Notes for May 1

Main points

The first two parts of Leviathan apply to any society. The third and fourth are specifically concerned with Christian societies.

At the beginning of Part III, Hobbes laid out some ground rules. He said he would grant that the Bible is a genuine source of supernatural revelation; that is certainly what the members of a Christian Commonwealth believe, after all. However, he insisted that the interpretation of the Bible has to follow the normal standards of “natural” reasoning.

In today’s class, we talked about how Hobbes applied these rules to the case of miracles.

The cessation of miracles

After going over Hobbes’s chapter on miracles, I spent most of my time on some remarks he made in passing about how “miracles now cease” (32.9). This was a doctrine Protestants tried to use to show Catholics were guilty of superstition. Miracles were used to establish the church but, once that was done, they ceased. So there is no weekly miracle of turning wine and bread into the blood and body of Christ.

Hume clearly picked up on the problem with this. Bishop Tillotson tells us to believe our own eyes when deciding whether the priest has really converted the bread into a man’s body. That is, weigh the evidence as you normally would and you will never believe a miracle that is reported today. The obvious question is: why not weigh the evidence as you normally would when considering the reports of miracles in ancient Palestine?

That is, if you don’t believe that Reverend Welch raised a man from the dead, why would you believe this story?

Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus … When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. … Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already. …

Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.

Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.

Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.

And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.

Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him. (John, 11:1–12:2.)

Hume saw that this is where the doctrine of the cessation of miracles was headed. Did Hobbes see it that way? It’s hard to say.

This page was written by Michael Green for Hobbes Seminar, Philosophy 185s, Spring 2013. It was posted May 6, 2013.
Hobbes Seminar