David Hume

Philosopher and champion of materialism, 1711-1776

Hume is widely considered to be the materialist "Big Bad Wolf" that gobbled up Paley and cleared the way for science's war against religion.

Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then evil?" p. 244

Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

"Abstract of a Treatise on Human Nature", Indiana, Hackett Publishing Co., 1993.

Statement of the "Problem of Induction" 4.1, p. 15.

"All events seem entirely loose and separate. One event follows another; but we never can observe any tie between them. They seem conjoined, but never connected." In description of a billiard cue stick and ball "he could not pronounce that the one event was connected but only that it was conjoined with the other. After he has observed several instances of this nature, he then pronounces them to be connected. What alteration has happened to give rise to this new idea of connection? Nothing, but that he now feels these events to be connected in his imagination, and can readily foretell the existence of one from the appearance of the other. When we say, therefore, that one object is connected with another, we mean only that they have acquired a connection in our thought ..." 7.2 p. 49.

"a wise man proportions his belief to the evidence." p 73.

"A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience as can be imagined. ... It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed, in any age or country. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation." 10.1 pp 76-77

"No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood be more miraculous, than the fact which it endeavors to establish. ...When anyone tells me he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relatees, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greaer miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not until then, can he pretend to command my belief or attention." p77.

Lennox responds to this in Ch 12 of God's Undertaker, and Anthony Flew, a long-time champion of Hume's, responds as well. Lennox analyzes Hume's two arguments:

  1. There is an argument from the uniformity of nature
    • Miracles are violations of the laws of nature.
    • These laws have been established by 'firm and unalterable' experience.
    • Therefore, the argument against miracles is as good as any argument from experience can be.
  2. There is an argument from the uniformity of experience.
    • Unusual, yet frequently observed, events are not miracles - like a healthy person suddenly dropping dead.
    • A resurrection would be a miracle because it has never been observed anywhere at any time.
    • There is uniform experience against every miraculous event; otherwise it would not be called miraculous.

Hume's arguments against miracles appear to open the door theoretically, but then close it again. Lennox on p203 of God's Undertaker summarizes Hume's logic as follows:

  1. The laws of nature describe regularities
  2. Miracles are singularities, exceptions to the regular course of nature, and so are exceedingly rare.
  3. Evidence for what is regular and repeatable must always be more than evidence for what is singular and unrepeatable.
  4. The wise man bases his belief on the weight of evidence.
  5. Therefore no wise man can ever believe in a miracle.
Windows of Creation
Evidence from nature Is the universe designed?
  Reasonable Faith Go Back