How Would You Define A Miracle, Redux

What in the world do people mean when they use the word miracle

The answer is essentially something out of this world

The problem is, how in this world do we test for that?

Over at SI's, Modusoperandi recently described a miracle as "something that doesn't happen." Okay, well… I had to assume he meant something that rarely happens, but is that really any more helpful as a parameter? I'm no probability whiz, but it seems to me that given enough rolls of the dice, any combination can eventually result.

Another problem with this view is that it just simply assumes miracles rarely happen. Granted, nobody I know has been resurrected, but who's to say any of the countless everyday occurrences where lives are being saved weren't miraculous? Who's to say any of the countless everyday occurrences where lives are being lost weren't malevolent expressions of the phenomenon? Who's to say there's not a supernatural or spiritual component to things like UFO phenomena, astral projection, clairsentience or any of the other strange phenomena human beings experience? If we have no idea what miracles are, how can we move forward and say they happen rarely?

A while back, Lifeguard offered the following definition, "from the hip" as he described it:

Miracles, if they exist, are observable phenomena whose cause cannot be sufficiently explained in purely scientific terms (materialistic and naturalistic causes).

That sounds fine, and I don't have a quibble with the "observable" part, but when we take a deeper look isn't this what atheists typically refer to as God of the Gaps reasoning? As Lifeguard also points out, "..today's miracles are killed by tomorrow's scientific discoveries." Unless we allow believers to use something's inability to be explained scientifically as evidence for their claims, it doesn't seem helpful to ask them to offer something's inability to be explained scientifically as evidence for their claims.

In that thread, John Morales offered the following:

What would make an event miraculous is if (a) it’s clearly contrary to the “laws of nature” (in practice that it contradicts current scientific theories [which would make such a theory wrong]) and (b) the most parsimonious reason for that is divine intervention.

Still, I see the same problem. Like Lifeguard's, John's (a) also forces the believer to formulate their argument in a manner the atheist is already pre-disposed to reject. That something is "clearly contrary to the laws of nature" doesn't help, even if it does contradict the current scientific paradigm, because this is essentially God of the Gaps reasoning. John's (b) prompts one to wonder, how do we decide that divine intervention is the most parsimonious reason for something? Arbitrarily? Isn't that what the ID camp receives harsh criticism for?

How do we reasonably discern between the natural and the supernatural? It's something we've talked about here before, and I believe we need to trash both terms and start again. Remember, we used to think lightning and fire were supernatural. Maybe some instances of them were, and maybe some still are, but we all know anyone with money and means can buy lighters and build Tesla coils.

An angel may have cradled that baby to make sure it landed in that dresser drawer full of socks after a tornado blew that house apart, but even though we find the baby in the drawer as such, we can never confirm our hypothesis with any sort of methodology that could even loosely be called scientific. A demon may have really manifested psychically to that kid who took his own life, but what empirical evidence are we justified in expecting from entities who are alleged to operate in the realm of intuition? A genuine miracle may have occurred in the case of Kayla Knight, but on what grounds could we prove such? If God's hand did heal Kayla, what would we expect to see that was any different than what we see? What could we expect besides an anecdote?

I believe these questions suggest that the type of evidence most skeptics demand cannot exist, and I'm only a few more posts from declaring MiracleQuest an irredeemable failure. Although supernatural events or miracles would interact with the natural world, unfortunately, they represent temporary intrusions into the natural world from entities whose very nature forbids them to leave hard evidence, because they themselves are said to come and go from outside our parameters of space-time.

To continue the Waldo analogy, atheists and believers can agree as to what Waldo looks like such that we can identify him in a crowd. What we need is a definition of miracle that shares this luxury.

Is it possible to offer a definition that begins with no assumptions? Probably not, but can we at least reduce the definition as much as possible? Also, preferably into something that doesn't require the believer to make to make an argument from ignorance?

25 Comments

  1. Dominic Saltarelli says:

    Hate to be a buzzkiller, but don’t you think this line of inquiry will be about as fruitful as Socrates’ discussion with Meno regarding the definition of virtue?
    I see it often enough with other ideas, it always ends the same way. When ever people try to define things like morality, or science, and now miracles, it always ends the same…
    Miracles are like porn, you know it when you see it.

  2. cl says:

    No buzzkiller at all. I fully agree, and am happy for it. This is consistent with what we’d expect if no undeniable ontological argument exists, which is what I currently believe. I just find it odd that people would frame their criteria in a manner they’re pre-disposed to reject.

  3. Dominic Saltarelli says:

    Ah, you’re playing Socrates. Gotcha.

  4. cl says:

    I’m not going to assume I have any idea what that was supposed to mean. At least as far as miracles go, that there’s no successful ontological argument is a theory that is supported by the data, as you yourself agreed: “..it always ends the same way.”

  5. Karla says:

    Not sure if this it the post you were asking me to check out or not, but it is intriguing.
    I certainly don’t think miracles to be rare, for I believe they ought not to be rare because Christians aren’t rare and Jesus said we would do even greater things than He. Not that miracles don’t also happen sovereignly. If the dead were being raised every day this would not be any less of a miracle. So normalcy would not cause something to cease being miraculous.
    Also science may be able to explain a possible natural cause for something — but they could not prove the natural was the cause for it. A headache could abate immediately with prayer and be the result of a supernatural touch of healing by God, but it could have been explained by a natural cause. Neither could be proven.
    Now the more involved miracles like someone who was deaf from birth and suddenly received full hearing without any medical intervention. Or a mute who can instantly not only speak but speak the language fluently — this is something outside the parameters of medical science. A leg or arm growing out before ones eyes would certainly unequivocally be deemed a miracle from any reasonable person. Something unnatural would have to be admitted to.
    I have recently heard of a minister who sees a lot of miracles in his ministry now travels with certified medical doctors to document the miracles first examining the person in need of healing prior to the healing and again after giving professional documentation of what took place.
    Regardless you are always going to have those people who will always believe miracles don’t happen and that everything has a natural cause no matter how improbable.

  6. Karla says:

    Also another thought I recently read an article where the writer was explaining that what we usually deem supernatural is really the real natural and what we deem natural (that includes sickness, disease, pain, suffering) is really subnatural. Thus the miracles are restorative of what ought to be natural rather than something oddly supernatural.

  7. “Miracles are like porn, you know it when you see it.”
    That so needs to be a T-shirt. ;-)

  8. MS Quixote says:

    Hey cl,
    A miracle is an event that occurs in a blatant religious, historical context, wherein it is impossible for natural causes to have produced the event at the place and time where the event occurred.

  9. cl says:

    Just so everyone knows, what I’m really looking for are criteria that would allow us to create some sort of reason-based methodology we can use to evaluate miracle claims. Most all would say that praying for lightning in a lightning storm and getting a hit would fall in the “probably not” category. Why? Similarly, many would say spontaneous generation of a missing limb would fall into the “probably” category. Why?
    Mike,
    I swear I thought the same thing. Do you think a church would ever run it?
    Karla,
    Actually, if you’re still interested, this was the one I had in mind, but I’m glad you contributed here as well.

    So normalcy would not cause something to cease being miraculous.

    While I agree, I anticipate that this would be resisted by many.

    A headache could abate immediately with prayer and be the result of a supernatural touch of healing by God, but it could have been explained by a natural cause. Neither could be proven.

    That’s where many atheists simply trot out Occam’s Razor and just assume that every single instance of phenomenon X was naturally effected.
    Certainly, everybody can see there are differences in claiming divine intervention for remission of a headache vs. the deaf suddenly hearing. Of curiosity, what are the most compelling cases you’ve experienced and/or heard?

    Something unnatural would have to be admitted to.

    That’s the argument a guy named jim is making here. I tend to agree, but what I want to know is – where do we draw the line? How can we devise a rigorous set of criteria that would allow us to analyze any group of miracle claims and categorize them in either the “less involved” or “more involved” categories?

    I have recently heard of a minister who sees a lot of miracles in his ministry now travels with certified medical doctors to document the miracles first examining the person in need of healing prior to the healing and again after giving professional documentation of what took place.

    Who is this guy? Let’s here from (or about) him.

    Also another thought I recently read an article where the writer was explaining that what we usually deem supernatural is really the real natural and what we deem natural (that includes sickness, disease, pain, suffering) is really subnatural. Thus the miracles are restorative of what ought to be natural rather than something oddly supernatural.

    Well, I completely agree that the whole “natural vs. supernatural” is an obstruction to reason, and the best solution I’ve devised is to describe events as either conscious or unconsious, but lately I’ve been realizing that this approach has bigger limitations than the clarity it provides – so, back to the drawing board on that.
    MS Quixote,
    Howdy there…

    A miracle is an event that occurs in a blatant religious, historical context, wherein it is impossible for natural causes to have produced the event at the place and time where the event occurred.

    Well, okay, and I understand what you’re trying to describe, but… we used to think it was impossible for natural causes to produce lots of things. The limitations of natural causality decrease as our knowledge increases, so what do we do then?

  10. MS Quixote says:

    Well, cl, “we” thought none of the things I assume you’re alluding to; perhaps our distant ancestors did, but even there this is a greatly exaggerated rhetorical ploy. I get what you mean, though I think the objection is unfounded.
    You’ll notice first, that objectors employing this thought generally do not simultaneously deny the applicability of natural laws with regard to the miraculous.
    Secondly, it simply doesn’t matter. One is not within her epistemic rights to postulate unknowns such as these as defeaters for miracle claims. We have to operate within the epistemic environment in which we currently exist. Thus, it’s a matter of plausibility, and the rational thinker is bound by the most plausible explanation. Obfuscation to the unknown, though theoretically possible, is radical skepticism, which is self-defeating, and at any rate less plausible. Only a more plausible claim than the religious claim offered by the skeptic can serve as a logical alternative to the miracle claim. To do otherwise is simply to abandon reason.
    Thus if natural causes are known to be incapable of producing an event within an overtly religious historical setting, the most plausible explanation is the religious claim made in context of the miracle: note your recapitation example as a worthy “for instance.”
    As to the decreasing limitations of natural causality, this would only strengthen my definition as time and knowledge pass and increase. The more that is learned about natural causality, the less excuse one possesses to appeal to an unknown.

  11. cl says:

    ..even there this is a greatly exaggerated rhetorical ploy.

    Ouch! How so? How is it a rhetorical ploy to state the fact that we people used to think it was impossible for natural causes to produces lots of things?

    You’ll notice first, that objectors employing this thought generally do not simultaneously deny the applicability of natural laws with regard to the miraculous.

    I didn’t get what you meant by that.

    One is not within her epistemic rights to postulate unknowns such as these as defeaters for miracle claims. We have to operate within the epistemic environment in which we currently exist.

    I tend to agree with you there, if you remember, that’s pretty much what I said when DD offered a SMERF (Sudden Magnetic Energy Reversal Fields) as a logical possibility to my Recapitation example.

    Obfuscation to the unknown, though theoretically possible, is radical skepticism, which is self-defeating, and at any rate less plausible.

    I agree, and again, that’s how I felt about DD’s SMERF.

    Thus if natural causes are known to be incapable of producing an event within an overtly religious historical setting, the most plausible explanation is the religious claim made in context of the miracle: note your recapitation example as a worthy “for instance.”

    Sure, but what about a case like Kayla’s?

    The more that is learned about natural causality, the less excuse one possesses to appeal to an unknown.

    Well, that’s just the logical outflow of what I’m saying, but the problem is, we have no idea where the limitations of natural causality are, or if there even are any. People “ruled out” many “impossibilities” we enjoy today.

  12. MS Quixote says:

    “Ouch! How so? How is it a rhetorical ploy to state the fact that we people used to think it was impossible for natural causes to produces lots of things?”
    No ouch involved…for you, anyway. I should have made myself clear that you were not the referent, cl. Joseph, for instance, certainly knew how babies were normally produced, and suggestions that he was a duped, unscientific rube biased toward the supernatural conception of children is utter nonsense. Any like suggestion is nothing but shallow rhetoric. Sorry for the confusion…
    “I didn’t get what you meant by that.”
    It’s amusing to me that our knowledge of natural law is generally thought ironclad when some argue for naturalism; yet when miracles are in view, suddenly our knowledge of natural law gets cloudy and almost untrustworthy all of a sudden. It seems to be a general lack of consistency depending on the argument at hand.
    “that’s pretty much what I said when DD offered a SMERF (Sudden Magnetic Energy Reversal Fields) as a logical possibility to my Recapitation example.”
    And you were precisely correct.
    “Sure, but what about a case like Kayla’s?”
    I knew you were going to ask me that:) I just don’t know enough about the case, cl, to answer with any certainty; however, if you could satisfy my definition of miracle, I’d say you had a good case. At any rate, though, there’s nothing to preclude Kayla’s case from being a miracle, except a bias for naturalism. Anyone who says different isn’t trying. But, as you are as well, I’m also open to a natural explanation in Kayla’s case. Nevertheless, whatever we decide, if we do,it has to be the most plausible explanation, given the evidence at hand.
    btw-if anyone cares, my particular theological bias argues against Kayla’s case being a miracle.
    “Well, that’s just the logical outflow of what I’m saying, but the problem is, we have no idea where the limitations of natural causality are, or if there even are any.”
    Likewise, we have no idea where the limitations of supernatural causality are, or if there even are any. You have to go with the most plausible answer given all the information we have in the epistemic environment you find yourself in. Miraclequest is no different than any other epistemological problem, and should not be treated as such just because miracles are purportedly involved.

  13. Karla says:

    CL, the minister I was referring to was Randy Clark of Global Awakening Ministries. I’ve attended a three-day training event led by him personally in the past.
    Also have you ever read Miracles by C.S. Lewis? He addresses this question very thoroughly.
    I’d say the most miraculous things I can attest to, is seeing an arm grow out, being instantly healed of a terrible upper respiratory and sinus infection, a friend of mine whose foot had been numb for many years suddenly having feeling in it again, a lady I prayed for received restoration of hearing in an ear that was partially deaf, a woman in my church had pain in her ankle and was scheduled for surgery and the pain completely left and she did not need surgery. . . those are the top ones that I’ve been close to.
    I would recommend reading also Bill Johnson’s book When Heaven Invades Earth.

  14. Karla says:

    CL, the minister I was referring to was Randy Clark of Global Awakening Ministries. I’ve attended a three-day training event led by him personally in the past.
    Also have you ever read Miracles by C.S. Lewis? He addresses this question very thoroughly.
    I’d say the most miraculous things I can attest to, is seeing an arm grow out, being instantly healed of a terrible upper respiratory and sinus infection, a friend of mine whose foot had been numb for many years suddenly having feeling in it again, a lady I prayed for received restoration of hearing in an ear that was partially deaf, a woman in my church had pain in her ankle and was scheduled for surgery and the pain completely left and she did not need surgery. . . those are the top ones that I’ve been close to.
    I would recommend reading also Bill Johnson’s book When Heaven Invades Earth.

  15. cl says:

    Thanks for the info Karla, I’ll look into at least some of it I imagine. If you feel like taking a bunch of verbal lashes, post those examples here, where they would be quite relevant.

  16. John Morales says:

    I think this guy was hoping for a miracle. Shame he relied on faith, not on medicine. RIP.

    “He read his Bible daily, he spent his full focus on God,” said Webb.

  17. Unambiguous miracles would definitely make me a theist, and by unambiguous miracles, I mean “an event that is (1) completely and unmistakably contrary to our current understanding of how the world works, (2) done with the declaration that it was in God’s name, and (3) not possibly the product of trickery or fraud.

    I’ve always been of the persuasion that God is definitely capable of being obvious, rather than operating just on the tiny edge of statistical significance.

    For example, if God were to reveal a third testament that instantly cleared up all theological objections to Christianity and clarified all the theological debates within Christianity, that would convince me of Christianity.

    If a prophet were to be able to use prayer to do something unquestionably miraculous, like the oft-quoted heal an amputee, or a parlor trick like levitating a building in front of newscasters.

    If the three-hour darkness and resurrection of saints recorded in Matthew was also recorded in numerous other sources far away, like Chinese historians, I would be convinced enough to convert, despite not even witnessing the miracle myself.

    Stuff like that.

  18. cl says:

    Unambiguous miracles would definitely make me a theist, and by unambiguous miracles, I mean “an event that is (1) completely and unmistakably contrary to our current understanding of how the world works, (2) done with the declaration that it was in God’s name, and (3) not possibly the product of trickery or fraud.

    With all due respect, I’m skeptical, Peter. Every single atheist I have ever encountered waffles in this regard. You’re basically asking for a God of the Gaps argument in that the criteria you’ve given are fallacious [most notably 1]. An atheist who doesn’t want to believe can always resort to some variant of, “Well this is just an explained event. Science will probably find a natural explanation for this one day.” Been there, done that. But who knows? Maybe you’re from a different cut.

    I’ve always been of the persuasion that God is definitely capable of being obvious, rather than operating just on the tiny edge of statistical significance.

    There, we agree. To me, God is obvious.

    For example, if God were to reveal a third testament that instantly cleared up all theological objections to Christianity and clarified all the theological debates within Christianity, that would convince me of Christianity.

    Well, this presumes there are objections which stand. To date, I’ve not seen any that don’t dissolve fairly easily. While there are certainly unanswered questions, I don’t see that a third testament is needed. Nonetheless, one could say that we are indeed destined for a third testament: God’s return and subsequent restoration of the fallen creation. That will convince everybody, but unfortunately, time will have run out by then.

    I do intend to get to your other comments around here; I’m glad you made your way this way.

  19. You have good reason to be skeptical, but I’m not one of those people who don’t want to believe. If God truly exists and truly is all-good, then I would want to have a personal relationship with him.

    Surely you concede that while you see God as obvious, he’s not “obvious” in the way the existence of Mt. Everest is obvious. God could, potentially, if he wanted to, be a heck of a lot more obvious.

    Let me elaborate on point (1), which is probably the point of contention. By this, I mean something that is utterly impossible by current scientific knowledge, like the wholesale levitation of a building by magical incantation.

    “Science will probably find a natural explanation for this one day” does not dismiss the miracles that follow point (1), and points (2) and (3) attribute it to the God of a specific religion. I do know that you can use that to dismiss “miracles” of consciousness and even some of your NDEs that I haven’t looked into.

    But imagine if, in every home that did not have a Bible, a Bible appeared. It just suddenly materialized on every bookshelf; a Bible created ex nihilo right in front of not just your eyes, but the eyes of everyone on the planet.

    Now imagine Mr. “I hate God and will never believe in him no matter what” (if such a person exists) tries to dismiss this as some collapse of a wave function and says “Science will probably find a natural explanation for the sudden appearance of all these Bibles.” No one would ever buy that, and he’d be rightly dismissed as unreasonable. People would flock to Christianity.

    Take another example — that of the resurrection of saints, the earthquake, and the three-hour darkness discussed in Matthew. Imagine if these events weren’t just written about solely in Matthew, but made it to all the other Gospels and the epistles and also were written about by every historian in the time period, including some people who became historians solely to record these events. Imagine if we saw testimonies to the three-hour darkness, the earthquake, and the resurrection of saints in accounts from the Chinese, the Japanese, and even the Native Americans.

    Perhaps “Science will probably find a natural explanation” could be used to dismiss the darkness or the earthquake, but I could imagine situations where it couldn’t — the darkness doesn’t correspond to any possible eclipse from the orbits we know of and the earthquake was global to a degree that couldn’t be produced by plate tectonics.

    Even so, that wouldn’t dismiss a resurrection of the Saints (a resurrection in reality completely unnoticed by anyone other than Matthew and not even considered by the Roman authorities, which makes it undoubtably an exaggeration). Imagine if the Chinese witnessed several of their past emperors come back to life for a few hours, all during an inexplicable darkness and earthquake.

    Such is a biblically recorded miracle that occurred in the past thousands of years ago, yet *could have* been utterly and indisputably convincing. Any attempts to appeal to a global mass hallucination, the only conceivable atheistic defense, would be unfounded and rightly dismissed as unreasonable.

    Such miracles counterfactually would have convinced me of Christianity, and additional miracles could. Of course, I’m not of the persuasion “miracle or I stay atheist” — I could be convinced by other means. But those means would be the quickest and the easiest.

  20. cl says:

    You have good reason to be skeptical, but I’m not one of those people who don’t want to believe. If God truly exists and truly is all-good, then I would want to have a personal relationship with him.

    Well that sounds positive. Do you have a post anywhere that enumerates your reasons for not having such a relationship?

    Surely you concede that while you see God as obvious, he’s not “obvious” in the way the existence of Mt. Everest is obvious. God could, potentially, if he wanted to, be a heck of a lot more obvious.

    It seems you mean “obvious” in a direct, visual perception sense. Of course, this is exactly what the Bible tells us is going to happen, but by that time, it will be too late.

    Let me elaborate on point (1), which is probably the point of contention. By this, I mean something that is utterly impossible by current scientific knowledge, like the wholesale levitation of a building by magical incantation.

    I understand. The problem is, our “current scientific knowledge” is always growing. I mean, if some guy levitated an entire building, that doesn’t prove God, Christianity, or anything supernatural. It just proves that something highly extraordinary has occurred. That is the absolute most one could say regarding such an event. This, I believe, is why God doesn’t run around jumping through hoops for skeptics. For that reason, I think your line of reasoning is fallacious. An unexplained, extraordinary event is just that: an unexplained, extraordinary event. To go from there to God requires precisely the fallacious leap often referred to as God of the Gaps.

    Now imagine Mr. “I hate God and will never believe in him no matter what” (if such a person exists) tries to dismiss this as some collapse of a wave function and says “Science will probably find a natural explanation for the sudden appearance of all these Bibles.” No one would ever buy that, and he’d be rightly dismissed as unreasonable. People would flock to Christianity.

    It’s tempting to agree, but I know all-too-well the power of slothful induction. We would still have a subset of people who rationalized things away.

    Take another example — that of the resurrection of saints, the earthquake, and the three-hour darkness discussed in Matthew. Imagine if these events weren’t just written about solely in Matthew, but made it to all the other Gospels and the epistles and also were written about by every historian in the time period, including some people who became historians solely to record these events. Imagine if we saw testimonies to the three-hour darkness, the earthquake, and the resurrection of saints in accounts from the Chinese, the Japanese, and even the Native Americans.

    Again, we would still have people that would rationalize it away. All one would have to do is mount a persuasive case for the first story being a legend. All the rest could be explained by the copycat theory, in the same way we occasionally find a multiplicity of trusted news sources reporting a false story that came downstream. Hell, we even have atheists who would conclude they were hallucinating if God were to appear directly in front of them. For those who don’t want to believe, no argument or evidence is sufficient [and I’m not implying you’re in that category].

    Of course, I’m not of the persuasion “miracle or I stay atheist” — I could be convinced by other means. But those means would be the quickest and the easiest.

    Feel free to elaborate.

  21. Do you have a post anywhere that enumerates your reasons for not having such a relationship [with God]?

    I haven’t finished typing up my complete case; I’m not even close to done; but I do have Twelve Reasons I Don’t Believe in Supernatural Claims, The Problem of God’s Inaction, The Problem of Evil, and My Reasons Against Pascal’s Wager for starters.

    Oddly enough my biggest gripes have not yet been typed up — I think my biggest reason for doubt of God is that I doubt he’s necessary for cosmology and my biggest reason for doubt of Christianity is that the Bible is historically, textually, scientifically, and morally errant and incomplete and does not seem to portray a wise being. I suppose this is grossly unfair to you though because I haven’t explained these reasons yet, but I promise I will get to them.

    By the way, I noticed comments were down on my posts for about a week or so, but I fixed that so people can leave comments. I also know I haven’t gotten to your POE response yet, but I will.

    Not to mention that despite searching and praying to God to enter my life, no evidentiary circumstances changed. To the best of my knowledge, I did those prayers genuinely and with an open heart.

    It seems you mean “obvious” in a direct, visual perception sense. Of course, this is exactly what the Bible tells us is going to happen, but by that time, it will be too late.

    Yes, but that’s not all. God could have been obvious even in the historical sense — he could have left a much bigger and more insurmountable pile of historical evidence indicating his existence and actions in history.

    But even today, it seems rather unfair that God won’t prove himself until it’s too late. I suppose I’ll just have to be surprised when the time comes.

    The problem is, our “current scientific knowledge” is always growing. I mean, if some guy levitated an entire building, that doesn’t prove God, Christianity, or anything supernatural. It just proves that something highly extraordinary has occurred. That is the absolute most one could say regarding such an event. This, I believe, is why God doesn’t run around jumping through hoops for skeptics. For that reason, I think your line of reasoning is fallacious. An unexplained, extraordinary event is just that: an unexplained, extraordinary event. To go from there to God requires precisely the fallacious leap often referred to as God of the Gaps.

    It’s not fallacious because of points 2-3 — the highly extraordinary event is directly connected to God and his power. God is supposed to manifest himself specifically in these unexplained, highly extraordinary events — that’s exactly what the supernatural entails. In my book, “unexplained, highly extraordinary” + “specifically impossible by current science” = supernatural until proven otherwise. Satisfying points 1-3 meets the burden of proof.

    Some events could occur that are physically impossible without a complete rethinking of science, such as whole building levitation with not a magnet or string in sight, or sudden materialization ex-nihilo of Bibles, or perfect telepathy, or an eclipse when there is no astronomical body to cause it. These would be miracles.

    Other events, such as the Catholic Church announcing they found a cure for cancer in their prayers, would not be case closed, but still very convincing.

    It’s tempting to agree, but I know all-too-well the power of slothful induction. We would still have a subset of people who rationalized things away.

    I agree. It’s true that might be the case with a minority of people; just like we see evolution skeptics, global warming skeptics, holocaust skeptics, 9/11 skeptics, and Obama birth certificate skeptics. Not everyone is convinced by evidence that they ought to be convinced by.

    But unless you want to assert that each and every atheist is utterly unreasonable, something I very much doubt to be the case, such miracles I’ve mentioned would be not only utterly convincing but soul-winning.

    All one would have to do is mount a persuasive case for the first story being a legend. All the rest could be explained by the copycat theory, in the same way we occasionally find a multiplicity of trusted news sources reporting a false story that came downstream.

    That is a potential excuse, but it’s possible to construct counterfactuals where this couldn’t possibly be the case. For example, we know indisputably that there are civilizations the 1st century Jews and Romans had no contact with, such as the Japanese, Chinese, the Pacific Islanders, or the Native Americans. If all of these civilizations had written stories of the darkness, resurrection, and earthquake, it would be a historical miracle.

    Hell, we even have atheists who would conclude they were hallucinating if God were to appear directly in front of them.

    To be fair, I would include myself in this group. God has been so inactive in my life (from my point of view, at least) that his sudden appearance would be unexpected, and I would conclude hallucination as the most probable example.

    However, this isn’t insurmountable. If God also appeared in front of twenty of my friends and a NBC news team, or if God appeared and left physical evidence that could be verified by others, this would be convincing.

    As a matter of fact, it’s possible I still could be convinced even with God appearing to me alone — he could predict tomorrow’s lottery numbers for me, communicate a cure for cancer, or even say something so philosophically profound it is impossible for me to have come up with it.

    Feel free to elaborate [on what non-miracle evidence would convince you].

    Limiting myself to non-counterfactuals and non-miracles, the next easiest case would be convincing refutations of my arguments against God and convincing me at least one argument for God was true.

  22. I think this was one of my first conversations with you here on this site, but a year later, I’m thinking about it again. I think that the “Alethian Worldview” has provided two solid “miracles” that would count as evidence for God’s existence — (1) winning The Omega Bowl and (2) answering the dollar bill – serial number prayer.

  23. cl says:

    Hi there, welcome back. I like that you’re going through old posts, I think that’s an extremely valuable strategy.

    Well, this isn’t going to win me any favor in your eyes, and I really hope you don’t get offended because I don’t mean to offend you, but I can’t mince words: I certainly don’t believe that either of those would convince you, and I’m hesitant to believe you’d consider them good evidence for God (for the reasons we’ve already discussed in addition to reasons I’ll elaborate on below).

    One reason I say this is because I’ve offered convincing refutations of so many of your arguments that I’ve lost count, but, I’ve seen no indication from you that theism is somehow more probable. You’ve not flinched in your atheism one bit that I can see. So, I think you’d simply rationalize these away the same way you rationalized away my rebuttal to your POE, my rebuttal to your overstated claims about prayer, or the Argument from Hygiene, which you straight-up claimed would provide “proof” of God’s glory and goodness “beyond any shadow of a doubt.” The response you gave to that article was literally one of the worst responses I’ve ever seen to an argument. Well over 90% of what you wrote had zero relevance to the topic at all. But, if you’d like to clear any of this up, then I may certainly change my opinion.

    Also, the previous criticisms would still apply. You can *NEVER* fully control for the possibility of trickery. Devise something no humans could do, you say? How would you know you weren’t being tricked by an alien race? How would you know the human race isn’t suddenly entering into a new development of evolution where supernatural powers are coming into play? How would you know you didn’t just get extremely lucky in the serial number reading? Hell, Ingo Swann and others have purportedly done things quite similar to the Omega Bowl without even invoking God, and yet, skeptics remain unphased. Etc. Etc.

  24. Crude says:

    These things that would “count as evidence for God’s existence”, given by atheists, never do much for me.

    They’re always subjective, they’re always (and I think in principal, always must be) capable of being the result of something other than God. And that’s okay, but the problem is the atheist seems to want to pass these off as *the* objective standard of evidence for God’s existence, when in reality it’s just yet another subjective interpretation.

    And if subjective interpretations are the name of the game, theists already have plenty that can reasonably do the trick.

  25. Jayman says:

    cl:

    What in the world do people mean when they use the word miracle?

    I would define a miracle as an effect whose primary (as opposed to secondary) cause is God.

    The problem is, how in this world do we test for that?

    As with most things I don’t think there is a fool-proof method. I would propose studying the natures of material substances to determine what they can and cannot do. If an event occurs that cannot be explained based on known material entities then we are justified in looking for a new entity (material or immaterial) to explain our observation. A religious context of some kind is what leads us to believe that God is the best explanation. We don’t merely jump from a lack of an explanation to positing God as the (primary) cause. MS Quixote appears to be on the right rack to me.

    Another problem with this view [that a miracle is something that doesn’t happen] is that it just simply assumes miracles rarely happen.

    In his book Miracles Craig Keener notes that surveys indicate hundreds of millions of people alive today claim to have experienced or witnessed (not merely heard about) a miracle. I don’t see how the skeptic can claim miracles are rare without a solid argument.

    MS Quixote:

    It’s amusing to me that our knowledge of natural law is generally thought ironclad when some argue for naturalism; yet when miracles are in view, suddenly our knowledge of natural law gets cloudy and almost untrustworthy all of a sudden. It seems to be a general lack of consistency depending on the argument at hand.

    Amen.

    Peter Hurford:

    If a prophet were to be able to use prayer to do something unquestionably miraculous, like the oft-quoted heal an amputee, or a parlor trick like levitating a building in front of newscasters.

    But there are reports of body parts being re-grown and things levitating (however, usually in a seance context as opposed to in response to prayer) and yet atheists still exist. Here’s a quote from p. 326 of Keener’s Miracles: “One of Tonye’s own patients when he was a junior doctor at the hospital (something like residency here) had such a serious condition that the gynecologist, Dr. Membre, had to perform a bilateral tube ligation, removing the tubes. The woman prayed during Apostle Numbere’s monthly healing meetings there, and three months later Tonye was present when Dr. Membre found her pregnant. Having removed the tubes himself, he could only concede, ‘Your God is great.’ After the child’s birth, a hysterosalpingogram, a sort of X-ray using dyes, confirmed that the woman indeed had two healthy tubes; Tonye witnessed this test himself, and the woman had other children afterward.”

    If the three-hour darkness and resurrection of saints recorded in Matthew was also recorded in numerous other sources far away, like Chinese historians, I would be convinced enough to convert, despite not even witnessing the miracle myself.

    Julius Africanus wrote: “On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Saviour falls on the day before the passover; but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time but in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last of the old, that is, at their junction: how then should an eclipse be supposed to happen when the moon is almost diametrically opposite the sun? Let that opinion pass however; let it carry the majority with it; and let this portent of the world be deemed an eclipse of the sun, like others a portent only to the eye. Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Cæsar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth—manifestly that one of which we speak.”

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