Philosophy and God



Are miracles evidence for the existence of God?
The first argument: 1. Miracles occur Therefore 2. God exists

What is a miracle?

But what about this…

Face on Mars
(as photographed from the Viking Mars mission 1976)

Face on Mars
(As photographed in 1998)

Face on Mars

Is this a miracle? Or evidence of Life on Mars? As humans, we are hardwired to find ‘faces’ in anything that vaguely resembles a face. So maybe there’s another explanation for the appearance of Jesus in the clouds. Maybe the random cloud formation accidentally looks a bit like a person, and our imagination does the rest of the work.

What is a miracle?
1. An event produced by divine intervention

BUT, then the first argument is valid but trivial. That is to say that the conclusion is assumed in the premise. Its like saying: 1. Trees have leaves, THEREFORE leaves exist.

What is a miracle?
2. A physically impossible event

BUT if an event occurs, then surely it is physically possible.

What is a miracle?
3. An event that violates the laws of nature as we understand them. BUT, then what is a miracle at one time may at a later time (after scientific progress) not be a miracle.

What is a miracle?
4. An event that has no natural cause. Let’s use this to rewrite the argument.

The second argument 1. Events that have no natural cause do occur 2. The most convincing explanation of such events is that they caused by God. THEREFORE 3. Probably God exists

Premise 1: Events with no natural cause occur. OBJECTIONS: 1. We cannot prove 1: we can only exclude some natural causes, not all. 2. We have more reason to think that all events have natural causes than to trust reports of alleged miracles. 3. If an event is physically possible, it must fall under a Natural Law. It must have some natural cause. BUT: there is a gap in reasoning here, what about counter-examples from quantum physics?

Reply: Quantum physics could operate according to Natural Laws, just not yet discovered.

Premise 2: The most convincing explanation is that such events are caused by God. OBJECTIONS: 1. If God has foreknowledge, what need for intervention? BUT perhaps God cannot foretell the future. 2. If God is omnipotent and benevolent, how can God allow situations requiring a miracle?

3. Why assume that an event with no known natural cause must have a non-natural cause (and that that cause is God)?

David Hume’s (1711-1776) view on miracles An event should only be considered a miracle if it would have been more miraculous for the event to not have been a miracle.

In other words, what is most likely? 1) The event was a true miracle, or 2) Someone is trying to trick us, or perhaps made a mistake and misinterpreted the event.

If the second option is the best answer to the question, then the event cannot be classified as a miracle.

Some reasons why people assume that an event with no known natural cause must have a non-natural cause (and that that cause is God)?
follows prayer/religious prophecy (could be coincidence) Is the sort of event a divine being would have performed in that context favors the good/religious Is accompanied by a ‘message’ or manifestation Has a ‘moral’ Meets some human need

So, the argument from Miracles fails. But what about other experiences of God?

The Argument from Experience
The First Argument
1. I have experience of God THEREFORE 2. God exists PROBLEM It’s the same as saying: 1. I have an experience and God is what I am experiencing THEREFORE 2. God exist This argument assumes what it is trying to prove. The question we need to ask is: what reason do we have to think that 1 is true, i.e that God is what I am experiencing.

Which line is longer? How do you know?

They are the same length. Sometimes experience doesn’t show us what is really the case.

The first argument (revised) 1. I have experiences which I describe as ‘experiences of God’. 2. There is a check which will identify those experiences which are experiences of God. 3. By checking my experiences, I know that they are experiences of God.

THEREFORE 4. God exists

Problem with the revised first argument What checks are available? 1) Similarity to other people’s experiences: If my experience is similar to other people’s experience of God, then my experience is an experience of God.

BUT: Although other people may describe their experiences as ‘experience of God’, what check is there to show that these are experiences of God?

Problem with the revised first argument What checks are available?

2) The peculiar quality of the experience: if my experience doesn’t have anything in common with the rest of my life, then my experience is an experience of God. BUT:

No matter how unusual an experience is, the only way I can say it is an experience of God is if I have independent confirmation of the link between God and my experience. We can never have such independent knowledge.

Problem with the revised first argument What checks are available? 3) The practical consequences of the experience: if my experience is life-changing (particularly if it changes my life for the better), then my experience is an experience of God. BUT: This shows only that the experience is powerful. It does not show that it is an experience of God.

Problem with the revised first argument What checks are available? 4) Petitionary Prayer: I pray for advice, it seems to me that God tells me to take one particular course of action; I do this and the results are highly beneficial. This shows that my experience was an experience of God.

BUT: there are other explanations for what is going on here. e.g. coincidence.
ALSO: It doesn’t always work, so must be just coincidence. People forget about the hundreds of times that prayer fails.

The Second Argument 1. I have experiences which I describe as ‘experiences of God’ 2. There must be a cause of these experiences. 3. The most convincing explanation is that these experiences are caused by God.

THEREFORE 4. It is probable that God exists

Problem with the second argument
There is at least one other equally convincing explanation that accounts for religious experience by reference to diverse human needs. So 3 is false

Examples of other explanations… Religion as Proto-Science
Do not yet have scientific explanation for experience as in the past when people used gods to explain events such as volcanic eruptions.

Religion as Social Control
Religion used to keep people under control. Threaten that crops will fail if people do not work hard. Threaten that people will go to hell. Hard working people will go to heaven.

Religion as psychological ‘self-help’
Separation anxiety when infant removed from mother. Transitional objects like teddy bears help, but the separation anxiety is never resolved. It recurs in stressful situations. Religion is available to fill the gap.

REPLY: This is a more complicated explanation of my experiences than the explanation that they are caused by God. We should take the simpler explanation. BUT: 1) The God explanation is also highly complicated 2) The different parts of the alternative explanation are based on good evidence. This is not true of the God explanation (there is no evidence to support God explanation)

We want our beliefs to be rational. But are rational beliefs possible? RATIONAL BELIEFS * Beliefs that are supported by evidence * Beliefs that are self-evident (for example x=x, 2+2=4) True just because of the meanings of the words. Religion isn’t rational, but does that make it irrational? What about the following list. Are these rational or irrational?

Are these rational beliefs? 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. The room continues to exist when no-one is observing it. Human beings (other than myself) have minds The sun will rise tomorrow Blue looks Blue to everyone I have arms, legs, body, and exist in a physical world

Powerpoint by BRENT SILBY Produced at UPT Christchurch, New Zealand

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