Hume’s “Of miracles”. Thesis: You can’t establish a religion on human testimony of miracles. He has an argument similar to one used by John Tillotson (moderate Archbishop of Canterbury, 1691-1694) against transubstantiation.
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So, for belief in a miracle to be reasonable, the testimony in its favor must be so reliable and so credible that it outweighs the intrinsic improbability of the alleged miraculous event.
Hume writes that “no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish”
The event itself is so incredible, we need extremely credible testimony.
Slogan of the skeptic’s movement: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”
Hume does think that human testimony could establish a violation of the laws of nature.
But only if the testimony was credible enough to outweigh the intrinsic improbability of the event.
“Thus, suppose, all authors, in all languages, agree, that, from the first of January 1600, there was a total darkness over the whole earth for eight days: suppose that the tradition of this extraordinary event is still strong and lively among the people: that all travellers, who return from foreign countries, bring us accounts of the same tradition, without the least variation or contradiction: it is evident, that our present philosophers, instead of doubting the fact, ought to receive it as certain, and ought to search for the causes whence it might be derived.”
Hume thinks that religious miracles are especially worthy of doubt.
It’s because he thinks people have shown themselves to be extremely unreliable on matters of religion.
“As the violations of truth are more common in the testimony concerning religious miracles, than in that concerning any other matter of fact; this must diminish very much the authority of the former testimony, and make us form a general resolution, never to lend any attention to it, with whatever specious pretence it may be covered.”