Hume is viewed as the definitive spokesperson on miracles and his description of miracles, ‘a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity’, is relevant as if we agree with this then immediately objections become obvious. The ‘volition’ of a deity to cause a statue to drink milk is questionable when millions live in poverty and millions die from AIDS, for example. The benevolence of an all powerful deity is not evident in a world where evil is certainly present through out concept of evil. However, believers may comeback to appeal to mystery or use the euthyphro dilemma, ‘is what God does good, or does God only do what is good’, thus suggesting that pain and evil in the world are somehow beneficial. However, analyzing the problem of evil and God’s selection of when miracles should be performed the credibility of revelation has been questioned as it seems that whilst this does not prove God any less it leads to a God which is less desirable to believe in.
Another argument is the metaphysical question of whether God acting inside his creation and therefore inside time and space can be eternal. This argument focuses on the fact that thing inside time and space are changing and come in and out of existence, also that if God comes into time and space then he changes and therefore cannot be the perfect deity which we think of him as. This angle questions whether or not miracles are conceivable at all rather than there impact on religious belief, however, the fact that religious believers use miracles throughout the bible and in debates questions whether or not fundamental parts of religious belief are based on actions which are impossible if God is to be the perfect unchanging figure which he is believed to be.
However, Christians come back again suggesting that when God created time and space he also created his interventions into the world, therefore he is able to keep separate of time and space, and perfect. However, questions about our free will are then raised and also the fact that if we are not free then some of the theodicies which absolve God from blame in the problem of evil also fall down as Augustine’s argument that humans created sin by freewill and also the idea that freewill, and therefore the possibility of evil, is used to build character by God. Miracles are a hindrance to religious belief here as a perfect, eternal God who cannot come inside time and space would have to have acted prior to time as otherwise he would have to come into and would no longer be perfect. However, if intervention was decided on before time and space then God must know the future therefore our freewill and many theodicies are proved wrong. Wyles also adds to this conversation as he brings up the question of why God created a world which would need to be intervened in if he is omnipotent. Therefore a belief in miracles and in God as benevolent and omnipotent seems to be inconsistent and religious belief struggles because of this.
However, these issues concern philosophical principles and metaphysics whereas perhaps we should be more concerned with the actual experiences of miracles and their credibility. Hume uses his definition of miracles to come up with his system for assessing the credibility of claims, stating that it has to be more likely that the fundamental laws of physics are being broken than the person is mistaken or lying. For this he points to the witnesses having to be a completely neutral figures who are educated, not a women, not from a ‘barbarous’ nation etc. In fact he goes on to say that the chance of a testimony being fact could never outweigh the chance of the witness(es) being mistaken and the laws of nature being upheld.
Therefore Hume’s objection lies in his belief in the concrete stature of the laws of nature, this is damaging to religious belief as it points out the fact that potentially science could explain every instance where a miracle has seemed to occur. The laws of nature which Hume describes could, however, be descriptive or prescriptive; if they are taken as prescriptive then the previous point still stands. However, if we view them as simply a description based on our experience of the universe and of how things seem to naturally progress, then it seems it is quite plausible that things which science is not yet able to explain, or events which we have not yet experienced could indeed be miracles. The credibility using Hume’s system then becomes significantly weakened as it is likely that things could happen outside of descriptive laws of nature. Religious belief gains from miracles as it seems there are numerous circumstances where they could occur.
Adding to this the principles of Ockham and Swinburne credibility seems to be justified. Swinburne used the fact that in everyday life people don’t lie regularly and that people have not great motive to lie to decide that in most events it is reasonable to believe that what people are saying is the truth. He stated that if we were as skeptical about everyday occurrences as we are the evidence from miracles then we would end up in a skeptical bog, not being able to believe any sort of testimony. Ockham’s view enforces Swinburne’s principle of credulity and testimony as he explains that the principle which is the simplest explanation is the most likely. This leads a large percentage of evidence from miracles to be taken seriously and therefore evidence for God and a positive impact on religious belief.
In conclusion whilst philosophical objections seem to disprove miracles the breadth of these arguments is such that a solid answer is hard to maintain, therefore we should study the actual miracles themselves more closely for answers. However, although there then seems to be scope, using Swinburne and Ockham, to take experience seriously we have to look at this evidence and see that conflicting claims seem to conclude this subject with miracles as a hindrance to religious belief. As religious experience is a type of miracle the conflicting messages and different religions which these experiences come from seem to sully the reputation of miracles and therefore religion. Also miracles which cause or ask for the saving of human life conflict with those such as the story of Joshua which allows for murders to occur. Although mystery may still be alluded to as an explanation the conflicting nature of different miracles seems to discredit their influence upon religious belief.
Aquinas classifies miracles as ‘Those things…which are done by Divine power apart from the order generally followed in things’. Whilst this agrees with Hume’s definition that miracles are ‘a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity’. However, Aquinas allows for the laws of physics to be maintained whilst miracles are occurring, for example, a loose bolt in a plane could be tightened without God having.