It’s 12-12-12 today ((or was exactly 2,000 years ago to be pedantic)), and we are nearing the day (21-12-2012) which is heralded by some as something of an apocalypse and an end-of-the-world event.
Among other things, this highlights to me the reality that scientific discovery does not wipe out superstition. People have always been superstitious and will always be. Conversely, people have always denied any inherent purpose or meaning to the world – and they always will.
Science is great and helpful. But I think Dallas Willard is spot on when he says “you can be very sure that nothing fundamental has changed in our knowledge of ultimate reality and the human self since the time of Jesus.” (The Divine Conspiracy, 106; emphasis original)
People wrongly think and speak as though at some point in history we learned some fact that forever sealed off the cosmos from any and all miracles; whereas the ancients, blissfully ignorant of this elusive fact we now know, had no other option.
In addition to ignoring the reality of ancient unbelief and scepticism, this way of thinking also misses the blindingly obvious truth that it’s psychologically and linguistically impossible to think or speak of a ‘super’-natural event if one has no idea of what a natural event is. As Lewis said, when Joseph learned of Mary being pregnant, he was startled – not because he didn’t know how babies were conceived, but precisely because he did.
Some quotes from Harry Emerson Fosdick’s ‘The Three Meanings: Prayer, Faith & Service’ – Chapter 1, on the ‘naturalness’ of prayer:
On prayer and Modernity…
Modern scepticism has done all that it could to make prayer unreasonable. It has viewed the world as a machine, regular as an automaton, uncontrollable as sunrise. It has made whatever God there is a prisoner in the laws of his own world, powerless to assist his children. It has denied everything that makes prayer possible; and yet men, having believed all that sceptical thought says, still have their times of prayer. Like an artesian well, walled up by modern concrete, prayer still seeps through, it breaks out; nature is stronger than artifice, and streams flowing underground in our lives insist on finding vent. (11-12)
On lasting universal latency of prayer…
Can it be that all men, in all ages and all lands, have been engaged in “talking forever to a silent world from which no answer comes”? If we can be sure of anything, is it not this – that wherever a human function has persisted, unwearied by time, uncrushed by disappointment, rising to noblest form and finest use in the noblest and finest souls, that function corresponds with some Reality? Hunger never could have persisted without food, nor breathing without air, nor intellectual life without truth, nor prayer without God. Burke said that it was difficult to press an indictment against a nation. It is far more difficult to sustain a charge against all mankind. (13)
Some scattered, quick thoughts about miracles, in passing reflection (all I’ve got time for at the moment) on some recent posts by Damian and Glenn.
- I, too, am sceptical (US friends, this is the NZ spelling of skeptical) of most miracle reports I hear. Wait, no, I’m actually sceptical of all miracle reports I hear. Not because I think ‘miracles just don’t happen’ (naturalism), or ‘miracles just don’t happen any more‘ (cessationalism); but rather because miracles are meant to be pretty amazing things, which don’t happen all the time, and amount to more than looking for your car keys for 30 seconds, then praying and finding them and calling it a ‘miracle’. ((one wonders: how quickly after praying does the thing have to happen for it to have happened ‘because you/I/we prayed’?))
- “That’s just hear-say” is just as much a non-reason for something not being a miracle as “But Benny Hinn said so” is for something being one.
- People disbelieve miracles (in general) of a miracle story (in particular) for two main reasons: impossibility and impropriety. Not possible or Not proper. Can’t happen or Surely didn’t happen. They either rule them out a priori, or they feel that they (in general or in this/that particular case) are ‘unfitting’ invasions/interruptions/etc.
- ‘Miracles’ by Clive Staples Lewis. Everyone interested should read it.
- The very concept of a miracle requires some sense of ‘the way things normally/lawfully/usually/typically happen’, as a miracle is an abnormal/’unlawful’/unusual/non-typical sort of thing. People don’t say something was a miracle because they don’t know the laws of nature, but because they do. Without a sense of ‘what normally happens’ (i.e. sex –> fertilisation or stork or something –> baby; or life –> death –> remaining dead), there can be no concept of a miracle (i.e. wow, a virgin is pregnant. How odd!; or life –> death –> eating breakfast on the beach with friends).
- Miracles attributed to various kinds/understandings of god/God/gods doesn’t in any way make them (automatically) less/more believable.
- In an analogous relation to the hopeless task of reading all books that are published, it is impossible to investigate all miracle claims in anywhere near a robust enough way to discredit them all. Hence the inconvenient situation we have of not having philosophical 100% epistemic certitude regarding whether or not miracles happen. Having said that, I see no reason to say that someone who genuinely claims that a reasonably verified miracle has happened to them is not justified in claiming 100% certainty? (or people close to them, for that matter?)
- There are different kinds of miracles: miracles of ‘timing’ (i.e. an earthquake causing a river-damming landslide just as you approach it); miracles of ‘restoration’ (delayed-decay? – i.e. a death-delaying disappearance of a cancerous tumor); miracles of ‘information’ (i.e. prophetic word of knowledge of future event, etc.); etc.