Wiles' Criticisms


Wiles' Criticisms

The problem for Maurice Wiles, is that if we take an interventionist view of miracles then God's actions seem arbitrary and partisan. This raises questions about God's omnipotence and omnibenevolence as as he seems not to intervene in al cases to prevent evil happening. 

If we understand miracles as violations of the laws of nature then we can only make sense of them if they occur very infrequently, otherwise the very idea of laws of nature is meaningless. 

Wiles also rejects the idea of God intervening in particular cases in response to prayer as again it leads to the charge of God's action being arbitary and favouring some more than others. 

Wiles' solution to this problem is to reject the interventionist view of miracles and of the nature of God. He argued that miracles cannot be used to demonstrate the existence of God because they are as questionable as the God they are supposed to reveal. 

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Wiles' Criticisms continued

He understands the sole activity of God is to create and sustain the world. '...the whole of the universe reveals God to people and God's activity is present, sustaining every part of the universe, since God causes the whole universe to exist.' 

Wiles, then, is suggesting a more fundamental account of God's immanence (presence in the world). God does not just randomly intervene but sustains the world. Every law of nature, etc, reveals God to us as God is within sustaining it, and so causing it to exist. This is a deist approach. 

However, Wiles himself rejected this criticism, saying that miracles need to be understood symbolically in a more spiritual way. Argues that what matters, even for resurrection, that just as we read the idea of Jesus sitting on the right hand of God symbolically, so we should think of miracles. 

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Wiles' restriction on God also applies to his action in Christ- it would be wrong to say that miracles cannot happen and the allow the incarnation and resurrection. So, says Wiles', there must be a way to explain the doctrine of the incarnation and resurrection which does not involve a breach of nature, leading to a more symbolic interpretation .

For Wiles the incarnation is not the act of God

  • It is 'the perfection of human response to God' 
  • The fully humanity of Jesus is central 
  • Jesus freely and fully responded totally to God's grace and in, doing so, incarnated God in the world.

Overall Wiles is saying that Jesus was human, not divine; however, he was the perfect example of a human response to God and so we can still think of him as the incarnation. 

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Evaluating Wiles' Criticisms

  • Christian teacging shows God acting in the universe much more directly than Wiles suggests. Wiles does not completely show God's nature. 
  • Swinburne argues that since no one ahs shown that it is impossible for miracles to happen, and since we have much more biblical testimony suggesting that miracles do happen, it is reasonable to believe that they occur. 
  • Reports of miracles are more plausible if they fit the general patternof divine activity. Someone who supposes that a repsonse to a prayer for healing is a miracle is more likely to be believed than someone who supposes that a response to a prayer for a bumper crop of large pumpkins is a miracle. 
  • Wiles' argument about God's actions being arbitary and biased imply that God's actions can be understood in the way human actions can be understood- some believers will argue that God's actions and purposes are beyond any human understanding and it is arrogant to presume that we can explain them in human terms. 
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  • The theologian and physicist John Polkinghorne wrote: 'Science simply tells us that these events are against normal expectations...The theological question is: does it make sense to suppose that God acted in a new way?...In unprecendented circumstances, God can do unexpected things' 
  • God may be able to act in the world but we are still left with the questions of whether God is able to act in response to particular human needs, such as those caused by famine, or natural disasters like floods and earthquakes. 
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