JMC : Logic and Mental Philosophy / by Charles Coppens, S.J.

Chapter III.
The Laws that Govern the World.

119. It is evident a priori that a wise Creator cannot produce a world that should be perpetually a mass of wild disorder; and we know a posteriori that the world displays the most wonderful unity amid variety, both in the structure and in the operations of its parts. In particular, we observe that all material things have well-defined and constant modes of action, which we call the physical or natural laws. The word law is here used analogically; it strictly means a rule of action for moral beings.

120. Now, some important questions on this subject present themselves to the philosopher:

1. What is the nature of those laws? or whence are those constant and uniform modes of action? There is no effect without a cause; what, then, are the causes of the physical laws? Since all things act according to their natures, the obvious answer is that the natures of things are the causes of their modes of action; and the Author of all nature is the Author of those laws. The physical laws themselves are the uniform modes of action of created natures or essences.

121. 2. Are the modes of action so necessarily constant that departures from them are impossible? It is evident that nothing can act except in conformity with its nature, and therefore departures from the physical laws are physically impossible, i.e., no created power can produce them; but they are not absolutely impossible, for nothing created exists except as dependent on the power and will of the Creator, and therefore the Author of nature can affect the action of created things, suspending and otherwise controlling it for wise purposes of His own. He may either suspend the action of a physical law, or make a creature for the time being follow other modes of action; for He can change the very natures of created things and therefore all their powers. Or He may let every law continue in action, but neutralize or counteract a force by a stronger force in a different direction. An evident interference of God with the workings of physical agents is called a miracle.

122. Thesis VI. The laws of nature are not absolutely immutable, and therefore miracles are possible.

Proof. That is not absolutely immutable to which God can make exceptions; but God can make exceptions to the laws of nature, for He can do all that involves no contradiction; but that God should make exceptions to the laws of nature involves no contradiction. If it did, the reason of it would be either, (a) That the natures of material things are absolutely necessary beings, existing and acting independently of God's will; or, (b) That making exceptions to general laws would suppose a change of mind in God with regard to the permanence of His own laws; or, (c) That such exceptions would be unworthy of God's wisdom. But these reasons are invalid; because, (a) The natures of material things exist and act only in as far as God gives them existence and action; He may, therefore, suspend their action or produce effects that shall neutralize their action, and that shall cause even opposite results. (b) When God wills an exception, He wills it from eternity. (c) It is wise, on the part of God, to reserve to Himself means of evidently controlling His creation, and thus manifesting His will to man. Now, miracles are such means of Divine manifestations, and are therefore possible to God.

123. Objections: 1. Hume and others have learnedly proved a priori that miracles are impossible. Answer. All their arguments are easily refuted; even Huxley acknowledges the possibility of miracles, saying: "No one is entitled to say a priori that any given so-called miraculous event is impossible, and no one is entitled to say a priori that prayer for some change in the ordinary course of nature cannot possibly avail." ("Science and the Bishops," Nineteenth Century, Nov., 1887.)

2. An all-wise Creator should have made the world so that it needed not His interference. Answer. The material world does not need God's miraculous interference; but God cannot deprive Himself of the power to interfere with it when He sees fit to do so; for instance, when He manifests His will supernaturally to His intelligent creatures.

3. God could manifest His will by affecting directly the intellects of men. Answer. He could do so, and does so frequently; but it is natural to man to obtain his knowledge by sense and reasoning.

4. The physical laws flow from the very natures of things, therefore they cannot be suspended while their causes exist. Answer. The physical laws need not cease to exist during the miracle, but a stronger power may prevent their effects; thus, our hands do not cease to be heavy bodies while our will raises them up.

5. Miracles only complicate the economy of nature, and thus destroy the beauty of order. Answer. They introduce into the world a higher beauty than that of mere physical regularity.

6. It is an analytical principle that the order of nature is constant. Answer. We deny this; unvarying constancy is not contained in the idea of order. It is an analytical judgment that there must be order in the works of a wise Creator; but order does not, as we have seen, exclude all exceptions. It is the adaptation of means to ends; now, miracles are well suited to the ends for which they are wrought.

7. If there could be miracles, the physical sciences would cease to give certainty. Answer. If miracles were of such frequent occurrence that we could not distinguish their effects from natural effects, we grant; else we deny.

8. Miracles are, at least, opposed to physical certainty. Answer. Not at all: we have physical certainty regarding what must happen when no miracle interferes, but we have no physical certainty that no miracle ever happens; on the contrary, we have physical certainty of the miraculous facts when we witness them.

9. We have physical certainty that a given miracle did not happen, and only moral certainty that it did happen; now, physical certainty is stronger than moral. Answer. We have no physical certainty that a miracle did not happen, but only that a certain effect could not proceed from natural causes; we have moral certainty that the miracle did happen, e.g., that Christ raised Lazarus from the dead: both physical and moral certainty are true in their own lines.

10. Miracles could answer no wise purpose unless they could be known to be miracles; but they cannot be known; for any strange fact may come from some unknown law of nature. Answer. An objection that proves too much must be unsound; now, this objection proves too much; for, if it were valid, we could form no scientific induction whatever until we knew all the natural laws, else what we attribute to one law might be due to another, hidden law. We could then never predict any fact with physical certainty. With regard to miracles, we need not know all the laws of nature to form, e.g., the certain judgment that a dead man cannot return to life by any power of nature.

11. We do not know the full power of the devil; therefore we never know whether God works the wonder. Answer. Some facts are evidently the work of the Creator, e.g., the restoration of life to the dead; for this implies supreme dominion over the noblest beings of this world. Besides, the circumstances of the miracle are often such that, if it could be from evil spirits, mankind would be invincibly led into error, and all means would be taken away by which the action of God could be outwardly manifested to the world: thus God would unwisely deprive Himself of what is evidently His sole right. For instance, if the miracles of Christ and His followers as a body could be diabolical deceits, then God Himself would be accountable for the deception of the best portion of mankind.

12. The moral laws are immutable; therefore the physical laws too must be so. Answer. There is no parity; it is unholy to violate the moral law; but to oppose the action of a physical law implies nothing that is unworthy of God.

13. The mesmeric fluid is capable of wonderful effects; it may produce many so-called miracles. Answer. Effects which may be produced by a mesmeric fluid must not be called miracles; but many things are falsely claimed for a mesmeric fluid -- e.g., it is not possible that any material fluid should produce acts of intelligence, as when the medium is made to speak a language never learned by the person, and to know secrets unknown to all other men; often an invisible intellectual agent is present, distinct from all men concerned. (See Nos. 172-174.)

124. Besides, both with regard to the power of the devil and the strange effects claimed for mesmerism, hypnotism, etc., in many cases it can be clearly found out from the circumstances of the concrete fact in question whether it is the work of God or of the devil, or may be within the power of material nature; and in all cases where this cannot be discovered we must suspend our judgment and not pronounce the fact to be miraculous.

To discern whether a certain effect may proceed from mere physical or material causes, we must observe whether the effect is always the same while the circumstances remain identical. If not, then the causes are not material, since the same physical causes must ever produce the same physical effects in the same physical circumstances.

Since a miracle is a manifest interference of God with the working of physical agents, it is evident that we should not call an astonishing event a miracle, unless we know for certain that it is due to God's interference. Now, God may interfere in two ways: either directly, by Himself or indirectly, through the ministry of His good Angels. When the wonderful event produced implies the action of creative power, it comes from God directly; for no finite being can create, or be the total cause of a new substance. Such acts are said to be miracles of the first class; while miracles of the second class are those that can be produced by the instrumentality of the good Angels acting as ministers of God. This supposes that the Angels have certain powers over matter. Now, the devils are of the same nature as the good Angels, and they, likewise, have certain powers over bodily substances, which, however, they cannot exercise independently of God's permission.

125. How shall we know whether, in a given case, the effects produced are not owing to the action of the demon? Evidently, we must have some test or criterion to distinguish true miracles of the second class from mere prodigies of Satan. If we had no test, a miracle of this class could not be known be from God, and, therefore, could not be an undoubted sign of His will. And, since men cannot readily discern in most cases what wonders require creative power and what others do not, God would deprive Himself of the power of exhibiting His interference to men, if we had no means whatever, no reliable test, whereby true miracles can be discerned from diabolical deceits.

The criterion is this: That everything concerned in the wonderful event be worthy of the holiness and the wisdom of he Creator and His blessed Angels. Hence, we know that an evil spirit is at work if:

1. The preternatural effect is produced in favor of a doctrine or principle which is certainly known to be false, as being either self-contradictory, or against morality, or against a well-established point of Revelation.

2. If the prodigy can answer no purpose worthy of God; for instance, if it were chiefly intended for the gratification of idle curiosity, or for money-making, etc.

3. If the human agent who claims to be the wonderworker were actuated in such performances by unworthy motives; for instance, by the love of human glory or any inordinate passion. When the application of this criterion leaves a reasonable doubt as to the genuineness of the miracle, we should not pronounce the effect to be miraculous. For while, before a court of justice, a man is accounted innocent until his guilt be proved, the presumption being in his favor, we claim no such presumption in favor of miracles; on the contrary, we accept none as certain unless it be demonstrated beyond a doubt that the wonderful event cannot be due to any natural agent, nor to the preternatural agencies of the evil spirits.

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