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Miracles Essay

R.F. Holland believed a miracle to be a remarkable and beneficial coincidence interpreted with religious and spiritual meaning. When someone tells of a miracle that has taken place they are usually beneficial and awe-inspiring. For example, if a person was told under the rules of science that it would be impossible for the person to walk again but the person manages miraculously stands up and walks then this would be seen as remarkable and beneficial. Holland also said that a miracle is a coincidence interpreted with religious and spiritual meaning. Miracles are often associated with religion. Holland illustrates his coincidence conception of a miracle in the following example:

‘A child riding his toy motor-car strays onto an unguarded railway crossing near his house and a wheel of his car get stuck down the side of one of the rails. An express train is due to pass with the signals in its favour and a curve in the track makes it impossible for the driver to stop his train in time to avoid any obstruction he might encounter on the crossing. The mother coming out of the house to look for her child sees him on the crossing and hears the train approaching, the little boy remains seated his car looking downward, engrossed in the task of pedalling it free. The brakes of the train are applied and it comes to rest a few feet from the child. The mother thanks God for the miracle which she never ceases to think of as such although, as she in due course learns, there was nothing supernatural about the manner in which the brakes of the train came to be applied.

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The driver had fainted, for a reason which had nothing to do with the child on the line, and the brakes were applied automatically as his hand ceased to exert pressure on the control lever.’ Holland states that miracles are a matter of an individual’s interpretation. If the person is religious then they are likely to the above example as a religious miracle in which God intervened to save the boy. A non-religious person may on the other hand take the above example as a mere coincidence where the trained diver may by chance fainted and it was just very good luck that the train stopped in time. Such events are often interpreted as signs or revelations from God. However, there are no grounds for establishing that God intervened at all such an assumption rests on faith.

There are many points to why miracles could be discredited. Firstly it would be necessary to ask why an omnipotent God needs to carry out miracles. The world must be flawed if God has to carry out miracles as a ‘quick fix’ in an attempt to plaster up cracks in the universe. Some miracles seem to be pointless and have no beneficial or negative outcome. Jesus walking on water and tales of statues drinking milk may be seen as an example of this. Also, why does God not perform miracles of benefit like saving people from the 911 attacks? Also, God could use miracles for a greater number of people rather than now and again miracles for just one or a group of people. What about negative supernatural events or neutral events if all this power is supposedly meant to come from God. If God could intervene in such a way as Mary and the virgin birth then why can’t he intervene in other things?

The concept of a miracle is exciting and people are likely to suspend their disbelief to be caught up in the excitement rather than judge their experience on proper evidence. However, organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church have much to lose if they get swept up in excitement. They seek to differentiate between genuinely miraculous and unusual events people claim to be miraculous. Hume stated that miracles are largely the preserve of ignorant and barbarous nations. However many miracles have been claimed in all countries. Miracle claims abound in all the religions: they cancel one another out as they can’t all be true. Miracles from opposing religions do not necessarily undermine one another. Swinburne answered this by saying that God is behind all religions. Bultmann said ‘no one who presses an electric light switch can believe in miracles.

He is basically saying people are able to explain how things work and unlikely to believe in an unexplainable event. However, Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle said that ‘when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains must be the truth.’ Can you violate a law that is not absolute? If we stuck to the same laws without updating them we would have to discard a lot of modern data. In 1995 a group of churchgoers in America were all late for a service that was meant to start at 7.20m for different reasons. However at when they arrived at 7.30 the church building exploded. This was seen as a miracle by the churchgoers. However, it may just be seen as a coincidence and the fact that there was merely a fault in the gas pipes which made it explode. If it was a miracle then it could be asked why God is biased towards the church people when he is meant to care for everyone. This could all so be asked when God parted the red sea for the Jews.

Support in miracles can however still be strong. Augustine lived in the l2thC. He believed that nature is the will of God. Therefore, when God acts in miracles he does not break some kind of law but merely wills something different/unusual. The miraculous is therefore contrary only to our knowledge of nature, not to nature itself. ‘The Bible knows nothing of nature as a closed system of law. Indeed the very word ‘nature’ is unbiblical… the biblical view of miracle runs counter to the accepted view of a miracle as an occurrence contrary to the laws of nature? (Interpreting Miracles, 1966) R.H. Fuller is a 20thC thinker. He agrees with Augustine and adds that the whole idea of nature as a closed system of law from which God somehow stands back and which operates independently from him is alien to the Bible. In the Bible, God lies behind everything.

Swinburne also argues that miracles are possible as the existence of God has not been disproved. While Swinburne accepts that a modern understanding of science makes a violation of the law of nature impossible ( the law would simply be adjusted to fit the new ‘miraculous’ happening) he says ‘We have to some extent good evidence about what are the laws of nature, and some of them are so well established and account for so much that any modification of them which would suggest to account for the odd counter instance would be so clumsy and ad hoc as to upset the whole structure of science.’

The laws of nature are able to give a generally accurate picture of how the natural world functions. Therefore it is reasonable to consider an event such as the Resurrection as miraculous and to re-write the laws of nature to include such an exceptional event would upset the whole basis of science (with its emphasis on predictability). Other points are that skeptics are unable to disprove and explain some miracles. There is biblical support for miracles such as the resurrection of Jesus. People have selective skepticism such as UFOs and crop circles. To dismiss all miracle accounts without weighing evidence in each case is arrogance.

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