are We to Make of Miracles?
Rehabilitating the Notion
of the Miraculous
The phenomenon of miracles
... what are to make of them?
as the Scottish Skeptic and Philosopher David Hume maintained
the reason for the uniformity of the events we observe is not
discoverable; that is, if we can perceive nothing in the way of
linking putative causes to supposed effects — and if, therefore, the
succession of observed events can always be otherwise than
what we observe without implying contradiction — then while we have
not answered why miracles occur, we have nevertheless
arrived at an explanation of how miracles are able to
occur, how miracles are possible.
Miracles, by this reasoning — which I think is correct — are not
understood to occur in violation of laws inherent in nature
— for there are in effect no laws to be violated; only observed
uniform events. From this perspective, what we call miracles are no
more than a reordering of an anticipated sequence of events
that were never
necessary to begin with. And this is simply another way of saying
that in effecting a miracle, God merely suspends — but does
violate — what we construe to be laws at
work in the universe.
Uniform events, in other words, or uniform sequences of events, for
which we have found, experienced, no disqualifying instance, suggest
something of necessity.
It is precisely at this point that we make a subreptive leap from
observations, to illicitly interpreting these observations in
terms of laws analogous to the types of laws to which we
appeal in, say, geometric models — at least in the way of perceived
This, however, is a psychological, and not a logical,
much less a mathematical, phenomenon — for what we designate as
when examined carefully, we can neither discover through reason
nor prove through experience. Such
are, and without exception, always formulated retrospectively,
in view of past empirical observations. The concatenation of
events that science articulates as putative
are, one and all, assembled a posteriori (after the
observation) and therefore possess nothing characteristic of the
nature of a priori
necessity. Simply that such and such observations have (...
up to this point) exhibited unbroken historical pedigree does
rationally qualify them as necessary. Such
are nothing more than historical statements and are
inherently, intrinsically, susceptible to one disqualifying
instance sufficient in itself to abrogate the
We observe an unbroken and historically precise sequence of
events which we interpret as linear "causes" that culminate in what
we construe as an
What we perceive are apparently uniform events. What we do not, and
cannot perceive, are the presumed
connections between successive events in which we have as yet
experienced a disqualifying instance, one exception that deviates
from the anticipated event and produces another event altogether.
however uniform, remains a mystery to us. That
and such has, up to now, always been the case”
is altogether different from
and such must be the case”.
It could be otherwise —without invoking any logical
contradiction whatever. It is simply the case that it has always
the case —and no more. This is the genius, the perspicacity, really,
of David Hume.
What has all this to do with miracles?
This is really a penultimate question, for what we really want to
know is this:
Is it absurd
to give credence to miracles — and at least implicitly, through
miracles, to God?
Let us attempt to answer it this way:
If the suspension of “laws” is presumed to be attributable to God in
the occurrence of miracles — and such unanticipated or miraculous
events are (insofar as reason can discover)
at least as likely to occur as the effect we have come to
anticipate — then on on what grounds would we be persuaded from
ascribing the uniform
events that very clearly occur, to God as well, and simply because
God wills them?
Such a proposition implies no more contradiction than the
problematic inherent in the notion of causality itself. Since causes
are not discoverable to reason we have no warrant to ascribe
necessity to any event.
It is, I suggest, at least as cogent to argue that
God is the cause of this unqualified but unexplained
uniformity — as to argue that there is no cause at all. The skeptic
cannot produce God”.
We will argue,
cannot produce causes”.
In our experience,
is at least intelligible in any concept of agency.
If this indeed is so, it would be of great consternation to David
Hume — who did not believe in God — and there is something terribly
condign that a correct line of reasoning, formulated to discredit
the existence of God through a disabused notion of causality, should
all the more corroborate it.
Geoffrey K. Mondello
Boston Catholic Journal
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