The Miracle Paradox

Miracles are what makes a god godly. No matter your idea of god, the truth is that no one would waste a moment worshipping a god that could not perform miracles.

What is a miracle? You could say a miracle is any action of a god that alters reality to a strongly positive outcome. You’ve probably heard someone call a comeback victory – or a cancer remission – or someone winning the lottery a miracle. Are they? Not really. Lotteries are well understood mathematical games that only lottery organizers really win. Cancer battles are actually won by doctors and researchers. Anything with causes that can be fully understood and explained by math, science and reason is not a miracle – the universe is just behaving normally according to known rules. 

Well, what if god acts too subtly for us to detect? Maybe god’s hand pulled my favorite numbers in PowerBall. Maybe the ball would have bounced out, but god’s hand guided it into the goal. Well, honestly who cares? If we can’t know one way or the other if god did something, then why call it a miracle? Any time a god’s changes are too subtle for humans to detect then there is no reason for us to presume the god made any changes at all. If you then posit that even the most mundane occurrences are acts of god because god is the prime mover, then we still need to reserve the term ‘miracle’ for truly exceptional, unexplainable outcomes, not the simple cause and effect of the universe acting normally.

A miracle must be a clear violation of natural laws. Worldwide flooding, virgin births, raising the dead and feeding a multitude with five loaves and two small fishes are obvious miracles. Why? Because they are impossible. The rules that govern reality are being bent, broken or ignored – the universe not acting normally.

Miracles defy logic. You could argue that virgin birth and raising the dead are actually within reach of medical science – at least from a certain point of view. However, no one seriously claims that IVF and CPR are true miracles. They are merely extensions of natural law and human ingenuity. Similarly, if aliens show up tomorrow and demonstrate that they can flood the earth at will, this would not be considered a miracle because there would be a logical explanation in some form of advanced technology, some discoverable knowledge. In short, a miracle that can be explained is not a miracle at all. A miracle must present some kind of impossibility; a paradox.

This is where it gets weird. The requirement for miracles to exceed the bounds of logic leads us into uncertain territory. If a god is unlimited by logic, then any statement about made about them can be both true and false.  Such a god can be both good and evil, powerful and powerless; they can be simultaneously Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Satan, Baal, Vishnu and Thor. All bets are off. Creatures who are bound by logic such as ourselves cannot know anything for certain regarding such a being.

We could back-pedal a bit and claim that god cannot perform paradoxical, illogical acts. God cannot make a circle with corners, divide by zero or any number of perfectly impossible things. This instantly begs the question of what the limits of such a god’s power might be. We suddenly need to find out what things are possible and true and what things are impossible and false so we can know the limits of any god’s power. 

Here’s where it gets even weirder. Every bit of knowledge we gain becomes another thing that is no longer considered miraculous. Once we understand that natural laws control a previously mysterious phenomenon, we won’t consider anything that follows those laws a miracle. Sooner or later, you realize that a logical god’s power to perform miracles is limited to an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance.

What if god is innately logical, but not limited by logic? It doesn’t matter. Really. Either they are able to break logic and therefore already have and haven’t, are good and evil and… are unintelligible to humans just as noted before. Or, they follow logical rules and their miracles are limited to only the things outside our current collective knowledge about the natural world.

Miracles come with an inherent paradox. We either have to accept that god is unintelligible and is just as likely also the devil, or that god that never performs miracles regarding anything we can understand fully. I’m leaning toward the former. It certainly would explain a lot.  

Published by Brutus Feo, Heretic

Iconoclast, philosopher, scientist, nonconformist, writer and artist.

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