How is Antony Flew’s problem of identifying miracles resolved? Namely the problem of determining that an act or event is (caused strictly or exclusively from) above and beyond nature (is divine) in the sense that no future or complete human knowledge or understanding of nature (or order of nature) can disprove it being so?
I would much appreciate your input on this.
An event occurs. It is witnessed to occur, and there is no ambiguity in the observation. All agree the event has happened.
What caused the event? Could it have been God?
In one sense, yes, it must have been. Every event is caused, at base, by God. God is the First Cause, the Unmoved Mover. Briefly (as this can be looked up elsewhere), every simultaneous causal chain leading to an event must have a base, a starting primary cause.
The hoary standby: You push a rock with a stick, your muscles push your arm, the cells in your muscles squeeze, the proteins in the cell maneuver, and so on and on down, but not forever, the string of causes bottoming out at some initial cause. Which, from Aristotle on up, is said to be God.
That’s not going to convince Flew (though it should). So let’s take a more wondrous miracle (a tautology), like raising a man from the dead. Not just “brain dead”, which medically means alive, or “heart-stopped dead”, which medically means alive. But dead-dead, like Lazarus rotting away in his tomb, long enough to start stinking.
Lazarus dead, and for a while, and, lo, after a command by Jesus, he is alive again. No ambiguity here. It is the Lord, he commanded it, it happened, belief is the only choice. A miracle.
Unless you employ what I call the Alternate Explanation Fallacy. This says that any alternate explanation for the event is sufficient to disprove the miracle.
It’s easier for us today to think up Alternate Explanations for Lazarus. Say, the author of the story lied. Or the witnesses were mistaken: Lazarus was merely ill. And on and on. There is no proof for any of these, and none is ever offered. All that is required is that at least one AE can be thought of.
Recall (this is from my Uncertainty) that uncertainty is not belief or disbelief. Belief is an act, a decision: you move from uncertainty into a prediction. Uncertainty is a deduction based on whatever evidence you accept.
For instance, you suspect, but obviously cannot prove, Lazarus’s witnesses were lying, because people lie all time about the wonderful (you believe). This is enough to move the miracle from certain to uncertain, but it’s not even close to moving disbelief into certainty, or even into likely. Yet you still jump, act, decide, predict that it was mundane if you want to believe it was mundane, even though there is uncertainty.
The AE Fallacy is obviously a fallacy if you conclude no miracle with certainty. So that if the only evidence against a miracle is that an alternate explanation can be thought of, with no proof for the AE except desire, then there is no good reason to doubt the miracle.
Getting to Flew’s point, we think Lazarus rising is a miracle because we know such things cannot be done. That is, there is no known cause, and plenty of reasons to think such a cause is impossible, of raising a man from the long-dead. Especially then. If it happened, there are no alternate explanations; the only cause is a miracle. It is therefore rational to believe.
Same with turning water into wine by command. It should be impossible. It wasn’t: it happened: it’s a miracle.
There are plenty of other cases where ambiguity is present, as Flew suggests. We see this in medical cures that happen spontaneously, where the doctors involved profess ignorance of the cause. Well, we know enough about doctors by now to know that this is not definitive. Plus we sometimes see causes of supposed medical miracles discovered later.
This is why the Church takes (or used to take) great care with claims of miracles, to weight and sort all the evidence, in an attempt to remove ambiguity. It isn’t always possible. Uncertainty remains, but decisions must still be made.
And then there are all kinds of events that aren’t witnessed that are miracles, or could be. A car swerves to avoid a new rut in the road, and turns down a different road, whereas if the rut was not there it would have gone down this road, the one you happened to be crossing, and you would be the new entombed Lazarus.
This scenario is entirely counterfactual. Who can say how the rut got there? Was it your guardian angel? Or was it natural, guided only by secondary causes? Yet if there are secondary causes, there must be that Primary Cause, as above.
Realizing we can’t say everything about miracles in 800 words, we can say that no matter what, whether you decide miracle or mundane, faith is involved. We all have faith.
Soon it will be Christmas, where we celebrate the miracle of miracles. In this I have faith.
See also all these articles on miracles.
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