Two (Failed) Versions of Hume's Argument Against Miracles

Faith and Philosophy (forthcoming)
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Abstract

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 experience of the laws of nature as decisive or indefeasible evidence against the testimony of any miracle. I explain the basis for each of these interpretations of Hume’s argument, and then develop a novel criticism of his view: namely, any inductive inference depends on the relevant similarity between the observed and the unobserved, but we may have reason for thinking that purported miracles are not relevantly similar, and thus our past experience cannot be used as reliable evidence about the testimony of (some) miracles.

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Nathan Rockwood
Brigham Young University

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