They recognized that a universe in which miracles are possible
is a world in which science, strictly understood, is impossible.
You may wish to read Why I believe in miracles by Matt K. Lewis (pictured second) in The Week for December 9th, and the reaction a week later by Damon Linker (pictured first), The age of miracles is over — even for the religious.
Miracles have traditionally been understood as temporary transgressions by God of the natural order. You know, like Moses parting the Red Sea, or a virgin giving birth to a child, or the resurrection of a man three days after his death. All three events and many others recounted in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament are inexplicable in natural terms. They are divine incursions into the order of things, a suspension of the necessities that govern that order — like the necessity that tells us, for example, that only a female who has been impregnated by the sperm of a male of the same species can give birth to offspring. That necessity reigns supreme, without exception, in nature. But Christians believe — or are supposed to believe — that God overrode that necessity in impregnating Mary, a woman who had never had sexual relations with her husband Joseph or any other man.
Lewis, like many contemporary believers, uses the term "miracle" to mean something very different and far less, well, miraculous. Instead of referring to a divine intervention that overturns natural necessity, Lewis maintains that a miracle is any event within the world that appears to have personally beneficial consequences. As something taking place within the natural world, the event will always be explicable in scientific terms. But the believer is also free to interpret the event otherwise — as having been mysteriously authored or brought about by the hidden hand of God. That is the kind of miracle that Lewis believes in.
The great early modern defenders of science (men like Baruch Spinoza, Thomas Hobbes, and David Hume) understood that the belief in miracles was an obstacle to the advance of human knowledge, keeping alive the possibility that the findings of scientific investigation are at most provisionally true — true only so long as God doesn’t act within the world in a way that contravenes natural necessity. That’s why these and other partisans of the Enlightenment actively sought to explain (or rather, to explain away) miracles and undermine popular belief in them. They recognized that a universe in which miracles are possible is a world in which science, strictly understood, is impossible.
Centuries later, the philosophical critique of miracles has been so successful that many of the faithful are more comfortable affirming the truth of soft providentialism, which is perfectly compatible with science because it makes no empirically verifiable (or refutable) truth-claims about the world at all. It’s even compatible with Darwinian evolution, which posits the radically non-theistic view that species evolve through a process of random mutation and adaptation, since it’s always possible that God plays a crucial and hidden (but scientifically undemonstrable) role in the process. Perhaps God causes evolution’s seemingly random mutations, or controls the environment to which these mutated organisms adapt themselves.
The good news for religion is that it has survived the philosophical-scientific assault on miracles. But the bad news for religion is that it now lingers on in a profoundly weakened state. Where faith once confidently ventured truth-claims about the whole of creation and its metaphysical underpinnings, now it often offers mere expressions of subjective feeling about a world that science exclusively reveals and explains. That represents a remarkable retreat.
Oh? Really? I find that we have proponents of both views in the world of the shroud and, interestingly, they are not self-segregated into pro- or not-pro- authenticity stances.