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Hume’s Argument Against Belief in Miracles, Part 1

Daniel Schrock stops by to discuss Hume and his philosophical position on miracles. This is part one of a two part discussion.

Participants: , , , ,


Philosophy for Theologians aims to look critically at the problems of philosophy by considering everything in light of God's revelation. The program not only wants to address philosophical questions but also to equip you with a way to think about these questions. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.

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carl

9 years ago

Gents, you sounded painfully young and eager.

I wonder if a topic ‘deserves’ a public discussion simply because it appears to stimulate our minds? “All things are lawful, but not all things edify.”

Jonathan

9 years ago

Carl,

Thanks for the input. The program is meant to be ‘ refreshingly’ playful and easy going. I mean, we begin every show with a Monty Python clip. Did you think the argumentation was young and eager or the delivery?

Carl

9 years ago

Jonathan note the scripture reference, it’s relevant.

The issue is not astuteness of mind or argument but rather the sum of the (public) pursuit. To it as well as to the delivery may the the label be properly applied.

As for the playful intent – all fair and fine… There are great many topics that lend themselves well to goofing on Python, and to great fun. Biblical doctrine isn’t one of them. Especially if you are posting publicly as you are merely trivializing some of the ‘valid’ themes and questions you actually do touch upon (e.g., bible and miracles) and to which believers are to pursue biblical answers with sobriety, vigor, and piety.

The inability to perceive how this could be harmful is often a sign of “youthful eagerness”.

Also, re: Patrick, don’t mind my comments being labeled ‘negative’ as long as they are faithful. Presumably Patrick knows that faithful interpretation of Scripture does not include “me” or “others” (subjective), but begins and ends with His Spirit and His truth.

Patrick

9 years ago

Carl, I did not hear any of the show’s participants make light of Scripture or its included miracles, not once, but of Hume, Quine, and other non-Christian philosophers, and they made light of particularly complex issues and concepts (e.g., analyticity) raised by those philosophers in their arguments against miracles. And I did not hear them once trivialize these philosophers, much less Scripture. Also, could you please explain your response to my statement? You seemed to originally be claiming that the episode was not edifying—my point was, simply, that it was for me, even if not for you.

Carl

9 years ago

Patrick, no offense taken and none intended.

None of the things you commented on I actually intended to imply. ‘Trivializing’ in my post above refers to the pursuit of answers to some “important themes and questions”, not to Scriptures, philosophers, or concepts. And, yes, I think its rather obvious how a playful attitude can have such an effect. We have to be cognizant of the occasion and topic, as well as our calling, and understand that public discussions on matters pertaining to biblical doctrine simply are not the best times to try to lighten the mood in this way. …but there’s no need to give this any more attention.

My comment on Scripture interpretation was a response to your (at least implied) suggestion that something may be edifying to some but not to others. In the context of Christian edification, and more specifically in the pursuit of His knowledge and doctrine, the Scriptures do not seem to sustain the notion that the methods and the means would vary from person to person.

I am not categorically denying anything that was said in the episode, and I want to be very clear that my comments are least of all intended to demean the effort Daniel put in the writing of his paper. I know this takes work and I can certainly appreciate that. But the question of edification is a separate one.

The point I am making is that what is useful in academia is not necessarily edifying in Christan life, no matter how theologically ‘informed’ our endeavours may actually sound. Specifically of concern here is the emphasis on (or desire for) the use of philosophical concepts in defending Christian doctrine, in essence attempting to debunk worldly wisdom with the same, seemingly without much concern for disfiguring the simplicity of the message in the process. Appealing, yes, and intellectually stimulating – perfectly suited for academic environments. Very likely even adopted by seminaries with a sincere goal to better equip future leaders for ‘modern challenges’. However, it is not the way of the Scriptures.

The methods and means of persuasion (and defense) laid down for us in the Scriptures are all together of a different nature. They are equally effective against the sophisticated cavils of a philosopher as they are against the objections raised by a ‘simple’ farmer- provided the Lord prepares the heart to hear and understand the Truth. And let us never forget this last part because, contrary to what one might conclude listening to many of today’s seminary graduates, there is a higher end to our ‘defense’.

Patrick

9 years ago

Carl,
Doesn’t it strike you as presumptuous to listen to a podcast episode and judge it to be unedifying (and unedifying for every possible listener, on your view, meaning listeners like me are more or less deceived in finding it helpful) because you disapprove of the occasional (“playful”) attitudes of the hosts and because you think (quite inconsistently with virtually the entire history of Christian theology) that the use of “philosophical concepts” is in essence worldly wisdom and unscriptural? Could you explain to us mislead Christian apologists which concepts, specifically, are appropriate to use when defending and expounding the faith, according to your understanding of “the way of the Scriptures”? Clearly, though, given your views you’re bound to find little to commend in a podcast entitled “philosophy for theologians.”

Carl

9 years ago

Patrick we don’t have to do this, you know…

Where I tried to use a pencil, you attribute to me painting with a spray brush. To my striving to keep this exchange biblical in focus, you respond with a mix of personal aggravation and what amounts to a “different strokes for different folks” doctrine of edification.

If I spoke against anything it was against a specific branch of apologetics (philosophical), and my conclusion was not its sinful nature but rather its limited (or questionable) value. And that not wholesale, I spoke in terms of ’emphases’.

Now, if you can please… Help me see specifically where in Scriptures you find any use of – or even an implicit sanctioning of – philosophical frameworks and concepts, such as are not common in general language, in defense of our faith? I can’t seem to find any evidence for it. On the other hand, I can point you to a number of verses where it would appear such methods should warrant our great caution, beginning with Paul’s letters to the Corinthians (1Cor 1:18 – 2:16, 1Cor 3:19, 2Cor 1:12-14) and on to the general testimony of God’s Word being made effectual to the simple (Psa 19:7, Matt 11:25, Luk 10:21).

When God has saw fit for His gospel to shine forth in simplicity, should it really be considered presumptuous to raise objections of this nature? On this thread? It seems to me it is here they properly belong.

Steve Ruble

9 years ago

For what it’s worth, you might also consider 2 Tim 2:14: “Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers.” That pretty nicely captures the behavior of most people who uphold one doctrine, creed, confession, apologetic method, church polity, or whatever to the exclusion or alienation of their listeners – or, in other words, the history of Protestantism.

I don’t think this is quite the right thread to discuss it (I’m anxiously awaiting part 2, so I can make worthwhile comments… I really like Daniel Schrock’s patterns of thought) but it’d be really interesting to have a podcast about how the Reformed obsession with creeds (and WTS’s introverted obsession with Van Til et al.) can be made to conform to Paul’s admonishment here, along with the issues Carl is raising.

Patrick

9 years ago

Carl, I was not aggravated by your comments and I apologize if they appeared as such. I’m trying to disagree with your application of Scriptural principals, not Scriptural principals themselves.

You now say the use of philosophical concepts in apologetics is not wrong, but of limited or questionable value, even a matter of emphasis. Yet just above you stated that it is “in essence attempting to debunk worldly wisdom with the same.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t calling something worldly wisdom just another way of saying it is of no actual value and ought to be avoided by Christians? You don’t think how much worldly wisdom we employ is a matter of emphasis, do you?

Finally, it is not me, an insignificant spectator responding on a forum, that you are disagreeing with, but virtually the entire Christian tradition in their use of philosophical concepts in apologetics, even theology. Of course, you’ll want to remind me that theologians are not Scripture. But here is a simple vindication: every concept used by Scripture’s authors was used before them by non-Christians, including philosophers in development of their philosophy. The Bible’s authors did not divide up “biblical’ and “non-biblical” language before they wrote, but put theologically correct meaning into common language, language used and even invented by non-Christian theologies and philosophies. There are obvious examples like John’s use of logos or Paul at Athens in his response to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. I recommend K. Scott Oliphint’s book The Battle Belongs to the Lord: The Power of of Scripture for Defending our Faith, if you want to see some simple exegesis of such cases, and see them harmonized with Scripture’s cautions of philosophy.

Maybe, though, you would reiterate that these are “common in general language” and not the Bible using philosophy. (Maybe you would even remind me of the “use”/”mention” distinction.) But I think you’ve already weakened your case in your reply, and have no real argument against this episode or its apologetic method. For you have not shown that the RF hosts took on the framework of any non-Christian philosophy, or compromised any biblical doctrines in their defense.

Patrick

9 years ago

Yikes, I mean Scriptural PRINCIPLES, not principals ! Edit buttons in comment sections were made for people like me.

Carl

9 years ago

🙂 Patrick.

Are you not merely affirming some of the things I’ve been pointing out?

You observed weaknesses in my argument, did you? Wish you had restrained the urge for at least a few more exchanges for the sake of… ..breaking the mold, if nothing else.

I have seen this so often I could play bingo with it in my sleep. Mindsets akin to a bent bow walking about with a bushel of (usually presupp) arrows itching to be dispatched at the slightest smell of inconsistency of argument or opposition. How about we score this entire exchange as a “win” in your column and start over clean, focusing on Scriptures? (sarcasm for “sigh”, not insult) I could have saved you the effort, you know. I readily grant any weakness you are ever able able to find in my arguments – and more.

You see, Patrick, seeking the truth, aspiring to hear it from His word illuminated by His Spirit, is not a contest of the tightness of arguments, and neither is being quick to point out perceived flaws exactly what 2Cor 10:5 is about.

What you have so far written in response to my question is not the subject of disagreement. Many concepts precede inscripturation, quite clearly. But a scriptural case I was asking for, one would think, should focus on your “harmonizing” part. It is a serious matter, Patrick, when the simplicity of massage is disfigured, particularly considered in the light of clear warnings of some of the passages I cited, and is at the core of what we are discussing. You seem to be content to relegate the explanation to a book reference, almost as an add-on in your quest for inconsistencies and counterpoints. Surely you can spare a short summary of the argument contained in the word you chose – it happens to be the main point here. Harmonized.

I will be more than glad to look at some sound confessional documents for evidence of agreement with what you are saying since you, again, appeal to tradition. Gladly. But let us attend to the Scriptures first, as is fitting. What you have (not) written so far rather affirms the concerns I raised. But I have time to wait for more.

p.s.
My concession to refrain from labeling all philosophical apologetics as being wholesale unprofitable was to exercise proper constrain due subject, it does not invalidate the principle (such engagements being unedifying). The thing for which you promptly marked off points on your ‘score-sheet’ is actually quite consistent with my earlier statements where I wrote that I was “not categorically denying anything that was said”. Had you given slightly more thought and time to my words you might have avoided your rush to misapply them (seeing I was attempting to temper my position from the beginning), which in turn, might have spared me some time explaining things over. But I guess arrows needed flying.

Patrick

9 years ago

Carl, I’m struggle to follow you.
For example, you say you’ve seen such rejoinders often, and you “readily grant any weakness you are ever able to find in my arguments.” Rather, you say, “seeking the truth” is not about “tightness of arguments.” I honestly can’t tell if you are admitting you are wrong, dismissing the possibility that you were inconsistent, or trying to teach some higher path to knowledge via the Spirit that goes against argument and embraces inconsistency.

You further say I have not been critiquing areas of disagreement, which lie, for you, in what you call “harmonizing,” but you don’t specify who is harmonizing what. You only refer, again, to my (and, presumably, the podcast’s hosts) “disfiguring the simplicity of the message.” No one here thinks that the gospel of redemption is not simple. It is easily understood without a shred of philosophy. Yet that does not mean all of Scripture—or all areas of possible knowledge, from philosophy and physics to zoology—is as simple as the gospel. Certainly not the Trinity or the entire books of Hebrews or Revelation.

Carl, if your argument was simply that harmonizing philosophy with theology, or using the former to help elucidate the latter, is a risky practice that has too often led Christians into incorrect theology by putting philosophy above Scripture, no one would disagree. That’s not what you seem to have said in previous posts, as I tried to show above, but if that’s your point, this is redundant. It would be most helpful if you could explain, in detail, what you are objecting to in the podcast. Or, for that matter, since this is a Reformed podcast, if you could use an example from Reformed theology of the problems you see, so we can understand your complaint.

Carl

9 years ago

Patrick, maybe it’s me, but from where I am standing it seems you don’t read things very carefully.

You wrote “…see them with Scripture’s cautions of philosophy”, and so I was asking you to focus on this “harmonization” with a brief synopsis of the argument you referred me to. (Incidentally, the word chose is used today to describe a phalanx of concepts and agendas as all consistent with the Scriptures.)

It has been my contention that the two [“philosophical frameworks and concepts not common in general language and Scripture’s cautions of philosophy”] are actually irreconcilable, in principle*, and thus the use of and training in such methods of apologetics, in principle*, not of edifying value for the disciples. And that not as a matter of risk of wrong application, but as a matter of scriptural principle (simplicity of message). Not edifying for a philosophically trained theologian/pastor, nor a rank-and-file Christian from your local church.

You may hopefully agree that if you were going to argue the opposite, the scriptural case for how these views can be “harmonized” will also help establish how their use could be edifying for the disciples.

But, Patrick, it’s the last time I am clarifying my position, and the (*) above is to hopefully prevent you from striking away again in need of absolutes.

Don’t know why I trouble myself again, but… The simple point I was making on the “competition” on consistency of arguments is that the truth has a way of transcending the weakness(es) of ALL our arguments. A simple lesson in awareness that seeking truth is not a contest, and that the fine dust of inconsistency settles on the best of our arguments, without it necessarily effecting the faithfulness of the point we happen to be making. When I observe the eagerness with which some approach the ‘technical’ details of an argument at the expense of the substance- it makes me wonder if this very important life lesson has actually been learned.

Carl

9 years ago

The brackets I placed for emphasis actually removed the entire word… Here’s the paragraph again, with all its parts:

You wrote “…see them harmonized with Scripture’s cautions of philosophy”, and so I was asking you to focus on this “harmonization” with a brief synopsis of the argument you referred me to. (Incidentally, the word you chose is used today to describe a phalanx of concepts and agendas as all consistent with the Scriptures.)

Patrick

9 years ago

Carl, perhaps I am not a careful reader (I’m at least a poor speller—e.g., “struggle” in my last post should be “struggling” etc.). If you would like a summary of the book I recommended, or further elaboration on the methods being used in the RF podcast, the place to look is not the comments section. Off the top of my head, I would recommend:

http://web.archive.org/web/20010422162440/www.alliancenet.org/pub/mr/mr98/1998.01.JanFeb/mr9801.kso.unbelievers.html

http://www.frame-poythress.org/frame_articles/1983Rationality.html

http://www.calvin.edu/academic/philosophy/virtual_library/articles
/plantinga_alvin/advice_to_christian_philosophers.pdf

So your (still) cryptic position is: “It has been my contention that the two [“philosophical frameworks and concepts not common in general language and Scripture’s cautions of philosophy”] are actually irreconcilable, in principle*”
Two comments. 1) In order to prevent “philosophical frameworks and concepts not common in general language” from creeping into one’s theology and hermeneutic (not to mention one’s translation of the texts in their original languages in the first place), wouldn’t one have to know a great deal about “philosophical frameworks and concepts” to prevent this? No one can simply assume that they already know what constitutes philosophical concepts and frameworks, assume that “common language” is somehow theologically safe, and are therefore safe from philosophy’s influence when interpreting Scripture. You might agree with all that, but wouldn’t it be a justification for Christian apologists to study philosophy, and even to produce a podcast like this one?
2) As you’ve stated your views, your objections to the podcast still seem to miss the mark. The podcast wasn’t attempting to fit in anti-Christian philosophical concepts or frameworks into Christian theology, but to analyze and critique one such philosophical system, that of Hume, and its role in his argument against the possibility of miracles. If you listen to part two, which is currently up, you will hear the hosts give a positive account which begins with a biblical theology of miracles! There’s a big difference, after all, between using what some might take to be philosophical terms in theology and apologetics (justification, knowledge, laws, causality, metaphysics, ontology, and so on), and fitting Christian theology into a non-Christian philosophical framework. The former is legitimate and occurred on the podcast, not the latter. And if the non-Christian philosopher agrees on any point with the Christian, it is ultimately the former who has stolen from the latter.

Carl

9 years ago

Patrick, I think we can let it rest. Maybe we’ll pick things up again some other place, some other time.

Until then, all the best to you.

Patrick

9 years ago

I’m wondering whether the RF crew really dealt with Hume’s problem of miracles in the episode: you replied to his argument by critiquing his empiricism, specifically his analytic/synthetic distinction, showing that he cannot account for the concepts he is employing. Correct? But that strikes me as comparable to responding to Mackie’s version of the problem of evil by critiquing his error theory—it might show, however interesting, that he can’t account for the problem of evil he is formulating (in fact, normativity altogether), but that says little about whether there is a problem of evil for the Christian, and, if so, whether we have a sufficient answer. Just the same with Hume: doesn’t the problem of miracles nonetheless remain to be answered on its own?
For a more extended and direct treatment, the article on Miracles in the SEP is of course helpful: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/miracles/#Bay

Also, RE: Carl, the negative comments are baffling. Presumably Carl knows that, even if the podcast was not edifying for him, it may still be for others?

Daniel

9 years ago

Patrick, if you notice the episode is in two parts. My paper is divided into three portions. It is not until the third section that I provide a positive answer to Hume’s argument against miracles. You are absolutly correct. An internal critique without a direct positive answer to Hume’s arguments would be insufficient. And I say as much in the part that has not been posted yet.

Now I will warn you ahead of time, that section of my paper is not all that I would wish it to be. Furthermore due to the fact that we recorded it all at once, I didn’t get to treat that section of my paper in depth since we were approaching a late hour. For that and for all my shortcomings I do apologize.

My hope is that at the very least I began to provide what might be developed into a satisfactory answer to the problem Hume poses, if not by me than by those better equipped to do so.

Patrick

9 years ago

Oh! I apparently didn’t grasp the “part I” in the title… Look forward to the next episode in that case, thanks!

Camden Bucey

9 years ago

I certainly could have been clearer about that in my intro and outro!

Belzebutt

9 years ago

I eagerly waited for the argument against Hume, and I was a little disappointed that at the 45 min mark it still hadn’t begun. The discussion of Hume prior to that was useful, although I would have liked to see it compressed somewhat. I can’t wait to see what you have to say in the next part, but in the mean time, can you tell me this: is the criticism of the analytic/synthetic distinction meant to refute Hume’s stance that we should (and do) rely on our past experience as a guide to what is natural? If it is I’m not sure I follow how this criticism achieves that, maybe you can explain.

Howard

9 years ago

OK, a dumber question. I keep looking for a link to the often mentioned article by Daniel Schrock. Or did I just not listen carefully or use my eye balls better?

Camden Bucey

9 years ago

That’s our mistake. I’ll get a copy from Daniel and post it.

Camden Bucey

9 years ago

It’s now available here.

Against Hume on Miracles: Ronald Nash and Daniel Schrock | The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast | A Philosophy Podcast and Blog

8 years ago

[…] second find here was much more helpful: Episodes 8 and 9 from the Philosophy for Theologians podcast, which featured I think a very PEL-like group of […]

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