Philosopher Michael Levine On Miracles

There are basically three philosophical questions of interest about miracles. The first is whether miracles are possible. The second is whether anyone can ever be justified, epistemologically speaking, in believing that a miracle has occurred. With regard to this question it is important to note that the fact one can imagine conditions in which belief in a miracle would would be justified does absolutely nothing to show that anyone has been so justified. The third question is whether anyone is or has been so justified.[1] These questions can be answered in short order. The first two questions have sheltered philosophers from dealing with the only philosophically significant question about miracles per se -- the third question.

The first two questions lead to various questions concerning the laws of nature, and naturalism versus supernaturalism. These issues may be worth pursuing in their own right, but they are of little consequence when it comes to the important third question about miracles. Is anyone epistemologically justified in believing in a miracle--for example, on the basis of Scripture and historical evidence? The question is not the modal one of whether one could be justified, but whether anyone is (or has been) so justified. It is this third question that Hume addresses in Part II of his essay, and it is this question that was of primary concern to him...In Part II he argues straightforwardly and on the basis of ordinary reasons--the kind used all of the time to dismiss such reports--that no one is justified in believing in miracles.

Philosophical discussion about miracles frequently ignores the question (Hume's central concern) of whether there exists historical evidence, testimony--including testimony in the form of Scripture--or first-hand experience, that justifies belief in the miraculous. Those who wish to champion miracles either argue that such evidence exists or else they merely assume it. But the question of whether such evidence does exist, by itself, is the crucial question about justified belief in miracles."

[1] A fourth question might be 'what is a miracle?' I do not, however, think that there is much of philosophical interest attached to this question. Aquinas' definition suffices: "Those things are properly called miracles which are done by divine agency beyond the order commonly observed in nature" (Summa Contra Gentiles, III). Following Hume, a miracle is frequently defined as a violation of a law of nature, but technically speaking this is a mistake. Laws of nature are meant to account for or describe natural events, not supernaturally caused events. Miracles, being outside the scope of laws of nature, cannot properly be seen as violations of them.

From The Cambridge Companion to Miracles, pp. 291-294.