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  • The Philosophy of Nature, Chance, and Miracle
  • Adam Świeżyński (bio)

I. Introduction

Each and every one of us has our personal secrets, secrets which we do not disclose to outsiders. If we do decide to let an outsider into those secrets, we want to be certain that they will be properly understood and respected. Revealing our secrets to someone else is also normally preceded by a long acquaintanceship, which serves to create an atmosphere of trust.

If we accept that nature, understood as the entire physical reality of the universe, contains within itself secrets regarding its origins, functioning, and ulterior development, then the study of these secrets is only possible for beings such as ourselves, possessed of consciousness, sensory tools, and intellect. In this context, the history of humanity’s demands for a rational knowledge of the world can be considered as a period of time like the aforementioned, embodying an ever-closer conversance, or acquaintanceship, with nature. The corollaries for this are scientific discoveries and theories explaining the functioning of the universe on both the macrocosmic and microcosmic scale. All of these achievements make up a picture of reality which, despite a continually improved conversance, informs us of the existence of mysteries, global in nature, encompassing nature in its entirety, and encompassing us as well. Among them, a specific place is occupied by questions regarding chance and miracle. These mysteries go beyond the field of study covered by the natural sciences and demand the involvement of philosophical and theological cognizance. Human striving to comprehend these mysteries is a natural desire for a broader and more thorough study of the perspectives revealed by contemporary natural history. Although it is only an endeavor, not claiming for itself the aspiration to make a mystery of something completely comprehensible, nonetheless it cannot be bereft of philosophical reflections undertaken on the theme of nature.

Philosophical attempts to answer the question as to what chance is and the question as to the possible existence of the miracle, are ineluctably bound up with the problem of the concept and structure of the laws of nature. It thus appears that the most competent area of philosophical deliberation, within the framework of which one might seek the answer to the questions posed, is [End Page 221] the philosophy of nature, rooted within the contemporary natural sciences. Its domains of study are, first and foremost, the essential properties of material bodies, their changeability and the principles governing the course of natural phenomena.1

II. What Is Chance?

In everyday life, we very often meet with events that we define as fate or chance, such as, for example, accidents, games of chance, and so forth. In common parlance, the word “chance” means an event or occurrence, unexpected and unlooked-for, which we are unable to predict on the basis of either the known laws of nature or experience. However, chance has more than one name. It is sometimes called “coincidence,” “a twist of fate,” or “a stroke of luck.” The problem of chance is extraordinarily intriguing because it touches upon events which, many a time, have a significant effect upon human life.

Long ago, Leucippus posited that nothing happens by chance, but everything arises from a cause and an inevitability, while the continuator of his thinking, Democritus of Abdera, believed that humans devise an illusory image of chance for themselves as a cover for their powerlessness. Epicurus introduced the concept of chance as the third element shaping the world into the system of philosophy. He understood chance as a sudden, spontaneous swerve or relative deviation from the straight-line movement of atoms (parenclisis, clinamen), which led to the collision of atom with atom. And it was exactly thus that the world came into being. This perspective on the beginning of the world, known as “chance monism,” understood chance, and chance alone, as the element leading to the world’s coming into being. Epicurus thus introduced the notion of chance into the science of nature, but he did so on the grounds of necessity, as nature’s complement.2

In subsequent times, the common understanding of chance was as the materialization of an event unintended by the causative factors...


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pp. 221-241
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