Can Miracles Be Distinguished from the Wonders of Nature and the Operations of Creatures?

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Can miracles be distinguished from the wonders of nature and the operations of creatures?

This essay will attempt to differentiate natural wonders that occur in the world, from what is described as miracles. It will also explore events classified as miracles, and examine whether miracles must have an immediate benefit, or if natural disasters can in some way, be defined as miracles as their consequences can fulfill the criteria for the purposes of miracles. This essay will not be questioning the existence of miracles as, for the purpose of this essay, they do.

First one must seek to define what the different terms in the title are, by looking at how different philosophers and theologians have described them. David Hume, on miracles, seems to argue that there are indeed extraordinary events that occur, but they cannot justifiably be called miracles.

The next term needing examination is “wonders of nature”. Science has shown us that nature is not a series of random events, and that it is governed by laws which make it in some way predictable; the law of gravity for example, which keeps the world revolving around the sun.

The last term to be defined is, “operations of creatures”. This is not just the operation of living things. It can be applied to beings as small as atoms, or intangible concepts such as time. It is the operations of creatures that are often confused with miracles when they are coincidence. After clarifying what the question is looking for, this essay will look at examples of miraculous events and analyse them with focus on God’s being, particularly their role in revealing God’s being to creatures.

Mary Hesse’ article, Miracles and the Laws of Nature, begins with a discussion of how the term miracle is applied in today’s society; “Someone may say ‘his recovery was a miracle’, or, ‘It was a miracle that a serious accident was avoided’”.[1] Whilst Hesse disregards this as likely not to be a divinely inspired, she goes onto talk about how, the conventional definition of a miracle, something that is a violation or turn against the natural order, is not so surprising, as we live in such a complicated world.

Miracles are seen to be violations of the natural order, and examples can be found all over the world, in ancient and modern history. The most common examples in the Western world can be found in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testament, which reveal God’s being, whether it is God’s direct action or God working through another being to create a miraculous event. This is what natural theology argues is the miracle’s being: to in some way reveal God, or to impart knowledge of some kind to someone. This can be seen in examples found in the Bible; the story of the burning bush, found in Exodus, where God imparted knowledge if himself to Moses, with both the great “I Am”, and in his plans to free the Israelites from Egypt.

However, it is here that Hume draws his first criticism, questioning the validity of those that witness or experience the miracle: “We cannot trust that those who testify to miraculous events occurring are not being deceived, deluded or even lying. Also 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.”[2]

Hume was traditionally an empiricist, and believed that for the claims of a miracle to be true it must reflect the experiences we already have learnt from. Because of this Hume would doubt the miraculous event of Jesus Christ, when he rose from the dead, as there is no experience on earth, other than this, that one can look to for a confirmation that such a thing is possible. Hume then assumes that such events are born from either delusion, or from people lying, for whatever motive. However scholars are often split in their opinion of Hume’s position on miracles, as it is possible to take his...
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