Douglas Jacoby on Answering Skeptics: Miracles Featured

Thursday, 08 October 2015 20:04

Recap: The Cruciform Life

  • While there are many helpful biblical perspectives on the problem of suffering and evil -- and these smooth the way so that we can have faith -- true insight comes with personal experience of suffering.

  • There's pain in the plan. If I am to learn to love others, my own selfishness needs to be burned away. 

  • Christ shows us the way. As he carried the cross daily (not only to Calvary), we too are called to cruciform living. 

The Answering Skeptics series: Hypocrisy, Scripture, Morality, Nonsense questions, God, Science, Suffering, Miracles, Christ, and Religion

Is God a lawbreaker?

empty tombMiracles are a key feature of the biblical story. For Christians, it is unthinkable that these are all spurious. The resurrection of Christ from the dead is the best news humankind has ever heard. (To be fair, the incarnation is a greater and even more central miracle.) Yet skeptics seldom allow the miracles. How shall we respond to the most common rejections of the miraculous?

  • "Miracles are impossible by definition." Whose definition? One that precludes the supernatural? Science doesn't rule out the supernatural; it just can't access it, limited as science is to empirical reality. To me, as to the vast majority of mankind, reality appears to have two levels, an "upstairs" and a "downstairs." While we may not have direct (scientific) access to the upstairs, occasionally we hear sounds in the night, rumblings above. Is it really rational to dismiss the upper storey out of hand, or the implication that it may be inhabited?

  • "All miracles are fake. They didn't happen in Bible times, and they don't happen today, either." Given the abundance of fraudulent claims, we may find ourselves in agreement with the skeptic. I often suggest that 99% of miraculous claims are bogus, or else not supernatural. Psychosomatic healing is extremely common. At any rate, few miracles rank among the biblical wonders (restoring limbs, raising the dead, turning water to wine). Most healings, for example, are only "cured" of backaches, headaches, and so on. The adrenalin of the moment (in the arms of the healer) easily accounts for the (temporary) painless reprieve. And yet for the 1% that are genuine, there is abundant and convincing testimony that God still answers prayer (James 5:16). Christians need to watch out lest their healthy skepticism undermine their faith in an all-powerful God.

  • "People living in pre-scientific Bible times were gullible. So of course they believed in miracles." If that were true, how do we account for the refusal of so many to believe -- and not just outsiders, but those within the family of faith as well! Actually, the average person living in "Bible times" never saw a sign or wonder. Dividing the number of recorded wonders into the number of years of biblical history, and then diluting the probability of witnessing a sign even further by taking account of the broad geographic spread of miracles (from Egypt to Israel to Asia Minor to Babylon to....), we realize that only a small percentage ever saw a miracle. Rather, like us, they relied on the testimony of others. As for being unscientific, their worldview was certainly different to ours. And yet can we really believe that theyexpected people to walk on water, walk through fire unscathed, or rise from the dead? Of course not. There's no reason to believe they were less intelligent than us. We should beware cultural arrogance.

  • "The laws of nature are inviolable." Why would miracles necessarilyviolate natural law? Maybe God's science is more advanced than ours! Maybe he harnesses laws or properties (as yet) unknown to us, or accelerates natural healing processes. After all, God is the one whose wisdom and order are reflected in natural law. Further, these laws are moredescriptions of reality than restrictions of divine agency. The laws are not ironclad rules to which atoms, charges, and divine beings must submit.

There are no good reasons for rejecting miracles out of hand, and given the eyewitness testimony so central to the Christian message (2 Pet 1:16; 1 Cor 15:1-8; 1 John 1:1-3), there are strong reasons for paying attention to the miracles claimed in scripture. For more, my book The Spirit might be helpful.

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