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Monday, February 16, 2004

Miracles, Part II

This is the second post about Miralces by C.S. Lewis...

In the second part (chapters 6 through 8) Lewis addresses misgivings and red herrings related to the views he's presented in part 1. These are arguments against miracles that come from the side of naturalism. These include the ideas that since the brain is the seat of reason then it must have a material basis and that if there were a supernatural plane it would be obvious to all. To the first Lewis replies that since we have material bodies rational thought always involves "a state of the brain, in the long run a relation of atoms". However, that does not mean that Reason is not something more than cerebral biochemistry (countering the later reductionist arguments of Edward O. Wilson that I blogged about previously). To the second, he replies that the very act of thinking points us to the supernatural through our reasoning if we would only pause to see it. But we’re preoccupied with the natural and so it slips by us.

In dealing with red herrings Lewis refutes the common notions that the ancients (early Christians) had no knowledge of the laws of nature and so were able to accept the miracles recorded in the New Testament, and that they had a false conception of the universe leading them to think that all things exist for man's benefit. Contrary to the first notion, all people understood the significance of the virgin birth and the other recorded miracles precisely because they did violate the normal workings of nature. To the second, Lewis notes that the idea of the immensity of the universe and the earth's place in it was known before the birth of Christianity (by the time of Ptolemy to be sure) and that in any case to assume that Christianity is false because man and the earth are small in comparison with the universe is a logical fallacy. Size is not a proxy for importance or value. In fact, Christianity emphatically does not teach that the universe was created for man (a straw man argument that Stephen Jay Gould used so effectively in some essays to argue that Christianity was improbable). Rather, our awe at the immensity of the universe and our reliance on God in the face of that awe is the very seat of religious experience.

Both of these red herrings smack of the fallacy that Lewis called in other works, "chronological snobbery", or the belief that only the modern mind has grasped the world correctly and that all previous conceptions, being old, are automatically incorrect.

Lewis then finishes dealing with these types of counter arguments in chapter 8 by showing that a miracle cannot be defined as something that "breaks the laws of Nature" since the laws are mere descriptions of what happens when events are not introduced from the supernatural world. In turning the point on its head as Lewis so often does he says that the laws of Nature "far from making it impossible that miracles should occur, make it certain that if the Supernatural is operating they must occur". In other words a miracle is simply an event caused by the Supernatural, which then is subsumed into the flow of natural events that continue from that point on.

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