In Defence of Miracles

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Book Description Apollos, Original pictorial card covers softback Fine. Seller Inventory More information about this seller Contact this seller. Condition: Near Fine. Size: pp. Owner's signature. Seller Inventory GG Geirett; G. Geirett ; G. Publisher: Apollos , Habermas have compiled some of the best apologists in the Evangelical fold to respond to the challenge. Provides a good overview of the issues and Christian responses to attacks on the miracles of the Christian Faith.

It makes a solid reference for Christians seeking to respond to challenges on the matter of miracles by unbelievers. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Purtill 4. Giesler 5. Beckwith 6. Nash 8. Moreland 9. David Beck Davis Clark Newman Feinberg Habermas Notes Bibliography List of Contributors. Gary R. Whether Hume is successful in making this distinction is a matter of some controversy.

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Many commentators have suggested that Hume's argument begs the question against miracles. See for example Lewis , Houston Suppose I am considering whether it is possible for a human being to walk on water. I consider my past experience with dense objects, such as human bodies, and their behavior in water; I may even conduct a series of experiments to see what will happen when a human body is placed without support on the surface of a body of water, and I always observe these bodies to sink.

I now consider what is likely to occur, or likely to have occurred, in some unknown case. Perhaps I am wondering what will happen the next time I step out into the waters of Silver Lake. Obviously I will expect, without seriously considering the matter, that I will sink rather than walk on its surface. My past experience with water gives me very good reason to think that this is what will happen. But of course in this case, I am not asking whether nature will be following its usual course. Indeed, I am assuming that it will be, since otherwise I would not refer to my past experience to judge what was likely in this particular case; my past experience of what happens with dense bodies in water is relevant only in those cases in which the uniformity of nature is not in question.

But this means that to assume that our past experience is relevant in deciding what has happened in an unknown case, as Hume would have us do, is to assume that nature was following its usual course—it is to assume that there has been no break in the uniformity of nature. It is, in short, to assume that no miracle has occurred. In order to take seriously the possibility that a miracle has occurred, we must take seriously the possibility that there has been a breach in the uniformity of nature, which means that we cannot assume, without begging the question, that our ordinary observations are relevant.

It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that this criticism represents a victory for apologetic. While the apologist may wish to proceed by asking the skeptic to abandon his assumption that ordinary experience is relevant to assessing the truth of miracle reports, this seems to beg the question in the opposite direction. Ordinary experience will only fail to be relevant in those cases in which there was in fact a break in the uniformity of nature, i.

It is tempting to suppose that there is a middle ground; perhaps the skeptic need only admit that it is possible that ordinary experience is not relevant in this case. However, it is difficult to determine just what sort of possibility this would be. If the apologist is asking for any greater concession than this, the skeptic may be forgiven for demanding that he be given some justification for granting it. He may be forgiven, too, for demanding that he be persuaded of the occurrence of a miracle on his own terms—i.

Of course the most natural place to look for evidence that there may occasionally be breaks in the natural order would be to testimony, but for reasons that are now obvious, this will not do.

Historians and miracles: the principle of analogy and antecedent probability reconsidered

It would appear that the question of whether miracle reports are credible turns on a larger question, namely, whether we ought to hold the supernaturalistic worldview, or the naturalistic one. One thing seems certain, however, and that is that the apologist cannot depend on miracle reports to establish the supernaturalistic worldview if the credibility of such reports depends on our presumption that the supernaturalistic worldview is correct.

Recent criticisms of belief in miracles have focused on the concept of a miracle. In particular, it has been held that the notion of a violation of natural law is self-contradictory. No one, of course, thinks that the report of an event that might be taken as a miracle—such as a resurrection or a walking on water—is logically self-contradictory. Huxley , who tells us that the definition of a miracle as contravening the order of nature is self-contradictory, because all we know of the order of nature is derived from our observation of the course of events of which the so-called miracle is a part Should an apparent miracle take place, such as a suspension in the air of a piece of lead, scientific methodology forbids us from supposing that any law of nature has been violated; on the contrary, Huxley tells us in a thoroughly Humean vein that "the scientist would simply set to work to investigate the conditions under which so highly unexpected an occurrence took place; and modify his, hitherto, unduly narrow conception of the laws of nature" More recently this view has been defended by Antony Flew , , and Alastair McKinnon McKinnon has argued that in formulating the laws of nature, the scientist is merely trying to codify what actually happens; thus to claim that some event is a miracle, where this is taken to imply that it is a violation of natural law, is to claim at once that it actually occurred, but also, paradoxically, that it is contrary to the actual course of events.

Let us say that a statement of natural law is a generalization of the form "All As are Bs;" for example, all objects made of lead A are objects that will fall when we let go of them B. A violation would be represented by the occurrence of an A that is not a B, or in this case, an object made of lead that does not fall when we let go of it. Thus to assert that a violation of natural law has occurred is to say at once that all As are Bs, but to say at the same time that there exists some A that is not a B; it is to say, paradoxically, that all objects made of lead will fall when left unsupported, but that this object made of lead did not fall when left unsupported.

Clearly we cannot have it both ways; should we encounter a piece of lead that does not fall, we will be forced to admit that it is not true that all objects made of lead will fall. Of course this does not mean that no one has ever parted the Red Sea, walked on water, or been raised from the dead; it only means that such events, if they occurred, cannot be violations of natural law.


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Thus arguably, this criticism does not undermine the Christian belief that these events really did occur Mavrodes But if Antony Flew is correct , for the apologist to point to any of these events as providing evidence for the existence of a transcendent God or the truth of a particular religious doctrine, we must not only have good reason to believe that they occurred, but also that they represent an overriding of natural law, an overriding that originates from outside of nature. To have any apologetic value, then, a miracle must be a violation of natural law, which means that we must per impossibile have both the law and the exception.

The conception of a violation may, however, be defended as logically coherent. Suppose we take it to be a law of nature that a human being cannot walk on water; subsequently, however, we become convinced that on one particular occasion O —say for example, April 18th, —someone was actually able to do this. In such a case our formulation of natural law would continue to have its usual predictive value, and surely we would neither abandon it nor revise it.

This means that there is no contradiction implied by affirming the law together with its exception.

The Problem of Miracles: A Historical and Philosophical Perspective

F might be some force operating to counteract the usual tendency of a dense object, such as a human body, to sink in water. Since the exception in this case now has a generalized form i. We may now, following Ninian Smart and Richard Swinburne , understand a violation as a nonrepeatable counterinstance to natural law. However there is no paradox in asserting the existence of the law together with the occurrence of a counterinstance that is not repeatable.

The force of this line of reasoning is to deny that natural laws must describe the actual course of events. Natural laws do not describe absolutely the limits of what can and cannot happen in nature.

Chess Miracles

They only describe nature to the extent that it operates according to laws. To put the matter differently, we might say that natural laws only describe what can happen as a result of natural causes; they do not tell us what can happen when a supernatural cause is present. As Michael Levine has put the point:. Suppose the laws of nature are regarded as nonuniversal or incomplete in the sense that while they cover natural events, they do not cover, and are not intended to cover, non-natural events such as supernaturally caused events if there are or could be any.

A physically impossible occurrence would not violate a law of nature because it would not be covered by i. On this understanding, a physically impossible event would be one that could not occur given only physical, or natural, causes. But what is physically impossible is not absolutely impossible, since such an event might occur as the result of a supernatural cause. One way to make this out is to say that all laws must ultimately be understood as disjunctions, of the form "All As are Bs unless some supernatural cause is operating.

If this is correct, then it turns out that strictly speaking, a miracle is not a violation of natural law after all, since it is something that occurs by means of a supernatural intervention. Furthermore, since statements of natural law are only intended to describe what happens in the absence of supernatural intrusions, the occurrence of a miracle does not negate any formulation of natural law. The supernaturalistic conception of natural law appears to offer a response to Hume's Balance of Probabilities argument; the evidence for natural laws, gathered when supernatural causes are absent, does not weigh against the possibility that a miracle should occur, since a miracle is the result of a supernatural intervention into the natural order.

Thus there is a failure of analogy between those cases that form the basis for our statements of natural law, and the circumstances of a miracle. Probabilistic considerations, based on our ordinary experience, are only useful in determining what will happen in the ordinary case, when there are no supernatural causes at work.

source url We have seen two ways in which the concept of a miracle, described as an event that nature cannot produce on its own, may be defended as coherent. We may say that a miracle is a violation of natural law and appeal to the conception of a violation as a nonrepeatable counterinstance, or we may deny that miracles are violations of natural law since, having supernatural causes, they fall outside the scope of these laws. Nevertheless, conceptual difficulties remain. Antony Flew , , has argued that if a miracle is to serve any apologetic purpose, as evidence for the truth of some revelation, then it must be possible to identify it as a miracle without appealing to criteria given by that revelation; in particular, there must be natural, or observable, criteria by which an event can be determined to be one which nature cannot produce on its own.

Flew refers to this as the Problem of Identifying Miracles. Let us see how this problem arises in connection with these two conceptions of the miraculous.


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Are there natural criteria by which we can distinguish a repeatable from a nonrepeatable counterinstance to some natural law? Suppose some formulation of natural law All As are Bs and some event that is a counterinstance to that formulation an A that is not a B. But suppose we do our best to reproduce the circumstances of the event and are unable to do so.

We cannot assume that the event is nonrepeatable, for we have no way to eliminate the possibility that we have failed to identify all of the natural forces that were operating to produce the original counterinstance. The exceptional event may have been produced by a natural force that is unknown to us. No observable distinction can be made between a case in which an exception is repeatable, having been produced by some as-yet undiscovered natural force, and one that is not.

Nor does the difficulty go away if we adopt the supernaturalistic view of natural law. On this view, natural laws only describe what happens when supernatural forces are absent; a genuine miracle does not violate natural law because it is the effect of a supernatural cause. Suppose an extraordinary event occurs, which the apologist would like to attribute to a supernatural cause.