From this week's "In Our Time" is a discussion of miracles. Here's the description: The parting of the Red Sea, the feeding of the five thousand, the turning of water into wine - miracles. Miracles? Yet miracles have been part of human culture for thousands of years. From beliefs about the shin bone of a saint to ideas about the nature of creation and the laws of nature, miracles have been a measure of disputes within religion and between religion and rationality from St Augustine in the 4th century to David Hume in the 18th.
Some highlights: Miracles are a sign of power and something greater. In the case of the Red Sea, the miraculous has been built into creation from the beginning. The rabbis argued that all water has built into itself the ability to obey God's command to separate. Ordinary miracles of love and compassion are equally miraculous.
Augustine theorizes what a miracle is: everything that exists is miraculous. We are sinful and ignorant and miracles are relative to our experience of it. Miracles are not contrary to nature but only to what we know about nature. Because of our ignorance, we can never be sure that what we are seeing is miraculous.
There are 500 shrines around the martyrdom of Thomas a Becket. Stories around miracles enable the powerless to feel themselves part of something larger and more powerful. If you have an under girding belief that God created everything that is, then miracles are to be expected.
Martin Palmer, Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture
Janet Soskice, Reader in Philosophical Theology at Cambridge University
Justin Champion, Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of London
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