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What Would It Mean for an Event to Be a ‘Miracle’ in the Sense that Hume Describes It?

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  1. Introduction
  2. The idea criticised by Robert Hambourger.
  3. applying considerations to miracles and their credibility
  4. Hume's argument against the rationality of believing in miracles
  5. A look at Coleman's lottery example
  6. What Hambourger says could have occurred
  7. Conclusion
  8. Bibliography

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. [...]


[...] As Hume remarks: testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavors to establish . When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened . If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates: then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion (Hume, Enquiries, pp115-116). [...]

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