As we approach Good Friday and Easter, we might wonder whether we can really believe in the historicity of the events we celebrate. Let’s tackle then the strongest argument ever made against them. One of the more influential arguments in the history of philosophy is David Hume’s argument against the rationality of belief in miracles. It goes like this:
1. A miracle is a violation of a natural law.
2. Natural laws are based on “uniform human experience.”
How is the argument circular? It is because he cheats on the phrase “uniform human experience.” How could we know that human experience of the irreversibility of death was uniform before looking to see if the alleged eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection were truly exceptions to it? We couldn’t. and Hume didn’t. Having cheated on the word “uniform,” Hume cannot then justify his use of the word “always” when he says it is always more rational to believe that the one reporting a miracle is either deceived or deceiving than to believe he is telling the truth. If the attestation is strong enough, if the alternative explanations are sufficiently stretched and unable to account for the data, and if the miracle in question fits elegantly enough with what we know to be the plan and purposes of God, then there could be times, albeit rare, when it is indeed more rational to believe.
Hume thinks he is nailing shut the lid on the coffin when he says that we would only be justified in believing a miracle if the alternative was more miraculous than the miracle itself. He thinks he is driving the last nail into the coffin, but he has really just handed Christian believers the game. For the resurrection of Christ neatly meets precisely that criterion. When you compare the egregious ignorance of the physiology of crucifixion and tomb construction required to accept the “swoon theory,” or the gullible naivety required to believe in mass hallucinations, etc., with the demands made on our credulity by the claim that God raised Jesus from the dead, the finality of Hume’s defeat becomes inescapable.