1. What is your understanding of a miracle?
2. Write down 5 events you think would be
classed as miraculous.
3. Are there different sorts of miracles, if so
what are they?
4. What do miracles mean to believers?
5. What do miracles mean to scientists?
6. What philosophical/ religious questions
arise from miracles?
1. Events done by God which nature
could never do e.g. make the sun
2. Events in which God does
something which nature can do but
not in this order e.g. someone living
after death – resurrection of Christ.
3. An event which could happen
naturally but God breaks the rules
of nature. E.g. someone being
instantly cured of a disease which
doctors might have been able to
cure given time.
Aquinas identified three types of miracles:
Hume was an empiricist. He is not saying the
miracles are impossible but its impossible to
Traditionally accepted definition:
This meant that a miracle occurred whenever God caused a law of nature to be
• Transgression: breaks
• Volition: wish/ choice/ decision
1. Why was it important for Hume to define a miracle first?
2. Write down three strengths and three weaknesses of this definition.
“A transgression of the law of nature by a particular
volition of the deity.”
• Agrees that natural laws are universal, fixed, observed through
• Illogical to say law of nature is wrong because of one incident.
• However this does not remove the possibility of a miracle
• Miracles should not be automatically doubted because it seems to break
law of nature.
• Rather, miracles are events which seem to have some deeper significance
than the events themselves.
• E.g. feather
1. Are there any problems with Swinburne's idea?
X However people’s perceptions of ‘deeper significance’ alter – subjective.
Hume Argument One: Lack of
• Probability of miracles actually
happening is so low it is irrational and
illogical that miracles do occur
• Miracles appear to violate the universally
accepted laws of nature
• Therefore it is more likely that the report
of a miracle happening is incorrect e.g.
eye witnesses are wrong, rather than the
laws of nature have been violated.
This lead to Hume’s Maxim:
1. Evidence that miracles do not happen
outweigh evidence that they do.
However what happens to Hume’s first argument if you do
not believe that miracles break the laws of nature (e.g.
Hick or Holland?)
Plus isn’t the point of miracles be that they are rare, and
unlikely by definition?
“No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle
unless the testimony be of such a kind that its
falsehood would be more miraculous.”
Principle of Induction (arguing from
So Hume is arguing:
• Irrational to believe in miracles as they
break the laws of nature
• Laws of nature e.g. gravity are
supported by sense observation
• These laws are universally accepted
Given ‘the more instances, the more probable the conclusion.’ Hume
argues that this is the basis of science = highly rational to believe in
the highly probable/ highly irrational to believe in the highly
He argues that a miracle (by his definition) is highly improbable –
otherwise not a miracle = not worthy of belief.
Therefore: a wise man proportions this belief to the evidence.
Argument Two: Practical
2. Religious people are the type to believe
emotional miracle stories.
1. Never been a miracle witnessed by enough
“men” of “unquestioned good sense.” – do
not happen to educated people – people
have tendencies to exaggerate, gossip and
even make stories up.
4. Miracle testimonies found in all religions cannot all be
true – cancel each other out.”
3. Miracle stories are chiefly found among
“ignorant and barbarous nations.” – e.g.
Biblical stories such as parting of the red sea
or Jesus walking on water.
“no testimony for any kind of miracle has ever
amounted to probability, much less proof.”
During the twentieth century not many reports of
However not many does not mean not at all! Is the
point of miracles not to be rare?
• How do you define when people are educated?
• Therefore what counts as ‘ignorant and barbarous?’
• Many people today are undoubtedly educated and yet still claim to
• Do different religious miracles really cancel each other out? Not
about proving one religion right and the other religion as wrong
• Therefore wrong of Hume to say no evidence or witness is reliable
enough to say miracles happen
• Four ways to collect evidence: memories of experience, testimony
of person about experience, physical traces, understanding of how
modern science claims what is impossible.
Criticisms of Hume
• What is a law of nature?
• Natural law may not be broken but just an
incomplete understanding of the natural law on our
part – new scientific discoveries all the time. (world
flat, universe expanding)
• Some scientists argue that there is a fundamental
degree of randomness at the basic level of nature.
At the end of the day we do not control it.
R. F. Holland – supporter of miracles!
Even events which do not break (transgress)
a law of nature can be viewed as miracles.
“a coincidence can be taken religiously as a
sign and called a miracle.” – train
(miracle to one may be a disaster to another
– miracles no more than interpretation.)
Two General Views on Miracles
Anti – Realist View:- Miracles are not literally
‘caused’ by God. They are symbolic. Reveal
something about God to a believer – make
sense in religious life of believer.
God doesn't literally have to have done a
‘real’ action. Supported by John Hick
Realist View: - Miracles actually do have to
have happened to be meaningful. Faithful
people actually believe God has literally
caused a miracle.
• Plagues/ Parting of the red sea
• Amorite coalition – hail stones
• Walking on water
• Arbitrary: random in his selection of the circumstances in which he
• Partisan: unreasonable
What makes it a
definition (does it
break law of
of three stages?)
•John Hick –
Modern Miracles: Shooting in Arizona?
What about Haiti?
(Read the newspaper for recent events!)
Are these both coincidences or recognition of God: Holland/ John Hick
Maurice Wiles (1923 – 2005)
“Even though miracles
are rare by nature, it
seems strange that
(This is a good
link to the problem
• Theologian/ philosopher
• Argued strongly that miracles are damaging to faith.
• Goes against a realist view: view that God directly
caused miracles in Bible to happen.
• It is contradictory to believe in an all loving (Omni -
Benevolent) God who would only intervene
occasionally to help people.
• Why would God grant all the miracles in the Bible
and not help us now.
• Such a realist views leads to a partisan view of God
• Wiles argued only miracle = Creation (believes in
Why only creation?
• The problem with miracles is defining what a
miracle actually is - subjective
• God does not intervene in the world in the way
Hume or others argue.
• God does not violate the laws of nature. LON are
continually changing and revisable.
• A miracle is not JUST rare but must have a
• Appealed to Christ’s refusal to perform miracles
• Wiles argued that biblical stories including the
virgin birth are legendary without any claim of
• What would be the problem in arguing the virgin birth is a legend?
Or the resurrection of Christ did not happen?
• Do you think Wiles would have been very popular amongst the
Anglican Doctrine Commission?
• But why argue this?
• Reason: Some phrases in the Bible read symbolically e.g. “Sitting
on the right hand of God” – so why not other accounts as well?
Convincing or not?
X Miracles cannot always be explained but
are understood by the believer.
X God’s actions are beyond our
X Polkinghorne: Maurice Wiles’ view
of God’s action in the world does not
reflect Christian religious experience.
Rudolf Bultmann agrees that all
elements should be taken out of
the Bible so the essential truths
John Hick: - supporter of miracles
• God can be seen to cause miracles indirectly via
• God inspires humans to act in a particular way
• God can be recognised through different
• Miracles are ordinary events but are seen as
miracles through the eyes of faith.
• Polkinghorne agrees that if God
works inspires us, God is present
in the world not just in Creation.
• It also leaves open the possibility
that God can intervene.
Miracles are better seen as signs with religious
1. Miracles are astonishing but do not need to
violate a laws of nature
2. Miracles point people to the ‘mystery of being.’
– reveal something about God’s nature
3. Miracles are ‘received as a sign in an ecstatic
• This argument is supported by Holland.
X could just be the product of the mind not proof of
Avoids many of Hume’s criticism as no law of
Modern Views against miracles
publicity or are
Richard Dawkins: Places such as
Lourdes could be explained by the
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