Essay mark scheme – Hume and miracles

Evaluate Hume’s claim that miracles are the least likely of events. [35]

AO1 Jan 2011 Q4

Many candidates will recognise a paraphrase of Hume’s view on miracles in this question and may therefore begin their answers with an exploration of how he comes to his beliefs about miracles. This would naturally lead to a description of miracles as “violations of nature”, though many will point to other useful definitions depending on the direction of their evaluation.

Some candidates may be able to outline Hume’s appeal to the principle of induction. Given “the more instances, the more probable the conclusion”; Hume argues that this is the basis of science, and claims that it is highly rational to believe the highly probable, and highly irrational to believe the highly improbable. He can then argue that a miracle is by definition highly improbable, otherwise it was not a miracle, and thus not worthy of belief.
This may lead candidates to describe Hume’s view that a wise man proportions his belief to the evidence and explain what Hume saw as the consequences for belief in miracles.
Others may compare these views with some of the writings of other philosophers such as Wiles and explore the reasons, from different perspectives, that scholars might argue that miracles are unlikely.
Alternatively some candidates may discuss the way some religions are founded on miracles, such as the resurrection of Jesus in the Christian faith and the belief of some religious people that miracles continue today.

AO2

Some candidates, as part of their evaluation, may use some of the arguments against these views on miracles put forward by philosophers such as Keith Ward. For example he would suggest that miracles have to be rare events otherwise there would be no such things as laws of nature as they would be continually broken.

Others may assess the extent to which Hume or others were successful in proving that miracles were unlikely events through an analysis for the value of their methods. They could for example look at the national lottery which anyone of us is very unlikely to win, however hundreds of people have already won the lottery and hundreds, it is easy to predict, will continue to win.

 

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