Miracles, Part 1: Naturalism versus Theism

Do miracles occur? Is there evidence that exists in support of reports of miracles? Just what is a miracle anyway? We talk about the “Miracle on Ice” that occurred in the 1980 Olympics when the USA defeated the USSR in hockey. We speak of the “miracle” of child birth or the “miracle” of a budding rose. These may be quite descriptive popular usages of the term, but it does have a more technical meaning within theological circles. Christian philosopher Gary Habermas proposes the following useful definition:

A miracle is a dynamic, specialized event which nature is incapable of producing, that temporarily supersedes (or appears to supersede) the normally-observed, known pattern of nature. It is brought about by the power of God or another supernatural agent for the purpose of verifying or drawing attention to a person or message.

In this series we will be talking about the possibility of miracles in general and the probability of one particular miracle: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If we live in an open universe within which we acknowledge the existence of a personal God and his supernatural intervention, that is, if we accept the worldview called Theism, miracles fit nicely into our understanding of this world. However, we do not live in a world which readily recognizes Theism. In fact, we live in a world that has largely become what I would call "theophobic."

The prevailing worldview of our day is called Naturalism. Naturalism claims that we live in a closed universe of physical and chemical causes. Naturalism argues that any explanation of an event is preferable to a supernatural explanation, even if the latter is the best explanation. Another name for this point of view is Materialism since it claims that there is nothing immaterial or spiritual about our world; it is only matter in motion.

One who holds a naturalistic worldview is much like a man who shuts himself up in a stone house with walls eight feet thick, locks all the doors, closes all the curtains, and then sits in the middle of the house with his ears covered so as to block out any remaining faint noises that may penetrate his fortress. Then he begins to chant over and over again, “There is no outside; there is no outside; there is no outside...” until the statement becomes truth to him. Now imagine if he had shut up with himself about a dozen infant children whom he raised within this environment. Well, they would likely grow up learning the same chant. This is what has happened in our culture over the past century .

Several generations have grown up in a system within which our schools, our media outlets, our political elites, our entertainment icons, and, yes, even many of our churches have been actively promoting a world without God by shouting the mantra, “There is nothing outside the natural world” over and over again. A commitment to this notion spawns an endorsement of modern (atheistic) Secularism, which is an attempt to erect a utopian society on this planet from which God and his Word are excluded, and in which the Church and its message are marginalized if not altogether ignored. Given this state of affairs, one would likely find it incredible to learn that there is really no successful positive argument that exists in support of Naturalism. One might find it even more astonishing to learn that there is strong positive evidence for the objective existence of “something outside.”

Thus when we encounter someone thoroughly schooled in the language of our culture, she will likely assert the popular slogan that miracles don’t happen. However, she will be rendered speechless when asked to provide evidence that miracles do not occur. She will likely simply reassert her slogan or some version of it like “no one has ever seen a miracle happen.”  But now she has dug herself a deeper ditch, since she has committed herself to the project of proving that miracles have never happened, an impossible burden indeed!  

You see, Naturalism is a parasitic notion. It is not a worldview that can be supported by positive argument, and it, therefore, must prey on other worldviews by categorically denying them. No one has and no one can ever prove that God does not exist. No one has and no one can prove that miracles have never happened. To claim otherwise is simply to assert Naturalism as one’s default worldview without reason.

Someone may protest at this point and claim that only science provides us with real knowledge because science is established on the basis of purely empirical observation and not upon some allegedly mystical revelation. Unfortunately, our objector would be engaging in a bit of mystical thinking himself, since his claim that only science gives us knowledge cannot be established through empirical investigation, as his claim requires. Hence, his objection fails.

Theism, on the other hand, is a real worldview that enjoys the support of positive arguments that have existed for hundreds of years. Interestingly, the more we learn about the universe we live in, the more the evidence mounts in favor of Theism and against Naturalism. The discovery that the universe had a beginning, and must therefore have a cause is one among many such findings.

In our next post, entitled "Defeating David Hume," we will address probably the most powerful argument ever posed against miracles, and begin to
peek through the curtains of our stone houses to see if there really is a knowable objective reality beyond the walls. 
Don’t forget to wear your sunglasses.


Arnie Gentile

                 Bonus Video                                                                                                       
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