Adelaide Chapter

Miracles, Weeping Statues and Aliens

September 15, 2013

Miracles, Weeping Statues and Aliens

This is a summary of Brian Schroeder’s talk on miracles, presented at Tabor College on 12 September 2013. The video recording is available on You Tube. His power point slides are available at Miracles.


There are people who believe in miracles and people who don’t. There are people who want to believe in miracles and people who want to disbelieve in them. Many others – both denying and supporting ‘miracles’ – have come before me and produced much greater and more thorough efforts than me. (eg. see Kevin Rogers’ article on the RFA website).

The purpose of this article is to:

  • demonstrate that non-belief in miracles is a philosophical decision, not a rational or scientific one
  • define what “miracle” is
  • promote rational scepticism – a guarded open mind
  • differentiate between atheist and Christian apriori rejections
  • demonstrate the belief in miracles is perfectly rational

I will not look in detail here at specific Biblical miracles. My aim here is to promote rational thinking, to show that a proper examination of the evidence (and of the accounts of witnesses) is reasonable, rational and worthwhile. If miracles are real they can stand rigorous examination. If the are not then they need it. The claims, ramifications, and evidence are great enough that they deserve it and leave no basis, wishful thinking aside, for simply burying heads in the sand and chanting the mantra ‘miracles don’t exist’.


  • Are miracles possible?
  • Can miracles happen?
  • Have miracles happened?
  • Do miracles happen?
  • What exactly is a miracle?
  • What do we mean by the word?

What are Miracles?

Are they:

  • Something that cannot happen?
  • The least probable explanation for any given event?
  • A happening contrary to the laws of nature?
  • A highly unlikely good event (eg. winning the lottery)

Chambers Concise Usage Dictionary

  1. Something which man is not normally capable of making happen and which is therefore thought to be done by a god or God: Christ’s turning of water into wine was a miracle.
  2. A fortunate happening that has no obvious natural cause or explanation: It’s a miracle he wasn’t killed in the plane crash

David Hume

Of Miracles” is the title of Section X of David Hume‘s An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (1748).

Hume starts by telling the reader that he believes that he has “discovered an argument […] which, if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion”.

Hume first explains the principle of evidence: the only way that we can judge between two empirical claims is by weighing the evidence. The degree to which we believe one claim over another is proportional to the degree by which the evidence for one outweighs the evidence for the other. The weight of evidence is a function of such factors as the reliability, manner, and number of witnesses.

Now, a miracle is defined as: “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent.” Laws of nature, however, are established by “a firm and unalterable experience”; they rest upon the exception-less testimony of countless people in different places and times.

“Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it ever happens in the common course of nature. It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country.”

As the evidence for a miracle is always limited, as miracles are single events, occurring at particular times and places, the evidence for the miracle will always be outweighed by the evidence against — the evidence for the law of which the miracle is supposed to be a transgression.

There are, however, two ways in which this argument might be neutralised. First, if the number of witnesses of the miracle be greater than the number of witnesses of the operation of the law, and secondly, if a witness be 100% reliable (for then no amount of contrary testimony will be enough to outweigh that person’s account). Hume therefore lays out, in the second part of section X, a number of reasons that we have for never holding this condition to have been met. He first claims that no miracle has in fact had enough witnesses of sufficient honesty, intelligence, and education. He goes on to list the ways in which human beings lack complete reliability:

  • People are very prone to accept the unusual and incredible, which excites agreeable passions of surprise and wonder.
  • Those with strong religious beliefs are often prepared to give evidence that they know is false, “with the best intentions in the world, for the sake of promoting so holy a cause”.
  • People are often too credulous when faced with such witnesses, whose apparent honesty and eloquence (together with the psychological effects of the marvellous described earlier) may overcome normal scepticism.
  • Miracle stories tend to have their origins in “ignorant and barbarous nations” – either elsewhere in the world or in a civilised nation’s past. The history of every culture displays a pattern of development from a wealth of supernatural events – “prodigies, omens, oracles, judgements” – which steadily decreases over time, as the culture grows in knowledge and understanding of the world.

Hume ends with a new theme: the argument from miracles. He points out that many different religions have their own miracle stories. Given that there is no reason to accept some of them but not others (aside from a prejudice in favour of one religion), then we must hold all religions to have been proved true — but given the fact that religions contradict each other, this cannot be the case.

(Wikipedia Article: “Of Miracles”)

Refuting Hume

According to the naturalistic view of the age and size of universe – human observations are minuscule in comparison (both time and space), negligible Þ not relevant. Thus Hume’s definition of natural laws coming from “the exception-less testimony of countless people in different places and times” is rather suspect.

Looking at the assumption that a miracle is something that is contrary to the laws of nature (David Hume) – how do we know?
We can define a law of nature as a repeated observation that something always happens the same way. For example, the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west. But just because we have never observed something different does not of itself make that something different impossible.

The Fremantle Football Club has never been known to win an AFL premiership. Does that mean it is contrary to the laws of nature for them to do so? That it would be a miracle (ie. an impossibility) for it to happen? “Maybe” you may think. But none of us truly believes that. Even if they never win a premiership, we still believe it is naturally possible for them to do so.
Similarly, according to our observations dead people are not resurrected. That observation by itself is not proof that it cannot happen. It could be that it simply requires a specific set of (natural) circumstances for it to happen.

Another problem with Hume’s argument is that if any ‘miracle’ IS proven to have occurred then, according to his definition, it automatically ceases to be a miracle and becomes an intrinsic part of ‘nature’. Thus his argument distils down to: Anything that is impossible is impossible; anything that cannot happen will not happen. A tautology we can all agree with whole-heartedly. It is, however, meaningless and fails completely in its purpose.

Atheist Miracles

Despite all that, atheists believe in miracles too. According to Hume’s definition, the following examples are miracles:

  • “big bang” – once-only, unobserved creation of everything from nothing – all by itself and contrary to the laws of physics (ignoring attempts by some to redefine “nothing”)
  • spontaneous generation of life from non-life
  • the ability of randomly generated aggregations of matter to develop consciousness with the capacity to observe and reason validly
  • quantum mechanics – “spooky” action at a distance. Schrödinger’s cat… ? ERP Paradox
  • The greatest believed miracle: a material impersonal random non-rational universe created itself out of absolutely nothing and then, through totally random unthinking means created personal thinking rational sentient beings able to make sense of it all.
  • That the random arrangements and movements of material objects (eg. electrons, atoms) are able to provide objective trustworthy truth.
  • That there is actually believable meaning in our existence from all this.

If ‘miracle’ is the least likely explanation of any given phenomenon, then if the only available explanations are all miracles – the least unlikely miracle would seem to be the logical choice. Creation by an intelligent personal being seems the best such option.

Trusting our faculties

Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our senses, something seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted. And our senses are not infallible. If anything extraordinary seems to have happened we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion.” (CS Lewis – Miracles). Which leads to the obvious question: What basis do we have to trust our senses on anything?

So after viewing some optical illusions we face the question: what basis do we have to trust our senses on anything? From a purely naturalistic point of view – none. “It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” ? J.B.S. Haldane, Possible Worlds


Scepticism is a good thing! The problem with most sceptics is that they limit their scepticism to a collection of their pet hates or personal biases. They rarely, if ever, question their own pre-suppositions. It is important that we question everything. That doesn’t mean we never accept anything, but it does mean we have good reason for what we believe, that we are less likely to get taken in by scams, less likely to be swayed by every glib-talking charlatan, “every wind of doctrine”, …

Sceptics criticize those who choose to believe in God because they (desperately) want a God to believe in; who cling to their belief despite all evidence to the contrary; who will not consider the evidence; who will not countenance any challenge to their deeply held beliefs/position/dogma.

Personally I agree. That is simply not a good enough attitude, or basis for anything. BUT most sceptics seem to cling to their position in exactly the same way. They so desperately want their beliefs/position to be true that they refuse to honestly consider the evidence.

In any society there are prevailing dogmas which one must believe, and which being sceptical of can be dangerous and bring swift retribution. Eg. (1) 14th century Europe: Christianity; (2) 20th century Iran : Islam; (3) Us here and now: global warming, evolution; etc.

It is important to recognize and acknowledge that we all have incomplete knowledge & evidence.

Christian De-mythologising

Some theologians have been convinced by the naturalists that miracles are simply not possible. They have therefore created a new theology to conform to that belief by ‘de-mythologising’ the Bible. Thus any miracle recorded there must be interpreted in some other way – eg.

  1. fiction with a moral,
  2. a later insertion by someone wanting to “sex up” the story,
  3. Primitive superstition from people who didn’t know better.

Unfortunately the Christianity they are left with bears little resemblance to historical Christianity, and contains very little to differentiate it from pure naturalism. It thus poses the question : On that basis, why associate themselves with such a religion? Why call/consider themselves Christians?

Apriori rejections

Atheists (and others) dismiss out of hand any possibility of miracles. They refuse to even consider the evidence. “Why waste time and effort on something when there is only one possible outcome anyway?”

Christians tend to take offence at such an attitude, But – What about:

  • fairies at the bottom of the garden?
  • “The Great Pumpkin”
  • Easter bunny?
  • Perpetual motion:
  • Horoscopes?

Are we any different? It is very important to examine our motives and our reasons. The approach of many (most?) Christians is no more valid than that of atheists, based on unthinking unexamined biases (whether or not those biases be true or false is another matter, and requires proper examination.) An open mind combined with proper scepticism is needed. (‘guarded open mind’)

False Miracles

There have been many false claims from both ‘Christians’ and others. Some have been outright frauds, some genuinely believed. Eg.

How on earth do they know it is Mary? How do they know what she looks like? Etc.

(Mostly of Mary – Why? If it is of God then why not Jesus? Good questions!)

Miracles and Magic

Any god we can control is, to some extent at least, acceptable. The big problem with the Christian God (and Muslim and Jewish) is that he wants to be in charge. He thinks he is God! And we can’t handle that.

The difference between miracles and magic is that miracles are done by this divine being who acts as if he is in charge. Magic, so we believe, is done by ‘me’, under my control, as I choose.

For Miracles the power resides in God. For Magic, the power resides in me.

Miracles are always presented as being good (even, for example, the plagues of Egypt are presented as an exercise of justice and the gracious offer of salvation). Even in popular thinking: ‘It is a miracle he survived the plane crash’. ‘It is a fluke he was killed in that freak accident’ – only the good is a miracle. Magic can be good or evil (“black magic”?) because it comes from the human heart. And “magic always comes with a price” – Once Upon A Time (TV series) – comes with a sting in its tail.

Magic, ESP, psychic powers, etc. are similar in nature to miracles, and so official scepticism is very high. But since they are believed to be intra-universe (if real) then the imperative to deny or debunk them is less. Thus some genuine scientific attempts to study these have been made.

Christians and Magic

God is Spirit (“Spirit” – not nebulous and less than real, but a whole other dimension > physical existence) {consider the analogy of 4D beings in a 3D world}

Christians also believe that God created other spirit beings, some of which rebelled against God. Like sceptics, Christians believe that magic is not a part of this naturalistic universe, and so, if it exists, must be due to the actions of these malevolent spirit beings.


It is those who are most eager to find extra-terrestrial life who seem to be the most opposed to believing in God or in any sort of supernatural. They are so keen to define man as the measure of all things. They are at the forefront of the fight for equality – animals, the sexes, homosexuals, the disabled, and so on.

How would they feel if we discovered real aliens and they turned out to be genuinely superior to us in every way? Intelligence, strength, knowledge, wisdom, skill, appearance. Would ‘we’ worship them: Try to drag them down to our level? Try to destroy them? Fight to be accepted as equals, despite not being? Live in denial? What? How would they cope?


Many people believe in UFOs – spacecraft piloted by aliens who come to visit our planet. There are stories and pictures (always blurry, never clear) of such incidents. Most such cases can be easily explained away (eg. weather balloon, meteorite). Some people, however, refuse to believe the simple explanations and continue to insist aliens are real and that official denials are just a cover-up. All this is despite the fact that according to the best physics at our disposal, if aliens DO exist they would/could never come here.
Do Christian (and other) claims of miracles fall into the same category?

Christians and Aliens

Christians who believe that God created the universe and us in it would readily accept that such a God could also have created other beings on other planets. However for various reasons not worth discussing here we consider such a possibility HIGHLY unlikely. According to all we know of science (incomplete as that is), one inter-stellar alien visit would be impossible, thousands on a regular basis even more so.

Still, Aliens if they do exist are a part of this naturalistic universe. So once again they do not present so significant a challenge to the sceptic. In fact the whole idea of aliens, despite their incredible unlikelihood, has so gripped popular imagination that SETI has garnered plenty of support, and anything that can be even vaguely interpreted as pointing to aliens is eagerly grasped at.
Aside from the general belief in aliens and UFOs, there is also a very small, but not insignificant, group of people who claim to have been kidnapped by aliens for various purposes (strangely, such people all seem to belong to so-called “western” nations – esp. USA – where alienism has a cult following – in contrast to belief in ‘miracles’ supposedly being predominant in primitive cultures). Not every such report, however, can be dismissed as insanity, hallucination, drug-induced, deliberate deception, or the like. Christian belief in malevolent spirit beings (as applied to magic above) would then be appropriate here too.

Miracles, God, Christianity

Performance magic (ie. illusions created by performers) appear impossible; appear to be magic; but that is only because we don’t know the trick, how it was actually done. Similarly miracles which appear to violate (what we think are) the laws of nature may just be so because we don’t know what is actually happening behind the scenes.

Note: this does not in any way deny the miraculous nature of the ‘event’, merely the claim that it is contrary to ‘the laws of nature’ and thus that it is unreasonable/unrational/wrong to believe that they can/do/may occur.

If you define ‘miracle’ as something that cannot happen, then miracles don’t happen. Simple. But that’s not what people mean by the word. A ‘miracle’ is generally considered to be a rare event (irrespective of the probability), a good event, and something requiring external input of some sort – where “external” => beyond the control of anyone involved.

If God exists, he may or may not perform “miracles”. Ie. He may or may not intervene to alter the course of events such that they are (noticeably) different to what would have happened anyway. BUT if miracles are real, then this implies that God must be also (since miracles come from God).

Just as atheists cannot countenance ID – irrespective of the evidence – because it implies an intelligent designer, so miracles must be rejected because they imply a (supernatural) miracle worker. Thus if your position is that “God does not exist” – that being one of the basic apriori assumptions on which your world view is built – then miracles MUST be rejected out of hand, no matter what the evidence.

Even one genuine miracle is enough to obliterate the foundation of everything you believe in, causing the entire structure of all you have built to collapse. Since this cannot be allowed, miracles must be denied no matter what.

 “Miracle” in the Bible

The Greek words translated “miracle” in our Bibles are ??????? and ??????? (dunamis and s?meion). These are generally translated as “power” and “sign” respectively. Thus what we call miracles were then considered to be acts of power, and/or signs to verify the status or claims of the one displaying them. Thus a miracle is something that would not or could not happen by itself in the normal course of events but requires the input of power from some external source. Similarly we have countless examples of things that require the input of power to happen – whether it be the conversion of small hard corn kernels into big fluffy pop-corn, enabling us to see when it is dark (electric lights), or the sending of men to the moon – contrary to the scientific law of gravity. So a miracle is no more contrary to the laws of nature than any of these ‘normal’ things, it simply has a different source for that input of power.

If God exists (in a theistic sense), then it stands to reason that he would take an interest in his creation (unlike a deistic god) and involve himself in it. It also stands to reason that a God sufficiently powerful to create the entire universe from nothing is not lacking in the where-withal to tweak things here or there. It is also perfectly possible that we may be totally unaware of much of what he does. (Whether or not such a God exists is another subject entirely. I am merely postulating here how such existence would outwork itself if true.)

Some interventions (tweakings) may be apparent to human observation. Some may even correspond to or follow human intercessions or requests. We may call these miracles.

Why he would do some things and not others we may think are equally or even more worthy we do not know. But we do know that his grasp of the big picture must be incomparably greater than ours (by definition), and that he always does what is right and best (see my previous discourse on Good and Evil for more info).


Multitudes of claims exist world-wide; some written up. Some are very doubtful, some highly credible, some extensively documented. Just because “you” claim to have never seen one doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I personally believe in many things I have never seen (eg. Moscow, Grand Canyon, neutrons, …).

Examining Miracles

According to Stephen Jay Gould the “non-overlapping magisteria” of science and religion must be kept distinct. Miracles would fall into the realm of religion and thus are a valid topic for religious discussion, but should be excluded from any empirical or rationalistic study since they are not a part of the real or material world in which we dwell. Just as fairies (or orcs and elves) may be a valid topic of discussion in literature circles, but not in history or science circles.

Related to this are the claims of the effects of prayer, since prayer is clearly a request to a deity. One problem with the idea of running ‘live’ studies is that it assumes ‘we’ can control God (assuming he exists) with our prayers. But if God is truly God then we can never control him. Consider Aslan in CS Lewis’s “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” – “He is not a tame lion. But he is good!” He is mighty and powerful, and does whatever he pleases.

However Candy Gunther Brown has ignored Gould’s view, and found ways to overcome the inherent problems to conduct successful and rigorously valid clinical trials that have shown much more significant results than expected from such a study. Her book, published by Harvard University Press is called “Testing Prayer, Science and Healing”.

Miracles and Coincidences

Some ‘miracles’ are not so much considered miraculous by their nature as by their timing or high degree of unlikelihood. (Eg. In “Vanya” – story of soldier granted leave contrary to all expectations). Consider the Biblical plagues of Egypt – All of these can be explained naturally (eg. see Immanuel Velikovsky “Worlds in Collision” – I am not endorsing his work, merely using it to demonstrate the possibility) – but for them to happen as and when they did with perfect timing verges on impossibility.

Thus some miracles are dismissed as merely coincidences. And the basic principles behind so doing are generally valid. Christians who believe in miracles also acknowledge readily that many unlikely events that take place are in fact genuine coincidences. Coincidences are real. None-the-less there are definite situations where the circumstances point so clearly to an external influence that, aside from apriori assumptions that this is not possible, “miracle” is clearly the best and most reasonable explanation.

Summary / Conclusion

  • If God does NOT exist and the material universe is all there is, then no matter what the evidence, miracles do not exist / are not real. They are merely natural phenomena which we do not (yet) understand. This is, however, begging the question and assumes the conclusion. (especially since, if true, we have no basis whatsoever to place any faith at all in our abilities to so determine.)
  • If God DOES exist then it stands to reason he has every right and all necessary power to influence/affect/engage with his creation in any way he sees fit.
  • Any such action would be in keeping with the natural order, laws which he created, and not “contrary to the laws of nature”. But, clearly, it would also result in a different effect than if he had not so acted – just the same as when any of us does anything.
  • This is thus (a) an exercise of power and (b) a sign to us of his existence and involvement.
  • Thus for anyone prepared to honestly and with guarded open mind to properly examine the evidence, belief in both miracles and the miracle worker is rational, reasonable, and easily the best interpretation and conclusion.