Spinoza on Miracles

We recently discussed the fact that autistic people are more likely to reject libertarian free will, with Baruch Spinoza being a key example.

Conceptually, ideas about free will and ideas about miracles are inextricably linked. And when it comes to miracles, Spinoza is again a key example:

In like manner miracles were called works of G-D, as being especially marvellous; though in reality, of course, all natural events are the works of G-D, and take place solely by His power.

According to Spinoza, it is incoherent to talk about miracles being “violations of the laws of nature”. It’s literally nonsense. About 100 years after Spinoza, Hume tried to explicitly equate these two contradictory things, and philosophers and theologians have been debating ever since. If only more of them had Asperger’s like Spinoza, we could stop wasting our time on this stupidity. Aspies are allergic to contradiction, and Spinoza pointed out that scriptures and reason are both non-contradictory on this matter:

Further, in order to ascertain, whether it could be concluded from Scripture, that the human understanding is naturally corrupt, I inquired whether the Universal Religion, the Divine Law revealed through the Prophets and Apostles to the whole human race, differs from that which is taught by the light of natural reason, whether miracles can take place in violation of the laws of Nature, and if so, whether they imply the existence of G-D more surely and clearly than events, which we understand plainly and distinctly through their immediate natural causes.

Now, as in the whole course of my investigation I found nothing taught expressly by Scripture, which does not agree with our understanding, or which is repugnant thereto, and as I saw that the prophets taught nothing, which is not very simple and easily to be grasped by all, and further, that they clothed their teaching in the style, and confirmed it with the reasons, which would most deeply move the mind of the masses to devotion towards G-D, I became thoroughly convinced, that the Bible leaves reason absolutely free…

Spinoza realized that he needed to bite the bullet and define “miracle” as something that was merely extraordinarily unusual that would point toward God, and charmingly observed:

As, then, unusual natural phenomena are called works of G-D, and trees of unusual size are called trees of God, we cannot wonder that very strong and tall men, though impious robbers and whore mongers, are in Genesis called sons of G-D. This reference of things wonderful to God was not peculiar to the Jews. Pharaoh, on hearing the interpretation of his dream, exclaimed that the mind of the gods was in Joseph.

Most theologians seem content to argue that Hume’s definition of “miracle” is wrong, and leave it at that. Few seem eager to bite the bullet and follow things through to the obvious conclusion. That’s what’s so fun about Aspies — they don’t mind stating the obvious. From the comments to the earlier article on Spinoza:

I have Asperger’s Syndrome (though self diagnosed). I absolutely do not believe people have free will, in any sense. After reading the wikipedia entry on compatibilism I feel that compatibilism is just saying “we don’t have free will but lets pretend anyway”.


Much energy is expended championing Hume’s question-begging and inherently contradictory definition of “miracle”, for obvious reasons. I think that’s a waste of time, and detracts from the more interesting question — if theists bite the bullet and toss out Hume’s incoherent definition, what are the implications for faith?

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