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By Definition, Miracles Can Never Happen. Discuss.

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“By definition a miracle can never happen.” Discuss.
The known definition of a miracle is “an extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore attributed to a divine agency.” However, Peter Vardy in The Puzzle of God gave four different definitions provided by many different scholars, including Aquinas and Hume, with Hume believing they are impossible but cannot be disproved compared to Aquinas believing they are completely possible even within the system of natural activity. What a miracle is can be debated forever due to the many different interpretations of who and why they come about, with psychologists such as Freud arguing they are just an illusion and Wiles arguing that miracles do exist but not as a result of God’s will. The real question is whether the laws of nature can ever be broken and to that affect – do miracles define themselves into non-existence?
The definition of a miracle provided by Hume is “a transgression of the laws of nature brought about by the volition of a deity.” He believes that miracles are simply an interposition by some invisible agent, but he however goes on to challenge this definition with his theoretical case miracles which argued that the laws of nature we experience are constant and therefore cannot be changed, In response to this, as the laws of nature cannot be defied, (if they could be broken they would not be laws), by Hume’s definition, miracles can never happen, as laws of nature are fixed. Hume also does not believe in the supernatural, so to state that miracles can only be brought about by the will of a higher being is again saying that miracles can never happen because that higher being does not exist, and therefore cannot make an event, such as a miracle, happen. Hume believed that to look beyond this world for reason and logic is to simply make an assumption and not to find truth, and seeing as the JC God is transcendent, there is no truth in him or any other power beyond this universe.
Freud could be used to support this idea of a miracle not being able to happen due to the fact that the supernatural is non-existent. He argued that God is simply a father figure humans conjure from their minds in order to feel comfort and enable them to escape the realities of this world. This supports the statement as the general definition of a miracle is an event that is brought about by the action of a high being, which Freud states is just a figure of our imagination. Derren Brown agrees with Freud and says that humans use God as a way of moderating and controlling our behaviour when no one is around as we know that there is always someone watching our every move, this does not prove that God is an actual being that can cause real events such as miracles to occur. Therefore, defining miracles as events that God causes means that by definition miracles cannot happen, as there is no real God he is only in our minds.
Aquinas’ definition however, focuses more upon miracles being a result of God; “those things…which are done by divine power apart from the order generally followed in things”, despite this Aquinas also believes that miracles can be part of the order generally followed. The fact that he believes miracles can work within the laws of nature disagrees with the statement that by definition miracles can never happen, as he is not defining it just upon defying the laws of nature, he leaves the definition of miracles open to possibility from “those events in which something is done by God which nature could never do” to “when God does what is usually done by the working of nature, but without the operation of the principles of nature” or “not in that order.” Therefore, by Aquinas’ definition, miracles can happen without doing anything that is physically impossible such as defying laws of nature that everything else in the world seems to follow, as long as God conducts the event in a natural way.
Additionally, Aquinas argued that God’s activity in the world, such as miracles and religious experiences, are simply part of the normal order of things in the natural world, in my opinion, anything the creator of any world chooses to do within it is not abnormal or impossible, because that world already works to the creator’s choice of rules, which the creator can change or stop at any time. Richard Swinburne agrees with this, and argues that perhaps God can suspend the laws of nature and that Hume should not focus so much upon laws of nature as they are not just fixed truths, and said “one must distinguish between a formula being a law and a formula being universally true, being a law which holds without exception” meaning a law and a law which holds without exception are two different things, and that there are many ‘laws’ of nature that are not always universally true.
One could also argue that if by laws of nature we mean, for example, laws of thermodynamics and Newton’s laws of motion, then it is not clear that miracles are in direct conflict with them at all, and actually many miracles could happen that may appear to be impossible but in actual fact, are not a transgression of any laws and may just be inexplicable because the laws they follow have not yet been discovered. Antony Flew argues that if many of the things that are possible today were found hundreds of years ago, they may have been termed a miracle, simply due to the fact that many technological advances had not been made, and that miracles that happen today may be the remarkable power of the human mind, but we just haven’t realised. Taking these arguments into account, they disagree with the statement that by definition miracles can never happen, as by definition, miracles are defying the laws of nature, and this argument states that miracles can appear to defy the laws of nature without actually doing so, and the event of a miracle is not as impossible as we once thought, and therefore can happen.
This links closely with Vardy’s second definition that states miracles can follow the laws of nature and the believer can still see it as the action of God; this definition also disagrees with the statement, as it is stating miracles are simply normal but very welcome and helpful events that religious believers may attribute to God. Whether you think this defines miracles as never happening depends upon whether you believe in a higher divine being or not. In the case of R.F. Holland for example, he tells the story of a boy being saved from being hit by a train due to the driver fainting after a dislodged blood clot due to events earlier that day, in this case, the event of the train stopping just in time is a coincidence and is an event that can be explained, however, the mother of the boy still thanks God and attributes the happy coincidence to his doing. Vardy also said that miracles may just be an event that changes a person for the better; very similar to a religious experience, the way I interpret this definition is that it does not have to be inexplicable or impossible or defy any laws of nature, it must just change at least one person’s way of thinking, meaning by this definition, miracles can always happen.
The statement “By definition, a miracle can never happen.” can be argued to be true or false by many different thinkers, with Hume stating that laws of nature cannot be changed and that there is no God, with Freud and Brown saying God is just our imagination, we would be led to believe that this means miracles cannot happen, as they are described as events that a higher power causes that defy these laws. However, there are many different definitions of miracles which would say otherwise, for example, Aquinas and Peter Vardy may argue that miracles can occur within the natural world and therefore do not have to defy the laws of nature. Antony Flew argues that they may not be miracles at all, but in actual fact just the human mind doing remarkable things that in the future would be considered normal and completely natural – not miraculous at all. However this argument that miracles do not have to defy the laws of nature may also be contradictory to the exact definition of a miracle, if a miracle does not actually defy the laws of nature, can it still be defined in that way? If it cannot be defined in that way then is it still a miracle? Or just a coincidental event that God causes through his use of humans within this world?
The answers to these questions simply depend upon which definition you take as the true definition of a miracle, and whether defying the laws of nature is crucial to it being a miracle or whether you agree with R.F. Holland and Gareth Moore that a miracle is simply what a miracle means to the individual, if you are a religious believer you are likely to believe it is God’s doing to make your life better and if you are a non-believer you are likely to see the exact same event as a simple coincidence that has made your day successful. Either way, by definition, a miracle can happen, as by definition, a miracle is whatever you want it to mean.

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