Hume’s Syndrome: Irrational Resistance to the Paranormal



One of the obstacles to progress in psychical research is irrational resistance to the phenomena.  Among eighteenth-century Enlightenment writers, one type of resistance was evident that has persisted until present times.  To illustrate, the present paper looks at David Hume’s discussion of miracles in his An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748/1955).  Hume’s essay actually lays out a good case for some extraordinary events reported about the death of the Jansenist Francois de Paris—phenomena produced by the so-called ‘‘convulsionaries of St. Medard.’’ The contradiction is resolved by Hume himself, who naively reveals what motivates him to deny the overwhelming testimony he reviews: namely, his fear of validating religion.  This paper notes the same pressure to deny ‘‘miracles’’ in another eighteenth-century writer, Edward Gibbon; Gibbon, however, unlike Hume, yields to the pressure of evidence and admits one startling instance of a well-documented preternatural event.  A third figure from the same century is cited, a rationalistic Promotor Fidei of the Catholic Church, Prosper Lambertini, who, ironically, may be cited as having advanced the cause of the scientific investigation of psychic phenomena.  The lesson from history is not to be seduced by stereotypes: an empiricist can deny and distort facts; a religious believer can be critical and objective. 

Keywords: David Hume—miracles—convulsionaries of St. Medard—Edward Gibbon—Prosper Lambertini

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