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Miracles- Philosopher
Revision Cards
Philosophy of Religion A2 Level- OCR…read more

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· A miracle is a "transgression of the laws of nature" caused by God or by some form of
"invisible agent".
· Hume's argument is based on this definition, though some may argue it is not necessarily the
most appropriate one. In his main argument, Hume uses a priori reasoning, supporting this
with a number of sub-arguments designed to discredit testimony regarding miracles.
· Hume argued that miracles cannot exist because the laws of nature cannot be broken. He
argues that we have faith in the constant functioning of those laws in everyday life. For
example, if one were to drop a book off a desk, one would expect that it would fall to the
floor, because we have experience of gravity being constantly present on Earth. In this sense,
Hume seems to support his a priori arguments with empirical evidence. Because the laws of
nature cannot be broken, Hume believed that miracles (which are, definition, breeches of
such laws) cannot exist.
· Furthermore, he attacked the witnesses of miracles, suggesting that they are not credible
enough for miracles to be proven true based on their testimony, as they were often
uneducated and lived in "ignorant and barbarous places".
· He also believed that miracles are invalid because different religions hold that their deities
are responsible for the occurrence and this results in contradiction.
· The final point that Hume makes in Section X of his "Enquiry concerning Human
Understanding" is that testimony in general is not sufficient evidence for us to base a belief
in miracles on. There is no scientific evidence for the existence of miracles and so it is not
possible for one to rationally believe in their existence.…read more

Slide 3

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Hume- successful?
· Uses a posteriori evidence to support his reasoning.
· Anthony Flew- though people may have believed in miracles in the past, it is not logical to do
so in this scientific age: what was, in the past, considered to be a miracle, may now be
explained by science. For example, in the Bible, many healings take place, which could now
be understood by someone with a knowledge of modern medicine.
· Hick- if the laws of nature have been rewritten in the past, there is nothing to say that this
won't happen again. We cannot presume to fully understand how the world functions, so the
laws of nature cannot be considered to be set in stone.
· Hume uses ad hominem in his reasoning, by attacking witnesses instead of the miracles
themselves, meaning his argument is severely flawed.
· Vardy- religion does not rely on miracles for people to have faith, the two are instead
independent entities that can be believed in separately as well as together. Furthermore, it
could be said that many religions agree in that miracles exist and point to the divine,
strengthening the case for their existence.
· Vardy- over 70 miracles have been proven by science at Lourdes.
· Hume's rejection of all testimony contradicts his earlier statement regarding the quality of
witnesses, which detracts from the argument.
· Swinburne- unless someone has a reputation for lying or a mental incapacity, what they
report should be believed (Principle of testimony).
· Clack and clack- Hume confuses "improbability" with "impossibility".…read more

Slide 4

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· A miracle is not a violation of a law of nature, but rather it is a coincidence. He takes on
board a lot of what Hume argues and believes that if there were several reasonable
witnesses, then the law of nature would have to be falsified as non-existent or be revised.
However, he agrees that this would not be a simple thing to do. Better to see miracles as
· He quotes a famous example where a child is stuck on a railway line in a pedal car. A train is
coming, but the driver fails to see the child. However, just in the nick of time, the driver
faints, his hand is taken off the lever and the brake is automatically activated. The train then
stops in front of the child. There is no violation of nature, however, for a religious believer,
this may have significance and be thought of as a miracle.
· This is more a case of seeing an event as a miracle. There is no hand of God; rather the onus
is clearly on the interpretation of the person. These events cannot "without confusion be
taken as a sign of divine interference with the natural order". These events are remarkable
occurrences interpreted in a religious fashion.
Holland- successful?
· Avoids the problem of evil, as God is not portrayed as intervening with the world and
breaking the laws of nature.
· Holland seems to imply that the religious interpretation is all that matters, that it is of no
concern whether God was behind the miracle or not. To some people, this would not be
sufficient, as they may want to see miracle stories as pointing to the existence of God.…read more

Slide 5

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· A miracle is a sign. It has little to do with the laws of nature, but more to do with the
impression it makes on the person; whether it leads them to change the direction of their life
and whether it has any religious significance. So it focuses more on the consequences and
effects it has on the person.
· Miracles do not contradict the rational structure of reality. They point people to the "mystery
of being" (reveal God's nature) that is "received as a sign event in an ecstatic experience".
· E.g. Jesus' healing of the paralytic- Mark 2:1-12. Jesus heals the man as a sign that he has the
authority to forgive sins (revelation of the "mystery of being"), as people then believed that
illness is caused by sin. The man gets up from his sick bed and praises God (ecstatic response
which is the result of the miracle).
Tillich- successful?
· Recognises that the cause of the miracle is not the focus. Miracles are seen with the eyes of
faith- they are not the foundation for belief.
· Overcomes Hume's argument that miracles cannot exist, as breaks in laws of nature, by
redefining miracles.
· We are left unsure as to whether there is a miracle or whether it is the observer's
· Does not really preserve the notion of God as He is presented in the scriptures.
· Is reliant on the faith of the recipient.…read more

Slide 6

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· Does not deny miracles as such, but his conception of miracles is more of the general kind.
He believes that only one miracle exists, a single act of God which encompasses the world as
a whole- creation. As a consequence, the whole universe reveals God to people and God's
activity is present, sustaining every part of the universe, as he caused it to exist.
· Any other miracles would raise issues with God's benevolence and questions about why God
gives miracles to some but not others, and about why some miracles seems trivial in light of
suffering that is present in the world(i.e. Seeing the face of Jesus in a vegetable).
· "Miracles raise the problem of evil, and the arbitrariness of God- better not to believe them".
· "If God intervenes in the universe then this would make God arbitrary". (God's Action in the
Wiles- successful?
· Removes the problem of evil and God's arbitrary (random) action.
· Vardy- Wiles seems to put limits on God by saying that He cannot intervene in the world.
· Vardy- relies too heavily on reason, when God is so far beyond us that we cannot possibly
· Polkinghorne- does not reflect Christian view of God, as does not allow for God answering
prayers etc.
· Depersonalises God?…read more


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