MIRACLES ARE POSSIBLE AND JESUS’ RESURRECTION CAN BE COUNTED AS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT

Introduction

It does not take much for one to realize that the Bible is saturated with miracles. Both the Old and the New Testament show several cases of miracles. If the believer view miracles as normal in a context where God is present, they, nevertheless, represent a stumbling block or an obstacle that prompts the unbeliever to reject the Scriptures. The deists believe that modern man would more readily accept the Scriptures if they were void of miracles. They see miracles as embellishments that the biblical authors inserted into the texts to make their case.

The atheists consider miracles as impossible since the universe is the ultimate reality. But if miracles are impossible, Christianity is false since its veracity is based on the occurrence of a particular miracle event, namely the resurrection of Jesus. In this paper, I will consider some arguments against the occurrence of miracles and produce counterarguments in favor of the plausibility and credibility of miracles. In so doing, I will present some evidences in support to the resurrection of Jesus, which can only be explained as a miracle.

 

Miracles: Arguments and counterarguments

 

Miracles violate the laws of nature

The way miracles are defined has a lot to do with the acceptance of their occurrence. Often times, miracles are defined as a violation of the laws of nature. Since these laws are considered immutable, it follows that a miracle would be a violation of a natural law. In addition, when the universe is understood as the ultimate reality, it leads to the belief that its laws are fixed and immutable. Consequently, any supernatural activity is naturally impossible. Such view of the laws of nature has been informed initially by a deist worldview and later by a naturalist perception of the universe where it is governed by immutable laws that cannot be thwarted. The former view has been promoted by Benedict de Spinoza who argued that: “If some events contrary to these laws could occur, then the divine will and knowledge would stand in contradiction to nature, which is impossible. To say that God does something contrary to the laws of nature of nature is to say that God does something contrary to his own nature. Therefore, miracles are impossible.”[1]. Spinoza’s argument against miracle, on the basis of their violation of the natural laws if they were to occur, is backed up by some naturalists who believe that no unusual events can be identified as a miracle because the concept miracle is itself not coherent. Among them is Alistair McKinnon who claims that the idea of suspension of natural law is self-contradictory. His argument is developed as follow[2]:

  1. Natural laws describe the actual course of events.

  2. A miracle is a violation of a natural law.

  3. But it is impossible to violate the actual course of events (what is, is; what happens, happens).

  4. Therefore, miracles are impossible.

 

The problem with this argument is twofold. First, it introduces a conception of natural laws as unalterable from the standpoint of their describing what occurs normally or naturally. Since they describe what happens regularly, they are concerned with regularities.  But when reference is made to a miracle, it is usually presented as an event that does not happen on a regular basis which make it an irregularity. Consequently, a miracle cannot be understood as a violation of a natural since they do not belong to the same category. A natural event is a regularity and a miracle is an irregularity. Since they are two different entities, they cannot be assessed by the same standard. It’s like comparing the ability of man to think and that of a dog. While the later can sometimes think before making a move, man belongs to a different category. Therefore, they cannot be compared objectively.

Second, modern science has proven that laws of nature are not immutable. Laws of nature are considered today as descriptive rather than prescriptive. They don’t tell us what must happen but rather what usually does happen. In this context, they are statistical probabilities, not unchangeable facts[3]. If it is true that it is impossible for immutable laws to be violated, thus ruling out the possibility of miracles, it makes a world of difference when the laws of nature are understood as statistical probabilities. Therefore, they do allow the possibility of the occurrence of miracles.

Miracles are contrary to human experience

Another common argument against miracles is that they are contrary to human experience. For some people, it is just not possible to prove that a miracle has occurred. This is contrary to their experience, what they are used to or what they have heard and seen. Some even argued that what people call miracle is just what their ignorance does not allow them to understand. For there was a time where natural events were understood as miracles but it is not the case today considering scientific progress. David Hume who argues against the occurrence of miracles made the following argument[4]:

  1. A miracle is the violation of the laws of nature.

  2. Firm and unalterable experience has established these laws.

  3. A wise man proportions his beliefs to the evidence.

  4. Therefore, a 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. 

 

Like Spinoza and McKinnon, Hume asserts that a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature. He contends that these laws are well established by human experience. Hume’s argument is in fact based on what is usually observed, namely uniform experience. And no evidence should be able to stand against that. Hume, cited by Michael Licona, stated that[5]: “The uniform experience of the overwhelming majority of people is that they have never witnessed a miracle. This uniform experience amounts to a proof”. Consequently, any evidence against uniform experience must be rejected as false. Following his argument, no miracle would provide enough evidence to be accepted by the wise man because it is not part of the ordinary or day-to-day life.

For Hume’s argument to be valid, he would need to know about all non-uniform experiences or all the evidences leading to them to support the belief that a miracle is impossible. Citing Pannenberg, Licona wrote that[6]: “Surely most of the supernatural claims would be found to be untrustworthy. But before making any absolute observation that no miracles have ever happened, someone would have to investigate each report. It only takes a single justified example to show that there is more to reality than a physical world”. It is easy to note the anti-supernatural in Hume’s argument. He will not even bother looking at the evidence for non-uniform experiences.  Geisler & Brooks emphasize it this way: “That is like saying you shouldn’t believe it if you won the lottery because of all the thousands of people who lost”[7].

           

The skepticism about miracles can be justified by the fact that people who have not experience such a thing may find it difficult to believe that they are true. Greg Gilbert asserts that[8]: “We’ve never experienced anyone walking on water or turning water into wine or rising from the dead, so we begin with an assumption that those things don't – indeed, can’t - happen”. Indeed, a miracle is an irregular event, but rejecting beforehand the evidence in relation to the event without even considering them is the mistake that Hume has made.

Hume’s argument is based on events that are predictable because they have occurred in the past and consequently, we may expect them to happen in the present and in the future. But John Lenox posits that Hume is not consistent in his assessment of the uniformity of nature[9]:

Just because the sun has been observed to rise in the morning for thousands of years, it does not mean that we can be sure that it will rise tomorrow. This is an example of the problem of induction: on the basis of the past experience you cannot predict the future, says Hume. But if that were true, let us see what it implies in particular. Suppose Hume is right, and no dead man has ever risen up from the grave through the whole earth’s history so far; by his own argument he still cannot be sure that a dead man will not rise up tomorrow. That being so, he cannot rule out miracle. What has become of Hume’s insistence on the laws of nature, and its uniformity? He has destroyed the very basis on which he tries to deny the possibility of miracles”.

           

One of the flaws with Hume’s argument is the fact he based the possibility of miracles on what science can observe today in relation to the laws of nature. But, it happens that with scientific progress, events that were not understood yesterday are explained today. D’Souza posits that[10] : “When we speak of miracles, we could mean either an extremely rare event that is nevertheless scientifically possible, or we could mean an event that somehow contravenes the established laws of nature”.

As indicated earlier, the problem may lie in how a miracle is defined at the first place. Once we admit the existence of God, the possibility of miracles cannot be ruled out. Geisler & Brooks define miracles as: “A divine intervention into, or interruption of, the regular course of the world that produces a purposeful but unusual event that would not have occurred otherwise”[11]. That definition implies that the laws of nature are not violated with the occurrence of a miracle but that the latter is an unusual event orchestrated by God.  Consequently, the high frequency of the occurrence of some events is not necessary an argument against a miracle due to the low frequency of its occurrence. Frequency of occurrence or antecedent probability should not be confused with the weight of the evidence.

Arguing against the weight of antecedent probability in the rebuttal of miracles, Licona asserts[12]:” The failure of billions who have not returned from the dead only warrants the conclusion that the dead are not raised by natural causes. The Christian claim is not “Jesus is risen by natural causes. “The claim is Jesus, the Son of God, is risen” or “God raised Jesus from the dead”. Once God is included in the equation, the plausibility of miracle is to be considered.

Miracles are the lot of people of questionable character and education

           

Some argue that only religious people with questionable character and education support the possibility of miracles. It is true that miracle-claims abound in environment or context charged with religious significance. But that does not make miracles implausible. Hume believes that the trustworthiness of people who make miracle claims are questionable. But his assertion is based on the character of the witnesses not on the miracle itself. He argues that there is never a sufficient number of witness of good character and miracles abound among the ignorant[13]. Hume does not provide a convincing evidence to support such claim for he would need to be able to assess the character and the level education of all the people who made miracle-claims around the world.

 

If we try to confront Hume’s assessment of the veracity of a witness account based on the character of the witness, we see that it does fit the profile of the people in the New Testament who claimed to see the resurrected Jesus. All the disciples are reported to be men of integrity. They set themselves as an example to be imitated by their contemporaries. Some did not have a lot of education, but others were scholars; one of them was a doctor. Citing Craig Blomberg, Lee Strobel, in The Case for Christ, wrote: “We simply do not have any reasonable evidence to suggest they were anything but people of great integrity. We see them reporting the words and actions of a man who called them to as exacting a level of integrity as any religion as ever known”.

Regarding the miracles performed by Jesus, they were indeed extraordinary but they took place in front of many witnesses that have attested their occurrence, not just the disciples. Therefore, they can be investigated using historical method. Consequently, these miracles are credible to the extent to which the historical credibility of the Gospel is proven. While all religions claim miracles in support of their worldview, it is important to note that not all religions have historical evidence to back up their claims. Christianity has been proven testable. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a miracle for which evidence abounds. And it is also an evidence for the existence of God. For without God, there would be no explanation for the resurrection of Jesus. Once there is agreement on the existence of God the possibility of miracles to occur cannot be excused. Licona goes on to say that “if we are open to God’s existence, we will need to ask certain questions namely: 1) Is there good evidence that the event in question occurred? 2) Does a context exist in which we might expect a god to act? 3) Is there good evidence that those making the claim lied?”

In regards to the resurrection of Jesus, a number of historical facts would remain unexplained if it did not occur, among them can be cited:

  1. The empty tomb

  2. Jesus’ appearance to his disciples

  3.   The transformation of the disciples from doubters to bold proclaimers of the Gospel

  4. The conversion of Paul and James

 

Located in Jerusalem, the tomb of Jesus was easily accessible for anyone to see for himself if it was empty or not. Some said that the disciples went to the wrong tomb as an explanation for the empty tomb. The question that requires an answer is why the authority did not go to the right tomb and produce the body to the public to silence the resurrection-claim? Other said that the body was stolen by the disciples. If that were true, it is even more difficult to explain their willingness to die for a lie. And that surely does not explain the appearances.

It was reported that Jesus appeared to his disciples many times and on one particular occasion he prepared and ate breakfast with them which is a confirmation for a bodily resurrection. While it has been argued that the appearances mentioned in the Bible are nothing but hallucinations from grieving disciples, it does not explain group appearances since it is proven that they are not possible. Gary Habermas posits that hallucinations lack explanatory power for their inability to explain the empty tomb and the claim of the disciples that they have seen the resurrected Christ rather than a vision of some sort; they lack explanatory power and plausibility because the appearances happened to believers and unbelievers, individual as we all groups. Hallucinations don’t change lives.[14]

The transformation of the disciples is of great importance since they attributed it to the fact that they have seen Jesus alive. Contrasting the effect of hallucination and the transformation of the disciples, Paul Little said:” One might think hallucination is what happened to the disciples regarding the resurrection. The fact is, the opposite took place – they were persuaded against their will that Jesus had risen from the dead![15]” The life of the disciples of Jesus, particularly the apostles is evidence that something happened to them that drastically convinced them that their lives are worth being sacrificed for Jesus. Sean McDowell, in The Fate of the Apostles, affirms: “Their willingness to face persecution and martyrdom indicates more than any other conceivable course their sincere conviction that, after rising from the dead, Jesus indeed appeared to them[16]”.

Believers that are transformed because they claimed to have seen the risen Jesus is one thing, but for a skeptic or an anti-Christian militant the weight of the resurrection is overwhelming. Such is the case with James and Paul. I can imagine the situation of James being raised in the same household with a brother who believes that he is God. His skepticism is amply justified. The Bible says (John 7:5): “For even his own brothers did not believe in him”. Yet, he converted to Christianity and became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. Paul, himself, was bent on destroying Christianity. He persecuted Christians and even succeeded in getting some of them imprisoned and killed. Yet, on the road of Damascus he reported to have seen the risen Jesus and since then his life was dedicated to promoting the very message that he aimed at silencing at the first place. Robert Velarde contends that Paul’s conversion demands explanation. How is that such a vehement enemy of the cross dramatically changed sides? The best explanation of Paul’s conversion is that he really encountered the risen Christ as the book of Acts records[17]. The disciples did not die for a lie; this is contrary to human experience. They died for beliefs that they were convinced are true.

The historical facts in support to the resurrection answer Licona’s first and third questions namely: 1) Is there good evidence that the event in question occurred? 3) Is there good evidence that those making the claim lied? The second question “Does a context exist in which we might expect a god to act?” is equally significant.

The context surrounding the resurrection is charged with religious significance. It is a context where the person who is said to have been raised from the dead has made extraordinary claims in regards to his deity. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, therefore, equal to God (Matthew 16:16). That statement is the main reason why he was put to death even though he predicted it (John 10:33). Not only did he predict his own death but he also proclaimed that he would rise from the dead on the third day (John 2:19). Those claims made by Jesus set the stage for his resurrection to be interpreted as a miracle. Because, if he rose from the dead, he would thus be vindicated by God who acknowledges him as his Son.

Consequently, the resurrection was never to be understood as something that would occur from natural cause. Only the supernatural can serve as an explanation for such an event. A divine intervention is the sole explanation for the resurrection of Jesus which is also the miracle that is responsible for the birth of Christianity. Therefore, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is also an evidence in support to the existence of God. Geisler & Brooks define miracle as a divine intervention into, or interruption of, the regular course of the world that produces a purposeful but unusual event that would not have occurred otherwise. In this context, once there is an agreement over the existence of God, miracles ought to be considered as plausible. A miracle may not be fully grasped by certain disciplines or by means of a scientific method but nonetheless it may occur whenever God wills it. Licona is right when he says:” If historians cannot investigate the claim “God raised Jesus from the dead,” because “God” as the cause makes it a theological rather than historical matter, they likewise cannot say that it is improbable that miracles occur, since such a work of God is likewise a matter for theologians and philosophers”.

 

Lesly Jules, Ph.D.

 

____________________________________________________________________ [

[1] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 249.

[2] Norman Geisler, The Big Book of Christian Apologetics, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012), p. 325

[3] Norman Geisler, Ron Brooks, When Skeptics Asks, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), p. 77.

[4] Ibid., p.78

[5] Licona, Michael, The Resurrection of Jesus, (Downers Grove; Illinois; IVP Academic, 2010), p. 136

[6] Ibid., p. 143

[7] Geisler, Brooks, When Skeptics Asks, 80 p.

[8] Gilbert, Greg, Why Trust the Bible, (Wheaton, Illinois; Crossway, 2015), p. 106

[9] Lenox, John, Gunning for God, (Chicago, Illinois; Crossway, 2001), p. 169

[10] D’Souza, Dinesh, What So Great About Christianity, (Carol Stream, Illinois; Tyndale, 2007), p. 192

[11] Ibid., p. 76.

[12] Licona, Michael, The Resurrection of Jesus, p. 145

[13] Geisler, Brooks, When Skeptics Asks, p. 96

[14] Baggett, David, Did the Resurrection Happen. A conversation between Gary Habermas and Anthony Flew, (Downers Grove, Il; IVP Press, 2009), p. 125

 

[15] Paul E. Little, Know Why You Believe, (Downers Grove, Il; IVP, 2008), p. 70

[16] Sean McDowell, The Fate of the Apostles, (New York, London; Routledge, 2015), p. 2

[17] Robert Velarde, A Visual Defense. The Case For and Against Christianity, (Grand rapids, MI; Kregel, 2013), p. 87

 

Bibliography

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.

Geisler, Norman & Brooks, Ron. When Skeptics Asks. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996.

Norman Geisler. The Big Book of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2012.

Licona, Michael, The Resurrection of Jesus. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010.

Gilbert, Greg. Why Trust the Bible. Wheaton: Crossway, 2015.

Lenox, John. Gunning for God. Chicago: Crossway, 2001.

D’Souza, Dinesh. What So Great About Christianity. Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2007.

Baggett, David. Did the Resurrection Happen. A conversation between Gary Habermas and Anthony Flew. Downers Grove: IVP Press, 2009.

 

Little, Paul E. Know Why You Believe. Downers Grove: IVP, 2008.

McDowell, Sean. The Fate of the Apostles. New York, London: Routledge, 2015.

Velarde, Robert. A Visual Defense. The Case For and Against Christianity. Grand rapids: Kregel, 2013.

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