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CONTRARY MIRACLES CONCLUDED Decisive results are seldom expected and scarcely ever attained as a result of philosophical argument. Nevertheless, one might hope that discussion of a brief, tightly confined argument, displayed prominently to the attention of philosophers and theologians for more than two centuries, could be brought to an agreed conclusion. Such is the hope evoked by Hume's "Contrary Miracles Argument" (first Enquiry, p. 12If); but it has not been satisfied. The first significant commentator, George Campbell, rejected the argument for reasons which (we know from a letter) Hume himself did not accept. In 1916 CD. Broad pointed out that the argument depended upon a suppressed premise whose truth was in doubt. Ten years later A.E. Taylor rejected the argument with almost intemperate zeal. In 1961 it was partly rehabilitated by Antony Flew; but in an article of 1975 Bruce Langtry concluded, for reasons so complicated that they are unlikely to be effective with the very people for whom the directness of Hume's original argument has appeal, that none of its conclusions are acceptable. In 1978 Gaskin maintained that a restricted version of the Contrary Miracles Argument applied effectively (and destructively) to Christianity ; while in 1981, in the most recent discussion known to me, R.M. Burns pointed out that Hume's argument depends upon the truth of two suppressed premises, both of which he held to be highly dubious.^ Let us then look again at this controversial little argument and ask to what extent it is effective, and whether it is effective in any way which is of value or interest to the philosophy of religion now. Hume's argument, in the first Enquiry, Section X, is as follows: ... let us consider, [p] that, in matters of religion, whatever is different is contrary; and that it is impossible the religions of ancient Rome, of Turkey, of Siam, and of China should, all of them, be established on any solid foundation. Iq1 ] Every miracle, therefore, pretended to have been wrought in any of these religions (and all of them abound in miracles), as its direct scope is to establish the particular system to which it is attributed; so has it the same force, though more indirectly, to overthrow every other system, [q,] In destroying a rival system, it likewise destroys the credit of those miracles, on which that system was established; so that all the prodigies of different religions are to be regarded as contrary facts, and the evidences of these prodigies, whether weak or strong, as opposite to each other. Ir1] According to this method of reasoning, when we believe any miracle of Mahomet or his successors, we have for our warrant the testimony of a few barbarous Arabians: And on the other hand, we are to regard the authority of Titus Livius, Plutarch, Tacitus, and, in short, of all the authors and witnesses, Grecian, Chinese, and Roman Catholic, who have related any miracle in their particular religion; I say, we are to regard their testimony in the same light as if they had mentioned that Mohametan miracle, and had in express terms contradicted it, with the same certainty as they have for the miracle they relate. [r2 ] This argument may appear over subtile and refined; but is not in reality different from the reasoning of a judge, who supposes, that the credit of two witnesses, maintaining a crime against any one, is destroyed by the testimony of two others, who affirm him to have been two hundred leagues distant, at the same instant when the crime is said to have been committed. The argument strikes one at first reading as deft, vigorous and simple. But, as so often with Hume, second thoughts open up unexpected complexities. Using the designations I have interpolated in square brackets, Ï• is the premise or assumption from which two conclusions follow, namely the conclusion q, , that a miracle wrought in one religion serves to overthrow all other religions; and the conclusion q2, that miracles wrought in different religions are "contrary facts". An illustration r, is then supplied for conclusions q ; while at r 2 a comparison is made with a judical procedure: but whether the comparison is with q-^ or q2...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 1-14
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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