This is part of a long response to Jeremy's comment on a previous entry. You might want to go there and read his comment, first.
"As a realist, if you observe magic, you believe it."It's been a while since I've read the BK, so I shouldn't attempt to debate it with you, really. But that quote introduces Alyosha who, in this part of the novel, is so enamored of Zossima--a living saint! He observes the miraculous healings, the supernatural wisdom, and he believes it all! But what happens? Zossima dies and his body putrefies immediately. He was no saint, and those weren't miracles--he was simply a very good person, dedicated to his good works. But of course the whole novel is a dialogue about faith and acts, and it has been too long. When will you read it with me, Jeremy? (Anyone else want to join us? We'll set an ambitious schedule.)
Everything in the world has an explanation. Certainly there are many things in the world (probably most things, actually) that have an explanation that no one has figured out yet, but there is an explanation, nonetheless. Who know, perhaps some things may well be explained by "the actions of god", but this just means that god is a part of this world, a natural part of it, and the It affects things.
To say that God is not a part of this world, or to say that god's actions do not affect it, is to say (as I do) that "in all respects, it is exactly as if god was not"*. By my lights, this is atheism. It isn't really Strong Atheism, but it's close enough for me. I'll believe in your god--or anyone else's, really--provided that the existence of this god makes no difference to the world. By the way, don't confuse this statement with the claim that your ideas of god make no difference in the world. Ideas about god are enormously influential.
Everything can be explained, but there's never a guarantee that these explanations will fit nicely into the current worldview. How do the planets work? They orbit each other in space. How do they do that? According to gravity. How does gravity work? According to relativistic principles. Each question has an answer, but the original questioners weren't always ready to hear it. Einstein shatters Kepler, Kepler shatters Aristotle.
Quantum Mechanics is crazy, crazy stuff, but it isn't "miraculous". Or no, I take that back--it is miraculous, but that doesn't change the fact that it is also "a fact of nature till then unrecognized". Miracles can be quite commonplace--each night a child is born, &c. &c.
So, yes, sometimes the explanation may be radically different from what one would expect. The apostle Tomas thinks, "I saw what looked like a figure resembling my dear friend and teacher. That seemed quite unlikely, however, as I saw him die recently. Having performed further investigations, however, I can see his features quite clearly. Moreover, the wounds are consistent with those my friend received and, finally, I have verified that they have the physical properties consistent with objects in the world--for example, I can touch them. I must therefore reevaluate my view of the world in the following ways: 1) My friend, whom I had thought to be dead, is not currently dead; and 2) given that he had predicted as much beforehand, it is highly likely that he was right about the other metaphysical claims that he made. Thus, the only reasonable course of action is to live my life according to those principles the he has explained, insofar as I can square those with my understanding of correct moral action. Fortunately, his teachings align perfectly with my understanding of how I should act. I will express this all to him in the following manner: 'My Lord and my God!'".
That thought experiment contained two propositions: namely that one should base one's view of the world on reasonable evidence (let's pretend that Cartesian skeptics don't exist for now, ok?), and that actions should be based on more than experiential phenomena.
Perhaps a counter-example or two will help: The first night after the Crucifixion, Apostle Thomas misses his teacher greatly. Late at night, out of the corner of his eye, he sees a tattered cloak hanging from a tree--could it be his old teacher, returned from the dead?! It must be! Without a second glance, Thompson rushes towards the town square, shouting about his immortal teacher. This was a poor decision on Thompson's part. He thought that he had observed "magic", but his grief made him a fool. It was just a cloak on a tree--sometimes these things happen*.
Then there is this: Imagine Thomas, after Christ has been crucified but, again, before he has risen. The devil dresses itself up to look just like Jesus, and gives itself identical wounds. In addition, it blows smoke from its ears and adds an electric halo--very impressive! Thomas touches the wounds and concludes that this is no vision--it must be real! But this devil tells him, "Everything I said was wrong, and now that I've returned from death I have new teachings: Go forth, and kill!"(A similar thing happened to Mohammad, by the way.) Now Apostle Thomas must say, "Although you are real, and not a hallucination, and even though I think that you are my teacher, and even though you had predicted that you would return from the dead, I still have no reason to accept your new teachings--going forth to kill is still wrong, and you've given me no reason to change my mind."
So I maintain that it is not enough merely to question the "magic"that one observes, one must also question the actions that one should take--unexpected phenomena have no necessary correlation with correct moral teaching. It is true, of course, that if you perceive a large number of new phenomena, it will cause your worldview to change, and this new worldview might very well call into question one's ideas of morality, which should then be reŽxamined.
*It's just occurred to me that my view of God is almost the opposite of my idea of Truth. Truth may or may not exist in the world, but we should act in all ways as if it did exist, while we should act as if god does not. This is because we can approximate Truth--we have great reasons to believe that one thing is much less True than another thing--but we can't really approximate god. Where do you start? Which is more macho, pineapple or knife? This footnote is, perhaps, a bit fuzzy. I just thought it was an interesting observation.
*Feynman has an awesome story about this: "I remembered the time I was in my fraternity house at MIT when the idea came into my head completely out of the blue that my grandmother was dead. Right after that there was a telephone call, just like that. It was for Pete Bernays--my grandmother wasn't dead. So I remembered that, in case somebody told me a story that ended the other way."