The Case For Miracles
Rev. Dale Andrew Warren, Ph.D.
The Christian believes that miracles are not only possible but also necessary. The most fundamental tenant of Christianity is the miracle of the resurrection. Any declaration as to the impossibility of the occurrence of miracles and especially the resurrection is an ipso facto attack on the veracity of the faith itself. The secular-scientist believes that not only have there been no miracles but also that their occurrence would be impossible. Their existence would violate the principles, which govern the universe. Understanding how these two investigators can come to opposite conclusions lies not in the objective examination of the relevant facts but rather in the fundamental subjective evaluative processes with which each side begins.
The particular world-view to which an investigator subscribes will color the interpretation of any data accumulated. During the cold war, Radio Free Europe, Radio Moscow and Radio Beijing had available to them the same factual material, but due to their antecedent world-views the facts were interpreted differently by each. The Christian and secular-scientist do similarly have the same facts at hand but reach opposite conclusions. Why? Because although the Christian believes that science is a valid search for truth he also believes that all truth is from God and that all truth must ultimately integrate within the design and purpose of God. His world-view is theism. The secular-scientist, on the other hand, believes that the idea of god is mythological having no empirical basis. All truth stands by itself, apart from any god-concept and can only be discerned through scientific investigation. His world-view is naturalism.
The investigative methodology utilized by the investigator also influences the ultimate conclusion at which he arrives. The Christian is deductive, arguing from the general to the specific. He holds to an a priori belief in the supremacy of an Omnipotent-Creator-God to Whom the individual physical "laws of nature" are subject. The secular-scientist is inductive, arguing from the specific to the general. He holds to an a priori belief in the supremacy of the many "immutable" laws of nature to which all life and events are subject. In the one world-view, God is the guarantor of order within the universe, in the other, "natural law." Although the secular-scientist would never admit it, each requires the identical starting point, faith.
Naturalism is rooted in empiricism, which postulates that all knowledge is based upon experience, that nothing can be known apart from experience. It denies the existence of the spiritual and de-emphasizes the metaphysical. The secular-scientist therefore subscribes to the argument against miracles articulated by the Scottish born empiricist David Hume, 1711-1776. Hume's "proof" goes something like this:
1) There is immutable regularity in the time-space universe, which can be called natural law.
2) The historian must use historical evidence to judge the probability or possibility of any event including a purported miracle.
3) Miracles by definition fall outside the parameters of the regularity of the time-space universe and are therefore contrary to natural law in a way that historical evidence cannot mitigate.
The Christian challenges each proposition and denies the conclusion.
UNIVERSAL ORDER AND REGULARITY
The secular-scientist believes that knowledge is contingent upon order or regularity. He believes that all of practical life presupposes a universal continuity. Without this intrinsic faith, science, mathematics, language, indeed thought itself would be impossible. This belief in universal regularity, that its chain of continuity, as Hume said," has never been broken and never will be broken, becomes one of the strongest and most justifiable of human convictions." Because Hume believes that universal regularity is undeviating does not make it so and the secular-scientist can offer no proof that it is. Accepting this principle as true is a great leap of faith.
The Christian agrees that the universe is orderly and regular. But it is so because it is dependent upon the sovereignty of God. Factors other than the biological, physical and chemical nature of reality must be considered. Christian teleology integrates into God's orderly universe the concepts of:
1) The outworking of God's purpose through the exercise of His will.
2) God's ability to exercise His will through specific secondary causes.
3) The possibility that these secondary causes have their origin beyond that which is empirically discernible.
For the Christian, then, knowledge is contingent upon God. The perceived regularity of the universe is subject to His purpose, which is accomplished through the exercise of His will. Furthermore, it serves His purpose to cause the universe to function in a particular way most of the time but in a manner, which he can temporarily alter when He so chooses. God is the author of and ruler over the laws of nature. He is in no way constrained by them.
HISTORY, PROBABILITY AND POSSIBILITY
The secular-scientist says that historical evidence is not a scientific category of discovery and is therefore irrelevant in the discussion of the possibility of miracles. Hume says that "the historian must employ as criteria all his present knowledge, or presumed knowledge of what is probable or improbable, possible or impossible." He believes that the historical standard of discovery is vastly inferior to that of the empirical, scientific method. The historian can only build a case for an event using a possibly flawed and certainly incomplete knowledge and can work only in the realm of probabilities. But the secular-scientist works with universal natural laws, which are unchanging, regular, and orderly. He therefore works with facts and his discoveries are irrefutable.
The Christian claims that since it is God who is sovereign over the universe and that the laws which govern its general operation are subject to His will and purpose, history is a more reliable category of discovery in the case of His having performed miracles and especially of the resurrection. Certainly dozens and perhaps hundreds of people witnessed the fact that though Christ was dead, three days later He appeared among them alive. He walked and talked with them. He ate with them and invited them to touch Him to see for themselves that it was He, in the flesh. This was Jesus with whom they had spent countless hours over three and a half years. He was more familiar than a blood relative. Furthermore, this could not have been fabricated for there were too many witnesses testifying to multiple and similar events occurring at different times and on different days. In addition, these were the most moral people of their generation. It is not reasonable to think that early followers of Christ would lie to promulgate a faith in which lying is anathema.
The Christian philosopher, E.J. Carnell says, " knowledge is inference drawn from facts." As human awareness and understanding of facts and their inter-relationships change over time, human knowledge and inferences drawn there from can change. The Christian replies to Hume that since any statement of present knowledge, including scientific knowledge, is limited, it is scientifically impossible to rule out the existence of miracles because all of the facts are not known and can never be known. Therefore, if it is scientifically impossible to rule out the existence of miracles and since so many reliable witnesses attest to Christ's resurrection, it is more reasonable to believe that it did occur and that miracles are indeed possible.
WHY THE OCCURANCE OF MIRACLES CAN NOT BE DISPROVEN
To deny that miracles can occur one must accept the definition that the secular-scientist gives to the term miracle. There are two methods for determining how words and concepts may be defined: either connotatively or denotatively. Denotative definition gives meaning to words or concepts by presenting examples and saying "this is what is meant" by it. For example, miracles are the parting of the Red Sea, turning water into wine, healing the blind, etc. This is the way the Christian defines miracle. Connotative definition is that method of defining something by stating the primary qualities of an idea or object and seeing if the facts fit it. However, if one is not careful in the acceptance of which primary qualities are to be used in the construction of a connotative definition, it may or may not have any relation to reality. Carnell says:
The secular-scientist, following Hume, defines miracle connotatively as an occurrence or event, which violates natural law. On the basis of the antecedent assumptions of his worldview, he has carefully constructed a definition for miracle, which connotatively precludes their possibility. The Christian disagrees with his definition.
To deny that miracles can occur, one must accept empiricism as the infallible means of ascertaining the truth about the nature of reality. It can be a useful tool but it is flawed. Empiricism's reliance upon human experience is both its strength and weakness. All of the concepts of physics, chemistry, and all of scientific investigation are dependent upon sense perception. But sense perception is by its very nature, not totally reliable. Carnell says that, "Errors arise from the presence of what psychologists call thresholds. There are three such, the upper threshold, the difference threshold, and the lower threshold." These thresholds occur for all of the senses but to illustrate let's consider hearing. The lower threshold can be described as the inaudible sounds made by playing a piano whose keyboard has been extended in pitch downward beyond that, which is perceivable by the human ear. The
strings do vibrate and sound waves are generated but they cannot be heard. The upper threshold is simply the same situation at the opposite end of the keyboard. The difference threshold can be described as two strings of the piano tuned to the same note. They sound identical when struck. But tones sound differently only when their vibrations vary by five or six per second. If these two string's vibrations vary by only one or two per second, technically they are not the same note even though the difference cannot be heard.
These thresholds of human sensory experience demonstrate that: 1) It is impossible for human beings to know nature absolutely, 2) Empirical evidence alone is insufficient grounds for knowing anything, 3) Any denial of the existence of miracles based upon empiricism spotlights the antecedent assumptions of the one making the denial. If human sensory experience is so unreliable in such a mundane matter as the tones from a piano how much more unreliable might it be in more complex matters? The Christian rejects empiricism as a means for determining the possibility of the occurrence of miracles.
GOD IS SOVERIGN
The secular-scientist's concept of natural law is the attempt of man to describe the order of God's universe. He sees the regularity of the universe as "impersonal law." But for the Christian, laws of nature exist only in the mind of God and in the exercise of His will.
Since we cannot fully know the mind or will of God, the principles, which the Christian would declare to be the laws of nature, must in essence be only the description of what appears to be a uniform regularity. He must know that this regularity is subject to change according to God's will and purpose and hence his definition cannot be rigid, but must be subject to revision.
The secular-scientist is in the same position of ignorance in that he cannot empirically know all that there is to know about natural law. Though he is aware that universal laws must in finality govern universal regularity he has no ability to discover fully the essence of these principles. This is the reason why that branch of scientific inquiry known as experimental science leans heavily upon the concept that natural laws are merely loose hypotheses used to explain what happens in nature. Using this criterion for investigation into the possibility of the occurrence of miracles and especially the quintessential miracle of the Christian faith, the resurrection of Christ, we can actually find this branch of science to be an ally. Carnell puts it this way:
If history records sufficient evidence that a miracle occurred and science chooses to invoke their concept of natural law to refute it, "we may be assured that the problem of miracles is moral and philosophical, rather than scientific, for the scientist is using his laws not to explain reality, but to explain reality away."
Although Hume correctly followed the principles of logic, because his premise is false, the argument is false and does not fit the facts of reality. Carnell illustrates it thusly:
Because he chooses to believe in the superiority of empiricism to explain reality, the secular-scientist accepts the world-view of naturalism. He uses an inductive argument based on individual, scientifically demonstrated, "immutable" laws of nature and makes them to collectively become an idea he calls "Natural Law." It is his belief that this "Natural Law" is the impersonal, governing agent, which brings order to the universe and makes the knowledge of reality possible. Because any violation of this "Natural Law" would destroy his entire world-view, he constructs a definition for the concept of miracles that automatically precludes their possibility. He dismisses the historical evidence of the occurrence of miracles, as being so inferior to the scientific evidence that they are impossible, that he claims the historical evidence is unworthy of any reasonable consideration in this matter. In the event one might still harbor a remnant of the faith once delivered to the saints, he then enlists the discipline of higher criticism to cast
doubt upon the historical record of Scripture.
The Christian chooses to believe in the sovereignty of God to explain reality. He uses a deductive argument that begins with the God Who had the ability, desire and purpose for creating the physical universe. He believes in the necessity for universal order, but seeks to understand it as existing within the will and purpose of the Creator. Because all of reality exists within the will and purpose of God, when He decides that it serves His purpose, He may cause events to occur that ordinarily do not do so, without this occurrence abrogating the concept of universal order. The historical record of the many miracles found in Scripture adds validation to this belief.
The Christian admits that he has no empirical, scientific proof to substantiate his beliefs. He gladly accepts the teaching of Scripture and the world-view arising from it, by faith. The secular-scientist believes falsely that he has a world-view built on irrefutable scientific evidence, when in actuality; his is a faith-based philosophy, too. We are convinced that he will continue in his beliefs. In the Gospel According To Luke (16:19-31) Jesus tells a story, the culmination of which includes a rich man in hell begging that his relatives be warned of their impending judgment. He says to Abraham, "but if one went to them from the dead, they will repent." Abraham responds authoritatively, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead." In like manner do the secular-scientists reject the facts of history and accept erroneous conclusions based upon false hypotheses because of their antecedent choice of worldview.
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