Nautilus

A Treatise on Miracles by History’s Most Famous Atheist

The Scottish philosopher David Hume was in many ways an enemy of the unlikely. The quintessential empiricist of his age, Hume’s 1748 treatise, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, put forward the groundbreaking argument that careful reasoning on the basis of sensory experience is the only true ground of knowledge. In doing so, he called into question the validity of many improbable claims advanced in religious texts, folklore, and historical accounts of times past and lands far away.

In this short excerpt from a section of the treatise, titled “Of Miracles,” Hume proffers what he takes to be an ingenious method for discerning whether reports of

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