I am in a reading group with some UW Madison students regarding contemporary debates in the philosophy of religion. We are using a text edited by one of my former professors in seminary, which at some level reminds me of the quality I had in this professor. The subject from last week was on miracles.

Miracles by definition should not be expected to happen every day and in every situation. In fact, if they did, they would not be all that miraculous (please take time to think about this thought). If they happened all the time they would be part of the regular sequence of nature, or at least a regular interruption of nature that could be counted on. Sometimes, as a Pastor, I might sound like the bad guy for saying that miracles are irregular events. But, I think this is part of the heritage of our Christian teaching, and the hard work of being intellectually honest.

Moreover, every miraculous report should not be believed. I think the New Testament itself bears witness to discerning all things. The early church often had to deal with other religious groups that made regular and wild claims about supernatural things. Christians were warned to test everything.

One part I really enjoyed from the book reading had to with evaluating miraculous claims in other religions. Sometimes, especially from our non-believing friends, we are challenged as to how we accept our religion’s miracles but reject others. The reading from this week highlighted a couple things I think are worth mentioning. The authors are Charity Anderson and Alexander Pruss.

The first is that no rational persons, whichever religion they find themselves in should believe every miraculous report. My thought from this is that just because one religion or perhaps even several might have legitimate miraculous claims, in no ways means all of them do. This means, just because we believe that miracles do happen, does not mean we believe all or even most reports.

The second point however was interesting to me. Given the idea that a good God does exist, we would not be surprised if we found miraculous reports of his blessing across the world at times to aid a person in need. Thus, we would not have to dismiss all other miraculous reports just because they are not found in “our” religion.

The counter argument against miracles in this chapter (5) was offered by Arif Ahmed. The point he makes is that we need to take into account the unlikely nature of miracles in the first place. He follows an old line of thought from David Hume that given how unlikely they are we should rather believe just about any other explanation than that a miracle did in fact occur. Ahmed thinks this in relation to the Resurrection of Jesus as well. Basically, ignorance, deceit, hallucination etc. is just as believable than an actual resurrection given how unlikely a resurrection is in the first place.

Of course there is much to reply to Ahmed with, such as the kind of evidence given for the resurrection makes it rational to hold to until a better explanation surfaces. Moreover, the discussion on background beliefs is important as well. If there is a God, miracles are possible. If there is no God, then Ahmed seems right, that there are none. Thus, we come back to the question about God’s existence.


2 thoughts on “Miracles

  1. Fred Strehmel says:

    In The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the first definition for miracle is, an extra ordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs. The second is,an unusual event, thing,or accomplishment, wonder,or marvel The second definition appears to be used for the above blog. What about the first one?
    Fred S.

  2. Pastor Isaac Fleming says:

    Hello Fred,

    Thanks for writing. I think the authors on Miracles that I was citing above, would actually be trying to utilize the first definition. For the one Philosopher that was for miracles, he was trying to make a case that your first definition is actually possible, and that if those events take place it would be divine intervention in human affairs. I think the second author would use the same definition, except he would argue the other way. Namely, that there are no divine interventions into human affairs.

    The second definition is something I think both of them would agree take place without there being divine intervention into them. For instance, it is strange to see a double rainbow, but it happens. This is a wonderful or unusual event, but we would not think it is a divine intervention, because it can in fact happen, even if very rare. Or, we might say it was unusual to run into a friend while we were both vacationing in Florida. Strange, even improbable,…yes. But, not likely divine intervention. Those things do take place from time to time.

    Anyway…that is how I think the authors would probably hold to.

    Thanks much for commenting on this blog!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *