Plantinga on the possibility of miracles

This is the third in a series of posts discussing Alvin Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies. The first post is here and the second post is here.

The second specific area of alleged conflict between science and theism that Plantinga considers is the supposed conflict between theists belief in miracles and scientific laws. A miracle, it is argued, is as an event that happens contrary to the scientific laws of nature. But if that is so, then to assert that a miracle has occurred is to assert that in at least one instance God has broken or violated a scientific law of nature.

This is a misunderstanding of scientific laws. Scientific laws describe how things in the world behave when not subject to any force outside the world such as God. They must be understood as implicitly including the caveat that they apply only when God is not acting in the world by special devine action. Plantinga states:

So thought of, the natural laws offer no threat to special divine action. Miracles are often thought t obe problematic, in that God, if he were to perform a miracle, would be involved in “breaking,” going contrary to, abrogating, suspending, a natural law. But given this conception of law, if God were to perform a miracle, it wouldn’t at all involve contravening a natural law. This is because, obviously, any occasion on which God performs a miracle is an occasion when the universe is not causally closed; and the laws say nothing about what happens when the universe is not causally closed. Indeed, on this conception it isn’t even possible that God break a law of nature. For to break a law, he would have to act specially in the world; yet at any time at which he acted specially in the world would be a time at which the universe is not causally closed; hence no law applies to the circumstance in question and hence no law gets broken.

Moreover, as Plantinga also argues, quantum mechanics asserts that the universe is not deterministic even on the assumption that it is causally closed.


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