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Saturday, March 06, 2004

Miracles Part IIIb

Lewis next counters the argument regarding the propriety of miracles, i.e. that God wouldn’t intervene in the order he created. However, to address this argument Lewis first backs up to the argument about what kind of God Christians have in view. Interestingly, he notes that "modern" pantheistic notions of God as being in and through all of creation as a more of an amorphous force are really not all that new. In fact contrary to the modern notions of religious development (see Karen Armstrong’s 1993 best selling book The History of God for a quintessential example of the modern analysis that concludes that mysticism is highest form of religion) he views pantheism as the natural state of man’s religion as evidenced by eastern religions as well as Greek thought before Plato. In this view he lumps the mystics, who, however real their experience and true their vision of God is, actually end up leading people toward pantheism by focusing on what God is not (defining God ultimately as "Nothing") and thereby removing any positive attributes. Once again by removing the anthropomorphized terms and the personal God of Christianity we are required by our minds to substitute vague images of gases and diffusion.

Contrary to being a more nuanced and developed view of God, pantheism produces what is most comfortable and natural to man; a God that asks nothing, demands nothing, and to which man is not accountable. Lewis also depicts this view as too simple to reflect reality since in our experience more nuanced views of science (quantum physics and relativity, DNA and inheritance in biology) are inherently more complex, i.e. a triune God who becomes incarnate versus a life-force. To the contrary Lewis argues that if God exists he created the opaque universe of real things and therefore must himself be a real thing. Therefore the supernatural should be viewed as more than physical not less. In other words, and borrowing from the Platonic idea of types (which is integral to Lewis' view of Christianity and espoused in most of his apologetical works – he views Christianity as having subsumed both Judaism and Platonism), not only our reason but our very physicality is a weak reflection or shadow of the ultimate reality. Lewis used this idea vividly in his book The Great Divorce, where heaven and the saints are depicted as substantial and concrete while hell and the lost are ghostly and dispersed.

Lewis then circles back to address the argument on the propriety of miracles by asserting that those who feel uncomfortable in the idea of miracles are assuming that the supernatural is not at the center of man’s experience, in Lewis words "the very thing this universal story is about". He appeals to our necessarily limited knowledge of God’s purposes by drawing analogies from grammar to speech, meter to poems, and individual "pixels" in a mosaic to the full scope of a painting, in order to plant the seed of doubt that nature is indeed the whole show.

In the final chapter of the third section Lewis discusses the issue of probability and its relation to miracles. He begins by analyzing the argument espoused by David Hume in his famous essay On Miracles. In that essay Hume argues that probability rules out the possibility of miracles because the regularity of Nature’s course is supported by "firm and unalterable experience" and that therefore any natural explanation, no matter how improbable, is always to be preferred over a supernatural or miraculous explanation. Lewis counters by noting that Hume’s entire argument rests on the assumption of the "Uniformity of Nature" since seeing an event happen millions of times in succession does not in reality make it any more likely that it will happen again. In fact, a all would concede that miracles are immensely improbable much in the same way that most any event is improbable before its occurrence. As a result of Hume’s assumption of uniformity, he leaves no room for the possibility of miracles by simply defining miracles as impossible.

And in fact, Lewis argues that Hume also ends up leaving no room for his own belief in the Uniformity of Nature. If one believes that "all that exists is Nature…if our own deepest convictions are merely the by-products of an irrational process, then clearly there is not the slightest ground for supposing that our sense of fitness and our consequent faith in uniformity tell us anything about a reality external to ourselves." In essence, if you throw out God, then you also throw out reason and the basis for modern science and conversely, if you admit God then you must admit the possibility of miracles. "The Being who threatens Nature’s claim to omnipotence confirms her in her lawful occasions."

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