Note on Feser on Miracles

After a series of wonderful analogies that compare the relation of a miracle-nature to the relation of a improvisation to a score and a director’s cut to a theatrical release, Ed Feser deals with the question why are there not more miracles? He responds by saying that nature must be regular enough to make miracles distinct, but one can also use his metaphors for the miracle to critique the question, for if a miracle is like a musician improvising beyond a score, then the question “why are there not more miracles” is perfectly analogous to asking “why do musicians not improvise more?” It seems clear that there is no general answer to this question – no one would ask it at the opera except to be a nuisance, and even where improvisation is appropriate it is not clear exactly how we would determine an appropriate amount of it. If John Coltrane wrote out all his solos in advance and refused to deviate from them, this might count as a biographical oddity, but it’s hard to see how it would count as a critique of his jazz.

We ask the question “why not more miracles” because we are presuming a prima facie case that there are not enough. But what is the basis of this case? Presumably it’s that miracles cause belief, and God should cause more people to believe; or that miracles are evidence for the faith, and the faith needs more evidence. But this just shifts the goalposts – now we’re assuming an answer to the question of how many miracles are appropriate to ensure an appropriate number of persons believe or how much evidence is an appropriate amount of evidence for the faith.  One can give answers to this, but in the face of the difficulty of the question it’s hard to see how there is a prima facie case that there aren’t enough miracles.

Perhaps the most appropriate answer is to point out that the same Scriptures that testify to the miracles of the Apostolic age also testify that, for some, no miracle would ever yield a satisfactory amount of evidence. Christ directly addresses the question whether a miracle would suffice to convince unbelievers and fallen-aways to live the faith by saying ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” We can deny that Christ is right about this (perhaps by hypothesizing miracles that would suffice for us) but this would be – irony of ironies! – to deny the very faith we think we could be miracled-into.

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