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.