Saturday, February 14, 2009

On Miracles

"[I]t has often been said that all events are works of creation. On this view, it is only a concession to popular phraseology to say that one body is attracted toward another in accordance with a law of gravitation; what really ought to be said is that when two bodies are in proximity under certain conditions they come together. Certain phenomena in nature, on this view, are always followed by certain other phenomena, and it is really only this regularity of sequence which is indicated by the assertion that the former phenomena 'cause' the latter; the only real cause is in all cases God. On the basis of this view, there can be no distinction between events wrought by the immediate power of God and those that are not; for on this view all events are so wrought. Against such a view, those who accept our definition of miracle will naturally accept the commonsense notion of cause. God is always the first cause, but there are truly second causes; and they are the means which God uses, in the ordinary course of the world, for the accomplishment of His ends. It is the exclusion of such second causes which makes an event a miracle.

"It is sometimes said that the actuality of miracles would destroy the basis of science. Science, it is said, is founded upon the regularity of sequences; it assumes that if certain conditions within the course of nature are given, certain other conditions will always follow. But if there is to be any intrusion of events which by their very definition are independent of all previous conditions, then, it is said, the regularity of nature upon which science bases itself is broken up. Miracle, in other words, seems to introduce an element of arbitrariness and unaccountability into the course of the world.

"The objection ignores what is really fundamental the Christian conception of miracle. According to the Christian conception, a miracle is wrought by the immediate power of God. It is not wrought by an arbitrary and fantastic despot, but by the very God to whom the regularity of nature itself is dueby the God, moreover, whose character is known through the Bible. Such a God, we may be sure, will not do despite to the reason that He has given to His creatures; His interposition will introduce no disorder into the world that He has made. There is nothing arbitrary about a miracle, according to the Christian conception. It is not an uncaused event, but an event that is caused by the very source of all the order that is in the world. It is dependent altogether upon the least arbitrary and the most firmly fixed of all the things that arenamely upon the character of God.

"The possibility of miracle, then, is indissolubly joined with 'theism.' Once admit the existence of a personal God, Maker and Ruler of the world, and no limits, temporal or otherwise, can be set to the creative power of such a God. Admit that God once created the world, and you cannot deny that He might engage in creation again."

- J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism.

HT: Esteban Vazquez.

- V.

1 comment:

les said...

God could choose also to work a miracle within the parameters of the natural laws he has created, rearranging the given conditions to create a particular effect that he desires.
Or, in another sense, he could work a miracle without violating the fundamental natural law of conservation of matter and energy.

I think that science sometimes cannot see the forest for the trees, because they are witnessing miracles in biology every day. The fact that we can absorb food and our body grows, the fact that plants can use sunlight and carbon dioxide from the air and grow. We can break it all down but at the bottom it is still inexplicable that it should happen that way.

Years ago I read a series of fantasy novels by a David Eddings, in which he had several "sorcerers" who did their magic by drawing upon energy from the world around them and focusing that energy to the effect they wished to create. The ability of the sorcerer depended upon the extent of their knowledge of the world around them, as well as their own personal way of thinking about that world.

It struck me at the time that in the real world, God could do the same thing, and Jesus could very well have done that in his miraculous ministry. In the first miracle of his ministry at Cana, for example, he changed water into wine, thus beginning with a pre-existing substance and changing it into something else.

As we know, in the Eucharist, a miracle that occurs at every mass, the substance of the bread and wine are changed into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus.

It does not mean that God is constrained by the law of conservation, after all he created it. He could once more create something out of nothing, at least as far as we are concerned. In fact, at conception, he does create a new soul, unique and forever integrated with that material body.

But all of this depends on our understanding of God himself. The western philosophers have tried to explain God by saying that on one hand he is pure existence and on another he is pure act, and on another that he is pure reason. In other words, for God to think something, to will it, is to make it so. Which of course, brings one back to what Machen points out, that everything that is, comes from God anyway, as the source of all existence.