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Miracles are used generally in theological/religious contexts. Outside of them they're seen as either rationally explicable as signifiers of theological truths that are uncovered by hermeneutics of various kinds.

I want to see whether there are other valid ways of looking at miracles that might signify the presence of God.

For example, one question is why is there something rather than nothing? Physics starts from the supposition that some substance is there and then establishes the laws that it obeys (generally conservation laws).

The explanation that the universe appeared out of nothing through some fluke quantum fluctuation doesn't explain anything, or more precisely it just pushes what is to be explained further back. That is, to the laws that guarantee such a possible fluctuation. It's easily seen that a similar argument results in an infinite regression. Nor does Smolin's offering of a eco-system of universes seeding each other offer a way out of this conundrum.

Hence the fundamental question remains: Why something rather than nothing? Does this count as a miracle?

For example, in Quranic hermeneutics, the world is called the Greater Quran because it also signifies the presence of Allah (as Creator).

Is there anyway around this argument of infinite regression? I can't see that it is possible. In fact it has some contact with the antinomies of Kant who demonstrated there are questions beyond the remit of reason. Which means that they must remain either unresolved or they must be filled by faith of some kind.

A second possibility is the limits of causality that Hume identified as well as al-Ghazali. Hume offered no resolution. Al-Ghazali offered Occasionalism, that is, the world is sustained from moment to moment by Allah. (In Quranic hermeneutics it's referenced in the verse Al-Fatiha where Allah is called the sustainer of the Worlds). Kant, of course offered a reasoned resolution by correlationism (which signifies the correlation between the human mind and the real). One might say, rather than God sustaining the illusion of the world as phenomena, it is the human mind. One has substituted Man for God at least in this position, but of course this still leaves noumena as indescribable and unexplained.

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    it depends how you define miracle. also there are some physics theories that world can be made of nothing without firstly existence of no substance. but physics assumes existence of natural laws by default. if you define the miracle a phenomena that occurs against laws of nature then you should say is there any miracle possible before existence of any nature? also this may be useful: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kal%C4%81m_cosmological_argument Dec 17, 2013 at 13:30
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    What you are doing is - at best - speculation. Why there is something is at best a question for physics. Note that assumption of a creator doesn't help much, because then the question arises why this creator exists instead of no creator. And so, instead of proof of existence of god, we had a proof of existence of a hierarchy of gods. Which raises the question who the creator of that hierarchy might be. And so on.
    – Ingo
    Dec 17, 2013 at 14:04
  • @Ingo: I don't think that physics can explain why there is something rather than nothing. I've pointed above why two explanations don't resolve the issue. As someone interested in logic I'm sure acquainted with the fact that every axiomatic system rests upon clear and distict ideas. As for Physics, its best for finding out what the laws of this universe actually is and how they manifest themselves. Dec 17, 2013 at 15:07
  • @Ahmadi: can you point me to one or two of these theories? As you point out yourself physics must always assume the existence of natural laws. Dec 17, 2013 at 15:09
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    Rather than say this conundrum indicates the realty of God there is the option of saying that we have a mistaken idea of creation and existence. Buddhism and Taoism speak of a 'causeless cause', suggesting a subtle resolution that would not require a creator God. Lao Tsu explains the laws of physics not as the result of an action or 'God's Will' but rather as a matter of identity, 'Tao being what it is'. This is the only way I know of ending the regress.
    – user20253
    Jul 24, 2018 at 10:15

5 Answers 5

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It is a conceded fact that something exists. Martin Heidegger pointed to this as the most fundamental issue in philosophy, that something rather than nothing exists. Further if the world is an illusion by the radical method of doubt argued by Descartes, we can also infer that our minds must exist even if all else is an illusion. No argument with premises 1, something exists.

P 1: Something exists.

Philosophy has worked hard to establish this most basic truth, and I agree that Descartes establishes that our minds exist.

P2: We cannot fully explain why something exists.

The ultimate base of reality is not explained. The limit of our understanding is intimate and permeates our existence. Socrates might suggest at this point, that beginning of self-examination reveals profound ignorance. This self-knowledge of profound ignorance may inspire the thinker to a passion to try and understand what a human mind can come to understand. The passion of the thinker to expand the perimeter of knowledge is a humbling journey since so much remains in speculation, and so many deep insights are very difficult to grasp and involve complex mathematics beyond most peoples capabilities.

P3: By the Principle of Sufficient Reason everything must have a cause.

Spinoza claimed that, nothing exists of which it cannot be asked what is the cause or reason for its existence. This is not a universally accepted principle in philosophy. We may consider the following list of ontological elements: time, space, infinity and nothingness as perhaps needing no cause for their existence, they are simply “given”. Something like infinity has no boundary, no beginning or end, and since it has these features it may be a candidate for something that exists but needs no explanation it is simply a “given” feature of existence. If time and space also have no bounds why would they need to be caused since they are infinite and eternal? It seems that both something and nothing exist simultaneously, for the Big Bang started as a point event in perhaps a sea of nothingness? Nothingness seems to exist prior to something, and there is no need to explain nothing since it is not a something and therefore needs no explanation. This is a speculation that perhaps some ontological entities are a “given” feature of the cosmos that is axiomatic and needs no explanation. Axiomatic logic must have at base unproven assumptions, and we know that every system of logic has a limited set of provable theorems. The existence of God is an axiomatic assumption, not a proven fact. This assumption about God is then used to extend a set of logical theological conclusions which every culture has explored to create a rich tapestry of theological possibilities with unique and interesting solutions to community and ritual.

Conclusion: Since we do not have an explanation to the cosmos, we may evoke a miracle as the best solution to the fact that something exists.

This conclusion seems to be a species of the logical fallacy Appeal to Ignorance. We can have a strong intuition about God, but it does seem to be a personal act of faith at base to make this assumption, rather than a proven theorem from generally accepted first principles. Socrates perhaps would suggest caution and humility, for the base assumptions we make are subject to revision.

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  • +1 for "species of the logical fallacy Appeal to Ignorance". Jan 6, 2014 at 21:00
  • P3 is also pretty suspect. Everything includes time, which makes it difficult to invoke a cause.
    – philosodad
    Dec 23, 2023 at 23:33
  • I guess for me, the question would be: Why does speculation about these things exist, rather than dealing with substantive issues?
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 24, 2023 at 0:06
  • @ScottRowe What our values and objectives should be are massively substantive issues, and the basic questions here of what is the nature of causation and where did our universe come from can have a very significant bearing on one’s values and objectives. NOT examining these questions leads to one acting off unidentified and unexamined assumptions that could badly lead one astray.
    – Dcleve
    Dec 25, 2023 at 13:59
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    @Dcleve I am always free to examine my assumptions and discard them if they are unfounded. Sometimes the best answer we can be completely sure of is: "We have no idea." That needn't trigger a desperate search to find out, if nothing in our lives will be altered by the answer. Why such discomfort with not knowing an answer?
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 25, 2023 at 15:00
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Should one consider that the world [i.e., existence] exists a 'miracle'?

As with this question on the creation of the universe, and this question on the existence of thought, I think the primary issue here is that the concept of "miracle" presupposes existence. A "miracle" is some kind of extraordinary event that is purported to occur contrary to (or at least unexplained by) the laws of nature. This concept presupposes a lot of metaphysical basics; it presupposes that existence exists, that it has causal laws, and that events occur which can be evaluated relative to those causal laws. Without existence there could be no "laws of nature" and no events, which would make the concept of a "miracle" non-existent. Hence, to assert that existence itself is a "miracle" is nonsensical; it is an implicit assertion that the "event" of existence occurs contrary to some causal laws of a prior existence.

As with other similar philosophical questions, this kind of question is an example of the "stolen concept fallacy". It invokes a concept while failing to respect the fact that the concept only makes sense within a particular metaphysical context, where certain facts have already been established. In this case, the application of the concept of a "miracle" to existence implicitly invokes a prior existence, causal laws, and events.

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  • Maybe those are a miracle too? It's miracles all the way down.
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 24, 2023 at 0:01
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    Again, the problem is, "miracles" relative to what? If it is "miracles all the way down" then you are positing a cascading sequence of existences with sets of causal laws that never operate but are always broken. This invokes stolen concepts.
    – Ben
    Dec 24, 2023 at 1:10
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Should one consider that the world's existence is a 'miracle'?

I think that depends on the rigor of one's logic. Let me explain what I mean by that.

I think the statement "I can't see that it is possible" mistakenly over-exaggerates just how little we know. For example, most people are familiar with phase transitions and that, say, increasing the temperature of water will change it from liquid to vapour, and that increasing the pressure can cause the opposite effect, but do you think most people know what a critical fluid is and how they behave differently from normal fluids? Do you think most people would expect that water moving steadily through a pipe can change suddenly to turbid flow if I slowly increase the diameter of the pipe while keeping the speed, density, and viscosity the same?

The point is that even things that we think we are familiar with can surprise us.

Furthermore there is the field of quantum mechanics, which is closer to the early universe than our everyday experiences, that shows that particles can tunnel by forbidden mechanics even though I can't walk through a door.

My point is that we can't have any certainty on how the universe can or can't behave based on our logic and laws. Maybe the universe is the way it is and maybe it is logic defying, but if you're willing to set that aside then why not call it a miracle?

Why something rather than nothing? Does this count as a miracle?

I want to end with saying that the reasoning: "Why? Therefore God" has never been a convincing argument.

The existence of a deity shouldn't depend on my ability to understand and explain some phenomenon. The burden of proof is not on me, but on you to defend your claim of a miracle.

Edit: In response to one of the comments, I said it's not a convincing argument, not a non-convincing answer. Being convinced of an answer is not anything special. Most kids can be convinced that Santa Claus travels to every house to deliver presents on Christmas. But to convince someone that his sled travels at light speed and that's how he makes it to every house in one night is not convincing because if he even spends a second eating cookies and milk that people supposedly leave behind, then its impossible. The argument is invalid. And valid inference is important otherwise why bother hearing out an argument at all?

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  • I made some edits mainly to break the text into paragraphs. You may roll these back or continue editing. By clicking on the "edited" link above my picture you can see the versions. I don't think the OP is concerned with proving it is a miracle, but that calling it a miracle isn't any worse of an explanation than pointing to, say, quantum fluctuations. If you have references to other people who take similar views to yours that would support your answer and give the reader other places to go for more information. Welcome to this SE. Jul 24, 2018 at 10:57
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    It's actually been a reasonably convincing answer until recently and for well over two millenia - if not more; this isn't to say that materialism is new - it isn't; ancient atomism was materialistic, and it was revived in the Renaissance; it's generally seen as the default position now, which is why one can say that the burden of proof is upon those who insist that this isn't a full answer. Jul 24, 2018 at 13:08
  • @MoziburUllah but it's never been a sound argument. It's always been an appeal to ignorance. Also... why two millenia? Either people have been using "because some god" as an answer to "why" for much longer than two millenia OR that argument is a fairly recent innovation for humankind.
    – philosodad
    Dec 22, 2023 at 9:24
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We don't know why the Universe exists. If we suppose our logic and everyday intuitions about causes and effects apply to the Universe as a whole, then we might surmise that something caused the Universe, but that leads straight into infinite regress territory, and if you are going to suppose that our intuitions about cause and effect stop applying somewhere (eg with God), then why not suppose they stop applying when you get back as far as the Big Bang- that at least has the merit of being in line with Occam's razor. It seems to me that evoking the idea of God as the creator of the Universe- and then lumping onto the idea of God all kinds of religious baggage- is just an arbitrary stab in the dark.

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You ask if there is any way around the infinite regression argument of needing a first cause. The short answer is that we don't need to, because the idea of a "first cause" outside of space and time is not a coherent or meaningful idea. A longer answer is that there are a couple of ways to look at this.

The first is a self-creating universe. This is theoretically possible within a modern understanding of cosmology, and as the math works, it must also work logically. Simply put, if the universe can create external universes, and each of these universes has it's own space/time and can create additional universes, then one of those universes can create this universe, or indeed be this universe. This looks circular from inside the universe, but that's because we're constrained by linear time. When that constraint is removed and a sufficient amount of advanced math is applied, this circularity goes away.

The second way out is to recognize that the very question of what "caused" the universe to exist is not a good question: we cannot extend our concepts of cause and effect outside of the universe.

For one thing to cause another, there must be a sequence of events. A sequence of events requires linear time. Linear time is a feature of the universe. The question itself relies on circular premises. Nothing could have "caused" the universe to begin existing, at least not in our everyday, in-universe sense of the word "cause".

We need to redefine time, cause, and effect in order to ask this question, and we can't do that without resorting to fairly advanced physics.

So, essentially, we get out of the infinite regression problem by examining the core assumptions that got us there. In this case, the assumption is that we can use an in-universe understanding of cause and effect when discussing the origin of the universe. We obviously cannot, because the in-universe understanding of cause and effect is an artifact of the universe itself.

If you're curious, the physicist who is the strongest proponent of a self-creating universe is this guy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Richard_Gott and a philosophical evaluation of his ideas vis-a-vis Kant is here; https://web.archive.org/web/20070622204022/http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/archive/00001910/01/VAASTIME.PDF

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  • Yes, there are two other possibilities besides infinite regression to the Munchausen Trilemma -- circularity (self-created universe) or unjustified brute fact (the universe just IS). However, both circular reasoning, and lack of justification are also both fallacies, and often considered worse fallacies than infinite regression. Your solutions of advocating for one of the other two legs of the Trilemma -- does not solve the basic problem.
    – Dcleve
    Dec 22, 2023 at 15:29
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    @Dcleve I don't see any justification for your critique. The self-creating universe is well justified mathematically and therefore logically. There is no circular reasoning involved. Pointing out that you can't have an infinite regression into a time when you literally have no time for the regression to occur in is also not circular reasoning. I'm just pointing out a fatal flaw in any argument that attempts to extend in-universe cause/effect reasoning outside of the universe.
    – philosodad
    Dec 23, 2023 at 23:09
  • "What more is there than the universe, Spock?"
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 23, 2023 at 23:40
  • @philosodad all justifications will lead to an infinite regression, circularity, or an unjustified brute fact. This is the Munchausen Trilemma. Criticizing infinite regress does not mean that one of the other two answers (also fallacies) must be true. You have not examined your own thinking here sufficiently critically. “I postulate time began at the Big Bang” therefore I need provide no explanation for the Big Bang” IS explicitly circular. You also are making the start of the universe an unexaminable Brute Fact, abandoning the science process of asking “and why is THAT the case.”
    – Dcleve
    Dec 25, 2023 at 14:20
  • You have also equivocated “time as 4D block time” with “time as logic based metric of state sequences”. These are two different and incompatible models of time. Block time, for example, cannot distinguish cause from effect,
    – Dcleve
    Dec 25, 2023 at 14:24

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