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On the existence of miracles

Posted by Chance on August 14, 2007

No doubt the Bible is filled with miracles. Many secular scholars reject the existence of miracles, as well as Christian scholars who tend to be more theologically liberal.

Sometimes, the rejection of all/some miracles tends to use circular reasoning. Consider the following statement.

“I don’t believe in miracles because they contradict science.”

However, miracles are supposed to contradict science, otherwise they are not miracles. By definition, miracles are “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs”. So, if miracles are manifestations of a divine power, or an outside source, then the fact that they contradict science is really irrelevant.

So, the person might as well say

“I don’t believe in things that contradict science because they contradict science.”

Now, I’m not saying everyone who disbelieves miracles suffers from circular reasoning or some lack of cognitive ability. Miracles take faith to believe in, unless someone witnesses a miracle firsthand. Much of secular society disbelieves in miracles for multiple reasons. In short, they believe that God chooses not to interact in our physical environment, or that there is no God. But saying that miracles cannot exist because they contradict science is not really saying anything.

I’m always more perplexed by Christians who don’t believe in all/some miracles. I suppose many believe in some miracles to some extent but don’t believe in all the miracles documented in the Bible. I’m not quite sure how to know which ones to believe in, because the essential elements of the Christian faith are probably the most fantastical. God coming in human form is a pretty overwhelming.

Now, some Christians may reject some/all miracles in the Bible because they see none happening today. Why was there so much supernatural activity in the past, but not today? I don’t completely know the answer. I have a few guesses though.

1) Because of the age we live in, we have access to so much more information than those in Bible times. Consequently, it is easier to have access to divine revelation through human means, so supernatural means are less necessary.

2) God went through a long period of not speaking to the people from the time of the prophets to the time of Christ. Perhaps in the period from the spread of the early church to times around the Second Coming/Tribulation is a sort of dry time for miracles. Maybe miracles abound only around significant events in the spiritual timeline, i.e. escape from Egypt, lifetime of Christ, spread of the early church.

3) Perhaps it has something to do with us. The supernatural is downplayed somewhat in the modern church, so it just doesn’t happen that often. However, it seems like the supernatural happened in Bible times when people were not expecting it. For instance, Abraham didn’t ask to be contacted by God. People didn’t know when Jesus would come and perform miracles. At the same time, maybe our additional knowledge of God’s overall plan should increase our expectations.

4) Maybe miracles happen more often than we know. I’ve always heard stories of amazing things happening with missionaries as far as healing of the sick and encounters with physical manifestations of spiritual entities. However, that doesn’t explain why many of us don’t see those things today. But then again, maybe miracles were only seen by select people in the Bible.

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4 Responses to “On the existence of miracles”

  1. Dan Trabue said

    “I don’t believe in things that contradict science because they contradict science.”

    I’d be inclined to think that most scientists wouldn’t reject the miraculous, as it is beyond the realm of the measurable. Question it, yes. Reject it? I don’t think so.

    A scientist might say (quite rightly), “There is no data to support the notion that a person that’s been cut in half can be put back together by a televangelist on the other side of the world praying for him.”

    The person who has been cut in half might protest and say, “But it happened to me, I know it happened!”

    To which the scientist might ask, “How did it happen? Is there any evidence that it happened? Do you have photos/film? Were there witnesses?” etc. And, the healed man lacking any of this, would say No.

    To which the scientist would repeat his assertion of fact: “There is no evidence to support that a miracle happened.”

    And I reckon some scientific thinkers would then make the leap to “…therefore, I see no reason to believe the alleged healing happened.” and he/she’d be quite right.

    But strictly scientifically speaking, I’d think the way it would be put would be the merely factual, “there’s no evidence to support that.”

  2. Dan Trabue said

    “In short, they believe that God chooses not to interact in our physical environment, or that there is no God.”

    Some surely believe that. But I suspect a greater number simply believe, “Homey don’t play dat.” That is, that’s not the way God works. Or at least, as a rule.

    God’s not a holy genie going around granting wishes to some who believe just hard enough or say the right words.

    “Why was there so much supernatural activity in the past, but not today?”

    1. There are all manner of claims of supernatural activity today.
    2. There were some claims of supernatural activity back in the day.
    3. Some believe that biblical writers, like some folk today, explained what they didn’t understand or know with miracles, or used the miracles as a story-telling device.
    4. We don’t reject Aesop’s Truths simply because they are fables. Those who believe the Bible but reject the miraculous needn’t reject the Truths simply because they don’t think each story is literally and factually word for word correct.
    5. Probably most people think that the greater miracles are the possible, but not likely miracles, of forgiveness of one’s enemies, reaching out to the stranger, sharing a cup of cold water.

    I don’t really have an opinion of most miracles in the Bible. I have no need to reject them nor to embrace them.

    I tend to take them as literal stories related by biblical storytellers and look for the greater Truths of the story. The miracles could have happened, but that’s not really the point of most biblical stories.

    Jonah could have been swallowed by a great fish, I reckon. But the Real Miracle in that story is that one can’t run from God, or that God loves everyone – even Ninevites! Even those who’d hate Ninevites and run away from God!

    Seems to me.

  3. Chance said

    Hey Dan, thanks for your thoughts. You’re always making me think, and you know how much I hate thinking. Seriously though, this world would be a boring place if everyone thought the same thing.

    “I don’t really have an opinion of most miracles in the Bible. I have no need to reject them nor to embrace them.

    I tend to take them as literal stories related by biblical storytellers and look for the greater Truths of the story. The miracles could have happened, but that’s not really the point of most biblical stories.”

    I would tend to agree with you, in that it is important to grab the central Truth of the story and not worry so much about some of the details. At the same time, however, I am uncomfortable with dismissing certain parts of the Bible so easily. While we should determine essential points of doctrine, on the whole, I don’t feel that I have the authority to determine what parts of the Bible are valuable or not.

    Also, I think the existence of the miracles themselves can be important. I don’t know if I can provide too many examples, because I think the modern church falls short in talking about the supernatural. But let’s look at the virgin birth, as discussed on Neil’s blog. Something I just thought about was I believe Jesus’ virgin birth parallels our birth in God’s kingdom. John 1:12-13 says “12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” I think that’s cool because it parallels the birth of Jesus, who was born not of human decision. Moses raising the serpent up to help the Isrealites win was an example of the Son of Man being lifted up. The Passover showed how the shedding of blood could protect us from death.

    Those are just my thoughts.

  4. preacherman said

    Chance,
    I believe in the Bible and mircles. I believe that God when you become a Christian you recieve the Holy Spirit and each person has certain gifts. I believe one of the gifts is mircles. I believe that God listen’s to our prayers and answers as well. Do miricles exists today, yes. If I need to explain more or get more personal I will if you would like for me to e-mail you. God bless you brother, great post as always.

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