Miracles - Religious Experience

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					 Miracles – Do They
Hume’s Skeptical Challenge
Which – if any - of these are
 Someone who has been pronounced dead
  comes back to life.
 A person correctly predicts a future
 A large tiger suddenly disappears from a
  cage in front of a large audience.
 Water is changed into wine.
Brief Review of Empiricist
   Empiricism is the view that all claims to
    knowledge must be based on:
      sense experience (evidence or “matters of fact”
     truths of reason (conceptual relations or “relations of

 Knowledge developed from these bases must
follow all the rules of careful reasoning.
Empiricism and belief-formation
   Because the strength of evidence can
    vary, “wise men” will “proportion” their
    beliefs to the evidence.
      Frank brought flowers home to his wife. He
      must be having an affair.

       Frank’s credit card bills show charges for a local
      motel, and he has been spotted leaving the hotel
      once with Joan.
       Frank was caught having sex with Joan multiple
Empiricist Principles
 Beliefs should only be as strong as the
  evidence supporting them.
 Claims with prima facia implausibility
  should not be accepted without strongly
  supportive evidence and argument.
 The authority of witnesses derives from
  witness reliability and “conformity” with
  other facts and other witnesses
Empiricism and Miracles
   Definition: “A miracle is a violation of a law
    of nature.” p. 513. Thus:

       the “argument” against miracles from the start is as
      powerful and compelling as natural law itself.

       only equally powerful and compelling
      argument/evidence can override this presumption of
Hume’s Basic Position
“…no testimony is sufficient to establish a
  miracle, unless the testimony be of such a
  kind, that its falsehood would be more
  miraculous, than the fact, which it
  endeavours to establish…” p. 513

    In other words – the miraculous claim should
    be so obviously true that the conditions under
    which we would question it are not apparent.
Argument for Skepticism - 1
   No miracle is affirmed by enough of the
    right kind of witness, to dispel our doubt of
    their testimony. p. 514

       No self-delusion
       Complete integrity/reliability
       Possessing a good reputation they would not
      want to lose
       Attesting to facts that are/were widely public
      and known
Argument for Skepticism - 2
   Certain human emotions tend to override
    our normal skeptical tendencies with
    respect to that which is called
      Our thinking is naturally and usefully conservative:
     we tend to give credit to thinking/observations
     supported by past experience.

      In contrast, our fascination and wonder at the
     unusual and exotic tend us to believe in the
     apparently miraculous.
Argument for Skepticism - 2

   People respond as much to eloquence as
    to evidence and reasoning.

   There are many instances of forged
    miracles or supernatural events.
Argument for Skepticism – 3 & 4
   Testaments to miracles tend to occur more
    frequently in “ignorant and barbarous
    nations,” or as handed down from such
    primitive origins.

   Every miracle confirming the beliefs of one
    religion counts, eo ipso, against those of
    every other religion, in a mutually
    destructive pattern. p. 515
 Miracles –
 Definitions Revisited
Swinburne and the
Philosophical Issues Connected
to Miracles
A New Definition of “Miracle”
 An event of an extraordinary kind – but
  what counts as “extraordinary”?
 An event caused by a God – or perhaps
  by any rational agent with unusual
 An event of religious significance – but
  what counts as religiously significant?
Extraordinary Events
   These are events that do conflict with
    natural law, in the strong sense, as Hume

 A miracle is a “non-repeatable
counter-instance” of a law of nature (it
would not happen again under similar
instances), no matter how laws of
nature are interpreted.
Natural Law - 1
Universal laws – those which state what
 must happen.
  Example: All material objects are subject to the law of

Universal laws by definition do not allow
for natural exceptions or extraordinary
but still actual events.
Natural Law - 2
Statistical laws – those which state what is
  likely to happen in a particular population
  of things or events
   Example:    in a large sample of coin tosses,
    half will result in “heads” and half in “tails”

Statistical laws allow for individually
unpredictable or highly improbable, but
still actually possible events.
How Can the Extraordinary
All natural laws apply, only given certain
  initial conditions.
   It’s not the case that “all objects fall.”
   It is the case that, given an object’s being in a
   certain state under certain conditions, it will fall.

A “miracle” could be the result of
extraordinary initial conditions which still
follow natural law given those conditions.
God’s Hand in Miracles
Unusual events are not “miraculous,” in the
 common-sense understanding of the term.
  Correctly predicting an event in the future is unusual
  but not necessarily miraculous, in the sense that the
  prediction could have been correct for purely natural
  or coincidental reasons.

Miracles, then, are also considered the work of a
unique power – be it God, or gods or even some
rational agent acting intentionally
Religious Significance
“… an event must contribute significantly
  toward a holy divine purpose for the
  world.” p. 520

     Unusual, and purposive – but this could be
     the activity of a malevolent being. To retain
     the common-sense understanding of a
     miracle, Swinburne adds this condition.
Summary of Swinburne’s Definition
of Miracle
 Statistical natural laws may allow of
  extraordinary but not miraculous events
 Universal natural laws are consistent with
  “non-repeatable counter-instances”

     Miracles - or
     Demonstrations of the limits of our
    current understanding of natural law
Response to Hume
Are there sufficient numbers of witnesses
  whose testimony does agree?
Is there historical but non-testamentary
  forms of evidence (confirmation of
Miracles aren’t necessarily offered as “proof”
  of specific theological doctrines (answers
  to prayers, v. resurrection of Christ)