Case Against Miracles
by Ron Rhodes
Many modernists have claimed that miracles are impossible in view of the clear
teachings of science. Claimed miracles are dismissed in a number of ways. Some
say the observers of alleged miracles are just mistaken. Others argue that
simply because we don't have a present explanation for some inexplicable event
does not mean the supernatural was involved; as we grow in our understanding of
the natural processes, we may come to a new natural understanding regarding what
many previously thought were miraculous events. Almost all critics of miracles
hold that the statistical consistency of natural law (or "laws of
nature") is such that supernatural events are impossible.
Sometimes we come across references to the "miracles of modern
technology." It is argued that if our ancestors witnessed some of the
advances we have today -- the airplane, telephone, television, laser, and the
like -- they would surely have considered such things as miraculous. The lesson
we learn here is that the more scientific understanding we have, the less
necessity there is to believe in the supernatural.
Yet Christians respond by saying that the events described in the Bible are
truly miraculous. Indeed, no matter how much science one knows, the physical
resurrection of a person who has been dead and decomposing for three days will
never be naturally explainable. The supernatural is clearly involved in such an
In this article, my goal will be to briefly examine some of the major objections
to miracles, and then respond to these objections from a Christian perspective.
It will be seen that the Christian need not commit "intellectual
suicide" in maintaining a commitment to belief in supernatural miracles.
THE DEIST DENIAL OF MIRACLES
Deism is a school of thought that grew to be popular in England in the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It sets forth a belief in a God who
created the world out of nothing but is now completely uninvolved with the world
or its events. He governs the world through unchangeable, eternal natural laws,
and is in no way immanent in creation. God created the world and the natural
laws that would govern the world, and since that time has been utterly detached
from the affairs of the world.
The universe is viewed as a well-ordered machine, and there is thus no need
for any direct supernatural intervention in its affairs. Some deists suggested
that God is like someone who winds up a clock and then lets it run on its own
without interference. In their thinking, miracles would imply that God's
original creation was somehow defective and needed some kind of intervention.
Voltaire, a French deist, believed that God oversees the natural laws by which
the universe functions, but thought it was absurd to believe that God was
providentially involved in individual people's lives. Thomas Paine, another
deist, considered God a "Great Mechanic" of creation, and wrote of
that "system of principles as fixed and unalterable as those by which the
universe is regulated and governed." Paine emphasized that "we have
never seen in our time nature go out of her course." Indeed, the
universe operates according to inviolable natural laws.
A rather famous deist was Thomas Jefferson, the author of the American
Declaration of Independence (A.D. 1776). Jefferson literally cut out all the
miracles of Christ in the four Gospels, and following his death this truncated
version was published as THE JEFFERSON BIBLE. This "Bible" ends
without any reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ: "Now, in the
place where he was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden a new
sepulcher, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus, and rolled a
great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed."
DAVID HUME AND THE DENIAL OF MIRACLES
C. S. Lewis once wrote, "If you begin by ruling out the supernatural, you
will perceive no miracles." He was right. The philosophy of naturalism
asserts that the universe operates according to uniform natural causes -- and
that it is impossible for any force outside the universe to intervene in the
cosmos. This is an antisupernatural assumption that prohibits any possibility of
miracles. David Hume was a British empiricist (meaning he believed all knowledge
comes from the five senses) and a skeptic of the Enlightenment period. In a
chapter entitled "On Miracles" in his ENQUIRY CONCERNING HUMAN
UNDERSTANDING, he argued that, given the general experience of the uniformity of
nature, miracles are highly improbable and that the evidence in their favor is
far from convincing. He wrote: "A miracle is violation of the laws of
nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the
proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any
argument from experience can possibly be imagined."
In his thinking, since all of one's knowledge is derived from experience, and
since this experience conveys the absolute regularity of nature, any report of a
miracle is much more likely to be a false report than a true interruption in the
uniform course of nature. Hence, a report of a resurrection from the dead (for
example) is in all probability a deceptive report.
Since Hume's time, the case against miracles has continued to grow. Many have
argued that science utterly disproves the miracles of the Bible. Many others
have held that the gospel writers were biased and therefore their testimony
cannot be trusted. Still others have argued that the miracles recorded in the
Bible are the fantasies of ignorant people in biblical times who did not
understand the laws of nature. Christians believe that such objections are
A DEFENSE OF MIRACLES
There are many points a Christian can offer in response to the case against
miracles depicted above. The place to begin is to properly understand the laws
UNIFORMITY IN THE PRESENT COSMOS
Christians do not argue against the idea that there is a general uniformity in
the present cosmos. As theologian John Witmer puts it, "The Christian
position is not that the universe is capricious and erratic. Christians expect
the sun to rise in the east tomorrow as it always has just as everyone else
does. Christians recognize that this world is a cosmos, an orderly system, not a
chaos. More than that, Christians agree that the regularity of the universe is
observable by men and expressible in principles or laws. As a result Christians
do not deny the existence of what are called the laws of nature. Nor do they
think that the occurrence of miracles destroys these laws or makes them
What Christians take exception to is the notion that the universe is a
self-contained closed system with absolute laws that are inviolable. Such a
position would rule out any involvement of God in the world He created.
Christians believe that the reason there is regularity in the universe -- the
reason their are "laws" that are observable in the world of nature --
is because God designed it that way. It is important to keep in mind,
however, that the laws of nature are merely observations of uniformity or
constancy in nature. They are not forces which initiate action. They simply
describe the way nature behaves -- when its course is not affected by a superior
power. But God is not prohibited from taking action in the world if He so
Scripture tells us that God is the Sustainer and Governor of the universe (Acts
14:16-17; 17:24-28). Jesus is described in the Bible as "upholding all
things by the word of his power" (Hebrews 1:3) and the one in whom
"all things consist" (Colossians 1:17). That which from a human
vantage point is called the "laws of nature" is in reality nothing
more than God's normal cosmos-sustaining power at work! As reformed scholar Louis Berkhof put it, these laws of nature are "God's usual method
of working in nature. It is His good pleasure to work in an orderly way and
through secondary causes. But this does not mean that He cannot depart from the
established order, and cannot produce an extraordinary effect, which does not
result from natural causes, by a single volition, if He deems it desirable for
the end in view. When God works miracles, He produces extraordinary effects in a
MIRACLES DO NOT "VIOLATE" THE LAWS OF NATURE
If one defines a miracle as a violation of the "absolute" laws of
nature, like Hume did, then the possibility of miracles occurring seems slim.
However, as theologian Charles Ryrie notes, a miracle does not contradict nature
because "nature is not a self-contained whole; it is only a partial system
within total reality, and a miracle is consistent within that greater system
which includes the supernatural."
When a miracle occurs, the laws of nature are not violated but are rather
superseded by a higher (supernatural) manifestation of the will of God. The
forces of nature are not obliterated or suspended, but are only counteracted at
a particular point by a force superior to the powers of nature. As the
famous physicist Sir George Stokes has said, "It may be that the event
which we call a miracle was brought on not by a suspension of the laws in
ordinary operation, but by the super addition of something not ordinarily in
operation." In other words, miracles do not go against the regular laws
of cause and effect, they simply have a cause that transcends nature.
Apologists Ken Boa and Larry Moody explain it this way: "Since miracles, if
they occur, are empowered by something higher than nature, they must supersede
the ordinary processes or laws of nature. If you took a flying leap off the edge
of a sheer cliff, the phenomenon that we call the law of gravity would surely
bring you to an untimely end. But if you leaped off the same cliff in a hang
glider, the results would (hopefully!) be quite different. The principle of
aerodynamics in this case overcomes the pull of gravity as long as the glider is
in the air. In a similar way, the occurrence of a miracle means that a higher
(supernatural) principle has overcome a lower (natural) principle for the
duration of the miracle. To claim that miracles violate or contradict natural
laws is just as improper as to say that the principle of aerodynamics violates
the law of gravity."
Boa and Moody further illustrate their point with the fictional story of a
Martian who lands his spacecraft atop a building in Chicago. The Martian looks
over the edge of the building and observes how people respond to traffic lights.
Green lights cause people to go; yellow lights cause people to slow down; red
lights cause people to stop. He observes this consistent pattern for a solid
hour. All the sudden, the Martian witnesses a vehicle with flashing red lights
and a siren, and against all that he has thus far observed, the vehicle goes
straight through the red light. "'Aha!' he said, 'there must be a higher
law! When you have a flashing light and a loud sound, you can go through the
crossing regardless of what color the light may be.'"
What this little story is intended to illustrate is that the natural laws of the
universe can be (and are on occasion) overruled by a higher law. The universe is
not a closed system that prevents God from breaking in with the miraculous. God
does not violate the laws of nature but rather supersedes them with a higher
law. God is over, above, and outside natural law, and is not bound by it.
What about scientists who claim that if such miracles were possible, it would
disrupt any possibility of doing real science, since there would no longer be
uniformity in the world? Well, as argued above, there IS uniformity in the world
because God created the world that way. Miracles are unusual events that involve
only a brief superseding of the natural laws. By definition, they are out of the
norm. And unless there
were a "norm" to begin with, then miracles wouldn't be possible. As
apologists Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli put it, "Unless there are
regularities, there can be no exceptions to them." Miracles are
unusual, not commonplace events. A miracle is a unique event that stands out
against the background of ordinary and regular occurrences. Hence, the
possibility of miracles does not disrupt the possibility of doing real science.
THE PROBLEM WITH HUME
As noted previously, Hume argued that a "miracle is a violation of the laws
of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws,
the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as
any argument from experience can possibly be imagined."
The big problem with Hume's conclusion is that there is no way that all possible
"experience" can confirm his naturalistic viewpoint unless he has
access to all possible experiences in the universe, including those of the past
and of the future. And since finite Hume does not have access to this much
broader (infinite) body of knowledge, his conclusion is ultimately baseless.
Theologian Henry Clarence Thiessen forcefully makes this point with an
illustration based on geology: "The... proposition that miracles are
incredible because they contradict human experience, wrongly assumes that one
must base all his beliefs on present human experience. Geologists tell of great
glacial activities in the past and of the formation of seas and bays by these
activities; we did not see this in our experience, but we do accept it....
Miracles do not contradict human experience unless they contradict ALL human
experience, that in the past as well as that in the present. This fact leaves
the door wide open for well-supported evidence as to what did happen."
The reality is that we could trust very little history if we were to believe
only those things which we have personally observed and experienced! Sadly, this
is the methodology modernistic critics still hold onto when it comes to the
issue of miracles.
Apologists Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks have noted that Hume
essentially equates probability with evidence. Since people who die typically
stay dead, a so-called miracle of resurrection is impossible. Geisler and Brooks
counter, "That is like saying that you shouldn't believe it if you won the
lottery because of all the thousands of people who lost. It equates evidence
with probability and says that you should never believe that long shots
win." A miracle may be a "long shot," but long shots make
good sense when God is involved in the picture. What is impossible with man is
possible with God (Matthew 19:26).
SCIENCE DOES NOT DISPROVE MIRACLES OR THE BIBLE
Science depends upon observation and replication. Miracles, such as the
Incarnation and the Resurrection, are by their very nature unprecedented events.
No one can replicate these events in a laboratory. Hence, science simply cannot
be the judge and jury as to whether or not these events occurred.
The scientific method is useful for studying nature but not super-nature. Just
as football stars are speaking outside their field of expertise when they appear
on television to tell you what razor you should buy, so scientists are speaking
outside their field when they address theological issues like miracles or the
It is also important to note that science does not involve an infallible body of
absolute facts. Indeed, science historian Thomas Kuhn, in his book THE STRUCTURE
OF SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONS, convincingly proved that science is in a constant
state of change. New discoveries have consistently caused old scientific
paradigms to be discarded in favor of newer paradigms. Hence, science is not
some infallible judge that can simply pronounce miracles "impossible."
Actually, there is very good reason to believe in the biblical miracles. One
highly pertinent factor is the brief time that elapsed between Jesus' miraculous
public ministry and the publication of the gospels. It was insufficient for the
development of miracle legends. Many eyewitnesses to Jesus' miracles would have
still been alive to refute any untrue miracle accounts (see 1 Corinthians 15:6).
One must also recognize the noble character of the men who witnessed these
miracles (Peter, James, and John, for example). Such men were not prone to
misrepresentation, and were willing to give up their lives rather than deny
There were also hostile witnesses to the miracles of Christ. When Jesus raised
Lazarus from the dead, for example, none of the chief priests or Pharisees
disputed the miracle (John 11:45-48). (If they could have disputed it, they
would have.) Rather, their goal was simply to stop Jesus (verses 47-48). Because
there were so many hostile witnesses who observed and scrutinized Christ,
successful "fabrication" of miracle stories in His ministry would have
Regarding the issue of hostile witnesses, theologian James Oliver Buswell
comments: "In the Biblical events strictly regarded as miracles, the
adversaries of faith acknowledged the supernatural character of what took place.
After the healing of the man 'lame from his mother's womb,' the rulers and
elders and scribes, 'beholding the man that was healed standing with them...
could say nothing against it.' But they said, '...that a notable miracle hath
been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot
deny it' (Acts 3:1-4:22) In the case of the miracle at Lystra (Acts 14:8-23),
the pagans said, 'The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.' With
reference to the resurrection of Christ, Paul could ask a Roman court of law to
take cognizance of an indisputable, publicly attested fact, for, said he, 'This
thing was not done in a corner' (Acts 26:26)."
Further, in Acts 2:22 recall that a bold Peter told the Jewish crowd: "Men
of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you
by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, AS YOU
YOURSELVES KNOW." If Peter were making all this up, the huge crowd surely
would have shouted Peter down. But they didn't, for they knew that what he said
THE GOSPEL WRITERS WERE RELIABLE
As noted previously, some critics of miracles say the four gospel writers were
biased in the sense that they had theological "motives." Their intent
was to convince readers of Jesus' deity, we are told, and hence their historical
testimony about miracles is untrustworthy. The fallacy here is to imagine that
to give an account of something one believes in passionately necessarily forces
one to distort history. This is simply not true. In modern times some of the
most reliable reports of the Nazi Holocaust were written by Jews who were
passionately committed to seeing such genocide never repeated.
The New Testament is not made up of fairytales but is rather based on eyewitness
testimony. In 2 Peter 1:16 we read, "We did not follow cleverly invented
stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,
but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty." First John 1:1 affirms,
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen
with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched -- this we
proclaim concerning the Word of life." The historical evidence solidly
supports the reliability of the New Testament writers.
MIRACLES ARE NOT THE FANTASIES OF IGNORANT PEOPLE WHO DID NOT UNDERSTAND THE
LAWS OF NATURE
Such a claim is preposterous. People in biblical times DID know enough of the
laws of nature to recognize bona fide miracles. As C. S. Lewis put it,
"When St. Joseph discovered that his bride was pregnant, he was 'minded to
put her away.' He knew enough biology for that. Otherwise, of course, he would
not have regarded pregnancy as a proof of infidelity. When he accepted the
Christian explanation, he regarded it as a miracle precisely because he knew
enough of the laws of nature to know that this was a suspension of
Moreover, when the disciples beheld Christ walking on the water, they were
frightened -- something that wouldn't have been the case unless they had been
aware of the laws of nature and known that this was an exception. If one has no
conception of a regular order in nature, then of course one cannot notice
departures from that order. Nothing can be viewed as "abnormal"
until one has first grasped the "norm."
In keeping with this, Josh McDowell and Don Stewart tell us: "The people
living at the time of Jesus certainly knew that men born blind do not
immediately receive their sight (John 9:32), that five loaves and a few fish
would not feed 5,000 people (John 6:14), or that men do not walk on water
(Matthew 14:2). Doubting Thomas said, 'Unless I see in his hands the print of
the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in
his side, I will not believe' (John 20:25, RSV). He refused to accept the
testimony of the unbelievable event of the resurrection, but changed his mind
when confronted face-to-face with the resurrected Christ. Thus we are not
expected to believe the ridiculous, and neither were the people of biblical
IF GOD EXISTS, THEN MIRACLES ARE POSSIBLE
The bottom line, once you get rid of all the fancy philosophical arguments
against miracles, comes down to this: If one admits the postulate of God,
miracles are possible. Paul Little writes, "Once we assume the existence of
God, there is no problem with miracles, because God is by definition
all-powerful." Reformed scholar Charles Hodge, in his SYSTEMATIC
THEOLOGY, similarly writes: "If theism [belief in a
personal Creator-God] be once admitted, then it must be admitted that the whole
universe, with all that it contains and all the laws by which it is controlled,
must be subject to the will of God."
Really, it all goes back to the very first verse in the Bible: "In the
beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). If this
verse is true (and I believe it is), the belief in miracles should be no problem
-- for this verse immediately establishes that an infinite and all-powerful God
brought the universe into being out of nothing and that He is thus sovereign
If God has the capability of calling the universe into being out of nothing,
then such things as turning water into wine, walking on water, and raising
people from the dead are not only possible but expected. As Norman Geisler put
it so well, "If there is a God who can ACT, then there can be ACTS OF GOD.
The only way to show that miracles are impossible is to disprove the existence
of God." And that is something that cannot be done!
Reasoning from the Scriptures Newsletter
 Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demerest, INTEGRATIVE THEOLOGY Grand Rapids,
MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), p. 75.
 Lewis and Demerest, p. 75.
 Norman L. Geisler, THE BATTLE FOR THE RESURRECTION (Nashville, TN: Thomas
Nelson Publishers, 1992), pp. 68-69.
 Jodie Berndt, CELEBRATION OF MIRACLES (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson
Publishers, 1995), p. 20.
 "Religious Doctrines and Dogmas: In the 18th and early 19th
centuries," ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA, electronic media.
 Cited in R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas, IN DEFENSE OF MIRACLES: A
COMPREHENSIVE CASE FOR GOD'S ACTION IN HISTORY (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity
Press, 1997), p. 33.
 John A. Witmer, "The Doctrine of Miracles," BIBLIOTHECA SACRA,
Logos Bible Software, electronic media.
 One must recognize that the "laws" of science are generalizations
based on repeated, testable experience. They are provisional to the extent that
they are open to modification and correction in the light of further
 Louis Berkhof, SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), p.
 Charles Ryrie, SURVEY OF BIBLE DOCTRINE, QuickVerse Library, electronic
 Berkhof, p. 177.
 Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, WHEN SKEPTICS ASK (Wheaton, IL:
Victor Press, 1989), p. 76.
 Geisler and Brooks, p. 76.
 Ken Boa and Larry Moody, I'M GLAD YOU ASKED (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books,
1994), pp. 50-51.
 Boa and Moody, p. 53.
 Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, HANDBOOK OF CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS (Downers
Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), p. 109.
 Cited in Geivett and Habermas, p. 33.
 Norman Geisler, cited in Geivett and Habermas, p. 78.
 Henry Clarence Thiessen, LECTURES IN SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY (Grand Rapids, MI:
Eerdmans, 1979), p. 12.
 Geisler and Brooks, pp. 79-80.
 James Oliver Buswell, A SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION
(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), p. 176.
 C.S. Lewis, GOD IN THE DOCK (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), p. 26.
 Lewis, p. 26.
 Ron Rhodes, THE COMPLETE BOOK OF BIBLE ANSWERS (Eugene, OR: Harvest House
Publishers, 1999), p. 304.
 Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, ANSWERS TO TOUGH QUESTIONS (Nashville, TN:
Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993), p. 84.
 Paul E. Little, KNOW WHY YOU BELIEVE (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity
Press, 1975), p. 59.
 Charles Hodge, SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, Logos Bible Software, electronic media,
 Norman L. Geisler, ENCYCLOPEDIA OF APOLOGETICS (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker
Book House, 1999), p. 450.
The Dr. Ron Rhodes is the editor of REASONING FROM THE SCRIPTURES NEWSLETTER
- a free newsletter featuring "Answers to Common Questions"
Permission is granted for reproduction by the publisher of
November-December 2000 Edition
Dr. Ron Rhodes, Editor
This issue of the newsletter focuses attention on debunking the case against
miracles. This article is excerpted from my new book, MIRACLES AROUND US: HOW TO
RECOGNIZE GOD AT WORK TODAY -- a book I've written largely to address some of
the imbalances of our day on this subject. (For those interested, ordering
information for the book is found at the end of the newsletter.)
MIRACLES AROUND US: HOW TO RECOGNIZE GOD AT WORK TODAY, by Ron Rhodes
This 240-page book can be ordered by sending a check for $12.50, made payable to
Reasoning from the Scriptures, to:
Reasoning from the Scriptures
P.O. Box 80087
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688
Just put "Miracles" in the memo field. That will be my cue to rush
this book out to you. (NOTE: The $12.50 covers the price of the book plus
shipping and handling charges.)
Following are the chapter titles:
1 -- When Heaven Touches Earth
2 -- The Popularity of Miracles
3 -- What Is a Miracle?
4 -- Miracles in the Old Testament
5 -- The Miracle of the Incarnation
6 -- The Miracles of Jesus
7 -- Miracles of the New Testament Apostles
8 -- The New Testament Miracle of Miracles: The Resurrection
9 -- The Possibility of Miracles Today
10 -- The Case Against Miracles
11 -- Counterfeit Miracles
12 -- Can the Devil Perform Miracles?
13 -- Miracles of New Age "Energetic Medicine"
14 -- If Your Miracle Doesn't Come
Particularly in chapters 11 and 12, I deal with some of the imbalance and
sensationalism that predominates today in regard to the issue of miracles.
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