The Question of Miracle
We take up this central question in the
Christian theology of Gods action by extending our comparison of the two
British scientist-theologians Arthur Peacocke and John Polkinghorne (see
Peacocke and Polkinghorne compared and Peacocke and Polkinghorne: comparison of
models of divine action.
Despite the similarities between their
views on divine action, Polkinghorne still sticks to his emphasis on the
possibility of particular, revelatory divine acts in a way which Peacocke
strives to avoid.
first point to make about miracle is that definition is all-important. The 18th-Century philosopher David Humes famous attack on miracle
can be summarised as follows:
- A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature.
- We have uniform experience that the laws of nature are never
- Therefore, miracles cannot occur.
But this approach is based on a premise
which the new science no longer has on offer. As Antony Flew says, (Christians)
have to presuppose the existence of a strong natural order.But even granted a strong natural order, it is very clear from the science of
unpredictability in non-linear dynamic systems(including the human brain) that it is inconceivable that the behaviour of a
real-life system involving human beings could be the subject of a totally
comprehensive scientific explanation. If we do not know - precisely - what the
laws of nature prescribe in a particular situation we cannot be sure what would
constitute a violation. We have therefore to define miracle in theological terms rather than in terms
of scientific regularities.
A possible definition would be: an
extremely unusual event, unfamiliar in terms of naturalistic explanation, which
a worshipping community takes to be specially revelatory, by dint of the
blessing or healing it conveys, of the divine grace.
Polkinghorne has an extensive discussion of
miracle in his Science and Providence
(1989),and takes a very positive view of the possibility of such events. Again this is
a reflection of his sense of the openness and flexibility of physical
processes. God does not violate the regularities God has put into placebut God still has scope for working within the natural processes to generate
Peacocke takes a much more cautious view,
questioning whether such direct intervention is compatible with and coherent
with other well-founded affirmations concerning the nature of God and of Gods
relation to the world.
link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr.
Source: God, Humanity and the
Cosmos (T&T Clark, 1999)