I can’t believe that … (3) miracles can happen

English: Icon of the Resurrection

Icon of the Resurrection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So Christianity is full of miracles. The gospels say that Jesus performed many miracles, like healing people of their diseases and walking on water. Christians today believe that God can work miracles in response to their prayers. And, of course, the central event in Christianity – the resurrection of Jesus – is a miracle. So if miracles can’t happen then Christianity is in trouble.

But why think that miracles can’t happen? After all, if there is a God then surely miracles are the sort of thing you’d expect him to be able to do. (What sort of god would he be, if he couldn’t perform miracles?) And yet many people, even those who believe in God, struggle with the idea that miracles can happen.

One worry that people can have about miracles is the vague sense that this is too mythological, too supernatural, for rational, scientific, modern people to believe in. Turning water into wine might seem like magic trick, or else hocus-pocus, and we’re smart enough to know that magicians deal in illusions, not realities. But this kind of objection is rather vague and its not immediately clear what the problem is. Of course, if someone comes to you and says “I can make a rabbit appear in my hat”, you have every right to suspect that the rabbit is just hidden away somewhere and isn’t going to appear from nothing. But that doesn’t mean miracles are impossible, it just means we’re rightly suspicious of those trading in illusions. And there is a danger that simply dismissing miracles as myth or magic: we’re simply engaged in snobbery not proper rational enquiry.

Perhaps a more sophisticated objection is that miracles break the laws of nature. From our repeated experience, and from scientific investigation, we know that the universe behaves in ordered and regular ways. The sun rises every day, things fall down (not up), and dead people don’t come back to life. These are laws of nature – exceptions do not occur, else they wouldn’t be laws.

And that is all well and good but it suggests that the laws of nature have priority over everything else – that the laws of nature were before everything and overrule everything. Now even for the atheist, this is not the case. Because if you believe that the universe came into being from nothing, then it is not the laws of nature that were before everything else but nothing – if this were true, the laws of nature would be as arbitrary as the rest of existence. So the atheist has no particular reason for suspecting that the laws of nature will continue to operate, except that they have so far. But for the believer, the laws of nature do not have priority either. Because if there is a God, who created the universe, then he is responsible for the laws of nature. Now he is God such a sloppy creator that he made rules and laws that even he couldn’t change? Is it credible to think that God could create gravity and yet be unable to change it when necessary? If that idea just seems too silly to be true, then the objection to miracles evaporates.

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Preceding articles: I Can’t Believe That (1) … God would send anyone to hell

I Can’t Believe That … (2) God would allow children to suffer

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Additional reading:

  1. A fact of History or just a fancy Story
  2. Days of Nisan, Pesach, Pasach, Pascha and Easter
  3. Why think that (2) … Jesus claimed to be something special
  4. Why think that (3) … Jesus rose from the dead
  5. Miracles of revelation and of providence 1 Golden Thread and Revelation
  6. This is an amazing thing
  7. A Meaningful Thanksgivukkah
  8. Blinkered minds
  9. Sometimes we pray and pray and it seems like nothing happens.
  10. Materialism, would be life, and aspirations
  11. Bible and Science: Scientific Facts and Theories

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  • Can We Prove Jesus’ Historical Miracles? (humblesmith.wordpress.com)
    the atheists assumes the high ground and asks Christians to prove the creation of the universe, but the atheist has no more ability to explain the beginning of the universe than the Christian. The atheist accuses the Christian of something he is guilty of himself, namely belief without empirical evidence. The atheist berates the Christian for something which he has no better answer. In fact, the atheist answer would seem to ultimately assume that the effect of the universe resulted without a cause, an absurdity.
  • Is Religion Pseudoscience? (psychologytoday.com)
    A pseudoscience is a set of beliefs or practices that pretends at being science—that puts forth evidence and arguments which it says are scientifically sound, but in fact are not. Pseudoscientists argue in support of new fundamental forces (e.g., Rupert Sheldrake’s morphic resonance) and even entities (e.g., ancient aliens). The TV show Ghost Hunters is a prime example; they even have instruments—like voice recorders, EM meters, laser thermometers (and deluxe carrying cases)—which seem scientific, but of course do nothing to detect ghosts. But all pseudosciences have one thing in common: The arguments and reasoning they put forth violate basic rules of scientific reasoning.
  • Villagers worship ‘miracle’ calf in India born with third eye (w/ video) (vancouverdesi.com)
    People are flocking to a small village in southern India to worship a “miracle” calf believedto bean incarnation of a Hindu god, according to Britain’s Daily Mail.The baby cow was born in the village ofKolathur in TamilNadu with a third eye in the middle of its head, much like the Hindu deity Shiva.“This is a miracle calf, so we are worshipping and praying to it like a god,” the animal’s owner, Rajesh, said. “We believe if we worship this calf it will give good luck for us and the people around us.”
  • No Miracles = No Christian Hope (derekzrishmawy.com)
    Whether it be Gnostic mysticism, or German Liberal Rationalism, throughout Christian history there have been numerous attempts to separate the effects, or “inner truth” Christianity from it’s concrete grounding in the narrative of God’s interaction with Israel and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. In other words, we want the value of “loving your enemies” and “forgiveness” without grounding it in the Cross where the Godman concretely loved his enemies and forgave them with his own blood. We want the sense of gratitude and joy on a sunny day without grounding it in the Creator God who gives  it to us and currently sustains all things in things in being.
  • Countering the Straw Man of “Spockian” Atheism (patheos.com)
    In a piece at NPR entitled “Why Atheists Need Captain Kirk,” University of California, Berkeley philosophy professor Alva Noë posted his thoughts on what he calls a “Spockian” worldview. He rejects this “Spock-ism” (a reference to the character on Star Trek) and its

    idea that science is logical, purely rational, that it is detached and value-free, and that it is, for all these reasons, morally superior.

  • True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism Reviewed (wmbriggs.com)
    How rational is it to believe any of the following:

    • Science can explain everything, even itself;
    • The reason anything exists is because of the laws of gravity, quantum fields, and so forth;
    • Jesus of Nazareth was an invention and not a real person;
    • Evolution is why we are so rational;
    • Even though God does not exist you can tell the difference between good and evil;
    • People are only Christians because they were born into it;
    • Miracles are impossible and reports of them are the result of lies, superstition, confusion, and reporting errors;
    • The Gospels on which Christianity relies were written hundreds of years after the fact and are mostly reinventions of other pagan traditions?

    Each of these propositions is not only false but easily proven to be so, as even the most minimal exertions show. Yet believing any, and many more like them, are touted by “New Atheists” as marks of superior intelligence, as enlightened thinking, even as commonsense reasonableness. To these infinitely self-assured folks, disbelief is a synonym of rational. It’s just a guess, but perhaps this irrational belief is why it is so hard to persuade New Atheists of their errors?

  • From Atheism to Christianity: a Personal Journey (po11ycheck.wordpress.com)
    Do you find it difficult to believe in God or accept the claims of Christianity? I did, when I was an atheist, but I changed my mind, and my reasons for doing so may be of interest to you in your own personal journey and attempts to make sense of life.
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    The presence within us of an objective moral law ‘written on our hearts’ points instead to the existence of an eternal Goodness and Intelligence which created us and our universe, enables us to think, and is the eternal source of our best and deepest values. In other words, Lewis argues, atheism cuts its own throat philosophically, because it discredits all human reasoning, including the arguments for atheism. “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.” (Mere Christianity). Only by acknowledging that there is a God, he concludes, can we hope to make sense of human existence, the world we inhabit, and, paradoxically, the problem of evil.
  • Clearing Up the Shenanigans: Tom Gilson and True Reason (arizonaatheist.blogspot.com)
    Am I arguing that “miracles happen too often?” Yes, but Gilson misses my point. It had nothing to do with science, it had everything to do with god. Gilson argued in True Reason that god wants his creationsto be “responsible moral agents;” and god also wants his creations to learn from experience. All of these things would not be possible if we lived in a world “of constant supernatural intervention” because “if there isto much chaos (“noise”) in a transmission, the message (signal) can’t get throughto be clearly understood.” (130)I argued that, at least according tonumerous Christians around the world, their god intervenes in the affairs of the worldon a daily basis and I provided one, among other examples, of a Christian friend who thanked god for coming across a set of chairs in someone’s yard.I also argued that far from being opposed to constant supernatural intervention the entire basis of Christianity is built upon supernatural intervention, including god coming down in human form as Jesus to the creation of the world out of absolutely nothing, which are in fact acts of the supernatural, unlike what Gilson stated in his reply (“it’s more than slightly difficult to see how God violated natural law by creating natural law (as creation ex nihilo indicates).”). Gilson’s argument makes no logical sense. Christians argue all the time that “something cannot come from nothing” but for Christians apparently it’s OK. And I suppose a man rising from the dead or a god-man coming down from heaven isn’t a supernatural event? Gilson says nothing about these core beliefs of Christianity.
  • What has convinced many believers to not believe? … the bible did. (skeptical-science.com)
    The embrace of a specific belief has rather a lot of do with your geographical location, and nothing at all to do with what is and is not actually true. It is those around you that draw you in.
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    Derren Brown, the illusionist, did a series on Channel 4 in the UK called Fear and Faith. During this at one point he gave somebody a camera to record a video diary and told her that for the next two weeks they would be manipulating events in her life so that she could learn life lessons, and that she was to record those lessons on her video diary. Darren Brown is well-known for doing the hidden camera thing and so this idea, once planted, was embraced as factual. One week later she had a video crammed full of the lessons she had learned during the events that they had staged. The reveal was that they had done nothing at all except give her the idea and a camera – everything that happened was her reading meaning into random events. – This is exactly the same psychology at play in the “born again” experience where Jesus is with you and helps you out each day.

I Can’t Believe That … (2) God would allow children to suffer

How could a loving God allow an innocent child to suffer? Surely he cares enough to prevent the suffering (if he didn’t care, he wouldn’t be very loving). And surely is able to prevent to suffering (if he couldn’t, he wouldn’t be very powerful). And yet we know that in this imperfect world children suffer. So does that mean there is no God? Or could God have good reasons to allow such suffering?

The Suffering (video game)

The Suffering (video game) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we talk about the reasons for suffering there is a real danger that anything we say will sound glib or even insensitive to those who have been bereaved. The mother who has lost a beloved child doesn’t want reasons, she wants her child back. Trying to intellectualise the problem will be cold comfort for such grief. Trying to explain away the suffering would be heartless. Because what possible reason could you give that would make the death of a child acceptable? What explanation would justify so great a loss? And that is the first thing to recognise. When we seek to understand the existence of suffering we are not seeking to give a reason for individual acts of suffering. Some acts of suffering, when considered in isolation, have no reason. They are not caused by God, they are not for some eventual gain, they are, essentially, meaningless. We do not live in a world where everything has a purpose, where everything happens for a reason. The Bible says God has subjected the world to “futility” (Rom 8:20), that is, God has purposefully made this world imperfect and subject to imperfection. God does not cause suffering, but has made the world where suffering occurs. The question is, why would he do that?

Step back and consider: what is the cause of so much of the evil in the world? Answer: human beings. Whether it is cold-blooded murder or just casual neglect, so much suffering and pain is caused by humans making bad choices. Sometimes people will choose to do something truly wicked, more often people just choose to do what is easy, but it is those choices that produces the suffering. God could have created a world without such suffering because he could have created a world without people or only with people whose minds he controls. That would have prevented a lot of suffering. There would be no murders, if God didn’t allow people the freedom to choose. But God has allowed people the freedom to choose. Because a world in which people have free will is better than a world without it. Imagine a world without free will. Sure, there would be no evil but there would also be no good. Without free will there could be no love and there could be no relationships. There could be no acts of kindness, no moments of generosity, and no real charity. The world would just be filled with choice-less robots, neither good nor bad, just behaving as instructed. A world with free will is better, and world where people freely choose to do good is best, but if people are truly free then that means they have the option to cause evil.

But this isn’t the whole answer. Murderers may choose to murder, but waves don’t choose to drown people, rocks don’t choose to crush people and viruses don’t choose to infect people. A lot of the suffering in the world is caused by natural processes, by the laws of nature operating as they always do, the victims just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Why does God allow such suffering? Well, imagine the alternative. Imagine that rocks would always fall down to the ground EXCEPT when a child was underneath. That might seem like a wonderful idea, but think of all the exceptions and kinks in the laws of nature that would be needed to make children invulnerable. Bullets would turn to jelly when fired at children, fire would become cool when a child was close by, man-eating tigers would become lovable kittens. Suddenly the ordered and regular world that we’re used to has become chaotic and difficult to predict. No longer could humans depend on things behaving like they always have and so could no longer make even reasonable guesses about the outcome of their actions. Without the laws of nature, without the regularity of nature, human free will cannot operate because without that regularity you cannot make informed choices.

Okay, you say, I understand that free will is a good thing and I understand that the laws of nature are necessary, but even so couldn’t have God made the world better? Couldn’t there be less dangers? Or couldn’t we be less vulnerable? Why not make humans impervious to harm so that we can carry on whatever the world throws at us? Of

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Preceding article: I Can’t Believe That (1) … God would send anyone to hell

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Additional reading:

  1. About suffering
  2. Foreword to suffering
  3. Choices to make in suffering
  4. Crucifixion for suffering
  5. God’s instruction about joy and suffering
  6. God’s promises to us in our suffering
  7. Importuning for suffering hearts
  8. Seems no future in suffering
  9. Suffering through the apparent silence of God
  10. Suffering continues
  11. Suffering leading to joy
  12. Surprised by joy
  13. Surprised by time in joys & sufferings
  14. Miracles in our time of suffering
  15. Offer in our suffering
  16. Temptation and its conquest
  17. Words from God about suffering
  18. Mission son of God perceived as failure
  19. Patient waiting
  20. Moving mountains
  21. Why Think There Is a God? (3): Why Is It Wrong?
  22. Attributes to God
  23. Disappointed with God
  24. God’s measure not our measure
  25. Full authority belongs to God
  26. God Helper and Deliverer
  27. God is Positive
  28. God’s design in the creation of the world
  29. God’s hope and our hope
  30. God His reward
  31. God’s promises
  32. God’s salvation
  33. Incomplete without the mind of God
  34. Is God hiding His Face when He is seemingly silent
  35. Jesus his answers about God’s silence
  36. Based confidence
  37. Chrystalised harmonious thinking
  38. Our way of life
  39. Life with God
  40. Nuturing a close relationship with God
  41. Concerning gospelfaith
  42. Epitome of the one faith
  43. My faith
  44. Hope
  45. Working of the hope
  46. Looking for blessed hope
  47. Hope for the future
  48. Expiatory sacrifice
  49. Content with the no answer
  50. Free will and predestination
  51. Meaning of life
  52. Death and after
  53. God’s Comfort
  54. A world in denial
  55. Fear and protection
  56. Because men choose to go their own way
  57. It is a free will choice
  58. Free will and predestination
  59. Let you not be defined by the effect of your wrong choice
  60. The Existence of Evil

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  • Why does God allow evil? (pastormikesays.wordpress.com)
    The Bible describes God as holy (Isaiah 6:3), righteous (Psalm 7:11), just (Deuteronomy 32:4), and sovereign (Daniel 4:17-25). These attributes tell us the following about God: (1) God is capable of preventing evil, and (2) God desires to rid the universe of evil. So, if both of these are true, why does God allow evil? If God has the power to prevent evil and desires to prevent evil, why does He still allow evil? Perhaps a practical way to look at this question would be to consider some alternative ways people might have God run the world:
  • God’s Gift & Our Response: Mercy & Worship (jamespaulgaard.wordpress.com)
    God gives us many good and wonderful gifts that we need. But a gift does not give its intended benefit if the one receiving the gift does not open the gift and use it. You could be given the greatest gift in the world, but if the gift sits in the corner unopened, that gift will have no benefit in your life. So through this series, we want to encourage you to reflect on the many gifts God has given you, and how you respond to those gifts. In today’s sermon we are thinking about God’s gift of mercy and our response of worship and the three points of the sermon
  • Why You Shouldn’t Teach Your Children That Hell is Real (patheos.com)
    If teaching heaven is bad, teaching hell is downright mental child abuse. There is no way around this one. You are telling a child that for bad deeds done, or not worshipping the right (or any god), you are going to burn in a lake of fire for eternity. Pure torture, unimaginable pain and it is forever.The myth of Hell needs to be destroyed faster than the myth of heaven by far. Children and countless adults fear any of their actions will result in them spending eternity in Hell. Why? It is such a childish and illogical idea. For starters, their almighty God created an evil angel, and instead of destroying him, gave him his own kingdom? And let’s not get started on the fact that if Satan is the one punishing the bad guys for their evil, doesn’t that make Satan the good guy? If Hell is for the most evil people in the world who listened to and or worshipped Satan, wouldn’t Satan be glad to have them? It simply doesn’t make sense and even Christians and other religious followers are deciding they don’t believe in Hell anymore. It seems that all the rest of their religion is true, but Hell sounds too mean, so that part is obviously just an allegory. So, just like the endless rape, murder, genocide and other atrocities of the Bible, let’s go ahead and cherry-pick Hell right out of it.
  • The Man or The Devil In The Mirror? [Part 1] (corbenstreet.wordpress.com)
    People must understand and know how to differentiate between the reason and the purpose of doing things. But because humans are always so good at taking things for granted, it is not surprising that whatever the reason and the purpose of using mirrors, it no longer means anything to everyone – anymore!
  • David Haines killing is ‘an act of absolute evil’, says Archbishop of Canterbury (christiantoday.com)
    The Archbishop of Canterbury is among the Christians expressing their sorrow over the killing of hostage David Haines at the hands of Islamic State militants.The 44-year-old aid worker’s beheading was shown in a video released on Saturday night.It has been strongly condemned by British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has vowed that Britain will take “whatever steps are necessary” to keep the country safe and bring the killers to justice.Archbishop Justin Welby used his Twitter account to ask every church in the country to pray for Haines’s family, saying he had been “evilly killed in the place he was serving in love for its suffering people”.

    In comments to the BBC later on Sunday, the Archbishop described the aid worker’s murder as “an act of absolute evil, unqualified, without any light in it at all”.

    He said there was a sense that in places where militants have taken hold “the darkness is deepening”.

    “It’s being done in the name of faith, but we’ve heard already today faith leaders from Islam across the world condemning this,” he continued.

  • William Lane Craig vs Walter Sinnott-Armstrong: evil, suffering and God’s existence (winteryknight.wordpress.com)
    This is one the top 4 best debates that William Lane Craig has done in my opinion. (The other two are Craig-Millican debate and the first and second Craig-Dacey debates) This one doesn’t seem to get a lot of play on the Internet: there’s no video, transcript or anything. But it is a great debate, and on a problem we are all concerned about: the problem of evil and suffering. One other thing – Sinnott-Armstrong is also a very courteous, respectful and intelligent scholar and he is very good at defending his side. This is a very cordial and engaging debate, and because it was held in front of a church audience, it was targeted to laymen and not academics.