By Elias Ayala (MDiv & M.A.T.)
The assumption of the regularities of nature is a powerful one indeed. Surely, what we observe in nature must be that way, and it is irrational to believe that the laws of nature can act contrary to what we have continuously observed all throughout history…right?!
This line of reasoning is sometimes coupled with the assumption of the immutability of the laws of nature. That is to say, that the laws of nature do not change, they cannot change. The nature of the laws of nature is that they are what they are and cannot be otherwise. In the philosophical literature, a well known personality that held to such a view was Benedict Spinoza (Late 1600’s). Spinoza reasoned thusly:
- Miracles are violations of natural laws.
- Natural laws are immutable (They are unchangeable).
- It is impossible to violate immutable laws.
- Therefore, miracles are impossible.
If this line of argumentation is correct then the possibility of miracles are thrown out the window, and Christianity specifically, along with any other worldview which posits the possibility and occurrence of miracles are out as well. But why think Spinoza and those who agree with him are correct? Upon closer examination of the argument we find the question begging premise in his defining by fiat, that “natural laws are immutable”.
Of course, if one defines natural law, by definition, to be that which is immutable, unchangeable, then the desired conclusion of the impossibility of miracles is snuck into the premise itself and hence one defines miracles out of existence from the very beginning. This is clearly and example of faulty reasoning since this is the very question under dispute; namely, “Are the laws of nature immutable or not?” If they are immutable then miracles are impossible, but if they are not, then miracles are least possible and hence we have room for the existence of God.
We need to be careful in our reasoning on these issues. The laws of nature are descriptions of the regularities with which nature behaves as we have observed them. They are not prescriptive in that they must be the way that they are in a necessarily unchanging fashion. And if they are unchanging in this way, one cannot know this to be the case by repeated observations of their regularity. One cannot logically move from repeated observation of regularity to the conclusion that they MUST behave in those regular ways. This is an unwarranted logical leap.
Of course, merely pointing out the fallacious character of the argument thus presented, does not necessarily demonstrate that miracles do in fact occur or have in fact occurred in the past. I think further argumentation is needed which I think is easily available to the Christian theist. But, in apologetic discussions on these matters, it is important to recognize the faulty presuppositions brought to the discussion by either ourselves or our opponent. In this way, clarity can be brought to the conversation and perhaps some progress can be made in answering the objectors objections.