Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hume's Fumes: Do Miracles "Violate" the Laws of Nature

After reading The God of Miracles: An Exegetical Examination of God’s Action in the World by C. John Collins, I’m convinced that the gap between miracles and the natural workings of nature is much narrower than we think. I also think that the question “violation of natural laws” is faulty in and of itself.

I say this because Christian doctrine asserts that the natural world does not self-sufficiently exist on its own — as in the “mechanical” view of Newton, or as in the Evolutionary Game Show “What’s My Mechanism?!™”. The very term mechanism leads us in the wrong direction in our thinking about nature.

Christian doctrine asserts that God is active in upholding and sustaining the universe at all times. So, the move between upholding and gently and subtly directing (as in, e.g., a God-sent “miraculous” weather event like at the parting of the Red Sea) is not as great as one might think; and the move between gently directing to intervening or interposing (as in the resurrection of Lazarus) is one of degree, not of kind.

God “acted” in the case of Lazarus — he commanded his spirit to re-enter his corpse, and he did the necessary restorative work to restore Lazarus’ body to working condition. But, would we say that a plastic surgeon who has restored a face has violated the laws of nature? (Actually, in some cases we would!) When doctors “bring a person back” from death, have they violated the laws of nature?

The term “laws of nature” is a human construct; it's a human way of looking at the regularities in nature which God gives us. They make science possible, and for this we, and scientists, should be grateful. While we are almost invariably entirely subject to these rules (participation in miracles the exception), God, the Creator and Sustainer of them, is not. He is an Agent acting in the world, whose causal powers are greater than ours. We can’t turn H20 into wine; the Author of water, grapes, the sun, the soil, etc. can.

So, “overturning the laws of nature” is the wrong way of posing the problem. The fact we pose the problem this way is our problem, not God’s!

It would be like an ant riding a model railroad boxcar. He's enjoyed the regularities of the flow of things, wondering a bit about why sometimes the box car keeps to the main track, and other times goes into the switching yard, but it's all part of the normative rhythm and flow.  Then one day the owner of the model railroad shuts down the model for ten minutes in order to move a tree. The ant exclaims, “did someone just violate the laws of railroads?!

It's all in the perspective.

And that's the way the Ball bounces (according to the regularities of nature, but, with, perhaps a touch of divine assistance on the upbounce).

1 comment:

Prez 2036 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"