It’s A Miracle!

by Dish Staff

Or maybe not. Recently Matt Lewis, as part of a longer discussion of modern belief in miracles, mentioned one from his own life:

For instance, once, many years ago, I went out late at night try to start my car and go somewhere (this was at a time in my life when my night didn’t begin until, say, 11 pm). If my car had started, I would have backed onto Maryland’s Route 17, as I always did when heading south, and I would have been hit by a speeding car. Now, I always backed onto the road, but this was not a problem since you could see for a long distance. Except, on this particular night, seconds after my car didn’t start, another car flew by without its headlights on. There is no doubt that something was technically wrong with my car. Had I summoned a mechanic at that instant, he could probably have quantified the reason my ignition failed to start. There would have been a scientific or mechanical reason.

But why did it happen at this very moment when I was in danger? Perhaps it was only a coincidence. But I’d like to think it showed that God intervened, that he has a purpose for me.

Damon Linker asserts that what Lewis describes isn’t really what traditionally has been meant by miracles – instead, his story merely is a form of “soft providentialism” – and goes on to run down the critique of miracles leveled by early modern philosophers like Hobbes, Spinoza, and Hume. How those arguments have shaped the world in which we live:

Centuries later, the philosophical critique of miracles has been so successful that many of the faithful are more comfortable affirming the truth of soft providentialism, which is perfectly compatible with science because it makes no empirically verifiable (or refutable) truth-claims about the world at all. It’s even compatible with Darwinian evolution, which posits the radically non-theistic view that species evolve through a process of random mutation and adaptation, since it’s always possible that God plays a crucial and hidden (but scientifically undemonstrable) role in the process. Perhaps God causes evolution’s seemingly random mutations, or controls the environment to which these mutated organisms adapt themselves.

The good news for religion is that it has survived the philosophical-scientific assault on miracles. But the bad news for religion is that it now lingers on in a profoundly weakened state. Where faith once confidently ventured truth-claims about the whole of creation and its metaphysical underpinnings, now it often offers mere expressions of subjective feeling about a world that science exclusively reveals and explains. That represents a remarkable retreat.