The occurrence of miracles is frequently purported to be evidence of the supernatural, and therefore of the existence of a God. In addition to the articles below, see also related Debates, Reviews, and Links. To purchase related reading, go to the Secular Web Book Store.
Resurrection [ Index ]
Selected articles on the Resurrection of Jesus “miracle.”
Shroud of Turin [ Index ]
Selected articles investigating claims of the Shroud’s authenticity.
Answers to Prayer (1999) by Lee Salisbury
Salisbury asks why so many Christians are experiencing extreme difficulties, given Jesus’ promise that prayers would be answered (Mt. 7:7).
A doctor, deeply religious and opposed to abortion, finds himself faced with the choice of either terminating his patient’s pregnancy or leaving her exposed to choriocarcinoma, a virulent malignancy of the placenta which is usually fatal. After asking “guidance from God,” the doctor prepares to abort the fetus–only to find that it has “miraculously” disappeared from his patient’s uterus.
The Conception of the Miraculous and Christian Apologetics (1997) [ Index ] by Keith Parsons
The occurrence of miracles is considered an important element of Christian faith and doctrine. In this reprint of his 1982 MA Thesis, Parsons considers various criticisms of the conception of the miraculous as well as the efforts of some Christian apologists to “deal with these difficulties.” Parsons seeks to answer “whether the attempts to refute the philosophical criticisms of the miraculous succeed or fail–with the result that a cogent Christian apologetic cannot be produced.”
Does 1 Corinthians Chapter 15 Teach a Physical or a Spiritual Resurrection? (2000) by David Friedman
1 Corinthians 15 is a crucial chapter for understanding the meaning of the resurrection. While literalists claim that it supports a physical resurrection, Friedman shows that the contrary is true–what is spoken of in the chapter is spiritual, not physical, resurrection.
Examining an ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ Report of a ‘Miraculous’ Cure (1995) (Off Site) by Gary Posner
Posner investigates the claims of a 42-year-old Florida woman who, after a large lump was discovered in her breast. Having read about “the power of prayer and meditation,” the woman claims God answered her prayers by healing her, to the .
“Today’s widespread scientific illiteracy, even an outright attitude of anti-science, is concurrent with the spread of magical thinking even in our own relatively enlightened culture. With the rise of the ‘New Age’ movement has come a resurgence of such nonsense as astrology, crystal healing, the ‘channeling’ of departed spirits, and alleged abductions by creatures in flying saucers. Similarly, there has been a revival of religious fundamentalism, including miracle claims. These range from magical images and ‘miraculous’ relics to various ‘divine’ experiences and claims of healing by faith alone. Here is a brief look at some of the miracle claims paranormal investigators encounter.”
Several commentators have attempted to reduce Hume’s maxim about miracles to a formula in the language of probability theory. This paper examines two such attempts, one of which is based on the probability of the alleged miracle conditioned by the testimony for it, and the other on its unconditional probability. The conditional probability leads to a formula that is valid—though only when qualified—but not useful, while the unconditional probability results in an invalid formula. The utility of expressing Hume’s maxim in terms of probability theory is shown to be questionable, and an alternative approach is presented.
A study conducted by a San Francisco cardiologist indicates that “God exists, and that he had interceded in the recovery of a group of coronary care unit patients[.]” Despite both Paul Harvey’s and Charles Osgood’s endorsement of these claims in their radio commentaries, Posner finds that the study suffers methodological flaws.
Reppert argues that “[b]oth apologetics and anti-apologetics should be engaged in persuasion, not coercion, and that the attempt to ground irrationality charges against one’s opponents is a misguided enterprise.”
The received view of Hume scholars is that Part I of David Hume’s essay “Of Miracles” proffers an argument that it is never rational to accept a miracle claim on the basis on testimonial evidence. But even among those advocating the received view, there’s debate about exactly what argument is being offered in Part I. More significantly, the received view of Part I is notoriously hard to reconcile with the four evidential arguments offered in Part II of the essay. For if no testimony would ever be sufficient to establish that a miracle has occurred under any circumstances, why bother to evaluate whether the testimony that we actually have is good enough to rationally accept that any miracles have in fact occurred? In this essay Keith Parsons reconciles Parts I and II of Hume’s long-debated “Of Miracles” by interpreting Part I to be allowing the possibility that one could rationally affirm the occurrence of a miracle on the basis of testimony in an ideal case. Part II then simply aims to show that no actual miracle claims even come close to approximating the ideal case. That is, in Part I Hume the philosopher lays out exactly how heavy a burden of proof the miracle claimant must meet when miracle claims are directed toward the well-prepared skeptic. Then in Part II Hume the historian cites the historical evidence that has been offered for miracle claims to show how unlikely it is that any actual miracle claim can meet such a burden. These two parts combine to show that, while it is in principle possible to substantiate a miracle claim with human testimony, the actual circumstances of such claims disclose a vast gap between what is verifiable in principle and what is confirmable in practice.
In Hume’s Abject Failure, philosopher John Earman argues that David Hume’s famous maxim that no testimony is sufficient to establish that a miracle has occurred unless its falsehood would be more miraculous than the miracle itself is just a trivial tautology, namely that we should not believe a miracle claim unless the evidence makes it more probable than not. But even if this interpretation is correct, contemporary Christian apologists fail to satisfy Hume’s purportedly obvious condition that it must be more probable that a miracle occurred than that it did not occur when they argue that the miraculous resurrection of Jesus probably occurred.
In his 1984 article “Is it Possible to Know that Jesus Rose From the Dead?” Professor Stephen T. Davis suggests that it is possible for both belief and disbelief in the resurrection to be held rationally. Wunder examines this claim, and finds that “Christological Mythicism” presents a superior argument to the naturalistic cases presented by Davis.
Over the last decade growing numbers of Muslims have declared the Qur’an to be a book filled with scientific miracles that demonstrate it is of divine origin. Numerous web sites, books and videos have been produced that proclaim Islam to be truly a religion of divine origin, citing “scientifically accurate” statements in the Qur’an and Hadiths. The author critically examines this claim and concludes that the numerous and obvious scientific errors within the Qur’an point to a wholly human origin.
Carrier argues that when we examine the background of the time and place in which the gospels were written, we discover that “these were times replete with kooks and quacks of all varieties, from sincere lunatics to ingenious frauds, and there was no end to the fools and loons who would follow and praise them.”
What would it really take to justify belief that a miracle has happened?
The job of a historian, Taylor says, is to treat with skepticism regarding testimony about the past, which can be propaganda, or “real evidence but biased,” or complete forgeries, as many examples demonstrate. How does a historian’s skepticism apply to the story of Jesus?
“More skeptics reject the resurrection because of its miraculous nature than for any other reason. If the resurrection is historical, then something truly extraordinary has occurred: the raising of Jesus from the dead. But many people find it difficult to believe that an event of this type has occurred.” In this chapter of The Historicity Of Jesus’ Resurrection, Lowder discusses why he believes the resurrection is an “important historical issue that needs to be addressed by both Christians and skeptics.”
Miracles (1997) (Off Site) by Michael P. Levine
Levine analyzes the philosophical dimensions of miracles, including classic and modern definitions and arguments, the religious significance of miracles, etc. Includes comprehensive bibliography. Published in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Miracles are the staple food of religions. In order for a religion to flourish, its adherents must believe in a supernatural power greater than that of mere mortals. While some alleged miracles are held to have originated from a divine power alone, more often than not a particular individual is believed to have been chosen to work wonders. Picking up from his earlier work on false prophets, in this essay Michael Moore explores the psychological methods employed by various “miracle-workers.”
“Resurrection is the Semitic and biblical alternative to the Greek idea of immortality of the soul on the one hand, and to the Indian idea of reincarnation on the other. Resurrection refers to the glorious hope that at the end of earthly history, the righteous of past ages will rise bodily to new life to receive the justice and the reward they were denied in life. Believers in resurrection are to be found in many religions, and within each faith details of belief differ, but the Christian hope of resurrection hangs on the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
The massive Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology aims to be the standard reference work supplying the best reasons to believe that God exists from the foremost experts on various arguments for the existence of God. It is not recommended for readers without some background knowledge of the philosophy of religion, modal logic, and Bayesian confirmation theory. Nevertheless, it cannot be ignored by anyone who wishes to argue that belief in God is irrational or intellectually bankrupt. In this review, Aron Lucas focuses on its chapters on the kalam cosmological argument, the fine-tuning argument, the moral argument, and the argument from miracles. Despite some valuable novel contributions, the volume focuses too heavily on defending some premises while ignoring others, and is highly technical even for advanced readers, with one argument presented in 87 steps purely using symbolic logic. One can only wonder why God would make the evidence for his existence accessible only to a select handful of professional academics, let alone punish people with eternal torment because they failed to properly apply Bayesian reasoning to little known historical data. The very fact that the volume needs to dig so deep in order to make its case is, in a way, evidence against the existence of God.
In The Case Against Miracles, John Loftus continues his counterapologetic project by focusing on miracle claims. Although ostensibly a multicontributor response to Lee Strobel’s work, it passes over the point-by-point response format and instead provides a range of arguments that miracle claims should be met with incredulity. David Corner argues that apologists cannot even meet the basic criteria of showing that an alleged miracle has occurred, that it cannot be explained by natural causes, and that it is not simply a natural anomaly to established facts. Matt McCormick argues that the performance of miracles is inconsistent with God’s traditional divine attributes. John Loftus argues that alleged miracles must be demonstrably impossible on naturalistic grounds while simultaneously meeting a high bar of evidence that they actually occurred. Darren Slade notes a major shortcoming in Craig S. Keener’s overt enthusiasm for recording miracle stories without being able to verify them independently. Slade recommends that miracle investigators instead employ forensic and law enforcement methods like Criteria-Based Content Analysis and the ADVOKATE criteria for assessing eyewitness testimony. Other pieces argue that since the New Testament suggested an imminent return of Christ, the absence of Christ’s return is evidence for the prophetic failure of the text; that the Bible is not an accurate source of history; and that specific miraculous claims within the biblical text contradict scientific discoveries. Loftus’ penultimate chapter primarily serves as a response to Michael Licona’s recent apologetic monograph on the resurrection of Jesus.
Jordan Howard Sobel’s Logic and Theism is long, abstruse, and technical, but valuable for those who have an interest in its topics. Those looking for arguments based on empirical phenomena said to be best explained by the God hypothesis should look elsewhere. Sobel’s focus is, rather, issues of definition and logical structure. He addresses everything from the ontological argument to the fine-tuning argument, demolishing all of the main arguments for God’s existence. Moreover, he argues that the kind of omnipotence and omniscience that theists ascribe to God is incoherent, and defends both evidential and logical arguments from evil against the existence of God. Finally, he turns to a discussion of practical reasons for belief in God, such as those invoked by Pascal’s wager. No cutting-edge research on these topics should omit Sobel’s work.
William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith is an apologetics textbook ranging over arguments for the existence of God to the alleged evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. It also includes discussions of Craig’s views on faith, the meaning of life, miracles, history, and Jesus’ view of himself, as well as an original chapter on the reliability of the New Testament by evangelical New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg. In this critique Chris Hallquist argues that at best Reasonable Faith provides thoughtful arguments for the existence of some sort of God, but not the Christian God specifically, and that Craig fails to adequately answer arguments that belief in miracles–including belief in the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection–is unwarranted. Moreover, by implication Craig wants his audience to renounce the basic moral notion that no one deserves eternal punishment for picking the wrong religion. In the end, Craig wants us to believe something that all reason is against, though paradoxically every apologetic assumes that we must take reason seriously. This is, ultimately, why Craig’s apologetic fails.
In this highly original and challenging essay, Raymond Bradley develops an argument that all religions are probably false inspired by David Hume’s famous discussion of the ‘contrary miracles’ of rival religions. According to Bradley’s argument from contrariety, any one of the vast numbers of religions ever conceived (or to be conceived) makes factual claims contradicted by the claims of all of the other religions. Moreover, the claims of any particular religion are generally as well-attested as the claims of all of the others. Consequently, given the “weight” of the “evidence” of all of the other religions, the probability that the claims of any one religion are true is exceedingly low. From this it follows that all religions are probably false.
Science, Confirmation, and the Theistic Hypothesis (1986) [ Index ] by Keith M. Parsons
This thesis examines various attempts to construe theism as an explanatory hypothesis and to defend it with arguments similar to those employed in the confirmation of scientific hypotheses. It is the aim of this work to show that such a construal fails to confirm theism and in actuality leads to its disconfirmation.
In Chapter Four of Science, Confirmation, and the Theistic Hypothesis, Keith Parsons defends the dictum that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence as part of a general critique of miracle claims which aims to defend naturalism as a rational operating philosophy against potential defeaters. In this defense of miracle claims Don McIntosh argues, first, that for any unknown the burden of proof falls equally upon naturalists and supernaturalists; second, to repudiate all miracle claims in one fell swoop with a mere presumption of naturalism renders naturalism unfalsifiable and unscientific; and third, estimating the prior probability of miracles introduces an element of subjectivity that makes any general probabilistic argument against them suspect. These points leave open the possibility of confirming specific miracle claims on the basis of historical evidence and eyewitness testimony.
Using the simplified definition of a “miracle” as an event which violates a law of nature, Drange investigates the relation between science and miracles. He argues that scientists, as scientists, can’t believe that such events ever occur, but leaves open whether they could consistently believe in miracles apart from their scientific work. If they do, it would only be in virtue of having compartmentalized minds.
Part of Gerkin’s comprehensive review of Lee Strobel’s The Case for Faith, Strobel’s interview with William Lane Craig is analyzed and critiqued.
Objection #2: Since Miracles Contradict Science, They Cannot Be True (5th ed., 2020) by Paul Doland
Part of Doland’s comprehensive review of Lee Strobel’s The Case for Faith, Strobel’s interview with William Lane Craig is analyzed and critiqued.
Commentary on Paul Doland’s Critique of Strobel’s Case for Faith (n.d.) by Avue (Off Site)
While Paul Doland’s critique of Lee Strobel’s The Case for Faith shows a decent understanding of current issues within the Christian Church and the socio-religious issues surrounding the Church, he does not show a good understanding of Christianity itself. He shows this, for example, in his discussions of God as heavenly father, original sin, and salvation.
In his earlier Secular Web critique of Lee Strobel’s The Case for Faith, Paul Doland concluded that by raising tough questions for Christianity but failing to adequately respond to them, Strobel (and his interviewees) inadvertently ending up producing a strong case against faith. A rejoinder to Doland’s critique was subsequently published on the God and Science website. In this response to that rejoinder, Doland defends his original conclusion that neither The Case for Faith in particular, nor Christianity in general, provide believable and coherent answers to the sorts of questions that Strobel originally raised. Nor, for that matter, does the attempt by the God and Science website to rehabilitate Strobel’s answers to Christianity’s toughest questions.
An advanced analysis for the serious reader concerning the famous story of the pagan woman whose clever retort against Jesus wins the day.
Why I Don’t Buy the Resurrection Story 6th ed. (2006) [ Index ]
There are many reasons that I am not a Christian. I am an atheist for reasons more fundamental than anything to do with particular religions, but the arguments in favor of the Christian creed as opposed to any other are ubiquitous and always center around the historical claim that Jesus was raised from the dead. As an historian with a good knowledge of Greek, I am now very qualified to make a professional judgement in the matter. This essay explains why I find the Resurrection to be an unconvincing argument for becoming Christian.
Julie’s River Run: On Comparing the Rubicon to the Resurrection (2005) by Robert Turkel (Off Site)
Turkel discusses an analogy used by some apologists to compare the resurrection of Jesus to the crossing of the Rubicon by Caesar as well as skeptical critiques of that analogy, including Carrier’s critique. Turkel contends that “the evidence for the Resurrection is as good as, or better than, that for Caesar crossing the Rubicon.”
Against Carrier’s argument in the Main Argument of Why I Don’t Buy the Resurrection Story, James Holding claims (in “Julie’s River Run: On Comparing the Rubicon to the Resurrection“) that we have as much evidence that Jesus rose from his grave as we have that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon. There are numerous errors in Holding’s argument. Carrier’s rebuttal responds briefly to the most important issues. In the end, Carrier’s claim remains unchallenged: we have more evidence that Caesar crossed the Rubicon than we have that Jesus rose from the grave. Therefore, the claim that this resurrection is “as well attested” as the Rubicon crossing is still false.
In “No Miracles Today Implies None Then,” a section of the “General Case for Insufficiency” of “Why I Don’t Buy the Resurrection Story,” Richard Carrier develops an argument against the reliability of historical account of miracles. In response, Amy Sayers argues that negative analogies from the present to the past are logically invalid. But, as Carrier shows in this rebuttal, Sayers herself commits the fallacy of false generalization in arguing against negative analogies. Moreover, she incorrectly formulates Carrier’s argument that the current absence of miracles implies none in the past–an argument which is deductively valid when formulated correctly.