Posted by: John Vandivier | March 27, 2013

The Miraculous Fallacy

In the false “Science vs Religion” paradigm there is one particular fallacy which stands out among many. It says that if science can explain an event then the event is not miraculous.

1 Many miracles were claimed in the Bible as evidence for God’s existence and power. This includes walking on water, water to wine, splitting the Red Sea and others. Not to mention of course the entire creation of the universe.

2 Science and religion are complimentary. “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind” said Albert Einstein. Nonetheless many naturalists, anti-theists or simple uneducated folks continue to buy into the fallacy that if science explains something it invalidates religion’s explanation.

3 The root of this fallacy is largely due to definitions. A miracle is defined as God violating the laws of nature through divine intervention. Unfortunately this is an absurd definition. This is because in the view of the theist, at least those believing in the Judeo-Christian God, the laws of nature are a reflection of God’s nature.

4 The claim that science can explain miracles does not preclude the fact that they are in fact miracles. The fact that science can explain miracles does not damage the validity of the Bible nor its prophecy power. For one thing many of the discoveries allowing science to explain those miracles occurred much later, meaning that at the point in time such miracles occurred there was not sufficient scientific knowledge to allow such events to occur by secular means. Next, even if such miracles had occurred by secular, naturalistic means, such as a person having special knowledge of a mixture which could be dropped into water and produce wine, they would still be miracles. This is because secular and natural events are built on top of what is ultimately God’s action, since God is the first mover, allowing any action at all, the only non-contingent being, allowing contingent beings and events to occur at all, and the creator of the natural universe, allowing natural materialistic laws and objects to exist to begin with!

5 A good definition of a miracle is an event for which God is an immediate agent. However proper theology, as touched on in point 4, would show that God is an immediate agent to all things through contingency. The cosmological explanation only argues for ultimate agency, as does the first mover arguments. However the contingency argument argues for immediate agency. If God ceased being non-contingent for one instant in general or with respect to any particular law, object, event etc, no contingent thing could subsist. All other things are contingent, however, which makes God a direct contributor, by means of permission though not causality, to everything ever. The fact that he contributes through permission not causality leaves him blameless, but nonetheless directly involved, much in the way that the Bitcoin network is blameless from the action of drug dealers or guns are blameless for murder.

6 Saying a miracle must not be explainable by nature alone is both absurd and special pleading. It is absurd in the philosophical sense, not the derogatory sense. If miracles must be naturally observed then they will be explainable by natural means, even though such natural means are only an extension of God’s nature and power. Yet some people say that miracles may not be explainable by nature or else they wouldn’t be miracles. They have made proof or observation of a miracle impossible by definition! To demand such proof or observation as justification for theism is logically absurd! Furthermore it is also special pleading. Why is it that every evidence or proof may be made through natural observation or explanation except theistic ones?

7 Occam’s Razor is frequently abusively evoked here. The anti-theist will claim that theism is unnecessary due to its over-complexity and is therefore invalidated by Occam’s Razor. First of all Occam’s Razor says nothing about one explanation being true and another being false. It only says one is “better,” which is a moral statement that is not even justifiable without theistic grounding, seeing as how atheistic worldviews leave no room for objective morality. Regardless Occam’s Razor, which I think is a nifty little thing, does not apply in such abusive fashion. Occam’s Razor says that when two competing explanations are posited for the same result, and when such explanations are essentially similar, but one is more concise, it is to be preferred.

8 The problem with using Occam’s Razor to attack theism is that science is not a claim! It is a method! Scientism, atheism and materialistic naturalism all have claims but these are not interchangeable with science. Furthermore such schools of thought do not have essentially similar pressupositions, explanatory mechanisms or predictions. The use of Occam’s Razor is blatantly inappropriate! It reeks of worse than kindergarten logic!

9 The last way to attack miracles is simply to claim that they do not exist. This is hilarious indeed because how could anyone prove they do not exist? Can you observe the lack of miracles? I mean really. Can you really, personally observe everywhere and all time? If you could observe the existence of ANYTHING rather than NOTHING, or the existence of yourself or myself or anyone rather than no one miracles must already be admitted to exist. If you cannot make such basic observations why should any observation you claim to make be worth anything? Can you do calculus without arithmetic?

In conclusion some miracles exist including nature’s existence itself. I agree it is much harder to “prove” many biblical miracles such as walking on water, however the idea that at least some miracles exist is superbly easy to defend logically. The crux of the matter is to properly define a miracle and to recognize that God is “the sustainer” or “I AM” as the bible says, or the only non-contingent being as philosophers would say in more modern and technical language.

Here is a nice video on miracles. He takes a different definition than I do. Perhaps he even has a better one! You can see how his definition, a bit more etymological than philosophical, also is entirely immune to the miraculous fallacy of claiming that scientific explanation displaces miraculous status:

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