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A-level MIRACLES [OCR] Adrian Brown. What is required on the syllabus? OCR (AS) 2760: God’s activity in the world; the concept of miracle: Joshua 10:1-15.

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Presentation on theme: "A-level MIRACLES [OCR] Adrian Brown. What is required on the syllabus? OCR (AS) 2760: God’s activity in the world; the concept of miracle: Joshua 10:1-15."— Presentation transcript:

1 A-level MIRACLES [OCR] Adrian Brown

2 What is required on the syllabus? OCR (AS) 2760: God’s activity in the world; the concept of miracle: Joshua 10:1-15 OCR (A2) 2271: The concept of miracle and the criticisms made by Hume and Wiles.

3 References to standard A-level texts It seems clear from the shape of the OCR syllabus that Vardy’s The Puzzle of God has been a major resource in their planning, not least because it is the place where Wiles is fully discussed at this level. So it is worth having a closer look at the way in which Vardy deals with the topic. I will comment on what he doesn’t say (and should) later!

4 References to standard A-level texts

5 Some non-standard A-level resources Dialogue magazine has carried helpful articles accessible to A-level: no 4, Apr 95, Hume on Miracles; no 10 Apr 98, Rationalism & Empiricism; no 11, Nov 98, Miracles; no 13, Dec 99 Miracles; At a more basic level, but excellent on Miracles and Laws of Science is Mike Poole’s, A Guide to Science and Belief, Lion, 1997, ch.5 Do not overlook web resources, some of which are now written specifically for A-level, for example: There is an excellent section including a fine introduction and selected classic articles in Brian Davies, Philosophy of Religion: a guide and anthology, Oxford, 2000, p A significant omission from his references is Colin Brown’s Miracles and the Critical Mind, Eerdmans/Paternoster, A particular favourite of mine is the 1982 Zondervan book by Norman Geisler, Miracles and Modern Thought. An excellent recent article is Terence Penelhum’s The Paranormal, miracles and David Hume, in Think Spring 2003 A model recent introduction is ch 4 of Michael Palmer’s The Question of God, Routledge, 2002.

6 CONCEPTUAL CLARITY Because of the way the term ‘miracle’ can be variously used, it is important to agree on which sense is being deployed. One of the most helpful definitions (pace Hume) is this one: “ A miracle is an extraordinary and striking event, intended by God to be a special disclosure of his power and purpose.”

7 HUME’S APPROACH This has dominated the discussion in the literature and until the advent of Wiles’ contribution, Hume’s has set the agenda for the standard lines of debate. Note that for him miracles are not impossible. His argument concludes that we would have to regard any report of them as incredible.

8 LAWS OF NATURE What precisely do we mean by Laws of Nature? Mike Poole makes an interesting distinction between Laws of Nature and Scientific Laws. His point is that science has always a provisional understanding. Our current formulation of our belief in a particular regularity in the way the universe appears to behave, according to our investigations so far, is not necessarily equivalent to either how the universe actually is, or how the universe has to be, at all times and in all places.

9 BIBLICAL ‘MIRACLES’ [1] Discussions in the Philosophy of Religion have a tendency to allow the miracles agenda to be set by philosophical writings, not least the classic discussion of Hume. This results in focussing on miracles as violations of so-called ‘laws of nature’. The Biblical tradition predates scientific ways of talking about the world and what we translate as ‘miracle’ had a different focus for the writers and readers of Biblical material.

10 BIBLICAL ‘MIRACLES’ [2] In the New Testament the three terms we tend to translate into ‘miracle’ in English are: Semeion – a ‘sign’ (focus on the purpose) Teras – a ‘wonder’ (focus on the effect) Dunamis – an ‘act of power’ (focus on cause) Acts 2:22 “..Jesus..was a man accredited by God to you by miracles (dunamesi), wonders (terasi) and signs (semeiois).. which God did through him.. as you yourselves know.” The emphasis here is on the significance of the event; its impact on those who witnessed it. Notice that some Biblical miracles will not fit into the category of what we would call violations of laws of nature.

11 BIBLICAL ‘MIRACLES’ [3] One helpful classification is as follows: Miracles of nature – eg. Jesus stilling the storm on Galilee [Mk 4:35-41] Miracles of healing – eg. Woman with a haemorrhage [Mk 5:25-34] Miracles of exorcism – eg. Legion [Mk 5:9-20] Miracles of timing – eg. Red Sea [Ex 14:21f]

12 BIBLICAL ‘MIRACLES’ [4] Violations of laws of nature Amazing events attributed to God V ng ?VgVg NV g

13 BIBLICAL ‘MIRACLES’ [5] Violations of laws of nature Amazing events attributed to God VgVg NV g Given that no-one has seriously suggested that there are other agents than God who can violate laws of nature, we should perhaps redraw the diagram like this:

14 Joshua 10 The Sun Stands Still 1 Now Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem heard that Joshua had taken Ai and totally destroyed it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and that the people of Gibeon had made a treaty of peace with Israel and were living near them. 2 He and his people were very much alarmed at this, because Gibeon was an important city, like one of the royal cities; it was larger than Ai, and all its men were good fighters. 3 So Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem appealed to Hoham king of Hebron, Piram king of Jarmuth, Japhia king of Lachish and Debir king of Eglon. 4 "Come up and help me attack Gibeon," he said, "because it has made peace with Joshua and the Israelites." 5 Then the five kings of the Amorites-the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon-joined forces. They moved up with all their troops and took up positions against Gibeon and attacked it. 6 The Gibeonites then sent word to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal: "Do not abandon your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us! Help us, because all the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us." 7 So Joshua marched up from Gilgal with his entire army, including all the best fighting men. 8 The LORD said to Joshua, "Do not be afraid of them; I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you."

15 9 After an all-night march from Gilgal, Joshua took them by surprise. 10 The LORD threw them into confusion before Israel, who defeated them in a great victory at Gibeon. Israel pursued them along the road going up to Beth Horon and cut them down all the way to Azekah and Makkedah. 11 As they fled before Israel on the road down from Beth Horon to Azekah, the LORD hurled large hailstones down on them from the sky, and more of them died from the hailstones than were killed by the swords of the Israelites. 12 On the day the LORD gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the LORD in the presence of Israel: "O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon." 13 So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. 14 There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the LORD listened to a man. Surely the LORD was fighting for Israel! 15 Then Joshua returned with all Israel to the camp at Gilgal.

16 EXAMPLES OF MIRACLES: contemporary ‘violations of laws of nature’ [1] Rice is not conserved in Olivenza [2] Korean healing miracles [3] Teeth filled in Chile [4] Welsh RS teacher’s hearing restored [5] Sri Lankan leg shrinkage

17 On the afternoon of 25th January, 1949, Leanora, the cook of the religious institute in Olivenza, went down to the kitchen to light her stoves. It was the invariable habit of the institute to offer dinner to the poor families of the neighbourhood as well, but on this occasion Leandra opened the cupboard to find only three cups of rice, about 750 grams in all. She proposed to cook this up with another 750 grams of meat, some onions and a bay leaf to feed at least the paying students. Then, putting the pot on the fire, Leandra invoked the aid of the blessed Juan Macias to care for the poor who would find nothing to eat that evening. Then she went on to other tasks, keeping one eye on the pot on the fire in the way that any cook does. After about a quarter of an hour, she stopped to check the rice and was amazed to find it about to spill over the brim of the 10-litre kettle. Rice not conserved in Olivenza New Scientist, 8th Apr 1982

18 Other cooking pots were produced one of about 8 and another of 10 litres. Leandra and the other women who had swarmed into the kitchen to see what was happening ladled the overflow from the first pot into the second two and, from there, distributed the rice to all the comers. They kept this up for four hours. More than 150 people are reported to have eaten their fill. Many people took quantities of rice home in remembrance of the event. The miraculous multiplication ended only when the town priest, director of the institute, suggested that the stove be shut off since the hungry had been fed. All agreed the rice had been tasty and of excellent quality. No rice beyond the original three cups was ever seen to be added to the first pot. The Congregation was able to call 22 eye witnesses who testified to this since a considerable crowd had gathered in the fours hours over which the miracle took place. Most were women from the neighbourhood, not trained observers, but wise in the cooking of rice.

19 Not far from the north gate of the city of Seoul an indigenous church group numbering three thousand have met for prayer regularly every morning from 5am till 7am. The whole church group have met in this way every morning of the week for five years. A roster of 200 members pray all night until the 5am arrivals take over. A visiting missionary on one occasion was asked to give “a short word not longer than an hour, as children have homework to do before school, and others have to get to work.” Neighbours who do not know the Lord are invited to the prayer meetings where they become disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Korean healing miracles Restoration, July/Aug 1978

20 At the week-end several thousand listen to evangelistic meetings. At the close leading elders rise to give out their names and addresses and inform new converts to join them at 5am next morning if they live in the vicinity. This church group had a prayer week-end up on the saddle of the Two Horned Mountain. From Friday night a thousand or more gathered and grouped around fires all over the mountain worshipping and praising the Lord. The missionary invited to speak wondered about meals - as there seemed to be no cessation for this pastime. Near midnight he assembled his camp bed for needed sleep as he was to speak at 5am. Awakened at 4.30 am he found the praise sessions going on and the mountain resounding to their worship. On Sunday, at evening time, the presiding elders sent Christians to the outlying villages to bring in in the sick.

21 Later they begin to arrive - leprous, paralytic, blind, deaf, mute, etc. The missionary noted one man brought in on a carrying stretcher who breathed blood bubbles from his mouth everytime he exhaled. The life expectancy could only be hours. All night the sick lay around tended lovingly. As the dawn broke the elders called the believers to prayer, praying for each affliction in turn. The missionary was, of his own confession, a dispensationalist - not believing miracles to be characteristic of the church after the apostolic age. The Koreans prayed for the paralytics, and healing came to many, demonstrated by jumping and praising God. The deaf heard and the dumb spoke. The missionary noted one leprous sufferer without eyes and deformed, the skin shewing the disease.

22 Before his very eyes the eyesockets filled and new sparkling eyes looked out at him. The skin took the texture of a babe’s. He went and touched and stroked the new skin. What could he say as he faced the final message? They knew more of the power of God than he did. Still, it was more essential that souls be saved for eternity than for physical healing, for all must eventually die. The “blood bubble sufferer” had not been healed. He would take him as an example that the soul was of more importance than healing. Soon after commencing his message he was about to point to this particular sick man to underline his emphasis, when the man rose from his stretcher and stood, filling out in body before him.

23 The blood bubbles ceased. He was made whole and praised the Lord. The crowd gathered round praising God for this mighty wonder. The missionary was glad he was left neglected - he had nothing to say.

24 Now those who look for healing are asked to pray for it. The evangelists and the pastor lay hands on some, but there are so many they cannot touch them all. “Put your hand where you need healing,” says the evangelist. And all around the little church these simple folk place their own hands where most they suffer. Now you see what is the most common and the most cruel of the physical afflictions of these needy people. For most in the meeting are touching their teeth. All the missionaries hereabouts confirm the truth of this. Teeth filled in Chile Crusade, October 1976

25 Deficiencies in diet are such that tooth decay is so prevalent as to be almost universal. (Some might say that there are worse maladies than bad teeth but those who say so are not usually suffering from toothache at the time.) So the prayer for healing is offered. And now those who already know that this prayer is answered are invited to tell us, to show us, what has happened. Because the evangelist sees in me a sceptical European I am summoned to the platform to see for myself the works of God. Doubting Thomas is not allowed to lurk in the corner. With the assistance of the evangelist’s torch (who,expecting great things from God, has come prepared), I look into their mouths, one after another.

26 And I know that what I see is a miracle. For these folk never go to see the dentist. The poor of Chile are poor beyond our imagination. Dental treatment is entirely beyond their means and the only treatment, could they afford it, is extraction. But these teeth have been filled. And the filling has the form of a silver cross set in each tooth. One little boy - and, though he is in rags. I do not think I have ever seen a child so happy - shows me his teeth. Several are filled with what looks like silver. But God saves his best gifts for children and this little one can show me a tooth into which is set, delicately but quite distinctly, a golden cross. It is this boy, now so radiant, who minutes previously had so upset me with his anguished prayer.

27 All this happened (though it is not all that happened) on the evening of July 31, 1976, in the little village of Labranza near Temuco in the south of Chile. What I write is not fiction, as others can corroborate.

28 A PRIORI REJECTIONS Spinoza is a good example of a thinker who made his mind up about the possibility of miracles without reference to any relevant empirical evidence. His presuppositions were those of a rationalist and a pantheist. As a rationalist, he accepted as true only what he saw as self evident. As a pantheist, God’s activity was no more than nature’s regular activity. His argument boils down to a dogmatic assertion: 1. Miracles are violations of laws of nature 2. Natural laws are immutable 3. Therefore, miracles are impossible

29 EMPIRICISM AND RATIONALISM Historically, these are two distinct major schools of philosophy whose approach to the question of miracles should differ because of their presuppositions about what counts as valid knowledge. Rationalists Empiricists Descartes Spinoza Locke Hume

30 EMPIRICISM AND RATIONALISM You would expect that empiricists, with their emphasis on the importance of sense data as evidence, would be interested in whether or not you can establish whether a miracle has actually taken place. Rationalists may be expected to have decided beforehand whether or not miracles are possible.

31 IS MIRACLE AS A SUSPENSION OF A NATURAL LAW SELF-CONTRADICTORY? Consider this extract from Alistair McKinnon’s Miracle and Paradox, American Philosophical Quarterly 4 (1997): “The idea of a supension of natural law is self- contradictory. This follows from the meaning of the term … Natural laws bear no relation to civil codes … They are simply highly generalised shorthand descriptions of how things do in fact happen … Hence there can be no suspensions of natural law rightly understood. Or … Miracle contains a contradiction in terms.” Is McKinnon’s argument right?

32 SURELY IT IS INCREDIBLE TO BELIEVE IN MIRACLES IN AN AGE OF SCIENCE! Consider this letter posted in THE TIMES on 13 July 1984 by 14 UK professors of science: “It is not logically valid to use science as an argument against miracles. To believe that miracles cannot happen is as much an act of faith as to believe that they can happen. We gladly accept the virgin birth, the gospel miracles, and the resurrection of Christ as historical events … miracles are unprecedented events … science (based as it is upon the observation of precedents) can have nothing to say on the subject. It’s ‘laws’ are only generalisations of our experience.”

33 Vardy’s discussion – 1 VARIOUS DEFINITIONS - 1 [1] A miracle is a change for the better that can take place in a person in even the most unlikely situation. [2] A miracle is an event or occurrence which the believer considers to have religious significance, even though it is not in fact due to a creator God. [4] A miracle is an event which happens against the laws of nature, and which is brought about by the action of the everlasting and timeless God.

34 Vardy’s discussion – 2 VARIOUS DEFINITIONS - 2 [3] A miracle is an event caused by the action of an everlasting and timeless God. The event is either in accordance with the normal laws of nature, or else brought about by a human being, in which case God will be the primary cause whilst the person will be the secondary cause. Vardy makes the point that we are assuming in the discussion that we are talking about God who can act or intervene in the world he has created.

35 Vardy’s discussion – 3 MIRACLE AS A CHANGE FOR THE BETTER IN A PERSON? Vardy cites Alyosha’s transformation in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov as an example of what Sutherland sees as a true miracle. (But) this use of miracle doesn’t demand a creator God.

36 Vardy’s discussion – 4 MIRACLE AS AN EVENT WHICH BELIEVERS CONSIDER TO HAVE RELIGIOUS SIGNIFICANCE (EVEN IF NOT THE WORK OF GOD) Any event could be a ‘disclosure event’ for a believer. This is an anti-realist view. The only thing that matters is that the believer sees it as significant. No correspondence is necessary: Moore’s, “God causes what nothing causes”. The believer says, “God” or “miracle”, where non-believers would say, “baffling”. ie. a miracle is an event which has no explanation at all on this view.

37 Vardy’s discussion – 5 A MIRACLE IS AN EVENT CAUSED BY GOD EITHER IN ACCORDANCE WITH KNOW LAWS OF NATURE OR BROUGHT ABOUT BY HUMAN BEINGS. This is a realist understanding. ie. A miracle iff God did it. Claims about violations of laws of nature are not provable. They are articles of faith. On this definition God acts providentially within the structures he has ordained. eg. Holland’s level crossing example. The miracle is in the eye of the beholder but unlike the non-realist view, the action of God, not merely a belief coherent with the religious form of life of the believer.

38 Vardy’s discussion – 6 MIRACLES HAPPEN AGAINST THE LAWS OF NATURE AND ARE BROUGHT ABOUT BY A TIMELESS AND EVERLASTING GOD This rests on Hume’s definition: “ A transgression of a law of nature by a particular violation of the Deity, or by the imposition of some invisible agent.” This fits a number of New Testament miracles – God/Jesus rules over nature. Swinburne points out the undesirability of allowing “clumsy and ad hoc” counter-instances to natural laws due to this kind of miracle. It would “upset the whole structure of science.”

39 Vardy’s discussion – 7 ATTACKS ON THIS DEFINITION: 1. HUME In the balance for rational human beings is: [a] The improbability of miracle(s) [b] The evidence that they have occurred. [a][b] The wise man, proportioning his belief to the evidence, will always conclude that it is more likely that natural laws have held good than that a miracle has occurred.

40 Vardy’s discussion – 8 ATTACKS: HUME - 2 Vardy paraphrases Hume’s argument: “A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature and is therefore an event which past human experience is uniformly against. This in itself makes it overwhelmingly probable that the miracle did not occur, unless the testimony to its occurrence is of such superlative quality that it can be seriously be weighed against our own uniform past experience”

41 Vardy’s discussion – 9 ATTACKS: HUME - 3 “In fact, however, the testimony to miracles is not of this character at all. The standard of the witnesses to miracles is not high. The human capacity for accepting or believing the unlikely has all too probably been at work, the stories of miracles deriving from ‘ignorant and barbarous places and nations’ and, in any case, the miracle stories of different religions contradict one another. Consequently testimony to miracles can never establish them so that one could proceed from a proper assurance that they occurred to infer some theistic conclusions.”

42 Vardy’s discussion – 10 HUME - 4 Vardy spells out the meaning of each stage of the argument: Examples of miracles of this kind. What it means to say that miracles are not rational. On witnesses: The testimony is poor; unreliable, untrustworthy, unintelligent, uneducated, seeking advantage. We are predisposed to love the fantastic. Source of miracle stories is generally the ignorant & barbarious. All religions claim miracles to buttress contradictory truth claims; the stories cancel out.

43 Vardy’s discussion – 11 HUME – 5 Some critical remarks #1 1. Are laws of nature set in stone as Hume seems to suggest? The history of science shows that our understanding is always provisional. {AB: the key question here is not about particular historical formulations of laws, but lawlikeness as a general belief. Is the methodological assumption about laws tied to metaphysical beliefs about laws. For a naturalist – yes. For a theist – not necessarily; God may not be bound by his regular way of running the universe} (cf. Hume’s generally anti-inductivist stance) ?

44 Vardy’s discussion – 12 HUME – 6 Some critical remarks #2 2. Hume’s discussion only deals with reports of miracles. What if Hume had experienced a miracle himself. Might he believe it as a trustworthy, intelligent, educated, neutral, informed and civilized individual? {Is it Hume’s inherent scepticism, or poverty of religious experience, or both, that matter here?} ?

45 Vardy’s discussion – 12 HUME – 7 Some critical remarks #3 3. Today’s reports of miracles are often supported by scientific evidence eg. at Lourdes. This overcomes many of the Humean difficulties. ?

46 Vardy’s discussion – 13 HUME – 8 Some critical remarks #4 4. Neither Judaism, Christianity or Islam relies on miracles as the (only) basis of belief cf. Jesus & Satan’s temptations, “an evil generation…seeks a sign” (Mt 16:4) etc. If you already believe that God exists, it is rational to believe God acts miraculously. Believing reports of miracles as a basis for belief in any one religion is not enough. But remarkable events in themselves do not prove that God was the cause. It could be, say, psychosomatic {AB: cf. God-of-the-Gaps thinking} ?

47 A.E.Taylor on Hume In “David Hume and the miraculous”, Philosophical Studies, Macmillan, 1934, A.E.Taylor famously argues that Hume’s conclusion can only urge us not to believe in second hand reports of miracles – not that miracles cannot occur, or that anyone who witnesses one for himself ought to refuse to believe the evidence of his senses.

48 Critical lines of response to Hume (Davis p401) 1. Is it true that we should only believe that for which we have personal evidence? 2. Is it true that reports of miracles only come from dubiously reliable sources? 3. Does the fact that reports of miracles come from people who have conflicting beliefs mean that none of these reports should be taken seriously? 4. Are miracles as intrinsically improbable as Hume makes them out to be?

49 A.E.Taylor on Hume “It is quietly forgotten [by Hume] that, on the premises, there cannot be said to be ‘uniform experience’ against the resurrection of a dead man or any other sequence of events. At best I have only a uniformity within the range of my own experience to urge; a narrator who professes to have seen the resuscitation of actually appealing to his own experience as the foundation of the story. Thus, unless I am to assume that my own personal experiences are the standard of the credible – and if I do assume this, there is an end to all correction of expectations – it is a petitio principii [ a begging of the question] to say that there is ‘uniform experience’ against any event to which any man claims to be able to testify”. Ch9, p336

50 Vardy’s discussion –14 MAURICE WILES In his 1986 SCM book of his Bampton Lectures, God’s action in the world, Wiles claimed that there is only one act of God encompassing the world as a whole. Wiles says that God never intervenes in the world by individual acts. He says that even if God did miracles, understood as interventions, they would be rare and should not be relatively arbitrary or trivial. But given that God appears not to have been concerned enough to stop major atrocities, miracles as reported infer a strange and debased idea of God, not worthy of our worship!

51 Vardy’s discussion – 15 MAURICE WILES Thus Wiles is raising a moral objection to the notion of a God whose miraculous interventions are seemingly arbitrary and focussed on relatively trivial matters. He also doubts, along with Brian Hebblethwaite, that miracles are consistent with a mature response to the problem of evil. This requires that God maintains the stable structures of creation, and also thereby answers the question of why God does not do more to alleviate suffering if he is able to do so.

52 Vardy’s discussion –16 MAURICE WILES Wiles and other theologians assume that we can rationally understand the ways of God – operating within the Kantian tradition of “religion within the limits of reason alone.” Vardy points to Paul’s preaching of “Christ crucified … foolishness to the Greeks (philosophers, see 1 Corinthinans 1)”, and suggests that God is beyond our apprehension and irreducible to human constructs, at least in significant measure.

53 Vardy’s discussion – 17 MAURICE WILES – useful quotations “The world as a whole as a single act of God” “There are no good grounds for speaking of particular divine actions with respect to particular phenomena” “..it would be strange that no miraculous intervention prevented Auschwitz or Hiroshima, while the purposes apparently forwarded by some of the miracles acclaimed in traditional Christian faith seem trivial by comparison.” Wiles would “deny God the freedom to act without causal restraint in the world.” Wiles sees, “no reason for the Christian believer to affirm any sort of direct divine intervention in the natural order and good reasons for not doing so.” An interventionist God for Wiles is, “both implausible and full of difficulty for a reasoned Christian faith.” “Why does God not intervene more often?” Hebblethwaite

54 So what do you think? And of some importance as you approach the examination, do you know the material well enough to be able to answer any question thrown at you?


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