Hume Essay, Research Paper
In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Hume emphasizes his belief that all knowledge is based upon our own experience. The foundation of Christianity is based on the testimony of the Apostles, who supposedly witnessed the miracles of the Savior, Jesus. Through these miracles the Savior proved his divine mission and thus, the backbone for Christianity was formed. The testimony of the Apostles is not knowledge based upon our own experience, but rather on the experiences others claimed they had.
Hume admits that using experience as the only guide in reasoning concerning factual matters is not infallible. He offers an example. One who in our climate should expect better weather in any week of June than in one of December would reason justly and conformably to experience, but it is certain that he may happen, in the event, to find himself mistaken. However, we may observe that in such a case he would have no cause to complain of experience, because it commonly informs us beforehand of the uncertainty by that contrariety of events which we may learn from a diligent observation (Hume 74).
In concerning matters of fact, there are certain degrees of assurance, in all essence, probability. It is more probable that one would find better weather in June than in December. Based on the probability, the wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. Hume offers the example of an experiment where there are two possible outcomes, let s call them outcome A and outcome B. Furthermore, outcome A and outcome B are opposite experiences whereby one destroys the other if proven to be true. If the experiment were run two hundred times and outcome A was observed one-hundred and ninety-nine times and outcome B was observed only once, one could believe with much assurance that outcome A is the true. However, if outcome A was observed one hundred and twenty-five times and outcome B was observed seventy-five times, one cannot believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that outcome A is true.
Hume states that, 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 that can possibly be imagined (Hume 78). All of our lives we have experienced nature and a very insignificant part of the population can ever say that they observed a miracle, so little in fact, just as outcome B was observed in the first instance of the example stated above, there is no reason to doubt nature and accept miracles. Since a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature, both nature and miracles can not exist without disproving the other.
It is not a miracle if a seemingly healthy man were to die all of the sudden because that kind of death has been observed throughout the ages enough times to warrant it as true. But it would be a miracle if that dead man were to come to life again. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not be called miraculous. And since a uniform experience amounts to a proof, that in it self is a proof against the existence of any miracle. The result is that no testimony is adequate enough to substantiate a miracle.
Testimony of the past on miracles has been taken too liberally. There is not to be found, in all history, any miracle attested by a sufficient number of men of such unquestioned good sense, education, and learning as to secure us against all delusion in themselves; of such undoubted integrity as to place them beyond all suspicion of any design to deceive others; of such credit and reputation in the eyes of mankind as to have a great deal to lose in case of their being detected in any falsehood, and at the same time attesting facts performed in such a public manner and in so celebrated a part of the world as to render the detection unavoidable – all which circumstances are requisite to give us a full assurance of the testimony of men (Hume 80).
Furthermore, the feeling of wonder and surprise associated with miracles brings with them a propensity for belief as well as admiration of the beholder. Such was true when sea captains came back to port with tales of gigantic sea monsters or when other travelers came back with other wondrous tales. Such is the same with a religious enthusiast who knows such tales about his own religion to be false but might still tell it with the best intentions of promoting a holy cause. Even when this delusion has not taken place, maybe vanity and self-interest compels the enthusiast to tell his story to be true. It is natural for humans to believe these tales because of the feelings it excites.
It forms a strong presumption against all supernatural and miraculous relations that they are observed chiefly to abound among ignorant and barbarous nations (Hume 82). In the beginnings of nations, it was not battles, revolutions, pestilence, famine or death that are the natural causes we experience, but rather prodigies, omens, and oracles. However, this list of supernatural causes grows thinner every day. If the ancient Israelites were to see the northern lights in all their glory, they would surely think it a sign from god although we well know today that the northern lights are formed by light refracted through ice crystals in the air.
The final argument Hume offers against miracles as the basis for religion is that the testimony itself disproves itself. Every religion has supposedly witnessed a miracle. This miracle is a sign from god to give them direction and establish their religion but also to disprove all other religions. In destroying a religion, it also disproves all miracles associated with it, and thus, all religions destroy each other.
Human beings are creatures of habit. It is in our nature to believe one another, not taking into account selfish-motives or delusion among other harmful attributes. It is also in our nature to believe that there is always someplace better than where we are. If it s a job, there has to be a better one out there. Similarly, if it s this world that we are not content with or just our lives on it, there has to be someplace better to go. So we invent religion as a vessel to carry hope to those who have faith in it. While the miracles which religions are based on may be false, it is the message they deliver that help some people survive.