In this essay, I hope to show that some of the criticisms levelled against Hume, especially those by Robert Hambourger (1980), are not effective in their attempts to erode Hume's argument. These issues were discussed in an article by Dorothy Coleman (1988), which I will use to outline the problems with Hambourger's arguments.
Firstly, I will give an interpretation of Hume's definition of a miracle, as discussed in his Enquiries Concerning Human the Understanding (Selby-Bigge ed, 1975).
[...] This example, as Coleman says, must be analogous to evaluating the credibility of a report of an improbable event in the sense that the event does not conform to causal laws pertaining to its event type, rather than in the sense that the statistical odd are against it. Furthermore, she says it must be analogous to our situation of not fully knowing the laws of nature, as in the only way we can know anything about nature is to form generalisations from recurring patterns within our experience. [...]
[...] For an event to be a miracle, it must be inexplicable in terms of what the laws of nature actually are, not just what they appear to be or we believe them to be. If the aforementioned event has no readily available natural explanation, then it could be that the laws of nature were not what they appeared to be. For example, someone could have learnt, without anyone else's knowledge, how clouds really work, and used this to write the words of the bible into the cloud. [...]
[...] This is because when you look at testimony you cannot “factor out the plausibility of what one reports, consider the remaining factors without it, and then, by weighing the two together, arrive at the probability that a report is true.” (Hambourger p599). The point of this argument to show that Hume falsely assumes that the predictability of an event must have a bearing on the credibility of a report of the event once it has occurred” (Coleman p5). However, Coleman believes, and I am inclined to agree, that Hambourger's criticism is not as damaging as he makes it out to be. One reason for this is that Hambourger overlooks the two senses of the word probability. [...]
[...] Hambourger believes that it may be rational and reasonable to infer that a miracle has occurred provided it meets two factors: The event is sufficiently well testified to warrant the belief that the event has occurred Without any plausible explanation, and, It is the type of event that would be appropriate for God to cause. Hambourger does not give an argument to support these factors, but uses examples that he believes establish his case. I will look at the Hambourger example that Coleman (1988, p11) analyses, which is as follows: all records and accounts from the beginning of the last century agreed that on January in all parts of the earth, the clouds of each region began to spell out the Old Testament with perfect precision and in the language of the region, and that they continued to do so for several weeks until the new Testament was completed, then I think it would be hard to escape the conclusion that a miracle had occurred. [...]
[...] It might be seen that this approach is a form of dogmatic objection of the supernatural in that it always puts the weight of evidence in favour of rejecting the claim that an event is a violation of natural law. It is claimed that if one assumes that God exists, then an event that has no natural explanation must be an appropriate event for God to cause. However, it seems that this is a mistake, because unless every event that has no natural explanation is seen as an appropriate act of God, there is no way to differentiate between the appropriate and non-appropriate ones. [...]
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