In his famous essay “Of Miracles,” David Hume argues that “it forms a strong presumption against all supernatural and miraculous relations, that they are observed chiefly to abound among ignorant and barbarous nations; or if a civilized people has ever given admission to any of them, that people will be found to have received them from ignorant and barbarous ancestors, who transmitted them with that inviolable sanction and authority, which always attend received opinions.” Later in the same essay, he writes, “it is strange, a judicious reader is apt to say, upon the perusal of these wonderful historians, that such prodigious events never happen in our days.”1
It may be said that this sentiment is still common among skeptics today. The question, however, is whether it has any basis in fact. Are miracles really mostly found among “ignorant and barbarous nations,” or in traditions from similarly unenlightened sources? Is it true that miracles are not reported in the present (or the 18th century when Hume was writing) but only in the distant past? It doesn’t seem that Hume ever provided anything other than anecdotal evidence for his claim, but today we have good reason to answer this question in the negative.
In fact miracle testimonies are widely reported in all parts of the world up to and including the present day. Such reports are not nearly as uncommon as the skeptic might have us think. The Pew Forum conducted a ten-country survey of Pentecostals and charismatics asking how many reported having witnessed divine healings. This was compared to the number of non-Pentecostals who made a similar claim. Not surprisingly, a higher percentage of Pentecostals and charismatics make such a claim. However, the number of non-charismatics who claim to have personally witnessed divine healing is still a sizable percentage, including 28% in the U.S., 32% in South Africa, and 20% in South Korea. 2
Extrapolating from the total numbers, Craig Keener points out that overall this survey represents hundreds of millions of people alive in 2006 who claimed to have witnessed divine healing in these countries alone. 3 While nobody would suggest that every single claim is true, for the skeptic they must all be dismissed as false. That, of course, was the intention of Hume when he wrote his essay. The difficulty for Hume, who wrote before the development of the probability calculus, is that his argument is demonstrably false. 4 Moreover, his assertion that miracle reports are not found among modern, civilized people is also spectacularly false. We may consider it to be completely debunked.
1.David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding., http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hume/david/h92e/chapter10.html (Accessed Oct. 3, 2012).
2. ”Spirit and Power: A 10-Country Survey of Pentecostals,” Pew Forum Survey (2006), http://www.pewforum.org/Christian/Evangelical-Protestant-Churches/Spirit-and-Power.aspx (accessed Oct. 3, 2012).
3. Craig Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, 2 vols., (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), Kindle Reader e-book, loc 6216.
4. See John Earman, Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).