In many discussions on the existence of God the debate inevitably turns to miracles, at which point the skeptic proclaims victory because “any thinking person could not believe in miracles in this day and age.”
At the outset miracles do indeed appear to kill any rational thought about a worldview. How could any person logically believe that a virgin gave birth? What reasonable individual could actually support the notion that the dead could be raised?
They seem so outlandish and outrageous, so contrary to the way things work. They are so abnormal, they must not be possible. In fact, noted theologian and author Dr. William Craig said that he became a Christian inspite of the virgin birth. He called it “totally absurd” and a “stumbling block” to his faith.
However, there are several reasons why I believe that miracles can happen and why it is logical to accept them.
First of all, to reject miracles out of hand because of their improbability is to reject much of the central tenets of modern science. The evolution of life, especially human life, has to be one of the biggest improbabilities ever discussed – the miniscule chance that everything could develop just the right way for human life and all other living organisms. One can also consider the beginning of life. Louis Pasteur supposedly did away with the theory of spontaneous generation in 1859, yet for life to have developed on Earth non-life had to give rise to life.
These event hold an extremely low probability, so low that many, even atheists, have used the world “miracle” to describe them. So to remove miracles from the realm of logic, one has to use more than merely their improbability.
In fact, that is why they are miracles because they are improbable or even impossible. Craig defines a miracle as “an event which is not producible by the natural causes that are operative at the time and place that the event occurs.” Things are miraculous precisely because they could not occur naturally.
Atheistic philosopher Michael Ruse said, “Creationists believe the world started miraculously. But miracles lie outside of science, which by definition deals with the natural, the repeatable, what which is governed by law.”
What may surprise Ruse is that Christians hold to the same concepts. The key as Craig points out is that Ruse says miracles lie outside of science, but that does not mean they contradict it. Many things lie outside of science, while not contridicting it.
The key to understanding the place of miracles is evaluating the a priori assumptions of the world. If you assume that there is no supernatural at play, then of course the inclusion of miracles would be ridiculous. However, if one allows that the supernatural may be present in any form in our world, miracles may logically flow from that. A supernatural event must flow from a supernatural being, therefore if a supernatural being exists, supernatural events (miracles) may exist.
If you allow that there may indeed be a God in the universe, how is it any larger of a leap to assume that occasionally, he “interfers” with the natural way of doing things? C.S. Lewis put it this way, “If we admit God, must we admit miracles? Indeed, indeed, you have no security against it. That is the bargain.”
But are miracles a violation of the laws of nature? J.P. Moreland uses Newton’s classic experiment of the falling apple and gravity to explain. If you happen to reach out and catch the apple from falling, are you violating the law of gravity by preventing the apple from hitting the ground? Of course you are not violating the law or negating the law, you are merely intervening. That is essentially what the supernatural would be doing in a miracle – intervening in nature to cause a different outcome than the one that would happen without any action.
This should illustrate the point that if finite beings such as ourselves are able to overcome and intervene in certain natural laws like gravity when we catch something, fly in an airplane or blast into space, how much easily should it be for a infinite being to intervene.
Famed skeptic David Hume argued that miracles should not be considered by a logical man. He essentially said the evidence for the regular is always greater than that for the rare and since miracles are by definition rare, the logical thing would be to always discount miracles.
But Hume was wrong in his assumption – the origin of the universe happened only once, the origin of life happened only once, the origin of specific new life forms happened only once, the entire history of the world is comprised of rare, unrepeatable events and David Hume himself was born only once. I don’t think he doubts his own birth.
According to Dr. Norman Geisler, Hume confuses several things. First off, he confuses believability with possibility. The assertion only challenges the believability of miracles, not their possibility. Hume’s argument would ask that you disbelieve a miracle even if you personally witnessed one and gathered all the convincing evidence. You are not allowed to believe what you verified to be true.
Secondly, Hume confuses probability with evidence. He doesn’t weigh the evidence for each rare event. Instead, he adds the evidence for all regular events and claims this makes rare events unworthy of belief. We believe many rare events in our life. Do you discount a hole-in-one when you witness it firsthand? Do you tell the lottery winner that they can’t claim their prize until they pick the winning numbers five times?
Hume’s assertions disallow miracles from the start. He starts with the assumption that he knows all miracles to be false, which one can only have if you already know that miracles have never occurred. He also rightly defines miracles as a rare event and then says we shouldn’t believe it because it is rare. So in order for miracles to become believable for Hume, they must cease being miracles.
I began by telling how Dr. William Craig became a Christian in spite of his doubting miracles such as the virgin birth. So how did he go from a young doubting atheist to the author of numerous books on the veracity of Jesus’ resurrection and a contributor to books such as In Defense of Miracles?
He answers with this: “Well I sort of put that issue aside and became a Christian anyway, even though I didn’t really believe in the virgin birth. But then after becoming a Christian, it occured to me that if I really do believe in a God who created the universe, then for Him to create a Y chromosome would be child’s play.”
The insertion of the possibility of a supernatural being brings with it the possibility of supernatural acts. As C.S. Lewis said, “That is the bargain.” What I think is the better question is: why don’t we see those Biblical miracles today?
Many argue that they do occur today just not much in the West. A very well-educated and intelligent evangelist that I know shares the story of seeing a girl raised from the dead in India. Many others argue that they too have witnesses these type of events.
Of course the skeptic in most of us, myself included, says, “Why wasn’t that featured on CNN last night?” And if they are not well known today, why should we believe they happened in the past?
While many believe that the Bible is filled with miracles from start to finish, there is only about 250 in the 6,000 years of recorded history and virtually all of those are confined to three time periods: the lifetimes of Moses, Elijah and Elisha, and Jesus and the apostles. The significance of these three periods in the Bible is that this is when God was confirming a new revelation and new messengers of that truth.
So why no miracles today? If the Bible is true and complete, God is not confirming any new revelation and thus does not have this main purpose for performing miracles today.