Do you believe in miracles?

Posted on 22 March, 2008

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Atheists: Can You Discount Every Single Testimony of Miracles and Answered Prayers?

The following are deemed to be miracles by the blogger. He asks “Can the atheist or naturalist who deny the existence of God or supernatural phenomena claim that every single of these testimonies is false or mistaken, and that every one of the testifiers is a liar or misguided?”

  • Hundreds of swarming Christmas beetles simultaneously fall to the ground on their backs and do not get up again, just as the pastor prays for the God-given authority of man over all nature in order to stop this disruption to the service.
  • A young man’s heart stops for over half an hour due to anesthesia. The doctors test him and predict that he will not live through the night, will not awaken from his coma, and will have massive brain damage to the point of being a vegetable. The very next day, he awakens with full control of his body. The ECG shows no heart problems at all. The doctors are flabbergasted.
  • A younf woman, unsure of whether to accept her new suitor due to still having feelings for her ex, asks God for a speific sign: The suitor will give her something with an apple in it tomorrow. The very next day, he gives her a teddy bear… One that holds an apple.
  • After spending a whole night exorcising a possessed man (no 360-degrees head-turning involved outside of Hollywood), a Malaysian Christian studying in New Zealand seeks a sign froim God that the exorcism was successful: His wife in Malaysia will send him her very first letter to New Zealand from 9000 kilometres away, and it will arrive today. That very morning, the first person at the door was the mailman, with the letter in question.
  • Seeking advice about how to know God’s will about relationship and marriage, the young man is asked by a church leader what a suitable sign would be. He answers that it would be a clear sign if his next job, out of the dozen applications that have been stewing for a month, sends him to Johor Bahru where his love interest is teaching. That very afternoon, he receives the phone call. They want a Science-educated individual who is good in English and who has worked for a magazine before – which fits him to a T. Not a single other job apllication responds for 6 months more. And the job is in Johor Bahru.

Can the atheist dismiss every single one of these occurences as psycho-somatic healing, pure luck or fraud?

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My responses below.

In each of the examples you gave there are a number of possible answers. Let’s take the first as an example. Either:

The person who recounted the story to you was lying.
The person who recounted the story to you told the partial truth but exaggerated the events.
The beetles really did fall, coincidentally at the same time as the Pastor spoke.
The beetles fell from the sky as the direct result of intervention from a higher being.

Perhaps all of these possibilities seem unlikely, but we know one of them must be true. Therefore, we have to assume the most likely is the case. It might be hard to believe that the person exaggerated their story or got the facts wrong, but this is far more likely than a higher being intervening on the swarming of beetles.

The mistake you seem to make is in seeing a miracle in every coincidence. Coincidences, by their nature are extremely unlikely, but they happen.

You might find it useful to know the standard test for a miracle, devised by David Hume:

“No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish.”

If the beetles story is not a miracle, it means the person who told you either lied, exaggeratted, was mistaken or witnessed a coincidence. All far likelier than a miracle.

  • Scott Thong Says:
    March 21, 08 at “No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish.”If the beetles story is not a miracle, it means the person who told you either lied, exaggeratted, was mistaken or witnessed a coincidence. All far likelier than a miracle.As there was a church full of eyewitnesses, including a board of church executive committee members who later signed the pastor on partly due to the miracle, the lying/exaggerating/mistaken explanation is discounted.As for coincidence… What is the probablility of all the beetles falling, all on their backs, and just when the pastor prays his prayer asking for a divine intervention along those lines?Thus, Hume’s test would establish this case to be a miracle – it is far more likely some unseen power influenced the spontaneous, simultaneous fall of hundreds of beetles at jus the right time, than they all fell by pure random chance.The supernatural intervention of a God is only ‘improbable’ or ‘impossible’ if one assumes from the start that God doesn’t even exist. Whereas Christians believe in a very real, active and listening God.—————————————-

    The mistake you seem to make is in seeing a miracle in every coincidence. Coincidences, by their nature are extremely unlikely, but they happen.

    On the contrary, I look for the non-supernatural explanation for every event. It is only when the odds of something happening by pure chance become too improbable, that I bring supernatural explanations into the account.

    As these intelligent, rational and educated scientists do: Physicists Believe in God (Or At Least a Creator or Designer): A Collection of Quotes

    I contend that your mistake is to explain away every claimed miracle as a coincidence. From the offset, naturalists discount the possibility of the supernatural as ‘impossible!’

    That runs contrary to the scientific method; whatever result an experiment gets, will be bludgeoned and massaged into fitting the pre-formed conclusion.

    As the finale of this skit demonstrates: The Locked Tomb Mystery – Whodunit?

  • Hi Simon,To quote your original post:“And those are just a handful of the miracle healings, directly answered prayers, and other coincidences so improbable that they can’t be due to chance alone… ”I disagree with your assertion that these “miracles” could be too improbable for chance alone. Improbable events occur all the time. If a lottery were held everyday, every day there would be a winner, despite how improbable winning the lottery is.The letter your Father received is a lovely story but to say “coincidentally, the leter arrived the next day” seems vastly more likely than to say “A God caused the wife to write a letter and a postman to deliver it the very next morning”. This story is certainloy not “so improbable that it can’t be due to chance alone” as you suggest.

    But I see where we disagree:

    “The supernatural intervention of a God is only ‘improbable’ or ‘impossible’ if one assumes from the start that God doesn’t even exist. Whereas Christians believe in a very real, active and listening God.”

    I would say that your position means you want to see miracles, and it is a very natural thing for people to do. When we miss an elavtor by a few seconds or drop a butter covered knife on the floor we have a moment of frustration, as if the inanimate objects and events are conspiring against us. But of course, they aren’t. It’s purely chance.

    None of the examples you have given here are miracles I’m afraid, but this isn’t something that should upset you. I assume you have faith in your God and faith requires no proof they say, so stop looking for miracles, have faith in your God and have a very lovely day 🙂

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