What are We to Make of
Rehabilitating the Notion of the Miraculous
The phenomenon of miracles
... what are to make of them?
— as the Scottish Skeptic
and Philosopher David Hume maintained —
the reason for the uniformity of the events
we observe is not discoverable; that is, if we can perceive nothing
in the way of necessity linking putative causes to supposed
effects — and if, therefore, the succession of observed events can
always be otherwise than what we observe without implying contradiction
— then while we have not answered why miracles occur, we have
nevertheless arrived at an explanation of how miracles are
able to occur, how miracles are at all possible.
Miracles, by this reasoning
— which I think is correct — are not understood to occur in violation
of laws inherent in nature — for there are in effect no laws to be violated;
only observed uniform events. From this perspective, what we
call miracles are no more than a reordering of an anticipated
sequence of events that were never necessary to begin with.
And this is simply another way of saying that in effecting a miracle,
God merely suspends — but does not violate — what
we construe to be laws at work in the universe.
Uniform events, in other
words, or uniform sequences of events, for which we have found, experienced,
no disqualifying instance, suggest something of necessity.
It is precisely at this
point that we make a subreptive leap from statements concerning observations,
to illicitly interpreting these observations in terms of laws
analogous to the types of laws to which we appeal in, say, geometric
models — at least in the way of perceived necessity.
This, however, is a psychological, and not a logical
phenomenon, for what we designate as
when examined carefully, we can neither discover through reason
nor prove through experience. Such
are, and without exception, always formulated retrospectively,
in view of past empirical observations. The concatenation of
events that science articulates as putative
are, one and all, assembled a posteriori (after the observation)
and therefore possess nothing characteristic of the nature of a priori
necessity. Simply that such and such observations have (... up
to this point) exhibited unbroken historical pedigree does not
rationally qualify them as necessary. Such
are nothing more than historical statements and are inherently,
intrinsically, susceptible to one disqualifying instance sufficient
in itself to abrogate the
We observe an unbroken and historically precise sequence of events
which we interpret as linear "causes" that culminate in what we construe
What we perceive are apparently uniform events. What we do not, and
cannot perceive, are the presumed
connections between successive events in which we have as yet
experienced a disqualifying instance, one exception that deviates from
the anticipated event and produces another event altogether. The supposed
however uniform, remains a mystery to us. That
and such has, up to now, always been the case”
is altogether different from
and such must be the case”.
It could be otherwise —without invoking any logical contradiction
whatever. It is simply the case that it has always simply been
the case —and no more. This is the genius, the perspicacity, really,
of David Hume.
What has all this to do with miracles?
This is really a penultimate question, for what we really want to know
Is it absurd to give credence
to miracles — and at least implicitly, through miracles, to God?
Let us attempt to answer it this way:
If the suspension of “laws”
is presumed to be attributable to God in the occurrence of miracles
— and such unanticipated or miraculous events are (insofar as
reason can discover) at least as likely to
occur as the effect we have come to anticipate — then on on what
grounds would we be persuaded from ascribing the uniform events
that very clearly occur, to God as well, and simply because God wills
Such a proposition implies
no more contradiction than the problematic inherent in the notion of
causality itself. Since causes are not discoverable to reason we have
no warrant to ascribe necessity to any event.
It is, I suggest, at least as cogent to argue that
God is the cause of this unqualified but unexplained
uniformity — as to argue that there is no cause at all. The skeptic
cannot produce God”.
We will argue,
cannot produce causes”.
In our experience,
is at least intelligible in any concept of agency.
If this indeed is so, it
would be of great consternation to David Hume — who did not believe
in God — and there is something terribly condign that a correct line
of reasoning, formulated to discredit the existence of God through a
disabused notion of causality, should all the more corroborate it.
Geoffrey K. Mondello
Boston Catholic Journal
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