To this point we have discussed objective truth and how it points to God. We have also shown how the cosmological and teleological arguments demonstrate God exists. In our quest to show the truth of Christianity, this post will discuss whether miracles are possible.
You may wonder why a discussion of miracles would be part of an investigation of Christianity. Simply put, if miracles aren’t possible, Christianity can’t be true and God can’t exist. However, if miracles are possible Christianity can be true.
In his “Discourse on Miracles”, John Locke developed the idea of miracles as supernatural events that confirm messengers from God. Although he was an empiricist, Locke understood that science can’t prove everything, that is where the supernatural must be considered.
David Hume and Methodological Naturalism
Today’s secular world is heavily influenced by the ideas of a philosopher from the early 1700’s; David Hume. His influence can be seen in virtually every aspect of life today.
Scottish philosopher David Hume has been especially influential in skeptics’ views on the possibility of miracles. Hume’s argument against miracles can be summarized as follows: 1) for a miracle to be accepted it must be attested to by a sufficient number of men of “good and trustworthy character”, 2) no man of “good and trustworthy character” would ever testify to a miracle, 3) therefore, miracles aren’t possible. Hume’s argument is fleshed out in much greater detail in his 8700-word treatise on miracles, but this provides a simplified, layman’s view of his argument.
What we see in scientific study today is an extension of Hume in the form of Methodological Naturalism. Methodological naturalism excludes any kind of immaterial, supernatural explanation from consideration when attempting to explain various cause and effect relationships; only material science is considered valid.
This presuppositional exclusion of certain possible explanations is actually contrary to science. Scientists should consider all explanations of the observations they make. By excluding certain possibilities and following methodological naturalism, the scientist is allowing his or her own biases to affect the outcome of their study. The irony is that methodological naturalism can’t be proven by any material scientific experiment; it is a philosophical position.
If accepted and taken together, it is easy to see how these ideas have impacted our current situation, especially in relation to Christianity. Unfortunately, both positions have logical problems. Hume tells us that miracles, a way to confirm God’s message, aren’t possible. Hume’s argument however, commits the logical fallacy of “begging the question”; the premise assumes the conclusion is true. Dr. William Lane Craig presents a simplified analogy of Hume’s error in this video . Methodological naturalism insists that the only acceptable hypotheses in science have to be of natural origin, regardless of what the evidence says.
Miracles, with or without a miracle worker?
We have previously discussed two miracles; one that all scientists agree occurred (albeit dispute the cause) and one that most historians agree occurred (even if they only indirectly admit it). These two events are the Big Bang and the Resurrection of Jesus.
To recap these previous posts (here and here), scientist agree that all space, time, and matter were created at the Big Bang. Prior to this, dare I say “miraculous”, event there was nothing; as in “no thing”. For a reason that material science has yet to explain, the universe simply exploded into existence. Genesis 1 is arguably the greatest miracle in the Bible; without it nothing else matters, with it any miracle has to be considered at least possible.
Jesus’ resurrection has been extensively studied by Dr. Gary Habermas who has developed the Minimal Facts argument. His argument for the historicity of the Resurrection relies on five facts that approximately 95% of all historians agree happened. Early historical sources, both inside and outside the Bible, support these minimal facts. These five facts also have no naturalistic explanation for them. The only plausible explanation for all these facts is that 2000 years ago someone claiming to be the Son of God was executed, buried, and three days later walked out of his tomb. That seems to meet the criteria of miracle.
Building on just these two events we can make the argument that miracles are at least possible. This means that methodological naturalism is an invalid approach to scientific study.
We are not saying that we should immediately look to miracles as explanations for unexplained phenomena, but we also shouldn’t exclude them if the evidence leads us that direction. It should also be made clear that neither of these events are being attributed to miracles from a lack of knowledge, a “God of the Gaps” argument. Instead, these are positive conclusions based on the evidence we do observe and a lack of competing theories.
One argument raised against miracles is that they are impossible because they are extraordinarily claims which require extraordinary evidence. A potential problem with this argument is it could be considered self-refuting. If we consider this an extraordinary claim, it would require extraordinary evidence to prove it takes extraordinary evidence to prove extraordinary claims.
The other problem with this standard of proof for extraordinary claims is that the skeptic can simply refuse to accept any evidence presented as being insufficient. No matter how convincing the presented evidence may be, the skeptic could simply continue to ask for more in order to be convinced.
Atheists bear the burden of proof for their naturalistic claims; just as Christian do for their claims. This means the atheist must provide extraordinary evidence for their claim the universe originated from nothing and from no one. Claiming that all space, time, and matter created all space, time, and matter violates the Law of Causality; an extraordinary claim. The atheist must explain our two miracles with a naturalistic mechanism or else he has a miracle without a miracle worker. Christianity presents them as miracles with an identified Miracle Worker.
What does science say?
Today we often hear the phrase “follow the science”. The problem for methodological naturalism and the philosophies of Hume is that only some evidence is considered acceptable – naturalistic evidence. Any explanation that points to supernatural causes is automatically ignored. But I thought we were “following the science”?
Scientists draw inferences based on their interpretation of the data they observe. This can be influenced by a scientist’s presuppositional biases. In the end, science doesn’t say anything, scientists do.
This post only scratches the surface on why miracles should indeed be considered possible. More information on this topic and others can be found on our Resources page and in Norm Geisler and Frank Turek’s book “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist’.