Tag Archives: miracles

Why believe in miracles

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.

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The Story of Samson and Delilah
Brawn and No Brains

Samson got a new girlfriend, named Delilah. Samson’s enemies, the Philistines, paid Delilah to figure out Samson’s secret weakness, so they could capture him. So Delilah asked Samson three times how such a strong man could be successfully tied up, and Samson gave her three false answers.

Each time, Delilah tied him up the way he suggested while he was sleeping, and then woke him up by telling him the Philistines had come for him, but Samson easily broke out of his restraints. Delilah kept nagging him every day, saying if he really loved her, he would tell her how to drain his strength and allow his enemies to capture him. So he did.

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Brawn and No Brains
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The Story of Samson’s Riddle
Out of the Strong, Some Way to Cheat

Samson was another judge, who saved his people when God let the Philistines take over Israel. Samson was a life-long Nazirite, which required him to abstain from wine, corpses, and haircuts.

While Samson was on his way to a Philistine city to visit a Philistine woman, he was attacked by a lion. God gave him the strength to easily kill the lion with his bare hands. Later, when he was on his way to the Philistine city again to marry the Philistine woman, he found that some bees had made a nest in the lion’s body. He took some honey out of the dead lion and shared it with his parents. But he didn’t tell anyone where the honey came from.

Samson challenged 30 Philistine men to try to solve a riddle by the end of his week-long wedding feast. They agreed that the losing party would have to give the winning party 30 sets of clothes. So Samson told them a “riddle” that they couldn’t possibly make sense of without knowing about the lion incident that no one but Samson knew about.

The Philistine men realized that Samson was unfairly trying to take their property. So they threatened to burn down his new wife’s house unless she told them the answer to the riddle. Samson’s wife cried constantly for the rest of the week until Samson gave her the answer. Then she told the answer to the men, and the men gave the answer back to Samson.

Samson knew those 30 Philistine men must have cheated, since there was no other way they could have possibly solved his “riddle”. But he gave them the promised 30 sets of clothes… which he got by killing 30 other Philistine men.

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Out of the Strong, Some Way to Cheat
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The Story of the Battle of Jericho
Two Spies and One Hooker

Because Moses did a miracle the wrong way once, God had decided not to let him bring his people into the promised land after all. So when Moses was 120 years old, God sent him to the top of a mountain, where he saw the land from a distance, and then died. God chose Moses’s assistant Joshua to replace Moses as the leader of Israel.

Joshua sent two men to spy out the land of Canaan. They stayed in the house of a prostitute named Rahab, in the city of Jericho. She told the spies everything they needed to know.

The king of Jericho heard that there were Israelite spies in the land. He sent men to tell Rahab to hand over those men who had come to her house. But Rahab hid the spies and told the king’s men that the spies had already left. So they went to look for the spies elsewhere.

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Two Spies and One Hooker
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The Story of Balaam’s Ass
God Can't Make Up His Mind

The Israelites wanted to peacefully pass through the country of the Amorites on the way to Canaan. But the king of the Amorites wouldn’t let them, because God made him stubborn. So to punish the king for what God had made him do, the Israelites murdered all the Amorites, stole all their possessions, and took over their land. When Balak king of Moab found out about this, he was terrified of Israel. So he decided to hire Balaam, a prophet of God, to curse God’s chosen people. Great idea, Balak. /s

Balak sent messengers to Balaam to ask him to come and weaken the Israelites so Moab could defeat them, but God told Balaam not to do that, so the messengers returned to Balak without him. Then Balak sent more messengers to Balaam and offered him a large reward for cursing Israel. For some reason, “God” changed his mind and said Balaam should go with them this time.

So Balaam got on his donkey and started to go with the messengers to see Balak. But when God saw that Balaam was going with them after he had told Balaam he should go with them, God was very angry. So God tried to get Balaam to stop by putting an invisible angel in his way. Balaam’s donkey could see the angel standing in the road with a sword, so the donkey turned away from the road. Balaam beat his donkey to get it to get back on the road.

Then while Balaam was on a narrow path between two walls, the donkey saw the angel again, and it crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall. Balaam beat his donkey again, but there was nowhere the donkey could go, so it lay down, and Balaam kept beating it with his staff.

Then God enabled the donkey to talk, so it could tell him that it had a good reason not to keep walking, and that he had no good reason to beat it. God also enabled Balaam to see the angel. The angel told Balaam that he was being reckless by going down the straight and narrow path to meet Balak, and that if his donkey hadn’t turned away, the angel would have killed Balaam, but spared the donkey.

Balaam said he had sinned by going with Balak’s men when God had told him to go with Balak’s men. He was going to go back home, but the angel that had been sent to stop him from going to meet Balak told him to keep going and meet Balak.

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God Can't Make Up His Mind
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The Story of the Water from the Rock
Why Moses was Banned from the Promised Land

Moses brought the Israelites to a place called Meribah. They couldn’t find any water to drink there, because it was a desert, so they complained to Moses. The Israelites had been in the same situation here in Meribah before, and God had told Moses to hit a rock with his staff. When he did, water had come out of it.

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Why Moses was Banned from the Promised Land
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The Story of the Mutiny Against Moses
Bring it On, On

Moses and Aaron had brought the Israelites out of Egypt, a land flowing with milk and honey where they had prospered, and had left them to die in the wilderness. So 250 men of Israel, led by Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On, came together to oppose them. These men said Moses and Aaron shouldn’t have authority over the rest of the people, because all of Israel was holy. Moses told these men to appear with Aaron before the Lord, and said God would decide who was or wasn’t holy. So they all gathered in front of the tent of meeting.

God told Moses and Aaron to stand back so he could destroy the rest of the Israelites. Moses and Aaron reminded God, once again, that he shouldn’t do that, because not all of them had sinned. So instead, God had Moses tell the rest of the Israelites to stand back so he could destroy Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, the rebel leaders.

Moses announced that if the earth opened up and swallowed those men, that would be a sign that God had appointed Moses to lead Israel. Then the earth opened up and swallowed Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and their innocent wives and children. God also killed the 250 rebels with fire. But the other rebel leader, On, wasn’t killed. So he must have been a holy leader chosen by the Lord, just like Moses and Aaron. On was never mentioned again.

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Bring it On, On
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Mundane miracles

A miracle is a supposed event that is contrary to the laws of nature.1 The idea is that an event like that can only be explained as the work of a supernatural being like God. But 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.

How many of the miracles reported in the Bible (supposing the stories aren’t entirely made up) have possible natural explanations?2

Knowledge

There are a lot of prophecies in the Bible. A lot of them have turned out to be false. A lot of them fail to specify a deadline for fulfillment, making it impossible to tell whether they’re false. Some of them seem suspiciously like they were written after the fact. Some of them predict events that are nothing out of the ordinary. Some of them are so vague that it’s no surprise that something happened that could be considered to fit the description. Some of them have only been fulfilled because people who knew about the predictions fulfilled them on purpose. And a lot of the passages that are considered prophecies weren’t even meant to be predictions at all. That doesn’t leave very many actual impressive predictions, if any.

Jesus and other prophets in the Bible are said to have been able to read minds and demonstrate inexplicable knowledge of other people’s pasts. It’s surprisingly easy to give the impression that you have abilities like that. When people want to believe that you’re psychic, they will perceive your readings as amazingly accurate no matter what you say. They’ll do most of the work for you, interpreting whatever you say as something meaningful and accurate. And they’ll ignore everything you get wrong.

Creation, destruction, and transformation

So, what’s up with that burning bush Moses found that wouldn’t burn up, before he started hearing God talking to him? Maybe it was some kind of Acacia. They can be easily flammable and slow to burn up, and they can even trigger religious experiences.

Moses and Aaron tried to prove that God had sent them by turning a staff into a snake. But the Egyptian magicians were able to do the same thing. So either they were prophets of God too, or that trick doesn’t prove anything. I’ve heard it’s possible to do the stick-to-snake trick by holding an Egyptian Cobra and applying pressure near its head. That makes it go stiff and motionless so it looks like an inanimate stick, until you put it down.

The Bible says during the first of the ten plagues of Egypt, the water turned into undrinkable blood and killed everything in it. That sounds a lot like a phenomenon known as a red tide, where a certain kind of algae causes water to turn red and toxic. That could explain some of the other plagues, as well. Frogs flee from the unhealthy water and die, bugs get out of control because of the lack of frogs, bugs spread disease among the people and livestock, etc. And the remaining plagues could be explained by food poisoning and a volcano.

The collapse of Jericho could have been the result of a convenient earthquake that the Israelites later took credit for causing.

Why did the Philistines keep finding the idol of Dagon fallen over in the morning, bowing down toward the ark of the covenant, and eventually broken to pieces? Might one of the Israelites have snuck in and vandalized the idol during the night? It wouldn’t be the first time.

How could a crowd of over 5000 people eat and be satisfied if Jesus’s disciples only had five loaves of bread and two fish to offer them? Well, it never says nobody brought their own food. And why wouldn’t they?

Some branches of Christianity consider the Eucharist ritual to be a miracle. They believe the bread and wine actually turn into the body and blood of Jesus… which just happen to be completely indistinguishable from ordinary bread and wine for some reason. Least impressive miracle ever! No explanation needed.

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The end of the world

This is a summary of what the Bible says will happen when the world ends. The predictions are scattered throughout various parts of the Bible, which makes it hard to tell how they’re all supposed to fit together. Some things just don’t fit together at all. But I’ve attempted to put everything in order and make a fairly coherent narrative out of it, using whatever chronology clues I could find in the Bible.

Fantastic beasts

In the end times, God will send many false Messiahs and false prophets. They will perform miracles, which can only be done with God’s help.1

Satan and his angels will lose a war in heaven. Then he will be thrown down to earth, where he will go to war against the Christians. A beast like a leopard with bear’s feet, a lion’s mouth, seven heads, and ten horns will come out of the sea. Satan will give the beast power over everyone for 3.5 years. All the people God arbitrarily decided not to save will worship the beast and Satan. The beast will speak against God and conquer his people.

Then a second beast with a lamb’s horns and a dragon’s voice will come out of the earth. It will perform great signs, confirming that its word is true. It will make a talking image of the first beast, and kill anyone who doesn’t worship the image. It will force all people to receive the mark of the number of the beast on their hands or foreheads.

An angel will preach the gospel to the world.2 Then Jesus will come on a cloud and harvest the earth. An angel will throw trillions of people into a winepress so Jesus can trample them to death, and a five-foot flood of blood will flow out of it. Seven more angels will bring seven plagues on the world. Festering sores will break out on the people who have the mark of the beast.3 The water will turn into blood and the Euphrates will dry up. The sun will scorch people, but the kingdom of the beast will be in darkness.

Then three frog-demons will perform signs, proving that God is on their side. They will gather the kings of the world for battle at Armageddon. God will send storms, giant hailstones, and an unprecedented, city-destroying earthquake that will split Babylon into three parts. All the islands and mountains will be removed.

The beast4 will be put in the Abyss and come back out. Then God will give power to the beast, which together with ten very briefly-reigning kings will burn down Babylon. With a sword from his mouth, Jesus will destroy the nations, the kings of the earth and their armies, and the beast and the false prophet5 will be thrown alive into hell.

God saves Jerusalem from himself

Satan will be locked in the Abyss for a thousand years, and God will resurrect Christian martyrs from every nation who have not worshiped the beast or received its mark,6 and bring them to Israel to reign alongside Jesus as priests. After the thousand years are over, God will bring unprecedented distress on everyone.

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The Story of the Ten Plagues
The Exodus from Egypt

Mass infanticide

The Israelites (the descendants of Jacob) were getting so numerous that the new Pharaoh was afraid of them. So he decided to enslave them and have all their baby boys thrown into the Nile River.

Jacob’s great-grandson Amram and his aunt Jochebed had a baby boy, so they put the baby in the Nile… inside a waterproof basket, with their daughter watching over it. Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby in the basket while she was bathing in the Nile. She adopted the baby, named him Moses, and hired his mother to nurse him for her.

After Moses grew up, he was watching his fellow Hebrews working, when he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. So Moses killed the Egyptian. When Pharaoh heard about that, he tried to kill Moses. The other Hebrews weren’t happy with what Moses had done, either. So Moses ran away from Egypt and lived in Midian until that Pharaoh died.

The Israelites were still slaves under the next Pharaoh. So when Moses was 80, God spoke to him from a burning bush and told him to go tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. On the way back to Egypt, the all-good God tried to murder Moses for some reason. But Moses’s wife touched his feet with their son’s foreskin, which convinced the never-changing God not to kill him.

Moses and his brother Aaron told Pharaoh that the God of Israel wanted his people to go out into the wilderness for a festival. But Pharaoh didn’t know that god, so he refused to let them do that.

God could have instantly overcome that obstacle in a peaceful way, like by making Pharaoh no longer want to keep his slaves, or by teleporting the people out of Egypt. But God cared more about showing off than about the freedom of his people and the wellbeing of all the innocent people of Egypt. So instead, God decided to cause a lot of unnecessary death and suffering, and to let his people continue to be mistreated in the meantime.

Continue reading The Story of the Ten Plagues
The Exodus from Egypt
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