Regarding Miracles

By Artist unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Artist unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

28.) When you declare a miracle, does this mean you understand everything that is possible in nature? 


I’ve never “declared a miracle.” Once again, Swan seems to think all Christians a fundamentalistic Pentecostals.  


However, even if I did believe that some event was miraculous, that would not mean that I am claiming to know everything possible in nature. Ironically though, the import of this would be a naturalism of the gaps by the atheist – we don’t know what caused X… but it must be something natural. For more on this, see my article on Naturalism of the Gaps and how it reveals a kind of unassailable dogmatism among many internet infidel type atheists.  

Miracles as a Biblical phenomena were directly associated with messages from God. During that time period, practically the only time a miracle would be performed is to verify that a message or messenger was from God. So the benchmark of a miracle in that day and age would be "was it associated with some kind of message from God?" 

Since miracles were foretold and then accomplished, it is at least unlikely that they were natural phenomena, since it is still difficult for science to foretell, say, earthquakes or sunspots much less resurrections or rivers turning to blood.  

But even assuming that they are in fact occurrences that have some kind of natural explanation does not preclude them from being acts of God. As the creator of the natural world, there is no reason why God couldn't use natural processes in order to accomplish some specific end. 

No. That'd be omniscience.  Only God has that.

However, what we do is to come to the best conclusion we can, given the information at hand. Given that we already know that God exists and that miracles are possible, then it is only rational that it is a valid option when we are seeking to understand something.


In some instances, such as Near Death Experiences or direct experience of a spiritual being or event, it stretches the bounds of credulity to assume it isn’t miraculous.


Obviously we may misapply the explanation, but that doesn’t mean it is not equally worthy to be considered along with naturalistic explanations. We can also misapply and be wrong about naturalistic explanations. Many times people will assume a miracle has taken place because (1) they asked for God to do just such a thing and (2) there’s no convincing natural explanation available. In the absence of a natural explanation, concluding a miracle is a perfectly justified conclusion.


Is it possible that there is a naturalistic explanation that we just can’t see? Of course, but absent any reason to think that explanation is the correct one, concluding a miracle is a reasonable position.

 Absolutely not. Making a declaration does not mean that it is impossible to retract that opinion in the light of new information. To say that we can’t draw ANY conclusions without complete understanding is a denial of reason itself. Given our access to information and advanced scientific knowledge it would actually be far easier to declare something a miracle in this day and time then it would have been a few hundred years ago. This does raise a question of “at what point do we declare something a miracle?” While supernatural causes are extremely unlikely, an open mind would not rule these causes out entirely. In other words it is only reasonable to believe something is a miracle when the probability of a supernatural cause equals or exceeds the probability of a natural cause. Many people would not believe this is even a possibility, however, there are certainly situations where we could see natural explanations having an extremely low probability. For example in the case of abiogenesis we are looking at odds of roughly 1 in 10^40th. These odds are so bad that we would effectively consider it 0% chance. To give an idea of how big this is, it is comparable to a universe full of blind men all solving a Rubik’s cube on the exact same move. If God exists then miracles are possible, and if this is the case the possibility of a miracle is far more likely than abiogenesis. So while we may not be able to obtain certainty, we can draw reasonable conclusions and in rare situations declaring something a miracle may be the most reasonable conclusions.



29.) If a woman was cured of cancer by means unknown to us, and everyone declared it a miracle, would the chance of scientifically replicating this cure be more or less likely? 


This is a bizarre question because by definition the answer would be yes. If the means of the cure were entirely unknown to us, then we would have zero chance of replicating it (or at least knowing that we replicated it) precisely because we wouldn’t even know that we had replicated it. Because we wouldn’t know what it was. So even if we were able to come up with a cure that cured the same kind of cancer the woman had, we could never call it a “replication” of the previous cure because we never knew what the means of that cure was. So even if no one or everyone called the cure a miracle, the answer would be no simply by definition of how the question is phrased.  

The question is so ambiguously worded so as to be impossible to answer.  

Miracles, in the Biblical sense, had a very specific purpose – that being to verify that a message came from God. As such, it was always obvious that the miracle was a supernatural act of God. This kind of overt supernatural working of God is not obvious in the modern era.  

This is a point which is hotly contested in the church community – some of which believe that miracles of the Biblical variety are ongoing, whilst others believe that these kinds of spectacles stopped at the Apostles. 

Regardless: as the Creator of the universe, God is by no means confined to accomplishing things purely through supernatural acts. If a woman prays to have her cancer healed, that prayer is answered just as well if God orchestrates circumstances to place her in the care of a skilled physician as if God simply makes the cancer go away.  

If a woman's cancer were cured in a way that science could not replicate, or if it were cured through an entirely natural process, the cancer is just as cured, and the woman has just as much reason to praise the God who created these natural processes in the first place. 

I'm not even sure what this question is trying to ask. How do you replicate an act of God? He either does it or he doesn't do it. We can't replicate anything, we can just ask.

 The chances of scientifically replicating a miracle are not going to change based on how many people believed it to be a miracle. That is no how probabilities work. 


30.) If humans declared fire to be a miracle thousands of years ago, would we still be huddling together in caves while we wait for God to throw another lightning bolt into the forest? 


This question asks us to possess some kind of counter factual knowledge of a world that we do not inhabit. I have no idea what would have happened if humans thought fire was a miracle. In fact, I do not even know if humans did think fire was a miracle! Maybe they did think it was a miracle and here we are today with zippo lighters and fire starter logs! We have no access to this information.  


However, because of his weird obsession with anti-intellectual Pentacostal type beliefs, this question has a certain assumption undergirding it. It falsely assumes, in order for the question to make any sense, that if we believed that X was a miracle, that X is therefore not repeatable by natural means. Here I have two responses. 


Firstly, that notion of “miracle” is completely foreign to the Bible. In the Bible, the concept of miracle is that of “signs and wonders.” Sometimes they are singular events (such as creation or a talking donkey) but other times they are events that could not have been done by human hands of the time but with enough technology and resources we could probably replicate (like the parting of the sea or the healing of leprosy), while others were simply signs that pointed people toward Christ (like powerful teaching or mass conversions) which could have had entirely natural means but which were used by God for a specific purpose in redemptive history. So the concept of a miracle employed by Swan is just not the Biblical concept.  


Secondly, there is a kind of Luddite assumption within Swan’s question – that if people thought something was a miracle that they would sit there in stunned immobility and never ever try to do anything remotely like it. People believed Jesus turned water in to wine as a miracle and yet many people have tried their hand at alchemy. By divine intervention Noah was commanded to build an ark to be spared from the flood, and yet people continued to attempt to improve the quality, durability and functionality of boats. It simply is nonsense to think that even if our ancestors thought that initial fire was a miracle that they would just sit in dark caves waiting for lightening to strike a nearby tree again.  

The ancient Greeks had a story of the titan Prometheus stealing fire from the gods and giving it as a gift to humans. Somehow, the idea that fire was a miraculous gift from heaven didn't keep the Greeks from developing the philosophies which undergird the development of schools of science. 

Interestingly, science as it is known today, is largely the invention of a Christian society. This is because, unlike all religious texts being written during the same period of time, the Bible does not attribute the seasons, the rotation of the earth, the growth of plants, the wind and so forth to acts of unseen and supernatural forces. Unlike mythologies, the Bible has a Creator God who transcends the world he creates, and gives it laws by which it must function.  

Christians were able to be religious and still study and define the natural laws of the universe specifically because they believed it had a transcendent Creator, and was therefore a system of intelligible and concrete laws. 

Declaring something to be a miracle does not necessarily exclude the possibility that you were wrong. See my answer to “When you declare a miracle, does this mean you understand everything that is possible in nature?” above. Just as we can make mistakes and draw bad naturalistic conclusions, we can likewise draw bad conclusions and assume the miraculous but then later, once we have better information available, recognize the natural explanation.

No we would not. Even if something was considered a miracle, that can change. However, our scientific advancements do make it less likely to identify something as a miracle but also less likely that new discoveries will be made to overturn miracle claims.


31.) If God gave a man cancer, and the Devil cured him to subvert God’s plan, how would you know it wasn't a divine miracle? What if he was an unkind, atheist, homosexual? 


This question assumes that the Devil is powerful enough to subvert God, and that God is weak enough to have his plans subverted. Both are false. I am also not sure what the man’s attitude, beliefs, or sexuality has to do with any of it. Does Swan think that all Christians are legalistic fundamentalists who hate all atheists and homosexuals? Well… I suppose he may if he thinks we are all on the verge of being the next Son of Sam…  

To address the last part of the question first: this concept that Christians are condemnatory towards those with whom they disagree misunderstands the nature of Christianity. The fundamental concept is that all humans are imperfect. Those who recognize their brokenness and seek to be made whole, humble and repent before their Creator, and are then made whole.  

Given how a Christian begins by recognizing their flaws, it would be unworthy of them to condemn any flaws another might have – only to show how this other individual can be made whole. 

As to the first part of the question, Jesus underwent a very similar accusation in Matthew 12, when the Pharisees decided that he must be using demonic powers to do his good works. 

Jesus' response was simply to point out that the end results of his works were to glorify God. That, if a demon were to do good works, it would be damaging itself. That, for instance, the doctor who cures the woman of cancer would then be just as demonic – and what is that doctor going to say when he is accused of doing the work of Satan in all of his hard work? 

Moreover, it is not within the purview of Satan to "subvert God's plan." Satan's actions are constrained by the will of God. If God wants the man to be cured, he will be cured. 

For starters, the Devil can’t subvert God’s plan. He hasn’t anywhere near that kind of power. Second, I am hesitant to think that God is going to give someone cancer. According to the examples we see in Scripture, He may allow them to get cancer. He can use the tragic experience of their having cancer for His plan, but He doesn’t give people cancer.

Now regarding the question of knowing a divine miracle from a Satanic one? We don’t see in Scripture any examples that would lead us to believe Satan is running around doing good things to undermine God. As the “good” miracles tend to bring praise and glory to God. The Bible tells us that God works for the good in all things for those who love Him (Romans 8). And that Satan is a murderer and a liar. When we do see examples of Satanic or demonic “miraculous” activity, it is always destructive.   

From a Christian, Biblical perspective the devil can do nothing without God at least allowing it. So this question really does not work.