A Simple Defense of Miracles

Are miracles really possible?

I’m not talking about how some describe a baby being born as “the miracle of life.” I’m talking about biblical reports of Jesus walking on water, healing the blind, and physically rising from the dead. Atheists sometimes say miracles overturn the laws of nature—and that’s not possible. Before considering the evidence, however, many skeptics have already decided that naturalism is true. But what about this? Do miracles—by definition—really overturn the laws of nature?

In the foreword to The God Conversation, Lee Strobel notes how J.P. Moreland responded to this challenge with a simple defense (p.7):

The laws of nature are the way we describe how the world usually works. If someone drops an apple, it falls to the floor. That’s gravity.

However, if someone were to drop an apple and I were to reach over and grab it before it hit the ground, I wouldn’t be overturning the law of gravity. I would simply be intervening. In a similar way, God is able to reach into the world that he created by performing a miracle. He isn’t contravening or overturning the laws of nature. He’s simply intervening.

Let’s Get Practical

Apologetics doesn’t have to be dry and boring. You can have a lot of fun illustrating this concept with a tennis ball. Drop it from a ladder and let it hit the ground. Do it again, but this time, have a student catch it. You could use a basketball, a stuffed animal, a banana creme pie—OK, maybe not a pie. But you get the idea. Take J.P. Moreland’s defense and increase it’s impact with an actual object lesson!

Your Turn

As always, I’m open to your opinion on this. How effective would this illustration be for your group?

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17 Responses to “A Simple Defense of Miracles”

  1. Aaron July 14, 2010 9:40 PM
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    Mikel, hey. Not sure I agree with Moreland. It doesn’t seem that raising Lazarus from the dead is just intervening. He had to reverse the law of thermodynamics and bring Lazarus’ body back from decay. The example of the dropping the apple make miracles common place. It would mean that a human could perform a miracle as well. The Virgin conception, the flood, etc. seem to be more than just intervention. So I am not sure Moreland’s definition is adequate.

  2. Mikel July 15, 2010 12:14 AM
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    Hi, Aaron. By “miracles,” we both mean things that can’t be produced by humans or any natural causes. But J.P.’s saying natural laws only explain what happens when no other forces are interfering. Like when you see something weird at a mystery spot; you know a natural force is interfering and the law of gravity hasn’t been reversed. Similarly, if a law doesn’t seem to work in a particular case because God’s acting, the law really isn’t violated or overturned. Glad we agree God’s acted in history, even if we don’t totally get how that works!

  3. Richard Ball July 15, 2010 7:49 AM
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    After reading The God of Miracles: An Exegetical Examination of God’s Action in the World by C. John Collins, I’m convinced that the gap between miracles and natural explanations is much less than we think. I say this because Christian doctrine asserts that the natural world does not self-sufficiently exist on its own; God is active in upholding and sustaining it. So, the move between upholding and gently and subtly directing (as in e.g., a God-sent “miraculous” weather event) is not as great as one might think, and the move between gently directing to altering (as in the resurrection of Lazarus) is one of degree, not of kind.

    Remember, the “laws of nature” are a human construct; a human way of looking at the regularities in nature which God gives us. While we are invariably subject to these rules, God, the Creator and Sustainer of them, is not. He is an Agent acting in the world, whose causal powers are greater than ours.

    So, “overturning the laws of nature” is the wrong way of posing the problem. The fact we pose the problem this way is our problem, not God’s!

  4. Mikel July 15, 2010 6:30 PM
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    Great thoughts, Richard. I like the idea of showing a progression from upholding, to directing and altering. The Collins book sounds like an interesting read!

  5. Wintery Knight July 16, 2010 10:56 PM
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    Human beings are non-material minds. We have bodies that our minds can control. We cause effects on our bodies by using our free will. And God is a non-material mind just like us. Only he doesn’t have a body, so he can intervene at any point in space and exercise his will. It’s not a violation of natural laws when we do it, and it’s not a violation of natural laws when he does it.

  6. Mikel July 17, 2010 10:23 AM
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    I like how you put it: “It’s not a violation of natural laws when we do it, and it’s not a violation of natural laws when he does it.” Great blog, BTW. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  7. Louis July 18, 2010 8:00 PM
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    Moreland’s analogy fails because the act of catching a falling apple before it hits the ground is simply a description of the interaction of two physical objects, one of which just happens to be a human being who has agency. If catching a falling apple is an intervention, so is walking and chewing gum (and not necessarily both at the same time). I think you’re spinning your wheels focusing on semantics. Does it really matter whether you say the laws of nature have been “contravened,” “overturned,” “interfered with,” or “intervened into?” I can tell you myself as an atheist, it means nothing. What truly matters is whether belief in the supernatural is warranted, period, and the fundamental question of whether theism is more plausible than naturalism.

  8. Mikel July 19, 2010 11:47 PM
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    Hi, Louis. Congrats on being the first naturalist to comment on my blog! First off, let me say I really appreciate the tone of your post. It demostrates a civil, respectful disagreement on an important issue and I appreciate your comments.

    Sounds like you’re not too concerned about how theists describe natural laws. You’re right in saying that the fundamental question is whether belief in the supernatural is warranted. If theism’s more plausible than naturalism, miracles are possible. If naturalism is true, miracles are impossible because there’s absolutely nothing outside the natural order.

    BTW, I enjoyed checking out your blog. Loved your post on DNA! Ever considered theistic arguments based on how nucleotide bases represent encoded information? ID theory seemed interesting to the late Anthony Flew, who wrote There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. Interesting read.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Louis!

  9. Louis July 21, 2010 7:28 PM
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    Hi Mikel,

    I truly appreciate your tone and approach as well. I feel like I’ve been challenged as of late to find either atheists or Christians who are open to an honest and humble discussion about these issues. It’s pretty sad, really.

    With all due respect regarding Antony Flew, he never acknowledged belief in a personal god. He basically moved from atheism to deism, still a far cry from Christian theism. He’s still in hell by all biblical accounts, no?

  10. Mikel July 22, 2010 12:31 AM
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    Thanks for that. As far as I know, Flew died a theist of some sort. But he seemed at least open to the idea that God was personal at the time of this interview. I’ll say only God knows where he is now. Totally not my place to make a judgment call on that one. Interesting interview, though. We’ll talk again soon, Louis!

  11. Louis August 24, 2010 2:10 PM
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    Hi Mikel,

    Sorry for the delayed response–you should add some way of tracking comment updates to your blog!

    Thanks for sharing the Flew interview video. At 5:55 of the video the interviewer flat-out asks Flew if his view of god is a deistic one, to which he replies: “Emphatically yes. Yes.” I think it’s pretty clear that in the end Flew hardly changed his fundamental, life-long position that a personal, intervening god does not exist. So again, by your account of Christianity he’s suffering an eternity in hell, is he not? Hard to see how that is a victory by any stretch of the imagination.

  12. Mikel August 28, 2010 11:02 PM
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    Hi, Louis!

    Good idea! Now if I could only find a WordPress plugin for that. Any suggestions? :-)

    I don’t know where Flew is now. You wrote, “Flew hardly changed his fundamental, life-long position that a personal, intervening god does not exist.” But what gets me is that the evidence led him to conclude that naturalism is false. What do you think about ID theory?

  13. Bantay August 28, 2010 11:49 PM
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    This may come as a shock to many Christians, but we (Christians) are not obligated to accept the atheist’s presumption of naturalism as a means of explaining the world, especially when there are increasing evidences of design in nature (which would presumably require less faith to initially believe in). Atheist/naturalists have not come up with any new (or any, for that matter) positive evidence that naturalism is true to the exclusion of all other possibilities. Yet, the atheist always approaches the issue of miracles from a perspective as if naturalism is true…while not shouldering the epistemic responsibility to demonstrate it first. Merely claiming an absence of evidence of an immaterial reality does not establish naturalism.

  14. Louis August 29, 2010 6:31 PM
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    Mikel, Here’s a WordPress plugin for comment subscriptions.

    Your point with respect to Flew’s admission of the supernatural is well taken. However, Flew believed fine-tuning and design arguments merited belief in a prime mover, but nothing more. Deism is a rationally sound position. I don’t believe the cumulative evidence supports it like Flew did, but it’s a reasonable position nonetheless. Honestly considered, deism is a hop, skip and a jump away from atheism. But the distance between deism and Christian theism: that’s like trying to fly a plane to the moon–you can’t do it. It’s kind of like saying, “See, the evidence does support the existence of stars. Astrology is a reasonable belief system after all!”

    The bottom line is that even if Flew did in fact follow the evidence wherever it leads (deism) and no further, it still leads straight to the Christian hell. I fail to see how that’s a success story in any regard.

  15. Kim November 25, 2012 1:24 PM
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    Louis,
    I am wondering if you could give more explanation to deism being closer to atheism than theism, or direct me elsewhere for further reading on this thought. Thank-you.

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