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Is it reasonable to expect people to believe in miracles in a modern scientific world?

The idea of miracles came under attack in the eighteenth century when science began to reveal a universe which seemed to follow fixed laws. This left little room for the supernatural or for the events, which supposedly transcended or even contradicted the laws of nature.

The term miracle is well defined by C.S. Lewis when he said “ a miracle is an interference with nature by a supernatural power”. In other words they are inexplicable in rational terms resulting in their validity being hard to prove. In this modern scientific society, the idea of miracles contradicts the whole philosophy of modern thought.

A number of prominent thinkers regard scientific means; specifically empirical evidence (relying on evidence from the five senses) as the only reliable source of knowledge and truth. Some one who agreed with this was Scottish philosopher David Hume. Hume in his book “ enquiry concerning human understanding” made what is still considered to be the most damming critique against the belief of miracles. He stated that a miracle was a “ violation of the laws of nature and therefore cannot logically occur”.

Although many people were impressed by Hume’s critique, for the majority of traditional Christians miracles still remained plausible and real. They responded to Hume by referring back to Saint Augustine who lived hundreds of years before the modern scientific era. Augustine looked on miracles, not as incidents that were violations of the ‘laws of nature’ but as violations of what was at present known about the natural world. Christians go on to say that by arguing that the laws of nature cannot be broken gives scientific statements a status they do not possess. These laws are not prescriptive - they do not say what must happen they are descriptive - convenient ways of describing what normally does happen.

This provisional nature of scientific method is well illustrated by Boyles law which says that ‘the volume of gas at a constant temperature varies inversely with the pressure’ but there is nothing fixed and unaltered about scientific laws. If later experiments not fit in with the law then it needs to be corrected. It turns out that at high pressures Boyles law does not hold and a more complicated formula is needed. Conservative Christians believe it is more than reasonable to believe in miracles as any claim made against the existence of miracles would cats doubt over the infallibility of Gods word in the Bible. They claim miracles are examples of Gods special providence and concerned with explicit examples of Gods invisible hand directing his plan for humanity.

However not all Christians have the same viewpoint as regards to miracles. Liberal Christians such as Rudolf Bultmann have attempted to demythologise Christianity, by taking out all the elements s which seem to clash with modern science. As a result many Christians now regard the miracle stories as poetic and metaphorical.

“ It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles”. (New Testament and mythology)

To conclude, it would appear that before the question of whether it is acceptable to believe in miracles can be answered, there is another underlying question: Is there a God? If the answer is yes then it is indeed possible to believe because if God is God, he created everything; matter, space, time etc. which in itself is a miracle and he must be at liberty to interfere. However, if there is no God, then the plausibility of miracles becomes less likely. Philosophy and science alone cannot answer the crucial question.

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