As I have stated before, the most influential opposing philosophers of this era were the Dutch philosopher Benedict de Spinoza and the Scottish skeptic David Hume. Today their claims belong in the hall of shame. How can the top teachers of the time create such mistakes? It is a humbling historical fact, how wrong teachers can be even if they are on top of their game. It’s a warning sign to all of us teachers out there to be a little more humble about our claims. Let us now see where the mistakes were made.
Spinoza believed that God’s perfect nature would create a perfect world, hence making the idea of miracles an impossibility because they would violate the unchangeable nature of God. Many critics immediately responded to his idea as being pantheistic in character because he wrote many of his books from that perspective. But with a closer look, in this written work, Spinoza is not claiming that God is the universe, as pantheism would claim. What he is presupposing is that God’s knowledge and will are in conflict if a miracle happens. If God is all-knowing, then God would only have one path and one will. Even if that is true, that does not provide a good reason as to why miracles are considered a violation of his will. We can easily assume God decrees miracles to be a part of natural order.
After doing further research, I started to understand the issue a little better. Spinoza concludes that God’s contingent knowledge is part of His essence. Let’s take foreknowledge as an example, this is the knowledge of future events. Foreknowledge requires us to know possibilities, what could happen, or what would a person do in a given situation. Not all possibilities become a reality, God chooses one path from a spectrum of options. All these propositions, even the ones that God decides to make a reality is contingent knowledge. Spinoza is basically saying, How can God just choose whatever He wants? This would undermine His omniscience. This sounds like a good possibility until we start to think about the nature of the freedom of will. That means our freedom of choice is not real. This sounds like Calvinism, but the issue is deeper than that. What he is trying to say is that God’s will and God’s knowledge is one and the same. But this does not reflect our experience. We do have freedom of choice, and we possess the contingent knowledge and base our decisions on it. That means that I possess something that God does not. Since humanity was created in His image, our experience is the proof that the concept of God that Spinoza is proposing is false. If Spinoza’s idea is true, then we have something greater than God does. We have to conclude that God has the same ability to choose and His will is separate from His knowledge. His will is not identical to His knowledge. Tracking back to Spinoza’s argument about the miracles, the issue was never miracles but the concept of who God is. Unfortunately, Spinoza does not get into this issue at all, so the whole argument is no good. Since the under-grounding problem is based on our natural experience, the burden of proof is on Spinoza’s side, not ours.
After doing even further research on this subject, I found out that this subject is about divine simplicity. Research shows that the majority of Christian scholars do not hold to this doctrine. The only minority I found were some Catholic bishops, but their faith is not tied to it either. In conclusions, his arguments about miracles being a myth are in the hall of shame because he based them on something that had no solid ground in theology or philosophy at any point in time.
Hume’s claims forced the church to respond accordingly or else be left behind and lose credibility as being the authority of truth. Due to Hume’s influence, different theological views were formed, interpretations were adjusted to accommodate the new revelation. For instance, How Jesus multiplied the bread or how Moses parted the sea had to be interpreted in a deterministic way. Many doctrines and theological systems had to be created. One of them being Cessationism.
Cessationist claim is that miracles ceased after the apostolic age. It’s enough to have an ongoing pattern of miracles to disprove this theory, but it’s more reasonable to break down the strongman’s arguments that gave rise to it in the first place. What was it that Hume proposed that set this ideology in motion? Hume was a very intelligent and brilliant man, and if he would be alive today, he would without a doubt change his mind. During his era, theories of statistic for determining truth were not developed yet. He took his best shot at it and was wrong.
According to Hume’s model, “truth” is based on past observances and experience. This makes statistical probability our source of belief in the truth. Let’s apply his model with a person winning a lottery. We all know that statistically speaking a person will not win a lottery. If a local news station broadcasts my lotto numbers as a winning number. The question arises, why should I believe the news station? According to Hume’s model, I should not believe any such nonsense. Remember Hume stated we should base our belief on the greatest probability. Well, the probability of me winning a lottery is around 175 million to one. Going back to miracles, Hume proposed that it was “statistically” impossible to prove that a miraculous event can happen, because it is similar to winning the lottery, given the odds. In other words, a news station broadcasting a lotto number or a single man’s testimony about a miracle is not enough to overthrow the statistical probability. By looking at the lottery example, we naturally see the error of his model. This is not how we perceive reality and how we identify the truth. Later in the century theories of statistics of determining truth were developed, which completely countered what Hume was so sure of. This is what placed Hume’s work in the hall of shame today. The fact is, he fell under the pressure of the world to figure out why miracles are not reasonable. He did a remarkable job from a human perspective but could not be more wrong about it.
I am hoping this is helping someone out there. To understand where many of these beliefs were formed and at the same time, see how ridiculous they are to us today. This is the groundwork for Cessationism. If the groundwork is false, then it undermines Cessationist claims as well.