On Possible Limitations of Hume’s Concept of the Miracle


In his text »Of Miracles«, Hume proposes a critique of the concept of miracle based upon the notion that a miracle is a form of »violation« of the laws of nature. Accordingly, a miracle can only be said to appear against the backdrop of consistent laws of nature: if this were not the case, the miracle could never be experienced as a miracle. But if the miracle is dependent upon the law of nature, how can this be reconciled with the notion that the miracle is essentially dependent upon God by definition, i.e, the miracle is a sign of the existence of God? By thinking about miracles in terms of the divine, perhaps Hume’s concept of miracle becomes too limited, and therefore his critique of miracle also fails to address the divine aspect of miracle. In other words, he only approaches the miracle from the perspective of the human obserever, and thereby misses the crucial divine aspect of the miracle.

Annotated Bibliography:

David Hume, »Of Miracles.«

In the text, Hume introduces his famous critique of the concept of miracle. Hume can be said to take a certain empirical approach the phenomenon of the miracle, analyzing the miracle in terms of categories such as evidence and the witnessing of the miracle itself. Hume, however, fails to see how the witnessing of the miracle corresponds to the evidence of the miracle itself. This disjunction explodes apart what may be termed the »consistency of the miracle«, thus making this concept untennable according to his approach.

Ward, Keith. »Believing in Miracles.« Zygon, Vol. 37, No. 3, September 2002.

Ward takes a critical approach to Hume’s argument presented in »Of Miracles«, taking what could be called a »positive« view of miracles as opposed to a »negative« view of miracles. In other words, to the extent that Hume views the miracle as a »violation« of the law of nature, it is defined negatively in terms of consistent laws of nature. Ward, in contrast, aims for a positive account, showing the indication of a world that lies beyond the natural world. Ward’s text is invaluable in thinking about how the concept of miracle can be extended beyond the manner in which Hume defines it.