October 18, 2011

The Arrogance of Academia: David Hume

I will summarize David Hume’s (4) four reasons why miracles should be overlooked in a numbered syllogism and then answer his reasoning in the same numbered format point-for-point in this essay in the latter paragraphs. I will state that whenever I see that someone approaches a topic within the Christian realm as a confrontation or refutation my teeth are immediately set on edge. A person that approaches anything related to the Christian faith with this type of antagonistic presupposition means that the end result is usually anti-biblical. This is the case with David Hume. Being a product of the Enlightenment and Newtonian World Machine he believed and posited that miracles simple become unbelievable for those of the intelligentsia (so-called smart people: academics, cognoscenti, etc). The Newtonian worldview believed (based on Newton’s Philosophiae naturalis principa mathematica) and saw the world ruled by three laws of motion in terms of masses, motions and forces operating according to preordained laws or Newton’s Principa. Based on these laws there appeared to be no need for the incursion or need for God’s providence. Hence the Newton World Machine and the theory that God, like a watchmaker, makes the universe, winds it up and then let it go to function under its own influence no longer to intervene. Such a presupposition or world system also made it incredible that God would bother to interfere with its functioning and operation via miracles. Therefore any type of miracle would be considered a violation of the laws of nature and were therefore impossible by this line of thinking.

Enter David Hume…

Hume being the quintessential humanistic philosopher based in empiricism and skepticism then posits reasoning on top of the Newtonian World Machine that further reasons for the improbability of miracles within the world without ruling out the possibility of God thereby not offending either the intelligentsia or the theologians. At the time, and to some extent today his rational is used as the reasoning or evidence for the improbability or impossibility of miracles. Hume’s reasoning of course cannot be considered a proof since the “evidence” and reasoning he performed is so poor. This is in light of the fact that so many have fallen back to him and quoted him in his flawed argument(s).

The syllogism from Hume’s erroneous thinking is from “An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding” are as follows:

(1) No miracle in history is attested by a sufficient number of educated and honest men, who are of such social standing that they would have a great deal to lose by lying.

(2) People crave the miraculous and will believe the most absurd stories, as the abundance of false tales of miracles proves.

(3) Miracles occur only among barbarous peoples.

(4) Miracles occur in all religions and thereby cancel each other out, since they support contradictory doctrines.

Hume concludes that miracles can never be the foundation for any system of religion. I, Andy Pierson could not disagree more wholeheartedly with these flawed assessments. From the very beginning we see the disingenuous nature of Hume’s argument for the refutation of miracles from an a priori source (God) and he subsequently demands a posteriori “experience based or evidence based” proof. He is asking for naturalistic evidences or experiences (things of this world) to prove or disprove the actions of a spiritual source in a supernatural manner. In Hume’s case he wants a posteriori experience or posits a need to have people or witnesses of the miracle and they had to have been “educated" and "honest" men by Hume’s definition. By educated and honest it must be assumed that they met his criteria of being “educated” meaning they were naturalistic and “honest” meaning that they had no proclivity or bias towards the supernatural. The miracles themselves being correctly understood are to have originated from otherworldly or supernatural origins (a priori) but being manifested in this world. As such they can and potentially do violate the “laws of nature” in their incursion into the a posteriori realm (Earth or Creation). We see right out of the gate that Hume demands a contradictory proof that is unreasonable and frankly unattainable. It also assumes mankind knew/knows all the rules of nature at the time of Hume writing this. Even today we know that this was not the case. Even today we are not exactly sure how things function at the subatomic realm because we cannot directly observe them without disturbing them (Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle). As William Lane Craig states in his book Reasonable Faith in the later pages, Hume commits a fallacy of begging-the-question with this line of reasoning. To say that miracles are contrary to universal experience is to assume miracles in question never really happened. By then saying that they could not have been universal implies that there could not have been substantial enough witnesses to meet his stated requirement for acceptable proof. Therefore Hume’s postulation is absurd and acting with duplicity of purpose. For all intensive purposes Hume is a functioning atheist that claims miracles are possible but certainly doesn't believe that statement.

If we move to his first claim Hume essentially states (paraphrased): (1) People lie, they have good reasons to lie (about miracles) because they believe they are doing so for the benefit of their religion or because of the fame that results. This is patently absurd because this does not explain why people would go to their deaths believing a lie. Having witnessed Jesus’ miracles including His Resurrection we see Disciples, one-by-one killed and martyred refusing to recant what they believed because not only were they convicted and convinced by what they had seen, they also had the Holy Spirit dwelling within them. The truth of who He said He was transcended not only Jesus Himself but it was within His own followers who followed Him to a martyr’s death (imagine being the last guy to die knowing a load of others died before you). If the things Christ taught were lies, if the events surrounding Jesus death and resurrection were fabricated…who the heck in their right mind would go to their deaths defending this position if it were a lie? Not just a few went to their deaths this way, hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands went…some willingly. Stephen having been the first is the Scriptural proof of this in Acts 6-8. I could understand lying for power and prestige but not to go to a martyr’s death. Something more is going on here and it lies in the spiritual realm.

Hume’s second point is (paraphrased): (2) People by nature enjoy relating miracles (or stories of miracles) they have heard without validating them and thus miracles are easily transmitted even where false….as if they were retelling harmless fairytales. Again I cite the experiences of the early church and the persecution of said church starting with Stephen. Hume implies that people can and would spread the stories of miracles of a newly founded religion that not only is no longer protected in the Roman empire as a sect of Judaism but it also assumes they would willingly spread unsubstantiated lies or miracle stories upon risk of death in an empire that specifically targeted, tortured and executed Christians for spreading their faith. The early Christians were not just telling their children folktales or fairytales…and if they were, then they were doing so upon penalty of death if caught. The very core of the Christian faith is the miracle of the Resurrection. To believe in this miracle and spread it as the Good News was to put one’s head on a chopping block or in a noose. Therefore the circumstance surrounding the Gospel and those that perpetuated the story of the Gospel and associated miracles is unprecedented and unparalleled in history.

Hume’s third point is as follows: (3) Only an "ignorant" and "barbarous" group of backwoods dopes in backwards times believe in miracles because intelligent, educated and "civilized" people don’t believe in something as ridiculous as a miracle especially if a miracle is easily explained away with scientific or “enlightened” explanations. William Lane Craig then goes on to state clearly and firmly on page 256 of Reasonable Faith that the miracles of the Gospels were in fact abundant and witnesses were qualified (although I will note he does not back this statement up or validate through a citation). He goes on to state that the miracles did not originate among barbarous peoples but in Jerusalem a rather large booming agrarian outpost of the Roman Empire.

Hume’s final statement (paraphrased): (4) Miracles of each religion argue against all other religions and their miracles, and so even if a proportion of all reported miracles across the world fit Hume's requirement for belief, the miracles of each religion make the other less likely or impossible. Sadly this is Hume’s worst and most laughable argument. Hume assumes each religion is equally valid in producing a miracle which is to say all religions are valid. This is like saying all truth statements of each religion are also equally valid and therefore they are all true. We can use the Law of Non-contradiction to shoot this logic down in flames. If there can only be one absolute truth statement about one God being real and entering Creation to perform supernatural miracles, all other truth claims about a different God’s and claims to miracles are negated. Christianity is in fact that only religion that cites miracles as a vehicle to prove its teachings. Furthermore, Gottfried Less stated that the preponderance of miracle(s) in the Gospels used in teaching in Christianity is overwhelming in scope.

I will end this painful digression into pretentious and erroneous reasoning by returning to where I started in my introduction. Hume entered his arguments with disingenuous intent. Through his line of statements and presuppositions he claims to come to the discussion of miracles on unbiased grounds or at least from the angle that miracles might actually be possible. It quickly becomes evident through his reasoning that this probably is duplicitousness or a façade that his own line of reasoning and words refutes. His latent hostility towards miracles is thinly veiled. It is clear that he argues with the end in mind and the end he has in mind is that miracles are either not possible or impossible as he is clearly of an atheistic or at least agnostic bend. This is obvious when Hume “begs the question” about universality of experience being anti-miraculous. Tsk-tsk…this is such an elementary flaw in logic for such an “educated" and "honest" man (sarcasm intended).

As we had then, so we have now. The pretentuousness of self-proclaimed intellectuals and academics knows no bounds. Times may change but sinful people's opinions of themselves never do. Once arrogant without God, always arrogant without God. 'Tis a shame...some things never change.


Ben Cabe said...

It really is ashame; unfortunately these arguments are rife in today's society...

Ben Cabe

Andy Pierson said...

Yes Ben...the product of unfounded pretense and failure to educate people in simple logic, philosophy and a Bible. It produces godless, arrogant, relativistically educated illogical masses. Many folks do not even know how they "know" things because they often rely on what they've been told in a form of ad hoc "pass it down the line". It really is a shame. If I actaully try to show them often times I am told I am deluded, etc...

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