Since I first presented my formulation of the miraculous a argument for God’s existence I’ve made a slight adjustment. The content is the same but I’ve added an extra premise (2), and because of that an extra conclusion (4), to clarify why the argument is valid even if it isn’t God himself that’s responsible for a certain miracle. This is how I nowadays formulate the argument:
- If miracles occur, a supernatural reality exists
- If a supernatural reality exists, God exists
- Miracles occur
- Therefore, a supernatural reality exists
- Therefore, God exists
As this is a deductive argument, the conclusions (4 and 5) are necessarily true if it can be shown that the premises (1-3) are true. So let me briefly defend each one of them.
1. If miracles occur, a supernatural reality exists
This premise is fairly non-controversial as long as one gets the definition of “miracle” straight. The definition I have suggested is a supernatural act impacting nature as demanded by human beings. However, if one uses a definition that doesn’t mention the supernatural cause, for example an event requested by humans which is scientifically and naturally inexplicable, then one needs to defend the first premise by showing why it is more plausible than not that such events have a supernatural cause rather than an unknown natural cause. If the supernatural cause is integrated into the definition of miracles on the other hand, such a defence belong to premise 3.
But let’s deal with it here as we’ve already brought it up. Say that a woman who was born blind receives her sight after prayer, something which has actually happened for example to a Kenyan woman named Teresa Jebiwot a few years ago. A naturalist would say that we cannot claim that such a cure is miraculous even if it sure seems to have a supernatural cause, for it may very well have a natural cause that we yet have not discovered. This goes for any scientifically unexplained phenomena: to appeal to God as the explanation for them is appealing to “God of the gaps”, the naturalist may say, but based on historical scientific discoveries we should predict that science will find a plausible natural explanation in the future.
This inductive reasoning is an example of “science of the gaps”, which is just as problematic as “God of the gaps”. In fact, the hypothesis that unknown natural processes are the explanation for inexplicable events that occur in a religious context is always far more implausible than the supernatural explanation. There has been claims, theories and eyewitness testimonies that confirm the supernatural explanation, whereas the alleged natural explanation is just as unproven and invisible as ever. Several sorts of miracle claims have existed for thousands of years – a man born blind is healed by Jesus already in the New Testament (John 9) – and while the theory that God does this has existed just as long there is no natural explanation in sight. Claiming that there probably will be in the future is more fiction that fact.
Another thing that strongly confirms premise 1 is the existence of what I call combo miracles, for example when healing is combined with prophecy. It is far more probabilistic that there is a supernatural connection between the prophecy and the healing rather than the prophecy being mere luck and the healing being a cure with an unknown cause. If these inexplicable, impossible events really exists, it is much more plausible than not that they signify a supernatural reality.
2. If a supernatural reality exists, God exists
This added premise shows why the theist doesn’t have to show which supernatural force is responsible for which miracle. The mere fact that it’s supernatural shows that God exists. This overcomes a common counterargument against miracles, the fact that several different religions experience them. In fact, it is entirely possible to use the miraculous argument as a Christian only using Hindu miracles! See, the argument is religiously neutral, its goal is to refute atheism, and so the atheist only makes his/her case weaker by pointing to miracles in other religions.
The second premise is simply saying that atheist miracles don’t exist. Now, it is true that several new agers, quite a few Buddhists and some others claim to be atheist while believing in a supernatural dimension and miraculous activities. Isn’t it possible that angels, spirits or forefathers fly around and do miracles without a God having to exist?
I would say no. We have to remember that most new agers and Buddhists dismiss logic altogether. When they claim that it’s possible to reincarnate into another body or that ghosts can impact our lives they’re actually contradicting the claim that there is no God. See, a huge problem arises that is similar to what the cosmological argument highlights concerning physical reality: where does all this come from? If miracles that occur are caused by spirits or non-cognitive supernatural forces, what caused those spirits or forces to come into existence? God is definitely the best explanation for existence as the contingency argument showcases, much more so for the supernatural realm than for the natural, it seems to me.
Some may claim that the spirits who do the miracles are eternally existing and even brought the universe into being using their supernatural powers. Well, that just make them gods! And so this just falls into the weak polytheistic objection to other arguments for God’s existence. But even if polytheism would be true, that would still refute atheism as this argument intends.
3. Miracles occur
This premise is actually easier to defend than what many might predict. What we need to show empirically is cases of scientifically inexplicable events related to prayer, and there are thousands of those. I have written about them on this blog several times. Craig Keener gives many examples in his book Miracles, Richard Casdorph gives ten case studies in his book The Miracles, Candy Gunther Brown provides great research in Testing Prayer, the World Christian Doctor’s Network have several cases available on their website, and the Catholic Church requires medically verified healings every time they canonise a saint, which has given the Vatican one of the largest collections of documented inexplicable events in the world.
These events cannot be dismissed as legendary, unsupported or rare but natural phenomena, they are documented, scientifically verified and according to the known patterns of nature not improbable bit impossible. We know scientifically that there are things which science cannot explain. Miracles aren’t unscientific, science confirms the existence of miracles by being unable to explain prayer answers using naturalist methodology.
This makes these cases different from what is normally studied in “prayer studies”. The latter often try to see how prayer effects successful surgeries or natural cures, and have achieved mixed results. A miracle is something different – when a naturally impossible event happens in response to prayer, it doesn’t matter if other prayers don’t produce something, a miracle has still occurred. In fact, we only need one single scientifically impossible miracle for premise 3 to be true. And we have thousands.
As mentioned previously, conclusions 4 and 5 follow necessarily if the premises are true. If we find the premises to be more plausibly true than false, then the conclusions are so as well. If we find it reasonable that miracles occur, that they are dependent on a supernatural reality and that the cause of such a supernatural reality is God, then it is reasonable to believe that God exists.
Some may say that this argument differs from other arguments for Gods existence in that its premises are not accepted by many atheists. The premises in the Kalam cosmological argument or the moral argument are well established among many who don’t believe in God, which makes them effective in convincing people that theism is true. How effective will the miraculous argument really be?
I think that’s an incorrect assertion. While the miraculous argument unlike many other arguments isn’t part of natural theology, it’s already being used all around the world on a popular level, often involving demonstration in so-called power evangelism. Using it in apologetics will give an excellent opportunity to present the existence of scientifically verified miracles, which most atheists according to my experience simply haven’t heard about.
Most atheists debaters also strongly disagree with premises in the arguments if natural theology (since the conclusion would be deadly for their world view) so while they surely would disagree with some or all of the premises in the miraculous argument that wouldn’t make it unique. Furthermore, several atheists do believe in miracles and a supernatural reality, such as new agers and Buddhists as mentioned above. For them, this argument may be fruitful in helping them understand that there has to be a God.
I hope to develop this argument further in a forthcoming book. I greatly appreciate feedback from theists and atheists alike on how you view this argument and if you find objections or perspectives that haven’t been discussed here. Blessings!