What constitutes a miracle?
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 - What constitutes a miracle? introduction. Definitions of miracles are often very broad and leave them particularly wide to interpretation. We may say that it is a miracle that someone has recovered from a cold, but that is only the believer’s interpretation and cannot be verified as miraculous. It simply reflects the way that the believer looks at the world, and that he or she sees a religious significance in the event even if another may see it as a co-incidence.
For example – 6-year-old Teesside girl fell 150ft off of the edge of a cliff in North Yorkshire and only received minor injuries, was this a miracle? Aquinas – – His definition of miracles is as ‘those things done by divine power apart from the order usually followed in things’. This view suggests that God can do what he wants with his creation. – Has identified 3 types of miracle: 1. An event done by God which nature could not do – could be said to be the most traditional approach. They are acts that contradict our regular experience.
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Aquinas uses the example of the reversal of the course of the sun. 2. An event done by God which nature could do, but not in this order such as recovering from paralysis or a terminal illness. Its possible for these things to happen but it is not usually expected, and so could be attributed to the direct intervention of God. 3. An event done which nature could do but without using the principles or forces of nature. For example, recovering from a cold more quickly than usual perhaps because someone prayed for this, and then it might be called a miraculous intervention of God. This allowed for a range of possible events, which we could call miracles. – This also did not limit a miracle to a violation of a natural law and so is therefore, primarily identified by Gods intervention. – A miracle is an act of God, which is beneficial to the recipient, which may break a natural law but does not necessarily have to. C. S. Lewis – Miracles are a type of revelation.
Swinburne – Referred to the turning of water into wine and resurrection in saying that an event is only miraculous if it is a transgression of the natural law with a meaning. R. F. Holland – Any event with a religious significance to the individual can be referred to as a miracle. They may not even break the laws of nature. v Philosophers who are more critical of miracles John Macquarie – Why is it that one person interprets an event as an act of God and another does not? Hume – – Created a case against miracles saying not that they do not happen, but that it would be impossible to prove them – he is an empiricist (bases knowledge on experience). – A miracle is ‘A transgression of a law of nature brought about by a particular violation of a Deity’. Nothing that can happen in nature should be called a miracle. – Had 5 arguments against believing in miracles; one philosophical and four psychological. 1. Not enough evidence of miracles to outweigh our general experience. Rationality requires that belief is proportionate to evidence. ‘A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence’. 2. Insufficient witnesses – must be witnessed by a highly credible, good sense, well-educated person. How much education is ‘enough’? 3. The testimonies usually came from ignorant and barbarous nations.
4. People tend to exaggerate and are drawn towards the sensational and drama. The often have a desire to believe. 5. There are conflicting claims that cancel each other out. Hick’s response would be that all religions lead to one God though. – Hume will never be fully able to fully prove to believers that miracles do not occur, as the definition of a miracle implies divine activity and this is ultimately beyond our earthly considerations. But sceptics and believers can be said to both agree that the occurrence of miracles must be a very rare event. – In response: Hick would say that we do not know the laws of nature, and that they appear to have been broken before. Believed that when new things are observed our understanding of the natural law should simply be widened. – C. D. Broad – Similar response to Hick. Rejects Hume’s assumption that there are known fixed laws of nature, what if the laws of nature as we know them are wrong? The laws may need to be revised. – Vardy, (the puzzle of God, 1990) Notes that there is far more evidence today than in Hume’s time! Objective scientists have tested 74 miracles from Lourdes.
Maurice Wiles – Any God who performs miracles is not worthy of worship because there is no justification for one person to be healed and another not to be. An intervening God would bring up all of the issues of the problem of evil. Use example here of why God turned water to wine but did not stop the massacre of the Jews in the Holocaust. Bultmann – German NT scholar. Believed that Biblical miracles were simple part of mythological story with demons and voices from heaven etc. He set out to remove these ‘mythical trappings’ and expose the real historical Christ and the lasting message of Christianity.
Christianity and miracles – For some, signs and miracles may prove religion, and also offer evidence of Gods power and work. – The Roman Catholic Church – in support of the literal interpretation of miracles as in the Bible. – Marks Gospel – Miracles come as a result of a persons faith rather than to make people believe. – Believers may give a symbolic or metaphoric meaning to miracle stories. Essay – ‘Stories about miracles are an obstacle to faith for modern people. ’ Discuss. • Look at the criticisms of Hume and Wiles and whether the concept of miracle is valid for modern people. Consider the argument that miracle stories support faith by demonstrating the nature and power of God (like in Bruce Almighty), (use Biblical examples). • Consider the argument that miracle stories should be ‘demythologized’ to enable modern people to have faith without attempting to suspend their rational disbelief (i. e. Bultmann). ‘By definition miracles do not occur’. Discuss. ‘A miracle is commonly defined as an event that transgresses the laws of nature’. Discuss. Asses Hume’s reasons for rejecting miracles. Discuss the view that the concept of miracle is inconsistent with the belief in a benevolent God.