This continues the repost of a response to Michael Martin on Jesus' resurrection. This section deals with Martin's treatment of David Hume's argument against miracles. The general question under consideration is, "Is it ever rational to believe in a miracle? Aren't alternative explanations always more likely?"
When discussing the probability of miracles, Hume’s argument against miracles is often mentioned. Michael Martin does not subscribe to Hume’s argument, but he does cover it in passing; I will do the same here. Martin mentions different ways of understanding Hume’s argument against miracles, and considers the right understanding of it to be this: for any possibly-miraculous event, some other explanation is always more likely than a miracle; so that while a miracle is not impossible, belief in a miracle is always irrational.
Looking at that view of miracles, is that view itself rational? To say that something is possible, but that belief that it happened is irrational -- that is a misclassification, a serious exercise in bad judgment. Such a view would necessarily result in the non-recognition of the possible whenever it occurs. It necessarily leads to a willful denial of evidence or distortion of facts when what is possible – a miracle – does in fact happen. Someone who cannot see this inconsistency does not have much credibility trying to instruct others on what is rational.
Please note that this comment is not directly about Mr. Martin, who mentions that he does not subscribe to that view himself and goes on to contrast his own view with Hume’s. I am referring only to this interpretation of Hume’s argument, and those who do not see the logical inconsistency -- the irrationality -- of affirming that a thing may happen but denying the rationality of ever believing that it has happened.
I would also disagree whether some other explanation is always more likely than a miracle. An exception would occur when no other explanation of the events is possible without resorting to the distortion of facts. As we noted above, distorting the facts is an inherent risk in this irrational anti-miracle view. If a proposed alternative explanation distorts the facts, it is lacking as an alternative explanation of those facts; it does not merit the same consideration as a view which accounts for the facts without distortion. The view that a miracle occurred is more reasonable than a distortion of the established facts; or, from the other side, when any alternative explanation requires distortion of established facts, that is the point at which it becomes increasingly rational to believe a miracle -- and increasingly irrational to disbelieve it.