Why Do You Believe In Biblical Miracles While Rejecting Other Miracles?December 24, 2011
There’s a debate on youtube where college students debate the topic of miracles. When I find it I’ll post it on here because it’s pertinent to this issue.
Often when there are debates on the topic of miracles this question is raised by the naturalistic atheist, namely, why do Christians only nitpick and choose to believe in the Biblical miracles, yet reject all other miracle claims? Is there a double standard going on? Is the Christian behaving inconsistently here and arbitrarily giving the Bible the benefit of the doubt?
Here’s my quick response to this important question:
First we need to define what we mean by a “miracle”. Usually what the naturalist will mean by this is any phenomenon that is not “natural”. I would argue that this is a bad standard because of the fact that morality and logic are not ordinarily accounted for by “nature” alone. I’d argue that morality is “supernatural” behavior. The fact that you’re even reading this or agree that molesting kids for the fun of it is always morally wrong is proof of this. If what “nature” cannot account for is to be considered a miracle then all humans have miraculous behavior. Philosophical Naturalism can only give us “what is”, not “what should be”, and morality and logic say we shouldn’t do certain things and that we shouldn’t contradict.
Yet, in addition, it’s difficult to advocate whether or not something is “natural”. 1. We don’t know what the natural realm ultimately is. Does it stop with leptons, quarks, etc? We don’t know. And even if we knew this, we still wouldn’t know what the “nature” should be doing or how it must function. It may be functioning one way for now, but might change later. It could have behaved differently in the past as well. We just don’t know. Gravity might behave differently some day. It might have in the past. We don’t know if the sun will rise tomorrow. We trust that whatever, or whomever, is ultimately manning the universe will continue to make it rise.
2. What we now consider to be “supernatural” (non-normal), we may someday consider to be “natural” (normal) once we become more used to it. The big bang was once considered supernatural by scientists when the theory first was developed, yet now naturalists fit the theory into their ideology, thus now consider it a “natural” event. The problem with the term “nature” is that it implies “what is”, yet we don’t know all about “what is”. If God exists, then he accounts for all of “what is”, thus is most “natural”.
So let’s move onto the next possible standard for a miracle. Let’s assume it’s when something “extraordinary” happens, or when something happens that is not ordinarily experienced by us. We consider it ordinary when a ball falls to the ground after being dropped. If a ball someday flies up, instead of down, then that would be considered out of the ordinary. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible for “nature” (=what is) to do this, it’s just that it’s not uniform to what we commonly experience. Things like this happen when people come back to life after being dead for a long duration, coming out of a coma after being in it for years, and tumors or cancer disappearing. Some people may call these things miracles because they’re not normal.
In addition, they may be considered miracles because not only are they unlikely, but are difficult to explain. Even the smartest doctors can’t believe some of these things. Yet, I also wouldn’t call something a miracle just because it can’t be explained very well. If that were the criterion then many things would be considered miracles, ie. the singularity of the big bang, how gravity works, how the universe operates at the quantum level, etc. While we may not yet be able to explain things like tumors disappearing, we can say we have evidence of it happening and occurring at times. We cannot say that about the things we have not witnessed or experienced, such as with historical claims. For example, Greek mythology says that Apollo healed people, and the Bible says that Jesus healed people. Are we to accept both, reject both, or accept one? And on what bases? I’ll get back to this in a bit.
Lastly, is something defined as a miracle if it’s believed that there is no other explanation than God? If this is the criterion by which we’re going to determine if something is a miracle then I’m going to argue that EVERYTHING is a miracle! Even Albert Einstein said that “there are two types of people. Those whom live as though nothing is a miracle, and those whom live as though everything is a miracle”. I wont even entertain the idea that God is allowing some things to be “natural”, and other things “miraculous”. For the Christian, they are both are one and the same. We believe God is controlling everything. God does things that are non-normative at times to simply show that he’s controlling the normative, and is greater than it. And he allows us to pear into the normative enough to eventually realize that it can’t account for itself.
Now we’ve come full circle and I would like to explain why I choose to believe that Jesus really did heal people and why I reject other historical miracle claims. Let me say first that obviously I’m not using the standard that naturalists might use, depending on whatever criterion they prefer. The way I understand the term “miracle” is much more broad and gray than how many tend to narrowly understand the term. Again, I believe that the fact that we are logical and moral creatures is itself proof of everyday miraculous activity. I believe that the existence of the universe itself, along with it being extremely fine-tuned, is evidence of extraordinary activity. I also believe that extraordinary healing does and can happen, even apart from a Christian context. I believe there can be healing which is part of God’s common grace, and healing that is demonic activity.
Being said, you might be able to understand why the term “miracle” can be difficult for me to define, yet not difficult for me to accept – as I believe the miraculous is all around us if we’re willing to open our eyes.
Thus, I would like to look at what Scripture itself means when it uses the term “miracle”. What it means by “miracle” is actually very different than what we commonly refer to as a “miracle”. The Greek root is “dynamis” which simply means strength, power, or ability. Scripture is simply pointing to God’s working power – predominantly in a redemptive context. It does not refer to it as an “extraordinary” phenomenon as we are told to think of it as in the 21st century.
There are many miracles in Scripture as far as what skeptics today would consider “strange”, “impossible”, “out of the ordinary”, or “non-uniform”. There are OT miracles of God creating the universe, creating Adam and Eve, splitting the Red sea, etc. In the NT, they generally would be the virgin birth, Jesus’ healing miracles, and the resurrection.
Why do I believe these historical miracles and reject the rest? Again, it’s not because I have the same standard as the naturalistic atheist. Again, because I don’t view a miracle, or define a miracle, the same way they do I’m not likely to have the same standard that they have. I am a Christian. Interestingly enough, the basic tenants of my worldview are shared and understood by everyone. I believe that morality is a reality. I believe there are things that are really wrong and that I have done many things that are really wrong. I believe everyone has done things that are really wrong, and that if they’re honest with themselves they will admit it too. I believe moral failure is the reality of this unfair, messed up, and selfish world.
Thus, we need the sinner’s Savior, whom is the historical person Jesus of Nazareth whom suffered under Pontius Pilate. The claims of his power are in the context of him saving sinners. From the OT to the NT, virtually all the miracles tie into his plan of redemption against the backdrop of our moral failures. I accept the Christian miracles because I believe in God’s power to redeem his people and demonstrate the glory of both his love and his wrath. Thus, I naturally reject other historical claims to miracles because they do not tie into any kind of context of a historical person saving us from that which we all know we are, namely, sinful. I know of no other historical figure whom splits history in half while exhaustively and sufficiently dealing with such a grand dilemma. I don’t plan to either.
If you think about it, my bias is not much different from the naturalistic atheist at this point. There are historical miracles I accept and historical miracles I reject. I accept the miracles of Jesus Christ, yet I reject the supposed miracles of Apollo. No differently, the naturalistic atheist accepts the miracles of the universe coming into existence, it being awesomely fine-tuned, and us becoming moral and logical creatures, yet they reject 1. other miracles they cannot observe, and/or 2. other miracles they feel are unlikely.