On Hume's Philosophical Case against Miracles

In Christopher Bernard (ed.), God Matters: Readings in the Philosophy of Religion. Longman Publications (2003)

Authors
Daniel Howard-Snyder
Western Washington University
Abstract
According to the Christian religion, Jesus was “crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again”. I take it that this rising again—the Resurrection of Jesus, as it’s sometimes called—is, according to the Christian religion, an historical event, just like his crucifixion, death, and burial. And I would have thought that to investigate whether the Resurrection occurred, we would need to do some historical research: we would need to assess the reliability of the New Testament documents and related manuscripts; we would need to look into the credibility of the witnesses to his post-mortem appearances, the empty tomb, and the like. The task looks rather daunting. But, according to David Hume, we don’t have to do anything of the kind. For no matter how strong the testimony in favor of a miracle is—indeed, even if we “suppose…that the testimony considered apart and in itself, amounts to an entire proof”—we have at our disposal a “full proof…against the existence of any miracle”. So we can avoid all that tedious historical work. We can simply use Hume’s shortcut, a proof against the existence of any miracle, and hence a proof against the Resurrection. So Hume says he has a “a decisive argument,” “an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion,” superstitious delusions like the Resurrection. There is good news and bad news in Hume’s proclamation. The good news is that he really has two arguments, not just one—or, at any rate, many scholars discern in his writings two arguments. The bad news is that neither succeeds; at any rate, try as I might, I can’t see how they do.
Keywords theism  Christianity  miracles  David Hume  Jesus  resurrection  atheism
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