Orthodox America

  The Problem of Miracles

Religion acknowledges miracles.

      Some scientists (insufficiently educated in philosophy) categorically reject the possibility of miracles and regard a miracle as contradictory to the laws of nature. Very often such scholars assert that miracles appear to be either a fiction, a fraud, or such a phenomenon which science cannot at present explain, but will certainly be explained scientifically later on. What is unintelligible today might be intelligible and explainable tomorrow.

      Science, setting for itself the problem of an exact, objective proof of phenomena investigated experimentally, is fully correct in approaching miraculous phenomena in an attempt at scientific enlightenment. It is without doubt true that often so called miraculous phenomena prove to be not at all miraculous. A fiction or deceit in such cases is lawfully revealed through a scientific method of verification. It is also undoubtedly true that many phenomena, not understood at the present time, may be scientifically explained at some future time. But the problem of a miracle is not fully explained by this.

      It is necessary, therefore, first of all, to define what in religion is called a miracle. A miracle is a phenomenon which is unexplainable not only at the present time but, in general, can never be fully explained merely from a scientific point of view. The philosophical problem of a miracle, therefore, arrives at the question: Is a miracle possible? In other words, is such a phenomenon possible which cannot be explained from the point of view of science?

      Very often, atheistically and materialistically inclined scholars say that every phenomenon of nature and every event occurring in the world can be explained by the laws of nature alone, without the help of God or of miracles. This is not correct. At least two cases are unexplainable by the laws of nature alone: 1) The very existence of the world or nature, and 2) the laws of nature themselves. Therefore, the existence of the world and its laws are miracles.

       Who created the world and the laws of nature? There are not and there cannot be any logical obstacles for the belief that the cause of the world and its laws is God.

       The English philosopher, Berkeley (1685-1753), gave this reasoning concerning, the above. The laws of nature, said he, are those means through which God governs the world, and the actions of these laws of nature are actions of God Himself. As a result, where God finds it necessary according to His intentions or plans, He can change these constant methods of His activity in the world so that a phenomenon will occur which is unexplainable by the laws of nature alone; that is, an actual miracle will occur. Almighty God can, whenever lie chooses, even change "the order of nature."

       Very often we may happen to hear it said that a miracle contradicts the laws of nature, but the word "contradicts" is out of place here. We will try to analyze this question carefully.

       Let us suppose that on the earth everything exists except man and his consciousness. In such a world can a steam engine appear? Of course, it is impossible! But why? All the component parts of the steam engine exist in the world of steel, copper, iron, wood, water, etc. Is it possible that by accidental motion of the particles of which a steam engine is composed, during a long period of time, millions of years, that a steam engine could fabricate itself just by chance? No, this is impossible. Actually, for a steam engine to put in an appearance, the intelligence of the man who designed and made it is a necessity. Without the aid of consciousness, the steam engine is a miracle, even though all its components exist in nature.

       As it is, this miracle--the appearance of an engine--does not contradict the laws of nature. All the laws of nature remain inviolate. But they--the laws of inert unconscious nature--are overcome by a new factor, consciousness. In order to explain the miracle of mechanics, a recognition of a "higher factor," consciousness, is necessary.

      Now we turn to consciousness itself. Can consciousness be explained by inert, unconscious laws of nature? If these laws could not create a steam engine, even less chance would they have to create something incomparably more complicated -consciousness. (Such nonsense is assumed only by materialists who regard consciousness as a product of evolving matter.) Even consciousness cannot explain itself. Consciousness can create a steam engine, but it cannot create itself. It follows, then that consciousness is also a miracle. To explain this miracle it is necessary to accept even a more complicated, higher and more complete principle, which causes such phenomena like consciousness. This higher cause of consciousness (a higher Intellect) is God, faith in Whom is not impeded by anything found in science or philosophy.

      If man's consciousness, meddling with inert and unconscious nature and overcoming it, can make such things (miracles) like steam engines, then the higher, divine Intellect, having created man's consciousness and inert nature, directly intervening in inert nature and overcoming it (by powers unknown to us of His creative, divine Intellect), can create phenomena even more greatly complicated; for instance, to transform water into wine or to resurrect the dead. In these phenomena the laws of nature are not violated; a miracle does not contradict the laws of nature but overcomes them by higher forces unknown to us.

       When scholars came to Newton and expressed perplexity in regard to his belief in the future resurrection of bodies, he answered in the following manner: Taking a pile of copper and steel filings and mixing them together, he offered to separate the steel from the copper. Then he took a large magnet and with its help he quickly separated the steel filings from the copper. The Lord God evidently has forces which are more complicated and unknown to us (special magnets), with the help of which He can perform a resurrection of the bodies of all the dead at the future fearful Judgment Nothing interfered with Newton's belief in this.

M. Andreyev

Originally published by Holy Trinity Monastery (Jordanville) in 1957 as Orthodox-Christian Apologetics this series of courses by Andreyev has been edited and republished under the title Orthodox Apologetic Theology (216 pgs) by the St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, who kindly gave permission for this extract to be reprinted here 

Andreyev (1894 1976) had a lifelong passion for truth, which led him from the revolutionary fervor of his youth In St Petersburg through various Western philosophical trends, to the fullness of Orthodoxy. A member of the Catacomb Church, he suffered imprisonment before coming to America where, in 1950, he joined the staff of Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville. With doctorates in philosophy, medicine, literature and theology, he was a brilliant apologist for the Orthodox faith. His writings (he authored numerous articles and books, including the posthumously published Russia's Catacomb Saints) constitute a catacomb theology and philosophy for Orthodox Christians today


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