Do you believe in miracles?
In The New Yorker in 2014 Adam Gopnik wrote the following: “We know that…in the billions of years of the universe’s existence, there is no evidence of a single miraculous intercession with the laws of nature.” WOW! That is some statement.
When people meet my wife, they often joke around and say things like, “Well this is certainly evidence of a miracle, there is no way she logically chose you!”
It is all in good fun, but it makes a point. If we submit everything to rational logic, then we will rule out some experiences of life as “not possible.” The first being the experience of giving and receiving love.
Most of us, as we entertain the thought of love, do not dismiss it out-of-hand, illogical as it may seem. In other words, we think about things like love, miracles, etc. in very certain ways.
I want to suggest that as we talk about miracles, we first examine how we think. Knowing how we think about things is important. It takes some serious discussion to prevent us from lapsing into an uncritical Magic-Kindgom-Disney sort of discussion regards miracles.
Where do we start? I want to suggest we start with some questions. Your answers will tell you about yourself.
What & how do you think about miracles?
- Do you believe in them?
- How might you define a miracle?
- If you believe in miracles, are they all around, or are they rare?
How might you talk to someone about them?
- Would you talk to someone about your experience? If you did and they did not believe in the possibility of miracles, then what might their reaction be?
- Would you talk to someone philosophically about whether a miracle is even possible, and if you did then where might you start?
You can have a fascinating discussion with another person about miracles. It requires respect on “both sides” of the debate. Critical to the discussion is doing something I like to call “going upstream.” You need to determine (and discuss) your presuppositions.
Let me try and unpack this idea of presuppositions.
The discussion we are about to enter is one not so much about science, as it is philosophy. It is a bit academic. I will try and not make it too painful.
We need to start with a definition. How would you define a miracle?
I want to define a miracle as “an Interference with Nature by Supernatural power.”
You see, a definition immediately helps you “get upstream” in the discussion, and “upstream” is where the real conversation can happen. Upstream is where “what you suppose” to be true – about the world, your presuppositions – lives.
To write Natural and Supernatural suggests we talk about those two words.
- Some people believe that nothing exists except Nature… let’s call them Naturalists.
- How they see the universe, science, and what others call miracles is framed by that point of view.
- A Naturalist might say just because we do not understand something now, we will someday. We just need to find it in our world and figure it out.
- Indeed they can point to history and document how Science has sorted out all types of mysteries because in fact, it has!
- Others think that in addition to Nature, there exists “something” else…let’s call them Super-naturalists.
- There is a sticky wicket…can a Naturalist and a Super-naturalist agree on definitions of both Nature and Super-nature? Let’s press on and try.
- What a Naturalist believes is that Nature (the physical universe) is the ultimate Fact. You cannot go behind Nature. It is a vast process of space and time which is going on of its own accord. Nothing therefore within this system can claim the slightest independence…it is all interlocked within the Total System.
- The Super-naturalist agrees with the Naturalist that there must be something which exists in its own right; some ultimate Fact…but the SN does not identify this ultimate Fact with the Physical Universe or Total System if you prefer. The Super-naturalist sees at least two levels.
- At the first level the SN find things or more probably One Thing which is basic and original.
- At the second level the SN find things which are merely a copy of that One Thing.
- The One Thing has caused all other things to be. It exists on its own; they exist because it exists.
- The SN is okay with this One Thing being beyond himself/herself.
- It makes sense to the SN that if the One Thing, from which all is created, wants to “interfere” every now and then with what it created, it can.
- It makes sense to the SN that the One Thing may actually be continuously connected to the thing it created…or not.
I know this is abstract. Let’s be a little more descriptive.
For people who believe in “God,” they say “God” is the One Thing. This is going to play into our thinking time and time again as we discuss Faith and Science. Now there are lots of ways to understand the idea of “God” or this “One Thing,” but stick with me.
Believing in miracles means you are allowing that it's possible for something (bigger than you can see or measure or understand) to “interfere” with the Natural world that it (the One Thing) brought into existence. This “presupposition” allows a miracle to be understandable to you.
To be a Super-naturalist is to allow there to be a sense of mystery in your life which you admit to never fully understanding. You can allow yourself to commit to something you do not fully understand.
Which is why I started joking about my wife’s love for me. I allow myself, in fact commit myself, to love another person.
Thinking about Love is a wonderful way to sort out your predispositions.
Which camp do you put yourself in?
p.s. I very much recommend the book Miracles by Eric Metaxas on the subject. It is thoughtful, approachable, and thoroughly researched.