“By definition a miracle can never happen” Discuss.

This title is asking the student to consider different definitions of miracles and in particular Hume’s definition of ‘a violation of a law of nature’ – which could be considered to make miracles almost by definition impossible. Students could assess the strength of Hume’s a priori argument, and then consider other definitions of miracles such as those of Tillich, Holland and Wiles. Lewis and Ward could be used to provide a critique of Hume and Wiles.

Ever since Hume’s definition of a miracle as a ‘violation’ of a law of nature, there has been debate over whether miracles do or even can happen. The question I will be addressing in this essay is whether the violation definition of a miracle makes miracles impossible, and considering the strengths of alternative definitions of miracle.


  1. This is a great wesbite, thank you! I have my philosophy and ethics exam tomorrow, do you have any idea on predicting the questions and what the highest probability is for certain topics to come up?


    • It’s a dangerous game prediction! The essays I have put on here recently have aimed at helping students with areas that may come up. So disembodied existence, Hick or Dawkins , Wittgenstein eternity of god, def of miracles, aims of William James, numinous exp, and via negativa have all not appeared for a while! Good luck for tomorrow!

    • Hi Charlotte
      Just wondering how you got on in your exam – Dawkins, Wittgenstein and Eternity of God all came up, so my students were really happy!

    • Haha yes, thanks Julia! My students were really happy I can tell you! I will have a look and post something here soon.

    • Ok, so in June 2012 Eternity, Dawkins and Aristotle, Language Games (Wittgenstein) and Conversion experiences came up. If you look above you’ll see I predicted three of those amongst some others. It seems we could be due for those others then.

      They were: disembodied existence, definition of miracles (perhaps linked to Hume), main aims and conclusions of William James (not the 4 characteristics of mystical exp.), numinous experience (Rudolf Otto), and the via negativa. We haven’t had questions on revelation and sacred scripture for a little while either.

      Good luck and remember, there is no guarantee that any of these will come up!

      • 3 out of 4 again – well done!!!

        so looks like odds on for miracles and revelation through scripture next time….

      • Wow! That’s a pretty good success rate! Can you tell me what the questions were? No one at our centre sat the exam so I don’t have a copy of the question paper.

      • one more time for a hat trick……

        my daughter sat the exam and she can’t remember the exact command words for all of them, but something like – 1- Critically assess the aims and conclusions of William James with reference to religious experience 2- ‘The via negativa (apophatic way) is the only way to talk about God’ Discuss 3- Evaluate the philosophical problems associated with the belief that God is omnibenevolent. 4- The idea of disembodied existence is incoherent’ Discuss.

  2. Can you please predict the questions in June 2013? I’m thinking: (Hume and) Wiles on miracles, Plato’s body and soul, Boethius and symbol/analogy/myth

    • Hi Fran,
      There’s not been a question on numinous experience or one on miracles definition for a while. Whether we will get those questions I can’t say.

      • Hello– just to let you know: symbols, Boethius, Wiles on miracles and life after death+problem of evil came up

  3. Hi Have you got any predictions for A2 Philosophy and Ethics?
    I looked on Philosophical Investigations, and have no ideas of what might come up on the Ethics exam.

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