Saturday, May 31, 2014

Are miracles less likely than not?

I'm posting something I said in recent correspondence with some friends:

I just find the whole business of probabilifying miracles nonsensical. It's said that miracles are inherently or antecedently unlikely. 

Take the miracle at Cana. By that logic, it was less likely than not (indeed, far less likely) that God would perform the miracle at Cana. But how is anyone in a position to say in advance (and after the fact it's moot) whether or not God intended to perform the miracle at Cana? How do you lay odds for that hypothetical? 

If, moreover, God did in fact perform the miracle at Cana, how is it less likely than not (indeed, far less likely) that he wouldn't do what he was going to do? If he did it, then isn't it at least more likely than not that he was going to do what he did? 

Perhaps an atheist will say the evidence for atheism renders a miracle improbable. But in that event, it's not the probability of a miracle, but the probability of a miracle-working God, that's at issue.

Since, moreover, any evidence for miracles would subtract from any (alleged) evidence for atheism, is it not viciously circular to make atheism the gauge for assigning a probability value to miracles–even if you're an atheist? 

Not to mention that it would only take one bona fide miracle to falsify atheism. The threshold for falsifying atheism is exceedingly low. 

To take a comparison, what's the probability of a royal flush? Assuming the deck is randomly shuffled, that's a straightforward mathematical calculation.

But what's the probability of a royal flush if the deck is stacked? Well, assuming the card sharp is good at his job, it's inevitable.

So that becomes a question of how probable it is that the deck is stacked, which in turn, becomes a question of how probable it is that the dealer is a card sharp.

I don't see how treating probability statistically enables us to lay odds on whether or not the deck is stacked. That's a question of what would motivate a dealer to stack the deck.

In my illustration, the uniformity of nature is analogous to randomly shuffled decks, while a miracle is analogous to a stacked deck. 

I don't mind defining a miracle as an action that inhibits the world from continuing in the way it would if left to itself.

But since a miracle involves personal agency or personal intention, overriding how the world would continue if left to itself, the question is how to assign a probability value to God's will to perform (or not perform) a miracle. I don't see how statistics or background knowledge regarding the general uniformity of nature is germane to how we anticipate or estimate God's intention to perform a miracle. 


  1. I understand some of the limits of presuppositionalism. However, as a Van Tillian (more Framean than Bahsenian), I don't see what's so bad about pointing out what Bahnsen did in his debate with (I believe) Tabash. To paraphrase, what one takes to be possible or impossible, probable or improbable, plausible or implausible is both 1. a function of and 2. is rated by one's worldview. If that's true, it would seem (as Bahnsen pointed out) that consistent atheists can never gauge the probability of anything whatsoever whether supernatural OR NATURAL. For all the atheist knows the universe, its laws, constants, properties and timelines are in constant flux. Worse than that, for all all the atheist knows truly contingent and uncaused things happen in the physical and metaphysical realms.

    There are over 20 different models of QM. Some are deterministic. However, many atheists have appealed to versions that reject determinism and entail truly uncaused quantum events to occur as possibly explaining not only things happening *within* the universe, but also explaining the existence of the universe as a whole (to avoid the need for a cosmic designer/creator). But if truly uncaused events really happen, that would call into question the possibility (or at least) the general reliability of our reason. So, it's a self-undermining position. Conversely, if physical determinism is true, that too would also undermine (or call into question) creaturely rationality. It's true that Calvinism seems to entail divine determinism and so poses problems for human reason. But at least in theism ultimate reality is personal rather than impersonal. Cosmic personalism can help makes sense of the possibility of finite creatures that are rational agents (if they were made in the image of the ultimate infinite person, viz. God). Atheism, which ultimately entails cosmic impersonalism, has to account for and overcome the difficulties that determinism or indeterminism poses for how personal agents can arise in the universe. Atheists often appeal to evolutionary reliabilism, but that too has its difficulties.

    My point is that I don't see why the the issue of the possibility and interpretation of miracles doesn't ultimately boil down to conflicting worldviews and presuppositions. It also seems that we're giving away too much to atheists by even granting and agreeing with them a generally predictable and orderly universe. When it's the basis for why the universe is predictable (i.e. ontology) and why we should or may expect it to be predictable (i.e. epistemology) is the deeper issue.

    Continued in next post.

    1. Why should an atheist assume/favor/pick uniformity over non-uniformity? The only thing I can think of is for pragmatic and prudential reasons rather than for rational ones. It serves the atheist to do so. Atheists can (and do) counter by saying that Calvinists do the same thing when it comes to trusting in a God who could deceive people (e.g. into believing they are elect when in fact non-elect, or in claiming he'll be faithful to his promises when he doesn't intend to be). Or of Christians in general since the Christian worldview posits numerous powerful entities that actually exist and do deceive humans (e.g. demons and God). Whereas in atheism it's only a mere possibility. There's more I'd like to say about comparing the various atheistic worldviews with the Calvinistic worldview, but there's too much to say. Suffice to say that there are some critiques of presuppositionalism that I have difficulty overcoming. Especially those of an atheist I've been interacting with for about 15 years who now has a Youtube channel. The following are links to his critiques of presuppositionalism. I hope one day more able presuppositionalists will respond to his critiques.

      Why the Primacy of Existence Is No Problem for Any Presuppositionalist

      Defending Reason: A Response to Presuppositionalism

      Presuppositionalism & Properly Basic Beliefs

      Presuppositionalism & Knowledge: A Discussion

    2. Of course my main observations might just be a matter of me oversimplifying the issues. But I'm currently not convinced of that. Also, nothing I've said above should be interpreted to mean we shouldn't use inductive evidences (e.g. historical, scientific, textual etc.). Most schools of presuppositionalism allow for their use (with the exception of Clarkian apologetics).