Hume's Argument against Miracles

Edited by Daniel von Wachter (International Academy of Philosophy In The Principality of Liechtenstein)
About this topic
Summary David Hume, in Of Miracles (Section X. of An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding), claimed either that, because a miracle would be a ‘violation of the laws of nature’, miracles are impossible or that one cannot have a justified belief that a miracle occurred. This argument has evoked an enormous amount of discussion, both criticising the argument and endorsing the argument. It started right after the publication of Of Miracles and is still going on.
Key works Hume 1985 is the text where Hume presents the argument. Earman 2000 is a rather technical thorough criticism of the argument. Campbell 1839 is one of the many contemporary criticisms of the argument. Mackie 1982 endorses the argument.
Introductions Larmer 1988
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241 found
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1 — 50 / 241
  1. Hume on the Best Attested Miracles.Michael Jacovides - manuscript
    The first argument that Hume offers against believing in miracle stories in Part 2 of his essay on miracles relies on social context in a way that makes it difficult to follow. Hume says that there’s never been a miracle story that’s well enough attested with respect to certain criteria of testimonial strength. A little later in the essay, he cites recent miracle stories coming from that Saint Médard cemetery as meeting the criteria to an exceptionally high degree, but even (...)
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  2. Hume and Catholic Miracles.Michael Jacovides - manuscript
    Two arguments in Hume’s essay on miracles are reductios ad Catholicism: if you believe in the miracles in the Bible, then you ought to believe in Catholic miracles as well. Hume’s intended readers hated Catholicism and would sooner reject miracles than follow the pope. Hume argues that Jansenist miracle stories meet the standards of trustworthiness as well as any miracles in history. He knows that his Protestant believers don’t believe the stories, and he hopes to persuade his readers to reject (...)
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  3. The Stigmata, Rainbow Bodies, and Hume’s Argument Against Miracles.Tyler Dalton McNabb & Erik Baldwin - forthcoming - Journal of the Philosophy and Religion Society of Thailand.
    The testimony that Jesus rose from the dead or that St. Francis miraculously received stigmata is supposed to vindicate Christianity over other religious traditions. Similarly, the rainbow bodies of important spiritual exemplars in Tibetan Buddhism can be taken to justify the Buddhist tradition over its counterparts. What should we believe when the evidence suggests that the competing miracle claims contained in two different religious contexts both happened? One of David Hume's arguments against miracles is that the competing testimonies in diverse (...)
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  4. Locke and Hume on Competing Miracles.Nathan Rockwood - forthcoming - Religious Studies:1-15.
    Christian apologists argue that the testimony of the miracles of Jesus provide evidence for Christianity. Hume tries to undermine this argument by pointing out that miracles are said to occur in other religious traditions and so miracles do not give us reason to believe in Christianity over the alternatives. Thus, competing miracles act as an undercutting defeater for the argument from miracles for Christianity. Yet, before Hume, Locke responds to this kind of objection, and in this paper I explain and (...)
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  5. Two (Failed) Versions of Hume's Argument Against Miracles.Nathan Rockwood - forthcoming - Faith and Philosophy.
    Hume’s argument against believing the testimony of miracles is the most influential treatment of the topic, but there is not yet a consensus on how to interpret his argument. Two arguments are attributed to him. First, Hume seems to start with the infrequency of miracles and uses this to infer that the testimony of a miracle is exceedingly unlikely, and this then creates strong but defeasible evidence against the testimony of any miracle. Second, perhaps Hume takes the constancy of our (...)
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  6. Hume’s ‘Dialogues concerning Natural Religion’: A Critical Guide.Paul Russell (ed.) - forthcoming - Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
    Contributors: -/- John Beatty (British Columbia); Kelly James Clark (Ibn Haldun, Istanbul); Angela Coventry (Portland State); Thomas Holden (UC Santa Barbara); Willem Lemmens (Antwerp); Robin Le Poidevin (Leeds); Jennifer Marusic (Edinburgh); Kevin Meeker (South Alabama); Amyas Merivale (Oxford); Peter Millican (Oxford); Dan O’Brien (Oxford Brookes); Graham Oppy (Monash); Paul Russell (Lund); Andre C. Willis (Brown).
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  7. History and Power in Hume’s ‘Of Miracles’: A Pragmaticist-Historicist Account.Andre C. Willis - 2023 - Contemporary Pragmatism 20 (4):313-333.
    This reconsideration of Hume’s classic essay “Of Miracles” via the lens of American pragmatist ways of thinking about history and power shifts our attention from Hume’s epistemic concerns about the legitimacy of witnesses and testimony to his distaste for sacred history, his critical stance regarding the social force of revelation, and his disdain for religious authority. To view Hume’s essay both as an articulation of a critical philosophy of history and as an exercise in moral dynamism (social power or, authority, (...)
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  8. Hume, Contrary Miracles, and Religion as We Find It.Michael Jacovides - 2022 - History of Philosophy Quarterly 39 (2):147-161.
    In the “Contrary Miracles Argument,” Hume argues that the occurrence of miracle stories in rival religions should undermine our belief in the trustworthiness of these reports. In order for this argument to have any merit, it has to be understood in its historical, religious context. Miracle stories are used in support of religions, and it's part of religion as we find it to reject miracle stories from rival traditions. A defender of miracle stories could avoid the argument by breaking the (...)
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  9. The de jure objection against belief in miracles.Gesiel da Silva - 2021 - Manuscrito 44 (4):434-452.
    Alvin Plantinga (1993a, 1993b, 2000) argues that de jure objections to theism depend on de facto objections: in order to say that belief in God is not warranted, one should first assume that this belief is false. Assuming Plantinga’s epistemology and his de facto/de jure distinction, In this essay, I argue that to show that belief in miracles is not warranted, one must suppose that belief in miracles is always false. Therefore, a person who holds a skeptical position regarding miracles (...)
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  10. UFOs and Hume on Miracles.Benjamin Rossi - 2021 - The Prindle Post.
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  11. Hume's Skepticism and the Problem of Atheism.Paul Russell - 2021 - In Recasting Hume and Early Modern Philosophy: Selected Essays. New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press. pp. 303-339.
    David Hume was clearly a critic of religion. It is still debated, however, whether or not he was an atheist who denied the existence of God. According to some interpretations he was a theist of some kind and others claim he was an agnostic who simply suspends any belief on this issue. This essay argues that Hume’s theory of belief tells against any theistic interpretation – including the weaker, “attenuated” accounts. It then turns to the case for the view that (...)
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  12. David Hume and the Philosophy of Religion.Paul Russell - 2021 - In Stewart Goetz & Charles Taliaferro (eds.), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy of Religion. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 1-20.
    David Hume (1711-1776) is widely recognized as one of the most influential and significant critics of religion in the history of philosophy. There remains, nevertheless, considerable disagreement about the exact nature of his views. According to some, he was a skeptic who regarded all conjectures relating to religious hypotheses to be beyond the scope of human understanding – he neither affirmed nor denied these conjectures. Others read him as embracing a highly refined form of “true religion” of some kind. On (...)
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  13. A Kuhnian critique of Hume on miracles.Joshua Kulmac Butler - 2019 - International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 86 (1):39-59.
    In Part I of “Of Miracles,” Hume argues that belief in miracle-testimony is never justified. While Hume’s argument has been widely criticized and defended along a number of different veins, including its import on scientific inquiry, this paper takes a novel approach by comparing Hume’s argument with Thomas Kuhn’s account of scientific anomalies. This paper makes two arguments: first that certain types of scientific anomalies—those that conflict with the corresponding paradigm theory—are analogous to miracles in the relevant ways. Note, importantly, (...)
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  14. David Hume on Miracles, Evidence, and Probability.William L. Vanderburgh - 2019 - Lanham: Lexington Books.
    Hume says we never have grounds to believe in miracles. He’s right, but many commentators misunderstand his theory of probability and therefore his argument. This book shows that Humean probability descends from Roman law, and once properly contextualized historically and philosophically, Hume’s argument survives the criticisms leveled against it.
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  15. Hume, Defeat, and Miracle Reports.Charity Anderson - 2018 - In Matthew A. Benton, John Hawthorne & Dani Rabinowitz (eds.), Knowledge, Belief, and God: New Insights in Religious Epistemology. Oxford University Press. pp. 13-28.
    This chapter investigates the rationality of failing to believe miracle reports. Hume famously argued that it is irrational to believe that a miracle has occurred on the basis of testimony alone. While certain aspects of Hume's argument have received extensive discussion, other features of his argument have been largely overlooked. After offering a reconstruction of Hume's argument, I argue that epistemic defeat plays a central role in the argument, and I explore the aptness of as well as some limitations to (...)
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  16. Everlasting check or philosophical fiasco: a response to Alexander George’s interpretation of Hume’s ‘Of Miracles’.Robert A. Larmer - 2018 - International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 83 (1):97-110.
    In his The Everlasting Check: Hume on Miracles, Alexander George claims to provide readers with a single unified interpretation of Hume’s ‘Of Miracles’ that demonstrates Hume’s actual argument is philosophically rich and far more robust than is generally thought. This response argues that George is unsuccessful, ignoring crucial passages and misinterpreting others.
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  17. Hume on Laws and Miracles.Nathan Rockwood - 2018 - American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 92 (4).
    Hume famously argues that the laws of nature provide us with decisive reason to believe that any testimony of a miracle is false. In this paper, I argue that the laws of nature, as such, give us no reason at all to believe that the testimony of a miracle is false. I first argue that Hume’s proof is unsuccessful if we assume the Humean view of laws, and then I argue that Hume’s proof is unsuccessful even if we assume the (...)
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  18. Hume’s Critique of Religion: Sick Men’s Dreams, by A. Bailey & D. O'Brien. [REVIEW]Paul Russell - 2018 - Philosophical Quarterly 68 (273):867-70.
    Hume’s Critique of Religion is a valuable and rewarding contribution to Hume scholarship. The atheistic interpretation that the authors defend is well supported and convincingly argued. Although Gaskin’s Hume’s Philosophy of Religion is (rightly) highly regarded, I believe that Bailey and O’Brien provide a more compelling and convincing interpretation. Their account is, in particular, much stronger in respect of the historical background and contextual considerations that they draw on to support of their interpretation. These historical advances are achieved without weakening (...)
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  19. Hume sobre los milagros.Vicente Sanfélix Vidarte & Lidia Tienda Palop - 2018 - Araucaria 20 (40).
    La tesis sostenida por David Hume en su ensayo sobre los milagros, contenida en el capítulo X de su primera Investigación, ha sido objeto continuo de interés. Sus detractores han sostenido que el conjunto del argumento de Hume fracasa. Tras reconstruir los dos argumentos proporcionados por Hume -argumento a priori y argumento a posteriori- proponemos establecer una distinción entre milagrosn y milagros para concluir que el argumento de Hume justifica el escepticismo respecto a estos últimos. En definitiva, el argumento de (...)
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  20. The Everlasting Check: Hume on Miracles, by Alexander George: Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016, pp. xiii + 98, US$24.95. [REVIEW]Wade Robison - 2017 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 95 (4):834-835.
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  21. The Everlasting Check: Hume on Miracles. [REVIEW]Kenneth L. Pearce - 2016 - Journal of the History of Philosophy 54 (4):680-681.
    This book provides a concise treatment of David Hume’s “Of Miracles,” defending both an interpretation of Hume’s argument and an evaluation of its philosophical significance. The philosophical argumentation is consistently rigorous, and the interpretation of Hume is interesting and original.A distinctive aspect of George’s approach, which should have been highlighted in the introduction but was not, is his treatment of “Of Miracles” as a standalone essay. This approach serves to illuminate certain aspects of “Of Miracles,” especially the relationship between the (...)
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  22. Hume and the Independent Witnesses.Arif Ahmed - 2015 - Mind 124 (496):1013-1044.
    The Humean argument concerning miracles says that one should always think it more likely that anyone who testifies to a miracle is lying or deluded than that the alleged miracle actually occurred, and so should always reject any single report of it. A longstanding and widely accepted objection is that even if this is right, the concurring and non-collusive testimony of many witnesses should make it rational to believe in whatever miracle they all report. I argue that on the contrary, (...)
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  23. Providential Naturalism and Miracles: John Fearn's Critique of Scottish Philosophy.Giovanni B. Grandi - 2015 - Journal of Scottish Philosophy 13 (1):75-94.
    According to Thomas Reid, the development of natural sciences following the model of Newton's Principia and Optics would provide further evidence for the belief in a provident God. This project was still supported by his student, Dugald Stewart, in the early nineteenth century. John Fearn , an early critic of the Scottish common sense school, thought that the rise of ‘infidelity’ in the wake of scientific progress had shown that the apologetic project of Reid and Stewart had failed. In reaction (...)
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  24. Against Miracles as Law-Violations: A Neo-Aristotelian Approach.Archer Joel - 2015 - European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 7 (4):83--98.
    Miracles are commonly understood in the way David Hume defined them: as violations of the laws of nature. I argue, however, that the conjunction of Hume’s definition with a neo-Humean view of the laws of nature yields objectionable consequences. In particular, the two jointly imply that some miracles are logically impossible. A better way of thinking about miracles, I suggest, is on a neo-Aristotelian metaphysics. On that view, the laws of nature contain built-in ceteris paribus clauses that allow for the (...)
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  25. Is Hume's Critique of Induction Self‐Defeating?Charles Cassini - 2014 - Heythrop Journal 55 (1).
  26. Per posterius: Hume and Peirce on miracles and the boundaries of the scienti c game.Tritten Tyler - 2014 - Argument: Biannual Philosophical Journal 4 (2).
    this article provides a response to David Hume’s argument against the plausibility of miracles as found in Section 10 of his An enquiry concerning human understanding by means of Charles Sanders Peirce’s method of retroduction, hypothetic inference, and abduction, as it is explicated and applied in his article entitled A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God, rather than fo‐ cusing primarily on Peirce’s explicit reaction to Hume in regard to miracles, as found in Hume on miracles. the main focus (...)
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  27. Exhuming the No-Miracles Argument.Colin Howson - 2013 - Analysis 73 (2):205-211.
    The No-Miracles Argument has a natural representation as a probabilistic argument. As such, it commits the base-rate fallacy. In this article, I argue that a recent attempt to show that there is still a serviceable version that avoids the base-rate fallacy fails, and with it all realistic hope of resuscitating the argument.
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  28. Earman on Hume on Miracles.Peter Millican - 2013 - In Stewart Duncan & Antonia LoLordo (eds.), Debates in Modern Philosophy: Essential Readings and Contemporary Responses. Routledge. pp. 271.
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  29. Defending Humility.Michael W. Austin - 2012 - Philosophia Christi 14 (2):461-470.
    In this philosophical note I first offer a brief sketch of a Christian conception of humility. Next, I consider two criticisms of the claim that humility is a virtue, one from David Hume and a second from contemporary philosopher Tara Smith. What follows in this note is not a comprehensive defense of the claim that humility is a virtue. However, if humility is not a virtue, it will be for reasons other than those proffered by Hume and Smith, as their (...)
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  30. Does it Matter whether a Miracle-Like Event Happens to Oneself rather than to Someone Else?Luc Bovens - 2012 - In Jake Chandler & Victoria S. Harrison (eds.), Probability in the Philosophy of Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 64-75.
    Let a miracle-like event be an event that is seemingly indicative of the existence of an all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful being, and yet might occur in a naturalistic world, though this would be very improbable. Suppose that a third-person report is equally as reliable as a first-person experience of such a miracle-like event — which avoids Hume’s objection to the evidential value of reports of miracles. The question addressed in this chapter is: Is it the case that, under the assumption (...)
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  31. Hume on Miracles.Yann Schmitt - 2012 - Forum Philosophicum: International Journal for Philosophy 17 (1):49-71.
    Hume’s chapter “Of Miracles” has been widely discussed, and one issue is that Hume seems to simply beg the question. Hume has a strong but implicit naturalist bias when he argues against the existence of reliable testimony for miracles. In this article, I explain that Hume begs the question, despite what he says about the possibility of miracles occurring. e main point is that he never describes a violation of the laws of nature that could not be explained by scientific (...)
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  32. Jesu oppstandelse og naturloven.Ralph Henk Vaags - 2012 - Norsk Filosofisk Tidsskrift 47 (4):259-269.
    In this article, I defend the possibility of understanding the resurrection of Jesus as an event within the framework of natural laws. In this way, the resurrection is not necessarily contrary to Natural Science or belief in the existence of Natural laws. I offer, at the same time, a critique of one of David Hume's arguments against the belief in miracles.
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  33. Hume's Argument against Miracles.Tommaso Piazza - 2011-09-16 - In Michael Bruce & Steven Barbone (eds.), Just the Arguments. Wiley‐Blackwell. pp. 44–48.
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  34. On Some Limitations of Humean Disagreement: Miraculous Testimony and Contrary Religions.Paul Dicken - 2011 - Sophia 50 (3):345-355.
    As part of his wider critique of the credibility of miraculous testimony, Hume also offers a rather curious argument as to the mutual detriment of conflicting testimony for the miracles of contrary religious worldviews. Scholarship on this aspect of Hume’s reasoning has debated whether or not the considerations are to be understood as essentially probabilistic, and as to whether or not a probabilistic interpretation of the argument is logically valid. The consensus would appear to offer a positive answer to the (...)
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  35. Misunderstanding Hume’s Argument against Miracles.Robert Larmer - 2011 - Philosophia Christi 13 (1):155-163.
    In his recent paper, “Understanding David Hume’s Argument against Miracles,” Gregory Bock takes the increasingly popular position that Hume’s intent in “Of Miracles” was not to argue that testimony is in principle incapable of grounding a rational belief in miracles, but rather that it is in principle incapable of grounding a rational belief in miracles that could act as the foundation for a religion. I argue that this interpretation of the text does not withstand critical scrutiny.
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  36. "Locke's influence in Hume's religious skepticism" of miracles".Jose R. Maia Neto - 2011 - Kriterion: Journal of Philosophy 52 (124):491-508.
  37. Twenty Questions about Hume's “Of Miracles”.Peter Millican - 2011 - Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 68:151-192.
    Hume's essay on the credibility of miracle reports has always been controversial, with much debate over how it should be interpreted, let alone assessed. My aim here is to summarise what I take to be the most plausible views on these issues, both interpretative and philosophical, with references to facilitate deeper investigation if desired. The paper is divided into small sections, each headed by a question that provides a focus. Broadly speaking, §§1–3 and §20 are on Hume's general philosophical framework (...)
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  38. Hume's argument against miracles.Tommaso Piazza - 2011 - In Michael Bruce & Steven Barbone (eds.), Just the Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Arguments in Western Philosophy. Wiley-Blackwell.
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  39. Hume’s Miracles.Paul Warwick - 2011 - Philosophy Now 83:16-17.
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  40. Understanding David Hume’s Argument against Miracles.Gregory L. Bock - 2010 - Philosophia Christi 12 (2):373-391.
    The proper interpretation of Hume’s argument against miracles in Section 10 of An Inquiry concerning Human Understanding has been heavily debated. In this paper, I argue that Hume’s main argument has the intended conclusion that there can never be a sufficient justification for believing that a miracle has occurred on the basis of testimony sufficient to make it a basis for a religion. I also consider and argue against other common readings.
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  41. Miracles.George N. Schlesinger - 2010 - In Charles Taliaferro, Paul Draper & Philip L. Quinn (eds.), A Companion to Philosophy of Religion. Oxford, UK: Wiley‐Blackwell. pp. 398–404.
    This chapter contains sections titled: What is a Miracle? Hume's Challenge Price's Argument The Case of the Church Choir Acknowledging Miracles Arguments for and Against Conclusion Works cited.
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  42. The Philosophy of Miracles – By David Corner.Brad Kallenberg - 2009 - Modern Theology 25 (4):694-697.
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  43. Interpreting Hume on miracles.Robert A. Larmer - 2009 - Religious Studies 45 (3):325-338.
    Contemporary commentators on Hume’s essay, "Of Miracles" have increasingly tended to argue that Hume never intended to suggest that testimonial evidence must always be insufficient to justify belief in a miracle. This is in marked contrast to earlier commentators who interpreted Hume as intending to demonstrate that testimonial evidence is incapable in principle of ever establishing rational belief in a miracle. In this article I argue that this traditional interpretation is the correct one.
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  44. Vindicating a Bayesian Approach to Confirming Miracles: A Response to Jordan Howard Sobel's Reading of Hume.John DePoe - 2008 - Philosophia Christi 10 (1):229 - 238.
    This paper defends a Bayesian approach to confirming a miracle against Jordan Howard Sobel’s recent novel interpretation of Hume’s criticisms. In his book, ’Logic and Theism’, Sobel offers an intriguing and original way to apply Hume’s criticisms against the possibility of having sufficient evidence to confirm a miracle. The key idea behind Sobel’s approach is to employ infinitesimal probabilities to neutralize the cumulative effects of positive evidence for any miracle. This paper aims to undermine Sobel’s use of infinitesimal probabilities to (...)
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  45. Religious Experience.Travis Dumsday - 2008 - International Philosophical Quarterly 48 (3):371-379.
    Hume’s destructive account of miracles has been thought by many to exclude the possibility of rationally accepting testimony to supernatural events. Here I argue that even if one grants that his argument works with respect to testimony about miracles, it does not succeed in showing that all testimony to the supernatural is inadmissible, since room is left open for religious experiences, especially those of an intersubjective kind, to function as evidence. If this is so, there is new reason to think (...)
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  46. Are Miracles Chimerical?Alan Hájek - 2008 - Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion 1:82-104.
    I analyze David Hume’s "Of Miracles". I vindicate Hume’s argument against two charges: that it (1) defines miracles out of existence; (2) appeals to a suspect principle of balancing probabilities. He argues that miracles are, in a certain sense, maximally improbable. To understand this sense, we must turn to his notion of probability as ’strength of analogy’: miracles are incredible, according to him, because they bear no analogy to anything in our past experience. This reveals as anachronistic various recent Bayesian (...)
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  47. Review of: Hume, Holism, and Miracles; Hume's Abject Failure; A Defense of Hume on Miracles. [REVIEW]Michael Jacovides - 2008 - Philosophical Review 117 (1):142-147.
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  48. C. S. Lewis’s Critique of Hume’s “on Miracles”.Robert Larmer - 2008 - Faith and Philosophy 25 (2):154-171.
    In this article I argue that C. S. Lewis is both a perceptive reader and trenchant critic of David Hume’s views on miracle.
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  49. Hume on Miracles and Immortality.Michael P. Levine - 2008 - In Elizabeth S. Radcliffe (ed.), A Companion to Hume. Oxford, UK: Blackwell. pp. 353–370.
    This chapter contains section titled: Context: Irrelevant and Relevant Hume's Argument against Justified Belief in Miracles Explained Immortality References Further Reading.
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  50. Jesus and the eyewitnesses: The gospels as eyewitness testimony. By Richard Bauckham.Gerald O'Collins - 2008 - Heythrop Journal 49 (2):309–310.
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