"Miracles" Discussion Continued...

Alex and all,

Thank you for all the responses on my post "On Miracles". I am moving this up the board because it is about to drop off the bottom of the moderated index page which is the default one most people see these days.

Before I respond let me just extend congratulations to those who put together the Olympic Opening Ceremony. It was yet another brilliant "secular liturgy" taking these things to new heights in quality and depth. The Church might learn much as these people learned from the Church when she exerted that kind of mesmerising communication attraction.

In your own response to me, Alex, you wrote: "You pose many thoughts and attempt to exclude many traditional answers but do not offer your own thoughts, as to why miracles occur". Let me attempt to answer?

I am interested in this question for one principal reason. I do firmly believe that one of the reasons so many people in the Western world have been finding the Church less and less relevant in their lives is because the image we paint for them of who God, and Jesus, is simply no longer gels with the picture they are intuitively sensing in their lived lives of the relationship they believe God might have with them.

My own thoughts on all of this:

Let me explain this further. It is not simple and straightforward. For example I fully accept that while some people might move away from an image of God that they find simplistic and superstitious or quasi-superstitious, it is a paradox that some, perhaps even many, end up in belief structures that are even more superstitious or quasi-superstitious than those they might have thought they were distancing themselves from. That IS human nature. We are not entirely logical in what we do. Those sorts of querks and perturbations in human behaviours need to be taken into account in what I am writing.

The theologian I am interviewing is one of the foremost experts in the Church in two specific areas: The Resurrection which, surely, must be the biggest "miracle" there is; and Christology our understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what our relationship is to him and his to us, collectively and as individuals. He never taught me at school, but he was one of the scholastics at my boarding school in 1959 when I was still in short pants. About six years ago I attended a full lecture course he presented at the University of Notre Dame on The Resurrection and renewed my acquaintance with him then. I have enormous admiration for him as a person from the works of his that I have read and from the conversations I've had with him in more recent years.

At the same time though I also do have genuine questions. They are both personal questions I am concerned for my own salvation and my attempt to make the very most of my life and I am concerned as to why the Church is no longer of relevance to many people but in particular my own children. I do not accept the proposition that it is altogether their fault because I personally have many of the same questions that they do.

I hope this helps explain a little more "where I am coming from", not only in this particular discussion but in all the things spiritual that I write about. I am fundamentally endeavouring to discover what the real truth is.

In my personal life I have already come to the conclusion that God does intervene. I am called into continual and continuous dialogue with God. The end objective of my life is intimately linked to that relationship and, in particular, to endeavouring to discern what God's will is from me. (That is at the heart of the Prayer of Cardinal Newman that I mentioned in the first post in the set on Obedience. See LINK.) I have also reached the conclusion though that God does not perform "miracles" (in the sense of "magic tricks") in my life, or any other person's life. I simply do not believe there is any credible evidence for "miracles" in this sense. Virtually all of the things that can be described as "miracles" in the everyday sense can be explained by statistical mathematics, or science (see my article on this personal experience HERE), or, if we cannot yet understand the "science" by reasonable conjecture that they occur within the realms of natural law. When we look out at the wider universe, as we can now increasingly do with instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope, there is simply no evidence that God is engaged in the business of causing "unordered" things to occur within his "ordered Creation". Surely, if God was really and truly engaged in the business of "magic trick miracles" we would see it in big events like him ordering galaxies into new directions of movement or, at the sub-atomic scale, causing sub-atomic particles of matter to behave in inexplicable or "unordered" ways. There is no evidence that such things occur. Absolutely zilch. There are many things that science cannot explain, and there are things like Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle in fundamental Physics, even some sub-atomic particles are described as having "strange" behaviours ("strange" there is a scientific terms but it does have a similar definition to when we use the word colloquially). But even within Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle and within "strangely" behaving sub-atomic particles order is always present. We can see, as it were, "the hand of a Creator" or some "enormous genius" who thought the whole thing up and made all these "laws of science" work together in these complex, often strange, even chaotic, or uncertain ways but always, always within the bounds of "order". It is a profound paradox that within "Chaos Theory" (the laws describing how no two waves landing on a beach are ever exactly the same, or explaining the ordered, but constantly individual flow of water from a tap, or the order in a field of daisies yet no two daisies are exactly the same) there IS a sense of Order!

Personal Conclusion:

The personal conclusion I have come to through my scientific training and reading is that God simply does not perform "miracles" in the sense of a person performing "magic tricks" where he even "appears" to suspend, violate or break any of the laws of his own creation. I do not pretend to be able to tell you how Lee's friend might have been "cured" of his cancer. I suspect that it occurs through enormous emotional, intellectual and spiritual changes within the individual. Even though they might be enormous in their consequences, they might be very subtle in being detected. They are in the nature of what Dr O'Collins labelled for me in our discussion yesterday as "change of heart" factors. As TonyC mentions in his post in response to you, we also have to take into account the many times when people "pray for miracles" and God does not deliver the prayed for result. Instead he would seem to send another truckload of shit into our lives. We have seen graphic instances of that even recently in the lives of members of this discussion community.

Even within my lifetime, say 50 years ago, when we did not have the scientific knowledge of climate and meteorology that we have today, it was understandable if the farmers where I few up thought that weather was something capricious and "engineered" by God. If we were "good" and if we "prayed" God would send us the weather we wanted. Today, even the reasonably educated 14 year old can see that such thinking is ludicrous. The weather follows "ordered" patterns. We might not, from our perspective, to be able to work out what the order and pattern is but we do know that the weather is not capricious. What is happening in our particular locality is part of a giant "system" that does make sense. We can influence that system sometimes on a global scale, for example, through global warming by burning enough of the wrong things or injecting enough of the wrong chemicals into our atmosphere that denude Ozone layer that protects us from the sun. We can also influence the weather patterns in more localised ways, for example by cloud seeding, or in a longer term perspective, by cutting down all the forests in a region and changing land use patterns. "Praying for Rain" to the scientific mind is about as sensible as praying to be given the winning numbers on Friday for this weeks Lotto draw. It is simply stupid. (I accept it might fulfil other roles such as building social solidarity in a community that is suffering in drought.)

My scientifically informed view, and scepticism about miracles, does not lead me to a conclusion though that God does not exist. Nor does it lead me a conclusion that God is not in an on-going relationship with his Creation and with us, individually and collectively. Quite the contrary in fact. I believe that as time marches on and our scientific knowledge increases our understanding of God and his relationship to us, and ours to him is actually increasing.

My Overall Conclusion:

To bring all this to a conclusion regarding my personal views: I do not believe I am alone in holding a world-view like the one I hold. I believe many people in Western society have been moving away from the view put forward by the Church, or elements within it, that God intervenes in our affairs in some kind of way similar to a circus magician. In other words they have a sense that if there is a God he is not capricious favouring some and not favouring others with miracles, and other kinds of special favours, according to some random formula or pattern. While they might be sceptical of the traditional Catholic view they have not necessarily got anything better to replace it with. That is how I felt for a long time. I do not feel that way today. I believe the new view I have of this being we try to condense into the name "G-O-D" does not sit in opposition to any Catholic theology but I am seeking to try and clarify that by speaking to people such as Dr O'Collins.

I do fully agree that the most difficult matter to "take on board" in this other view I am putting forward is the matter of the Resurrection. As I have argued in this forum with Maggie at length, I am not at all sure how absolutely necessary the physical truth of the Resurrection is as a foundation of our faith. My personal faith, as far as I can tell in all the reflecting I have done on this over recent years, is not shattered or challenged if I perceive the Resurrection as an event of extraordinary nature but which largely occurred within the minds and perceptions of those who witnessed it. It is very clear from the Scriptural witnesses that the Risen Christ they saw and touched was different in substance to the pre-Crucifixion Christ. He could "walk through walls" for example and some witnesses took a long while to recognise him. This suggests there is a significant element of mystery, possibly even mysticism associated with the post-Resurrection observations. In other words, the Risen Christ has a new Mystical or Spirit characteristic compared to the pre-Crucifixion physical reality.

My scepticism about God being some kind of "miracle worker" does not lessen the value I place on the theological importance of the Resurrection concept though either as it applies to Jesus Christ, or as it applies to each of us in our longed for salvation. I continue to believe that the theological concept of Resurrection, as opposed to the physical concept, is absolutely crucial to being able to access an understanding of the meaning of Christ though. It is crucial, I believe, if one is to be able to perceive Jesus Christ as "The Way" and "The Word" who provides the ultimate meaning and objective to our lives.

I do believe it is a legitimate question to be asking of the leadership of the Church at the moment as to whether these matters I am raising here might provide a means of the Church helping reverse her decline into lesser relevance in the Western world. I do take seriously the command of Christ that we are meant to reach out to all people and bring them the Good News. Might this be a more effective way of doing it if our previous communication methods have been failing as self-evidently they have across the length and breadth of the Western world.

Alex, on the specific matter "as to why miracles occur": I in fact do not believe they "occur" in the sense of God reaching down with some kind of hidden "magic" wand and making the cancer or whatever it is disappear. I do not believe God intervenes in his creation in those ways. He does not violate the laws of his own creation, neither does he break them or even "suspend" them even for himself. If we put forward a vision of God who can intervene in those ways I believe it does begin to call into question serious matters concerning the theology of our participation in the Divine Plan. I am open to the concept that "miracles" might occur in the minds and emotions of believers who are looking for "signs" and who require the re-assurance of these kinds of things. I do not require that reassurance. The bigger "miracle" for me is through simple observation of the awesomeness of the whole of Creation and how it does all "lock together" in these laws of science that God thought up and which we are slowly discovering/uncovering. I see the "miracle" in the Cosmic scale looking at the images coming to us from the Hubble Space Telescope. I see it in the "miracle" of that transmission last night to the international community from the International Space Station in the Olympics Opening Ceremony. I see it in the "miracle" of the ordered world that can be found at the smallest dimensions in sub-atomic physics. I see it in the "miracle" of God's invention of "DNA" and genetics, in his invention of human and animal brains but particularly the reflective and discerning sophistication of the human brain. I see it in the "miracle" of the construction of the human and animal form and simple things like the mechanics of a knee or finger joint. I simply have no need to get all excited about so-called "cures" for cancer and disease. Those things are not even in the category of "sideshow" to the main event!

©2005Tom Scott/Brian Coyne/Vias Tuas Communications
Posted: 14Aug2004 11:34 PM

Tom Scott

"In spite of all that might be said against our age,
what a moment it is to be alive in!" James McAuley