In my previous post, I briefly discussed some problems which I believe to be inherent to popular conceptions of the miraculous. As outlined, this understanding is based upon the correlation of the miraculous to human ignorance, e.g., that which is miraculous is that which is beyond the [current] knowledge of human persons. The crux of my discussion, then, was that such an understanding of the miraculous is ultimately destructive, for as human knowledge increases, so will that which can be categorized as "miraculous" decrease proporitionally.

One of the examples which I used to illustrate this point was that of the controversy within many strands of religious thought concerning the seeming incongruence of evolutionary theory and biblical interpretation. Interestingly enough, as I was preparing for this follow-up post, I ran across an article describing the opening of a brand new "Creationism Museum" right here in Kentucky. The brainchild of the infamous Answers in Genesis Project, "Creationism Museum" exists purely to show that "science actually confirms biblical history."

Now of course, this post is not specifically made for the purpose of defining "biblical history," or of addressing the nature of modernistic conceptions of historicity and its self-justified equation of "truth" with the same. However, this example does perfectly illustrate my point made previously. By capitulating entirely to the categories of scientific methodology (this is precisely was the CM has done, after all, by claiming to be able to "prove" the Bible on the basis of science), AIG and CM have made these categories necessarily determinative of their final conclusions. At the present, the proponents of such a view believe that the scientific evidence in question has a measure of interpretive flexibility (funny that they don't assume the same for their biblical interpretation) such that the conclusions presented by AIG and CM can be classified as "scientific" (most within the scientific community would disagree with this, as an aside). But what happens as human knowledge expands? As human knowledge of the universe increases, the plasticity of empirical interpretation will decrease proportionally. In such a scenario, alternative viwes that are based upon this very hermeneutical plasticity will become increasingly marginalized, and as the degree of potential varience in interpretation disappears, so will any potential interpretive viability based thereupon. In other words, by establishing their assertions upon the negative criterion of interpretive variability, AIG and CM have doomed their own project and philosophy to failure as the ambiguities of naturalistic phenomenon are more fully resolved, or–at the very least–are tethered to consistent and observationally meaningful theoretical frameworks.

Okay, enough of that. If the assertion persented herein is valid that the existence of the miraculous cannot be grossly equated with gaps in human understanding concerning phenomenological reality, what place is there for speaking of the miraculous at all?

In one important sense, there is no place to speak of it. If the miraculous explodes the categories of human philosophical reasoning, and is not capable of encapsulation by the methodologies of scientific investigation, then it follows rationally that no category–linguistic or otherwise–will be able to engage the reality of the miraculous in such a way as to satisfy the criterion of Western prejudices concerning reality and truth. This, of course, should not be surprising, as the entire Western enterprise has been directed explicitly towards this goal for its entire history. True enough, the original intention was to provide philosophical proof for the divine and the realm of the supernatural; nonetheless, latent to the positing of objectivity within the rationality of the human person was the necessary exclusion of all that beyond the empirical studies of the same. In this sense, the Western mind cannot countenance the miraculous precisely because its philosophical biases towards iself obviates any such considerations; as the supposed objectivity of the modern mind has become the sole criterion for the adjudication of true reality, so only that which is native to the same could ever acheive such a distinction.

To speak of the miraculous, then, is a scandal to the Western mind. The scandal lies, however, not so much in the absurdity of such a claim (for Western methodologies assume this a priori), but rather in the prophetic stance which such assertions make against the hegemony of self-justified, circularly "objective" thinking. To truly speak of the miraculous is not to violate the categories of Western presuppositional biases, but to ignore them, refusing their self-satisfied claims of authority and absolute-ness. As noted above, to violate them through an attempt at contradiction would be only to affirm the legtimacy of their assertion. However, by refusing to capitulate to their self-originated claims of authority, consistent language concerning the miraculous is not only immune to critique, but is further able to operate on a categorical level completely inaccessible by the methodological sensibilities of the Western philosophical programme. This eshewal of artificial categorical requirements inevitably opens up human language and experience to a much broader spectrum of reality, for it need not legitimize itself absolutly upon the basis of scientfic methodological assumptions of the reason-oriented objectifiability of truth so-called.

Now one may rightly question if this approach does not, in fact, water down the meaning of the miraculous by 1.) divorcing it from the realm of human ignorance concerning phenomenological reality and 2.) by expanding its defintion beyond the range of objectively measurable criterion. On the basis of the original definition, such an approach does indeed do this very thing, for the miraculous is no longer an object of quantifiable investigation. However, perhaps this is exactly the point. Perhaps the miraculous cannot be understood as what it is until it is divorced from human control and manipulation, enabled to exist as a permanent scandal to the self-justifying epistemological prejudices of the human mind.

I suspect that such a suggestion will be quite unsavory to both protagonists of the former defintion, as well as to their antagonists. For the former, such a matrix for understanding the miraculous will be unsatisfactory precisely because the miraculous will be beyond the ability of manipulation and objective determination, the criterion by which they beleive their antagonists can be definitively overcome. On the other side, their antagonists will reject this suggestion because, as with their rivals, the miraculous ceases to be an object of investigation and categorical denial; after all, if something cannot be measured, there is no basis upon which to substantiate its existence or non-exitence. Despite both sides' dislike of such a suggestion, I believe that it is a movement in the right direction.
So the scandal of the miraculous is self-evident. In one fell-swoop, the miraculous questions the legitimacy of human categories of understanding while concomitantly placing itself ultimately beyond the critique of the same. It delights in absurdity and irrationality, not because it has been (or can be…) adjudicated as such by the constructs of philosophy, but precisely because it stands over and against it, questioning at the deepest levels the ability of human knowledge to adequately define the constraints of reality when it is itself bound within the same. This, of course, flies in the face of common conceptions of the miraculous as such a definition
ists beyond the capability of human categorization and manipulation. As noted before, this necessary affirmation normalizes the relationship between those who would seek to disavow the miraculous on the basis of phenomenological evidence and those who would seek to incontrovertibly establish the existence upon the same criterion.

It is striking, I think, that in the example of Jesus, Christ frequently draws attention away from the phenomenology of the miracle to the meaning behind it. For example, in the extraordinary feat of feeding the five thousand, the apparently miraculous provision of food ultimately leads the masses astray in their understanding of Christ, for the meaning of the miracle is dissolved in the sating of their hunger, never moving into deeper reflections of his person and mission. Rather than comprehending the fulness of the meaning expressed in the tangibleness of the food, the masses only operate on the level of their appetites, conjuring comparisons between Moses and this new Messiah. Yet even the feeding of five thousand persons is not enough to convince them of his identity, for they pointedly demand additional miracles to substantiate that this new wonder-worker is, in fact, greater than their beloved Patriarch. Such a response underlines the ultimate inability of the fulness and reality of the miraculous to be established on the basis of empiricism. As exhaustively noted by now, such observational phenomenon will only lead to the necessity of greater and greater "signs" to affirm the miraculous nature of the thing as human knowledge of the same increases. For the masses fed by Jesus, they understood the phenomenology of "miraculous" food production quite well: their history, especially concerning Moses, was full of such stories. Therefore, for the miraculous to be something worth noting, a greater feat was required, and would forever be required.

Interestingly, Jesus consistently refused to cater to such demands. The religious leaders continually plied him to "show us a sign that we might believe." Yet Jesus' unwavering response to his interlocutors was that it was only a "sinful generation" that demanded phenomenological proof prior to belief. The crux of Jesus' point, I think, gets at the all-too-human desire for control and manipulation of the divine. After all, when the miraculous is the proper subject of empirical investigation, it is also the unwitting victim of human manipulation, capable of being applied to the various ends proscribed by its investigator's philosophical prejudices. For Jesus to refuse to provide such fodder for manipulation, then, was a radical and prophetic denunciation of the strain of human enmity towards God extending metaphorically back to Adam, the desire to be equal with and, therefore, to have the ability to manipulate the divine towards humanity's own sinful ends. To his dying breath, Christ's enemies demanded such proof; ultimately, the fact that Jesus would not substantiate his identity upon the basis of their presupposed criterion for divinity cost him his life.

I have said enough, so I will conclude. This expanded definition of the miraculous will leave some skeptical about its existence entirely. However, the promise of such a redifinition lies precisely in the fact that the expansion of understanding eliminates many of the preconceived notions of what constitutes the miraculous by both its defenders and rejectors alike. While the previous defintion could only locate the miraculous in the unexplainable, this new defintion allows for the mystery of the miraculous–the locus of divine influence–in even the most mundane of things. That the miraculous should be scandously revealed in the ordinary and unspectacular is entirely in keeping with orthodox belief, for this is, in fact, the history of God in the midst of creation. God became incarnate in the history of salvation not in a celestial Christ, but rather in a helpless, unassuming baby who grew into and died as a relatively obscure figure. Perhaps, then, it is in the explainable, in the familiar, and in the painfully ordinary that the mystery of the miraculous is most evidently revealed. It is here, after all, where humans prone to value only that which they can spectacularly control and manipulate will be the least likely to bother to look.