Miracles are Natural ↔ Nature is Miraculous

What we are accustomed to treat as miraculous could not occur in the first place if it were unnatural to this world – if it did not agree with the Nature of this world. So it does thus agree. Miracles are perfectly natural.

Because miracles are natural (albeit rare), Nature is miraculous just as she is ordered, coherent, regular, homeostatic, teleological, and so forth. Or, as perhaps it will be easier to see, Nature is miraculous just as she is in us alive, conscious, active, rational, intelligent, animate, and so forth. Miracularity is as characteristic of this world as are consciousness or homeostasis.

Natural explanations of miraculous phenomena do not therefore evacuate their spiritual significance. Nature is inherently spiritual; is inspired. That there are natural explanations of miraculous phenomena means that there are by the same token miraculous explanations of natural phenomena.

That, therefore, e.g., the world of the people who once farmed the Euxine Basin flooded catastrophically 7,000 years ago due to glacial melting and rising sea levels outside the Dardanelles, so that only a handful of them survived, would not mean it was not flooded by God.

Ditto for the parting of the waters at the Sea of Reeds. That it was a tsunami generated by the eruption at Santorini would not mean that it was not caused by God.

Or likewise for stigmata: that they were psychosomatic would not mean they were not participations of the divine soma.

A “purely natural” explanation *just is* a supernatural explanation; for Nature herself is a supernatural procedure.

That God acts everywhere does not however mean that he acts everywhere with equivalent might, any more than common maleness of all men means that they are all equally masculine. So some events, places, and things are peculiarly charged with holiness. As a priest once explained the importance of partaking the Eucharist in a temple built in a world that is after all throughly suffused with the Holy Spirit: water is ubiquitous in the atmosphere, but to drink one must go to a font, a well, a river.

So miracles – the ones we notice as unusual – are more significant of the Real than the run of the mill events God calls into being from nothingness for us at every new moment. So are they peculiarly compelling evidence of the divine act that maintains all things everywhere in being.

Miracles then are Nature at loci of particularly intense divine inspiration, thus of sanctity. Indeed are they Nature at her own maximum, Nature at her most densely and completely natural; at her most actual, concrete, and causally efficacious. This accounts for their extraordinary impact upon history.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
UPDATE: Terry Morris sent a note that said in pertinent part:

Magicians good at their craft can do tricks that *seem* to be inexplicable. But of course we know they are explainable, and relatively easily so because they’re tricks, they rely on deceptions and sleight of hand, misdirection and stuff like that. Whereas what makes an honest to goodness miracle legit is that it *does not* involve misdirection, sleight of hand, etc., otherwise it would be a mere magician’s trick, a deception.

I responded:

… an interesting point. In our encounters with the extraordinarily miraculous, the deception that makes them seem magical – inexplicable, staggering, impossible, and so forth – lies, not in the miracle itself (which after all is Truth in its mightiest manifestation, ergo Nature at her utmost pitch of excellence in the expression of her True character), but in the veil we drew over our sight in Eden when we Fell. It is not what we see that is deceptive, but our sight.

Related: a great quote I encountered yesterday, from Archbishop Fulton Sheen (who impresses me more with each passing day): “Ever since the days of Adam in the Garden, men have been hiding from God, and complaining that God is hard to find.”

60 thoughts on “Miracles are Natural ↔ Nature is Miraculous

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  2. That it was a tsunami generated by the eruption at Santorini would not mean it was not caused by God.

    Of course. This seems so obvious, and yet it is apparently not so obvious to certain others as it is to you and me. Indeed, it doesn’t even make it *less likely* that it was caused by God. Would the winds and seas have calmed had Christ not commanded them to? Well, sure, after awhile, for this is nature in her course; but to be still at the very moment the command was issued? Hmm.

  3. Praise the Lord From the Heavens!
    Praise ye the LORD. Praise ye the LORD from the heavens: praise him in the heights.
    Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts.
    Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light.
    Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens.
    Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created.
    He hath also stablished them for ever and ever: he hath made a decree which shall not pass.
    Praise the LORD from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps:
    Fire, and hail; snow, and vapour; stormy wind fulfilling his word:
    Mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars:
    Beasts, and all cattle; creeping things, and flying fowl:
    Kings of the earth, and all people; princes, and all judges of the earth:
    Both young men, and maidens; old men, and children:
    Let them praise the name of the LORD: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven.
    He also exalteth the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints; even of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye the LORD.
    (#148)

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  5. In fantasy conceived in the minds of man. Magic is treated the same way that physics are treated in our world. For example the magical world of Harry potter is taken for granted by the Wizards of Hogwarts.

    When Miracles are regular we cease to notice it largely and take it for granted it becomes “Mundane” by virtue of their regularity.

    Of course the contrarians always like to point out “flaws” in this theory of miraculousness and posit a mechanistic view of nature.

  6. It has been observed in Job that existence itself is a miracle, so much so that even ordinary things are so miraculous they would be terrifyingly strange to new eyes.

    “Has thou given the horse his strength? Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? The glory of his nostrils is terrible.”

    If we were not so accustomed to creation, we would constantly be filled with awe.

    • @Jim: “If we were not so accustomed to creation, we would be constantly filled with awe.”

      Very true. But what is so sad about that is that being “so accustomed” to the mere *surface* or face of nature, and never investigating it deeper and trying to understand, or comprehend its principles, we limit our own capacities to be awe inspired by nature’s abundance of, well, awe-inspiring intricacies.

      This I blame on the failure of the “education” system Dr. Bertonneau complains of from time to time. Such that it is.

      I was just reading over at The Thinking Housewife about Asian dominance of the National Geography Bee. My initial thought on the matter was to the effect that I can’t imagine, given the state of “education” in the U.S., that the National Geography Bee involves any kind of awe-inspiring information or knowledge of geographical principles that would really interest anyone who was not highly competitive by his nature in the first place. It’s fine to know “what,” but the “why” of the “what” tends to be more interesting and awe-inspiring. Of course, if you spend too much time on the “why,” that leaves too little time to memorize facts and win the competition. So there ya go.

  7. Consciousness, the ability to notice things and find meaning in them, is etymologically miraculous. Miracle – from mira! – “Look at that!” The structure of reality is the same as the structure of revelation.

  8. “miracles are natural (albeit rare)”

    Is Virgin Birth merely a rare type of birth or a violation of the laws of human biology?

    • Physicist Frank Tipler – co-author of the Anthropic Principle – wrote a whole book (The Physics of Christianity) arguing that the miracles of Christianity are physically lawful, and explaining how they could have been physically mediated. He has a long chapter on the Virgin Birth. The Anglican Curmudgeon provides a good précis of Tipler’s argument, with extensive quotes from the book.

      • I speak of Virgin BIRTH and not just Miraculous conception of Jesus. The dogma is that
        “that the Blessed Mother of Jesus Christ was a virgin before, during and after the conception and birth of her divine son.”
        Also,
        “Mary’s hymen was preserved intact during the delivery of Jesus. Although there is no mention of this in the Bible, this belief was accepted by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE.”

        Frankly, Frank Tipler is no authority esp on miracles. His views are accepted neither by the physicists nor by theologians.

      • That Tipler is controversial does not mean he is wrong (although I feel sure that he is wrong about some things).

        The Virgin Birth – like Jesus appearing in the Upper Room after the Resurrection – can be understood as an (extremely rare, although not elsewhere unheard of) case of quantum tunneling. This would accommodate also the tradition that the birth of Jesus caused Mary no pain.

        The bottom line, Vishmehr, is that if an event can happen in this universe, then it *must* be lawful in this universe. This is to say no more than that it must be among the things that can possibly happen in this universe.

  9. To appeal to quantum tunneling is purely intellectual laziness. It explains all and everything.
    It is very strange that you would rather put more credence on quantum tunneling than that God could directly intervene and suspend operation of natural laws.
    It also means that you disagree with the traditional understanding of the natural and supernatural, for instance that summarized in CS Lewis’ book Miracles.

    Regarding Tipler, his understanding of miracles, of resurrection etc etc can not be aligned with the Catholic doctrine at several points. Physicists and theologians alike regard him as crackpot.

  10. Tunneling probability of an infant tunneling through his mother’s body are so staggeringly small, it would be vastly more probable to dismiss the Gospel and the Church dogma altogether.
    Or discard the QM as applied to macroscopic infant bodies
    Indeed, if you would call thie sudden appearence of an infant a “lawful thing” then what you would not call lawful?
    Absolutely anything can be called lawful– sudenly a man tunnels and becomes a woman. Things disappear and appear somewhere else.
    There is no point is calling this a “lawful universe”.

    • Vishmehr, I repeat:

      The bottom line, Vishmehr, is that if an event can happen in this universe, then it *must* be lawful in this universe. This is to say no more than that it must be among the things that can possibly happen in this universe.

      If a thing happens, then *by definition* it must be the sort of thing that can happen.

      To put it somewhat differently: under God’s Law – which is the *only* Law, when push comes to shove, all other laws being but our poor creaturely approximations of his – it is possible for God to act in this world, without doing any violence to its good order.

      Miracles are routine, according to the Church. They happen at every Mass. They *must* fit into this universe. This universe *must* be such as to accommodate them.

      • If miracles are routine then why call them “miracles are natural (albeit rare)”?
        It was this view of miracles as “natural but rare” events that I was criticizing.

        Miracles can be defined as events that are inexplicable in principle. When we try to explain them—invent some mechanism–then these events become explicable in principle, and thus no longer miraculous.

      • If miracles are routine then why call them “miracles are natural (albeit rare)”?

        The miracle that occurs at every epiklesis is vanishingly rare in comparison with the quintillions of other events that occur within the precedent five minutes in the vicinity of the altar.

        Miracles can be defined as events that are inexplicable in principle. When we try to explain them—invent some mechanism–then these events become explicable in principle, and thus no longer miraculous.

        Yeah. You could do that. But let’s be clear: what is inexplicable “in principle” is inexplicable *even by God.* if you define miracles that way, you are asserting that the Logos does something *completely irrational,* which, despite his omniscience, he *cannot possibly understand.*

        Sorry, but that dog won’t hunt. Irrationality is the purview, not of the Logos, but of Satan.

        No: miracles must be intelligible in principle, or they could not happen in the first place. For, principial unintelligibility is a character of nonbeing. Miracles must furthermore be capable of expression by means of the routine unremarkable material of this world, *or they could play no part in it.*

        The Resurrection Body is a body of this world, that ate fish from a sea in this world. It is present on altars all over the globe every day in atoms of ordinary wheaten bread, that have the capacity – given them by God – of being the body of God.

        It *must* be this way, Vishmehr. If this world is not capable of expressing God, then there is no Incarnation, and we are not redeemed, and Christianity is false.

      • So, I take it that for you there is no distinction between the natural and the supernatural?
        I wonder how do you actually define “natural”?
        That which exists is “natural”? Is that the definition you operate with?
        If so, you can not consistently distinguish between reason and revealation too.

        When I said “inexplicable in principle”, I merely meant “inexplicable using our, human natural reason”. I do not rush to include God or Logos.
        There is a hierachy of knowledge and disciplines (or fields of enquiry) that you do not appear to acknoweldge.
        That “nature is miraculous’ is a fine poetic sentiment but taking at the face value, destroys any particular value for Christian miracles. If anything is a miracle, what is special about the Resurrection?
        A flower is as good as evidence for God as Virgin Birth is. –this seems to be your idea.
        But a Hindu can equally claim the same.
        Indeed, this “natural but rare” definition of miracles,the rational basis for Christianity, which has always been based upon the evidence or miracles, this basis is entirely destroyed.

  11. Consider the miracle of Incarnation. Why it is called a miracle?
    Because to our reason, it remains a mystery how a man could be God. How a person could have two natures, human and divine. It is inexplicable.
    Or is it because the incarnation is merely a rare event?

    It certainly seems to me that despite your frequent invocations to intelligiblity, the only intelligble principle you are willing to use is of relative frequency.

    • So, I take it that for you there is no distinction between the natural and the supernatural?

      No. What gives you that idea? That’s like saying that because dogs are mammals, there is no distinction between dogs and mammals. It’s a silly notion; a confusion of genus and species.

      I wonder how do you actually define “natural”? That which exists is “natural”? Is that the definition you operate with?

      No. I mean, sure, whatever exists must have a nature, so yes, in that sense everything is natural. But no, not everything that exists is native to our world – to our parochial System of Nature. Some beings who act in our world are native to other, superior worlds (each of the hierarchy of the Heavens, e.g., can be treated as a world that includes subsidiary worlds). And, of course, all worlds are native to God, who is superior to all of them, created them, and acts in them.

      When I said “inexplicable in principle,” I merely meant “inexplicable using our human natural reason.”

      Well then, you should have said what you meant.

      That some things are inexplicable using our human natural reason is metaphysically true; is logically true. Among the things that, as participants in our System of Nature, we cannot explain, is our System of Nature. To explain our System of Nature it is necessary to transcend it intellectually – something we cannot quite do so long as we are immured within it.

      Nevertheless we can be certain that our System of Nature is wholly intelligible in principle, even if we cannot penetrate to the bottom of its depths; for, it is the creation of a completely rational God (in no other way could it be the *least bit* rational, or therefore intelligible). Even if our own understanding of the Law of this System of Nature can never be complete, we can be sure that there is such a Law, and that God understands it; that Law being in the final analysis one of the Persons of God – the Logos. The Logos is the true Law of our System of Nature; and nothing can transpire except in accordance with the Logos. So miracles that stun and perplex us nevertheless accord with the True Law of our System of Nature, that is not as yet fully disclosed to us.

      If anything is a miracle, what is special about the Resurrection?

      Vishmehr, this is a silly question. It’s like asking, “if all men are mammals, what’s special about Newton?”

      A flower is as good as evidence for God as [the] Virgin Birth is … But a Hindu can equally claim the same.

      Both true. So what? That a Hindu could say these things would not make Hinduism true, simpliciter. It would indicate only that the Hindu in question had grasped a part of the Truth.

      Consider the miracle of [the] Incarnation. Why it is called a miracle? Because to our reason, it remains a mystery how a man could be God. How a person could have two natures, human and [divine,] is inexplicable. Or is it because the Incarnation is merely a rare event?

      Yes. The Incarnation would be a miracle even if we understood it completely, precisely because God is Incarnate in only one man. As I said in the post:

      That God acts everywhere does not however mean that he acts everywhere with equivalent might, any more than common maleness of all men means that they are all equally masculine. So some events, places, and things are peculiarly charged with holiness. As a priest once explained the importance of partaking the Eucharist in a temple built in a world that is after all throughly suffused with the Holy Spirit: water is ubiquitous in the atmosphere, but to drink one must go to a font, a well, a river.

      God acts at every mundane event. That does not mean that he acts equally at all such events. At some occasions of our world, he acts with particularly great might. Those are the miracles. They are different from his ordinary acts (that ordain the Law of our System of Nature and keep it running Providentially and in good order), precisely because they are extraordinary.

      NB: an event is not miraculous on account of the fact that we can’t figure it out. Miracles are what they are on account of God, not our stupidity. If our failure to understand them made events miraculous, then essentially everything that happened would be miraculous. Women, e.g.

      Everything is more or less miraculous, to be sure. But not on account of our ignorance.

      The True Law of our System of Nature is, not our petty partial understanding, but the Logos toward which all our intellection yearns. To break that Law with his miracles would be for the Logos to break himself. It is metaphysically impossible for God to break. Miracles all therefore agree with the Logos, who is the Law of this World.

      • CS Lewis in “Miracles” defines a miracle as an interfarence with Nature by supernatural power.
        I wonder if you would care to critque this definition or try to harmonize this definition with yours “Miracles are natural albeit rare events”.

        Note that CS Lewis never uses the rarity (or otherwise) of the miracles anywhere in his 200 page book.

      • Note first that to say that miracles are natural or rare is not to define them, but to characterize them. Here then without further ado are some relevant quotes from Miracles.

        Page 92:

        If the laws of Nature are necessary truths, no miracle can break them: but then no miracle needs to break them. …

        I think Lewis is being loose with ‘necessary’ here, but his point stands with equal force if that word is deleted from the sentence.

        Page 94 ff.:

        It is therefore inaccurate to define a miracle as something that breaks the laws of Nature. It doesn’t. …

        If God … deflects a unit of matter he has created a new situation at that point. … The laws at once take it over. … We see every day that physical nature is not in the least incommoded by the daily inrush of events from biological nature or psychological nature. If events ever come from beyond Nature altogether, she will be no more incommoded by them. Be sure she will rush to the point where she is invaded, as the defensive forces rush to a cut in our finger, and there hasten to accommodate the newcomer. The moment it enters her realm it obeys all her laws. Miraculous wine will intoxicate, miraculous conception will lead to pregnancy, inspired books will suffer all the ordinary processes of textual corruption, miraculous bread will be digested. The divine art of miracle is not an art of suspending the pattern to which events conform but of feeding new events into that pattern. …

        A miracle [is caused by the activity of God]: its results follow according to Natural law. [During the time which follows its occurrence] it is interlocked with all Nature just like any other event. Its peculiarity is that it is not in that way interlocked backwards … with the previous history of Nature. And this is just what some people find intolerable. The reason they find it intolerable is that they start by taking Nature to be the whole of reality. And they are sure that all reality must be interrelated and consistent. I agree with them. But I think they have mistaken a partial system within reality, namely Nature, for the whole. That being so, the miracle and the previous history of Nature may be interlocked after all but not in the way the Naturalist expected … The great complex event called Nature, and the new particular event introduced into it by the miracle, are related by their common origin in God … In that way the miracles and the previous course of Nature are as well interlocked as any other two realities, but you must go back as far as their common Creator to find the interlocking. You will not find it within Nature.

        Page 97:

        … miracles … must, like all events, be revelations of that total harmony of all that exists. Nothing arbitrary, nothing simply ‘stuck on’ and left unreconciled with the texture of total reality, can be admitted. By definition, miracles must of course interrupt the usual course of Nature; but if they are real they must, in the very act of so doing, assert all the more the unity and self-consistency of total reality at some deeper level.

        Page 98:

        If … Nature is modified by supernatural power, then we may be sure that the capability of being so modified is of the essence of Nature … If Nature brings forth miracles then doubtless it is as ‘natural’ for her to do so when impregnated by the masculine force beyond her as it is for a woman to bear children to a man.

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  13. Thing is that a polysemous word like “Nature” needs to be used carefully -as CS Lewis does.
    The statement “miracles are natural”–do you mean precisely what CS Lewis does–when he writes that Nature welcomes supernatural as her lawful lord and not as a conqueror?
    What sense of the word “natural” is operative in your characterization?

    Yoiur view of Virgin Birth as an quantum tunnelling process suggests that your view (whether right or wrong) will not be easily reconciled with CS Lewis. Note I do not say that CS Lewis is right always. I myself do not entirely agree with page 94 2nd para. Per CSL it is merely a new initial condition operating on the same laws.
    His view is given a state A, the laws of nature produce state B.
    So, a miracle is replacing the state A with state A1
    So, instead of B we get B1.
    So, CSL speaks of “suspension of the laws of nature” that allows the supernatural to subsitute A1 for A.

    This isn’t really any different from a frank “violation of the laws of nature”. given the laws, the state A will be produced from a previous state. As he says of the Virgin Conception, a miracolous sperm mates with the ovum and develops according to the laws of human biology. But what about the miraculous sperm itself?

    That miracles are going to be rare events, follows from the very idea of nature.
    Consistent behavior of a thing is its nature. But you reverse the order and say that “miracle is a natural but rare event. It is a self-contradiction. Virgin Birth can not be both natural and miraculous.

  14. To sum up, it is unexceptionable to say that the Nature accommadates miracles but it is quite another thing to explain away miracles in naturalistic terms e.g. quantum tunnelling.
    A miracle is something that can not be explained in naturalistic terms. That is what is meant in calling miracles “inexplicable events”.
    Examples would be free will, creation ex nihilo (do not explain by reducing it to Big Bang), virgin birth, incarnation and resurrection.

    • CSL speaks of “suspension of the laws of nature” that allows the supernatural to substitute A1 for A.

      This isn’t really any different from a frank “violation of the laws of nature.” Given the laws, state A will be produced from a previous state. As he says of the Virgin Conception, a miraculous sperm mates with the ovum and develops according to the laws of human biology. But what about the miraculous sperm itself?

      It is natural for our System of Nature to be affected by supernatural causes. After all, our System of Nature is itself an effect of supernatural causes.

      That miracles are going to be rare events, follows from the very idea of nature. [The consistent] behavior of a thing is its nature.

      The behavior of a thing is not its nature. Behavior is rather the expression of nature. That a thing normally behaves in a certain way does not mean it cannot by nature behave in some other extraordinary way. If that were so, there would be no such things as extraordinary events, of any sort, miraculous or otherwise.

      … do you mean precisely what CS Lewis does … when he writes that Nature welcomes supernatural as her lawful lord and not as a conqueror?

      Yes (although not supernatural simpliciter (a category that includes demons), but rather only her proper supernatural Lord). I’ve been saying so all along. It’s the point of the post, which was to suggest that showing how miracles are expressed in natural phenomena like tsunamis, floods, quantum tunneling, bread, wine, human bodies, and so forth, is not to “explain them away,” because a miracle *cannot happen* in this world unless this world is capable of it. Miracles *must* be expressed in the natural procedures of this world, or they would not be happening in this world, but some other. When we describe how a miracle is mediated by the regular procedures of this world – some of which we begin to understand – all we are doing is trying to understand *how* this world is capable of accommodating it. In so doing, we are *not* saying that miracles are “nothing but” those regular procedures. That would be Improper Reduction. It would be like saying that Vishmehr is nothing but a heap of quarks.

      To say that our System of Nature can accommodate miracles *just is* to say that miracles are natural to it. Either miracles are aspects of our own dear familiar world, or they are not happening in it at all.

      The Resurrection Body is a body of this world, that ate fish from a sea in this world. It is present on altars all over the globe every day in atoms of ordinary wheaten bread, that have the capacity – given them by God – of being the body of God.

      The True Law of our System of Nature is, not our petty partial understanding, but the Logos toward which all our intellection yearns. To break that Law with his miracles would be for the Logos to break himself. It is metaphysically impossible for God to break. Miracles all therefore agree with the Logos, who is the Law of this World.

      • At Lourdres, the miraculous cures are classified as so precisely by their inexplicablity.
        Any cure that is held explicable by the board of physicians, for instance spontenous remission of cancer that the physicians know happens infrequently, such a cure is not regarded as miraculous.

        Such instances can be endlessly multiplied. Take Miracle at Cana. Can you explain it in naturalistic terms?.

      • No, I can’t explain the miracle at Cana. But this whole criterion of inexplicability is something you introduced to the discussion. It is not dispositive; man is not dispositive; is not the measure of all things. As I have already said, an event is not miraculous simply because we are too stupid or ignorant to understand it. It is miraculous because in it God acts with peculiar might. Turning water into wine would be miraculous even if we understood how Jesus did it.

      • Inexplicable does not mean that we are being stupid or ignorant. It simply means that there exists a realm of nature and a separate realm of supernatural.
        Unless one believes in natural-supernatural separation, one has no right to speak of things like natural law (as different from divine law), grace, providence –all key Christian concepts.

      • Inexplicable does not mean that we are being stupid or ignorant. It simply means that there exists a realm of nature and a separate realm of supernatural.

        No. It just doesn’t. When we say that something is inexplicable, we don’t mean that it is supernatural. We mean either that we ourselves can’t explain it, or that it cannot be explained at all, by anyone.

        Unless one believes in natural-supernatural separation, one has no right to speak of things like natural law (as different from divine law), grace, providence –all key Christian concepts.

        Vishmehr, you are being sloppy; you are not reading carefully enough. It’s embarrassing.

        To repeat:

        So, I take it that for you there is no distinction between the natural and the supernatural?

        No. What gives you that idea? That’s like saying that because dogs are mammals, there is no distinction between dogs and mammals. It’s a silly notion; a confusion of genus and species.

      • You do assert that you believe in natural-supernatural distinction and you do repeat the assertion.
        But the very claim natural=miraculous amounts to denying the distinction.

        Question is how do you define miracles and how do you define natural phenomena and Nature itself.

        Why is miracle at Cana a miracle?

      • You persist in the category error I have pointed out to you twice already. To say that all canines are mammalian is not to say that canine = mammal. Likewise, to say that there is a miraculous aspect to natural things is not to say that natural = miraculous simpliciter. Nor a fortiori is it to say that natural = supernatural, simpliciter Please be more careful.

        Miracles are those events in the natural order – i.e., happening in our System of Nature, our world – wherein God acts with extraordinary power. Natural phenomena are events in the natural order wherein he acts with ordinary power – i.e., the power that brings them into being, confers their essential nature upon them, and orders them to himself (these being all aspects of his creative act). Nature is just this cosmos, this world-system, that cannot by itself – i.e., unassisted by acts arising in worlds superior to itself, as of angels or demons – act upon such others as there may be in such a way as to affect their histories.

  15. OK. And how do we tell if a particular event expresses God’s ordinary power or His extraordinary power?

    The crux is you are using the term “natural order” to mean “whatever is happening” which is not its usual meaning.
    1) “Natural phenomena are events in the natural order wherein he acts with ordinary power”
    Why use the term “natural order” here?
    2) “Miracles are events in the natural order.”
    Miracles are events, to be sure, but they are not events in the natural order. Since miracles are precisely those events that occur NOT in the ordinary course of things.
    A normal birth is a event in the natural order. The Virgin Birth is NOT in natural order.

    This playing fast and loose with the term “natural order” means that you are liable to interpret miracles in naturalistic terms —taking recourse to quantum tunnelling for Virgin Birth for instance.

    • OK. And how do we tell if a particular event expresses God’s ordinary power or His extraordinary power?

      When an event generates effects that are not among the typical final causes of its creaturely factors, we may be fairly confident that extraordinary supernatural causes are also to be numbered among its factors. For example, wine is not a final cause of water. That doesn’t mean that water absolutely cannot be turned into wine. It means only that water doesn’t tend to turn into wine when left to its own devices. Such a transmutation must however be possible to water, or it could not have occurred at all.

      The crux is you are using the term “natural order” to mean “whatever is happening” which is not its usual meaning. … Why use the term “natural order” here?

      By “natural order” I there meant “our world.”

      Miracles are events, to be sure, but they are not events in the natural order. Since miracles are precisely those events that occur NOT in the ordinary course of things.

      If we take “natural order” to mean “our world,” then miracles – which definitely do happen in our world, if they happen at all – do indeed occur in the natural order.

      This playing fast and loose with the term “natural order” means that you are liable to interpret miracles in naturalistic terms – taking recourse to quantum tunneling for [the] Virgin Birth for instance.

      Please read the post again. That an event is implemented in our world by processes characteristic thereof, and can therefore be parsed in their terms, does not mean it is not miraculous. God can use quantum tunneling if he pleases. If this world *absolutely cannot* accommodate God in man, then the Incarnation *absolutely cannot* happen in it.

      • “God can use quantum tunnelling if he pleases”
        Your idea of God is, in fact, a demiurge, who uses pre-existing laws of nature to fashion things.
        A miracle as defined by CS Lewis is an intervenation of supernatural with the natural order.
        If Virgin Birth occurs via quantum tunnelling, then it is entirely a natural process that may be computed using well-established technqiues. There would be nothing supernatural here.

        “By “natural order” I there meant “our world”
        And that’s precisely my complaint that you lose sight of natural-supernatural distnction.

      • God can use quantum tunnelling if he pleases

        Your idea of God is, in fact, a demiurge, who uses pre-existing laws of nature to fashion things.

        Do you really mean to suggest that God *can’t* use quantum tunneling if he pleases? That he is not omnipotent? That he is, i.e., not God? Who, again, is the one suggesting that YHWH is a demiurge?

        If Virgin Birth occurs via quantum tunnelling, then it is entirely a natural process that may be computed using well-established techniques. There would be nothing supernatural here.

        That a miracle is implemented in the natural world does not mean that it is wholly caused by the natural world. Why is this so hard for you to understand?

        I repeat: if our System of Nature is absolutely incapable of accommodating miraculous events within its ambit, then they simply cannot ever happen here. If they do happen here, then our System of Nature *is* capable of accommodating them within its ambit.

      • Your oft-repeated claim is trivial but you go on to make a further non-trivial and entirely wrong claim that all physical events that occur are explicable (i.e. understood as examples of the laws of nature in action).
        Thus,your reiterated claim that Virgin Birth could have been a quantum tunnelling process (on the authority of Tipler?)

      • … you go on to make a further non-trivial and entirely wrong claim that all physical events that occur are explicable (i.e., understood as examples of the laws of nature in action).

        No, I don’t. This notion of inexplicability is entirely your own contribution to the discussion. Again, Vishmehr, you are arguing with yourself.

        We can’t completely explain *anything* in the world. A complete and consistent Theory of Everything is a logical impossibility. Nature cannot explain herself. Since no mundane event is completely explicable by any consistent formal logical calculus, explicability is neither here nor there when it comes to discerning miracles from ordinary events. A miracle would be miraculous even if we could explain it. But we cannot; nor can we explain ordinary events.

        That we cannot explain either ordinary events or miracles does not mean that either sort of event does not occur in the world as we find her. Miracles must be implemented in this world, as fitting aspects thereof, if they are ever to play a role in it, so that we can then learn of them in the first place.

    • ” if our System of Nature is absolutely incapable of accommodating miraculous events within its ambit, then they simply cannot ever happen here. If they do happen here, then our System of Nature *is* capable of accommodating them within its ambit.”

      Could you tell a priori which event will the nature accommodate and which it won’t?
      You can not and the reason is that supernatural intervenations are entirely inexplicable in naturalistic terms.
      Please also reflect upon the process that the Church Herself uses to investigate claims of miracles.e g. the cures that take place at Lourdres. A committee of physicians looks at the claims and tries to understand them in naturalistic terms. Those cures that can not be so understood, the inexplicable cures, those cures are declared as miraculous.

  16. There is a lack of harmony between these two statements
    1) When an event generates effects that are not among the typical final causes of its creaturely factors, we may be fairly confident that extraordinary supernatural causes are also to be numbered among its factors.
    2) That an event is implemented in our world by processes characteristic thereof, and can therefore be parsed in their terms, does not mean it is not miraculous.

      • So the “extraordinary supernatural causes” can be parsed in the terms of the processes that are characetristic of our world.
        What is extraordinary and supernatural about them?
        What is supernatural about quantum tunnelling?

      • It is not quantum tunneling that is supernatural, but the miraculous use of quantum tunneling by God to implement his will.

        Consider the Body of Jesus. It is not composed of some otherworldly stuff utterly foreign to our world, as the heretic Docetists argued, but of the same sort of stuff as any other body in this world: the same chemicals, particles, and so forth. The essence of the miracle of the Incarnation – the thing that makes it a miracle – is that in it God is become a man who is *like us in every way* except in respect to sin. In Jesus, God is a natural man. Indeed, as the second Adam he is what man is naturally meant to be. His Resurrection Body, revealed in the Transfiguration, is what our bodies are meant to be like. The world is set up to accommodate Resurrection bodies; they are natural to this world.

        Miracles happen in this world. They are mundane events. What makes a mundane event a miracle is the fact that it is an act of God.

      • This discussion is edifying, and I am reticent to interject therefore. Nevertheless Vishmehr asks, “What is supernatural about quantum tunneling?,” to which Kristor replies, “It is not quantum tunneling that is supernatural, but the miraculous use of quantum tunneling by God to implement his will.”

        I would also point out to Vishmehr that whatever quantum tunneling is in reality – whatever processes it entails, and, moreover, what of these processes we mere mortals *really understand* and so forth – we can know of a certainty that it is *not* man’s invention, but merely his discovery. There is something profoundly miraculous in that fact alone.

        Assuming for the sake of argument that God *did* in fact use quantum tunneling to accomplish the virgin birth (no one has ever asserted this in this conversation, it was just an example given of how God *might have done it*), the fact of the matter is that, notwithstanding that quantum tunneling is a natural process perfectly compatible with this world, we don’t know how to achieve a virgin birth via use of quantum tunneling to that/our purposes.

        Or in short, as Kristor said, “it is the miraculous use of quantum tunneling by God to implement his will.”

  17. Omnipotence does not need to “use” quantum mechanics. Similar point was made by Edward Feser in his criticism of Intelligent Design whose proponents conceive of the Designer in too-anthromorphic terms.

    • Who said anything about “need”? God *can* use quantum mechanics. Whatever physical event he makes happen in this world, he makes happen using physics. You can’t make a physical event that is not physical.

      • “whatever physical event he makes happen in the world, he makes happen using physics”
        You think the omnipotence can never act in a manner not captured by physics?
        Didn’t you just make a distinction between ordinary acts and extra-ordinary acts of God?

        You think ALL physical events must be explicable by laws of physics? Even Resurrection? Again quantum mechanics, no doubt? And what about the resurrected glorified body that passes through walls? Quantum tunnelling again?
        Do you know the odds again such a happening ONCE according to quantum mechanics?

      • … whatever physical event he makes happen in the world, he makes happen using physics.

        You think omnipotence can never act in a manner not captured by physics?

        No. That’s just nuts. Where do you get these wild exaggerations? Even physically implemented creatures can act in a manner not captured by physics. Nevertheless it remains the case that omnipotence cannot act in a manner that has physical results in our world except by doing so in such a way as to have physical results that fit into our world.

        You think ALL physical events must be explicable by laws of physics? Even [the] Resurrection?

        Again, no. Again, where are you getting this stuff? I think *exactly the opposite.* I think NO physical events can be completely explained by the laws of physics.

  18. “That a miracle is implemented in the natural world does not mean that it is wholly caused by the natural world. Why is this so hard for you to understand? ”

    I am not the one trying to find naturalistic mechanisms for miracles. To me, supernatural intervention can not be explained in terms of mechanisms, Indeed, the lack of mechanism is why we call the event supernatural in the first place.

    • That a miracle is implemented in the natural world does not mean that it is wholly caused by the natural world. Why is this so hard for you to understand?

      I am not the one trying to find naturalistic mechanisms for miracles. To me, supernatural intervention cannot be explained in terms of mechanisms. Indeed, the lack of mechanism is why we call the event supernatural in the first place.

      I’m not trying to explain miracles in terms of natural mechanisms. On the contrary. I’m insisting that *even if* we can understand the physical bases of miracles, they are nonetheless miraculous.

  19. The Wikipedia page on Miracle begins as:

    A miracle is an event not explicable by natural or scientific laws.Such an event may be attributed to a supernatural being (a deity), magic, a miracle worker, a saint or a religious leader.

    Informally, the word “miracle” is often used to characterise any beneficial event that is statistically unlikely but not contrary to the laws of nature, such as surviving a natural disaster, or simply a “wonderful” occurrence, regardless of likelihood, such as a birth. Other such miracles might be: survival of an illness diagnosed as terminal, escaping a life-threatening situation or ‘beating the odds’. Some coincidences may be seen as miracles.

    ————————————————–
    I hope you would agree that the events described in the second para are not miracles in the strict sense of the word usually used in apologetics.

    • I would, with the caveat that the fact that an event is lawful according to our best understanding of the laws of nature does not mean that it is not miraculous; does not mean that it is not an act of God, an intervention by him in the course of history. This is the gist of the argument of the original post. That I survived a life-threatening situation through a series of ordinary causal steps does not mean that my escape was not an act of God. The entire history of the world, after all, is in the first instance an act of God; he provides for everything that happens, and for everything that his creatures do.

      As for the first sentence of the Wikipedia text quoted, I note only (again) that *no* mundane event is entirely explicable by natural or scientific laws. This is a straightforward consequence of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem. No consistent formal logical calculus capable at least of simple arithmetic is completable. A complete and consistent scientific Theory of Everything is a logical impossibility.

      By the definition of the miraculous given in the first sentence of the Wikipedia text you quote, then, *all* mundane events are miraculous. This rather absurd result indicates that the Wikipedia definition is not correct. An event is not miraculous because we cannot explain it, but because it is an act of God. An act of God would be just as miraculous even if we could explain it.

      • you are not making requisite distinctions between various “acts of God” that are required in the discussion.
        There are providential acts of God, there are a distinct class of miraculous acts, and again a distinct class of sustaining the natural order.

      • God’s creative act vouchsafes creaturely actuality, so that there is a mundane history in the first place. His providential act influences creaturely acts in such a way as to generate mundane effects that are among the typical final causes of their factors so as to further God’s purpose in creation. His miraculous act is his own, and generates mundane effects that are not among the typical final causes of its creaturely factors.

        God being simple, all such acts, that seem to us to differ in kind and number, are one great act.

        Notwithstanding all that, if a divine act is to operate upon the history of this world at all, this world must be such as to admit of such divine operations. It must be by nature capable of the actualization of miracles.

      • That nothing can be perfectly explicated by our finite minds does not mean that there isn’t a profound gulf between an ordinary birth and the Virgin Birth in terms of explicablity.

        Explicablity is precisely the criterion that Church Herself uses to judge claims for miracles as I pointed out in connection with Lourdres.

        To deny that we have access to an understanding of natural phenomena is to deny natural reason altogether and thus deny Natural Law itself. To explain miracles in terms of natural causes (Vrigin Birth as quantum tunnelling) is to deny miracles themselves. So this project, a la Tipler, brings no benefit but considerable drawbacks are its only yield. It is bad science and worse theology.

      • That nothing can be perfectly explicated by our finite minds does not mean that there isn’t a profound gulf between an ordinary birth and the Virgin Birth in terms of explicability.

        True. I never suggested otherwise.

        Explicability is precisely the criterion that Church Herself uses to judge claims for miracles as I pointed out in connection with Lourdes.

        Inexplicability is a fairly reliable index, but that is all. It reflects, not the true ontological causes of an event, but only our comprehension of those causes. Whether or not we understand the causes of a miracle, it remains the case that it is expressed in this world via natural operations thereof. The pillar of fire was somehow some sort of real fire. The body of Jesus is a standard human body.

        To deny that we have access to an understanding of natural phenomena is to deny natural reason altogether and thus deny Natural Law itself.

        Another improper reduction. I never denied any such thing. From the fact that we cannot understand anything perfectly, it does not follow that we cannot understand at all.

        To explain miracles in terms of natural causes (Vrigin Birth as quantum tunnelling) is to deny miracles themselves.

        Vishmehr, you’re hopeless. For the umpteenth time: *I don’t think we can explain miracles in terms of their natural causes,* and I have never suggested that we can.

        I think you are trolling me again. Write with due care henceforth, or I’ll delete your comments as being a waste of time.

      • @Vishmehr: “To explain miracles in terms of natural causes (…) is to deny miracles themselves.”

        Be that as it may, it is also blatantly contradictory of the assertion you made against Kristor in the sentence immediately preceding it, namely that he has (somewhere or other in this thread, I know not where) denied human access to a knowledge of natural phenomena.

        So, according to your interpretation of what Kristor has written here, Vishmehr, he has both *denied* human access to knowledge of natural phenomena, and *affirmed* it at the same time. Indeed, it is even worse than that; he has, according to you, affirmed what he has denied to the extent that human access to knowledge of natural phenomena is so extensive as to give us ability to explain even miracles in terms of natural phenomena.

        And yet, you don’t even bother to make mention of this palpable contradiction, choosing rather to treat them, by omission, as non-contradictory claims, and to attack them as such in back-to-back sentences?

        No wonder Kristor begins to think you’re trolling him; I’m beginning to think so too.

        As far as the Church’s relying on explicability to confirm or deny a miracle has occurred, well, sure, given that the Church apparently investigates the merits of thousands of miracle claims a year, it has to have some fairly reliable method by which to differentiate between extraordinary and ordinary acts of God.

        But perhaps it somehow escapes you that explicability is itself not an absolutely reliable means of differentiating between the two? For one thing, over the time and course of things, human knowledge of natural phenomena increases with advances in science and technology and so forth. So, what once was confirmed miraculous on the basis of inexplicability, is not necessarily so in today’s world given advances in human knowledge of natural phenomena. And as Kristor has, I think, already intimated, that something is inexplicable today, doesn’t mean it will be so a hundred years from now.

        What I’m getting at is that inexplicability is a means the Church uses to sift through miracle claims and narrow them down to the most plausible among them, but inexplicability cannot possibly be the bottom line for delineating between them; the bottom line has to be, rather, and as Kristor has already pointed out, that *in spite of* our ability to explain them (or not) at any given time, miracles are miracles because they are extraordinary, as opposed to ordinary, acts of God. E.g., the events surrounding the Exodus, culminating in the parting of the Red Sea. And again, notwithstanding that we can now explain certain aspects of them in terms of natural phenomena.

        What you’re doing here, Vishmehr, is clingling too tightly to the “inexplicability” criterion the Church uses for sifting through multitudes of miracle claims, determined as you are that a miracle can’t be a miracle unless it cannot in any way involve a natural explanation. That you say so doesn’t make it so, but I’m actually fine with that so long as it isn’t so strictly adhered to as to deny that a perfectly good, reasonable, natural explanation for the parting of the sea is to be had, given what we know today of tsunamis vs. what was known at the time of the exodus.

        What we know today doesn’t make the event itself any less miraculous. Indeed, quite the opposite. I mean, imagine how very precise every single detail of that event had to have been to have occurred at that very moment in history, at that very place, etc, and tell me that its explicability in terms of natural phenomena doesn’t make it all the more miraculous! I mean, can *anyone* explain how God pulled it all off? Therein lies the true miracle.

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