The argument that miracles prove the existence of God has so many faults in it that it’s honestly hard to know where to begin.
Even if there were miracles, they would suggest only a deistic god, and not prove the Abrahamic God over a Hindi or Nordic one. Further, the evidence for “miracles” is usually flawed and boils down to three different things.
The first proof of miracles is from Anecdotal Evidence. This is an interesting one because even the people who most rely on anecdotal evidence for proof of God (Christians), are the first (and most aggressive) to dismiss it when it comes from a different faith. For example, the Hindi guru Sathya Sai Baba, has performed thousands of miracles, including healing the sick, teleportation, clairvoyance, resurrection, and water into wine. And people have seen him do it, and not a few people, but tens of thousands of them. But tell this to a Christian, and they’ll be thoroughly unimpressed and uninterested. But when you show the same incredulity towards a claim of a people seeing blood from a statue, they are flabbergasted that you could ignore such “proof”.
Anecdotal evidence is extraordinarily unreliable, and even the most devout Christian is wont to remind you of that, until, not surprisingly, the antidotes come by way of his or her particular denomination, at which point they are unassailable (and even suggesting otherwise becomes an offensive, ad homonym attack). This is the very definition of unreasonable. The first “miracle” performed by Mother Theresa, from beyond the grave, was to cure a woman of cancer in her stomach. This was, naturally, taken on faith as true when it was claimed. However even her own husband said it was a hoax, and that while she did indeed have cancer, it was eminently treatable, she was treated for it, and she recovered exactly as her doctors predicted. Un-investigated, untested and unverified anecdotal claims simply cannot be taken as proof(1)And I’m similarly unconvinced that when the claims are made by first century theists, too ignorant of the world to know that the earth goes around the sun, years after the fact, as a means of proselytizing, from stories passed down and borrowed from other gods, written inconsistently and contradicting in a book that’s been retranslated, mistranslated, and coaxed to meet political agendas, with clear misconceptions about how the universe works, that all this somehow makes anecdotal evidence even stronger.
The second from unexplained phenomena–Mars changes direction mid-orbit, so we have proof of god–a deliberate violation of the laws of physics, his universal thumbprint. This is a God of the Gaps argument (we don’t understand something, it must be god), which has been employed for tens of thousands of years and has, had perhaps the worst failure rate of any argument in human history (more here). To demonstrate a miracle of this kind you’d need to investigate it (something theists are loathe to do–declaring something the work of god is intended to halt all debate, and further inquiry by the scientific community draws resistance and open hostility) and preclude every other possible natural.
The Third argument for miracles is from probability, which is to say that an event is so unlikely to have occurred naturally, god must have had a hand in it (when a man’s wedding ring, for example, deflects a robber’s bullet—hailed by the Christian Science Monitor and the Christian Post as both conclusive evidence of God, and a reason for people to get married). Notice, however, that this actually changing the definition of “miracle” to allow for a miracle to have occurred. A miracle is a suspension or violation of the laws of nature (say for instance the bullet paused in midair for a moment then simply fell to the ground), not just a highly improbable event. Walking on water, turning water into wine, resurrection, suspending a bullet in midair–these are not “highly improbably events”, but miracles. Deflecting a bullet with a ring is not.
This may seem like unnecessary equivocation, but it’s actually a fundamental misunderstanding of statistics and probability. Extraordinarily improbable things happen quite frequently. That anyone highly unlikely event will happen may be highly improbable, but that some unlikely event will happen is almost inevitable. In fact, they happen quite frequently. Consider the following:
A drunk young man in New Mexico desert sees a bird in the air some fifty feet away, and fires a round at it, missing the bird. Three miles away, two parents are taking their daughter for a stroll. They’re holding her hand, walking along a section of the Rio Grande, when the bullet hits her, blowing her head off, killing her instantly. That’s a distance of three miles, in a state that’s the fifth largest in the country, but with only ½ the population of the city of New York City. Don’t bother calculating the odds of it, they’re unfathomable. But it happened.
Was it a miracle? Of course not.
Meanwhile, in New York, a seven-year-old girl is resting against a metal rail welded into the window of her apartment. The rail gives and she falls out the window, plummeting seven stories. But below, a moving company is collecting the bubble wrap and padding from a move and tossing it into the back of a wagon. She lands in the wagon and emerges relatively unscathed. What were the chances that someone would be moving in, that they’d have an uncovered wagon, and leave it right under her window? I’ve no idea, but the odds aren’t a single bit worse than the previous example.
Was it a miracle? Of course it was.
What’s the difference? Nothing, save the availability of the outcome. A theist simply calls the happy ending a miracle, and the sad ending bad luck. It’s back to that most human of errors, made by all of us all the time: Fundamental Attribution Error and Wish Thinking… We credit the better outcome to a benevolent god, attribute the divine nature of the event to what we’d like to be true.
There were many assassination attempts on Hitler, a number of which “miraculously” failed, including the March 13, 1943 plot in which a bomb was put on Hitler’s plane. A 30 minute fuse was set, and the plane took off. 2 hours later Hitler landed safely in Berlin. When Schlabrendorff recovered the bomb, there was no explanation for its failure–it simply didn’t blow. Whether it was bad luck or a miracle depends only on which side of the war you are on, but neo-Nazis claim this proof that Hitler was protected by on high, and their evidence is no less compelling than any other claims of divine intervention.
Wrath works the same way. When the late, great, Christopher Hitchens (author of “God is Not Great” which, I’m so happy to say, is still available at fine bookstores everywhere), got esophageal cancer, theists proclaimed this the wrath of God, aimed at the instrument of Mr. Hitchens’ blasphemy. Never mind the many Hitchens predecessors who’d committed far more blasphemy and lived long and happy lives, or the current atheists who continue their work unabated. Never mind that Hitchens’ drinking and smoking where so extreme so as to have articles written asking how he could actually walk upright(2)This is not a joke., and was statistically speaking one of the most likely candidates for throat cancer. Never mind that atheists get throat cancer (and, don’t you know it, all diseases) at the exact same rate as any other group…no, rest assured Hitchens was smote by God (indeed, whenever any atheist dies of any cause other than old age, it’s proof of god’s work).
There are seven billion of us on this planet, and at any given time a large number of us are doing something stupid. Events like these are reasonably comment, and modern media allows every such example to be beamed into our living rooms. The ones we like we argue as proof of the divine, the others we ignore (pareidolia is the same phenomena. Nobody calls Newsweek when you see Santa Clause in your toast, but if it’s the virgin marry, watch out!).
Hindsight expands this fallacy to epic proportions. There are tragedies and near tragedies occurring every day, and with the sheer number of deterministic events leading up to every act (every event in history, actually), you can easily find one without which an event wouldn’t have occurred or been avoided. Thousands of people miss flights every day–but those who missed flight 93–that’s a miracle, god was looking out for them (as opposed to the people almost missed the flight, but for some “lucky” turn…. When you forget to fill the gas tank the night before the flight, but your wife remembers for you, God’s plan for you is clear).
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but the evidence for miracles is scant at best. It’s either frontier, god of the gaps knowledge which can (and eventually is) scientifically explainable, or it’s the occurrence of “highly improbable” events (which happens regularly), or the evidence is anecdotal.
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↑||And I’m similarly unconvinced that when the claims are made by first century theists, too ignorant of the world to know that the earth goes around the sun, years after the fact, as a means of proselytizing, from stories passed down and borrowed from other gods, written inconsistently and contradicting in a book that’s been retranslated, mistranslated, and coaxed to meet political agendas, with clear misconceptions about how the universe works, that all this somehow makes anecdotal evidence even stronger|
|2.||↑||This is not a joke.|