Argument from miracle testimony
The argument from miracle testimony is based on eye-witness accounts of miracles. Miracles are usually regarded as highly unusual events that have no explanation but divine intervention. David Hume was highly critical of miracles in his essay Of Miracles and argues that while miracles may occur, no testimony is sufficient to establish the occurrence of a miracle. His argument is influential but arguably the only valid result was to popularise evidentialism when considering miracle testimony.
Miracles have been recorded in many different religions and throughout history.
- 1 The argument
- 2 Counter arguments
- 3 References
- 4 See also
- 5 External links
- Testimony exists to show miracles occur
- Not all of the testimony is irreconcilable or based on hoaxes.
- Miracles occur
- There can be no naturalistic explanation for a miracle
- God exists
The Bible as a source of miracle testimony is discussed in the argument from biblical miracles.
Arguments use various definitions of miracles. In this article, two will be addressed:
- Indicative: A miracle is an event whose only adequate explanation is the extraordinary and direct intervention of God.
- Rare event: Rare beneficial events that defy explanation by known physical processes.
Human testimony is unreliable
Because of the many biases that human experience, human testimony is often unreliable. Regarding miracle testimony, the most relevant ones are:
- Pareidolia and the Clustering illusion, humans see patterns that are not necessarily there
- Conformity Bias and the Bandwagon Effect, if everyone says it was a miracle, you are more likely to think so
- Bizarreness effect, unusual evidence is better remembered than routine information
- Confirmation bias, only considering evidence that supports our beliefs by cherry picking
- Survivorship bias, considering survivors and ignoring deceased (in the case of disasters)
- Naïve realism, assuming oneself as objective and free of bias
Observer are often mistaken about what they witnessed or self-deceive themselves into belief. Testimony should be evaluated based on the state of mind and motives of the witness.
Strange and miraculous occurrences have often been recorded that have been later uncovered as hoaxes.  It is difficult to say how many miracles were not debunked, due to lack of scrutiny, but were also hoaxes.
It is often easier to fake historical records rather than fake an apparently miracle in front of witnesses.
There is a reporting bias of miracle evidence due to peoples fascination with unusual and bizarre events. For this reason stories of miracles are propagated, but counter evidence is not. For this reason, miracle stories may have been refuted at the time but that refutation has been since lost.
Standard of evidence
How are we to judge claims of miracles? John Locke and David Hume argued that we should examine the evidence and base our belief depending on evidential weight (i.e. evidentialism). Repeatable personal experience has generally high quality evidence, although it is not infallible.
- "There are a number of circumstances to be taken into consideration in all judgements of this kind; and the ultimate standard, by which we determine all disputes, that may arise concerning them, is always derived from experience and observation. "
Based on our experiences, testimony has a lesser evidential weight than direct personal experience.
"Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?"
- — Chico Marx in Duck Soup
If a person were to tell you they could fly without mechanical assistance or walk through walls, you would probably think their claim is highly unlikely. The reason for this is our somewhat limited experience tells us that these things typically do not occur. The possibly of incomplete or mistaken experience must be considered as well as the reliability of the claimant on this topic. After considering the evidence, the conclusion is never absolute rejection or absolute acceptance but at least the possibility of error is allowed (this principle is called fallibilism). Given that unusual events are rare, in that they cannot be directly verified and human testimony is often unreliable, it is difficult to establish a miracle has occurred with much certainty. Typically, all that can be established is the possibility that a miracle has occurred.
If the standard of evidence were lowered, we would also accept many other paranormal claims, which is absurd.
The standard of evidence proposed that is similar to that used by modern historians: Ernst Troeltsch argued that there must be some analogy between historical events and current events. 
Some philosophers have attempted to ground these concepts on more rigorous Bayesian (probability) mathematics but it is difficult to account for all the factors that change the weight of a piece of evidence.
- Main Article: Outsider test
If we examine miracle claims of a single religion from the point of view of an outsider, we would reject the claims. This is a criterion for rational belief.
Miracles are less often reported in modern times
Miracle claims are less often reported than in ancient times. David Hume argued that we have better communication of information and education in modern times. This makes hoax miracles more difficult because witnesses are less credulous and rebuttal evidence is more available.
- "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. [...] in proportion as we advance nearer the enlightened ages, we soon learn, that there is nothing mysterious or supernatural in the case, but that all proceeds from the usual propensity of mankind towards the marvellous, and that, though this inclination may at intervals receive a check from sense and learning, it can never be thoroughly extirpated from human nature. "
We also have a higher standard of evidence with the availability of photographic or video recording, as well as forensic and medical records. Although the high standard of physical evidence is expected in modern times, we also are more sceptical of evidence because of the emergence of advanced hoax methods such as computer generated visual effects.
Since 1964, the James Randi foundation offers a cash prize for any demonstration of paranormal phenomena under controlled conditions. Approximately 1000 applicants have attempted to claim the prize  but no claim has been successful so far. The prize money has grown from US$1,000 to $1,000,000 from donations.
Occurrence of miracles supports many conclusions
- Main Article: Which God?
Many religions are supported by miracle testimony of comparable credibility. If we accept one religion's claims, we must accept them all. This leads to an absurd conclusion of multiple exclusively existing monotheistic Gods and incompatible theology.
Natural causes of miracles or unexplained phenomena have also not been ruled out by the argument. To claim "God did it" is an argument from ignorance.
Problem with definition of indicative miracles
This definition is problematic because there are many unexplained phenomena which might one day be explained (e.g. dark matter). How are we to distinguish between unknown natural phenomena and acts of God? This is walking into the arms of God of the gaps and the argument from ignorance. Using this definition, no event cannot be called a "miracle" with any confidence.
- Faith healing
- Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
- Argument from observed miracles, if you have seen a miracle, you might not need to rely on second hand testimony.
- Argument from fortunate events, sometimes fortunate events are called a miracle even if they can be explained naturalistically.
- Paranormal Challenge, James Randi Educational Foundation