more evidence than they need a miracle should have it too.
Hume says miracles need solid evidence. Christians, speaking of their favourite miracles, say they just need the evidence considered and weighed and validated. They reject Hume's assumption that tight evidence of a higher quality is needed. He is accused of never being satisfied when it is evidence for a miracle because he does not want to believe in the miracle in the first place.

The Christians need a bias alert here. Somebody with a limp winning a race they should not win is a different thing, category and class than somebody say levitating. One is a weird but natural event and the other is a miracle. To compare the two is cheating. An exceptional event does not mean a miracle is possible. It is not even relevant. The two are not the same just because they are rare. 

The exceptional event is proof that something exceptional has happened when all indications are that a man is back from the dead. Thus a miracle hypothesis is unnecessary. It is going beyond the data for the sake of an ideology.


Hume said that experience shows that nature is uniform. Miracle believers say it is not for experience says miracles can intrude. They say experience then cuts both ways. Hume seems to want to remember it only when it stabilises our idea of nature as reliable.

If I see a huge miracle and report it then my accuracy and reliability in relation to it are a bigger miracle than the actual miracle! What are we saying here?

If you say our experience is right and that is a miracle then you have a miracle that rules out the other miracles. You cannot know that the computer sees if you cannot see yourself. So only if your seeing is a miracle can you see a miracle. Believers implicitly assume they are a miracle and their perception is a miracle.

Experience can support the believability of a report or it can diminish its believability. It cuts both ways. So what does it do with miracles then? A miracle report can be diminished enough by experience to render it unbelievable.

Hume is thought to confuse history and science. History is based on your interpretation of data about things that can no longer be checked. So you just have to depend on what information you have which may be at times wrong. The idea is that testimony to a miracle is necessarily history. It is in the past. Then he concludes from that that science or experience shows a miracle is unbelievable. If he did confuse them it would not matter. Testimony to a miracle may be too much to believe. And experience and science are two sides of the same coin.

A miracle is that brief that it pokes into nature and nature then goes on afterwards as if nothing happened. So all you can suppose is that some power managed to surge and beat nature but nature beat it down afterwards for it overloaded itself. So a miracle would be weaker than nature. We have no reason or right to say it is the work of some power that masters nature especially all nature. The language of miracle is not strength but weakness. It is weakness in the mind to follow religions of miracle.

If a miracle is weaker than natural law – which isn't really law but a term for regular occurrences that just happen and don’t need to be laws as such – then should we deny it or simply ignore it – ie be neutral? We should then regard nature as the strongest power. Unless we can get a miracle to work in the lab under the strictest conditions we should not believe. That will never happen.


In a miracle report you must explain how such an honest reliable person of good character has come up with this report. Hume said what they are saying does not fit those who say that such wonders do not happen. So there is the witness of the supposed miracle to consider and the witnesses to a closed non-miracle universe to consider.

Who matters most? They cannot matter equally. One person against several persons.

Miracle claims are vicious then for they cast suspicion and should do on your character and reliability. If they are true they cast doubt. If they are false they definitely cast doubt. Even if a miracle is true then God can't blame us for doubting it and so he has us opening the door to questioning the reliability of a good reliable person. If miracles are so uncharitable then we can say that if they happen they mean nothing and nothing good.

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