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Miracles: How They Do Not Violate Nature

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Page |1 Robert Hillis Dr. Clouser PHL-100 Introduction to Philosophy Tuesday, April 28, 2009 Miracles: How They Do Not Violate Nature For centuries, the validity of miracles has been debated on by countless philosophers. Of these philosophers, some are religious and others both materialist and atheist. Some materialists, who argue against the existence of miracles, believe that the world is purely physical and that nothing can possibly happen outside the laws of nature. The theistic philosophers reply with the statement that science cannot explain everything simply because the art was founded by us humans who are, by definition, imperfect. So the implication shows science to have inherited man’s imperfections. Science is completely logical, but it cannot explain the nature of everything since there are always undiscovered concepts and laws to be found. Among these phenomena are miracles. Contrary to materialist beliefs, miracles do not violate the real laws of science because the laws that we are referring to are the ones that man, in all his imperfections, compiled. God created all the laws of science of which many have never yet been discovered. So logic would tell us that we cannot be for certain that supernatural events violate any natural laws, but certainly these events do not have to violate any natural law to be miracles. First off, today’s use of the word miracle is inherently misused. It is commonly used by speakers to describe a wonderful event that he believes his audience should feel the same way about. Using the word miracle and other philosophically related words incorrectly does not help mankind in his pursuit for knowledge. Instead, this paper will be focusing on the philosophical

Page |2 meaning of the word miracle which is an event that could not have happened in nature without God’s influence or action. Kirk McDermid, a professor of philosophy and religion at Montclair State University, asserts that many writers believe that miracles are law-violating instances. He then points out respondents who claim that this idea is variously incoherent. In one of his articles, he discusses the conflict between laws and miracles on the metaphysical, rather than epistemological level. His main argument states that “God’s power transcends the natural, and He can, of course, freely act without concerning Himself with what natural law ordinarily proscribes. Natural laws may metaphysically constrain the physical, but not the supernatural” (McDermid 126). God created space and time and, through the principle of causality, is not part of something of which He created. The supernatural is both not part of the cosmos and the source of miracles. Therefore, the supernatural is not subject to natural laws and this allows for the existence of miracles in space and time. Robert Larmer, professor of Philosophy at the University of New Brunswick, adds to this argument. “The view that an essential condition of an event being a miracle is that it violates the laws of nature arises from the assumption that divine intervention in the natural order necessarily involves violating the laws of nature.” Many people would think that divine intervention involves breaking the laws of nature simply because it is unordinary. Larmer continues with a general statement then a practical example of how divine intervention does not violate the natural laws. “If a transcendent agent creates or annihilates a unit of mass/energy, or if He simply causes some of these units to occupy a different position than they did formerly, then He changes the material conditions to which the laws of nature apply. He thereby produces an event that nature on its own would not have produced, but He breaks no laws of nature.” Larmer then

Page |3 describes how this line of thought can be used in practice. The example is a game of billiards. Putting an extra ball to or from the table or altering the position of any other balls does not suspend Newton’s Laws of Motion. The only effect would be an outcome other than what was expected. (Larmer 149-150) This argument flows exactly parallel to one of the most controversial events of Christianity, the conception of Christ. Larmer uses his previous reasoning to justify the validity of such an event. He says that “if God were to create ex nihilo a fertilized egg in the body of a virgin, no laws of nature would be broken, yet the usual course of nature would have been overridden in such a way as to produce an event nature would not otherwise have produced.” (Larmer 150) In addition, there is no law of nature that states that every living thing must multiply only through sexual reproduction, including humans. Asexual reproduction constantly occurs within a human body with the division of cells through the process of mitosis. Also, man has discovered the possibility of cloning humans. Since man is part of nature, it is naturally possible for the reproduction of living things without sexual intercourse even though it is not normal occurrence. On the contrary, Christ “was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” To this day, there are both religious and scientific debates as to what biological role, genetic contributions, Mary played in the birth of Christ. However, the debate over her role is irrelevant to this paper. What is important is that Christ’s conception was not in violation of any natural laws. In reference to the billiards analogy, the Holy Spirit is the player who adds a ball, Christ, to the table, Creation, to produce an event, Christ’s conception, that would otherwise not happen. Asexual reproduction rules out an absolutist requirement that every human can only be born through “normal” causes.

Page |4 So it is not necessary for Christ to have been conceived under normal conditions since sexual reproduction is not a requirement. One possible counterargument to this previous reasoning is that there are laws in place which state that units of mass or energy can neither be created nor destroyed. One who opposes divine intervention may reason that this law is broken and would claim adding a billiard ball to the game table is not analogous to creating mass or energy. Larmer argues that “this objection fails, however, to take into consideration an important distinction between two forms of the principle. The principle is commonly stated either as: “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed’ or as: ‘In an isolated system the total amount of energy remains constant’.” (Larmer 150) He shows that these two different forms of the principle are not identical in meaning. The arguments of those who accept both forms of the above principle prove to be incoherent because this universe is by no means isolated from the nonphysical. One who says that this universe is isolated from outside influence must also reject the existence of God, the Creator of all things, which proves to be an extremely dangerous risk to one’s argument. Larmer continues with claiming that those who accept the account that miracles are entirely compatible with the law of conservation of mass and energy reject “the metaphysical and far more speculative claim that the physical universe is an isolated system, in the sense that it is not open to the causal influence of God.” (Larmer 150) We can be for certain that this system is not isolated because of God’s existence and his good works. How else would man have his covenant with Him and His word, the Bible, if He could not enter? There exists no possible way that this system both can allow for the existence of miracles and be closed at the same time. It would be far easier to refute to occurrence of a miracle rather than to reject the fact that this system is an open one. God’s appearance through prophets and

Page |5 the scriptures shows that it is not closed and therefore indicates the possible occurrence of miracles. If the universe was isolated from all outside forces, we would have no knowledge of God and his promises of salvation. Since the universe is open, miracles do happen because one form of the law of conservation of mass and energy applies only to isolated systems. The other, and more simpler form of the principle also does not rule out miracles because it supposes that the only possible mass and energy that can exist is already in space. But what reasons do we have to believe this and why is it that mass and energy can only exist in space and not in other dimensions that are not part of this universe? It all seems to be a statement of denial that God exists and that He is greater than any living thing. Miracles do not violate the laws of nature but produce events other than what is naturally expected or possible.

Page |6 Works Cited Larmer, R. A. Miracles, physicalism, and the laws of nature. Religious Studies v. 44 no. 2 (June 2008) p. 149-59 McDermid, K. Miracles: metaphysics, physics, and physicalism. Religious Studies v. 44 no. 2 (June 2008) p. 125-47 -----A reply to Robert Larmer. Religious Studies v. 44 no. 2 (June 2008) p. 161-4

Page |7

So it is possible that Christ could have scientifically been conceived in a similar fashion by the Holy Spirit’s power. This is my own theory as to how Christ’s conception may have occurred in the natural aspect and breaks no natural laws because asexual reproduction to such a common occurrence.

The charge that miracles violate natural laws is incoherent because these laws are formed through people’s personal experiences and how they are interpreted. Natural laws are not set in stone and are constantly being revised when new phenomena become apparent. Miracles are phenomena which can only strengthen our natural laws and allow them to more accurately explain the cosmos. It is all too common for a person to say that a positive event is a miracle if it is outside normal expectations.

I exemplify Dr. Clouser’s real-life story of one of his friends, who was near death, who encountered another friend whom he believed to still be alive.

Page |8

Miracles would in fact not be possible if all of creation is purely physical and materialistic. However, it turns out that miracles are very possible. This concludes that materialism does not provide a possible explanation of how creation came into existence.

As a means of explaining to what extent miracles should circumvent the natural laws, McDermid suggests that God puts a self-limitation on His own actions. The author further explains his ideas with “If we were to find ways to intervene without violating natural law, we have merely demonstrated that there is a physical possibility for the miraculous that the divine can exploit, if He so chooses.”

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