Saturday, April 4, 2009

Pannenberg and Augustine on Miracles

Here is an interesting thought about Creation and miracles from Wolfhart Pannenberg's Systematic Theology vol 2:

By rejecting the concept of an order of nature which lay behind Spinoza's criticism, Clarke in fact went beyond the Christian Aristotelianism of High Scholasticism back to the view of Augustine, who saw no invasion of the divine world order in miracles but related them simply to our limited knowledge of this order. Unusual events do not breach natural laws but manifest the working of hitherto concealed parameters. According to Augustine, the existence of the world and humanity is a much greater miracle than all the spectacular events that astonish us because they are unusual. The only problem is that our minds are too dulled to perceive the miracle of creation in what takes place every day. The contingency of creation as a whole expresses itself in each detailed event. Since every moment and every event is contingent, it is ultimately nonderivable. Its occurrence is thus a miracle.
Essentially, Augustine argued that God's sovereign preservation of the world meant that the burning bush was no more "miraculous" than the blooming of flowers in the Spring time. Both occur by the preserving work of a sovereign God. Because we see flowers bloom every Spring, we are dulled to its miraculous nature.

I can't wait to see where Pannenberg goes with this, because I have heretofore argued that "miracles" are the proof of God's intervention in history. But, if Augustine is right, then the resurrection of Jesus wasn't a "miracle," it was just an instance of "the way the world works" for which we previously lacked a category.

I have to say, the logic makes sense, but I don't know where that leaves me apologetically.


Rob Dilfer said...

I think that Romans 1 lays a solid foundation for this idea. The existence of God is made clear to all through nature. However, the word "miracle" (as we translate it in English Bibles) typically refers to something out of the ordinary everyday experience of humans in this age. Nature displays the power of God, but miracles are designed to catch the attention of the hard of heart (those who have stopped noticing). Augustine was explaining how miracles occur within the God-created laws of nature, without violating these laws, more than he was explaining what defines a miracle. I should also note that Augustine didn't have much personal experience with miracles until the last years of his life, so I think this had some influence on his understanding. Just my thoughts. Let us know where Pannenberg goes with this line of thought.

Matt said...

Pannenberg says that it is appropriate to talk about "laws" of the universe. At first I thought that perhaps the idea of a "law" necessarily implied a non-contingent universe. Pannenberg (and Augustine?) says that this is not so.

The fact that God created Adam out of the dust of the earth and Eve out of one of Adam's ribs demonstrates that God can use means in creation in addition to creating ex nihilo. So God's creation and preservation of the world does not demand that he continuously create and sustain out of nothing. God can make and use laws.

But, Pannenberg points out, "A necessary condition is that we view even the emergence of regularities, of uniform processes that can be expressed as laws concerning what takes place in nature, as contingent." (69–70)

In other words, God has created "laws," but these laws are contingent on God's action. He can change the "laws" at any time.

So, when we speak of a law, we don't mean "this is the way the world has to work," we mean "this is the way the world operates in my experience." After all, all scientific laws are formed empirically.

So I think we can still speak of miracles as that which occur counter to the "laws."