Children are perhaps the world's most remarkable creatures. Aside from their ability to quickly rebound from difficulties, children have the ability to believe in fairies and princesses, witches and terrible monsters. This baffles those adults preoccupied with reason, as those are things which are not supported by logic, physical proof, or even common sense; and yet, this topic of improbable events, otherwise known as miracles, becomes the focus of an entire chapter in the book Galileo, Darwin, and Hawking: The Interplay of Science and Religion by Phil Dowe. Dowe argues that, contrary to the views of David Hume, miracles do not necessarily prove that God exists, but rather they create faith in him.
In the chapter, Dowe's argument against Hume has three main parts: the definition of a miracle and his response to Hume's first and second arguments against miracles. The definition of a miracle has always been a tricky one; Dowe states that a miracle can be defined as a "'very unlikely event'"(Dowe 87) or "an impossible event" (88). One must also consider the definition that Hume himself made, which was that a miracle was "a violation of the laws of nature" (88). A law of nature is a universal regularity, something that occurs 100% of the time without exception.
The statements 'dead persons remain dead' and 'all metals expand when heated' are both taken to be laws of nature if in our experience there are no cases of persons rising from the dead or heated metals failing to expand (Dowe 88).
It is at this point that Dowe starts to attack Hume's theory with force using an argument pioneered by John Mackie. If, Dowe argues, by definition a miracle defies the law of nature, how can a miracle happen at all? Say a metal was found that did not expand when heated; this would render false the universal regularity that all metals expand when heated. Because this universal regularity is now false, it ceases to be a law of nature, and therefore any cases of a metal expanding would no longer be considered a miracle because the law of nature which it used to violate no longer exists. At this point one may applaud Dowe for seeming to have made a valid dent in Hume's armor. This, however ironic it may be, is also a weak point of Dowe's argument, as he does not present any real-life examples of this. If Mackie's line of reasoning in use by Dowe is valid, than he should be able to present some sort of evidence to support his case. Without the evidence, that is all Dowe's argument is: reasoning. This particular argument makes perfect sense, but is not applicable in the real world. Despite this, Dowe's strong point here comes toward the end of the section when he cites Hume's amended definition of a miracle. According to Hume, a "more accurate" (90) definition of a miracle is an event that not only defies the laws of nature, but also must have proof of God's intervention. Dowe says this is just absurd, as Hume is using the very thing he is ultimately trying to disprove (the existence of God) to prove his point that God doesn't exist. Because of the ultimate absurdity of this claim, Dowe is able to emerge victorious in the battle.
The second part of Dowe's attack against Hume involves Hume's first law against miracles. Hume essentially says that testimony cannot outweigh physical proof for a miracle. This all starts with Hume's belief that a person's belief in an event should be proportionate to the evidence in favor of the event. According to his first law, if there is equal evidence for and against the occurrence of a miracle, then they cancel each other out and the debater is forced to admit they do not know where to proceed. If the testimonial evidence in favor of the event is less than the scientific evidence against the event, than the evidence does not favor the occurrence; therefore, a miracle can never be proven. The flaw in this argument, pointed out by Dowe, is that Hume later goes back and disregards the first rule.
However, suppose that the testimony [for the miracle] was extremely strong...suppose that there is no disagreement amongst these reports, and that in every culture there is a lively memory of this event. This is a case, claims Hume, in which we would have to admit that a miracle has occurred (Dowe 95).
Since Hume goes back and disregards his own rules, then the whole piece may be disregarded as reasoning against proof for miracles.
The last piece to be put under Dowe's scrutiny is Hume's second law against miracles. According to this, there are three possibilities for the occurrence of a miracle: it is either an act of God, it has no explanation, or the explanation just hasn't been discovered yet. The second option is the weakest and is therefore eliminated, while the third is most probable; however, there is difficulty in proving either the first or the third option. Here Dowe points out the vagueness of Hume's argument, and how it contradicts his earlier arguments.
According to Hume's second definition, it is not a miracle because we should suppose that there is some natural explanation that we can't yet see...However, Hume does not advance any argument as to why we should pursue naturalistic explanations rather than divine explanations. For this reason his argument begs the question at hand (Dowe 98).
Hume does not offer any evidence or other reasoning in support of his claims. Dowe is now able to walk victoriously over the beast of a problem Hume's argument against miracles presented to both religion and scientific reasoning.
Overall, Dowe's use of simple logic and his consultation of others in the field allowed him to emerge the champion. However, the question remains: do miracles provide proof for the existence of God? Miracles are not proofs for God; the only proof for God lies in the Gospel. It is at this point that this author feels one should set aside the confusing arguments presented by both Hume and Dowe and take miracles are at face value; instead of "proving" that God exists, they promote faith in Him. Although to some believing in miracles may seem as absurd as believing fairies, the leap of childlike trust needed is just the sort of thing one may need. As the comedian Groucho Marx once said, "This is so simple, a child of five would understand it. Somebody fetch me a child of five!" Perhaps those children who believe in the impossible have the right idea after all.