Hoisting Hume

This is rather a good little review of Craig Keener’s new book on Miracles (which I got for Christmas, but have not yet had the time or fortitude to get into – it’s in two big volumes!). Michael J. Kruger points to the circularity of Hume’s argument:

Keener devotes a substantial portion of the book refuting Hume’s well known argument against the possibility of miracles.  The problem, as he so deftly points out, is that Hume’s argument is fallaciously circular.  Keener observes, “[Hume] argues, based on ‘experience,’ that miracles do not happen, yet dismisses credible eyewitness testimony for miracles (i.e., others’experience) on his assumption that miracles do not happen” (109, emphasis his).  Put differently, Hume’s argument is based on the “uniformity of human experience against miracles” (112); a uniformity that he can establish only if he rejects, a priori, all eyewitness claims to miracles.  Thus, Hume assumes what he is trying to prove.

One of the reasons for the books size is that it claims to document a number of eyewitness claims:

Not only does this survey effectively refute Hume’s appeal to the uniformity of human experience against miracles, but it also effectively challenges traditional Western assumptions about religion in the developing world.  Anti-supernaturalists will often dismiss miracle claims from these parts of the world due to the fact that they view the inhabitants as primitive, uneducated, and, to some extent, gullible.  But, Keener points out that such an approach is blatantly “ethnocentric” and “derogatory” (222).  Thus, the academic elite in America and Europe find themselves in an ironic dilemma. While they are often quick to critique others for being ethnocentric, they find themselves guilty of these very charges when they reject the miracle claims of the non-Western world on the basis of its so-called “primitive” culture.  They are caught in the trap of their own political correctness.

This ethno-centricism is something I’ve often picked up on, and is sometimes put forward as a kind of ‘chronological snobbery’ which assumes that not only other cultures, but people in other times were more gullible than us. As Kruger puts it: “hoist with his own petartd”. Certainly makes me keen to finish what I’m reading at the moment to get stuck into it!

H/T Quaerentia

2 responses to “Hoisting Hume”

  1. askegg says:

    “…yet dismisses credible eyewitness testimony for miracles (i.e., others’experience) on his assumption that miracles do not happen”

    What do you say to the people who are convinced they see Elvis or are abducted by aliens? Aren’t these also eye witness testimony or “miraculous events” (certainly extraordinary events)? When does such testimony become “credible”? Are you sure you didn’t mean to post this on April 1st?

    • AndrewFinden says:

      You seem to have made the faulty assumption that it's an "all-or-nothing" kind of situation; that either eyewitness testimony must always be accepted or never accepted.
      Keener certainly does not advocate that all eyewitness testimony is necessarily credible, and the point of this post is not to trudge through myriad hypothetical examples you might like to throw up of when and how credible they are. Suffice it to say that each case must be weighed on the available information (there is no 'one-size-fits-all' response, and that it is rather futile to weigh the merits of hypotheticals (frankly, I'm not interested in debating something you're putting forward as a devil's advocate).
      The point of the post was to highlight the fallacious nature of the Humean argument, and the frequent double-standard of ethno-centricity, which you've not actually addressed.

What do you think?