Miracles: Is Belief in the Supernatural Rational? (Updated November 2017)

                What I want to do today is to come back to an older article that I wrote when I was first starting out as an apologist. I was recently discussing various topics with a friend of mine and we got to discussing a rather well written article about Carl Sagan and his quest to encourage science education and the philosophy that science will answer all of the questions that humanity has about the world. What you will find here is that original article that I have augmented with some of my thoughts after spending a few years maturing as an apologist.
Before I get started, I guess the definition of miracle could be stated, since the word can be used for many different situations. From the Merriam-Webster website, the three definitions of miracle are as follows: 1) an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs, 2) an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment, and 3) a divinely natural phenomenon experience humanly as the fulfillment of spiritual law.
Some will argue against miracles because they would appear to be violations of the laws of nature. These people will argue that we worship a God of the gaps, and are intellectually lazy about investigating the cause of the extraordinary event that we dullards are just calling a miracle. These types of people, like Carl Sagan and others, are naturalists, who believe that everything we see is part of this material world we find ourselves in. By their definition, and indeed by their own admission, they cannot allow a supernatural or divine foot in the door. But what can we do when we know the regularities of the universe and yet still find ourselves with an outlier to this regularity, i.e. a miracle? These same people will make claims to the multiverse, probability, quantum mechanics, and so on. Anything so much as they do not have to recognize that the divine has a hand in this world. This knowledge of the regularities of the universe and our world is not anything new. Joseph and the people of his day and before knew exactly where babies came from. This is why his reaction was such when he discovered that his betrothed was pregnant, and not through Joseph. Mary had conceived through divine intervention in the regular workings of her body. Indeed, it took another visit from the divine to convince Joseph that this is what had happened (Matthew 1:20).
                As an analogy for how I think miracles should be recognized, I will borrow an analogy that I heard from Dr. John Lennox. Suppose I had a box or drawer in my apartment that I deposited one-hundred dollars per day for a week. I come and check the contents of the box after a week, so I am imagining a total of seven hundred dollars in the box, and I find fifty dollars left in the box. Do I automatically assume that the laws of arithmetic have been broken, or do I assume the laws of the state of Texas have been broken? Someone had to have come in from outside the system that I have created, and taken out what I was putting into it. I think this is how certain miracles of God had to have been performed, such as raising Jesus Christ from the dead, but in this case God put something back into the system instead of taking out. When I argue for the resurrection of Jesus Christ raising from the dead, I am not saying that he came back by some natural process, but that the Almighty God injected his power and energy into the universe to give life to a lifeless body and bring his son back from the grave. A resurrection like this is a singularity of sorts. Anyone would say that people in general don’t come back from the dead, so some people use this to claim that Jesus wasn’t resurrected. Surely of course, one could get a group of people together and observe a graveyard for a year and attempt to document a resurrection. If one doesn’t happen, you could come back and say that resurrections do not happen. However, unless you could go and observe every grave and tomb from the beginning of time, I would argue that you would have to downgrade resurrection from the dead from impossible to very improbable. That is the point and the glory of Jesus coming back, since we know the natural law regarding death. When Jesus was crucified, his disciples were spiritually broken and depressed, because they thought that Jesus’ death was the end of his ministry. Many people of that time, probably including the disciples until they fully understood, expected Jesus to be some conqueror who released the Jews from the shackles of Rome. When he appeared to his disciples, many were overjoyed, but Thomas still doubted until he touched Jesus. There are documented witness accounts in the Bible of Jesus post-resurrection all the way up to his ascension into Heaven. (John 20:11-18, Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1, Luke 24:10, Luke 24:34, 1 Corinthians 15:5, Luke 24:13-35, John 20:26-29, John 21:1-23, Matthew 28:16-17, 1 Corinthians 15:6, 1 Corinthians 15:7, Luke 24:49-53, Acts 1:3-11)
                Now of course not all miracles are as dramatic as raising someone from the dead. What about a healing for someone you are praying for, in any sense of the word? Or what about events that take place in such a certain way that you think that only divine intervention could have brought the results that are before you? Skeptic Michael Shermer might argue against the healing statement, for there have been studies to show that prayed for people come back from illness just as often as non-prayed for people, but I think that personal experience has a little bit of say in this kind of situation. I’m sure I could find story after story of people being healed from terminal diseases and those people praising God for the healing. Now does God heal everyone who is prayed for? No, he does not, and I do not have an answer for why God doesn’t heal everyone except for the often used answer that God works in mysterious ways. All I can do in those situations, is to mourn with those who are mourning and rejoice with those who are joyful (Romans 12:15). I would also say that these studies of prayer having an effect on surgical procedures and people’s health are a combination of haughtily putting our Lord to the test for our own selfish reasons (Luke 4:12) and the demand of the Pharisees of Jesus for some special revelation of his divinity (Matthew 16). God has a plan for all of us, and I think sometimes we get so obsessed with the things of this world, such as our health, that we forget that God has something so much better in mind for us, granted that we choose Him here and desire to be in eternal fellowship with Him when we depart this world.
There are certain events in the Bible that could be called what I will term “natural miracles”, or the spectacular results of which I was talking about earlier.  How about part of my name’s sake David, taking on Goliath with only a sling and a few stones? David took a stone in a sling and slew Goliath in one shot. Some people would term this a miracle. I think these types of miracles are a little more overlooked than the more dramatic miracles akin to Elijah being taken by a flaming chariot or Jesus turning water to wine, but I think this shows that God can influence events in a subtle way as well as a flashy way. I believe that God is still acting in these more subtle acts, but He may just be bringing out the potential of the people in the events, or influencing natural events, such as the weather to bring drought or rain.

So when it comes to the subject of miracles, hopefully if you are not a total believer, maybe you haven’t totally discounted the possibility of them, or maybe this has reopened the possibility for you. As Frank Turek states, “The greatest miracle has already occurred, which is the creation of the universe, so any other miracle that is written in scripture is certainly possible and worthy of a case by case investigation.” I certainly believe that we should study the world around us and learn the regularities, so that we may be thoroughly prepared to recognize the fingerprints of God when we investigate any potentially miraculous events in our lifetimes. I think this is reflected in Jesus’ commands for us to be prepared at a moment’s notice (Matthew 25). May God bless you and have a good rest of your day.

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