The recent controversy about Hume's Maxim against justified belief in miracles

Contrary to what I normally do I’m not going to argue anything in this article. My goal is to spread useful information, mostly in form of links about Hume’s maxim.

Hume’s maxim

Hume mentions this in his essay An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.[i]:

91. The plain consequence is (and it is a general maxim worthy of our attention), “That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish; and even in that case there is a mutual destruction of arguments, and the superior only gives us an assurance suitable to that degree of force, which remains, after deducting the inferior.” When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion. (Section X, part 1, 91)

John Earman’s critique

Recently a professor has been arguing against Hume’s maxim.[ii] The first thing to find our is whether he is a waste of time or not. So, I looked him up on Wikipedia:

John Earman (born 1942) is a philosopher of physics. He is currently a professor in the History and Philosophy of Science department at the University of Pittsburgh. He has also taught at UCLA, the Rockefeller University, and the University of Minnesota,[1] and is president of the Philosophy of Science Association.[2] He received his PhD from Princeton in 1968.[3] [iii]

He doesn’t seem like a waste of time. But people who are not a waste of time sometimes write books that are a waste of time. So, let’s check some reviews of his book. There are six reviews on Amazon. All of them are positive. Five reviews with five stars and one with four. One of the reviews is an alleged professor (of what?) and one is a Christian nutcase.

David Johnson’s critique

Also somewhat recently another professor has challenged Hume’s maxim.[iv] Again, let’s see if he is worth our time. Wikipedia writes:

David A. Johnson (born 1952) is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Yeshiva University and has previously taught at UCLA and Syracuse University. Raised in Nebraska, he earned his BA from the University of Nebraska, where he studied under Robert Audi, and his PhD from Princeton University. His areas of concentration are Philosophy of Religion, Metaphysics, and Epistemology. His brother, Edward, is Professor of Philosophy at University of New Orleans.[v]

The answer is therefore probably yes. Is his book worth our time? Amazon has one positive review of it, giving it four stars. So, maybe. Not enough data.

Jordan Howard Sobel’s defense

Sobel defends Hume’s maxim.[vi] There is no Wikipedia article on Sober, but one can read his persona CV. He’s a doctor of philosophy and a professor of philosophy.[vii] His book has a single five star positive review on Amazon, and Theodore M. Drange (also a professor) has written a positive review of his book.[viii]

Robert J. Fogelin’s defense

In the most recent book mentioned in this article Fogelin defends Hume’s Maxim against the criticism of the aforementioned authors.[ix] Fogelin has no Wikipedia article, but he is mentioned on a list of philosophers.[x] One his personal homepage one can read that:

Robert J. Fogelin is Professor of Philosophy and Sherman Fairchild Professor in the Humanities at Dartmouth College.[xi]

The book has two positive five star reviews on Amazon.

A combined review

A review of Earman’s, Johnson’s and Fogelin’s books can be found here.[xii]

Sean’s writings on Hume’s maxim

Sean has written four articles on Hume’s maxim that I have been allowed to reprint here, so to speak.


Warning: These have been converted from the original HTML version and may contain errors and dead links.

[i] David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1748, Section X. “Of Miracles”,…rstanding.html

[ii]John Earman, Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles, 2000


[iv] David Johnson, Hume, Holism, and Miracles, 1999,…ref=pd_sim_b_2


[vi] Logic and Theism: Arguments for and against Beliefs in God, Cambridge University Press, 2004 (xix + 652).



[ix] Robert J. Fogelin, A Defense of Hume on Miracles, 2005,…ref=pd_sim_b_7



[xii]…17/1/142?rss=1 (starting at page 142, or 24 in the document)

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