If nobody believed in superstition it would be unable to hurt anyone
MIRACLES, WHY WE CANNOT BELIEVE
Being an analysis of the philosophy pertaining to miracles in the book:
OCR Philosophy of Religion for AS and A2,
Matthew Taylor, Editor Jon Mayled, Routledge,
Oxon, New York, 2007
A miracle is an event that does not match the way nature usually works. For example, if a cow suddenly got wings out of nowhere that would be a miracle. Or if a dead man rises from the dead when dead people stay dead. Religion attributes miracles to the supernatural power of God and argues that through miracles God is trying to tell us something.
Miracles Accuse God of Being Arbitrary
Miracles happen rarely. To us we can see no purpose or pattern to them. This suggests that it is not God that is doing them but some imperfect and arbitrary and unpredictable being (page 83).
Religious believers answer that God cannot intervene all the time to do miracles. If he healed everybody we would not be able to help the sick and learn. They say too there would be no order, just chaos if God say miraculously prevented knives from entering the body during stabbings for example. They say deep down we want to make mistakes and that is not mistakes we fear but not being able to resolve them.
The reply to this is that God could intervene very seldomly but he could set up a pattern. The way he does miracles leaves us without blame if we assume he must be arbitrary. An arbitrary source of miracles could not be a God. A god that claims to be perfect and all-good cannot do things for the heck of it. If God is arbitrary we have no reason to assume he is the one doing the miracles. You would have to deal with the problem of evil, a good God allowing evil though in possession of the power to stop it, before you could have the right to say, "God, Johnny is dying of cancer. I praise you for you are perfect in all that you do. I by implication praise you for not taking his cancer away." To deny this is to deny the seriousness of the cancer. Belief in miracles certainly encourages this evil denial.
Religious believers say that God does miracles for a mysterious purpose so they are not arbitrary but from our limited vision and knowledge we only think they look as if they are.
Then God is not considering the fact that miracles need to look at least as if there is a pattern and not arbitrary for our sake. How things look comes first until we have proof that we should think about them another way.
Conclusion: Miracles accuse God of being arbitrary. If there is a God he is not doing them or they do not happen at all but belief in their credence is based on lies and mistakes.
Miracles are Improbable
David Hume said that nature has laws and these laws cannot be broken (page 84).
He said that when people report a miracle they are denying this. A miracle after all is an event that is not naturally possible. It is supernatural.
He concluded that it was more likely that the people were lying or mistaken than that a natural law was broken. He would say bricks never turn into people and that is an example of an unbreakable natural law.
The religious reply to this is that Hume is assuming miracles are impossible. He has made up his mind before he has looked at the evidence for miracles. He is being biased or unfairly disposed against belief in miracles and has prejudged the evidence. No evidence for miracles then will satisfy him.
But in his conclusion he says it is an issue of probability. He is saying that miracles maybe do happen but that they are so unlikely that we cannot be expected to believe in them. If we amend his first assumption that nature has laws and these laws cannot be broken to that he is saying violations of nature would be so rare as to be practically unbelievable we make it fit his conclusion better. Hume was NOT making up his mind beforehand that miracles are impossible. He was saying natural law cannot be broken but he was saying miracles do the impossible and break that law. That is not necessarily a denial that miracles can happen. His argument is about how unbelievable miracles are even if they do happen. Hume is not saying miracles are impossible but that they cannot be believed in.
Hume saying that natural law must be considered unchangeable or unbreakable is not as rigid as it sounds. If there is an unknown law that can make a man rise from the dead then that is a natural law too. It is unchangeable natural law for the man to rise under certain conditions. The view that Hume believed natural law was too fixed for bizarre things to happen - and everything is bizarre the first time it happens is just a slur on him and his non-belief.
Hume did say that if a testimony to a miracle seemed more miraculous than believing in the miracle reported then the miracle should be believed in. He did not say that we must consider miracles impossible in the sense that they cannot happen. This is nothing more than the commonsense view that the more extraordinary the claim is the more extraordinary the evidence you need to believe it must be.
Incredibly books which accuse Hume of having a rigid view of natural law (page 77) still admit that Hume saw miracles as possible but the chance of anything being a true miracle was extremely low (page 332). he said the chance was low but it was a chance all the same.
David Hume said we could believe in a miracle only if the people lying or being wrong would presuppose a bigger miracle. People who don’t believe in miracles say that it has never been known for it to be more miraculous for people to be lying or mistaken than for them to have experienced what they said they experienced. He was right. The claim that he is merely saying, "Miracles are fiction for miracles can't happen so no evidence for them is good enough" is a distortion. He is not merely assuming. He has given us reasons for not believing.
Conclusion: To say you don't believe in miracles is merely saying that you don't have enough evidence for them. Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence. You are not saying there is no evidence for miracles but you are saying it is not enough. Miracles are so strange and rare that you would need very strong evidence. Even for natural and non-miracle strange claims such as that the Neanderthal is still alive would need extreme evidence such as finding a body and going to extremes to eliminate any possibility of fraud.
Swinburne's Definition of Miracle
Richard Swinburne when thinking about Hume allegedly saying natural law was fixed decided that Hume was wrong . Swinburne stated (page 89):
A - Laws of nature are generalisations for the sake of simplicity. For example, we say it is a law of nature for a dead man to stay dead but a tiny minority of dead people may revive. So Hume had too rigid an interpretation of what law of nature means.
In addition, the laws of physics indicate that the laws of nature are not as rigid as some people think (page 326). Quantum laws tell you not what will happen but what will probably happen. The extremely small quantum particles behave in an indeterminate way. That means they behave in a way that is not totally knowable or explainable (page 335).
Also, Swinburne says that our belief in laws of nature does not say that the laws are fixed. Our belief is that the laws of nature are probabilistic (page 325). He points out you could put a red grain of sand on a beach. Though it is very unlikely, you could ask somebody to randomly pick up a grain of sand and they could pick up the red one. He says then that this is extremely unlikely. He compares it to miracle. Miracle is extremely unlikely to happen but it is still possible.
In reply to this, we say that unbelievers in miracles will be able to hold that the laws of nature are indeed probabilistic which seems, so Swinburne says, to allow for miracles being possible. But laws of nature working a certain way is infinitely more likely and more probable than an exception in the form of a miracle happening. Swinburne thinks it helps the case for miracles and or their believability to say natural law is probabilistic. It does not help at all.
Deniers of miracles agree with Swinburne that somebody could pick the red grain. They too know that bizarre and very unlikely but natural things can happen. They would say the resurrection of Jesus if it happened was not supernatural in their belief. They only say it is their belief - they are not saying there is no chance a man might rise from the dead by supernatural power. Christians will say that all other explanations for the resurrection fail but the supernatural one. Yet the Christians believe like everybody else that bizarre things happen. Sometimes mistakes are made that make miracle reports look believable when they would not be seen that way if all the facts were known. The Christians say the gospels do not err and no explanation for the resurrection should be considered if it contradicts them in any way. In other words, their entire faith is built on their own assumption that unknown error could not be in the gospels and adding to the credibility of the gospels. They build their faith and its alleged believability on their own arrogance.
For Swinburne to claim that finding the grain would be comparable to a miracle is dishonest. A miracle is a non-natural or supernatural occurrence. Finding the grain would be extremely unusual and you would need a vast pile of evidence or near perfect evidence that something so extraordinary happened. You would need more or stronger evidence than that to hold that a miracle such as a bleeding statue had taken place starting with seeing it with your own two eyes.
B- A law of nature is corrigible. That is, we say something is a law of nature but some new discovery might mean this law will be changed or modified. For example, the law that one side of the earth must be in darkness when day reigns on the other side will be changed if a mirror is put up in space to reflect the sun unto the dark side of the earth.
The reply to this is, that this is not implying that the laws of nature are changing. It is only learning about other laws. It used to be natural law that some people died of certain diseases. But thanks to some other natural laws that were discovered, it was possible to override that natural law. The natural law was not changed or altered. It was not suspended or broken. It was overridden. If you have to shoot somebody to stop him killing somebody else that is not saying the law against murder is wrong. It is only saying that the law is right but another law had to be respected instead and that this was the law that innocent life must be saved. Point B is just a pile of drivel from somebody that knows better but who has to put rubbish on paper to make it seem that a rational person can believe in miracles!
So Swinburne from his two stupid assertions then concluded that a new definition of miracle was necessary. He described a miracle as an occurrence of a non-repeatable counter instance to a law of nature. He does not mean that miracles violate or conflict with nature. He means that a miracle must be very uncommon to fulfil the non-repeatability criterion. He doesn't draw attention to the gospel of Matthew then which reported loads of returns from the dead during the brief ministry of Jesus Christ for his criterion contradicts the validity of these miracles.
The resurrection of Jesus would be an example of a miracle. A man rises from the dead against our understanding of the laws of nature. The event is a once-off and unrepeatable so it does not prove that the law that dead men stay dead to be false from now on. Swinburne believes that if the law is that all crows are black and a white crow is found that does not prove the law wrong. He says it would be foolish to say a law of nature was wrong because of one exception to it being found (page 89, OCR Philosophy of Religion for AS and A2, Matthew Taylor, Editor Jon Mayled, Routledge, Oxon, New York, 2007).
But the white crow is not an exception. It contradicts the law. How many white crows do we have to have before the law must be rejected? If the law is that 1 and 1 is two and a case is found where 1 and 2 add up to four then that means all of maths is wrong. You wouldn't say it is just the once so the laws of maths stand as firm as ever. Belief in miracles requires that we SHOULD shelve our respect and regard for the laws of nature. The belief is evil.
Again, Swinburne ignores the fact that a major New Testament gospel has it that resurrections were routine at the time of Christ. He must admit that if the gospel is true then the law that dead men stay dead is contradicted by the number of these resurrections and by the resurrection of all human beings that ever existed on the last day.
Swinburne says that we can think of the relationship between miracles and the laws of nature like parents who teach truth telling as strict laws and who are always truthful. It is like a law that the parents are so honest. But when it comes to getting their child to her surprise party they will lie. They suspend the law for grave reasons. So God can suspend the law that dead men stay dead in order to raise Jesus from the dead. Swinburne reasons that the parents make a law out of truthfulness but that does not mean they always tell the truth. So he reasons that this is not a violation of truth. In the same way miracles are not a violation of nature (page 335).
Some people do in fact experience a loss of trust in
those who lie to them for the sake of the surprise party. They see it as
reasonable to wonder what other lies those people are telling them and certainly
makes them question how well they know them.
And the parents did lie and broke the rule of truth. They might claim they had a reason for it. But that makes no difference for it wasn't that serious of a reason. And all liars believe they have reason to lie. They lie to protect themselves in some way. They see it as justified at least at the time.
The parents rejoiced in the lie. They did not see it as an evil they had to do for a greater good with regret and horror.
The parable of the parents and the party if we may call it that certainly proves that miracles do indeed insult and seek to trample on the laws of nature. They invite believers to join in that trampling to insult the laws is to insult the laws that give us being. If we are consistent we will soon have no morals left.
Now a miracle is God revealing himself in a sign in Swinburne's thought. But the reason you believe in a miracle is because you have reports that appear credible and irrefutable that a miracle has taken place. You believe because of human testimony or the testimony of your own eyes or experience. You don't see why God has done the miracle. You don't see why he suspended his law of nature. You don't know his reasons.
Without the reasons you are only assuming that this was a suspension of nature and therefore a true miracle.
Sometimes a child will trust her parents who lie to spring the surprise party on her for she understands the reasons. The reasons are necessary. She needs them if she wants to see their lie as a suspension of the rule that the parents are always truthful. Unless you know God's reasons and you can prove they are sensible reasons and really his reasons, for you a miracle is just a strange event not a miracle. If you say miracles prove God's love or that your religion is true, then clearly you are saying this is your opinion and that religion should be about what you opine. That's far from humility.
Swinburne says if you have a close friend you will believe her or him when they report a religious experience or miracle. That is letting people tell you that God has acted. It is not believing in God so much as in those who say he has done something. Miracles are just what men who form religions for the enjoyment of power over the minds and lives of others need.
Miracles - a violation of nature?
Religious believers today tend to argue that Hume defined miracles as a violation of nature and that this definition is unacceptable. They say it makes miracles sound ridiculous (page 85, 319). If God sets up natural law and then breaks it then God is a changeable God and a fool.
First, there is no reason to believe the following might be wrong, "If anybody reports a miracle they are claiming that a violation of nature has happened. And this is what they are claiming whether they realise it or not." If it looks like a violation then it could be a violation even if it might not be. One is entitled to assume its a violation. Religion and philosophy has utterly failed to convince anybody rationally that one has no right to assume such a thing or adopt such an opinion. Miracles then cannot come across as evidence to the impartial mind that any religious faith is true or that any religious idea is true.
If religion believes miracles do not violate nature it is only guessing it. Most religion these days tends to be embarrassed about the idea that miracles violate nature. If they are right then it is bad enough if miracles violate nature. But belief in them is doing nature more harm than the miracles do. Nature is so important and is our life and breath. To believe it has been violated insults it even if it has been violated. To believe it has been violated when it has not is clearly far worse. Belief in one miracle encourages belief in others and so encourages attitudes that nature has been violated or may have been. Even believers in miracles have to admit if they are honest that they are saying nature may have been violated.
Second, most reports of miracle claim that a violation, or an absurdity, has happened. An absurdity would be a worse way to describe the miracle than a violation. But perhaps a miracle could be a violation without being absurd.
How can I say that most miracle claims and reports are stating that a violation of nature, or an absurdity, has happened? Let me give an example. If it is true that God does miracles, and when he does them he does not violate nature, that means the miracle is only done for extreme reasons. Exceptions prove the rule only when the exception is necessary. An exception will happen in a situation where the general rule becomes unimportant. If I report a miracle and even if I am lying, I am putting evidence into the world that a violation of nature or absurdity has happened. I am accusing God of having done a miracle when he didn't do it for there was no pressing need.
Religion is bound to have mistaken some non-miracles for miracles. Miracles must have been mistaken for non-miracles too. Human investigation however good is not bestowed with infallibility. Witnesses are not infallible either. Right or wrong, there is evidence that if miracles happen the bigger part of the evidence says a miracle is a blasphemy, a violation of nature or an absurdity.
Ghosts and many other kinds of miracle have ridiculous elements. Such certainly do attempt violate nature.
Scientists see the idea that God made the sun stand still in the sky at the time of Joshua as declaring an event that is a violation of nature (page 81, 84). Yet this is an accepted Bible miracle!
So most miracle reports are saying that a violation or absurdity has happened. If believers use miracles as evidence and care for evidence at all they will have to say there is evidence that a violation has taken place. They will have to assume that all new reports of miracles are probably violations too.
Third, if miracles are violations it seems that some power lesser than God is doing them for God can't make it law that dead men stay dead and then raise Jesus to life for that is violating his laws and means his laws become bad though he made them so he has to fix the damage. Violations of nature can happen so miracles being violations of nature does not mean that miracles are impossible.
The Church claims that it is natural law that we use our free will to do good. Yet we violate it and do evil. Satan violated nature and order and law to become the Devil. Hume's understanding of miracles as a violation does not imply that miracles are impossible in his view.
Tillich and Miracles
Top modern theologian, Paul Tillich, defined miracles as events that people see as signs with religious meaning and significance . For example, if somebody recovers from a flu in time for his or her wedding they could see this as an act of God and a miracle. It doesn't look out of the ordinary to an unbeliever but to the person it is an act in which God reveals his love.
Tillich rejected the theory that miracles were supernatural. He correctly observed that such ideas make God to be a sorcerer. It even makes God, he went on, out to be like demons that possess people (page 320). If God does miracles, he needs to get his people to react properly to them so he needs to possess them. It is the reaction not the miracle in itself that is important to a rational God.
Tilich denied that miracles violate the laws of nature but held that they are or can be astonishing coincidences and events that happen in accord with nature. Miracles also reveal something about the kind of being God is and what God or God's nature is like (page 322). Miracles must cause an ecstatic reaction in the recipient, they fill the person with joy and confidence in God and a sense of his presence and what God is like.
These are the problems with his account.
Two people can experience a miracle and one of them can feel disturbed by it and sense that it is some occult force that could be dangerous that is doing them. For example, a born-again Christian might be disturbed by a miracle at Lourdes.
And if miracles are natural coincidences but astonishing how do you know that the miracle isn't just in your mind? (page 323). How astonishing has something to be before it can be considered to be a miracle? If you accidentally move a chess piece and it leads to you winning the game is that to be considered a miracle? If it is then you can claim miracles to support any nonsense you wish. You can say that the coincidence of a con-artist prophet surviving a horrific car crash is proof that those who have evidence that he is a fraud are wrong.
The philosopher R F Holland says that a miracle is a serious of astonishing coincidences that people take a religious message from and not a violation of nature or a suspension of natural law (page 337). This view implies that we must believe to allow miracles to happen. If we don't believe they won't. By unbelief, we may have been to blame for Hitler not getting a vision of Jesus and changing his rotten ways. Miracles then offer a slap against unbelievers and religious doubters. This is something they have no right to do for though people claim to believe in a miracle because they have seen it the real reason is they have come to feel they want to believe in it. The objections to miracles being believable or religiously significant or being signs proves miracles have no right to infer that unbelievers are bad and dangerous.
The rapture and ecstasy would need to be caused by a miracle as well. Why?
If miracles must cause an ecstatic religious reaction, then why can't the reaction be caused without the miracle? In other words, do you need to rise from your deathbed against all the odds to experience such joy in God? You could rise and not feel the joy. Just because the joy comes with a miracle doesn't mean it was caused by the miracle. Joy may often follow certain actions but there is nothing to say it necessarily has to.
Feelings do happen to you whether you want them or not.
Tillich is right that a true miracle would need to cause the miracle of spiritual rapture in the recipient. But this makes the other miracle unnecessary.
It follows that miracles such as healings and statues weeping blood do nothing for anybody. They are not signs for the unbeliever. Only the miracle of ecstasy and rapture is the sign but you have to be a believer already to get it and even then you cannot be sure if you put your hand on your heart that it is a sign.
Prayer is opening and raising the heart and mind to God and uniting with him. It is said that miracles may show that when we pray, God may do what we ask, but in his own way (page 331). Miracles have to advocate prayer above all else. Even membership in the true Church will do you no good without prayer, so the Catholic Church tells us. Even if God made us, it does not follow that he wants us to pray. God didn't need to make us for he is perfect and has all he needs. So he does not need to require us to pray. It is simply untrue that miracles imply that prayer is needed.
Maurice Wiles and Miracles
Maurice Wiles author of God's Action in the World declared that he didn't believe in miracles because
1 If miracles are violations of the law of nature, they have to happen extremely rarely. Otherwise we wont be able to talk about laws of nature any more.
2 The random pattern of miracles is a problem
3 God does nothing to stop evil events miraculously.
He denies that God does miracles but says God making all things and revealing himself in creation is sufficient and he doesn't need to do miracles.
Wiles realises that miracles happen so rarely that even if they do happen, we cannot be expected to believe they have happened even if we admit something could have been a miracle.
He is right that the randomness is a problem.
In relation to point three, some who feel that God can let people suffer and be good, would amend that to say that God doing miracles such as sending Mary to appear at Lourdes and making statues bleed and making waters turn into Jesus isn't acceptable. He should be doing acts of miraculous healing instead. If the problem of how an almighty God can be good and let evil happen despite having the power to halt it and erase it is unsolvable then Wiles is right and no amending of his logic against miracles is necessary.
Miracle violation or absurdity or reality?
A miracle could be a pack of lies or people have made a mistake. Undeniable. This is possible. Believers and unbelievers in miracles both agree with this. Believers hold that miracle reports are false more often than they are true.
A miracle could be a violation. Undeniable whether miracles happen or not.
A miracle could be an absurdity. Undeniable whether miracles happen or not.
Believers say a miracle is not a violation or absurd and there is evidence for miracles. Deniable. The truth of what they say is disputed. They have to resort to lies and distortions and manipulating people's desire to believe to retain any semblance of credibility.
We see here that the view that miracles are what religion says they are is outnumbered. It is three against one.
There is more.
The violation possibility is a fact. The absurdity possibility is a fact. But the believers have nothing but belief or an assumption, to be more precise, against these two facts.
The believers have the silliest and most stubborn position. It is a clear preference for what they wish to believe against the truth and against the facts. Miracles need dishonesty and self-deception like a parasite needs something to feed off. They accuse those who see miracle reports as not believable of being stubborn when it is they themselves who are being stubborn.
Some conclusions follow.
No matter how educated the verifiers of miracles and witnesses of miracles are they are unreliable insofar far as they testify to miracles. They are trying to hark us back to the days of superstition.
If miracles are violations they are not evidence for God but evidence that something is trying to fool us when miracles speak of God ie apparitions, prophets, divinely inspired Bibles and scriptures etc. Believers are playing into its hands and they must be discouraged.
Whether miracles are what believers say or violations or absurdities, we would seem to be encouraging them by responding to them religiously. We could be encouraging some power for example to tamper with the evidence for somebody's guilt to get them off the hook so that they dodge jail.
Even if miracles occur then that does not mean we ought to believe in them for probability matters more than evidence. For example, the evidence that a dying man murdered his wife by hitting her with a frying pan may be strong but if it was improbable that he could get out of his death bed to do it then the evidence is wrong and we can reject the conclusion it points to. For compassionate decent people, the doctrine of Jesus that sinners will sin and suffer in Hell forever without mercy and without hope if they die without asking for his mercy, is proof that no evidence for the resurrection will ever be enough. Those with a bad streak will not be too bothered about the Hell doctrine.
If miracles happen, ought we to believe?
We have seen that even if miracles happen that does not mean we ought to believe in them. Let us say more in defence of this fact.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. You need miraculously immaculate evidence for a miracle. Only a miracle can verify a miracle. Even if other people have this evidence it is no good to me. I need to have it too and see the miracle. Those who ask me to believe their miracle report or who say that God is asking it - naturally if God does a miracle for you he wants you to get others to believe in it too - are asking me to be gullible and unfair with evidence.
Also, even if a miracle has satisfactory evidence to its name that still does not mean we ought to believe in it. People are allowed to change their minds about what the evidence they have points to. In court, evidence is presented to the jury and not all will agree on its interpretation. The Christian insistence that we must believe in the death and the miracle resurrection of Jesus Christ is just pure bigotry and is illicit controlling. These beliefs though at the heart of Christianity oppose human rights and show that Christianity does not care for human rights in themselves at all but only cares about what rights the faith allows. It is faith not people that matter in this faith though the appearance of caring for people is a big thing.
If believing that the world will end in a hundred years sends the whole world into depression and panic, then it is immoral or evil to promulgate the belief even if it is true. The more unlikely the belief is to be correct the worse it is to promulgate it. If the belief should cause depression and panic but doesn't then that doesn't change the fact that promoting the belief is promoting what is evil in itself. It is evil in itself to lie to a woman that her husband has been sleeping with prostitutes even if she laughs at you. If it is wrong to tell her even if it is true it is still evil in itself.
A man can hit his wife because he is momentarily insane and thinks that it is good, or he can do it to save her life if somebody is blackmailing him or he can do it out of malice. But when it happens you assume that he did it out of malice.
A miracle is saying that natural law at the time the miracle happens is a bad thing. Christians try to deny that today for they hold that God can't rebel against his own laws ie that miracles are not violations of nature. But like the man hitting his wife we must assume the worst based on the fact that miracles look like a rebellion. We also know that believers like Swinburne who seem to think miracles are very astonishing natural events are really saying that a miracle is no different from one of the non-miraculous wonders we experience all the time such as child prodigies. They are really just calling some of these miracles though they are not and using them as evidence for God and religion. They are bending the evidence and sifting it to fit what they wish was true.
No matter how strong the evidence for any miracle is, we ought not to believe in it.
Belief in miracles is bad news for it leads to contradictory logic and lies.