This is part of a series of notes in response to "Why I Became an Atheist" by John W. Loftus
Chapter Nine: Do Miracles Take Place?
I'm quite unsure about arguments involving miracles. It seems that both sides have their fair share of arguments supported by evidence. Non-believers point to the overwhelming normality of every day laws, physics, the steady repetition of all kinds of known phenomenon that have not deviated from known principles and modes of operation, etc. Believers point to any and every case of something that appears to be unexplained, and in some cases the events truly are quite striking. I won't say much on this chapter as I find the topic difficult to focus on because of the vast divergence of views non-believers and believers have.
For example, common sense would suggest that miracles:
- would at least correlate in part to prayer
- would occur among one religion far more than any other (or only in that religion)
- would be equally distributed throughout the population of believers
- might be things which no one could ever fathom as having occurred naturally
It is my contention that the above is not the case. Attempts to study miracles have produced abysmal results, many religions all claim occurrences of the miraculous, miracles tend to occur in areas where development and education are lower, and miracles do not seem to be the type which are absolutely unfathomable to have transpired due to natural causes, even if such causes were rare, not understood, and unrepeatable.
Regarding this last point, it has often been pointed out that no amputee has ever been provided a new limb. Many say that this is a silly objection, but I find it quite valid. To truly surpass known mechanisms of recovery, god's miracles would need to be simply out of the realm of anything we've ever known or even can conceive. Instantaneous limb regrowth, the healing of 1,000 blind people at exactly the same time all around the world, instantaneous reversal of baldness, and teleporting to safety someone away from something like a car accident or explosion just prior to their occurrence. These would be miracles!
Believers, in my opinion, seem to have both low expectations and an obsession with believing god for the sake of believing god. Nothing is ever allowed to be surprising when discussing miracles. If something amazing happens, it's of course a sign of their god's actions (not surprising – he exists obviously). If something amazing does not happen, obviously it's not what the best answer was to the request or situation (god knows what you really need better than you). Attempts to study prayer are idiotic because god won't subject himself to some laboratory test; he's too big for that. Miracles are supposed to be just barely out of the realm of natural occurrences so that they can serve as evidence without overpowering one's free will by being too spectacular.
I find all of these answers to be quite ad hoc. Everything attests to god because it's been predetermined that he exists and does miracles. Nothing can prove him wrong. Given that no suggests appear on the horizon for how one might definitively examine miracles or confirm that they, indeed, originate with the Christian god, it seems highly unlikely that this area will proceed toward conclusiveness.
I will end by stating that it is my hope that every time someone glorifies god for working through St. Anthony to find their lost cell phone or keys…they ponder the miracle that could be worked by sending down manna from heaven to 3rd world countries. Oh well. At least you found your Blackberry.
On to Chs 10, 12 & 13: The Holy Spirit and the PoE >>