The Gospel Hypothesis 8: Miracles


Most implications of the Gospel Hypothesis are starkly different from those of the Myth Hypothesis, and miracles seem like they ought to be a prime example. After all, if God does not exist, then necessarily He is not going to be working any genuine miracles, and the closest we’ll be able to get will be superstitions, misunderstandings, and unverifiable rumors and legends.

Ironically, however, the Gospel Hypothesis also predicts that there won’t be any miracles—though for a very different reason.

The word miracle has a couple of meanings. In the theological sense, a miracle is when God intervenes in human affairs, producing an effect that is strikingly different from the normal, natural order of things. But the term “miracle” is also used to indicate rarity, to designate some event that virtually never happens in real life. If someone wins the lottery, they call it “a miracle” because they really did not believe it was possible for the winner to be themselves. Even though they know somebody is going to win it, the chances of it happening to them personally are so remote as to be indistinguishable from the impossible.

How did the term “miracle” acquire both of these meanings? Quite simply because God virtually never intervenes in human affairs, as far as any of us ever experience. We encounter God’s miracles in stories that happened in distant places or times that we have no access to, but we never see a genuine, supernatural intervention (as distinct from some ordinary, misunderstood, subjective experience that we attribute to miracles). And this is pretty much a universal experience: when we use the term “miracle” to designate something that virtually never happens, everyone knows what we mean, because God never personally and directly intervenes in their lives either, beyond the ordinary happenstances and trivial mysteries that people superstitiously attribute to Him.

The thing is, the Gospel Hypothesis implies a God who is perfectly loving, and perfectly capable of being actively, tangibly, and personally involved in our everyday lives. The actions of a God like that would never acquire the connotation of “something that virtually never happens,” because His interactions with us would virtually always happen. We don’t have a special word for parents showing up to be actively involved in the care and nurture of their own children, unless that would would happen to be “love.” And even then, we would never use such a term to mean something so rare as to be synonymous with “impossible.”

So in this case, the Myth Hypothesis and the Gospel Hypothesis both reach the same conclusion (no miracles), but for starkly different reasons. In the case of the Myth Hypothesis, there are no miracles because there is no God to perform miracles, but in the case of the Gospel Hypothesis there are no miracles because God is so routinely and intimately involved in our lives that “divine intervention” would come to mean an ordinary, normal and natural course of events—the very opposite of the definition of a miracle!

The Myth Hypothesis is a better explanation, because it correctly implies both the exact consequence (absence of miracles) and the exact mechanism by which we arrive at the consequence. We do not see God performing genuine miracles in the real world. We see only superstition, hearsay, unverifiable legends from remote places and eras, misunderstandings, naive estimates of unquantifiable probabilities, and so on. In short: things that come from people’s minds and imaginations. People believe that miracles should exist, and must exist somewhere out where no skeptic (or doubting believer) can reach them. But only the Myth Hypothesis correctly predicts the divine absence that’s required to make His alleged interventions seem like miracles.

Comments

  1. aziraphale says

    If the God hypothesis were true, we would expect violations of the laws of physics some of the time, but not all of the time.For instance, suppose two cars are both skidding on icy roads and about to go off a cliff into the sea. Each driver is alone. Driver A is a mother on her way home to care for her family. Driver B is a terrorist carrying a ton of explosives and intending to ram the doors of a building around the next bend. I think we would expect God, if he intervenes in that sort of situation at all, to save A but not B.

    Of course not every situation would be that clear-cut. But we would expect some moral difference between those who are saved by miracles (which in this case might show up in the skid marks) and those who are not saved.

  2. says

    Well, I think of it slightly differently.

    Miracles are the bending of the laws of physics (and chemistry and biology). Ask any theist, and they’ll tell you that’s exactly what is going on with miracles. A “lucky” hit on a lottery ticket isn’t a bending of the laws of physics — merely the natural outcome of the laws of statistics.

    However, there’s some important work being done with miracles. A theist has to hold two completely contradictory positions. First, they must declare that faith is the belief in the unseen. But then, they must also declare that the only way to distinguish god from not-god is the ability to bend the laws of physics in the plain sight of humans.

    So. Burning bushes. Plagues. Changing water into wine. Raising people who are “smelly dead” back to life. Raising yourself back to life. Ascending bodily into “heaven”. And on and on. Without these miracles, there is absolutely no way to discern whether there was a godly event or presence, or a purely natural and/or human event or presence.

    Miracles, therefore, are fundamentally the evidence that theists ask us to believe in in order to therefore believe in their concept of their deity. If you believe in the miracle, you must believe in the deity. If the miracle didn’t occur or wasn’t reported, there is no point in having “faith”.

    Therefore, what theists have isn’t “faith” of any sort. Instead, they have credulity. They have swallowed as true the mythical accounts of great deeds done by their deity.

    And, of course, this leads us to the primary and fundamental disconnect.

    1. Gods are supernatural creatures who can bend the laws of physics.
    2. Gods wish to be worshiped by humans. (Why, I don’t know. But this is the theist position.)
    3. Miracles are the sign by which the supernatural makes itself known to humans. Gods have no other way to demonstrate their existence other than miracles. Natural events do not demonstrate the existence of gods.
    4. All miracles reported in all holy books have left precisely and exactly zero evidence behind that they actually occurred. (Where’s the wine? Loaves & fishes? The resurrected Lazarus? The resurrected Jesus? All hidden or gone.)
    5. Any god worth its salt could have provided permanent evidence of its ability to bend the laws of physics.
    6. Therefore, god either wishes to remain hidden from our sight and absent from our affairs. Or the “miracles” attributed to god are mythical.
    7. Either way, the “evidence” of miracles require the complete and utter destruction of the concept of “faith”.

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