Hume’s Argument Against Miracles

Modern skepticism concerning the gospel miracles first asserted itself by denying the miraculous nature of the events. Soon, however, the historicity of the events themselves was denied. Behind this skepticism lay the broad conception of a Newtonian world-machine, the arguments of Spinoza against the possibility of miracles, and the arguments of Hume against the identification of miracles. Counterpoised to these attacks were the defenses of miracles written by Le Clerc, Clarke, Less, Paley, and others. An assessment of the debate shows that, contra the Newtonian conception, miracles should not be understood as violations of the laws of nature, but as naturally impossible events. Contra Spinoza, admission of miracles would not serve to subvert natural law, and the possibility that a miracle is a result of an unknown natural law is minimized when the miracles are numerous, various, momentous, and unique. Contra Hume, it is question-begging or invalid to claim that uniform experience is against miracles.

“The Problem of Miracles: A Historical and Philosophical Perspective.” In Gospel Perspectives VI, pp. 9-40. Edited by David Wenham and Craig Blomberg. Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1986.

Unlike Spinoza, who attacked the very possibility of miracles, David Hume attacked the possibility of identifying miracles in his essay Of Miracles.