I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above.
In this chapter, Fisher begins his defense of the possibility of miracles. Join me for a reflection on some of the key issues that come up in this chapter.
First, the question of defining miracles. Do you think that Fisher’s definition(s) are adequate? I ask this because I wonder whether there is potential for a false dichotomy between natural/supernatural phenomena. That is, I wonder if defining miracle as “an event which the forces of nature–including the natural powers of man–cannot of themselves produce and which must, therefore, be referred to a supernatural agency” (11) means that any storm, wind, etc. could not be referred to as miraculous. Clearly a wind that arises “out of nothing” without natural possibility of occurring as it did would be miraculous as defined here, but would it be if God just used a “natural” event? I’m not endorsing this theory, but suppose the turning of the Nile to “blood” is a reference to the color of the water being reddened by red mud that ran down the Nile from upriver. The timing was perfect, but the event was natural in this case. Does that make it natural rather than miraculous? Does the timing not factor at all? Would such an explanation remove the Nile turning to blood from the realm of the miraculous?
I don’t propose any specific answer to these questions, but my gut says that such an event would still be miraculous in at least some sense. And if that’s the case, the definition of miracle used here does create the false dichotomy I noted. Am I wrong on this? If so, why?
Second, the question of free will. Let’s not start a debate on the meaning of free will or anything of the sort. What I want to point to is Fisher’s use of free will as a “miracle” (12-13). He notes that the will moves physical forces yet it cannot be detected in a physical way. I think this is an intriguing example, and I wonder if others agree that this may be seen as “miraculous.”
However, I also wonder if his definition of miracles works against his example. After all, there is a clause he puts above: “including the natural powers of [hu]man[s].” Is free will in his example a natural power of humanity? I would think so. But in that case, it is not miraculous by his own definition. Is my reasoning fault here?
Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).
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