“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Monday, January 5, 2009

C. S. Lewis on Miracles, part 1

Last year I wrote a post on miracles, in which I argued that there is nothing illogical or impossible about ‘miraculous’ events. Rather, they are very likely when we consider not only science, but science and human history in a larger theological framework, based on the description of God’s story given in the Bible.

Right now I’m reading C. S. Lewis’ book Miracles, which is a philosophical defense of theism and of the possibility of miracles, given God’s existence. It may seem that a miraculous event in Nature would be an inconsistency on God’s part – breaking his own physical laws – but Lewis argues in chapter 12, "The Propriety of Miracles," that this is not necessarily the case.

“If we had grasped as a whole the innermost spirit of that ‘work which God worketh from the beginning to the end’, and of which Nature [the physical world] is only a part and perhaps a small part, we should be in a position to decide whether miraculous interruptions of Nature’s history were mere improprieties unworthy of the Great Workman or expressions of the truest and deepest unity in His total work.”
But, as finite creatures within the physical world and limited by space and time, we are in no position to be sure that we perceive the full extent of reality.
“For who can suppose that God’s external act, seen from within, would be the same complexity of mathematical relations which Nature, scientifically studied, reveals?...If miracles do occur then we may be sure that not to have wrought them would be the real inconsistency.”
The laws of physics are part of a much larger theological reality, and our history is only a tiny part of God’s great story. If we were to restrict our field of vision to the functioning of this physical world, ‘miraculous’ events may seem out of place, but is reality no more than the physical entities and the laws of physics? Are we to narrow our view to spacetime and fields and particles? Lewis writes:
“If you have hitherto disbelieved in miracles, it is worth pausing a moment to consider whether this is not chiefly because you thought you had discovered what the story was really about? – that atoms, and time and space and economics and politics were the main plot? And is it certain you were right? It is easy to make mistake such such matters.”
We have no reason for assuming that the laws of physics are what reality is all about, so we have no reason to presume that what appears to be an inconsistency would appear that way if we could see fully the sum total of reality. What matters is how God sees this world, and the physics of this world, in light of all reality. We must leave open the possibility that the laws of physics are folded into God’s larger reality in such a way that miraculous events are rendered consistent – even physically consistent – in light of this larger reality…

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