Saturday, 11 September 2010

Miracles never cease

Stanley Spencer; The Raising of Lazarus. I think, no caption material.

High time for a new blog. Lazy old Toad that I am. Too much water has been passed since the last installment. The most significant item to report is that Lulu and Nabi, the Greyhound Girls, are off to Leon again next week to be 'neutered.' We took them last week but Lulu had gone into heat.
This operation will cost three hundred Euros each. We have not paid a cent to buy any of our dogs or the cat, but they have now cumulatively cost us thousands. Still, we save by not having a telly.

What has this to do with miracles?, you say. Nothing, unless, you regard everything as a miracle, including the fact that our pets have not yet managed to bankrupt us.
I think this is the general attitude of Kathleen (re miracles that is, not bankruptcy) on the famous 'Catholicism Pure & Simple' blog, to which I regularly subscribe.
Like many others, she is, I believe, of the 'every snowflake, every baby's fingernail, every day without an earthquake, is a miracle' persuasion. If I am wrong, she will swiftly, and rightly, disabuse me.
And Joyfulpapist, another chum on CP&S, is planning a piece on this very subject soon.
Good, because 'miracles' are a stumbling block for me and many others on the Road to Salvation.
So, it's time to flip open the Very Excellent 'Hello!' Magazine Sub-editors' Dictionary, and read that a miracle is defined as:

1. An effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.
2. Such an effect or event manifesting or considered as a work of God.
3. A wonder; marvel.
4. A wonderful or surpassing example of some quality: a miracle of modern acoustics.

Interesting that the word is, in my opinion, in the process of being devalued even now. "I've found the car keys! it's a miracle!"
I suppose Kathleen's point is that, as we are all here as a result, as she sees it, of a supernatural event, everything that follows is, naturally, supernatural. Well, it's one way of looking at it. But I'm old-fashioned, and think this is merely further devaluing the word.

It will be no surprise that I'm with David Hume on this. I was going to run his original text on miracles, but it's long and wordy, and I found a neat little precis on the web.
Hume provides four reasons to think that there has never been sufficient evidence in favor of a miracle to render it probable. We must note that he, like me, does not go so far as to state that miracles don't happen. He merely doubts that they happen and says that, if they DO happen, we can never be sure they were miracles in the first place.
We are getting back to Popper here. No miracle, indeed nothing metaphysical, can either be verified or falsified. So either we must accept them on faith, or ignore all claims of them.

What Hume says:

First, no miracle is supported by testimony of a sufficient number of trustworthy people to rule out the possibility of falsehood.

Second, while we should normally believe that which most closely accords itself with past experience, the sensations of surprise and wonder often lead us to unreasonable beliefs. There are countless instances of tall tales of all sorts that stem not from reasonable inquiry but from a love of wonder.

Third, Hume remarks that most reports of miraculous events occur amongst barbarous or ignorant people, who may not be sophisticated enough to disbelieve fabricated testimony.

Fourth, since every religion claims the veracity of its own miracles as against the miracles of every other religion, the evidence of all other religions opposes the evidence in favor of a miracle in any one particular religion. For instance, what a Muslim might consider a miracle would be considered a heresy by anyone of different faith.

(I find reason number four particularly compelling. And if anyone takes the slightest notice of all this, it will be a miracle.)


Kiwi Nomad 2008 said...

Actually, people have been tossing around the world Miracle with regard to the Canterbury earthquake that happened here in NZ just over a week ago. Amazingly, there was no loss of life, despite much damage to buildings and to infrastructure. Yet it was a 7.1 quake, similar to the one that devastated Haiti in many respects. I don't live close to it, so haven't been suffering the continual aftershocks. But if people coping with the aftermath want to call it a Miracle, I guess they can....

Patrick O'Gara said...

Well, Kiwi, I'm inclined to think that God, quite rightly, regards New Zealanders with a good deal more favour than he does Haitians.
Much less Voodoo in Christchurch, I shouldn't wonder. He keeps his eye on those kind of things, you know.

Kiwi Nomad 2008 said...

Partly it was that we have the money to enforce earthquake building codes more here... plus there was the 'luck factor': people were tossed from their beds in the early hours of the morning, rather than buried under collapsing old brick buildings in the centre city.... as they would have been if the quake had happened later in the day.

JoyfulPapist said...

Why wait, Paddy?

golden chersonnese said...

Hello, Toad.

Could you tell us if Hume was talking about biblical and gospel miracles?

Or all miracles in general?

I see the point if he's talking about gospel miracles.

golden chersonnese said...

BTW, Toad, as far as I know, in orthodox Islam, the only miracle (they say) is "the miracle of the Qur'an".

Hope you don't feel disappointed.

kathleen Mary said...

Well old chum Toad, it's time I took up your challenge and answered you, though I do think you've described me as looking a wee bit gullible don't you think? ;-)

No, elephant's don't fly!! At least not normally. But what could be impossible for Almighty God who created the universe and all life, especially man? (Read Psalm 8)

In all things great and small you can see the guiding "hand" of a powerful and loving Creator. But if you are referring to miracles as meaning events of extraordinary happenings that defy the laws of nature, the Bible is full of them. The greatest of them all of course is Jesus's resurrection from the dead.

However you might be asking for modern documented evidence to prove your point (and Hume's) and that never were there a sufficient number of intelligent people who ever witnessed a real miracle. So.... miracles don't happen? Oh really?
Well, apart from the fact that intelligent educated people can fabricate far more credible lies than simple uneducated ones (whose lies could be easily uncovered by smart examiners), there are indeed occasions when a miracle has occurred to a large amount of people, both believers and sceptics.
Just to mention one that was particularly impressive: 13th October 1917 in Fatima, Portugal in front of a crowd of thousands. This miracle when the sun "danced" (or appeared to do so) visible to everyone, was utterly inexplicable by any of the laws of science. The event was splashed all over the newspapers the next day, much to the chagrin of the atheists who had gone to Fatima to jeer at the little seers announcement of a miracle, as promised by the Blessed Virgin.

But I wouldn't want to convince you to believe in miracles through an argument.... and it wouldn't work anyway! No; to see how miracles can happen, one first has to believe in our loving caring God, who can intervene in the natural law to manifest His love for us. And to achieve that faith in God one must have a desire to seek Him.

Please allow me to pray for that great gift for you dear Toad.... may I? God Bless you.