This week we’ll continue discussing objections to Miracles:
We’re using the “Handbook of Apologetics” by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli to go over the arguments for the existence of God. Today, we will be covering the above question in relation to God. Dr. Kreeft teaches logic in two major universities, so his arguments tend to be clear, concise and very helpful.
A miracle, by definition, must violate some law of nature, and therefore must be a maximally improbable event. But then it is always more likely that the event never really occurred as described (or remembered), or that it did not really violate the laws of nature.
Reply A: A miracle does not “violate” the laws of nature—any more than a school principal violates the schedule of classes by cancelling gym for a special assembly. Violations take place whenever someone who has to follow or uphold an established order fails or refuses to do so—for example, when the gym teacher cancels classes on his own to lead his students in an hour of spontaneous prayer. But the principal has done nothing like that if he modifies the schedule within the limits of his authority.
Now the Creator of the universe has authority over all creation. It is truly odd to call his suspending this or that regularly observed sequence a “violation,” as if it were something he should feel guilty or embarrassed about. A miracle violates nothing. When one happens, God has (mercifully) modified the schedule of the day.
Reply B: Why are miracles called “maximally improbable”? They are certainly unusual, but how do we know whether they are likely to happen or not? Only if we have already decided whether or not it is likely that God exists—or that he would ever work a miracle. In that case calling miracles “maximally improbable” is not a neutral description: it stacks the deck against them. For it places every report of miracles in a setting where it is most likely that God does not exist or does not intervene in the system of natural causes, and therefore that the event reported is not a miracle at all. Hence the conclusion that reports of miracles should be disbelieved is really assumed in, and assured by, the words used in the premises to describe them.
Reply C: We are creatures of habit. Life is one darn thing after another—often the same sort of darn thing. We expect that today is going to be pretty much like yesterday, and we know that people, including ourselves, are given to exaggeration and deceit. So we naturally approach stories of “signs and wonders” with deep suspicion. Our experience of humanity teaches us to have our guard up much of the time. And when we hear of “miracles” from people of questionable or unstable character, we dismiss them as mere oddities, frauds or delusions. But when an event seems for its setting so right, and the person to whom it is imputed so noble, then it seems to demand a more serious response. The place of fittingness has not often enough been acknowledged in discussions of miracles. But surely it is a key factor in the way we concretely assess events we hear about—or even witness.
Kreeft, P., & Tacelli, R. K. (1994). Handbook of Christian apologetics: hundreds of answers to crucial questions (pp. 111–112). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.