One of the standard arguments against Christianity is that miracles do not exist; and because the Bible claims that they do, the Bible must be wrong. I must make two points. First, stating that miracles can never occur is not a scientific statement, so don't claim that it is. Science tells about what can be observed and repeated in a controlled experiment. If something cannot be observed in a controlled experiment, it is not science, but that does not mean that it is impossible. It is only not easily reproducible. My second point is that if only one man was raised from the dead in all of history, it would not be that surprising if you were not there to see it. So when most people differentiate between the normal and the miraculous, they are really just differentiating between the common and reproducible and the rare and not reproducible. Should we really ignore the data, just because it is rare? Now, don't misunderstand me, I agree that we must analyze these exceptions to the everyday very carefully.
David Hume, a famous atheist philosopher, ably attacked miracles in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding in 1748:
When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.
In the foregoing reasoning we have supposed, that the testimony, upon which a miracle is founded, may possibly amount to an entire proof, and that the falsehood of that testimony would be a real prodigy: But it is easy to shew, that we have been a great deal too liberal in our concession, and that there never was a miraculous event established on so full an evidence.
The test that Hume gives is the correct one. That is, we should only believe in a miracle if the possibility of the witness is deceived or lying would be more "miraculous." We must apply this test to any proposed miracle. As it turns out, his final statement is incorrect, because there is at least one miracle where the miracle having occurred is massively more probable than the witnesses being deceived or liars. This case is the resurrection of Jesus. Imagine that you have a group of friends that you know very well and trust. What would you think if they told you that they saw a dead man get up and order coffee? They were quite sure that he was dead first because of the gaping hole in his chest and the detail that he was not breathing. At first you would think that they were joking; but when you press them, you would realize that they really do mean it. That is to say, if a group of witnesses is completely trustworthy, anything, including a miracle, is more probable than them lying. If they are careful observers, you can also be assured that they were not deceived. This is the situation with the authors of the New Testament.
Another miracle, of a different kind, deserves mention in this section.
1) A miracle is something that cannot be explained by the natural order.
2) The natural order does not explain itself.
3) Therefore, the natural order is a miracle.
That is, all existence is a miracle. You may be under the impression that physicists can explain the natural order. This is not the case. Physicists can explain what exists, and to some degree how something exists; but they cannot explain why something exists. If a set of laws is found to be consistent with the universe, then those laws are considered true. These laws can often, with more understanding, be described in terms of more fundamental laws, but the most fundamental laws can never be explained. This argument is related to the discussion of the boundaries of the universe. You may have a more sophisticated definition of miracle: "Something that cannot be explained by the natural order, and could only have been caused by an intelligent being." The natural order also requires this intelligent being (God), but it takes more work to see this.
Once we have accepted a miracle or two, other miracles suddenly become more possible. However, I still agree that we must hold proposed miracles to very high standards of truth before we believe in them. I do not need to discuss charlatans for you to understand the importance of not believing every miracle man that we come across. Each miracle must be carefully analyzed based on the evidence available.
This page was last changed on 2011/08/28