Dr. Ari Santas’ Notes on

Hume Enquiry, Section X,

Part I


A.     The Issue

      ·  Hume considers the question of miracles

·  People hold them as important because they point to the existence of supernatural forces and hence to supernatural beings - e.g. God

·  The problem with believing them is twofold:

1)      Scientifically, if there are exceptions t natural laws, they throw a monkey wrench into our powers of predictability and leave too much unexplained

            ·  Stopping the sun

2)      Theologically, one wonders why God needs to intervene if he planned it all to begin with

            ·  Does God change His mind?

            ·  Does God make mistakes?


B.     Uniformity and Belief

·  If you recall from section VI, experience yields different degrees of uniformity for different things

·  If the only thing that influenced our beliefs was degree of uniformity, then our beliefs would be directly proportional in strength to the degree of uniformity

·  If we trust the less uniform, we are apt to fall into error

·  A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence

      ·  His belief in an event is as strong as its conformity to the uniformity of nature

·  A proof consists in a complete uniformity

·  A probability consists in the ration of the event to its contrary

      ·  Whether we should believe in a probability depends on how big it is


C.     Testimony

      ·  The way in which we learn about miracles

      ·  Beyond our own experience, we know about the world through others

      ·  We depend on human testimony to fashion our beliefs

      ·  Nothing is more common or useful in our inquiries

      ·  Why do we believe them?

·  Because we see a causal relation between what the testifier says and the events that occur

·  Insofar as there is a constant conjunction between the testimony and facts, we can infer the fact from the given testimony

·  So we can trust testimony on the same criteria as all inference - uniformity of experience

D.     Believing Testimony

·  When there is a complete uniformity between the testifier in question and the truth, we should believe him/her

      ·  This amounts to proof

·  When there is an incomplete uniformity between the testifier and the truth, we should trust him/her less

      ·  This amounts to probablity

·  When there is no uniformity, we should not trust it at all!

      ·  This is proof against

·  The degree of probability, and hence how much we should believe is a function of the ratio of truth-to-falsehood of the testimonies in the past


E.      Disbelieving Testimonies

      ·  There are Four Basic Reasons to disbelieve a given testimony:

1)      There is opposing testimony (conflict)

2)       The Testifier is of a poor character (apt to lie)

3)       There are very few corraborating witnesses (especially if it is incredible)

4)       Testimony is presented in a suspicious manner (over excited, nervous)


F.      Miracles

·  The definition of a miracle is basically this: miracle - a violation of the laws of nature

·  That is, it is a (purported) event that has no cause

·  It is a denial of our most uniform experiences

·  That means that by definition, a miracle has proof against it

·  If we find incomplete evidence for it, we no longer have a miracle, since evidence includes uniformity

·  A Test: what is more miraculous (unlikely), that the testifier is a liar (or deceived) or that the event occurred?

      ·  Choose the least miraculous to believe


Part II


A.     First Reason Not to Believe

      ·  There has never been a testimony:

1)      Attested to by a great number of men;

2)        Of unqualified good sense (not easily duped);

3)        Of credit and reputation (much to lose);

4)        In an open and public manner that lends itself to verification

·  In short, the requirements for believable testimony given an unlikely or implausible event have never been met


B.     Second Reason Not to Believe

·  Belief is a feeling produced by habit which accompanies an idea in such a way as to make it forceful and strong

·  If we are just appealing to experience, we could never believe in miracles - only imagine them

·  We happen to believe in them because the feelings (passions) of surprise and wonder interfere, making otherwise dull ideas lively and forceful:

1)      We are prompted to believe in fantasies because we would like to;

2)       We are prompted to embellish stories because it gives us more attention;

3)       Combined with religious enthusiasm, we are prompted to stretch the truth for a "good" cause;

4)       Combined with greed and religion, prompts us to lie and dupe the public


C.     Third Reason Not to Believe

      ·  We never hear about them in our neighborhood, or in our lifetime, for that matter

      ·  Reports of miracles always come from places far away in space and time

1)      Come from barbarous and ignorant people who are likely to be duped by some trickery;

2)       None seem to ever occur in our age and place yet we still believe;

3)       Such reports can never be trusted because we cannot conduct a proper inquiry on events that far from us


D.     Fourth Reason Not to Believe

·  The significance of miracles is that they are used as evidence to prove that a given religion has the correct view of the supernatural

·  A miracle is something that cannot be explained naturally, hence, the existence of one points to supernatural beings

·  The problem is, all religions have their own miracles which only prove their religion

·  So there has never been a report of a miracle not contradicted by a multitude of contrary reports

1)      Since miracles "prove" their religion, and only their religion, and since all religions tend to claim this;

2)       Every report from one religion, therefore, is denied by another


E.      Conclusions

      ·  There cannot be a proof that a miracle has occurred

·  There cannot even be a probability that a miracle has occurred, since it, by definition, has proof against it

·  Even if there were a proof, it would still be countered by another proof - law of nature

·  Question: What about impeccable testimony

1)      Sun disappears - cannot be a hoax - look for the cause

2)       Queen Elizabeth resurrected? - could be a hoax

      ·  Bottom Line:

            ·  If it happened…it is not a miracle

            ·  If it is miraculous…it could not have happened




A.     The Issue

      ·  The question of section X is, should we believe in miracles?

·  Hume believes that his account of causality and his common sense prescriptions on what to believe clearly tells us not to believe in them

·  A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature

·  Hence, it amounts to a denial of the most regular patterns in our experience

·  It is a denial of the most uniform of our experiences

·  It is an event which by definition has proof against it!


B.     Testimony

      ·  Hume says that the way we know about miracles is through the testimony of others

      ·  We never see them ourselves - we hear about them 2nd, 3rd, 4th, …nth hand!

      ·  Should we believe in such testimony?

            ·  To answer that we must consider when, in general, testimony is trustworthy

      ·  Testimony is trustworthy, insofar as it is strongly correlated with the facts

            ·  Is there a constant conjunction between the testifier and the facts?

      ·  The degree of uniformity in this conjunction should determine the level of belief


C.     Problems in Testimony

·  When deciding whether to believe someone, there are a number of things to take into account

·  If the event is likely, then testimony is not that problematic, but if it is unlikely, or implausible, we must hold fast to criteria for evaluating testimony

·  Factors to consider:

1)      Is the testifier trustworthy?

            ·  Are they known to lie?

2)      Does the testifier have something to gain from our credulity?

3)       Are there conflicting testimonies?

4)       Does the testifier appear calm and rational?

5)       Are there corraborating witnesses?

·  The test: which is more miraculous - that the testifier is lying or deceived, or that the event happened?

      ·  Choose the least miraculous

Criticism: A Dialogue on Miracles


Re: The Sun's Disappearance


Q:  What is more important for an empiricist, observation or theory?

A:   Observation.

Q:  Aren't you trying to refute a fact with a theory?

A:   I am talking about a testimony that is opposed by uniformity.

Q:  And if the testimony is adequate?

A:   Then there must be a hidden cause.

Q:  Are you reverting to the old view of causality?

A:   I appeal to causes insofar as they are in my experience.

Q:  What if experience has yet to show you exceptions to certain casual relations?

A:   Until it does, I will not believe otherwise.

Q:  What would it take, a miracle?

A:   No, I do not believe in them!