Monthly Archives: March 2013

What are miracles?

One way to define a ‘miracle’ is as a non-chance coincidence, attributable to God.

(A coincidence is a co-inciding, a bringing together of events.)

A common misunderstanding is that miracles by definition are ‘unlikely’. This probably isn’t a useful way to understand a miracle. Rather, miracles appear unlikely, given conventional methods of explanation, and therefore point to some other kind of explanation, such as the Christian God.

Another common misunderstanding is that miracles are ‘unusual’. Given the definition above, miracles are probably fairly common. That is, Christians will have striking, seemingly non-chance coincidences which occur fairly often. Miracles are not confined to certain supposed events described in the New Testament, or the Old Testament. Instead, the evidence for miracles is widespread, occurring to many people and in some cases many times, varying in their degrees of noticeability.

Finally, another misunderstanding is that miracles happen ‘out of nothing’. In the Christian tradition, God usually works ‘through’ things – people, natural events, and so on. So, miraculous events in a sense will have a natural explanation. The point, however, is that so considered they will seem unlikely, and this suggests that there is something else in operation ‘coordinating’ the natural events. This thing can be what Christians call ‘God’.

With miracles understood as ‘non-chance coincidences, attributable to God’, there are two basic questions. The first is whether the coincidences are indeed non-chance (i.e., they are not explainable in terms of chance coincidence). Sometimes, something seems improbable but actually isn’t. The second is whether the coincidences are attributable to God – i.e., if it is established that they are unlikely given the conventional methods of explanation, the question is whether God is a warranted hypothesis. Both these questions are complex, and not easily resolvable, except through detailed examination of the evidence, and difficult questions concerning the nature of evidence and postulates to explain that evidence.

So, breezy abstract philosophical attempts to show how miracles ‘couldn’t’ occur are probably misplaced.

Does it work?

There is a scene in the movie Moneyball where Billie Bean says:

“What I want to know is: do they get on base?”

Similarly, what I want to know about a given theology is: does it work?

That is, theology must be seen as secondary.

What matters is practical applications – what are their results?

It’s similar to scientific theories. If they didn’t work – if they didn’t have practical consequences in terms of developing useful technologies – no one would care about science. Furthermore, one of the ways we test a theory – perhaps one of the most important ways – is to integrate it into various technologies.

In a sense, then, proper theology should be far more robustly based on evidence than science itself.

With theology, “How do I test this?” should be one of the first questions one asks.