Hume and Catholic Miracles

Abstract

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 any testimony that falls short of that standard. In the ‘Contrary Religions Argument,’ Hume argues that contrary religions should undermine our belief in the trustworthiness of miracle reports. The main contrary religion Hume has in mind is Catholicism, since most miracles stories are Catholic, and Hume’s readers would have rejected them out of hand. He then concludes that if most religiously motivated testimony for miracles is false such testimony is generally unreliable, including testimony for Biblical miracles.

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Michael Jacovides
Purdue University

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