Tuesday, February 03, 2009

This is a really nice powerpoint on Hume on Miracles

By Wes Morriston. Doesn't prove anything one way of the other (doesn't try to, really) but lays out the issues really nicely.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't Hume's argument fall apart the moment a miraculous event is viewed as just an agent (admittedly, a particularly unique and powerful agent) performing an act within the universe?

I mean, the example of a flag being planted on the moon could be considered miraculous. Except, of course, if it was planted there by astronauts (People of the right resources and intelligence to take a flag and place it on the moon, etc.) So the possibility of a miracle occurring seems related to one's estimation of whether a God exists or is likely to exist. But even Hume seems to cede that a strong/reasonable case can be made for a deistic God at the very least, which is all that's necessary here. And our technological advancements and questions since then (Nick Bostrom's simulation arguments, etc) seem to directly speak against a miracle needing to be a violation of nature. Granted, it also speaks against an Omniscient, Omnipotent Deity being necessary for any miracle - but even the bible admits as much.

Just seems like this argument hasn't worn very well.

Ima said...

I've said this before, but I'll post it again: the following video absolutely refutes the veracity of any miracle claim.


If fancy, Bayesian methods work to confirm miracle claims of people thousands of years ago, how well, then, can the present-day miracles of, say, living Indian sufis and gurus be confirmed--not by merely 513 witnesses (supposedly)--but by millions of (still living) people and followers?

If the methods of Swinburne, Craig, and the other formal methods of apologists do establish ancient miracle claims as highly probable, then those present-day miracles attested by millions in Asia, then, would be confirmed a thousand-fold in virtue of them being attested to today (rather than thousands of years ago) and by more than two-thousand times the number of witnesses, often repeated dozens of times.

And, if those modern day miracles are exponentially confirmed in the same manner apologists confirm the ancient ones, then, by the same methods, they confirm the religion of theists in India.

And, if miracles of religion A is confirmed and the miracles of religion B is confirmed, and A and B are incompatible and contradictory religions, then, therefore, as Hume said in his Essay, confirmed miracle claims refute themselves "from the opposition of contrary testimony".

Anonymous said...


There's no claim in Christianity that 'miracles' can only be done by God, or even by 'good people'. In fact, the opposite is stated expressly. So right off the bat there's a problem with your perspective.

Nor would a miracle necessarily automatically confirm a religion - rather depends on the miracle and what's being claimed. Craig is arguing that it's reasonable (perhaps most reasonable) to take the resurrection as occurring based on what we know. That doesn't prove Christianity to be true (though it certainly would lend much credence), nor does it necessitate all other miracles are false.

Perezoso said...

Hume's insistence on "Uniformity of experience" works: not real fancy, or high-powered Bayesian guestimates, but applicable.

I don't think he cedes the possibility of a Deity--he wants to suggest that the supposed miraculous claims of scripture render it fallible (ie christianity depends on whether one accepts the miracles or not--)

The weight of testimony is misleading to some degree: ten thousand pilgrims to lourdes might say they saw Maria. Ah well. Put it on videotape. The Maria-phase has not exactly dropped pesos from heaven...or shut down brothels.........(nor have any other supposed miracles of 20th century). The miracle-obsession itself often seems a type of hysteria, and fills many (I would say poor, 3rd world people) with false hopes.

Anonymous said...

Does Christianity depend on miracles? Why not, let's go with that. And let's put aside Hume's own take on deism if you like - which just seems to admit to the reasonableness of deducing a deity (or deities) from nature or reason, while arguing that divining the character of the deity from nature was less tenable. But the moment miracles are regarded as acts of agents (even divine/deistic agents) rather than mere bizarre interruptions in the regularities of nature, his whole argument comes crumbling down. Good reason to believe in such acts is still required, but the ability to acquire such reason is no longer impossible. The challenge can be (and in the case of some miracles, I'd argue, has been) reasonably met. Enough to overwhelmingly convince the most committed skeptic? No, but that's hardly to expected anyway. C'est la vie.

Matthew said...

Ima, the problem is, that the evidence for the resurrection is a little stronger than your leprechaun.

Perezoso said...

I don't believe Hume ever specifically argued for Deism (one of his characters from his dialogues may suggest it, but I think Hume rejected Deism, ultimately). He does use the mentioning of miracles as evidence against the infallibility and authority of Scripture. Sort of like reading a court or police report. When someone says ""and then a ghost appeared, and killed Ms O'Grundy" you'd probably set down the report and call the mental health authorities.

Ima's point on conflicting evidence DOES matter. I don't think it means all miracles are bogus, but something like, reports of miracles are common to many ancient cultures, and there's no easy way to distiguish between an ancient story saying the buddha levitated, or the virgin birth, the strange visions of Revelation, supposed omens fortelling the death of Caesar, unicorns, etc. So they are usually metaphors: there to impress the plebes.

Anonymous said...

But you can distinguish between supposed miracles in numerous other ways - both in terms of content, attestation, etc. And Ima's point loses a lot of its force once it's realized that A) Miracles in multiple religions doesn't do much to discount them (Particularly in the case of Christianity, where it's made explicit that God/Christians are emphatically not the only ones who can perform miracles), B) Not every miracle is meant to prove the truth of a religion (Water into wine, even if true, doesn't establish Christ as God - even the disciples knew this. And Buddha, of all religious leaders, needed no miracles to put through his claims.), C) It's a tremendous mistake to believe a miracle can prove God or is meant to. Coming by deism or a belief in the basic deity or Godlike is beyond easy to arrive at rationally, and that's all that's needed to view miracles not as contra-nature but acts of agents.

It's similar to that old saying about how advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Perezoso said...

"""But even Hume seems to cede that a strong/reasonable case can be made for a deistic God at the very least, which is all that's necessary here. """

Citation? I do not believe that is the case: Hume doesn't argue for Deism--one of his characters in a dialogue merely suggests it. Hume also claimed the watchmaker/design argument (deism, really) was an irrelevant analogy.

Miraculous claims go against the uniformity of experience: it's not even an issue of counting each scrap of anecdotal evidence. It's about continuity of nature in a sense: so yes, if a miracle occurred it would be a break in that continuity, not necessarily miraculous in theological sense. Regardless, any writing such as the Bible which has sections containing supposed miracles (ie a virgin birth) should not be considered authoritative, much less infallible dogma, but more like say Ray Bradbury, circa 35 AD. Harsh, but that's pretty much Hume's argument (tho' the college boys tone it down, methinx)

Anonymous said...

That's Hume's argument, but Hume's argument falls apart when you're no longer viewing miracles as violations of nature - even the regularity of nature - but as the work of an agent. It's like arguing that, if a computer program has been following a certain pattern for a long period of time, any reports of changes or anomalies in that pattern should be discarded. It makes some sense until programmers or users are recognized to be in play, especially ones who would be in a position capable of enacting the change or anomaly. Then it becomes reasonable not only to inspect reports of those changes as actually happening, but possibly ruling them to be the work of an agent.

Perezoso said...

It doesn't fall apart at all. By Agent you suggest like a G*d. The evidence provided for said Agent is an ancient text, the Bible itself, which contains all sorts of bizarre events and allegations of miracles.

So, Hume then says, given the uniformity of experience, and the possibility of inaccurate/fraudulent testimony, the Bible should not be considered conclusive evidence of anything, including an "Agent." It's not authoritative, especially for legal issues, but Hume does not say, toss it on the flames.

(for that matter, I would say the existence of the Agent would be dependent on other arguments, and none of the supposed arguments for G*d carries much weight). In terms of computing, you would not assume anything extraordinary occurred until you saw it, or were at close proximity. But not great analogy: your event logs would show what happened, specifically. It would not show "ghosts".

Hume also suggests it's easy for reasonable people to believe that the reports (say of virgin birth) were misleading/inaccurate/"poetical" than to believe that something extraordinary occured.

One should also keep in mind Hume's historical context: he opposed puritans and zealots who believed every word of scripture was infallible. Hume the man btw seems like an unsavory character--but some believers seem to think if some sinner or reprobate wrote something, it doesn't matter, which is BS (and a sophisticated ad hominem). Hume probably was a scoundrel or libertine. Oh well. Sort of like Christopher Hitchens circa 1750, perhaps even more........sinister. That's one reason I find him interesting (Ben Franklin admired Hume).

Anonymous said...

No, the bible is not meant to be evidence of God. At most, it's meant to offer evidence about God's character or acts in the form of testimony, records, and other such evidence. Even Paul mentions how, if they are wrong about the resurrection, so much the worse for them - because they're lying about God if so (Paul would apparently find it ridiculous that, if you thought the resurrection did not happen, you decided God did not exist). And it's why Paul was able to preach with reference to the altar of the unknown god: because that acknowledgment of God/gods was necessary before offering the evidence and testimony of Christ.

So no, I'm not arguing that Hume's argument doesn't work because the bible proves God exists. On the contrary, I'm arguing it doesn't work because one can arrive at a reasonable belief in the existence of basic God/gods far in advance of consulting any religious text at all. And that's all that's needed to shoot down Hume's observations in this vein. Mind you, I'm not saying that this alone proves the bible or any other text is accurate. But it does allow you to take the claims more seriously and make a decision with more options open than Hume would suggest.

As for the computer analogy, what's 'extraordinary' is part of the problem here. Other users and programmers are not automatically extraordinary considerations. Even event logs, if you had access to them, would not necessarily tell you "a programmer/user did X at time Y". It may tell you little more than "action/operation X happened at time Y", which may or may not be indicative of an agent's involvement. But it doesn't matter: The mere fact that other users/programmers' acts are a possibility means, before you even look at the event log or other evidence, said agents are not ruled out or unreasonable.

Perezoso said...

one can arrive at a reasonable belief in the existence of basic God/gods far in advance of consulting any religious text at all

We can? I disagree: religious belief's not reasonable, anyway. Hume disagreed, and have many others.

Anyway, skepticism about miracles does not equate to "nothing miraculous or extraordinary can ever occur." It's more about questioning the authority of scripture, especially in terms of using it as basis for law or politics (ie theocracy). The bible is a old, mysterious text, but should not be the law of the land. It's fallible: and Darwin also confirmed that.

I don't think Hume meant to suggest aiming cannons at Notre Dame, and (though ......he might have--he was in Paris, and knew Diderot, Voltaire, etc. Some of the Encyclopedists thought in very harsh anti-clerical terms--ie evidenced when they started to guillotine priests and cardinals, and even some evangelicals).

G*d, were he said to exist, sort of screwed up by pencilling in Hume's birth however. It would seem if He wanted to win he would prevent Humes, Darwins, Russells, Dawkins, etc.

Anonymous said...

I don't think a mere acceptance of the reasonable case for deism or a creator qualifies as religious belief. Even accepting the likelihood of deism wouldn't be so.

As for Paris, they also said they had no need of chemists.. they didn't exactly spare the use of the guillotine for anyone in the end (even each other, once-allies.) And I don't think any God or gods would have much to worry about Hume or Russell, much less Dawkins. But, your mileage may vary.

Perezoso said...

Some jacobins decided to kill Lavosier. That was probably for political reasons, and not all agreed. Not sure, and don't have FrenchRev. history text here. That didn't mean they were opposed to chemistry or science. Some engineers sided with the jacobins (Im not saying the FR was "good". But it was not all bad)

The point was that Hume's skepticism regarding the authenticity of miracles, and the authority of scripture had a political element, and significance--even on Americans. Others wrote on the topic (including Spinoza). It's an argument for secularism.

Jefferson however quaint or rustic he might seem to some believers, addressed the irrationality of scripture, considering the Book of Rev. the work of a madman. He denied the virgin birth, and interpreted the resurrection as a myth, or symbol. Most FFs were in agreement.
So Jefferson and Madison, or Billy Bob Calvinists, and the padres, if not dogmatic jews or muslims??

TJ wins that battle, I believe.

Anonymous said...

I didn't say they were opposed to chemistry or science. But they certainly seemed to think that if chemists or scientists were capable of being dispensed with if they were viewed as obstructing their political goals. It was a wild time, the age of reason.

Jefferson is welcome to his views, though he also is a great example of someone who (strongly seemed to) believed in God by a route of reason. The FFs also seemed to believe in a deity involved with creation enough to take lessons from and ground some fundamental beliefs in (and some did believe in judgment and resurrection as well). I can admire Jefferson while disagreeing with him and recognizing he's quite fallible. (Rather reminds me of, in a different way, Napoleon. His reaction to the idea Fulton's steamship still makes me smile.)

Perezoso said...

believed in God by a route of reason.

Jefferson did, like Locke, believe Reason to be superior to faith or religious mania of whatever sort. Whether Jefferson believed Reason could justify a God is another matter: at times he sounded slightly Deist, but other times (later in life) nearly atheist.

The FFs also valued freedom, unlike many modern academics (including atheist-Darwinian ones). Jefferson thus supported the right of all citizens to believe whatever they wanted to, whether calvinist BS, or the caveman code of JHVH (it's funny how many "atheists" often turn out to be closet-case orthodox jews).

He was rather optimistic in that regard.

Anonymous said...

I think Jefferson sounded more than 'slightly Deist'. Full-blown deist is how it comes across to me, and a deist who believed in a deity that demanded certain moral conclusions and even a fate beyond death. "I resign myself to my God, and my child to my country." is quite a line to go out on.

As for what the FFs believed in whole or in part, I'll pass on that. I have strong respect for them and even their deism, and that's enough for me.

Perezoso said...

As per Dec. of Ind., that's "Nature's God."

Jefferson may have held to moral objectivity: tho' it was probably more platonic and rational than calvinistic absurdity.

At any rate, Jefferson, like Hume, held that scripture was fallible, and not to be used as a foundation for the secular law. That's unlike the current petty tyrants on the SCOTUS (like Il Duce Scalia) who have tried to sneak in some theocracy--in effect, like most in the Black Robe posse (aka judiciary), the SCOTUS are attempting to bring back the "Divine right of Kings," which Jeff. and FF's also opposed).

Anonymous said...

Nature's God is the deistic God. I wasn't implying TJ was some kind of Catholic.