Evidence and Miracles

Can there ever be sufficient evidence for a miracle? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I saw someone recently post something on Facebook critiquing Hume’s argument against miracles. In a comments section, the part being discussed was the idea that no amount of testimony would be sufficient to establish a miracle and a wise man always goes with the evidence. This is similar to the kind of argument that Ehrman has given against miracles.

At this, a question must be asked. Is the person really saying that no amount of evidence could ever confirm a miracle? Does this sound ridiculous to you? I wish it was, but unfortunately, a number of atheists have made statements about what they would consider to be sufficient for a miracle.

In A Manual For Creating Atheists, Peter Boghossian has said that if we all went outside one day and saw all the stars align to spell something like “I am YHWH. Believe in me”, that that could be suggestive. He does not rule out that we could be experiencing a mass delusion though.

Or consider Jerry Coyne:

“The following (and admittedly contorted) scenario would give me tentative evidence for Christianity. Suppose that a bright light appeared in the heavens, and, supported by winged angels, a being clad in a white robe and sandals descended onto my campus from the sky, accompanied by a pack of apostles bearing the names given in the Bible. Loud heavenly music, with the blaring of trumpets, is heard everywhere. The robed being, who identifies himself as Jesus, repairs to the nearby university hospital and instantly heals many severely afflicted people, including amputees. After a while Jesus and his minions, supported by angels ascend back into the sky with another chorus of music. The heavens swiftly darken, there are flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, and in an instant the sky is clear. If this were all witnessed by others and documented by video, and if the healings were unexplainable but supported by testimony from multiple doctors, and if all the apparitions and events conformed to Christian theology—then I’d have to start thinking seriously about the truth of Christianity.” Faith vs. Fact p. 118-119

Note the wording here. Coyne would say he has “tentative evidence” and only then would he have to start thinking about the serious truth of Christianity. In both of these cases, none of this would count as sufficient evidence. If this was not sufficient for something, one has to wonder what would be sufficient.

So what if Hume does say no amount of evidence will ever establish a miracle? Then we have a sort of presuppositional argument going on. It is decided whatever the evidence is, the evidence is insufficient. Now if that is your position, why bother studying something like the historical evidence for Christianity? Why bother listening to a case? Why should a Christian even bother giving a case?

So then, if no amount of evidence is sufficient, then the evidence really isn’t the problem. If your position will not be changed by evidence, then your position is not really based on evidence. It’s based on a prior commitment.

And what if evidence can be sufficient?

Then Hume’s argument fails again. On the one hand, we have an argument that doesn’t work if there can be sufficient evidence. If there can’t be, then we have an argument that has just begged the question. Either way, it doesn’t work.

Now does this mean a miracle has occurred or Christianity is true or Jesus rose from the dead or God exists? No. Those have to be established on their own. It does mean the position given is insufficient to argue against miracles. Defenders of miracles will have to be ready with the evidence to establish them, but if the skeptic says no amount of evidence will be sufficient, there is no use trying.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Liked it? Take a second to support Deeper Waters on Patreon!