Tag Archives: miracles

David Hume

[S]uppose, that all the historians who treat of England, should agree, that, on the first of January 1600, Queen Elizabeth died; that both before and after her death she was seen by her physicians and the whole court, as is usual with persons of her rank; that her successor was acknowledged and proclaimed by the parliament; and that, after being interred a month, she again appeared, resumed the throne, and governed England for three years: I must confess that I should be surprized at the concurrence of so many odd circumstances, but should not have the least inclination to believe so miraculous an event. I should not doubt of her pretended death, and of those other public circumstances that followed it: I should only assert it to have been pretended, and that it neither was, nor possibly could be real. You would in vain object to me the difficulty, and almost impossibility of deceiving the world in an affair of such consequence; the wisdom and solid judgment of that renowned queen; with the little or no advantage which she could reap from so poor an artifice: All this might astonish me; but I would still reply, that the knavery and folly of men are such common phaenomena, that I should rather believe the most extraordinary events to arise from their concurrence, than admit of so signal a violation of the laws of nature.

David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, London, 1748, sect. 10, pt. 2

C. D. Broad

[A] religious enthusiast demands very much less proof for the alleged miracles of his own religion than for those of any other religion or for quite ordinary stories about everyday affairs. (I myself have a Scottish friend who believes all the miracles of the New Testament, but cannot be induced to believe, on the repeated evidence of my own eyes, that a small section of the main North British Railway between Dundee and Aberdeen consists of a single line.)

C. D. Broad, ‘Hume’s Theory of the Credibility of Miracles’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol. 17 (1916-1917), p. 81

David Hume

Upon the whole, then, it appears, that no testimony for any kind of miracle has ever amounted to a probability, much less to a proof; and that, even supposing it amounted to a proof, it would be opposed by another proof; derived from the very nature of the fact, which it would endeavour to establish. It is experience only, which gives authority to human testimony; and it is the same experience, which assures us of the laws of nature. When, therefore, these two kinds of experience are contrary, we have nothing to do but subtract the one from the other, and embrace an opinion, either on one side or the other, with that assurance which arises from the remainder. But according to the principle here explained, this subtraction, with regard to all popular religions, amounts to an entire annihilation; and therefore we may establish it as a maxim, that no human testimony can have such force as to prove a miracle, and make it a just foundation for any such system of religion.

David Hume, An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, London, 1748, sect. 10, pt. 2