Re: Natural Theology, Unguided Processes and Apologetics

Peter Vibert (
Mon, 15 Sep 1997 17:09:38 -0500

I trust you have all enjoyed a blessed Lord's Day!

I don't want to pound this issue into the ground; nevertheless C.S. Lewis'
view of miracles has become a proxy for our larger discussion of what God
does "directly" and how (or if) you can tell. Jack refers us to Lewis'
essay "Miracles" in _God In The Dock_ which I re-read over the weekend.

Jack (Collins) wrote:
>(3) Peter Vibert commented on never thinking Lewis got a particular point
>right. George Murphy helpfully pointed to the context in the book
>_Miracles_; I'd like to point out that Lewis was building on an idea found
>in Athanasius' 4th-century treatise on the Incarnation about that kind of
>miracle. Lewis gives an indication of this in the essay in _God in the
>dock_, a number of points of which did not make it into the final version
>of _Miracles_ (more's the pity).

What "Jack" (C.S.) Lewis wrote in _God In The Dock_ was:

"...modern people have an almost aesthetic dislike of miracles. Admitting
that God can, they doubt that he would.... I have only recently found the
answer to [this] objection... in St. Athanasius [who] says in his little
book _On The Incarnation_: 'Our Lord took a body like to ours and lived as
a man in order that those who had refused to recognize Him in His
superintendence and captaincy of the whole universe might come to recognize
from the works He did here below in the body that what dwelled in this body
was the Word of God'..."

This is the point made previously and I am sure correctly by Terry, George
and others.

Then Lewis builds on Athanasius:

"The doctrine, as I understand it is something like this: There is a
wholesale activity of God displayed throughout creation, a wholesale
activity let us say which men refuse to recognize. The miracles done by God
incarnate, living as a man in Palestine, perform the very same things as
this wholesale activity, but at a different speed and on a smaller scale.
One of their chief purposes is that men, having seen a thing done by
personal power on the small scale, may recognize, when they see the same
thing done on the large scale, that the power behind it is also personal -
is indeed the very same person who lived among us two thousand years ago.
The miracles in fact are a retelling in small letters of the very same
story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some
of us to see. Of that larger script part is already visible, part is still
unsolved. In other words, some of the miracles do locally what God has
already done universally; others do locally what He has not yet done, but
will do. In that sense, and from our human point of view, some are
reminders and some are prophecies."

This, like much of Lewis, is a paragraph full of gems of truth and wisdom,
and as always, beauty of expression. George and Terry and Paul, as I
recall, have affirmed the major points here.

What troubles me is Lewis' next paragraph, for when he becomes specific, I
think his argument begins to crack:

"God creates the vine and teaches it to draw up water by its roots and,
with the aid of the sun, to turn that water into a juice which will ferment
and take on certain qualities. Thus every year, from Noah's time till ours,
God turns water into wine. That, men fail to see..."

Now I cannot see that "The miracles... perform *the very same things*" as
that which God does every year using the vine and the sun; at least not
according to any reasonable use of language to describe *mechanism* (which
is what we are talking about). The jars in Cana could have stood full of
water for aeons (evaporation excluded!) but without the *direct* action of
God the Son, not one molecule of ethanol or taste of wine would ever have
come into being within them! There was no vine used in the jars in Cana,
and there simply is no latent created (nor I think proleptic) ability in
water to become wine!

So I still believe that Lewis is wrong in the breadth of his claim: except
in 'poetic' terms, God does *not* do "the very same things" directly as He
does indirectly.

Jack concluded:

> Peter also wrote,
>>>I concede that "signs" may not be the right concept to map onto God's
>"extraordinary", "unmediated", "unusual", "direct", "supernatural" works.
>What's the right way to describe them? And is the act of creation (at least
>in part - for God used some "ordinary" processes in creating, according to
>Gen. 1 & 2) one of them?<<
>To which I can only reply, I'm trying to work that out. I would be
>grateful for your prayers!

to which I say, thank you Jack for your work, which shall indeed be
supported by our prayers...