Thursday, 5 May 2011

Defining a miracle

There are two primary ways in which to define a miracle: (i) Hume's violation definition and (ii) the contingency definition

The Contingency definition

This definition is one proposed by RFHolland and Tillich. They classify any event with religious significance as a miracle. They give an example of a boy playing on railways tracks and a train due to appear there any moment. The boy cannot escape as he stuck in the rail tracks. The train happens to stop just before him because the train driver has a heavy lunch and fainted which forced the train into auto pilot mode and brake. The mother overseeing this believes this has got to do with divine intervention and holds religious significance - Holland therefore concludes it can be classified as a miracle. Another example is the West Baptist Church fire incident in 1950.

"A coincidence which can be  taken religiously as a sign and called a miracle"

The problem however is that this relies on subjective understanding of miracles and is not helpful when trying to critically assess miracles.

Hume's violation definition

Hume defines a miracle as any event which violates laws of nature.

"A transgression of a natural law by a particular violation of the Deity"

For example, in Exodus it is described the Moses split the water in half

Hume didn't say the occurrence of miracles were impossible. He said it is impossible to prove a miracle because the probability that the testimony of a miracle is in some way fake is greater than the probability of the laws of nature being violated.

However, this brings another problem, it assumes that we know what is meant by laws of nature. Laws of nature and scientific theory is also being developed and renewed and in no way is it absolute and accurate hence it is not a criteria in which to a judge a miracle.

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