Philosophy Paper on Is Belief in Miracles Justified?
David Hume, a Scottish skeptic philosopher who lived in the eighteenth century, expressed his disbelief in miracles and insisted that it is not the portion of any wise man to embrace such beliefs. Hume based his view on the repeatability principle which entails that an event that frequently occurs has more evidence compared to a rare one that only takes place once. Hume adds that miracles are not a daily occurrence, and therefore, they are contradictions to the uniform experience of a human being. Given this background, Hume believes that it is only a fool who can believe in a miracle since a wise person cannot justify miracles unless there is satisfactory evidence. Hume’s view that humans require evidence to prove a miracle hold some weight. However, the assertion that evidence from uniform experiences weighs more than proof from single or rare instances is incorrect.
Hume argues that for a human being to justify a miracle, the event must take place severally, and the uniformed experience functions as the evidence for the existence of miracles (Sezgül 2). However, I do not agree with the philosopher since, in the present age, a majority of the population hold many events as real and miraculous, yet they only occurred once. If it is true that unless an event has occurred many times for it to earn the title of a miracle, then the populations should not believe in the Big Bang theory, for instance.
In the recent times, there are no cases of people landing on the moon and in the history of the world, only Neil Armstrong achieved this goal. These situations happened once, yet many people still see them as miracles. Therefore, these instances of single incidents make Hume’s principle of a uniform experience as a justification for a miracle invalid. Believing Hume’s repeatability principle in judging the existence of miracles is a wrong approach (Mackie 469). The concept makes it irrational for humans to believe in some scientific accounts such as the Big Bang theory and Neil Armstrong’s experience of walking on the moon. These are rare occurrences, and according to Hume, they are a contradiction to the uniform experience.
In the scientific world, the Big Bang theory has a wider acceptance as a miracle, yet the event occurred once thus lacking the satisfactory evidence to back it up as a miracle. Therefore, extraordinary events do not have to happen frequently to give humans the evidence to label them as miracles (Buckle 6). Neil Armstrong’s adventure on the moon and the Big Bang theory are rare events, yet established and accepted by the masses as miracles which thus violate Hume’s view that miracles do not happen.
The repeatability principle is a further nullification of science. The field of science focuses on making new discoveries which bring contradiction to the consistent experience of justifying miracles. The scientific laws do not remain standard since, after every discovery, scientists have to revise the old ones and incorporate the newest contradictory evidence discovered. If there were some validity in Hume’s principle, there would be no need for the scientists to revise the scientific laws. For instance, some of the new scientific discoveries made rendered the Newtonian view of the world invalid, hence its replacement with the Einstein’s view. Such a milestone would have been irrational if Hume’s uniform experience were right. The discovery and acceptance of Einstein’s view of the world were a miracle irrespective of being a single incidence since it contradicts human experience.
Hume’s consistent experience of authenticating a miracle loses significant value by its attempt to raise the justification bar unreasonably high. It uses the rarity aspect as the ground to disqualify a rational belief, yet one of the characteristics that distinguish a miracle from other everyday experiences is the rarity identity. By definition, a miracle is a unique happening that disagrees with the acceptable standards. Hume’s view thus disqualifies all miracles whether they have adequate evidence or not since every miracle is rare (Sezgül 6). It is thus conclusive to argue that miracles are justifiable, and Hume’s philosophy is unacceptable and lacks satisfactory conviction.
Hume’s authentication bar of a miracle equals using a fifty-foot bar in the selection of an ideal high jumper. It is evident that no jumper would qualify irrespective of how talented they prove to be if the relevant authorities set the bar at eight foot. Hume demonstrates he is unreasonable by setting so high standards that no one can come close to achieving them. Any skeptic who argues that the Christian beliefs are false should demonstrate justice by leaving room for the Christians to prove right their claims. Setting high standards to assess the falsification is an indication of a one man’s show where the accused do not have the chance to give their side. Hume is leaving no space for Christians to justify miracles as he has set the miracle authentication bar too high.
Hume’s assertion of miracles is guilty of fallacy since the philosopher does not consider the counterarguments to his opinions. Hume relies on his personal experiences or that of his acquaintances to make an argument. During his time, perhaps Hume encountered persons whose common experiences translated to miracles. The early Christians also used this model to justify miracles since they used the experience of the three women who witnessed the resurrection of Jesus to argue that it is possible for the dead to regain their breath. It is alright for the philosopher to speak authoritatively about a personal experience, but Hume has limits when the ordeal involves another being. It is impossible to rely on Hume’s personal uniform experience to look down on the testimony of a different person whose encounter did not follow the same path.
Hume stands out as a skeptic philosopher able to articulate his skepticism about miracles, unlike others who share similar beliefs (Fogelin 52). In most instances, an atheist is unable to provide an excellent articulation of their opinions, but just display their unacceptance to improbable happenings. Such people express their disbelief in the biblical miracles which they label as being far-fetched (Hájek 84). These skeptics, for instance, cannot come to terms with the possibility of a man rising again after death or blind people regaining their sight. Expressing a healthy skepticism in the case of improbable events, just like Hume does, is acceptable and convincing (Fogelin 53). However, being improbable is not a green light to rejection.
General background knowledge is a factor that can contribute to the uncertainty of an event whereas evidence, which entails a more detailed information about a situation, could reduce the improbability. For example, humans know it is impossible to rise from the dead. This general knowledge increases the improbability of Jesus resurrection as most persons already believe death is the end of human life. However, if there were witnesses who saw Jesus resurrecting, the improbability of rising from the dead is lower. The fact that some people confirmed the resurrection of Jesus justifies the occurrence of the miracle despite the uncertainty presented (Buckle 13). However, the skeptics overlook this fact.
Atheists further argue that testimonies are not valid justifications for a miracle unless the testimony is more falsified than the miracle it is trying to defend (Hájek 87). Whereas the skeptics pay attention to the improbability of miracles, they ignore the fact that the testimony could exist in the absence of a miracle. In Christ’s resurrection, for instance, the early Christians testified the event. The skeptics have the right to label this event as improbable and even disregard the testimonies. However, they also ought to consider the improbability of the possible alternatives to the situation.
A potential option could be that the early Christians did not witness the resurrection of Christ and instead stole the dead body to justify the supernatural power of their God. The belief in this supernatural being did not give them any benefits, for instance, they suffered death through persecution by the non-Christians when they were spreading the good news about the risen Christ. No person will choose to lose their life over a lie. On the same note, if the resurrection of Jesus were a lie as the skeptics suggest, the apostles would have staged unexaggerated accounts of the resurrection. Besides, if the resurrection were false, the apostles would have assigned themselves the role of being first witnesses instead of giving the honor to the women.
Another option that the atheists could consider is the resurrection of Jesus was a mere hallucination of the Christians. However, the Bible rules out this possibility in 1 Corinthians 15:6 which provides more evidence for the resurrection, for instance, St. Paul writes that Jesus made physical appearances to different people and in various situations. Moreover, more than 500 disciples had a firsthand encounter with Jesus after his death when he appeared to them in person. These occurrences are real and untypical of hallucinations (Buckle 30).
Skeptics should thus focus more on the evidence to support a miracle instead of the belief in the existence of miracles. There is no reason to dispute a miracle if there exists sufficient evidence of its occurrence (Orr 1265). It matters not how uncertain an event appears as long as the evidence is trustworthy such as the case of the resurrection of Christ. Hume defines a wise man by his ability to practice caution when dealing with miraculous accounts since to him, even the testimony to back up the occurrence of a miracle is false. However, my view is that a wise man should not ignore the evidence as false. Instead, he should be open enough to establish where the evidence leads regardless of whether the miracle appears extraordinarily strange or improbable (Hájek 102).
In conclusion, miracles are justified unlike Hume’s opinion that a wise man is the one who does not believe in miracles. Hume argues that a miracle must occur repeatedly and uniformly to qualify as a miracle. However, some historical events, such as the Big Bang and Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon are miraculous events, yet they happened once. Miracles exist, but Hume has set the authentication bar too high that he leaves no room for the believers to justify the mysterious nature of an event.
Hájek, Alan. “Are miracles chimerical?” Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion 1 (2008): 82-104.
Fogelin, Robert, J. A. “Defense of Hume on Miracles.” Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010. Pgs. 52-53.
Orr, Robert D. “Responding to patient beliefs in miracles.” Southern medical journal 100.12 (2007): 1263-1267.
Sezgül, İbrahim. “The Concept of Miracle in Hume’s Philosophy.” Journal of History Culture and Art Research 2.4 (2013): 1-12.
Mackie, J. L. “Miracles and Testimony.” Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology (2014): 469.
Buckle, Stephen. “Marvels, Miracles, and Mundane Order.” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 79.1 (2001): 1-31.