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They qualify as mere oddities, as "strange happenings"; the sort of thing you might expect to read in Believe It or Not, but never hear about from the pulpit. Therefore the meaning of the event must also be religious to qualify as a miracle. Suppose that a holy man had stood in the center of Houston and said: "My dear brothers and sisters! You are leading sinful lives!

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Look at yourselves—drunken! God wants you to repent! And as a sign of his displeasure he's going to shower stones upon you! The word "miracle" might very well spring to mind. Not that we would have to believe in God after witnessing this event. But still, if that man in Texas seemed utterly genuine, and if his accusations hit home, made us think "He's right," then it would be very hard to consider what happened a deception or even an extraordinary coincidence. This means that the setting of a supposed miracle is crucially important.

Not just the physical setting, and not just the timing, but the personal setting is vital as well—the character and the message of the person to whom this event is specially tied. Take, for example, four or five miracles from the New Testament. Remove them completely from their context, from the teaching and character of Christ. Would it be wrong to see their religious significance as thereby greatly diminished? After all, to call some happening a miracle is to interpret it religiously. But to interpret it that way demands a context or setting which invites such interpretation.

And part of this setting usually, though not always, involves a person whose moral authority is first recognized, and whose religious authority, which the miracle seems to confirm, is then acknowledged.

Abstract discussions of probability usually miss this factor. But setting does play a decisive role. Many years ago, at an otherwise dull convention, a distinguished philosopher explained why he had become a Christian.

Critiques of God (Skeptic's Bookshelf Series)

He said: "I picked up the New Testament with a view to judging it, to weighing its pros and cons. But as I began to read, I realized that I was the one being judged. But it was the character and teaching of Christ that led him to accept the things recounted there as genuine acts of God. So there is not really a proof from miracles. If you see some event as a miracle, then the activity of God is seen in this event. There is a movement of the mind from this event to its proper interpretation as miraculous. And what gives impetus to that movement is not just the event by itself, but the many factors surrounding it which invite—or seem to demand—such interpretation.

But miraculous events exist. Indeed, there is massive, reliable testimony to them across many times, places and cultures. The argument is not a proof, but a very powerful clue or sign.

Power Verse

For further discussion, see chap. When we experience the tremendous order and intelligibility in the universe, we are experiencing something intelligence can grasp. Intelligence is part of what we find in the world. But this universe is not itself intellectually aware. As great as the forces of nature are, they do not know themselves.

Yet we know them and ourselves.

These remarkable facts—the presence of intelligence amidst unconscious material processes, and the conformity of those processes to the structure of conscious intelligence—have given rise to a variation on the first argument for design. There are obvious similarities here to the design argument, and many of the things we said to defend that argument could be used to defend this one too.

For now we want to focus our attention on step 3. Readers familiar with C. Lewis's Miracles will remember the powerful argument he made in chapter three against what he called "naturalism": the view that everything—including our thinking and judging—belongs to one vast interlocking system of physical causes and effects. If naturalism is true, Lewis argued, then it seems to leave us with no reason for believing it to be true; for all judgments would equally and ultimately be the result of nonrational forces. Now this line of reflection has an obvious bearing on step 3.

What we mean by "blind chance" is the way physical nature must ultimately operate if "naturalism" is true—void of any rational plan or guiding purpose. So if Lewis's argument is a good one, then step 3 stands: blind chance cannot be the source of our intelligence. We were tempted, when preparing this section, to quote the entire third chapter of Miracles.

This sort of argument is not original to Lewis, but we have never read a better statement of it than his, and we urge you to consult it. But we have found a compelling, and admirably succinct version written almost twenty years before Miracles in H. Joseph was an Oxford don, senior to Lewis, with whose writings Lewis was certainly familiar. And undoubtedly this statement of the argument influenced Lewis's later, more elaborate version.

If thought is laryngeal motion, how should any one think more truly than the wind blows? All movements of bodies are equally necessary, but they cannot be discriminated as true and false. It seems as nonsensical to call a movement true as a flavor purple or a sound avaricious. But what is obvious when thought is said to be a certain bodily movement seems equally to follow from its being the effect of one. Thought called knowledge and thought called error are both necessary results of states of brain.

These states are necessary results of other bodily states. All the bodily states are equally real, and so are the different thoughts; but by what right can I hold that my thought is knowledge of what is real in bodies? For to hold so is but another thought, an effect of real bodily movements like the rest. These arguments, however, of mine, if the principles of scientific [naturalism] And it may be said of any ground on which we may attempt to stand as true, Labitur et labetur in omne volubilis aevum ["It flows and will flow swirling on forever" Horace, Epistles, I, 2, 43 ].

Some Problems in Ethics, pp. This argument is closely related to the argument from consciousness. It comes mainly from Augustine. This proof might appeal to someone who shares a Platonic view of knowledge —who, for example, believes that there are Eternal Intelligible Forms which are present to the mind in every act of knowledge. Given that view, it is a very short step to see these Eternal Forms as properly existing within an Eternal Mind. And there is a good deal to be said for this.

But that is just the problem. There is too much about the theory of knowledge that needs to be said before this could work as a persuasive demonstration.

How to Witness to Religious Skeptics

This argument, made famous by Rene Descartes, has a kinship to the ontological argument It starts from the idea of God. But it does not claim that real being is part of the content of that idea, as the ontological argument does.

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Rather it seeks to show that only God himself could have caused this idea to arise in our minds. It would be impossible for us to reproduce the whole context Descartes gives for this proof see his third Meditation , and fruitless to follow his scholastic vocabulary. We give below the briefest summary and discussion. Consider the following common objection. The idea of God can easily arise like this: we notice degrees of perfection among finite beings—some are more perfect or less imperfect than others.

And to reach the idea of God, we just project the scale upward and outward to infinity. Thus there seems to be no need for an actually existing God to account for the existence of the idea. All we need is the experience of things varying in degrees of perfection, and a mind capable of thinking away perceived limitations.


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But is that really enough? How can we think away limitation or imperfection unless we first recognize it as such? And how can we recognize it as such unless we already have some notion of infinite perfection? To recognize things as imperfect or finite involves the possession of a standard in thought that makes the recognition possible. Does that seem farfetched? It does not mean that toddlers spend their time thinking about God. But it does mean that, however late in life you use the standard, however long before it comes explicitly into consciousness, still, the standard must be there in order for you to use it.

But where did it come from? Not from your experience of yourself or of the world that exists outside you. For the idea of infinite perfection is already presupposed in our thinking about all these things and judging them imperfect.