Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Miracles, Providence, and Natural Knowledge of God

This continues the repost of a response to Michael Martin on Jesus' resurrection.

Mr. Martin makes an interesting side-trip into one possibility: if most natural events were seen as signs from God, then the non-interventionists could claim that miracles should be seen as initially probable. Martin notes that this view -- that most natural events are signs from God -- trivializes the idea of miracles; he also asserts that this view is not held by most noninterventionists.

Here Martin continues to couple the idea of "signs" only with non-interventionist miracles, addressed previously. And while I would not want to over-labor the topic of which views are more typical of non-interventionists, I’d like to mention that Mr. Martin does not address the topic of providence. It is common for Christians to have an understanding of God’s providence in which nature and certain human events are arranged for our benefit and are signs of God’s good will towards humanity. The question becomes how to distinguish miracles from simple providence, or whether there is a need to distinguish. The possibility remains that "providence" simply gets called by the different name of "miracle" when the event in question is rare.

Mr. Martin also does not address the Christian view of the natural knowledge of God. This is a commonly held Christian doctrine about how nature and the laws of nature are themselves a sign of God’s existence and goodness. The common Christian views on providence and natural knowledge stand in disagreement with Mr. Martin’s assertion that most non-interventionists do not understand most events to be arranged by God.

Given how persistent Mr. Martin is in associating "signs" with non-interventionist miracles, it seems odd that his assessment of whether something is a miracle does not include any assessment of its value as a sign. That is to say, if even Mr. Martin agrees that miracles can have value as "signs", then something's value as a "sign" can be one of our criteria for deciding if it qualifies as a miracle. On both views of miracles (the interventionist and non-interventionist), it is not only the rareness of the event but also the sign-value of the event that helps us evaluate whether it is rightly seen as a miracle. The concept of providence – that God arranges certain things for our benefit – will be useful to recall when we discuss some of the reasons for the resurrection.

Summary of discussion on miracles in general (apart from the resurrection in particular)

At the end of discussion of miracles in general, I am in agreement with Mr. Martin on one point: that miracles in general are initially improbable. But in assessing his arguments, there are instances in which Mr. Martin has left aside important aspects of miracles, such as the theme of restoring nature and the sign value of miracles that involve God actively. These omissions of Martin’s greatly affect the upcoming discussion of Jesus’ resurrection in particular. I have also included background knowledge relative to the unique strength of Jesus’ miracle claims -- as Mr. Martin has agreed that background knowledge is required to make an accurate assessment of probability. Even though Martin acknowledges that our background knowledge is essential in a correct evaluation of the probability of miracle claims, he does not address the unique strength of Jesus’ prior miracle claims at any point in discussing background knowledge. These points of difference cause us to come to completely different assessments of Jesus’ resurrection.

No comments: