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Are miracles possible? Part 1

The biggest challenge to the historical case for Jesus’ resurrection is not historical in nature, but philosophical. This is the prejudice against miracles in historical investigation and higher biblical criticism. In this series of posts we shall see that the traditional arguments against miracles are not successful and assess the methodological naturalism that has under-girded historiography of the twentieth century.

Benedict De Spinoza

Spinoza’s argument against the possibility of miracles is based on the classical conception of God, specifically on the attribute of divine simplicity, which entails that God’s knowledge is identical to his will. He reasons that because God’s knowledge is necessary so must be his will, and because God wills the laws of nature, the laws of nature must therefore be inviolable. Thus miracles, which are violations of the laws of nature, are impossible.

Contrary to Spinoza, classical theology does not conceive of God’s knowledge as necessary. Accordingly, neither is his will necessary nor his delight in keeping the laws of nature a regular feature of the world.

Further, there is no reason to think that miracles are not just as eternal and inviolable as the law of nature. How lawful would nature be if it did not bow every once and again to its creator?

It follows then that Spinoza’s theological argument against miracles is fatally flawed. As Timothy McGrew points out,

Considered as an attempt at persuasion, Spinoza’s argument is unlikely to persuade anyone who does not start out with his identification of the laws of nature with the will of God. From a more traditional theistic standpoint, the argument is simply an elaborate exercise in begging the question.

In the next post, we’ll look at David Hume’s objection to miracles that is more in vogue today.

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