2What is a Miracle?Miracles are commonly held to be a transgression of the laws of nature.Transgression means that it goes beyond what is normally expected of nature.It is one of the most significant parts of most religions and many people base their faith on the existence of miracles.There are many reported accounts of miracles and people see different things to be miraculous.
3Miracles on YoutubeWhich of these clips would you define as a Miracle and why?Clip 1Clip 2Clip 3Clip 4Clip 5Clip 6
4So why do people still believe? Sometimes people see things that cannot be explained away with rational thought.The Roman Catholic Church has a department who investigate alleged miracles. This team is composed of both priests and scientists and they have a job that requires them to test all possible methods.So far they have recorded 69 miracles from Lourdes.
5Thomas AquinasAquinas gives us three definitions of miracles which he put forward in ‘Summa Contra Gentiles’.1. “Events in which something is done by God which nature could never do…”2. “Events in which God does something which nature can do, but not in this order…”3. “Events which occur when God does what is usually done by the working of nature, but without the operation of the principles of nature…”
6Think of examples Aquinas could use? Think of biblical stories. Aquinas based most of his examples on stories from the Bible.
7Aquinas’ Examples 1. Joshua 10:13 and Isaiah 38:8 2. John 11:38-44, Mark 8:22-26 and Luke 5:18-253. Luke 5:12-13
8The Problem of Definition For many religious believers the concept and definition of a Miracle is important. The Christian message can been seen as dependent on the definition.Was Jesus the incarnation of GodBorn of the Virgin MaryThe miracle of taking on the sin of the world
9Some terminology Epistemology – study of knowledge. Belief – something you hold to be true based on reasoning, experience, testimony etc.. Your beliefs can be true or false.Knowledge – objective and certain knowledge, true regardless of our believing in it.Empiricism – knowledge is gained through our sense perceptions, experience.Rationalism – knowledge is gained through reasoning, no need to refer to the sensory world.Scepticism – nothing is certain or knowledge is beyond our grasp.
10RecapDefinitions of what a miracle is: Aquinas: ‘Those things…which are done by divine power apart from the order generally followed in things.’ Plus his threefold understanding of miracles. Ray Holland: An event that has an explanation within natural laws can be considered a miracle, if it is taken religiously as a sign. He called these ‘contingency miracles’. – remember the account of the boy playing on his toy car on the train tracks!!! – In an essay I would have a paragraph explaining just this Hume: ‘a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the deity.’ John Mackie: ‘a violation of a natural law…by divine or supernatural intervention. The laws of nature describe the ways in which the world – including of course, human beings – works when left to itself, when not interfered with. A miracle occurs when the world is not left to itself, when something distinct from the natural order as a whole intrudes into it.’ Richard Swinburne: ‘a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature, that is, a non-repeatable exception to the operation of these laws, brought about by God. Laws of nature have the form of universal statements “all As are B,” and state how bodies behave of physical necessity.’
11HumeDavid Hume is concerned with two things related to them:The probability (or improbability) of a miraculous event occurring.The validity of any testimony from someone claiming to have witnessed a miraculous event.Not only is Hume concerned to question the very idea of miracles occurring, but he particularly focuses on whether a miraculous event can (or should be) be the basis of a religious system of belief. Being a well-known atheist of his time, we should not be surprised when he says that they cannot:'I beg the limitations here made may be remarked, when I say, that a miracle can never be proved, so as to be the foundation of a system of religion.'
12‘A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature’ Hume on Miracles‘A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature’
13David Hume 1711 - 1776 Scottish Empiricist philosopher His method was Sceptical and criticalProminent works – ‘Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding’ (1748); ‘Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals’ (1751). Key essay ‘Of Miracles’.It was a widely held thought at the time amongst Christian thinkers that miracles were proof of revelation and therefore proof of the claims of a religion.
14Hume on TestimonyThe accounts or testimony of others allow us to form beliefs and may contribute to our knowledge. However as Hume points out testimony has at times been unreliable and false, therefore we must view reports of the miraculous critically:Is there a contrary testimony?What is the character of the witness?How many witnesses were there?How they delivered their testimony.Does the witness have an interest in what they claim?We like to tell and hear remarkable stories.Testimonies often come from those less enlightened.
15That is not to say that they should be disregarded That is not to say that they should be disregarded. We are generally trusting of testimony because it frequently conforms to reality.However, when that testimony concerns something rarely observed it become a more challenging proposal.‘The Indian Prince’An Indian Prince who had never experienced the cold rejected accounts of the effects of frost due to his limited experience. The description did not contradict his understanding but did not conform to it either.This example raises a problem with experience - ours will always be limited so we might draw false conclusions.
17Wise Men ‘Wise men proportion their belief to the evidence’ By this Hume meant that we should believe in that which has happened the most often or has the greatest weight of evidence in its favour.If there is significant or infallible evidence as a basis then we can proceed with confidence.The more there is evidence to the contrary then the more cautious should we be.Hume argued that the laws of nature themselves were extremely strong evidence from experience.
18‘A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle...is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.’Catch 22 for miraclesTo identify a miracle we must compare it to the uniform laws it appears to break. However in doing so we highlight the evidence against the miracle – which is more substantial and therefore overthrows the proposed miracle. So another explanation, in keeping with the laws of nature, must be sought.
19Always reject the greater miracle In doing so one is following the greatest weight of evidence and rejecting the most unlikely scenario.This means that ONLY if the opposite of a miraculous account were MORE miraculous could that original account be taken as reliable;‘..no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless..its falsehood would be more miraculous (than its truth)’
20and to religion...‘...no human testimony can have such force as to prove a miracle, and make it a foundation for any such system of religion.’Hume does accept the possibility of miracles but not that there is any evidence for them, and as knowledge for Hume is based on observable evidence we can have no knowledge of the existence of miracles.
21Where do we go now?If the Christian faith is based on the belief in at least one miracle (the resurrection)and Hume has successfully argued against knowing that miracles existhow might Christians seek to defend their faith?Look to undermine his argument / concepts.
22PossibilitiesReview definition of miracle from ‘violation’ to something working through the laws.Using faith accept the accountsHume has only shown that we cannot have certain knowledge that miracles do not exist, not that they do not exist at all.Review understanding of ‘laws of nature’ – as with our definition of miracles, today’s definitions are more liberal and flexible.
23Hume is particularly concerned to address the Christian belief that Jesus rose from the dead; an event which is said to demonstrate the truthfulness of Christianity (and therefore validate the Christian faith as being true)Hume is not so much concerned with setting out reasons as to why the resurrection of Jesus never occurred, but to assess the reliability of the evidence which provides evidence for believing that it did occur (and as such pass doubt on the resurrection-event as having actually occurred). – so this why we say he isn’t necessarily concerned with saying miracles can’t happen, it is more that we can’t prove them thus we question the basis of our evidence for belief in God.
24Hume lists four reasons as to why he questions the validity of miraculous events: 1. We cannot trust that those who testify to miraculous events occurring are not being deceived, deluded or even lying.2. Humans are naturally drawn towards the miraculous, and love being 'dazzled' by the mysterious, and they can often form unreasonable beliefs on the basis of these 'experiences', which should not trusted.3. Stories of miraculous occurrences abound amongst 'primitive and barbarous people', who are not yet sophisticated enough in their understanding to know what is reallygoing on.4. Miracles are 'contrary facts'! Different religions claim that miracles performed by members of their faith show that their belief-system is true, but they cannot all be true at the same time - so they cancel each other out!In terms of miracles then, Hume believed that claims of the miraculous needed to be tested against our experience of things in the world (remember he was an Empiricist!!!). For instance, the claim that someone has been raised from the dead needs to be 'tested' against our normal experience of what dead people do.
25Hume vs Sherlock (not the detective) As we have already noted, Hume was an Empiricists and regarded experience as the basis for what we can know to be true about things in the world. Thus, it could be argued that because we do not see people regularly rising from the dead after being in a grave for three days, that we should reject the resurrection of Jesus as being true (as this does not concur with our normal experience). Sherlock's argument against this idea had been to ask whether a person who lived in a warm climate - who had never seen a river freeze up - could ever believe with no evidence, that rivers freeze in colder places (as this is improbable according to the regularity of their experience)?So is Hume taking the wrong approach as an Empiricist?Hume's response (aka the 'Indian Prince' argument) was to suggest that although there is an obvious gap in the man's experience here, that there is no obvious gap when it comes to people rising from the dead
26Hello! I am Richard Dawkins (I am introducing myself because we realised from the Teleological Argument that none of you know who I am – this makes me sad read my amazing book God Delusion!)Anyway, I digress I like to go out of my way to tell everyone that God doesn’t exist because I am an atheist!
28Year 12!!!! I have seen something amazing. I witnessed a miracle!!!!!! My life's work to refute the existence of God was completely the wrong path? Why have I wasted so much time?God is REAL!!! He showed me this when he performed the miracle I just witnessed!
29What if a world-renowned atheist (such as Richard Dawkins), were to suddenly claim that they had witnessed a miracle and believed in God, could this be counted as reliable evidence that the miracle they had witnessed had occurred (and that God existed)?Hume says that “No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish.” – so what would Hume say about Richard Dawkins changing his mind? Is this evidence suffice?
30On the so-called evidence for miracles It is Hume's belief that sufficient evidence has not, (and could not) be produced in support of a miracle. His argument is presented in the following manner:1. A weaker evidence can never destroy a stronger one.2. A wise man proportions his beliefs according to the evidence.3. Some events happen with such regularity in our experience, that 'laws of nature' may be formed (E.g. Once you are dead, you are dead!).4. Other things do not occur so regularly within our experience (such as people rising from the dead), and as such these constitute probabilities ranging from the strong (almost certainly could happen) to the weak (very unlikely to happen).5. Human testimony is normally truthful, and can be assumed to be a proof as to what has taken place.6. Sometimes human testimony is not truthful (E.g. when witnesses contradict each other, are of a dubious character, have an interest in what they affirm, hesitate in their testimony, make violent assertions etc.).
316 arguments of Hume Experience The opposite of a miracle would need to be more miraculous.No one is of a sufficient good standing to be a reliable witness.People who report miracles are often from Barbarous nations.People often desire some sign from god and are willing to set aside reason to accept a miracle.Miracle reports from different faiths cancel each other out.
32Swinburne“If he (God) has reason to interact with us , he has reason very occasionally to intervene and suspend those natural laws by which our life is controlled”Swinburne acknowledges that it is difficult to outweigh the scientific evidence, but that we do have enough historical evidence to suggest that there is a God and that God can violate the laws of nature.It is perfectly probable that there could be one off exceptional and unrepeatable occurrences. The laws of nature do not have to be rewritten. If God is omnipotent, then he quite clearly could suspend the laws of nature although not too often as this will interfere with scientific progress and free will.He argues from first principles and argues that future predictions could always nullify a law. When an event violates the Law of nature, the appearance may simply be that no one has thought of the Law that could explain the event
33Swinburne Cont.We rely on the evidence of senses and perception to give us information about the world, why do we not rely on the evidence and the testimony of those claiming miracle. Swinburne also recognises the problem that God’s intervention would have on human freedom which is why he argues that God doesn’t intervene too oftenThe Principle of Credulity: If it seems that X is present, then probably x is present. In short what one seems to perceive is probably the case (It is a principle of rationality). He puts the onus on the sceptic to disprove religious experience otherwise it should be taken at face value.The Principle of Testimony: In the absent of special consideration it is reasonable to believe that the experiences of others are probably as they report them. In other words you should believe other people as well.
34WilesIf God intervenes in the universe then this would make God arbitrary. Wiles doesn’t deny miracle as such, but his conception of miracle is more of the general kind. In other words the miracle is the act of creation (alongside sustaining and preserving the universe) and no other.By definition, a miracle is a very unlikely event – if it wasn’t then there would be no rules to nature. This leaves us with the view that God is disinterested and only intervenes in the world occasionally . Wiles claims that miracles present an obstacle to religious faith: people are being asked to believe in an omni benevolent and omnipotent God who fed 5000 people but does nothing about world starvation today. This degrades the classical image of an all powerful and all loving God. A God who intervenes selectively would not be worthy of worship because of his failure to act on a wider scale.
35WilesWiles’ restriction on God also applies to his action in Christ – it would be wrong to say that miracles cannot happen and then allow the incarnation and resurrectionWiles claims that there must be a way to explain the doctrine of the incarnation and resurrection which does not involve a breach of nature. So, Incarnation is not the act of God:1. It is “the perfection of human response to God” 2. The full humanity of Jesus is central 3. Jesus freely and fully responded totally to God’s grace and in doing so, incarnated God in the worldPhilosophers who are more critical
36But Hume has his critics! HickC.D BroadClack and ClackVardySwinburneWilesPolkinghorne
37HickHick 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.Miracles are ordinary events observed through the eyes of faith.Polkinghorne supports Hick. If God works through us God is present in the world not just in creation. It also leaves open the possibility that God can intervene.
38C.D BroadSimilar 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.
39Clack and ClackThey argues that Hume has not provided a satisfactory solution to the problem of miracles for he has confused improbability with impossibility.Miracles are unusual events but this does not mean that they have not occurred. Sure maybe many reports can be put down to drunkenness. However Clack continues to argue that Hume never touches on the point of what he would do if he was faced with a miracle. Would he be a knave, or would he claim that his senses had deceived him?
40VardyHume talks of laws of nature as though they were set in tablets of stone, however as science advances it is showing that some of our understanding of natural laws has been incorrect.Indeed how could science advance if it did not base its predictions on new experience? Hume seems to argue that only standard experiences should be acceptable, but if this was only the case, how could science progress?Hume only deals with reports of miracles, what would he have done if he had experienced one himself, would he apply the same rationale?Miracles today have often been backed up by science. Over 70 miracles at Lourdes have been verified by science.Neither Christianity, Judaism, nor Islam have ever claimed that you should believe the religion on account of the miracle. Jesus always insisted that it was Faith that came first. So miracle and miracle stories should not be an obstacle to Faith.Vardy writes that what is not rational is to believe in religion on the basis of miracle.
41RF HollandHolland argues that miracles are: “a remarkable and beneficial coincidence that is interpreted in a religious fashion.”Holland sees miracles not as violations of Laws of nature, but rather as coincidences. He takes on board a lot of what Hume argues and agrees that if there were several reasonable witnesses then the Law of nature would have to be revised or falsified as non-existent. However he agrees that this would not be a simple thing to do so it is better to see miracles as coincidences.He quotes a famous example where a child is stuck on a railway line in a pedal car. A train is coming, but the driver fails to see the child. However just in the nick of time the driver faints, his hand is taken off the lever and the brake is automatically activated. The train then stops in front of the child. There is no violation of nature, however for a religious person this may have religious significance and be thought of as a miracle.This is more a case of seeing an event as a miracle. There is no hand of God; rather the onus is clearly on the interpretation of person.