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The Concept of God

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    Critically assess the view that a concept of miracles is inconsistent with a belief in a benevolent God. (35 marks) Before one is able to debate the ideas of inconsistency surrounding miracles, we must define and clarify what a miracle actually is. One definition is ‘an event caused by God, this view is traditionally supported by Christians and philosophers such as Aquinas. A second definition is ‘a violation of the laws of nature’ which is most commonly associated with David Hume. These two definitions usually underlie the way in which people approach the question of God acting in the world, thus impacting ones interpretation of miracles showing a benevolent God. Benevolence is used to describe God being a good and loving God. Many philosophers have questioned Gods benevolence due to the amount of suffering and evil in the world, and the lack of intervention seen. Although others may argue that it is through miracles that God demonstrates his benevolence. Some may reject the traditional view of God intervening through miracles in examples such as God parting the red sea in the Bible.

    Maurice Wiles rejects the idea of God causing miracles such as this, which violate the laws of nature. He believed that the sole activity of God was at creation and he does not intervene by violating the laws of nature. This can be seen in his book ‘God’s actions in the world’. Wiles states that the large number of events that are not prevented by God raises questions about Gods omnipotence and goodness. Thus, God’s inconsistency with his miracles, shown by him not intervening to prevent disasters, undermines his omnipotence and benevolence. A concept to support this is the events which took place in the Holocaust. For religious believers the concept of God allowing so many to suffer yet intervening through miracles such as that of Jeanne Fretel clearly shows a lack of omnipotence or of benevolence. Although, Jeanne Fretel herself would argue that what had happened to her was a miracle and is supported by health professionals including her own doctor who claimed she was ‘completely cured’. Although this could have been down to a mis-diagnoses which distorted the idea of a miracle occurring.

    Overall, the inconsistencies with miracles present a biased God. Why would a benevolent God only perform to people who visit Lourdes and not ‘non-believers’? Overall this shows God to not be benevolent because the miracles he performs are inconsistent and biased. Keith Ward stated that God is purposely inconsistent with miracles, and does not act within the world often so he does not undermine our free will, thus presenting a transcendent God. In his book ‘Divine Action’ he stated that if God helps ‘person X’ rather than ‘person Y’, it may be because ‘person X’ has a more potentially important role in the working out of the divine purpose then ‘person Y’. Therefore God’s inconsistency is deliberate and his actions are beyond our human understanding. This supports the concept of God being benevolent as he performs miracles for the greater good of the people, he can’t save everyone, as this would undermine the significance of miracles, however he does intervene when it will make a large impact in the bigger picture. However, Hawkins stated that a good theory is one that is straight forward.

    Ward presents his argument based on a lot of assumptions. As Gods actions and purpose in the world is beyond our understanding, it is impossible for us to understand the significance and purpose of miracles. It is impossible for us to know what God’s plan is. Who are we to judge whether God is benevolent or inconsistent if he is beyond our understanding? Therefore, inconsistencies with miracles does not necessarily suggest that God is not benevolent, he is beyond our understanding. Scientists propose alternative explanations for the occurrence of miracles. Dawkins puts forward a range of points against miracles in a conversation with Russell Stannard. He stated that miracles can be described as coincidences or the result of a placebo effect. This could be used to describe the events at Lourdes. Stannard stated that miracles are simply strange and disturbing experiences such as dreaming. Freud would support these alternative explanations as he stated that religion was a neurosis and miracles could be described as hallucinations or dreams and could be cured by psychological means. Miracles in the bible such as Jesus healing the blind man could be explained though psychosomatic theories which would claim that the blind man believed so strongly that he ought to be punished for his sins that he physically went blind. Therefore by Jesus simple stating his sins had been forgiven he was able to be cured. The beliefs of miracles occurring at Lourdes could also be down to psychosomatics.

    However, other philosophers such as Tillich would argue that for non-believers miracles would not have any religious significance and would be over looked. He defined miracles as signs with religious significance. Overall, there is no proof to suggest that miracles are real and aren’t just coincidences which would be supported by Holland and his ‘Train story’. The train stopping at the right time may, in one opinion be seen as a coincidence, but for other people, especially the persons mother, they would define it as a miracle. Thus, if miracles do not exist they cannot be inconsistent, and God does not act within the world and as a result cannot be benevolent or omnipotent. Religious believers claim that miracles are events which are caused by God. Ideas which are supported by Aquinas. God acts in the world though these miracles. The bible presents several miracles performed by God and shows him to be closely involved with creation and acting with it. For example, Jesus’ death and resurrection. This shows God’s benevolence as Jesus died to allow everyone to be forgiven and to have eternal life. God still forgives everyone now, showing that he is consistent and loving as his miracle has benefitted all. This shows that God is benevolent and consistent. However, the bible also shows in Genesis 19 1:1-29 the story of Sodem and Gomorran and the destruction of the town and all the people in it.

    This questions God’s benevolence because why would a loving God just save them and not everyone else? Although, the presence Jesus in the world shows a consistent, benevolent and imminent God who continues to benefit people with miracles even in the modern world. To conclude, it is difficult to state that inconsistencies with miracles show a God which is not benevolent as it is impossible to know whether or not miracles actually exist and whether they actually prove that there is a God. There is no evidence to link miracles to God, thus we cannot know if they are of any religious significance at all. Therefore, although miracles can be described as inconsistent, it does not necessarily prove or disprove the existence of a benevolent God.

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