A recent survey revealed that 79 percent of Americans say they believe in miracles. Even among those who seldom or never attend church, 70 percent believe miracles occur.
Nearly everyone has a personal story which he or she considers to be miraculous, but our scientific worldview makes it difficult to tell our stories to each other.
Our reluctance says less about miracles than it does about us. As C. S. Lewis observed, the man who denies the sunrise does not harm the sun—he only proves himself foolish.
What can we learn about our culture from its views of the miraculous? And about ourselves?
Mad at miracles
Most dictionaries consider a “miracle” to be an event or action that apparently contradicts scientific laws as we understand them.
Sometimes we experience a miracle of coincidence, where highly improbable but not impossible events occur, e.g., a friend calls you unexpectedly, just when you most needed to hear from her.
Other miracles are an actual violation of physical laws, e.g., a friend calls you on a disconnected telephone.
Both kinds occurred often in the biblical record.
Moses, Joshua, Samson, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Peter, and Paul all experienced and initiated them. And Jesus’ miracles were crucial to his ministry. They validated his Messiahship (Matthew 11:4–5), showed that he was from God (John 5:36; 14:11), and were intended to lead to saving faith (John 20:30-31).
At issue is our worldview.
As J. S. Mill said in 1843, “If we do not already believe in supernatural agencies, no miracle can prove to us their existence.” Either we didn’t see what we thought we saw, or there’s another explanation than the miraculous.
Many have taken such skeptical positions:
- Benedict Spinoza (died 1677) argued that it is impossible for natural laws to be changed. If an event appears to be a miracle, this is only because we have not yet found the natural explanation.
- Isaac Newton agreed that time and space have an absolute fixed character so that miracles by definition are impossible.
- David Hume added that we cannot prove any cause and effect, much less the cause of so-called miracles. He believed that we should test all reported events in light of our personal experience. If you have not experienced the miraculous, you cannot trust the testimony of another to its veracity.
- Ernst Troelsch, the famous historian, took Hume’s position a step further: no writer of history should include a reported experience that does not occur today. If people no longer walk on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus didn’t, either.
- Karl Marx added the conviction that miracles are supernaturalistic wishes and nothing more.
You may be surprised to find that some Christians are likewise skeptical of the miraculous, though for different reasons. Some believe that miracles ended with the early church. Others maintain that miracles no longer occur, as the need for them in establishing revelation is now past.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Jim Denison