Intelligent Design - Miracles

Last updated Fri Oct 4 17:35:43 EDT 2002

What is a Miracle?

The word 'miracle' is used rather loosely today. A lady on the radio observed that "It is a miracle that we are able to have a Christian radio station in our area." A lady at Truro exclaims, "It was a miracle! The surgery was a total success!" A customer in Florida opines, "It will be a miracle if we don't get hit by a major hurricane this fall!"

I can see three primary meanings of the word:

  1. A rare or unusual event.
  2. A greatly longed for event, even if not particulary rare.
  3. A providential event, wherein we see God's care for our lives.
  4. A supernatural event.
Curiously, we speak of "natural causes", and causes that are not "natural". The latter are intelligent causes, but we do not speak of them as "miracles".


Naturalism is the idea that, in the words of Cicero, "nothing can happen without [natural] cause ... there are no miracles." Confucius in China, Buddha in India, and Mohammed in Arabia all reject the possibility of miracles. With the "Enlightenment", Christian thinkers also began to reject the possibility of miracles. Spinoza argued that
"the universal laws of Nature are merely God's decrees... So if anything were to happen in Nature contrary to her universal laws, it would also be necessarily contrary to the decree, intellect, and nature of God. Or if anyone were to maintain that God performs some act contrary to the laws of Nture, he would at the same time have to maintain that God acts contrary to his own nature."
The key to understanding this argument is in the definition of "Nature". Implicit in the argument is the idea that "Nature" is all that there is - even God is subject to its laws. This is called "monism", and today the Unitarian religion explicitly equates God with all of Nature. Making Nature universal, makes "natural causes" equivalent to logical necessity - making "miracles" a contradiction in terms. In other words, by starting with the presupposition that there is no supernatural, any talk about the supernatural is illogical.

Schleiermacher takes the Deist aproach and states that God ordained a "system of Nature" as a "closed causal nexus" - i.e. a system with no supernatural intervention, hence supernatural intervention is illogical.

Others, like Hume (and Aurthur C. Clarke), were more skeptical, and simply observed that we can never be absolutely certain that a given event is a miracle, since there might be some Natural cause (or advanced technology) of which we are not aware.

The Christian view of Nature

The Christian view is that reality is much larger than what we call "Nature". Nature is a creative work, like the machines that we create. Newton, who conceived the workings of Nature as clockwork, could see that while a clock would operate according to its own principles until it ran down, the clockmaker could intervene and change its operation by moving the gears. The same picture hold true in today's technology. A computer program operates according to its own logic - until the programmer intervenes with a debugger and changes some of its information.

The logical claims of Schleiermacher and Spinoza are a matter of blind faith. If you start with the assumption that there are no miracles, then you can only reach the conclusion that there are no miracles. In light of our own creations, their assumption seems silly.

The epistemological claims of Hume boil down to the question of whether it is possible to rationally determine whether a given event is due to natural, or to intelligent causes. While Hume is right that absolute certainty by reason alone is impossible. The point of this course is that measuring the "designedness" of an event is an exercise in science that we undertake in many different fields as a matter of course.