Rationality Rules Debunking of the Argument from Miracles Debunked

Beware-of-GodRationality Rules Stephen Woodford claims to debunk the argument [for God] from miracles in the video Argument from Miracles – Debunked (Miracles Explained). He starts with his own statement of the argument:

Simply stated, the Argument from Miracles asserts that the occurrence of miracles prove that a very specific god exists (normally being a variation of the Abrahamic god), and it defines a miracle as, “an extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws, and is therefore attributed to divine agency.”

Note how he’s immediately framed the argument in his own words to suit his argument. It’s statement in Wikipedia is quite different:

The argument from miracles is an argument for the existence of God that relies on the belief that events witnessed and described as miracles – i.e. as events not explicable by natural or scientific laws – indicate the intervention of the supernatural.

Stephen then defines what a miracle is:

Or, in the eternal words of David Hume, “A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature”, and as such, it’s necessarily supernatural… it’s an intentional supernatural intervention.

Note his addition of the phrase “intentional supernatural intervention”. This is not necessary. A miracle could be a spontaneous supernatural event or an event caused by a natural entity tapping into a supernatural force. The additional framing is added to support his argument. He goes on to give some examples:

A few examples of asserted miracles include: Jesus Christ rising from the dead; Muhammad splitting the moon; Moses parting the Red Sea; Zeus defeating Cronus; Thor defeating the Frost-Giants; Statues of Ganesha drinking milk offerings.

The stories of Zeus and Thor are not miracles. No one claims to have witnessed them. They are mythological stories.

Now there are only really two ways to refute a miraculous claim; the first is to address the specific miracle being asserted; and the second is to address miracles as a whole.

This should be good.

The problem with the first approach, is that even if you’re able to debunk the assertion and convince the proponent that they’re mistaken, the mode of thought that caused them to believe in the miracle in the first place remains, and so they’ll almost certainly ram another miraculous claim down your throat within seconds, normally primed with the words “okay… well what about this miracle?”

If someone does this after you’ve debunked their best evidence, just walk away.

But if, on the other hand, you’re able to successfully convince the proponent that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, and that no amount of anecdotal testimonies would ever be enough to prove that a certain miracle actually happened, you would’ve essentially chopped the tree at its roots, and in doing so, likely purged their religious beliefs entirely (let alone their belief in miracles).

Failure to prove a miracle does not disprove it. As Stephen is so fond of pointing out, this is a black and white fallacy. Anecdotal evidence is not worthless. If you have no physical evidence that contradicts it, a preponderance of it can and should lead you to conclude that something is likely to be true.

So the first flaw to reveal, in my not so humble opinion, is that the vast majority of miracles wouldn’t prove the existence of a god even if they were indeed true. Or in other words, they don’t support theism.

True, but if they do prove the existence of the supernatural, surely that weakens any arguments against the existence of a god?

For example, even if it were unimpeachably true that a man called Jesus resurrected, this would not, in the slightest, prove that the universe had a creator! Nor would prove that Jesus turned water into wine; that he healed the blind; that he walked on water; or that he was born of a virgin.

Bullshit. While it might not prove the existence of God, proof of the supernatural resurrection of a man who claimed to be an agent of a god would be strong evidence for the existence of that god.

Here’s but one example from Frank Turek: “And if it is true that Jesus really did come and say and do the things that the New Testament writers say he did, then whatever he teaches is true because if he rose from the dead he was god; if he taught that there will be an intervention then there will be.”

I agree that there are serious problems with Turek’s argument. The biggest is, of course, the initial supposition, but the truth claim relies on Jesus being omniscient, and we know he wasn’t because he taught that there would be a divine intervention within the lifetimes of some of his disciples, but there wasn’t.

The second and perhaps most obvious flaw with miracles is that they almost always commit either an Argument from Ignorance or a Personal Incredulity Fallacy… Throughout history there have been numerous accounts of flightiness animals raining from the sky… Now of course, it’s fair to say that flightless animals don’t just fall from the sky, but one can’t simple assert that a miracle has occurred simply because there’s “no other explanation”… that would be, and is, an outrageous Argument form Ignorance!

I agree.

And this brings us comfortably to a necessary question that is extremely effective at exposing a third fallacy that ravishes miraculous assertions – this question is, “how exactly can we distinguish a miracle from an unlikely natural occurrence that we are yet to comprehend?”

That is indeed the question.

It’s a very simple question, but it’s a brilliant one (if I do say so myself) – because it forces the proponent to bare their Burden of Proof rather than allowing them to shift it to you by appealing to ignorance.

Except that if the proponent believes in the supernatural, they will put the burden of proof on you. If I tell you I’ve had a vision of an angelic being, you asking me how I know it doesn’t have a natural explanation doesn’t prove that I didn’t actually see an angel.

It indirectly emphasizes that they are the one asserting that an event has violated the laws of nature, not you, and so they bare the burden to prove this. And if they can’t, and instead they either attempt to shift the Burden of Proof to you, or they simply appeal to ignorance – then guess what – their assertion is unsubstantiated, and therefore their argument is too – meaning that it’s game over; no ifs, not buts, it’s over.

This is the same fallacious argument. If I can’t prove that I saw an actual angel, that does not prove that I didn’t.

Stephen’s counter arguments are almost entirely arguments from naturalism. The problem is, naturalism, like atheism, is dogmatic. Such arguments won’t even convince an agnostic that God doesn’t exist, far less a believer.

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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