Miracles - philosophical theories

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  • Created by: Chloe
  • Created on: 05-01-15 17:49

Miracle stories are a significant part of the Bible has they are used as examples of God's saving power and interest in his people. In the Christian tradition, miracles are used as proof to show that Jesus is the messiah that the Jews were expecting. Many believe that the whole essence of the Christian message depends upon the concept of miracles, e,g God becoming incarnate, born of a virgin, taking on the sin of the world and his resurrection are just a few examples.

The problem of definition

The word comes from the Latin term 'miraculum' meaning 'wonder' but in religiouunderstanding, it is more specific - for religious believers a miracle is something extraordinary which has been brought about by God for a particular purpose. Something must be more than just unexpected and in apparent violation of the laws of nature to be a miracle, it also has to have some kind of religious significance and fit in with our understanding of God.

Some definitions of 'miracle' includes...

  • Hume - "a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity or by the interposition of some invisable agent"
  • Aquinas - "that which has a divine cause, not that whose cause a human person fails to understand"
  • Oxford Dictionary - "marvellous event due to some supernatural agency; remarkable occurrence"

Macquarrie on miracles

Took up the point that a miracle has to be something that is attributable to God in addition to being a wonderful event, "a miracle is an event that excites wonder". He went on to say that some 19th century philosophers believed that everything was a miracle because everything was brought about by God but he argues that if this were true then the term 'miracle' would lose all value or meaning. We have to show that the event has some sort of distinctiveness - natural laws are suspended, e.g. Jesus walking on water.

Aquinas on miracles

For many, a miracle must be outside the normal operations of nature and science and it must be an occurrence where an alternative, natural explanation cannot be found - this view stems from the work of Aquinas. He recognised that to call an event a miracle is to put an interpretation onto what happened and express an opinion about it.

"things which are done occasionally by divine power outside of the usual established order of events are commonly called miracles" - Summa Contra Gentiles

He went on to argue that for an event to be considered a 'miracle' it…

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