“By definition a miracle can never happen” Discuss.

This title is asking the student to consider different definitions of miracles and in particular Hume’s definition of ‘a violation of a law of nature’ – which could be considered to make miracles almost by definition impossible. Students could assess the strength of Hume’s a priori argument, and then consider other definitions of miracles such as those of Tillich, Holland and Wiles. Lewis and Ward could be used to provide a critique of Hume and Wiles.

Ever since Hume’s definition of a miracle as a ‘violation’ of a law of nature, there has been debate over whether miracles do or even can happen. The question I will be addressing in this essay is whether the violation definition of a miracle makes miracles impossible, and considering the strengths of alternative definitions of miracle.

14 thoughts on ““By definition a miracle can never happen” Discuss.

  1. This is a great wesbite, thank you! I have my philosophy and ethics exam tomorrow, do you have any idea on predicting the questions and what the highest probability is for certain topics to come up?

    Thanks!

    1. It’s a dangerous game prediction! The essays I have put on here recently have aimed at helping students with areas that may come up. So disembodied existence, Hick or Dawkins , Wittgenstein eternity of god, def of miracles, aims of William James, numinous exp, and via negativa have all not appeared for a while! Good luck for tomorrow!

    2. Hi Charlotte
      Just wondering how you got on in your exam – Dawkins, Wittgenstein and Eternity of God all came up, so my students were really happy!

    1. Haha yes, thanks Julia! My students were really happy I can tell you! I will have a look and post something here soon.

    1. Ok, so in June 2012 Eternity, Dawkins and Aristotle, Language Games (Wittgenstein) and Conversion experiences came up. If you look above you’ll see I predicted three of those amongst some others. It seems we could be due for those others then.

      They were: disembodied existence, definition of miracles (perhaps linked to Hume), main aims and conclusions of William James (not the 4 characteristics of mystical exp.), numinous experience (Rudolf Otto), and the via negativa. We haven’t had questions on revelation and sacred scripture for a little while either.

      Good luck and remember, there is no guarantee that any of these will come up!

      1. 3 out of 4 again – well done!!!

        so looks like odds on for miracles and revelation through scripture next time….

      2. Wow! That’s a pretty good success rate! Can you tell me what the questions were? No one at our centre sat the exam so I don’t have a copy of the question paper.

      3. one more time for a hat trick……

        my daughter sat the exam and she can’t remember the exact command words for all of them, but something like – 1- Critically assess the aims and conclusions of William James with reference to religious experience 2- ‘The via negativa (apophatic way) is the only way to talk about God’ Discuss 3- Evaluate the philosophical problems associated with the belief that God is omnibenevolent. 4- The idea of disembodied existence is incoherent’ Discuss.

  2. Can you please predict the questions in June 2013? I’m thinking: (Hume and) Wiles on miracles, Plato’s body and soul, Boethius and symbol/analogy/myth

    1. Hi Fran,
      There’s not been a question on numinous experience or one on miracles definition for a while. Whether we will get those questions I can’t say.

      1. Hello– just to let you know: symbols, Boethius, Wiles on miracles and life after death+problem of evil came up

  3. Hi Have you got any predictions for A2 Philosophy and Ethics?
    I looked on Philosophical Investigations, and have no ideas of what might come up on the Ethics exam.

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