Challenging Humean Presuppositions

One of the first tasks for the apologist is to understand the arguments of one’s opposition. David Hume and Anthony Flew provide astute arguments against the possibility of the miraculous. But, perhaps the most challenging is the issue behind how to define and defend a miracle in the first place. David Hume writes that a miracle “is a violation of the laws of nature; and as 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” (Hume 1997, 33). Hume continues by claiming that “no 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…the superior only gives us an assurance suitable to that degree of force, which remains, after deducting the inferior” (Hume 1997, 33). In other words, Hume argues that since the laws of nature are so established and a miracle is a violation of such laws, then no amount of human testimony could override the commonly held laws known by every person. Thus, for Hume it would appear that the miraculous is impossible to demonstrate historically since such occasions are inferior to commonly held natural occurrences. The skeptic would merely find some rational way to explain away such an occurrence. So, how might one answer such a claim?

First, it should be duly noted that Hume is operating from a naturalistic presupposition. For Hume, God does not exist, or at least may not, thereby excluding any possibility that God could engage in the natural world. If God were to exist and this God were to interact upon the laws of nature, those laws would be for his to bend and/or suspend. If God is the creator of said natural laws, then it is feasible that God would counteract those laws in times of necessity. Thus, Hume’s argument is guilty of anti-supernatural bias. He has negated the possibility that any miracle could occur while arguing that miracles cannot occur due to natural laws. By Hume’s own reasoning, he demands the need for objective truth which essentially demands for an objective reality—God. Frank Turek makes the argument that “all debates presuppose that an objective truth exists outside the mind of each debater. Each debater is trying to show that his claims are closer to that objective truth than his opponent. Every truth claim—whether it’s ‘God exists’ or ‘God doesn’t exist’—requires unchangeable laws of logic” (Turek 2014, 33). Thus, while Hume seeks to avoid the implications of the divine by dismissing the miraculous, in essence Hume pleads for objective truth which pleads for an eternal objective Mind.

Second, what if the superior claim gives greater assurance to the viability of a certain miraculous event rather than a naturalistic explanation? For instance, a miracle being found in the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for the appearances of Jesus. Hume argues that one cannot accept the testimony of any number of people to assume the validity of a miraculous event. However, what if he were to hear that in the 1960s humanity propelled human beings to the surface of the moon? It may seem improbable that such an occurrence could happen. But what if several individuals claimed to have seen this particular man (Neil Armstrong) walking on the surface of the moon? It may seem fantastic, but Hume would most likely agree that such an occurrence took place. Why then should it be any different for the miraculous unless Hume presupposes that God could not exist? Being a weightlifter, I could lift a bar all day long. However, if one denies my existence, it would seem preposterous that such a bar could move. If there is sufficient historical evidence which demonstrates that Jesus of Nazareth walked out of the tomb on the first Easter Sunday, then one must concede that a miracle took place. If a miracle took place, then one must concede the existence of a divine Being. It must be remembered that “History is a friend of science” (Habermas 2014, Video). For Hume, it appears that his issue is more of an anti-supernatural presupposition rather than an openness to follow the evidence wherever it could lead. As Gary Habermas states, “When I talk about evidence for miracles, I talk about different kinds” (Habermas 2014, Video). Evidence exists for the miraculous and for the resurrection of Christ. That being the case, Hume’s anti-supernatural presuppositions begin to crack at its foundation.


Sources Cited

Habermas, Gary. “Philosophical Objections—Not Enough Evidence.” Liberty University (2014). Video Lecture.

Hume, David. “Of Miracles.” In In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History. Edited by R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1997.

Turek, Frank. Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014.

***Note…the previous article was first posted as an assignment. Thus, please make sure you quote any of the material properly so as to avoid charges of plagiarism.***


Copyright, November 23, 2015. Brian Chilton.

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