Argument from observed miracles

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An argument from observed miracles is one in which a person claims to have observed one or more miraculous events that show the existence of a God or gods.

Often these events are not really miracles or even all that unusual:

  • "I converted to Christianity and my financial troubles went away."
  • "I missed a bus and then I met someone who became important later on in my life."
  • "I survived a car accident."
  • "I saw a man who could walk on coals and handle snakes without injury."
  • "I saw Jesus on a piece of toast."
  • Any argument from incomplete devastation.

Other times these events are more extreme, but either turn out to be proven false or greatly exaggerated, or for whatever reason cannot be verified.

  • "A faith healer healed a paraplegic."
  • "A poor family's food was multiplied."
  • "A woman levitated right before my eyes."
  • "He was speaking Latin even though he's never heard the language."

Counter-apologetics

Oftentimes the "miracles" are not really miraculous at all. They can be the results of cherry picking and confirmation bias, whereby memories and stories of unusual events are picked out from thousands of stories of boring events. In reality these things may happen about as often as one would expect from random chance, but it seems like they happen more often because we pay more attention to them and because human beings are usually not that good at guessing how likely events actually are.

Other times they are simply not true stories, which is particularly common in the case of hearsay. If a story is about a friend of a friend (of a friend of a friend...), there's a good chance that at least one person in the chain exaggerated, misremembered, or just plain made up part of the story. Even stories that are first-hand accounts can involve false memories. When someone repeats a story over and over, or keeps dwelling upon it in their own thoughts, each time trying to emphasize particular points that they find important, they may end up believing that what happened was far more astonishing than what they really witnessed at the time.

In addition, even if the miracles are real, they don't necessarily prove the existence of a god at all, much less any particular one. If some kind of holy man performs a miracle, for example, it may just be a power specific to him, even if he personally believes that a particular god did it. In order to prove a particular god, more evidence is needed than the mere existence of very strange events.

Finally, even if miracles are true, and the agent could be established to be a specific god, they are always minor and often selfish in nature. For instance, if an individual were to spontaneously healed, it would be incidental when compared to the number of people healed by medicine. An individual may overcome a financial hardship, but when compared to secular advancements of such as Social Security, it would be trivial. If supposed miracles were proved to be true, it would still leave unanswered the question of whether the agent deserves worship, just as if David Blaine's street performances were actually magic, it would not be sufficient to worship David Blaine.

It is often held that miracles interrupt or overcome the laws of nature. Under this definition, miracles cannot be explained purely within the framework of natural laws. This, however, means that it is fallacious to then offer an explanation based on natural laws (for example, causal relationships) in an attempt to explain a miracle. The consequence is that nothing can be established about a miracle past the point that it is not explainable.

Anyone who believes they can prove supernatural claims is welcome to visit the JREF web site and apply for the million dollar challenge. James Randi's organization offers this prize to anyone "who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event."

See also


v · d Arguments for the existence of god
Anthropic arguments   Anthropic principle · Natural-law argument
Arguments for belief   Pascal's Wager · Argument from faith · Just hit your knees
Christological arguments   Argument from scriptural miracles · Would someone die for a lie? · Liar, Lunatic or Lord
Cosmological arguments   Argument from aesthetic experience · Argument from contingency · Cosmological argument · Fine-tuning argument · Kalam · Leibniz cosmological argument · Principle of sufficient reason · Unmoved mover · Why is there something rather than nothing?
Majority arguments   Argument from admired religious scientists
Moral arguments   Argument from justice · Divine command theory
Ontological argument   Argument from degree · Argument from desire · Argument from the origin of the idea of God
Dogmatic arguments   Argument from divine sense · Argument from uniqueness
Teleological arguments   Argument from design · Banana argument · 747 Junkyard argument · Laminin argument · Argument from natural disasters
Testimonial arguments   Argument from observed miracles · Argument from personal experience · Consciousness argument for the existence of God · Emotional pleas
Transcendental arguments   God created numbers · Argument from the meaning of life
Scriptural arguments   Scriptural inerrancy · Scriptural scientific foreknowledge · Scriptural codes
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