Tuesday, August 14, 2012

But what if it really did happen that way?

Hume notoriously argued that a naturalistic explanation is always preferable to a supernaturalistic explanation. Carl Sagan popularized Hume’s position in the slogan that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Bart Ehrman says that “by definition,” a miracle is the least likely explanation for a historical event. You also have atheists who attempt to deploy Bayesean probability theory to show that the prior probability of a miracle is so low that, practically speaking, no evidence can overcome the crushing presumption of its nonoccurrence.

The problem with all these related postures is the starting point. Suppose God really did call Abraham out of Ur? Suppose Christ really did change water into wine? Suppose the Father really did raise Jesus from the dead?

In sum, what if a reported miracle did happen? Then what?

The atheist can’t admit that something which happened…happened. Even if a miracle did, in fact, occur, I will never accept it! No matter what happened, I’m going to say in advance that I refuse to believe it!

But how is that reasonable? How is it reasonable to stake out a position that won’t allow you to acknowledge reality? Isn’t that the definition of a delusion? No matter what’s actually the case, you’re not prepared to believe it?

Shouldn’t we be open to the occurrence of something that occurred? It’s not something you’re in a position to rule out in advance of the fact. If you already knew that, you wouldn’t have to play the odds in the first place. That’s just a guess.

Is it not more reasonable to take as our starting point that if something occurs, we should acknowledge its occurrence? Shouldn’t probability theory defer to reality? Shouldn’t our starting point make room to let the real world inside?

In it’s approach to miracles, atheism seals itself off from acknowledging miracles even if they truly happen. But a position that’s so internalized, so closed in on itself, that it refuses to admit that something which happened…happened–is irrational and evasive. Atheists stick their fingers in their ears to avoid hearing an unwelcome truth.

Moreover, we only know what’s likely to happen by observing the kinds of things that happen. That’s not something we can know ahead of time. If a miracle happens, then that’s the kind of thing that happens. It would be viciously circular to assert that a reported miracle didn’t happen because events like that don’t happen.

Furthermore, personal agency affects predictability. It’s naturally improbable that orange trees grow in evenly spaced rows. But it’s not improbable if a gardener planted the orchard.


  1. Hume fell on that sword himself. After ruling out the possibility of miracles (strange thing for an alleged empiricist...) Hume goes on to state what it would take for him to believe in one - specifically what kind of people/testimony would be sufficient for him to believe that a miracle had happened. Then he tells of friends of his who fit those very qualifications - and then he denies it because of the very "nature" of the claim.
    Evidence apparently cannot trump apriori commitments. Again strange for someone who denied the apriori.

  2. Charismatic or Word/Faith or Pentecostal claims that a divine miraculous event occurred. The Cessationist denies it.

    It's hard to balance between Charismatics and Cessationists.

  3. Well, the angel Gabriel told me that private revelation is devilish.

  4. The occurrence of miracles is not within the realm of probability to begin with. Isn't that why we call them "miracles" rather than "highly improbable events?"