Lewis, C.S. 1947. Miracles: A preliminary study. London: Geoffrey Bles.
Lewis begins with a poem about nature, followed by 17 chapters, an epilogue and two appendices. In “The Scope of the Book,” (chapter I), we read the “book is intended as a preliminary to historical inquiry,” (13) so Lewis does not attempt to provide historical evidence for Christian miracles. Rather, he, first of all, wishes to argue for the possibility of them.
The main argument of the book revolves around “The Naturalist and the Supernaturalist,” the title of Chapter II. By Miracle, Lewis means “an interference with Nature by supernatural power” (15). A naturalist believes that nothing exists except nature and a Supernaturalist believes there is something more. Nature, in turn is “what happens ‘of itself’ or ‘of its own accord’” (16). It is the “whole show” and everything is derived from it. It may admit to a certain kind of God but not the “idea of a God who stands outside Nature and made it” (19). If the claims of the naturalist are true, “we do know in advance that miracles are impossible” (21).
However there is “The Self-Contradiction of the Naturalist” (chapter III), which depends on human reasoning, meaning that “no thought is valid if it can be fully explained as the result of irrational causes” (27, emphasis by Lewis) and we must assume that argument has validity. Once, however, you trust in argument you claim the validity of thought.
This leads to the difference between “Nature and Supernature” (IV) and what has existed forever—everything for the naturalist and Reason for the Christian. Reason always shows there must be something else behind it and that it does not exist in and of itself. In other words, to believe that Nature produced God is absurd (41).
“A Further Difficult in Naturalism” (V), claims that the Naturalist cannot deny Reasoning without philosophically speaking “cutting his own throat” (43). Reasoning also leads us to moral judgments but, “if Naturalism is true, ‘I ought’ is the same sort of statement as ‘I itch’ (45).
“Answers to Misgivings” (VI) examines the thesis that Rational Thinking is simply a condition of the brain. However, this is not possible because once we are aware of our own thinking it cannot be merely a natural event and “therefore something other than Nature exists” (51). This takes us back to Lewis’s main thesis that “Nature as a whole is herself one huge result of the Supernatural: God created her” (54).
There are certain ’laws of Nature’ and Lewis deals with some of them in “A Chapter of Red Herrings” (VII). Miracles are an exception to such laws. There are examples of “miracles” in history, but they are not supposed as contrary to nature. However, “no one every pretended that the Virgin Birth or Christ’s walking on the water could be reckoned on to recur” (58). Even in the examination and recognized splendor of nature, “we must remember that it is only Nature spiritualized by human imagination which does so” (64).
Lewis next looks at “Miracle and the Laws of Nature” (VIII), noting that such laws are brute facts, “with no discoverable rhyme or reason about them” (67). The Laws of Nature are necessary truths but “are from making it impossible that miracles should occur makes it certain that if the Supernatural is operating they must occur” (71). A miracle does not break the law of nature because it is God that acts and He does it in accord with his own activity and, in doing so, he “must of course interrupt the usual course of Nature” (74) Left on its own Nature could never produce miracles.
Lewis next writes “A Chapter not strictly Necessary (IX), which dwells on emotions, that is talking of Nature as if it provides peace or cruelty. Nature, however, is a created thing, not the Absolute, and is “partly good and partly evil” (80) and should be offered “neither worship nor contempt” (81).
“Horrid Red Things” (X) refers to a story about a young child who thought that aspirins had horrid red things in them because she imagined poison to be like that. Lewis uses the story to show how metaphor is everywhere in our speech and that “all speech about supersensibilities is, and must be, metaphorical in the highest degree” (88). We use and need images but need to remember that “the God who seems to live locally in the sky, also made it” (93). Both the literal and metaphorical have always been with us in defining meanings and yet “We can make our speech duller; we cannot make it more literal” (96).
Lewis next contrasts “Christianity and ‘Religion’” (XI). Contemporary religion does not believe that God does miracles because it does not believe that God “has purposes and performs particular actions” (99). Lewis equates popular religion with a kind of Pantheism, a kind of abstraction, about which man says what he wishes about God “and not what God does about man” (101). The Christian, however, says that “God is totally present at every point of space and time, and locally present in none” (103). God is “concrete and individual in the highest degree” (105), not a generality or a “crude, materialistic superstition” (108). “The Pantheist’s God does nothing, demands nothing” (113).
“The Propriety of Miracles” (XII) shows that there are rules in God’s acts and “Nature is only a part and perhaps a small part” (117) and the real story is about Death and Resurrection.
A naturalist will accept “the most improbable ‘natural’ explanations rather than say that a miracle occurred” (121). Discussing an improbable event, Lewis turns to “On Probability” (XIII) and shows that there are many kinds of probability. However, the Resurrection is on quite a different level than the sense of miracle that we find in other miracle tales in literature.
“The Grand Miracle” (XIV) for Christians is the Incarnation and “Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this” (131). Christians find the new way—Death and the Re-birth as the key principle to the “Divine theme” (136). In this view, God is “not a nature-God, but the God of Nature—her inventor, maker, owner, and controller” (139). The Incarnation brings us into contact with “the composite nature of man, the pattern of descent and re-ascension, Selectiveness and Vicariousness” (143). Nature is around us but it “has all the air of a good thing spoiled” (147) and human death is the result of human sin (152). Lewis discusses bodily death and shows how it becomes “blessed spiritual Death to self” (156). It follows that we must “embrace death freely…and so convert it into that mystical death which is the secret of life” (157). Lewis puts it this way: “In science we have been reading only the notes to a poem; in Christianity we find the poem itself” (157).
There were “Miracles of the Old Creation” (XV) when God has, perhaps, done miracles for pagans. However, these were quite different than those done by Christ, which Lewis classifies as miracles of fertility, healing, destruction, domination over the inorganic, reversal and perfection or glorification. In every instance God “short circuits the process” of nature with a miracle, but it is not anti-natural act (163). The laws of Nature are a pattern, but God has always been doing work that shows his genius. In healing, for example, “The magic is not in the medicine but in the patient’s body” (168). Miracles are a foretaste of a kind of Nature that is still in the future.
Lewis relates “Miracles of the New Creation” (XVI) to the miracle of the Resurrection, “the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts” (172). It cannot be isolated from the Ascension and resurrecting someone from the dead “was the first event of its kind in the whole history of the universe” (173). However, Christ, in his corporeal body, was not cut off from his relationship to the disciples. He does foreshadow the new nature because “The pattern of Death and Rebirth never restores the previous individual organism” (181) and the new organism is made out of the old. We become new creatures and what we no longer need (in terms of body or body functions) does not survive in our new creation. God “is the glad Creator” and the “sacraments have been instituted” (194).
The ”Epilogue” (XVII) is a kind but firm warning not to let our feelings tell us that miracles cannot occur.
The appendices deal with the words spiritual and spiritual (A) and “Special Providences” (B). There are a number of senses to the words spirit, spiritual and spirits: the chemical, medical, the opposite of bodily, the rational element, and the life in Christ. Special providences relate to how our prayers “cannot be either asserted or denied without an exercise of the will—the will choosing or rejecting faith in the light of a whole philosophy,” in other words “All prayers are heard, though not all prayers are granted” (215).