Philosophy of Religion

Previous Index Next

The Concept of Miracle

The God of the Bible is portrayed as being:
  • transcendent
  • separate from and superior to the physical world
  • having no body – incorporeal
  • exists outside time and space in eternity
Philosophical Problem:

How can a transcendent God have any dealings with this temporal world?

This did not pose a problem for the Ancient Greeks – e.g. Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover simply did not interact with creation! The Unmoved Mover did things inadvertently by attraction.

The Bible paints a very different picture of God in which there appears to be no problem with a transcendent God working in and through creation.

Miracles feature in both the Old and New Testament.

A miracle may be described as God suspending the laws of nature in order to bring about a certain course of events.

Examples of Miracles in the Bible:

    Old Testament

    Moses parting the Red Sea – Exodus 14:5-31
    Joshua and the Walls of Jericho – Joshua 6:1-16
    Joshua and the Sun standing still - Joshua 10:1-15
    Elijah and the priests of Baal – 1 Kings 18:20-40
    Elisha healing Naaman of leprosy 2 Kings 5:1-27
    Isaiah causing a shadow to move backwards – 2 Kings 20:1-11

    New Testament

    The Virgin Birth – Matthew 1:18-25
    Feeding of the Five Thousand – Mark 6:30-44
    Jesus walks on water – Mark 6:45-52
    Cure of a Paralytic – 5:17-26
    Gerasene Demoniac – Luke 8:26-39
    Jesus’ Resurrection – John 20:1 – 21:25
    Peter cures a lame man – Acts 3:1-10
    Peter’s miraculous deliverance – Acts 12:1-19
    Paul and Silas’ miraculous deliverance – Acts 16:25-40

Three basic areas which need to be addressed:

  1. the problem of definition; what do we mean when we use the word ‘miracle’
  2. the issue of whether miracles actually happen or whether it is reasonable to believe in miracles
  3. the implications of the idea of miracle for an understanding of the nature of God

Cricitisms of Miracles - Maurice Wiles

Maurice Wiles (1929 - 2005), former Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford University and former chairman of the Church of England’s Doctrine Commission, rejects miracles on moral grounds. Wiles proposes that God’s Action in the World is a challenge to those who believe that miracles are acts of God that go against the laws of nature. Wiles argues that the world is a single act of God that encompasses the world as a whole.

“The primary usage for the idea of divine action should be in relation to the world as a whole rather than to particular occurrences within it”

Wiles concludes that miracles do not occur because God does not intervene in events in the world on an individual basis. If miracles did occur then God would undermine the laws of nature and the accepted order of things. Even if this does happen, why would God choose to perform miracles for some and not for others.

Wiles asks why miracles have not taken place at times of great human tragedies. Those who claim that miracles do take place can only give trivial examples in comparison.

    “If the direct action of God, independent of secondary causation, is an intelligible concept, then it would appear to have been sparingly and strangely used. Miracles must be by definition, relatively infrequent or else the whole idea of the laws of nature… would be undermined, and ordered life as we know it would be an impossibility. Yet even so it would seem strange that no miraculous intervention prevented Auschwitz or Hiroshima, while the purposes apparently forwarded by some of the miracles acclaimed in traditional Christian faith seem trivial by comparison”

    Maurice Wiles, God’s Action in the World

Wiles concludes that either God does not intervene in the natural order or He has an arbitrary will that results in His intervention to help the plight of some and ignore the needs of others. If in fact the nature of God is one that may choose to cure an individual of cancer but to ignore the plight of those trapped in the twin towers of New York on 11 September 2001, then Wiles concludes such a God, who acts selectively and not on a wider scale, is not worthy of worship. The concept of a God who arbitrarily intervenes in the universe debases the notion of God itself.

Wiles’ restriction on God also applies to his action in Jesus Christ. It would be wrong to say that miracles cannot happen and then allow the exclusive Christian doctrines of the incarnation and resurrection.

Previous Index Next