Book Review: Miracles

I don’t know how to say this. I think this book might have changed everything. I am still reeling from it, so maybe after a cup of tea and a good walk, I will be able to brush it off and move on, but something is itching in I am not saying I am a Christian. I am also not saying that I will be anything ever – labels

without descriptions can be precarious things, and to get a description, you need to glean an understanding. So rather I want to be me, I want to be real and honest with what I come up against, and I want to search for truth. Each person has their own agenda, I will cover this in another post shortly, but it must be noted now at the outset that everything I am about to say can be put down to simple agenda fulfilment if you wanted to quickly settle these things and resign me to the corner. the back of my head, and it doesn’t seem to be going away.

Regular readers of this blog know that leaving my belief in God was the hardest thing I have ever gone through. They also know that I am searching for answers to existential questions, which there might very well be no answers to. Dave has said a fair few times on the podcast by now, that any leaning towards Christianity on my part, could very well just be down to the desire for the thing itself to be true.

Maybe it is, but I am not so sure.

When I left Christianity, I did not do so on my own two feet. What I experienced was the whole house coming down, and as the dust settled around me, I found the sun was shining down, and the only thing I could do was to stand up, shake myself down and begin to move on, searching for answers to questions I once thought settled.

I am still on this search. This is by no means the end of the road, but I think this book has unsettled a few things within me. I will touch lightly on a few of them here, but it must also be noted that I do not claim to have watertight arguments, rational perceptions, or the ability to evaluate evidence in a coherent manner. Dave is right, in as far as he says, I bring things to my searching, but I do not think I bring a desire to undo all I have done and re-found all I have said. For if anything, doing so could be the most inconsiderate thing possible. Who in their right mind wants to suggest they have been so very wrong?

Before we move on, I should say that as often happens with me, I found reading this book to be extremely challenging. Not just from what is within the pages, but from the language, prose, and attention to detail one needs to pay due to how Mr Lewis builds upon his thoughts. For this reason, I quickly dropped the book itself and listened to it a couple of times via Audible. It was here, on my runs, walks, bike rides and baths (yes, I love a good bath) that I allowed the message to soak in slowly over the last few weeks.

A thought – how often do we do this with that which challenges us? I for one am prone to consume as much content as possible in as short amount of time as possible. I devour and forget. I think we, at least in the West, have lost the ability to work something through slowly, to challenge, think and reflect as we take it on board.

I live in the Yorkshire countryside, every single day I see dry stone walls. Some are clean and strong, others covered in thickets or moss. I feel as though I have been walking down these walls in my mind for a very long time, searching for the start or end, so I can see the cause or know the answer. But what if I was looking for these things in the wrong way? It feels now as if a stone is loose and, well could that be light pouring in from the other side?

Dawkins, Harris, Harari & Ehrman are all authors I look to and admire. You will have seen a few of each of their books reviewed by me in other posts on this blog. The way they address the questions of life excites me. Upon reflecting on their work, I realised that having no God would enable this reality to be far more incredible than if it was all drummed up by some eternal Being with an agenda. Casting seeds of doubt within my mind has enabled me to crumble the foundations and overcome the doubts about my doubt. This is something that I’ve been looking into, and thinking about for a while.

So – Miracles. Why did this book possibly change everything? Mr Lewis does not provide an agenda drumming deity, rather he suggests a canvas or frame, that the whole show (this world and life) requires to ‘be’ in the first place. What if we have settled for the picture, without realising there is a frame the keeps this picture up on the wall?

Firstly – I would encourage you to read it yourself and read it slowly. Don’t fly through it allowing your objections to blunt any possible points that are being raised. Read (or listen) and think. I will provide the quotes which got me thinking and are things I will be thinking about for a long time to come.

Do not judge my thoughts and these quotes by themselves. If this was all Mr Lewis had to say on the subject, he wouldn’t have written a whole book.

‘We are interested in man only because his rationality is the little tell-tale rift in Nature which shows that there is something beyond or behind her. In a pond whose surface was completely covered with scum and floating vegetation, there might be a few water-lilies. And you might of course be interested in them for their beauty. But you might also be interested in them because from their structure you could deduce that they had stalks underneath which went down to roots in the bottom. The Naturalist thinks that the pond (Nature—the great event in space and time) is of an indefinite depth—that there is nothing but water however far you go down. My claim is that some of the things on the surface (i.e. in our experience) show the contrary. These things (rational minds) reveal, on inspection, that they at least are not floating but attached by stalks to the bottom. Therefore the pond has a bottom. It is not pond, pond for ever. Go deep enough and you will come to something that is not pond—to mud and earth and then to rock and finally the whole bulk of Earth and the subterranean fire.’ Lewis, C. S.. Miracles (p. 45). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.

This pond metaphor is powerful. For reason, rationality and morality to be the things we instinctively think they are, we need something like the substrate to give them a grounding. Naturalism or Universal Darwinism (as Mr Dawkins would call it) claims that we have reason, rationality and morality due to evolution and the changing patterns brought about by this process. Without an objective grounding outside of this experience, we can’t know that our reason is really rational at all. We can suggest, test and hope – but all we are suggesting, testing and hoping, has to be done so against our experience of reality as it is now – but it has not always been so, and it will not be so in the future, for ‘reality’ is just a perception.

I also don’t think we can live as though reason is just a by-product of our consciousness (again being a by-product of evolution). Mr Lewis goes on in the book to explain (as Sam Harris also does in his book Freewill) that within a naturalistic worldview freewill isn’t real. Without free will we can’t have what I would like to call active reason. I believe that I am actively reasoning with what I come across on each page of any book, but if free will isn’t real, I am not driving the car, and I am not actively reasoning at all. Passive reasoning, maybe. Again, these are all ideas that challenge the agnostic atheist worldview I have been living life from in recent months.

‘The divine art of miracle is not an art of suspending the pattern to which events conform but of feeding new events into that pattern. It does not violate the law’s proviso, ‘If A, then B’: it says, ‘But this time instead of A, A2,’ and Nature, speaking through all her laws, replies ‘Then B2’ and naturalises the immigrant, as she well knows how. She is an accomplished hostess.’ Lewis, C. S.. Miracles (p. 95). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Feeding events in, which nature herself accommodates without pause – now that is fascinating. The moment the supernatural enters into the natural, nature takes her in and accommodates it completely. A miracle is an amendment to nature that nature bends to hold within herself. Without realising it, I have come to regards the miracles within the Bible as piffle and rubbish. For nothing suspends nature to allow some event/miracle to occur. I read the accounts of feeding the 5,000 or Jesus healing the blind and shake my head that such primitive people could believe that such miraculous events could ever have taken place. On what basis do they claim these miracles? Supernatural events require supernatural evidence.

What Mr Lewis says here though isn’t calling for any suspension of nature, rather an accommodation into nature, which feeds on the substrate concept above. God, being the very thing that holds nature together, is firstly feeding into her that which continues her existence, and then feeds in that which she accommodates without pause.

At this point, non-believers might be disgusted and instantly walk away from this blog forever. Believers might very well come across this and begin to follow from here on out as they realise, I am trying to be me on this journey. Regardless of your thoughts about my journey – what I hope, in being brutally honest here with the things that have captured my mind, is that I will enable you as a reader to walk this with me.

When Belief Dies is here to honestly reflect on faith, religion and life. I will never tell you what to believe, rather I will always tell you about my belief dying, and the journey from that moment on.

Miracles as a book has really stumped me. Yes, I can think of the classic arguments against what Mr Lewis is saying within his book, but that doesn’t make such arguments true. A coin has two sides, but only one of them lands true when flipped. I want to know which side is showing, whilst exploring both sides of the coin.

__

It’s been two weeks since I wrote those words, and I am currently re-reading Miracles for the third time (yes, I have read it through once more, and I am now on my final reading of it). I have never read a single book so many times in a row. I have SO many questions, and I don’t know where to turn.

I’ve been talking to people and my atheist friends claim that the universe isn’t irrational, it is unpredictable. From unpredictability, you could get rationality. I know that my answer to my questions would not be along these lines, rather I would simply claim that we don’t know that there was nothing before the big bang, if there was something, could this something be rational and path setting? Though this does also sound a lot like a God would.

Then there is consciousness. I do a lot of meditating and have become so much more aware over the last few years about how much my mind holds me hostage in unplanned thought. How do I know that consciousness isn’t just an evolutionary byproduct? There are so many other animals who express a variety of consciousness, as well as intelligence. When I meditate, I don’t experience God, at least not in any way I would expect to. What I experience is a very active mind that has the ability to drop down and realise I am little more than the ‘contents of my consciousness and my experience of this state’ – a Sam Harris quote.

If I can find peace, love, and reality so powerfully from mediation, where I found none of these things to this same level within Christianity, does this have any sway on the reality of God?

Then there is the whole black hole of the Bible and the person of Christ. There is a lot of work there to redeem anything, and I don’t think it’s possible. Christianity seems very far from me.

Miracles has definitely got me thinking, but I don’t know where to go from here. I look forward to sharing more in upcoming posts.

_End of Blog Blurb_

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. It has taken me a few years to get to a place where I am able to share my loss of faith and to start writing about the journey that I am still on for you all. I hope you find it useful.

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Grammar, spelling, capitalisation and punctuation: I am massively dyslexic. It has taken me years to get to the level I am currently at with writing and I have done this mainly through reading. I want to be better and ask you, reader, to please forgive any errors in my writing. I hope you notice improvement upon improvement over the coming years.

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I’ll see you back here at the same time next week 🙂

-Sam

When Belief Dies #68 – 'An exchange of monologues…' with Daniel Kelly When Belief Dies

This week Sam is joined by Daniel and together they reflect on the last few conversations they have had together with other guests on the show. In short, we dive into Christianity and its sway upon the world today. The video version of this conversation can be found here on our YouTube channel 12 hours after the audio version goes live. This is the first episode recorded on the new PC, please bear with me as  I get used to working on Windows (used to be Mac OS), and also new audio & video editing software. Steep learning curve incoming 😉 Notes & Corrections:   I say 'Theodicy' in this conversation when talking about reading the  person of Jesus back into the OT, the term I meant was  'Theophany' Article about Neanderthals, art & jewellery You can find/follow Daniel here:   Twitter We hope you enjoy our show. When Belief Dies aims to honestly reflect on faith, religion and life. Your support via Patreon enables us to cover the costs of running this show and look to the future to make things even better as we build upon what we already have in the works. Please take a look and consider giving. Alternatively, you can support the show with a one-off gift via PayPal. Use the following link to navigate to the website, to find us on social media and anywhere else we might be present online. #Podcast #Deconstruction #God #Agnostic #Christian #Atheism #Apologetics #Audio #Question #Exvangelical #Deconversion #SecularGrace #Exchristian
  1. When Belief Dies #68 – 'An exchange of monologues…' with Daniel Kelly
  2. When Belief Dies #67 – 'Psychedelics, History & Hope' with Pat Smith
  3. When Belief Dies #66 – 'Social Contracts' with Kane B
  4. When Belief Dies #65 – 'History for Atheists' with Tim O'Neill
  5. When Belief Dies #64 – 'The morality of an Infidel' with Simon Blackburn

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Miracles

  1. Hi Sam, you are on such an honest quest for truth, and tho not exact my journey mirrors yours, the last couple of years has been painful, very. I have found refuge with podcasts like yours and the thinking and graceful atheist.
    One thing that warmed me to you and what I’ve never mentioned before, is about the time I lost my faith along with my mothers passing i was diagnosed with chronic back pain, that I still have. Plus as you know my partner is extremely vulnerable. All this has been a perfect storm and mentally it’s taken a toll. Especially with shielding and loss of Christian friends that turned out not to be.
    Im intrigued today, and will down load miracles in audiobook form.
    I cannot make any other comment without listening to miracles .
    Again your podcasts and blogs are first class,

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Colin, thanks for this! I hope you enjoy other posts coming up in the next few months as I work through all of this.

    It’s a delight to have you reading and listening, and I really appreciate you sharing your story with me.

    Thank You!

    Like

  3. I have not read “Miracles”, though I have read several CS Lewis books. I doubt that it would sway me at this time of my life.

    But let’s get to the main point, the question of free will.

    Apparently Lewis says that within a naturalistic world view, free will isn’t real.

    I suppose I cannot really say much about that, because I have never understood what people mean by “a naturalistic world view.”

    I follow a lot of science. I think like a scientist, though technically I am a mathematician. Nevertheless, I have never found that science has imposed any belief system on me. So perhaps that suggests that I don’t have a naturalistic world view.

    As for free will — yes, we have that, although there is a lot of disagreement about what that actually means. We make genuine decisions in a way that would not be possible if we were mechanical robots. And there is nothing in science that persuades me otherwise.

    One of the things that I get from science, is the importance of making observations, and the importance of keeping our beliefs consistent with those observations. I observe people, including myself, making genuine decisions. And that is why I still believe in free will. Yes, my free will is quite limited. I cannot flap my wings (or arms) and fly. But my ability to make decisions is still very different from what we see with mechanical robots.

    I am puzzled by people like Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne who say that science refutes free will. Why can they not see that doing science depends on free will? If we do not have free will, then our science is bogus.

    Science works by providing mechanistic accounts of various aspects of nature. And those mechanistic accounts work well enough to allow us to make pretty good predictions. But then people like Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne jump to the conclusion that therefore nature itself is mechanical. To me, that is an unwarranted jump to conclusions. I don’t see any reason to believe that nature itself is mechanical, and I see plenty of hints that it is not.

    Yes, if nature were purely mechanical, we would not have free will. But there are too many reasons to doubt that nature is mechanical.

    Does this require a god to manage nature? I really don’t know. But that’s why I am agnostic rather than atheist.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this Neil!

      There are a few posts on free will coming up in the future and it’s something I’ve touched on through the podcast as well. Such an interesting topic!

      What I found really interesting about Miracles is that it didn’t convince me of the Christian God. But it did make me realise there is more going on that I can take into account. Reason and consciousness being two such example that take a lot of unpacking.

      I wrote this post about 14 months ago and there are a few more posts are unpacking it a bit further. Such a fascinating subject.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “labels without descriptions can be precarious things, and to get a description, you need to glean an understanding” I love this phrase. I’m very wary of assuming anything from a label because they change their meaning so much these days.

    Liked by 1 person

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