Summary sheet – Miracles

summary sheet for AS Religious Studies.

  • Definitions of “miracle”
  • What the scholars say in favour of miracles
  • What scholars say against miracles
  • Spanning questions with the problem of evil

AO1 MATERIAL (PART A)

Definitions of “miracle”

  • Aquinas: “Those things … which are done by divine power apart from the order generally followed in things.” Plus his threefold understanding of miracles.
  • Hume: “A transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the deity.”
  • John Mackie: “A violation of a natural law … by divine or supernatural intervention. The laws of nature describe the ways in which the world – including of course, human beings – works when left to itself, when not interfered with. A miracle occurs when the world is not left to itself, when something distinct from the natural order as a whole intrudes into it.”
  • Richard Swinburne: “A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature, that is, a non-repeatable exception to the operation of these laws, brought about by God. Laws of nature have the form of universal statements ‘all As are B’, and state how bodies behave of physical necessity.”
  • Examples of miracles: Miracles of Jesus, choir in Beatrice Nebraska.

What the scholars say in favour of miracles

  • Aquinas: It is possible for God to bring about a miracle, providing it is not logically impossible (eg God could not square a circle).
  • Keith Ward: Laws of nature are probabilistic, not fixed: it is possible for laws of nature to be bent. Miracles are likely to happen in the presence of deeply religious people.

What scholars say against miracles

  • David Hume: Five criticisms of miracles:
  1. Miracles need huge amounts of evidence to corroborate them.
  2. People believe in miracles because they want to.
  3. Ignorant and superstitious people believe in miracles.
  4. Miracles are religious propaganda.
  5. The balance of probability is against miracle stories being genuine.
  • Hume is counter-argued by Vardy.
  • Maurice Wiles: A world with miracles in it is unpredictable and a God that performs miracles is not worthy of worship.
  • Peter Vardy: Miracles show God to take sides and be immoral: why does God not intervene to stop big disasters but seems to save a small choir group in Nebraska?

Spanning questions with the problem of evil

  • Miracles are demonstrations of God’s omnibenevolence, as they show that God is willing to intervene to stop evil. They also demonstrate God’s omniscience and omnipotence.
  • Miracle stories provide hope and are a way of dealing with the harshness of life.
  • Miracles and the problem of evil raise similar questions about the nature of God: ie whether he is inside space and time (temporal) or outside it (wholly simple). If God is wholly simple, surely God can neither be aware of our individual suffering nor directly do anything about it.
  • Miracles and the problem of evil raise similar questions about the morality of God: if we believe that God is willing to stop suffering by performing miracles, then God is clearly perfectly moral. But, if God is seen to help some through miracles and not others, then God is clearly immoral.
  • Belief in miracles is a further cause of suffering. Millions of people visit Lourdes each year in the hope of a miracle cure for their illnesses: miracle stories create false hope in unexplainable cures. Surely by allowing glimpses of unpredictable miracles, God is actually making us suffer more.
  • If suffering is a test of faith or a means of developing the soul in readiness for union with God, then surely miracles are not necessary?
  • If suffering is the just punishment from God for our sin, it seems illogical for God to then alleviate the suffering that is our just punishment.
  • If God needs to perform miracles this shows that the design of the universe is flawed and God needs to patch the problems that exist, rather like a mechanic trying to repair a badly damaged car.

 

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