Monday, October 7, 2013


Arguments for the Possibility of Miracles  There are two arguments for the possibility of miracles: one from the side of God, the miracle-worker, or the cause, and the other from the side of the world, or the effect. We must show that both are open, not closed, to miracles.   First, there is no defence against miracles in God’s nature, no assurance that God would not work a miracle. For if there is a God, he is omnipotent , and thus able to work miracles. Whether he would freely choose to do so or not is not a matter we can know a priori, for it would depend on his free choice. An omnipotent God could not be compelled to work or not work a miracle. So there is no obstacle to miracles in God. If there is a God, miracles are possible.   Second, there is no obstacle to or defense against miracles on the part of the world of nature. If God created it in the first place, that is, if nature is open to the possibilities of existing or not existing, then it is open to the possibilities of containing miracles or not containing them. In other words, if God can bang out the Big Bang of creation, he can certainly add some smaller bangs of miracles. If the author can create the play, he can change it too. And if the play is dependent on God, its author, for its very existence, then it is also dependent on him for whatever else he may want to do in it.  

Objections Against Miracles  Each objection tries to prove that miracles are impossible (or overwhelming improbable). If miracles are impossible, then they are not actual, and if no miracles ever actually happened, then Christianity is false. For the fundamental claims and doctrines of Christianity are all miracles: Incarnation, resurrection, salvation, inspiration. If any one of these objections is valid, the whole of Christianity is refuted.     

Objection 1: Miracles violate the principle of the uniformity of nature.
Reply: What is meant by the “uniformity of nature”? If it means that we can explain whatever happens wholly in terms of the system of natural causes, then the objection begs the question. It amounts to saying “miracles violate the principle that miracles never happen.”
Objection 2: A miracle, by definition, must violate some law of nature, and therefore must be a maximally improbable event. But then it is always more likely that the event never really occurred as described (or remembered), or that it did not really violate the laws of nature.  
Reply A: A miracle does not “violate” the laws of nature – any more than a school principal violates the schedule of classes by cancelling gym for a special assembly. Violations take place whenever someone who has to follow or uphold an established order fails or refuses to do so – for example, when the gym teacher cancels classes on his own to lead his students in an hour of spontaneous prayer. But the principal has done nothing like that if he modifies the schedule within the limits of his authority.   Now the Creator of the universe has authority over all creation. It is truly odd to call his suspending this or that regularly observed sequence a “violation,” as if it were something he should feel guilty or embarrassed about. A miracle violates nothing. When one happens, God has (mercifully) modified the schedule of the day.
Reply B: Why are miracles called “maximally improbable”? They are certainly unusual, but how do we know whether they are likely to happen or not? Only if we have already decided whether or not it is likely that God exists – or that he would ever work a miracle. In that case calling miracles “maximally improbable” is not a neutral description: it stacks the deck against them. For it places every report of miracles in a setting where it is most likely that God does not exist or does not intervene in the system of natural causes, and therefore that the event reported is not a miracle at all. Hence the conclusion that reports of miracles should be disbelieved is really assumed in, and assured by, the words used in the premises to describe them.
Reply C: We are creatures of habit. Life is one darn thing after another – often the same sort of darn thing. We expect that today is going to be pretty much like yesterday, and we know that people, including ourselves, are given to exaggeration and deceit. So we naturally approach stories of “signs and wonders” with deep suspicion. Our experience of humanity teaches us to have our guard up much of the time. And when we hear of “miracles” from people of questionable or unstable character, we dismiss them as mere oddities, frauds or delusions. But when an event seems for its setting so right, and the person to whom it is imputed so noble, then it seems to demand a more serious response. The place of fittingness has not often enough been acknowledged in discussions of miracles. But surely it is a key factor in the way we concretely assess events we hear about – or even witness.  

Objection 3: To accept miracles would be to abandon the method by which science operates.
Reply: Nonsense. All the natural sciences operate by assuming certain things as given: the world of matter, natural causes operating within that world, and an order or regularity that makes empirical investigation possible. That is why questions like: “How come the world of matter exists at all – rather than nothing?” or “What caused the Big Bang – the absolute beginning of all material being?” are not, strictly speaking, questions within physical science. This does not mean that such questions are unreal, only that science as such cannot answer them. A scientist who believes that God caused the universe to exist has not abandoned scientific method, but, merely acknowledged its limits.   Consider the following example. A doctor witnesses a most unusual event: a patient of his with terminal AIDS is suddenly cured after bathing in the waters of Lourdes. He thinks: “Some cause has reversed the progress of this disease – but what exactly was it?” so he sets out in search of this unknown cause. He checks on all the drugs the patient had taken before, during and after the pilgrimage. He investigates the water of the shrine to see whether some as-yet unknown element in it is able to destroy the AIDS virus. After weeks of fruitless labour, he begins to wonder whether even this terrible disease could be psychosomatically reversed. Finally, he throws up his hands and admits that as a scientist he can find no plausible empirical explanation. This is a possible scenario. But there is another.   Suppose that while visiting Lourdes to gather water for testing, the doctor finds himself deeply moved, even shaken, by the faith of the pilgrims he sees there. He has already been impressed by the faith-filled charity which radiates from his newly-cured patient who was once so bitter and self-absorbed. He feels the same thing here at the shrine, only in almost over-whelming intensity. So he inquires about the message of Lourdes, then about Christianity. Finding no plausible empirical explanation, he comes to believe, as a person who is also a scientist, that God did specially intervene in curing his patient of AIDS, and that no description of the event which left God out would be adequate. But notice: he did not come to disbelieve in empirical explanation. He did not cease to be a scientist. He simply acknowledged that empirical explanation has its limitations, and believed that, in this case, the true explanation transcended them.

  Objection 4: Miracles are an affront to the glory of God. If he designed the system of nature, and then has to intervene in its regular workings he must be an incompetent architect.
Reply: This argument would only be true if God designed a system in which he should never intervene – in which he should never answer prayers or reveal himself in special and spectacular ways. If you acquired a newly-built house and found it had no bathrooms, that would indeed reflect badly on the architect. For the concrete design of the house would lack what it unquestionably ought to have. But if miracles happen, then God did not design a system in which he should never intervene. The intervention is part of the plain; he designed it that way.   Is anyone in a position to say God ought not to have designed the system this way? We do not, and cannot, know the extent of God’s creation. There may be worlds in which there are no specially answered prayers, no interventions in the system of natural causes. How can we really know that it was wrong for him to have created a world in which he does intervene?  

No comments:

Post a Comment