In our last post we began considering a better way of defining miracles. Much of the objections raised against the miracles upon which Christianity is based attempt to shut-down apologetic attempts to defend and communicate the Christian faith.
The opening passage above summarizes the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. To exclude miracles from any discussion of Jesus Christ is to miss out on rightly identifying the Jesus of History Who is the Christ of Faith. Objections to the reality of miracles as proper subjects of study and conversation have been handled by able Christian thinkers. This author would contend that such objections are far from conversation stoppers. Much of their weakness lies in the standard definition of "miracles" as "violations of nature's laws". This definition is simply inadequate.
What exactly are natural laws?
Whenever scientists study the physical world, the cause/effect relationships between forces and the objects upon which they act are noted. Certain physical constants (such as the force of gravity or the speed of light) are factored into what one sees in the physical world. Other arbitrary quantities such as the amount of decline of usable energy in a given system (called "entropy" or the second law of thermodynamics) are also includes in the scientific description of the world.
Scientists express such descriptions in terms of mathematical equations. We won't list those here, however, we will observe that in describing the regular patterns we observe in the physical world, we call such descriptions "natural laws".
Natural laws do not "prescribe" how things ought to be, but instead "describe" how things are. For example, if I have a baseball dropped from my hand, the "law of gravity" describes the rate at which that ball will fall and its end result. Such a "law" describes the course of things apart from an intervening agent. Whenever we talk about physical laws of nature, we will use the phrase "all things being equal" to describe the state of affairs that cause and effect events happen without the intervention of an agent.
But what happens whenever an agent or intervening force alters the processes of nature? Case in point: if I play catch with someone, and that person catches the ball - has the entire course of nature been disrupted? Not at all. Rather, the altering of the ball's trajectory can easily be described as the intervention of an agent (in this case, a catcher).
So what about miracles? Miracles can be said to explain the course of our physical world acted upon by an invisible, maximally great, omni-powerful, all-good God. God's normal method of maintaining our world by way of nature's constants and quantities is what we call His "ordinary providence". Whenever God chooses to directly act upon a physical part of His creation, we call such activities "miracles" or "extraordinary providence".
Miracles then describe what occurs when God chooses to directly act in our world
We noted in our last post how one component for effectively defining a miracle is in its relative infrequency or rarity. Such a trait is an important starting point, since natural laws "describe" and than "prescribe" what are typical state of affairs in the absence of intervening forces such as intelligent agents. Today we look once again to building onto improving our understanding of what constitutes a miracle.
Adding To Our Improved Definition Of Miracle: A Miracle Rarely Occurs And Is A Naturally Impossible Event
Christian apologist, Dr. William Lane Craig, refers to miracles as "naturally impossible events", meaning that no natural processes can bring about what is otherwise a miracle. On Craig's discussion of miracles, the natural laws and processes that are observed in the natural world contain inherent properties that cause certain effects.
As we mentioned in the last post, a miracle is an extremely irregular event. Dr. Craig's definition specifies the source of miracles - namely an event that cannot be explained by naturalistic methods and thus can only be of supernatural origin. His definition of miracles being "naturally impossible" events identifies the source of the said miracle.
Therefore, we have strengthened our new and improved definition of miracles over against the old definition that defined miracles as: "naturally impossible events". We can now define miracles as "infrequent naturally impossible events". This additional description describes for us what we ought to expect when suspecting a miracle (namely, it's infrequency) and its source ("naturally impossible" or "supernatural" - i.e Divine).
As we close out today's post, we can evaluate what we have concluded on the subject of miracles. First, we have defined a miracle as an event that "infrequently occurs". Secondly, per arguments marshaled by authors such as Dr. William Lane Craig, we can express the source of a miracle as "naturally impossible" whenever naturalistic explanations are less improbable than the notion that God is acting in the event.
In the next post we will add one final component to our attempt to offer a better definition of the miraculous.