For Spinoza, however, talk of miracles is evidence not of divine power, but of human ignorance. An event that appears to contravene the laws of nature is, he argues, simply a natural event whose cause is not yet understood. Underlying this view is the idea that God is not a transcendent being who can suspend nature’s laws and intervene in its normal operations. On the contrary, “divine providence is identical with the course of nature”. Spinoza argues that nature has a fixed and eternal order that cannot be contravened. What is usually, with a misguided anthropomorphism, called the will of God is in fact nothing other than this unchanging natural order.
Of course, this view has serious consequences for the interpretation of scripture, since both the Old and New Testaments include many descriptions of miraculous events. Spinoza does not simply dismiss these biblical narratives, but he argues that educated modern readers must distinguish between the opinions and customs of those who witnessed and recorded miracles, and what actually happened. Challenging the literal interpretation of scripture that prevailed in his times, Spinoza insists that “many things are narrated in Scripture as real, and were believed to be real, which were in fact only symbolic and imaginary”.
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