If you believe, honestly believe, in miracles and wonders in daily life, are you being merely backward and feeble-minded, or do you suffer from a delusional disorder, a very severe mental illness?
Today we are going to discuss miracles and wonders, historical context, philosophical background, analysis of the physical possibility of wonders and miracles.
We are going to try to answer this question.
Is the belief in supernatural phenomena, in exiting the order and the structure of the universe, is this belief grounded in mental illness, or is there more to it than meets the eye?
Stay with us on this protracted tour.
And I'm going to start with the Jewish Rabbi, of course, Nachmanides, known in Hebrew as the Rambam.
His interpretation of Exodus 13, verse 16.
He wrote, "And from the great and well-known miracles, a man comes to admit to hidden miracles, which are the foundation of the whole Torah.
A person has no portion in the Torah of Moses, unless he believes the Torah matters and circumstances are miracles, and they do not follow nature, or the general custom of the world.
Rather, if one does meet forth, he will succeed due to the reward he marries.
Maimonides, the Rambam, a greater genius by far, has written the following in his guide to the perplexed, chapter 2, verse 29.
He said, "This universe remains perpetually with the same properties with which the Creator has endowed it.
None of these will ever be changed except by way of miracle in some individual instances.
Now, another Jew, I am having a Jewish streak today, another Jew, Baruch, or Benedict Spinoza, in his Traktatus Theologica Politicus, wrote the following, "Nothing then comes to pass in nature in contravention to her universal laws.
Nay, nothing does not agree with these laws and follow from them.
For, she keeps a fixed and immutable order.
A miracle, whether in contravention to or beyond nature, is a mere absurdity.
We may then be absolutely certain that every event which is truly described in Scripture necessarily happened, like everything else, according to natural laws.
This was a guy who has lived in the 17th century, Raval.
He paid a heavy personal price for his ultra-rational mind.
Another quote, this time from a non-Jew, some of them were great philosophers, some Gentiles made it.
So, Immanuel Kant, religion within the limits of Risen alone, here is what he had to say, "Those whose judgment in these matters is so inclined that they suppose themselves to be helpless, without miracles, believe that they soften the blow which Risen suffers from them by holding that they happen, but seldom.
Miracles happen, but very rarely.
Once in a hundred years?
Here we can determine nothing on the basis of knowledge of the object, but only on the basis of the maxims which are necessary to the use of our Risen.
Thus miracles must be admitted as occurring daily, though indeed hidden under the guise of natural events.
Or else, never.
What Kant is saying, either miracles are part of nature, they occur all the time, or they never occur.
There is no such thing as a rare miracle.
Ok, Kant continues.
A very unfortunate name by the way, Kant.
He continues, "Since the former alternative is not at all compatible with Risen, the daily occurrence of miracles is not at all compatible with Risen, nothing remains but to adopt the later maxim that miracles never occur.
So this principle remains ever a mere maxim for making judgments, not a theoretical assertion.
For example, the admirable conservation of the species in the plant and animal kingdoms, no one indeed can claim to comprehend whether or not the direct influence of the Creator is required on each occasion.
Therefore, us nothing but natural effects, and ought never to be adjudged otherwise.
To venture beyond these limits is rashness and immodesty.
In the affairs of life, therefore, it is impossible for us to count on miracles, or take them into consideration at all in our use of Risen.
There are echoes, prescient echoes of evolution theory here.
Ok, what does Vaknin have to say?
The last Jew in the chain.
Here's what I have to say.
Miracles have always been a lucrative business.
Mindful of its bottom line, the medieval church went as far as threatening those who would not embark on pilgrimage to one of its repositories of relics and holy sites.
But are miracles for real? Can God suspend the laws of nature, or even change or cancel them altogether?
Let's start with a bit of history.
God has allegedly created the universe, or at least is aristotically postulated. God acted as the unmoved mover.
But creation was a one-time interaction.
Did God, like certain software developers, embed in the world some "beck doors" or "easter eggs" that allowed him to intervene in exceptional circumstances and change the preordained and predestined course of events?
If he did, how?
To go the concepts of determinism and predestination, thus undermining and upsetting quite a few religious denominations and schools of philosophy.
The Stoics were pantheists. They and Spinoza much later described God, not merely the emanation of the Holy Ghost, but the genuine article himself.
They describe God as all-pervasive. His unavoidable ubiquity akin to the all-penetrating presence of the soul in a corporeal body.
So if God is nature, then surely he can do as he wishes with the laws of nature, can't he?
Philo from Alexandria convincingly demonstrated that a perfect being can hardly be expected to remain in direct touch with imperfection.
Lacking volition, wanting nothing, and not in need of thought, God suggested Philo uses an emanation that he called Logos, later identified by the Apologies with Christ. And this emanation is an intermediary between himself, God, and his creation.
The Neo-Platynist plotiness concurred.
Nature may need God, but it was a pretty one-sided relationship.
God used emanations to act upon the world's stage. These were beings coming from him, but not of him.
The Council of Nicaea in 325 AD dispensed of this multiplication.
The Father, the Son, Logos, and the Holy Ghost were all of the same substance. They were all God himself.
In modern times, Cartesian dualism neglected to explain by what transmission mechanisms God can and allegedly does affect the material cosmos.
How does God interact with our world, with reality, with us, with the universe?
And finally, as most monotheistic religions maintain, miracles are affected by God directly or via his envoys and messengers, angels, prophets, whatever you.
Acts that transgress against the laws of nature, but are committed by other invisible agents and not miracles, but magic, in which we can include spiritualism, the occult, paranormal phenomena, and so on.
So this is God.
But no one disputes the fact that there are natural laws. There's nature, and there's the laws of nature.
God may be coterminous with nature. Nature may be another word for God, but there are laws all the same.
So how do we reconcile miracles with natural laws?
Can we even contemplate a breach of the natural order? Isn't this very juxtaposition meaningless, even nonsensical and oxymoron?
Can nature lapse or remit?
It's ridiculous, isn't it?
How can we prove divine involvement in the unnatural when we are at a loss to conclusively demonstrate God's contribution to the natural, even?
As David Hume observed, it is not enough for a miracle to run contrary to immutable precedent. It must also evidently serve as an expression of divine volition and interposition.
There must be a godly, a divine element in a miracle.
Indeed, as R.F.Holland correctly noted, even perfectly natural events, whose coincidence yields religious, divine significance, they amount to miracles.
And so some miracles are actually signs from heaven, even when nature, where nature, is not violated.
Moreover, if God or some other supernatural agency stand outside nature, then when they affect miracles, they are not violating the laws of nature to which they are not subjected because they are outside nature.
Hume was a skeptic.
The evidence in favor of natural laws is so overwhelming that it is bound to outweigh any evidence, any number of testimonies included, produced in support of miracles.
And yet, being the finite and limited creatures that we are, can we ever get acquainted with all the evidence in favor of any given natural law?
Are natural laws immutable or do they themselves change over time?
Our experience is never perfectly exhaustive, merely asymptotically so.
And that's the observation by Rousseau.
Does this leave room for exceptions, as Richard Pertil suggested in Thinking About Religion 1978?
Hume emphatically denies this possibility.
He gives this irrefutable example.
All of us must die.
We cannot suspend lead in mid-air. Wood is consumed by fire, which is extinguished by water.
No exceptions here. Not now, not ever, wrote Jung in Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding.
In Hume's Object Failure, a book written by John Ehrman, published in 2000, Ehrman argues for the probability of miracles founded on multiple testimonies by independent and reliable observers.
Yet, both Ehrman and Hume confine themselves to human witnesses.
What if we were to obtain multiple readings from machines and devices and testing equipment that imply the occurrence of miracles?
The occasional dysfunction aside, machines are not gullible. They are much less fallible than humans. They are disinterested, and therefore much more reliable than human beings.
But machines operate in accordance with and are subject to the laws of nature.
Can a machine ever record an event that is outside of nature, an event that disobeys the laws of nature?
Do miracles occur within nature or outside nature?
If miracles transpire within nature, shouldn't miracles be deemed "epso facto" natural, though ill understood?
Anything that happens within nature is natural. If miracles emerge without nature, outside nature, how can anything and anyone within nature's ambit witness them at all?
Indeed, it is not possible to discuss miracles meaningfully. Such contemplation gives rise to the limitations of language itself.
If one subscribes to the inviolable uniformity of nature, one excludes the mere possibility, however remote, of miracles from the conversation.
If one accepts that miracles may occur, one holds nature to be mutable and essentially unpredictable.
There is no reconciling of these two mutually exclusive points of view.
They reflect a fundamental chasm between two ways of perceiving our universe and especially physical reality.
Moreover, nature, and by implication science, is the totality of what exists and what happens.
If miracles exist and happen, then they are by this definition a part and parcel of nature.
There is a natural, not supernatural, because nature encompasses everything that there is.
We do experience miracles and as Hume correctly notes, we cannot experience that which happens outside nature.
That some event is exceedingly improbable does not render it logically impossible.
Equally that it is logically possible does not guarantee its likelihood.
Whatever highly incredible event does occur, it merely limes the limitations of our contemporary knowledge.
To use Hume's terminology, it is never a miracle merely a marvel, a wonder, an extraordinary event.
We can't explain it yet.
In summary, men-made laws are often violated, ask any prosecutor.
Why not natural ones?
The very word violation is misleading. Criminals act according to their own set of laws and rules.
And so criminal activity is a violation of one body of rules and edicts while upholding another.
Similarly, what may appear to be miraculous against a natural order may merely be the manifestation of a law of nature that is as yet unrevealed to us, which was Saint-Oberstein's view as well as Hume's and Huxley's and is today the view of the philosopher-physicist John Paul Kinghorn.
Modern science is saddled with metaphysical baggage. The assumptions that the universe is isotropic and homogenous, or that there is only one universe, or that the constants of nature do not change in time and in space and so on.
Miracles may help us read ourselves of this quasi-religious ballast and drive science forward as catalysts of open-minded progress.
Spinoza said as much and so did Mackinnon.
In Poparian terms, miracles help us to falsify scientific theories and come up with better ones closer to the truth.
Miracles are they non-repeatable counter-instances or are they repeatable events?
Jesus is reported to have walked on water. Is this ostensible counter-instance to natural law an isolated incident or will it repeat itself?
There is no reason in principle or in theology that this miracle should not recur, happen again.
Actually, most miracles have had multiple instances throughout history and thus are of dubious supernatural pedigree and provenance.
On the other hand, the magnitude of the challenge to the prevailing formulation of the relevant natural law increases with every recurrence of a miracle.
While non-repeatable counter-instances violations can be ignored, however inconveniently, repetitive apparent breaches cannot be overlooked without jeopardizing the entire scientific edifice.
Miracles that repeat themselves must be incorporated into a new theory or a new natural law even.
How can we tell miracles apart from merely unexplained or poorly understood events? How can we ascertain, regardless of the state of our knowledge, that a phenomenon is not natural in the sense that it can never be produced by nature?
How can we know for sure that it is non-repeatable, a counter-instance, a true breach of natural laws?
As Sir Arthur Clarke correctly observed, a sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Anthony Flue suggested that we are faced with the problem of identifying miracles.
The problem seems to emanate from three implicit assumptions.
Assumption number one, that God is somehow above or outside nature and that God's actions, such as miracles brought by God, are therefore not natural or supernatural.
The second assumption is that every event, event of miracle, must have a cause, be it a natural cause or a supernatural cause.
And the third assumption is that explanations and causes ought to be empirical concepts.
All three assertions are highly debatable.
Number one, as pantheists and occasionalists who adhere to the principle of imminence demonstrate, God's place in the scheme of things depends on how we define nature.
They postulate that God and the world are one and the same.
This requires God to have a material dimensional quality and to occupy the entirety of space and time, allowing him to interact with the universe which is also material and spatial, temporal.
Regarding assumption number two, causality, now we know that the laws of nature and the constants of nature are not immutable nor permanent and that causes, as expressed in the laws of nature, are mere statistical, true and contingent generalizations with non-universal predictive powers applicable only to a localized segment of space-time or at a maximum to our universe alone.
And so we can definitely conceive of events and entities that have no causes.
As these causes are perceived in our patch of the cosmos at least.
Regarding the third assumption, there is a true problem with the empirical nature of causes and explanations.
They require a body of observations which yield regularity based on events often repeated and repeatable in principle capable of being retro-rejected.
Supernatural causes satisfy only one requirement.
The effects of supernatural causes are arguably observable, but they don't satisfy the other requirements.
They are by definition irregular and therefore cannot be repeated.
Does this inherent irregularity and non-repeatability, does it render species, false, the super-naturalness imputed to miracles?
If God pervades nature, let alone if God himself is nature, then no event is supernatural. All occurrences are natural and all occurrences obey the laws of nature which are merely the manifestations of God's attributes.
This is also the Muslim and Jewish points of view.
Because the laws of nature and the constants of nature are changeable and not uniform across the universe, there is room for spontaneous cause less, ill-understood and irregular but objectively observed phenomena such as miracles.
There is nothing supernatural about this.
There is no contradiction in saying that miracles are natural events brought about by God or even in saying that miracles are basic or primitive or immediate actions of God.
Miracles clearly attributable to God as an agent with free will and for which we do not need to show a natural cause.
This leads us to the question of divine intervention and divine intent.
Miracles serve God's plan. Miracles reflect God's will or volition. Miracles are an interposition, not merely a happenstance. Miracles are not random, they serve a purpose, they accomplish goals, even when these are unknown to us and inscrutable.
This holds true even if we reject Leibniz's principle of pre-established harmony in modern theology, even if we disagree with the occasionalist point of view that God is a direct and exclusive cause of all events including natural events and that all other forms of purported causation, or cause of nature, are illusions.
If we believe in God's propensity to uphold good against evil, to encourage and support virtue while penalizing a suppressing sin through the use of what Wittgenstein called "gesturism", and if we believe in God's predilection to respond to our most urgent needs, in short, if one accepts divine providence, then a theory of God would possess predictive powers, it would allow us to foresee the occurrence of miracles, it could be falsifiable.
For instance, whenever evil seems on the brink of prevailing, we should predict and expect a miracle to eventually restore the supremacy of God.
There is the rudimentary regularity we have been seeking all along.
So it depends how we define nature and how we define God.
We could generate a theory of God, which is equivalent to a scientific theory, and would yield falsifiable predictions.
Admittedly, it is impossible to predict the exact nature of future miracles, merely the likelihood of miracles, which is very similar to quantum mechanics.
This is reminiscent of the uncertainty or indeterminacy principle that is the basis of quantum mechanics.
Miracles often consist of divinely ordained confluences and coincidences of perfectly natural and even pedestrian events.
We are awed by miracles all the same.
The true miracle amounts to our sense of wonder and restored proportion and perspective in the face of this humongous mystery that is our home, the universe.