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David Hume

When we run over libraries, persuaded of [my] principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance, let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion
–David Hume

David Hume (1711-1776) was a Scottish empiricist philosopher, historian, and economist who had enormous impact on the Western world. He developed a revolutionary view of causality, dealt with the problem of induction, and drew the distinction between fact and meaning. He was also a fierce, relentless critic of metaphysics and religion.

Hume embraced the Enlightenment ideal and sought to destroy religion. His arguments, attitudes, and sentiments still inspire modern opponents of Christianity. Christians can therefore equip themselves for confrontations with modern skeptics by becoming familiar with Hume’s worldview, logic, and eloquence.

Hume deployed a thorough skepticism to reject revealed religion. He did so by cutting humans off from any true understanding of external objects and their relationships. Instead, humans can only (1) know objects in terms of what their senses tell them and (2) know the relationship between objects in terms of resemblance, contiguity, and priority (cause/effect). Necessity, cause, and effect, etc. are all products of the human mind. Nothing can be known about an external object prior to experience. Humans, like animals, apprehend external objects and their relationships on the basis of custom (instinct) apart from reason.

According to Hume, the application of reason to all of the above exposed belief in miracles as grossly irrational. Experiences of fraud and misunderstanding will always trump the possibility of miracles.

Even so, Hume saw total skepticism as having no value. But moderate skepticism is desirable because it protects from superstition (religion).

Hume is powerful, but not unanswerable.

For example, his arguments against miracles would prevent belief in any unusual event.

His sarcasm, irony, and deprecation often substituted for argumentation.

Hume shut off the possibility of ever “proving” a miracle with an unstated, circular presupposition. To wit, since proof is the evidence required to convince, proof of a miracle became impossible because Hume allowed no amount of evidence as sufficient to do so.

But wait a minute… A miracle would not cease to be a miracle if it could be explained scientifically.

The “when” of an event can be just as miraculous as its “how.”

Hume’s explanation of God as an extension of one’s own powers to infinity illustrates the “genetic fallacy”–the argument that something can’t be true because of how it originated.

His characterization of miracles as arising only among ignorant and uncivilized peoples doesn’t recognize the possibility that more sophisticated cultures may not experience miracles precisely because they have developed way of thinking that filter miracles out of their perceptions.

–Bill Brewer

Bill Brewerbrewewt

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