You can find part 1 here.
As I said in the first post, my friend UnkleE gave me a series of questions recently that he believes present difficult problems for an atheist’s worldview. I had forgotten, but we’ve actually had similar discussions before, and you can find them here, here, and here (thanks for the reminder, Howie).
Now that the introduction’s out of the way, UnkleE’s fourth question was this:
How can you say miracles don’t happen when there are so many millions of reports?
First, I’d like to make a clarification: I’m not necessarily saying “miracles don’t happen.” I’m just not convinced that they do. It may be a minor point, and perhaps it seems silly to split hairs like that, but I’m not sure how I could demonstrate that miracles DO NOT happen. On the other hand, I’m happy to explain why I’m not convinced by the claims. And by “miracle,” I mean an event that violates the laws of nature.
One of the interesting things about this is that I didn’t believe in modern-day miracles even when I was a Christian. When you read the Bible, it’s filled with amazing, supernatural events: God’s voice speaking from a burning bush, a talking donkey, water coming out of rocks, the parting of the Red Sea, city walls falling at a trumpet’s blast, fire shooting down from heaven and consuming a sacrifice, the earth swallowing people whole on command, killer trees, the lame walking, the blind seeing, replacing a severed ear, the dead coming back to life, walking on water, storms ceasing at a word. There’s no ambivalence in these events. How many miracle claims today come close to that?
Even as a Christian, it seemed clear to me that “the age of miracles” had passed. I believed that the New Testament hinted that these kinds of powers ended once the apostles died out. I think trying to explain the thinking behind that would take us off track, but if you’re interested, here are two articles that go into it — and remember, these are written by Christians:
Modern Miracles — True or False?
Have Miracles Ceased?
There’s another part of UnkleE’s question that I want to quibble with. While he’s right that there have been millions of reports, I think he’d acknowledge that many of those, probably most, don’t include the kinds of evidence necessary to be convincing. In fact, he’s acknowledged on his own site that it would be unwise to uncritically accept all miracle claims. And he has several posts that list certain miracles that he finds promising, like this one.
But to me, these just aren’t very compelling. Again, none of them reach the level of the miracle claims in the Bible. And we can still ask the question “why won’t God heal amputees?”
Even if we consider some of the claims of those being miraculously healed where there’s medical documentation, is it more likely that a miracle occurred or that people colluded on the story? Or perhaps they’re misremembering the details?
Also, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have innate skepticism concerning events that would break the laws of nature as we currently understand them. The evidence to convince us that a miracle actually occurred should be incredibly strong. And is it something we should accept merely on testimony? Thomas Paine famously pointed out that divine revelation stops being such as soon as it’s reported to someone else. At that point, it’s really just hearsay. In other words, while it might be rational to accept divine revelation if you’re the one receiving it straight from the deity, it’s not rational to accept it just on someone else’s testimony. I feel much the same about miracles. I just don’t see enough evidence to accept them from others’ testimonies, and I’ve never experienced anything like them myself. So how could I possibly justify belief in them?