This vital study offers a new interpretation of Hume's famous "Of Miracles," which notoriously argues against the possibility of miracles. By situating Hume's popular argument in the context of the eighteenth-century debate on miracles, Earman shows Hume's argument to be largely unoriginal and chiefly without merit where it is original. Yet Earman constructively conceives how progress can be made on the issues that Hume's essay so provocatively posed about the ability of eyewitness testimony to establish the credibility of marvelous and miraculous events. ... Read more
Customer Reviews (7)
Ouch! Earman is Wrong about Hume.
Earman attributes to Hume the view that "the probabibility of a miracle is flatly zero." (p. 23.) This is a serious misreading of Hume.As any undergraduate philosophy student knows, Hume would never say that the probability of ANY matter of experience is "flatly zero."Hume's most notorious trait was his epistemic fallibilism, which arose from his skepticism about induction. Sadly, Earman is so bothered by some of Hume's strong anti-miracle language that he fails to view these passages in the context of Hume's most central claims.
Before one gets overly taken with Dr. Earman, I would suggest reading Robert Fogelin's "A Defense of Hume on Miracles", a short book that demolishes Earman's claims about Hume.
Earman hits a home run!
David Hume's argument against miracles has been widely cited by skeptics almost since the day it was written. The argument has generated much controversy over the 250+ years since it was penned by Hume. John Earman seeks to "set the record straight" with this withering and highly scholarly critique. Earman approaches David Hume's argument from the perspective of someone who himself doesn't believe in the reality of miracles. So why does he take Hume on? Because he thinks Hume's argument is deeply and fundamentally flawed, and recognizes that it is basically an exercise in "pretentious sneering."
Earman's argument is actually only 73 pages long. The remainder of the book is a compilation of relevant essays in the deist controversy, including Hume's original essay and a number of other short works by authors such as John Locke, Richard Price and George Campbell. Thus it is a handy reference not only for Hume's argument but also for the entire context of the 18th century deist controversy.
The critique itself is thorough and detailed. Earman goesthrough Hume's argument piece-by-piece in 24 short chapters, showing the errors and equivocations in Hume's thinking at every step. The pièce de résistance is Earman's use of Bayesian probability theory to show exactly where Hume's argument falls apart. He even sketches out some suggestions as to how Bayesian probability could theoretically be used to prove a miracle. Some of that revolves around the principle of multiple witnessing, and how Bayesian probability mathematically demonstrates that the cumulative effect of multiple witnessing can overcome even very low prior probabilities for putative miracle claims. This points the way to possible proofs for the Resurrection, which of course was the miracle claim at the heart of the deist controversy - a miracle claim which Earman notes Hume never deigned to actually address in his essay, instead choosing to focus on some rather more dubious miracle claims as if these were representative of all miracle claims.
This book is not light reading, and not recommended for the casual reader. It is not popular level material and contains some very in-depth analytic philosophy including heavy use of the probability calculus. However, for those with a strong background and interest in analytic philosophy and who are looking for a detailed and thorough response to Hume's argument against miracle claims, this book is worth its weight in gold. This should be a standard reference for anyone serious about scholarly-level arguments for or against miracles.
Outstanding Piece of Scholarship
In Hume's Abject Failure - The Argument against Miracles, John Earman offers a cogent and comprehensive refutation of Hume's argument against miracles originally published as "On Miracles" in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.
Hume's contention is that given the "unique" nature of miracles no human testimony can suffice to render them credible - i.e. day-to-day experience necessarily trumps claims of the miraculous or novel. This argument has provoked interesting and occasionally heated discussion throughout the years.While containing some apparent truisms - such as the need for good reasons in an evidentiary construct and the gullibility of people- Hume's claims are generally viewed as being overstated.In criticising Hume, Earman is not arguing for the truth of any alleged miracles, rather he is contending that Hume's attempt to dismiss miracles a priori is unwarranted.It is interesting to consider the implications of Hume's assertion if it were true - much modern scientific theory such as quantum mechanics or Darwinism would be decimated.Some commentators have tried to minimize this logical extension by arguing that science deals with a different subject matter and as a consequence is immune from this criticism- this seems contrived and unconvincing.
Though not original in his assessment of Hume's failure, Earman's exposition of the issue is the most comprehensive and well articulated that I have encountered.He highlights two important factors that likely contributed to Hume's failure, an inadequate understanding of inductive argumentation and wishful thinking. With regard to former, Earman highlights many of Hume's shortcomings and in the process does a nice job in explaining Bayesian probability.
While, in regard to wishful thinking, seeing what we believe is not unique to Hume. It seems evident that reason can be skewed by belief and emotion.Arguments concerning ethics or faith issues are particularly notorious in this regard.As Earman notes, faith positions (e.g. naturalism or atheism) often seems to play a role in defences of Hume's argument against miracles.It is interesting that at the outset Earman feels compelled to state his lack of theistic belief - in an apparent effort to diffuse similar criticism.
This small book (approx. 200 pages) is divided into two parts.In the first part, Earman lays out his case, while the second part is comprised of various historic writings that pertain to the issue.These extracts include "On Miracles" and various other historic criticisms of Hume's. I find this structure very helpful - not having to go back and forth to primary sources.Aside from the lucidness of Earman's argument I was especially impressed by the quality of thought exhibited by some of Hume's early critics whom I had not previously encountered, Price is especially impressive.
Overall, this is an outstanding book.I highly recommend it to students of philosophical history and the philosophy of religion.
According to Hume, uniform experience is against miracles such that a report of a miracle is always suspect. For Hume, it is always more likely there was no miracle than if there was a miracle. Of course, Hume only knows the probability is against miracles in all cases if he knows all the reports of miracles are false.
For this reason, Earman, in his book Hume's Abject Failure, notes that in the binary language of probability, the probability of a miracle is zero. In other words, Hume rules out miracles a priori without allowing for any empirical investigation of testimony to miracles. Hume's own position is essentially unfalsifiable and therefore meaningless since he will not allow any evidence to contravene his position against miracles. Why is Hume against miracles? Because of his deist position of freemasonry. Hume is quite inconsistent. While asserting (in his treatise on human nature) the inability to assert personal identity, due to a radical discontinuity of experience, he writes books as if he were a cognizant reflective ego that endures through time. Hume is a mixed back of deism, Gnosticism and radical empiricism. And from a contradiction, everything flows out of Hume that he wants to flow. According to Hume's thesis on self identity, based on the radical discontinuity of experience concerning the self, how is the self able to generalize and formulate uniform experience? Hume is notoriously inconsistent.
C. S. Lewis exposed the circular reasoning in Hume in the book by Lewis entitled "Miracles."David Hume is often portrayed as askeptic.On the contrary, he was a freemason and therefore a gnostic.He was skeptical of nongnostic positions, such as Christianity.He was an apologist for gnosticism.When looked at in that light, Christians are skeptics with respect to freemasonry.The title "skeptic" is a propaganda term much coveted by freemasons and juwes in order to assume the position of intellectual superiority.
Mr. Earman, who is nonChristian, has done a great job here in reviving criticism of Hume.Hume is worse than any god worshipped by any heathen since he demands uncompromising devotion to his position whether or not he is right or wrong.
Hume's chief argument against miracles is circular reasoning.Hume argues that miracles violate uniform experience.However, if uniform experience is against miracles, then they cannot happen."Uniform experience" is his presupposition.And he defines "uniform experience" to exclude miracles.In other words, he begs the question.If miracles didn't happen, well, they didn't happen.This is Hume's argument in its circular entirety.This criticism came from Lewis.Although, I have a better argument than Lewis's and Mr. Earman's.
I would simply point out that pure logic cannot dispense with the empirical question of whether miracles happen.Afterall, mathematics is made up of tautologies.As such, pure logic or pure mathematics cannot have physical meaning.Pure logic, as Hume employs, cannot tell us anything about the world.Therein lies the sophistry.It boils down to the distinction between analytic and synthetic statements.Whether or not miracles happen depend not on logic, but on the existence of God who intervenes in human affairs and human life.As the former atheist Antony Flew said, it is impossible to argue against the existence of God in light of the evidence of the obvious intelligent design of the universe.
As soon as Hume "defined" a term "uniform experience," and inserted it in his argument, he entered the world of pure logic.In that world, no matter how far you search and how much you struggle and no matter how much you indulge in rationcination, you will end up where you started: with nothing.Beware of someone who makes definitions in the process of their argument with you.
If anyone went to the moon and found a green house that supplied oxygen, food and other human necessities, they wouldn't hesitate to posit an intelligent creator of that house.So why would anyone question theexistence of God in light of this wonderful planet that supports our lives?
Atheism and pantheism are really the same thing.One denies God and the latter calls everything God."Miracles" only make sense in a universe with a monotheistic God, not in a universe where nature is postulated as a god.
Earman makes reference to modern physics, which is unnecessary.Newton's physics didn't give any credibility to Hume's arguments since his arguments were pure sophistry.Anyway, Newton already embarked on relativity theory in the querys to his Optics.Query number one and number thirty already impinged on general and special relativity respectively.(Einstein, who plagarized Josiah Willard Gibb's book "statistical mechanics" in the Einstein papers on brownian movement also plagarized special relativity theory.Poincare, Fitzgerald, Larmar and Lorentz already conceived of special relativity.And the equations for general relativity divided by zero.David Hilbert noted that Einstein's equations were wrong, and Friedmann, the Russian pointed out that Einstein divided by zero three times.)
Intelligent design is all you need to establish a creator.A creator is all you need to ground miracles.Earman's book should be read.It's a welcome treatise in an age of brainwashed academics.The relation of academics to their students is well summed up in the parable of Jesus: "When one blind man leads another blind man, sooner or later they will both fall into a pit."
Unlike all other religions, Christianity offers the empirically grounded fact of Jesus's resurrection from the dead.Accept Him as your savior or be subject to Him as your judge.
Excellent Application of Probability Theory
John Earman has written a wonderful book that shows the value of using the precision of probability theory to bring clarity to a murky issue.Long have certain philosophers marvelled at David Hume's essay, "On Miracles," supposing it to be an original and creative refutation of believing in miracles.Earman shows that Hume's arguments are neither original nor sound at establishing his pessimistic outlook on miracles.Moreover, using probability calculus, Earman is able to establish clearly that Hume's argument is a failure.In fact, Earman shows that many of Hume's contemporaries were familiar with probabilistic reasoning and were able to demonstrate Hume was wrong within in his own lifetime.So, not only was Hume wrong, but his failure cannot be attributed to the lack of development of inductive reasoning in his time.Earman works hard trying to understand what exactly Hume meant by examining Hume's personal letters and the developments of Hume's essay as it was published in various editions.After several attempts to read Hume charitably, Earman finds Hume's application of probabilistic reasoning is muddled and confused, at best.Furthermore, Earman shows that if Hume was right, this would spell disaster for inductive reasoning that confirms (or disconfirms) scientific reasoning.Those who endorse Hume's argument against miracles are supporting a line of reasoning that would eqully undermine science.
Earman's book is commendable for a number of reasons.First, it is a first-rate work in philosophy that is written clearly.Earman's rigor coupled with his readable prose make for a rewarding study.Second, this book makes significant contribution to Humean scholarship where Earman convincingly argues for various ways to interpret Hume, which he substantiates with cross-referencing the work of Hume and his interaction with his contemporaries.Third, the book is a powerful lesson in probability theory (especially Bayesianism).Some background in probabilistic reasoning may be needed to understand parts of the book, but even a cursory knowledge of probability theory will be nourished by Earman's work.Fourth, this book puts forward some substantial theories relevant to philosophy of religion, especially the nature of miracles.Fifth, the second half of the book is filled with important sources on the 18th century deist controversy, which are invaluable to studying probability and confirmation of miraculous events by eyewitness testimony.For those who find these issues to be important and wish to get a better handle on how to think clearly through these issues, this book will be a welcome piece of scholarship.
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