Following up on yesterday’s post, I thought I’d take some time to explore further the question of how we can observe that miracles do not happen in real life. Some believers like to think that ignorance is their ally, that nobody knows everything, so they’re safe (they hope) in assuming that no skeptic can know for sure that miracles do not happen. Somewhere out in the vast body of things people don’t know—i.e. somewhere out in the great expanse of human ignorance—they can surely find a place to hide some undetectable and unverifiable miracle that is still somehow real.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. If we apply the principle that truth is consistent with itself, we can see that even given the vast number of things we don’t know, we can still establish beyond a reasonable doubt that, for example, we do not see the dead being brought back to life after 3 days or more with no vital signs. We can observe the fact that miracles do not happen. It’s simply a matter of thinking things through.
The first observation we need to make is that in order for Bible-caliber miracles to occur in real life, there cannot be any necessary and compelling reasons why God cannot or should not perform such miracles. Thus, for example, if working a genuine Biblical miracle would somehow doom us to hell, or corrupt our free will, or otherwise screw everything up, then God’s not going to work any miracles, and therefore we’re not going to observe any. The first prerequisite for observing real-life miracles is the absence of any overriding factors making miracles impossible or undesirable.
The expected rate of miraculous interventions, therefore, ought to be fairly high. God is actively interested and involved in our day-to-day lives (or so men tell us anyway) and there’s no good reason for Him not to do the things that will save souls and fulfill Biblical prophecies about how He heals the sick and comforts the afflicted and so on. Likewise the extent of these miraculous manifestations ought to be universal, i.e. they should not be limited to remote regions where superstition is high and education is low. This whole show is (allegedly) God’s idea in the first place, and He’s supposed to be the prime driver behind it all, so real-world miracles ought to be fairly common and easy to observe.
But let’s say that, for reasons of—I dunno, union contract or something, God was limited to performing only a very few genuine supernatural miracles. What observations would be possible under those circumstances? Consider the purpose of miracles, as given in the Bible. The whole point of the miracle is to glorify God (and incidentally to edify believers). Obviously, a miracle that happens out where no one will ever know about it is a miracle that won’t glorify Him very much, or edify anyone. It has to be a miracle that people see and report. So which glorifies God more: a genuine miracle, or a fraud? Obviously the former, right? A fraud not only fails to glorify God, it actually dishonors Him and casts doubts on the Gospel.
So let’s suppose that Christians have a number of stories to offer in support of the idea of genuine miracles. Suppose that some of them are merely hearsay and urban legends, and others are outright lies, and a very few are genuine miracles. We know that at least some of these stories are fraudulent because they’ve been investigated. But suppose they’re not all frauds. Which ones should Christians use to glorify God and edify one another? Would they not reject the frauds and preach only the genuine, verifiable, supernatural interventions? The real miracles, being genuine, would crowd out the frauds and myths which only embarrass the church. Certain stories would stand out as genuine, leaving the rumors and deceits to pale and wither by comparison.
That’s what would happen IF the real miracles actually existed. But we don’t see this happening among believers. When Jayman goes looking for evidence of real-world miracles, he doesn’t find a few stories that really stand out because of their uniquely genuine and verifiable supernatural character. He finds hearsay, rumors of a guy who once met a man who saw something he could not explain. And that’s pretty much true across the board. There’s tons of the kind of stories you get when people are free to say whatever sounds good to people who aren’t too picky about what they accept as proof of their faith. The phenomenon of a few rare, genuine stories rising like lighthouses amid the sea of hearsay and bluster, just does not happen. If it did, you can bet the believers would be waving it in skeptics’ faces every chance they got.
Thus, we can observe not only that WE personally do not see genuine Biblical miracles, but that believers don’t either. They’re trapped in a swamp of gullibility and contradiction, hoping against all evidence that Ignorance might shelter some kind of genuine miracle too common to stand out by its rarity yet too rare to be observed commonly. Meanwhile, if you strip away all the hearsay and rumor and extravagant claims made in fund-raising letters, and say, “Ok, but what have you really got?” the answer is “Nothing.” Believers are biased in favor of miracles existing somewhere out where we cannot see them, but by that very fact, they’re conceding that we do not observe genuine, verifiable miracles in real life.