Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Lorne Falkenstein


In this dissertation I examine the contributions of Anthony Collins (1676-1729) to the eighteenth-century debate about the grounds of Christianity. I show that by the early eighteenth-century British philosophers addressing this topic had begun to abandon appeals to miracles in favor of appeals to the completion of Old Testament prophecy. I argue that this alternative was short lived, in large part because of the critical work of Anthony Collins. This episode in the debate is often overlooked but without it, later discussions of miracles, including those of David Hume in An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, would have been anti-climactic.

There are a number of passages in the Bible warning of false prophets who work miracles in an attempt to gain credence. In the first two chapters I show that thinkers such as Hobbes, Boyle, and Locke were aware of these passages and concerned with developing criteria for whether the source of a miracle is divine or demonic. Their solutions only gave rise to increasingly serious further problems, which I trace under the titles of the circularity problem, the establishment problem, and the self-reference problem. The last of these naturally motivates a turn away from appeals to miracles to the alternative argument from the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. I discuss the difference between this argument and the argument from miracles in chapter 3, and show how it was ironically refuted by Collins.