The first sense of miracle vs. Doctrine B

While In its precise and rigorous sense the term “miracle” is set in opposition to nature (considered as the normal or regular course of things) in its first vague and general sense it is a marvel or wonder, something that arrests attention. But there are all sorts of times when the this sort of thing happens in the face of the natural – even in the face of the natural as the everyday or normal. The everyday can still be surprising – the first time one sees the Northern Lights or a tree turn fuchsia in fall it’s hard to avoid thinking that nature just is surprising, that is, the unforeseen and remarkable is intrinsic to it and can never be driven out, whether by the advance of knowledge or the collapse of nature into heat death. Miracle in this sense has a version for atheists and secularists who can, relative to this, even boast a more or less robust spirituality, one based on a much more marvelous view of the world than any which existed in the eras of faith. We this get a possible rapprochment between a sort of spiritual atheism and Christianity: both can be based on miracles, and see them as founding and establishing the value of the their respective discourses. The new Cosmos series was pretty clearly atheism in this vein.

In this sense both Christianity and spiritual atheism are opposed to doctrine B, which sees nature as intrinsically intelligible to us all the way down. It clearly can’t be this in fact, but it is so as an attainable ideal. This final or complete science eliminates all possibility of surprise, seeing as essentially and unambiguously ignorance. To marvel at ignorance is just more ignorance – it’s more an occasion to be ashamed that we haven’t worked everything out yet. Nature is fundamentally evident, being is intelligible, and we need to be hard-headed and methodical in dealing with it. Any mechanist account of nature would be a doctrine B since it would make nature something we could understand all the way down. Block universes are also Doctrine B’s.

So the miracle in its first, vague, and experiential sense has a theist and atheist application, and both are opposed to the idea that there is no reason why the universe should surprise us, except for the embarrassing reason that we have yet to figure it out. In a word, doctrine B sees no latent spirituality in surprise. One difficulty in deciding among them is that it’s not clear to what extent they are stable characters in persons. Is anyone ever continually aware of the universe as surprising? How far do we ever really believe that the universe is nothing but a transparently intelligible mechanism? Still, this division of theist and atheist spirituality and hard-headed rationalism (which also might have theist and atheist variants) seems to capture something fundamental in an approach to life.


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