Can We Believe in Miracles?

Authored by Richard Swinburne in Issue #28.4 of The Sower

The New Testament reports Jesus and the apostles performing many miracles of healing and exercising extraordinary powers over nature. There are similar claims about healing made by Christians today. What can an apologetics regarding miracles look like?
Things in the natural world behave in general in regular and predictable ways. If you throw a book out of a window it will fall to the ground; if you set light to a tree, and it burns away, it will become black and charred; if a man's heart stops beating for a few hours and he is by other normal criteria dead, he will not suddenly come to life again. And so on. For the last five hundred years, scientists have expressed this evident truth by saying that the world is governed by laws of nature which determine how things in it behave.

The Christian believes that the laws of nature operate because God makes them operate. (The reasons for believing this will be discussed later in the series). God has good reasons for making things behave like this, in regular and predictable ways. He is generous and wishes us to have substantial control of our own destiny, and substantial control over the natural world, to make it the way we want. Only if things behave in accord with natural laws can we make a difference to the world at other times and places by moving our bodies at this time and place. And only if laws operate in simple enough ways for us to understand can we utilize their operation.

For example, it is because natural laws make planted seeds grow into vegetables that we can grow vegetables by planting seeds, and so choose whether or not to grow vegetables. If the world was chaotic or operated on principles too difficult for us to understand, we could not control it.

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