Questions about Miracles: Are Miracles Possible?

 

The most basic question to ask about miracles is, “Are miracles possible?” If they are not possible, we can wrap up our discussion early and go home. If they are possible, then we need to address the argument that gave us the idea that they are absurd. We find the root of this argument in the writings of Benedict de Spinoza. He developed the following argument against miracles.

1.   Miracles are violations of natural laws.

2.   Natural laws are immutable.

3.   It is impossible for immutable laws to be violated.

4.   Therefore, miracles are not possible.

He was bold in his assertion that “nothing then, comes to pass in nature in contravention to her universal laws, nay, nothing does not agree with them and follow from them, for … she keeps a fixed and immutable order.”

Certainly we can’t argue with the third step in that argument, for what is immutable can’t be set aside. But are natural laws immutable? And does he have a correct definition of a miracle? It seems that Spinoza has stacked the deck. He built into his premises his own view that nothing exists beyond the universe (and that God is the universe). So once he has defined natural law as “fixed and immutable,” it is impossible for miracles to occur. He had gotten the idea that natural laws were fixed from the Newtonian physics that were the latest rage in his day. But today scientists understand that natural laws don’t tell us what must happen, but only describe what usually does happen. They are statistical probabilities, not unchangeable facts. So we can’t rule out the possibility of miracles by definition.

The definition he uses also carries his antisupernatural bias. It assumes that there is nothing beyond nature that could act in nature. This follows from Spinoza’s pantheism. As long as God is limited to staying inside nature’s boundaries, or is nonexistent, then a miracle can only be seen as a violation of order. The bottom line of the matter is that if God exists, then miracles are possible. If there is anything beyond the universe which might cause something to happen in the universe, then there is a chance that it will do so. Now most scientists will want some evidence to show them that God exists, and that can be found in chapter 2. But once we have established that a theistic God exists, miracles cannot be ruled out.

Benedict de Spinoza (1632–1677) was one of the modern rationalist philosophers. Rationalism believed that all truth could be deduced from self-evident principles without examining factual evidence. Spinoza’s background was Jewish, but he was expelled from the synagogue at age twenty-four for his unusual views. He was convinced that there could only be one infinite substance and nothing else, so he concluded that God is the universe (pantheism). Natural laws, then, were the laws of God. Given this starting point, miracles are automatically eliminated. If the supernatural is identical to nature, then there is nothing beyond nature to intervene. Anything beyond nature must be greater than God, and that is absurd.[1]

 


[1] Geisler, N. L., & Brooks, R. M. (1990). When skeptics ask (pp. 76–77). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.