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By Thomas Paine

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And this enables us to state the argument again in a slightly different, and more decisive, form – the form Hume preferred. We receive a report of something – for convenience call it The Event – supposed to be miraculous. So we are asked to believe that The Event occurred, and that this was contrary to a law of nature. For us to have good reason to believe that an event of that kind would have been contrary to a law of nature, it must be contrary to all our experience, and to our best theories of how nature works.

But sometimes authors will adopt different tactics, pitching us straight in at the deep end with an assertion which seems frankly preposterous. We should learn to ride out the shock and read on, seeking to discover what the preposterous assertion really amounts to (it may be what it seems, or it may just be an unusual way of saying something rather less startling), and why they made it. Notice 35 that ‘why they made it’ means two things, both important: their reasons for thinking it true – and their motives for being interested in it, what they are aiming at.

Note the bracketed words ‘in theory’. Hume doesn’t think that we ever find this situation in practice, and gives a number of reasons why not. Had he lived in our time he might have added that psychological research has uncovered a number of surprising facts about the unreliability of human memory and testimony, but shows no sign of homing in on any set of conditions under which their reliability is 31 How do we know? 5. The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, in a sixth-century representation. Food for 5,000?

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