David Hume believed we should not believe in miracles on the testimony of others (Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, First Enquiry, David Hume). While his reasoning for such testimony being unreliable is intriguing (e.g. people sometimes lie or are undereducated, people often misunderstand their surroundings, or, stories grow through gossip; a person with powerful and/or religious authority and influence can make another afraid to refute the claim (and is all the more reason to doubt it); and, information can be misinterpreted even by the highly educated—think confirmation bias), this blog shall focus on Hume’s definition and what it leaves open.
What’s this have to do with Vampires and Zombies, you ask? Well, first we must examine what Hume defined as a miracle—and then we’ll get to the fun part.
Definition = Rule
Hume’s miracle does not mean some wondrous, rare or extraordinary accomplishment or event, like conceiving when one thought they were infertile or making a daring, complicated rescue, as we may understand it today. The miracle to which Hume refers is one that defies the laws of nature—the virgin birth would be one example. While most miracles are thought to lie within some divine intervention, a miracle would not necessarily have to be in relation to a deity so long as a law of nature was broken (most commonly known as written by John Locke—no, not the guy from Lost). If it doesn’t defy a natural law it’s not a miracle.
The Fun Part
Based on his definition, I have to wonder if he has accurately, or at the very least clearly, defined his idea of a miracle. The word miracle incites positive emotions in people. Thus, one could infer that a miracle is a good thing; however, if a miracle only need to break a law of nature then positivity or goodness isn’t necessary and it would then allow a vampire or zombie to be a miracle.
Vampires are the undead—a cold, lifeless body of a deceased person that has resurrected and thirsts for the blood of the living to give it “life.” Similarly, a zombie is a dead, lifeless and decaying body that seeks either flesh or blood. While each can be more complexly defined, these are the basic key factors, neither of which conjure positive images or emotions (glittering romantic vampires aside). They mostly incite horror. Regardless, their existence would defy the laws of nature as far as we know (or even knew in Hume’s time) anything about life and/or death and therefore, according to his rule, allow them to be classified as a miracle.
While “reasonable” people now know that vampires are purely myth and that their myth was created from fear of the unknown and a misunderstanding of the decomposition process, at one point the possibility of vampirism was very real. I, however, cannot imagine anyone to have thought of a vampire or zombie as a miracle despite them defying the laws of nature. A vampire was thought to be evil and brought about death and zombies are deadly abominations— very bad things.
Caveats and Disclaimers
Hume discusses that many events once thought to be miraculous have been disproven as our knowledge and awareness grows; thus, the very fact that vampires and zombies don’t actually exist and their non-existence proof that no law of nature has been broken and are therefore not a miracle is not my point. My exaggerated example was merely to point out that Hume’s definition would allow for something negative to be a miracle and I highly doubt anyone, reasonable or otherwise, would embrace anything negative as a miracle. Sleep tight!
Photo credit: in case you didn’t already know—Interview with the Vampire (Neil Jordon).