C.S. Lewis on Miracles - page 4

 


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From the Fall 2004 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

C.S. Lewis on Miracles

by Art Lindsley, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow, C.S. Lewis Institute

 
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  Unless you are absolutely certain that there is no supernatural power such as God in the universe, it would be hard to be so dogmatic as to say that every instance of claimed miracles is false. Granted, miracles are rare and might seem strange given our everyday experience, but that does not mean they ought to be automatically excluded. Why should we assume that what we have experienced is all there is to reality?

Improbable

In philosophical circles, it is common to argue that miracles are improbable. In fact, David Hume’s famous argument against miracles maintains that it is always more likely that any particular claim to a miracle is false than that the miracle really took place. In other words, it is always easier in light of the “firm and unalterable” laws of nature to believe that those who testify to a miracle are in error than that they are telling the truth. For instance, there are billions of instances in which dead people stay dead and only occasional stories of dead people rising. The odds would be several billion to one (or two or three or so on) against such a report being true.
  When I was in graduate school, I took part in the regular meetings of a group called “Apologia” which consisted of a number of believing graduate students from various disciplines. I remember spending many hours on Hume’s philosophical critique. The more we explored the argument, the stranger it seemed to me. I asked one philosopher who had been deeply impacted by this argument:

What if 500 people were claimed to have risen from the dead and 5,000 people in each case were said to have witnessed the resurrection, would that bring a different result?

  I was assured that “no” it would still be several billion versus 5,000 in each case. It would not matter if I and all my friends witnessed 100 miracles; the result would still be the same. As I thought about it, the question emerged: “Why do the instances that establish natural law have to count against a reported miracle?” Rather than weighing the evidence for a miracle, natural law, the usual way things work, was being used to exclude the unusual (miracle). Lewis says:

No, of course we must agree with Hume that if there is absolutely ‘uniform experience’ against miracles, in other words, they have never happened, why then they never have. Unfortunately, we know the experience against them to be uniform only if we know that all the reports of them are false. And we know all the reports are false only if we know already that miracles have never occurred. In fact, we are arguing in a circle.

Hume allows no instance of a miracle, because another explanation is always preferable to him such as, in Lewis’s words,

...collective hallucinations, hypnotism of unconsenting spectators, widespread instantaneous conspiracy….Such procedure is from the purely historical point of view, sheer midsummer’s night madness unless we start by knowing that any miracle is more improbable than the most improbably natural event. Do we know this…?

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