Definitions of miracles

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  • Definitions of Miracles
    • In a theological context, there is a disagreement about what a miracle actually is
      • There are 3 different definitions and categories of miracles:
        • 1. A common definition of a miracle is one which conforms to two principles
          • 1st principle: It must be completely different/strange of our understanding of the laws of nature.
            • Swinburne defined miracles as 'impossible' events that change how we understand natural laws
          • 2nd principle: It must have a purpose and religious significance. S.E.Evans agreed with this
            • S.E.Evans stated that "obviously the miracles of a religion, such as Christianity are not merely bizarre events or stunts. They have a function and purpose and usually that function is a revelatory one".
        • 2. Thomas Aquinas produced a different definition which involved 3 categories of miracles:
          • 1. Events that could never happen naturally and can only be brought about by God
          • 2. Events that could happen naturally, but only God could have brought it about in that particular order or timescale
          • 3. Events that happen naturally but God does not use natural laws
        • 3. There is an alternative definition in which there are 3 principles involved:
          • 1. Events which break with the laws of nature, e.g. walking on water
          • 2. An improbability, e.g. spring suddenly appearing
          • 3. A coincidence, e.g. praying for rain and it starts raining
    • There are other philosophers that have different opinions on what a miracle is:
      • Paul Tillich: "an event which is astonishing, unusual, shaking and without contradicting the rational structure of reality... an event which points to the mystery of being."
      • John Macquarrie: "a miracle is an event that excites wonder... it is believed that God is in the event in some special way... and intends to achieve some special end by it."
      • R.F.Holland defines a miracle as an extraordinary coincidence that is interpreted as having religious significance. It depends on how witnesses interpret it, rather on the nature of the miracle itself or if a natural law is broken
      • A controversial definition has been put forward by Brian Davies
        • Brian Davies: described a miracle as "unexpected and fortuitous events in the light of which we are disposed to give thanks to God." This definition includes 'lucky coincidences'.


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