What is a miracle?

A miracle is an event which is beyond the ability of any person to perform.  Murray’s Dictionary states:

A marvelous event occurring within human experience which cannot have been brought about by human power or any natural agency and must therefore be ascribed to the intervention of the Deity or of some supernatural being. source

Locke writes:

“A miracle then I take to be a sensible operation which being above the comprehension of the spectator and in his opinion contrary to the established order of nature is taken by him to be Divine.”  source


How can we know if any given event is a miracle or not?

This question cannot be answered until a more basic question is answered.


What is this more basic question?

The foundational question here is whether miracles are possible in the first place.


How can we arrive at an answer to that question?

Our answer to this question depends on our worldview.  Those who hold to an atheistic worldview must answer this question in the negative since miracles are not possible in such a world.  On the other hand, miracles are possible in a theistic worldview since it is always possible for God to do something that is not possible for a human person to do.  These acts of God are what we call miracles.


In a theistic worldview then, how would we know which event is a miracle or not?

We would examine what happened and try to determine if it is beyond human ability or not.


What is the greatest miracle which ever occurred?

The creation of our universe is the greatest miracle.  The resurrection of Jesus, however, is the most important miracle claim in history.  The truth of the Christian religion stands or falls with the truth of the resurrection miracle.


What objections are brought against miracles?

The most common objection is related to the above question; i.e. are miracles possible in the first place.  Secular people are committed to a naturalist understanding of the world;  and therefore, miracles are ruled out as impossible.


What other objection is brought against miracles?

The objection is sometimes made that even if miracles are possible, we should never believe a miracle claim because miracles are so foreign to how we expect the world to work.


Wasn’t this Hume’s objection?

Yes, Hume did not object so much to miracles as he did to miracle claims.  He did not believe that any miracle claim was credible because our uniform experience is that miracles never happen.  Hume wrote:

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. Why is it more than probable that all men must die; that lead cannot, of itself, remain suspended in the air; that fire consumes wood and is extinguished by water; unless it be that these events are found agreeable to the laws of nature, and there is required a violation of these laws, or, in other words, a miracle to prevent them? Nothing is esteemed a miracle if it ever happen 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. There must, therefore, be an uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as an uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle nor can such a proof be destroyed or the miracle rendered credible but by an opposite proof which is superior.  The plain consequence is (and it is a general maxim worthy of our attention) that no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish. And, even in that case, there is a mutual destruction of arguments and the superior only gives us an assurance suitable to that degree of force which remains after deducting the inferior. When anyone tells me that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself whether it be more probable that this person should either deceive or be deceived or that the fact which he relates should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority which I discover, I pronounce my decision and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous than the event which he relates; then and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion. source


What can be said about Hume’s argument here?

Hume’s key assumption here is that no one has ever seen a miracle.  This is the “firm and unalterable experience” upon which Hume’s argument depends.  Weidner reduces Hume’s argument to these propositions:

  1. For miracles we have the questionable testimony of a few persons;
  2. Against them we have universal experience;
  3. Therefore, this stronger testimony nullifies the weaker and more questionable. see §30

Proposition #2 is the weak link in Hume’s argument.  The number of people who have seen miracles and can provide good evidence that a miracle really happened is increasing.  Keener has written two large volumes in which he has cataloged these many claims and the investigations into them.


What objections were brought against Jesus’ miracles?

The Pharisees finally concluded that Jesus did miracles by some kind of demonic power. (Matthew 12:24)  To which Jesus responded that if what they said was true, then the devil would be casting out his own devils.  “And if Satan is casting out Satan, he is divided and fighting against himself. His own kingdom will not survive.” (Matthew 12:26)






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