Thursday, January 03, 2013

It would take a miracle to explain that miracle

In discussions between theists and atheists, miracles pose a rhetorical difficulty. I can imagine that it is frustrating to the atheist to hear the explanation: it was a miracle. I sympathize. But it is unavoidable.

There are miracles described in scripture--and some of us believe they happened. That's just the way it is.

Now some atheists use miracles for argument avoidance. They will say: there is no point arguing about anything, because you'll just say it was a miracle. No, not true. The miracles in the bible are well defined, localized, and not willy-nilly. They are instrumental in God's redemptive plan, not just vulgar displays of power. We note also that God's redemptive plan is finished. As such we have no reason to expect that "holy crap!!!" style miracles will happen again. At least not until the only remaining event,  the end of history, which may be hundreds of thousands of years away (or may be tomorrow.)

There is also a misunderstanding that miracles are not amenable to scientific study. That is not true. The definition of a miracle means it is not ever going to succumb to a scientific explanation. It does not include in its definition that it is invisible to scientific observation.

A miracle will/would register in detectors and recording devices. The problem is you have to be ready when the event occurs--and they are exceedingly rare and perhaps finished. You can keep building accelerators until you have a chance to see a Higgs, and you can be ready for it, but how to watch for a miracle? But if you are fortunate enough encounter one, you could take all data you wanted. You just couldn't explain it. If video technology existed during Joshua's battle, you could watch on YouTube as the clock ticked off the hours showing that it remained daylight for an impossibly long time.

If I were an atheist arguing with theists, I would ignore miracles. (The smart ones do.) There is no argument to be found there. Apart from ignoring them as unfruitful, the only reasonable argument from an atheist is: If you believe in miracles you must be a complete moron. That is, at least, honest and self-consistent.

It is when atheists start arguing more deeply about miracles that they look incredible stupid. Take this argument from someone named thunderf00t. (I believe those are zeroes, not 'o's.)  (S)he writes:

Well considering God was only doing this such that Joshua could have light to continue his butchery of a fleeing people (man woman and child), this has to be the most inefficient use of military force ever. The Earth rotates once a day (ish, it actually depends on how you define days, when the Sun is in the same place again (solar time) , or the stars (siderial time)). Just to give that some perspective, the people at the Earth surface on the equator are travelling about 1000 miles per hour (1.4x the speed of sound in the frame of reference of the Earths center of mass), those at temperate latitudes are doing about half of that, and those at the poles are doing zero! This means if God merely stops the Earth, the people on the surface will be doing about half the speed of sound relative to the surface. Given that it generally hurt to fall over, hitting objects at the best part of the speed of sound is probably going to sting! 
Thunderf00t then goes on to argue how inefficient god is when it comes to mass murder. The atheist has a good (and difficult to respond to in a satisfying way) moral argument to make about Joshua's bloody conquest. But instead of that, Thunderf00t is content to look like an idiot. Because this is really stupid analysis.

Atheists, If "miracles contradict science" do not illicit a simple "duh" then you are missing the boat, big time. Because that's a feature, not a bug. Miracle is not a synonym for "parlor trick." Thunderf00t's argument is, essentially:
  1. Let's grant, for the sake of discussion, daylight was extended
  2. Ha ha, my junior high physics calculation shows that people would be sent flying a half the speed of sound! Ergo, bullshit, Aren't I clever!
Thunderf00t, you are probably are not smart enough to see the logical flaw. Your point, which relies on the setup of “accepting” for the moment that god extended daylight, then relies on the absurd (in that context) and unstated assumption that a god who can do that would, inexplicably, not have anticipated the consequences (oh, shit, I didn’t think about what would happen to everything when I stopped the earth’s rotation! My bad!)1 Your logic, as it were, is not self-consistent. You change from one playing field to another half-way through. And let me help you out some more. Theists believe that god created the universe. You can simply say: that contradicts science –and be done with it. The ultimate argument stopper. Why concentrate on “in the noise” miracles (like extending daylight) and ignore the mother of all miracles?

This argument perfectly fits the template: That miracle (extended daylight)  could happen because it would take a miracle (preventing angular momentum consequences) to explain it.


1 As an aside, I am not accepting the argument that God stopped the earth's rotation. Miracles tend to be local. When Jesus walked on water, the ship in the story did not rest on top of the sea. When he changed water into wine, the Sea of Galilee did not change into Pinot Noir.


  1. Most people really aren't nearly as smart as they think they are. When they get pushed out of their box, they react like the autistic girl we supervised once ("They can't play soccer; they don't have soccer shoes!") or my daughter when 4 years old "You can't take dance; you don't have a leotard").

    The underlying (and often unspoken) conceit for most atheists is that God couldn't do things that they themselves couldn't conceive God as being able to do. They can't imagine a God who would (or could) be able to do miracle X, so He can't.

    If a God exists who can create the entire universe in its nearly-infinite complexity, how can you say He wouldn't then have the ability to do X (where X is "virgin birth", "slow down time locally", etc.). A God who set the Milky Way in motion wouldn't have a bit of problem with zapping a single zygote or sperm cell in place at just the right time, for example.

    I have to disagree with your argument that miracles don't happen, however. I am well aware of several miracles within my own homeschool community. That's why I can't respect atheists who attempt the argument that there are no true miracles. They rapidly deteriorate into No True Scotsmanisms ("The power of the mind", "mass hysteria", etc.) when you push them any.