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’.
2 thoughts on “Are Miracles Possible?”
I don’t know a SINGLE scientist that would describe the Big Bang as a “miracle.” This undermines your already specious argument about the nature and existence of miracles. Furthermore in order to consider the resurrection of Christ as a miracle you must first establish it as a fact which you can not do since there are no first hand witnesses that have left any first hand information. We have only the writings of the people 50 years or so AFTER the fact that only CLAIM to be retelling a true story.
This is all pure nonsense.
First let me say thank you for your response. We always welcome an opportunity for civil discussions on these topics.
John Locke, in his Discourse on Miracles, stated that a miracle is an event that is “a sensible operation, which being above the comprehension of the spectator, and in his opinion contrary to the established course of nature” and is “taken to be divine.” As an empiricist, Locke wasn’t saying that everything we can’t explain should be assumed to be a miracle, but that if science and observation can’t explain something through natural terms then a miracle should be considered.
As to your claim that you “don’t know a SINGLE scientist” that believes the Big Bang was a miracle. That could be considered a very bold claim (you know every scientist) or a weak claim (because you don’t know every scientist). We’ll assume the second.
Astrophysicist Hugh Ross started the Reasons to Believe organization to “help people discover that sound reason and scientific research consistently affirm the truth of the Bible and of the Good News it reveals.” Graeme Clark, inventor of the cochlear implant, said: “My aim was to help people and do God’s will … But thanks to God to have given me some talents”. There is little doubt any of these individuals would deny the Big Bang was a miracle. These are only two. A search of Wikipedia (I know, not a great academic source) of “List of Christians in science and technology” reveals an extensive list of scientists that most, if not all, would call the Big Bang a miracle.
Even many of the “Fathers of Science”, if they were alive today, would believe in the Big Bang. Isaac Newton, in his Principia Mathematica, stated that “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being … This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God.” Newton even wrote more on theology (1.3 million words) than on science.
Francis Bacon, the Father of the Scientific Method, said: “Knowledge is the rich storehouse for the glory of the Creator and the relief of man’s estate,” and “A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.” Johann Kepler, the Father of Physical Astronomy, said of his experiments: “O God, I am thinking Thy thoughts after Thee.”
Nicholas Copernicus thought that “no sure scheme for the movements of the machinery of the world which has been built for us by the Best and Most Orderly Workman of all.” He believed it was his “loving duty to seek the truth in all things, in so far as God has granted that to human reason.” Galileo Galilei believed that “God is known by nature in his works, and by doctrine in his revealed word.”
So, as you can see if your claim is that no scientists believe(d) the Big Bang was miraculous, you are mistaken. Just because you may not personally know one, doesn’t make it true. If your argument is that no atheist scientists believe in the Big Bang, that would be understandable. You still would be incorrect, although they may not come out and use the word “miracle”.
Sir Arthur Eddington, an atheist English astronomer/physicist/mathematician, said “The beginning seems to present insuperable difficulties unless we agree to look on it as frankly supernatural.” Even Stephen Hawking thought that “Almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the Big Bang.” If all space, time, and matter came into existence at the Big Bang, then explain what caused it that was spaceless, timeless, immaterial, powerful, intelligent, and personal. Looking at the evidence it seems to point to the God of the Bible and that would imply a miracle.
Your second point is also on precarious ground for two reasons. Your basic argument, if I understand it correctly, is that we can’t trust anything written “50 years or so AFTER the fact that only CLAIM to be retelling a true story.” What about an account of the Korean War? World War II? You seem to assert that even an autobiography written at the end of someone’s life can’t be trusted. They may miss on some of the small details or the exact phrasing of some of the conversations, but the significant events could definitely be remembered.
If you want to argue biblical inerrancy, that is one thing, but to say we can’t trust the stories of the disciples is completely fallacious. I would submit that following a teacher for three years, seeing him brutally executed, then raising from the dead would be a significant emotional event; and definitely able to be remembered 50+ years later.
The second problem is that you want to apply a standard to the Gospels that historians don’t even apply to secular accounts of events. The first record we have of Julius Caesar’s Gaelic Wars comes from over 500 years after the fact. The only account we have of Alexander the Great’s exploits is nearly 1000 years after the events. An account of events from 50 years after would be considered gold by historians of the ancient world, let alone four!
We also have accounts contemporary to the Resurrection from non-Christian sources that validate the accounts of the Gospels. Josephus, Mara bar Sarapion, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, etc. all relay information that supports that the followers of Jesus saw him raised from the dead and it impacted their beliefs to the point of suffering death.
We could go on and on with refutations to your claims, but we will leave you with this. If you truly seek knowledge on these topic, we would recommend four books: “The Minimal Fact for the Resurrection” by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist” by Norm Geisler and Frank Turek, and “Cold Case Christianity” and “Person of Interest” by J. Warner Wallace.
Again, thank you for your reply, we truly hope you will investigate these topics with an open mind. If you do, we think the truth will reveal itself. God Bless!