That Hume not only exalts his own culture but also neglects to evaluate critically the influence of its recent history in suppressing such phenomena reinforces the impression that his perspective was ethnocentric. But we need not settle for speculations regarding his ethnocentrism, since his work provides much more explicit evidence of it. Scholars today point to a note in his essay “Of National Characters,” which involved “the inferiority of the darker-skinned peoples.” Here are some of Hume’s words:
I am apt to suspect the Negroes and in general all of the other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was a civilized nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. No indigenous manufacturers amongst them, no arts, no sciences.
Borrowing language from Hume’s essay on miracles, Taliaferro and Hendrickson interpret his dismissal of “exceptions” like the Jamaican man based on Hume’s “view of the regular, uniform, exceptionless character of nature,” a nature that Hume clearly misunderstood.
The Jamaican whom Hume compares with a parrot stimulating speech was Francis Williams, a Cambridge graduate whose poetry in Latin was well known. Now would Williams have been the only renowned example who publicly disconfirmed Hume’s prejudice. For example, New England African-American poet Phillis Wheatley recited some of her poetry in London during Hume’s day. Yet as we saw in chapter 5, Hume interpreted individual claims in light of what he believed to be patterns in nature rather than allowing individual cases to readjust his views of nature. His interest was neither in the specific social context that limited the achievements of many slaves nor in the specific theological context that invited miracles more in some settings than in others.
Hume was a child of his day, but his argument against trusting testimony for miracles based on its presence among “ignorant and barbarous nations” should never again be admitted; its origins are inseparable from his ethnocentrism.
-Craig Keener in Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, p. 223-225.