A miracle is held to be an act of God, or an invisible agent, which goes against the laws of nature and has some religious meaning or significance. This is just one definition; there are many explanations as to what a miracle actually is. Hume says a miracle is: ‘ a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity or by the interposition of some invisible agent.’ R.F. Holland says a miracle is a coincidence that can be taken religiously as a sign and called a miracle. Mel Thompson believes that miracles are a matter of interpretation- how the person interprets the miracle.
Aquinas held that a miracle was done by God, which nature could not do, or could not do in that order, or is done in nature but without the usual operation of nature, for example, the sun going backwards, or an instantaneous cure of someone who may have been cured in time naturally. Lastly, Tillich believes a miracle is a significant event, which gives the mystery of a revelation, which does not destroy the rational structure of reality in which it appears. As you have established, there are many different views on what a miracle actually is. However, the definitions have various weaknesses.
Prices start at $12
Prices start at $11
Prices start at $10
Hume in ‘An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding of Miracles’ says: ‘The Christian religion not only was the first attended with miracles but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one. Mere reason is insufficient to convince us of its veracity, and whosoever is moved by faith to assent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of its understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience.’ That is, the Christian religion is based on miracles, both when it started and today.
However, Christianity is based on faith and love for God. All through the New Testament miracles that Jesus performed, were upon people who had faith in God. Faith thus came first. According to Hume, Christianity is not reasonable, and any Christian belief flies in the face of (‘subverts’) all understanding and experience. Therefore, according to Hume, all religious belief is contrary to human experience and reason. Bultmann argues that all miracles are ‘mythological’. Bultmann held that the Biblical miracles were part of a story wrapped up in the ‘mystical trappings’ of the First Century: demons, voices from heaven and so on. He set out to remove these trappings and to expose the historical Christ. He believed that the miracle stories were expressions relevant to the question of existence confronting everyone.
This is view is strongly supported by Dawkins who stressed the view that miracles of the Bible did not really happen e.g. the virgin birth. He says that people wanted to believe that these ‘miracles’ happened so they made them up. In his view natural laws cannot be broken. He also believes that biblical miracles did not happen and that they were just myths or legends.
If natural laws cannot be broken then why are so many revised? It was impossible to walk on the moon- it was against the natural laws, but not science has developed and things such as these are well known, therefore, through time natural laws can be revised and changed. Limiting the actual validity of his arguments, which is similar to the flaws in Hume’s argument.
Mel Thompson (in ‘Teach Yourself Philosophy and Ethics) sees Hume’s theory as a simplistic view of miracles, based on an eighteenth-century view of the universe. He suggests two other definitions: firstly, a natural process but speeded up and secondly, a natural event, happening at just the right moment. He believes that miracles are a matter of interpretation- how the person interprets the miracle. He refers to Aquinas, who stated things could be miraculous because they are thought to be impossible in nature. These events are unlikely to have happened in a particular way and at a particular time.
Aquinas held that a miracle was done by God, which nature could not do, or could not do in that order, or is done in nature but without the usual operation of nature, for example, the sun going backwards, or an instantaneous cure of someone who may have been cured in time naturally. Aquinas defines miracles in ‘rank’. Miracles of the highest rank are those in which something is done by God. That nature can never do. An example would be the sun going backwards. Miracles of the second rank are those in which God does something that nature can do, but not in that sequence and connection.
By this, Aquinas meant that walking is an act of nature, but is an act of God if someone who uses a wheelchair should be able to walk again. Finally, a miracle of the third rank is something done by God, which is usually done by the operation of nature but is done in the case without the working of natural principles, as when one is cured by the divine power of a fever, in itself naturally curable, or when it rains without any working elements. However, none of Aquinas’ definitions seem to consider God’s purpose in carrying out the miracles- Swinburne considers these miracles to be arbitrary. There appears to be little religious significance in them- nothing is revealed about God’s nature.
Maurice Wiles argues that God’s action in the world would not be confined to particular instances. Rather, ‘the idea of divine action should be in relation to the world as a whole. There is, therefore, no single act of God applicable to an instance, but a constant act of God applying to the world as a whole. Thus: ‘the primary usage of for the idea of divine action should be in relation to the world as a whole rather than to the particular occurrences within it.’ An interventionist God is a weak idea of God. If God acts in the world, it raises all the issues of the problem of evil.
God would seem to be arbitrary: allowing some suffering and evil to occur despite showing the possibility of divine intervention in particular cases elsewhere. For Wiles, it is better to conceive God as having made the world as a single creative act rather than having to keep making small changes here and there. Wiles states that the idea of an interventionist God is ‘both implausible and full of difficulty for a reasoned Christian faith’ and therefore on that view we should conclude that miracles do not happen. Miracles are damaging to faith and present a God, which is not worth worshipping.
However, some people such as David Hunt believe that ‘belief in miracles is essential for the Jewish and Christian faiths’ but this point can only be true depending on what people’s different views on miracles are. Hunt says: ‘Christianity does not apologize for miracles or break away…as though it isn’t really important whether miracles happen or not. Christianity requires miracles.’
One could argue that miracles can show the authenticity of a revelation. Hebrews 2:3-4: ‘This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles…’ Swinburne argues that we should expect miracles given that we expect revelation since because God needs to communicate with his creatures; he needs to authenticate his revelation. This raises certain questions. He assumes the probability that God exists. What about atheists? Also, he assumes that God is interested in giving revelation to his creatures. And assumes that we can be sure about the occurrence of miracles through historical intervention.
Theological arguments include: Why should God break his own laws? A timeless God? Why not remove all suffering? Why do some people experience miracles and others do not? However what about free will and the choice to follow good and evil?
If evil did not exist we would not know what good is and we would never be able to debate what the good thing to do is because we cant do the evil, immoral action because it does not exist. We would not have any choices to make in life and we would become ‘robots’.
Hume argued that accounts of miraculous events should be dismissed because the witnesses lack credibility. Hume makes the generalisation that witnesses who claim to have seen miracles cannot be given more credence than the absence of such miracles happening now because of their ‘lack of intelligence’. He claims that those who claim to have witnessed a miracle are often less educated and may be fascinated by the fantastical nature of it so they suspend their reason. This statement that not enough educated people report miracles is problematic. How many exactly is ‘enough’? Who says that uneducated people are less truthful than educated ones; where is the evidence for that?
R.F Holland says that: ‘A coincidence can be taken religiously as a sign and called a miracle’. If for example, a religious person prayed for the safety of a friend who has known to be in danger, and if a remarkable and unexpected series of events brought that person to safety, the one who made the prayer would be very likely to consider the coincidence as miraculous.
But can miracles occur? The answer to this is dependent on which definition of miracle we accept. Upon Holland’s definition, it is clearly the case that unusual and striking coincidences happen all the time. The difficulty here is that every single event in the world can be attributed to a unique and enormously complex set of coincidences. It is not possible, therefore, to isolate any one of these coincidences and prove that it has been caused by something different from all the others. Holland himself admits that ‘it cannot without confusion be taken as a sign of divine interference with the natural order.’ David Hume, skeptical at the best of times, flatly denies that such an event could be even considered as being miraculous: ‘nothing has esteemed a miracle if it ever happens in the common course of nature.’ Holland, therefore, believes that miracles are mere coincidences and the way in which people have interpreted the event. However, surely not all of the cases are ‘coincidences’ what about all of the people who have been cured in Lourdes? Are these all coincidences?
To conclude, there are various definitions of what a miracle actually is, and what we accept the definition is to be. I personally think that belief in miracles is solely based on what that person believes to be a miracle and how they interpret the event. I therefore believe that Mel Thompson’s definition of a miracle (that it is due to the person’s interpretation of the miracle) is the best way to determine whether a miracle is impossible or possible.
Cite this page
This content was submitted by our community members and reviewed by Essayscollector Team. All content on this page is verified and owned by Essayscollector Team. All comments and user reviews are moderated by Essayscollector Team. In the case of any content-related problem, you can reach us through the report button.