Friday, January 19, 2018

What makes a miracle?

I'm going to comment on this: Yujin Nagasawa, Miracles: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford 2017):

For an event to qualify as a miracle, an intentional agent must bring it about (13).

That seems like a useful criterion.

Any probabilistically impossible event with more than 0 per cent probability can take place purely by chance. An event that can happen purely by chance cannot be considered a miracle because a miracle has to be an event that is beyond coincidence. 

Jesus's turning water into wine and resurrecting the dead are miracles precisely because they are nomologically impossible events. Given the laws of chemistry there is no way that water alone can turn into wine. Given the laws of biology there is no way that a person who has been dead for days can be resurrected. Yet they are neither probabilistically nor logically impossible. On the one hand it is not merely a matter of probability that water cannot turn into wine and the dead cannot be resurrected. These events cannot occur by chance. On the other hand, it is not a matter of logic that water cannot turn into wine and the dead cannot be resurrected. There is nothing logically contradictory about water turning into wine and the dead being resurrected. They are impossible only given the laws of the nature of this world…What he [Jesus] performed can be deemed miracles because the impossibilities they involve are perfectly fine-tuned: they are stronger than probabilistic impossibilities but weaker than logical impossibilities (17).

…the outcome of the transformation (e.g. wine) cannot be obtained merely by processing the original substance (e.g. water)…When Jesus transformed water into wine perhaps he first produced wine out of nowhere and used it to instantly replace the water (23). 

i) It's true that turning water into wine (or bread into fish) is naturally impossible in a way that a coincidence miracle is not. That's a valid distinction. And replacement is one way to model it. 

ii) A "miracle" is a term of art, so Nagasawa is at liberty to offer his own definition. But that's subject to scrutiny.

iii) Could the laws of nature be different? The laws of nature are contingent. If the nature world disappeared, natural laws would disappear. 

However, some people are too quick to claim that there could be a universe with different natural laws. Maybe so. But natural laws are interrelated. If you change one, you may have to change them all, or many or most of them. Each natural law must be consistent with every other natural law. But that raises the question of whether a universe with different natural laws is coherent. How many laws would have to be different for any law to be different? Is there a functional combination of alternative natural laws? 

An omnipotent God is very resourceful. And omnipotent God can often bypass the natural order. But what's natural isn't indefinitely elastic. 

iv) What about his claim that a miracle must be an event that's beyond coincidence? Is that a metaphysical definition of a miracle or an epistemological definition?  

Let's take a comparison. Suppose a man dies in a car crash due to brake failure. That could happen purely by chance. 

But suppose, on further investigation, it turns out that his wife was having an affair with the automechanic who serviced the car the day before. And suppose the husband was a rich man. According to the will, his widow becomes a wealthy heiress in the event of his accidental death.

That could be a coincidence. But is it reasonable to classify the event as accidental death rather than murder? Even if all we have is circumstantial evidence which can't absolutely rule out the statistically possibility that is happened purely by chance, yet from an epistemic standpoint, that's not the most plausible explanation. Shouldn't we classify this event, not according to what's possible or impossible but probable or improbable? 

Suppose, finally, the homicide detective recovers text-messages which explicitly reveal a murder plot between the wife and the boyfriend/automechanic. Metaphysically speaking, it wasn't actually a coincidence even if that kind of thing can (and does) happen by chance. 

No comments:

Post a Comment