Even if it were true that all human religious beliefs could be explained by psycho-social factors, would this really show that the claim “God exists” is false?
Miracle and Science
Have figured prominently in many of the great world religions
Many people have felt that miracles are important supports for their faith and sense of hope (in the face of hardships such as severe illness)
Many people use the word “miracle” simply as a synonym for “wondrous” or “amazing”, but these more general uses of the term are not what we are interested in for the purposes of the written assignment or class discussion
We’re interested in “theological miracles”—those events thought to be the result of the actions of supernatural forces, such as God or gods
Definitions of Miracle
The author C.S. Lewis provides a very common definition: An interference with nature by supernatural power
Richard Swinburne (and Larmer): An event of an extraordinary kind, brought about by a god, and of religious significance
Christine Overall: A break in the space-time causal sequence
Extraordinary events require extraordinary (i.e. Scientific) proof, but reverse holds for all miracles
Hallucination, misperception, the “desire for the astonishing” or simple human mischief are more likely explanations, e.g.
Why do competing religions all have miracles? Why wouldn’t a God simply favour one religion (the true one) with miracles?
“Classical” Scientific View or “Naturalism”
Deterministic: Everything that happens according to strict laws, with not exceptions
Mechanistic: The world is like a machine (clock)
Materialistic: The world is composed of a bunch of distinct material objects (atoms)
No room for operation of chance, free will or the actions of supernatural forces in the process of “causation” (physical objections interacting with other physical objects in a cause effect relationship governed by strict “laws of nature)
Mysterious events that occur (such as supposed miracles, or paranormal phenomenon, etc) will eventually be explained in purely natural terms—there are no real mysteries, just things we haven’t fully explained yet
Objections to Hume
Is rejecting miracle “on principle” really a scientific way of looking at the question?
Why must one assume deterministic (mechanistic) view of nature?
Why must one assume that God would not respond to wishes of non-believers (exclusivist)?
The physics of the very small developed early in the 20th century
Its well established theories present many findings that run counter to classical views:
Subatomic particles seem to behave as particles and waves
Seem to occupy two positions at once
Seem to influence other particles over vast distances, with no apparent connection
Observer seems to play a necessary role
The New World Physics in the 20th Century (Quantum Mechanics)
World is not necessarily mechanistic, but seems interconnected (more like an organism)
World is not necessarily deterministic, but possibly ruled by a mixture of law and probability, such that very strange events can happen within the ranges of quantum probability
World is not clearly material, but is more like an information system (perhaps held in a great “world mind”)
Classical Scientific View no longer makes sense
John Polkinghorne (Contemporary Physicist and Theologian)
Miracles are possible, but not in Lewis’ sense