Aron Lucas On "Hume's Maxim: How a 'Trivial Truth' is Too Strong for Christian Apologetics"

Aron Lucas earned a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in 2016, and is using his sharp legal mind to defend Hume's Maxim against apologists Michael Licona, Stephen Davis, J.P. Moreland, William Lane Craig and Timothy & Lydia McGrew. It's an excellent piece of counter-apologetics! David Hume's maxim is this: "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." John Earman faults Hume for basically stating the obvious, but Lucas shows that "if Hume is to be faulted for stating the obvious, many of today's leading Christian thinkers should be faulted all the more for failing to see the obvious." Excerpt below:


The Craig-Davis Maxim (CDM)

William Lane Craig denies Hume's maxim wholesale. He writes:
The successful Christian apologist need not show that the probability of the resurrection on the evidence and background information is higher than the probability of no resurrection on the same evidence and information. In other words, he need not show that the probability of the resurrection hypothesis is greater than 50 percent, or more probable than not. Rather, what he must show is that the probability of the resurrection is greater than any of its separate alternatives.... Thus, even if the resurrection hypothesis has a probability of, say, only 30 percent, and none of its alternatives scores higher than, say, 10 percent, then it is far and away the best explanation.
Christian philosopher Stephen Davis has taken what is essentially the same view as Craig. Davis writes:
I do not accept [the] epistemological claim that the probability of a given hypothesis H must be greater than .5 for belief in H to be rational. Normally, this is indeed the case. But suppose we are in a situation where (a) there are four mutually exclusive alternatives to belief in H (call them A, B, C, and D); (b) each of A, B, C, and D has a probability of .15 (and thus the probability of the falsity of H is .6 and the probability of the truth of H is .4); (c) it is necessary to choose among H, A, B, and C; and (d) H, A, B, C, and D exhaust all the possibilities. In such a case, believing H is the most rational alternative.
This is very clearly at odds with Hume's maxim.

CDM is...the disjunction of many different explanations...This is all well and good, but the questions "what is the best explanation" and "what probably happened" address two separate issues, and it is the second question that we are interested in answering. The first question is only valuable insofar as it helps us answer the second. The CDM blurs this issue, and therefore it can lead a person to accept inconsistent beliefs. A person who accepts CDM may believe in the Resurrection as a historical event, but at the same time believe that the Resurrection is probably false. Perhaps Craig and Davis would respond by saying that "establish" according to the CDM merely means "establish as the best explanation" rather than "establish as a historical event." But if this is the case, then there is no sense in which we can say that the testimony renders the miracle credible. Unless someone believes that a miracle probably happened, it is irrational to nonetheless simultaneously believe in it as a historical fact.

Imagine a 20-sided die that [is] biased in favor of side 20. It lands on 20 1/5 of the time, and the other 19 sides are equally probable. If you had to bet on a single number, 20 would be the best bet. But if you had the bet on whether it will land on 20 or not land on 20, you should obviously bet against 20. Similarly, if the Resurrection is the best explanation, then the resurrection is the best individual option. But if we had to bet on whether the Resurrection is true or false, we should still bet against it.

Davis is correct to say that when we have five separate options, it is rational to pick the most probable option, even if it is less than 50% probable. But this is only true when two conditions are met. First, we must know all of the possible options, which is never the case in historical scholarship. Second, Davis' approach is only rational when, in his words, "it is necessary to choose among" the options. In this case, the justification for choosing the most probable option is purely pragmatic. If we are forced to choose, it is wisest to choose the option with the highest probability of being correct. We simply have no other choice. We choose the best option, not because we think it is correct, but because our hand has been forced and it is the most prudent choice. But note, this is a purely pragmatic reason for affirming the truth of a miracle, not an epistemic one, and Craig and Davis claim to believe in the Resurrection on the grounds that it is epistemically, rather than prudentially, justified.