Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Concept of a Miracle

Miracles are often defined as violations of laws of nature, perhaps also with the proviso that they come from a god.  An alternative way of understanding a miracle is an event brought about by a supernatural being which no natural agent has the power to bring about.

Humeans sometimes complain that miracles just are violations of laws of nature (foot-stomp), and that there is something illicit about (re)defining miracles in such a way to avoid law violations.  But it seems to me that Humeans might be dead wrong in making this objection.  The ancient Greeks and Hebrews certainly had a concept of a miracle, but did they have a concept of a law of nature?  Probably not if we understand a law of nature as either a proposition describing powers of natural things, a universal, or a regularity.  Rather I suspect their concept of a miracle was simply an event or action brought about (or elicited) by an immaterial being or god.

Would they have added the proviso that no natural agent had the power to bring about the event or duplicate the action?  That I don't know.  The History Channel often provides a naturalistic account of alleged miracles.  For instance, a sea parting is unusual but it certainly seems like something that natural agents have the power to do.  Turning a rod into a snake would have definitely seemed unusual, but if one believed that natural agents could perform magic, then this would be another case where it might have been thought that a miracle could be duplicated.

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