Two Stories and Two Basic Types are under discussion over at the Register.
I fail to see how the article deals with “Private Revelation”, it rather seems to me it deals with miracles and supernatural (as an “extra” realm, “Something” outside and beyond the natural, which sometimes intervenes in nature – all quite sloppy IMHO)
It’s the first in a series.
For one thing, to appeal to Supernaturalism “as the view held by the overwhelming majority of the human race throughout history” is debatable at best. It fails to ponder the enormous differences between our current mindset and that of medieval or antique people; and, above all, that the very concept “nature” is very complex and difficult to fix and communicate: for example, greeks would accept (perhaps) miracles by divine intervention, but they would not say that those gods acted outside “nature” (physis). It also seems to suggest that “belief in God” implies “belief in supernaturalism” – which looks as nonsense to me.
I wonder… suppose you ask (as you sometimes do) your blog readers for prayers for some gravely ill person; suppose we readers pray (as we sometimes do). Does all this (you asking and our praying) somehow assumes we expect (and hence believe) in something “supernatural” to happen or not? Suppose the person gets better, and suppose our prayers were somehow “cause” of that (we cannot know that, of course, but we believe in the possiblity); in that case, would that have been one of those interventions from “the outside” which has intervened in nature by our intercession? Put it in other (equivalent?) way : are we praying for supernatural intervention, some (tiny) miracle to happen?
(Before answering the above, one might make the thought experiment: how would catholics readers answer to that, it it were a poll?)
” “belief in God” implies “belief in supernaturalism” – which looks as nonsense to me.” – ?
Since God is outside of nature, belief in God is belief in something outside of nature, which is the meaning of the word “supernatural”.
“God is outside of nature” Well…! That sounds so clear and plain (even Richard Dawkins could grasp that!), it seems such a fundamental truth, that it could be part of the christian Creed ¿no? Or at least, the Catechism? Or at least, some encyclical, or papal document, or some Summa, or Fathers of the Church or.. .. what? nothing? 2000 years of christian theology, tons of books and not a single one theologian came up with such a simple and fundamental fact?
Perhaps it’s because it’s not so clear, perhaps the concept of ‘nature’ is not straightforward, and is wildly influenced by the current worldview, and (for us) by a scientific revolution that started a few centuries ago? Is our (catholics’) concept of ‘nature’ equally near than that of Dawkins than that of Augustine? And what does “outside” mean there? It’s a methaphor? Is Pythagoras Theorem (or Beethoven’s Eroica) “outside nature” or not? Is my free will? My soul? The virgin Mary? Are angels “outside nature” or not? Is a demonic possesion a “superanatural” event?
What relation has “nature” with the range of phenomena that the current scientific method deals (by principle) with? Is it a portion or is it all? In the expression “law of nature”, as scientifics use it and (we) modern people understand it, does the word “nature” equal the word used in the phrase “God is outside of nature”?
What is the essence of a “supernatural” event? What relation has it with a “miracle”? Does it happen “inside nature” but caused (efficiently?) from an “outsider” agent? Is it supernatural because it “violates the laws of nature”? Are miracles (exclusively or predominatly) special acts of God? Are they special evidences of His existence? Are they to be recognized (mainly) by going “against the law”, because they cannot be explained by “the laws of nature”? Should then we conclude that each time a scientific explains an event that before was unexplained he is diminishing the evidences for God existence? Isn’t this akin to the “God of the gaps”?
You see, it’s very easy to formulate questions (I can) that, according to some christian apologetics should have straighforward answers, but that actually are very difficult to answer (I cannot). Real theologians (and popes) are well aware of the difficulty of all the thing – they know that theology involves human language and human worldview, and that these are dynamic. They know what Flannery O’Connor said in a letter half a century ago:
“We (catholics) have very few thinkers to equal Barth and Tillich, perhaps none. This is not an age of great Catholic theology. We are living on our capital and it is past time for a new synthesis. What St. Thomas did for the new learning of the 13th century we are in bad need of someone to do for the 20th.”
They are aware of the precariousness of our intelectual answers, that we are still adjusting to the new scientific mindset which all current people (also -particularly- catholics who speak of “God outside of nature”) share, that the task is urgent and we are not doing very well on it (that the percentage of atheism in scientific circles keeps growing is a tragedy that christian apologetics does not like to deal with; let’s blame the scientists for intellectual pride). And it’s because of this awareness that the popes and the theologians are so… humble, that why the teaching of (say) the Catechism about (say) miracles looks so… timid, compared with the intellectual sufficiency of most apologetics. Yes, of course, let’s speak of what we believe and we know – but don’t imagine that we know too much. Because, to do intelectual work, to find new explanations (and we need them), we must first make some silence, to see why the old explanations don’t work (not only “for them”, also for us). As long as we pretend to be rich, as long as we don’t experience our poverty, we won’t feel the need to do real work.
Our catholicism, I think, does not have a satisfactory theology of miracles (and “supernatural”); we are just on it. In the meantime, perhaps it would be better some ascesis of language, limit us to say “we believe God can do -and does- miracles”, and stop at that. Currently, most further explanations that try to “refute” atheist naturalism, without being aware of the real difficulties, make more harm than good.
The following dialogue by (supposedly) Tillich seems a good starting point:
– Well, in catechism in Sunday school, we learned that miracles imply a “suspension of the laws of nature.” I suppose that is as good a definition as any. – Was that really taught in your catechism, or by the Sunday-school teacher, who could not do better because she had learned it from another Sunday-school teacher who also could not do better?
God is the measure of what is natural. It is we who are unnatural.
I’m having a lingering vision of Vincent Price.