A miracle is a supposed event that is contrary to the laws of nature. The idea is that an event like that can only be explained as the work of a supernatural being like God. Who else would be capable of breaking the laws of the universe? Here are a few of the problems with the concept of miracles.
When you hear a report of a miracle, consider how often people say things that aren’t actually true. What seems more likely, that a real miracle happened (something that goes against the way we’ve always known the world to work), or that the person claiming a miracle happened1 lied or was mistaken (something that happens all the time)?2
Particularly in the case of miracles reported in ancient times, it would be easy for people as ignorant as they were back then to be fooled. People who think faith is a virtue would probably be pretty easily fooled as well.
What’s God got to do with it?
What if it turns out that an apparently miraculous event can actually be explained in terms of ordinary natural phenomena? It may still be amazing, and it may be useful… But there’s no reason to think it’s a true miracle in that case, and it’s not very strong evidence of anything supernatural.
Even if we assume the stories in the Bible aren’t entirely made up, a lot of the miracles reported there have possible natural explanations. And that’s just based on what we know about the natural world. There’s no way to know for sure that an apparent miracle doesn’t have a non-supernatural cause that we don’t know about yet.
Even if you’re convinced that a violation of the laws of nature has occurred, that’s no reason to think it has anything to do with anything supernatural. Maybe nature just doesn’t happen to be perfectly consistent or lawful. And in a lot of cases, even if you accept that it’s proof of something supernatural, there’s no reason to assume that an apparent miracle is evidence of the existence of any particular god, or that someone performing miracles was sent by God.
Why couldn’t there be some other god behind it, or some other explanation you haven’t thought of? There’s no reason to think that the cause of a miracle has to be all-powerful, or have any of the other attributes God is said to have. If all you know is that you can’t think of any usual explanation for what happened, all you can reasonably conclude is that you don’t know how it happened.
If you were to take one religion’s miracles as proof that that religion was true, how would you explain all the other religions’ miracles? People of many different religions believe they have experienced miracles that can only be explained by their religion being true. They can’t all be right. People of many different religions also believe that miracle claims associated with other religions are all false. They can all be right about that.
The Bible even says evil people and evil spirits can perform miraculous signs of their own. So why assume miracles have anything to do with God? It would make just as much sense to conclude that your religion’s miracles are the devil’s way of tricking you into believing in a false religion.
Miracles are things that don’t happen
Is it even possible in principle for the laws of nature to be broken? What exactly are the laws of nature? The word “law” here means a universal principle stating that things always happen in a certain way given certain conditions, which we take to be a fact as a result of extensive observation or experimentation. The laws of nature are our descriptions of how reality works. And anything that contradicts an accurate description of reality can’t be real.
There is always a possibility that our current ideas about the laws of nature aren’t perfectly accurate, and will need to be revised. What if we knew for a fact that an event had occurred that violated what we believed to be the laws of nature? That would just mean that we were mistaken about those laws, and we would need to update our concept of the laws of nature to accommodate that new knowledge of reality. And that would mean that the surprising event should no longer be considered a violation of the laws of nature, or a miracle.Continue reading Why believe in miracles