Friday, April 13, 2012

Read Along: Chapter 3—Are Miracles Possible?

Today we continue with Chapter Three in the Read Along with Apologetics 315 project. This is a chapter-by-chapter study through the book Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists by Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow. (Hear an interview about the book here.) Below you will find an audio intro for Chapter Three, a brief summary of the chapter, a PDF workbook with questions for the chapter, and some notable quotes. You're also encouraged to share your comments and feedback for each chapter in the comment section below. Feel free to interact!

[Audio Intro] - Sean McDowell introduces this chapter.
[Chapter 03 Study Questions] (with kindle locations) - PDF study guide.
[Podcast Feed RSS | Podcast in iTunes] - Click to subscribe to the audio.

Chapter Three: Are Miracles Possible?
(pages 44-56)

Chapter three looks at the objections to miracles. The authors start by discussing how presuppositions shape acceptable or rejection of miracles. For instance, if naturalism is true, miracles are not possible. But if God exists, miracles are possible. They look at the definition of miracles used by Richard Dawkins, and show that probabilities must be considered in light of all the evidence. David Hume's "in principle" and "in fact" objections are explained and answered and a case is then made for the resurrection of Jesus based on agreed-upon historical facts.

Apologist Gary Habermas contributes with an essay showing that the resurrection of Jesus is a precursor to heaven. He lists ten biblical facts that point to our future hope in light of the nature of Jesus' resurrection.

Notable quotes:
The New Atheists are especially unwilling to consider evidence for a miracle because such an event does not fit their preconceived view of the world. Because of their commitment to naturalism, they discard miracles from the outset, regardless of the strength of the evidence. (p. 45)  
If God exists, miracles are possible. If it's even possible that God exists, then we can't rule out his intervention in the natural world before we consider the evidence(p. 46)
Only one conclusion takes into account all the accepted historical facts and does not adjust them to preconceived notions. It is the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead—a miraculous event in history. (p. 54)
  1. Which argument from David Hume have you heard most often?
  2. How do you answer someone who says that miracles are, by definition, impossible?
  3. How are we rational in believing an immensely improbable event has occurred?
Recommended Reading
Next Week: Chapter 4—Is Darwinian Evolution the Only Game in Town?


Vicki McGrew said...

I appreciated the authors' response to David Hume's argument. I agree that we should not rule out miracles from the outset, and I belive that there is sufficient evidence to support the miracles of Jesus.

George Campbell, a contemporary of Hume and also from Scotland, wrote a reply directly to David Hume in the year 1762. This beautiful critique is called, "A Dissertation on Miracles: Containing an Examination of the Principles Advanced by David Hume." (It's public domain on googlebooks for anyone interested in reading it.)

Allow me to share just one quote pertaining to Hume's claim that people crave miraculous stories and also to his claim that all miracle stories are equally dubious. Campbell writes:

"Authentic miracles will, for a time, give a currency to counterfeits; but as the former become less frequent, the latter become more suspected, till at length they are treated with general contempt, and disappear. The danger then is, lest men, ever prone to extremes, become as extravagantly incredulous, as formerly they were credulous. Laziness, the true source of both, always inclines us to admit or reject in the gross, without entering on the irksome task of considering things in detail. In the first instance, knowing some such events to be true, they admit all without examination; in the second, knowing some to be false, they reject all without examination."

The New Testament miracles deserve a fair examiniation and should not be eliminated outright as Hume's "In Principle" argument suggests.

LittleGoose said...

I totally read this chapter last night! that's all I wanted to just really excited to start reading this book along with 315...YAH!

MaryLou said...

I have had atheists say to me that, if I could present them with scientific proof of a miracle, i.e., lab reports or x-rays, etc., they would believe. I offer them the following true story.

I had a stomach infection. An endoscope showed that the lining of my stomach was raw and bleeding and infested with bacteria. The only way to get rid of it was with antibiotics. I am allergic to every antibiotic I have ever tried to take. Therefore, the cure was not available to me. The doctor said it would never clear up on its own.

Sick of the constant stomach upset and pain, I went to a pastor with a healing ministry. He prayed for the healing of my stomach. Immediately, all the sympstoms disappeared. I was scheduled for another endoscopy a few days later. I had it done and the doctor declared the lining of my stomach to be pink and healthy. The sample taken showed me to be free of the bacteria.

I asked the doctor how the problems could have cleared up without any treatment. He said he had no idea. I did. God had healed me.

This means that there ARE medical reports attesting to the state of my stomach before and after the prayer for healing and no explanation for my healing apart from the Lord. Unfortunately, I don't have those reports in my hands and can't show them to anybody so everybody just has to take my word for it. I find that atheists aren't willing to do that! LOL!

But I know how my stomach got healed and, when you've experienced a miracle, it isn't hard to believe that they happened in Christ's time and that they still happen today.

To Vicki: Thanks for the information about George Campbell. I'll look the article up.

Hausdorff said...

MaryLou, First I want to say I am glad you are feeling better. That sounds really painful and I am glad it went away. I actually made a post about this kind of thing recently but I'll put a short version here.

When I read your story I basically see the following (very brief) summary "Something really awesome happened to me that I can't explain, I think God did it". I'll grant you that God being involved is certainly a possibility, but there are many other things that are possible with varying levels of likelihood. For example you could have been healed by aliens with really advanced technology (no, I don't really think that is what happened).

If I had to guess, I would say it is probably a combination of a few things such as the first diagnosis was overstated in the negative, the second overstated in the positive, there was a flare up right before the first diagnosis, and who knows what else. The human immune system is a pretty incredible thing, it could have just healed on it's own, we don't understand it as well as we like to think. If it was really as cut and dry as you claim it would probably make a good case study for an academic paper.

All that being said, I don't want it to seem like I am completely unwilling to accept the possibility of miracles, however the claim that a miracle happened, and therefore there is a God, is a really really big claim. At best this is one data point on the way to showing God is real, and I can't help but consider alternative explanations as well.

NFQ said...

+1 to what Hausdorff said above me. I came to respond to the quote, "If God exists, miracles are possible. If it's even possible that God exists, then we can't rule out his intervention in the natural world before we consider the evidence," with something very much like his/her comment. When Christian apologists spend so much time arguing that it is conceivable or possible for their god to exist, it just highlights (for me, an atheist) the fact that they are avoiding the question of how likely it is.

Almost anything is, technically, possible. I don't deny it and I don't know anyone who does, however much people like to say that I (and other "new Atheists) do. But the fact that something is possibly true isn't a reason to believe that it is actually true.

Brian said...


Keep in mind that the whole "miracles are possible" quote is not intended to argue for how likely they are. Its main goal is challenging the naturalist worldview, which rules them out in advance of looking at the evidence.

The quote acknowledges the need to look at the evidence to determine the credibility of a miracle claim. But you should not rule them out in advance.

NFQ said...

Brian, I think you are misrepresenting naturalism when you say that it "rules [miracles] out in advance of looking at the evidence."

For one thing, what naturalists are doing is looking at a preponderance of evidence accumulated over millennia of human history. They are dismissive of so-called "miracles" because nothing has been compellingly argued to be the result of a miracle, in this huge sample size of events, making miracles so hugely unlikely as to be dismissable. This is not the same thing as ignoring evidence -- and I doubt you mean to say that everything must be recalculated from first principles every time we make any minor decision in life.

Moreover, when you say "in advance," what do you mean? In advance of what? How would someone possibly show that something was, definitively, a miracle? You could show that currently understood explanations are insufficient for explaining what happened, but "I don't know what happened" is different from "It was definitely a miracle." Maybe you want naturalists to wait an infinite amount of time before concluding that "it's a miracle" is a bad explanation, because you need time to check an infinite number of possible naturalistic hypotheses (?). But this seems to me like an unreasonable standard for how we ought to develop rational beliefs.

Brian said...


Thanks for the comment.

I make my statement based upon the definition of naturalism as a metaphysical viewpoint about reality. Doesn't naturalism, by definition, rule out the supernatural? If that's true, then, by the very definition of the view, it prevents one from coming to certain conclusions about the cause of an event.

It's kind of like having the viewpoint of "women don't commit crimes" and then looking at the crime scene. If you hold that view, then women can't be the perpetrator, because the view "rules them out in advance."

Now taking what you are saying there about naturalists looking at a preponderance of evidence accumulated over millennia of human history… Ok, that seems to me slightly different. But unless naturalism is proven, it is a fallacy to say that because something is unlikely then it can be dismissed before looking at the evidence for that particular event.

It seems to me that the authors are taking the view that miracle claims must be assessed on their own merits.

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