What would count as evidence of miracles? Abiogenesis, Evolution, Cosmic Origins

I think the question of God and miracles is formally undecidable by mere mortals. Entering the Kindom of Heaven requires some degree of child-like faith because we are not omniscient and thus we have to assume on some level, some things which we cannot formally prove.

So, that said, it seems to me each person has their standard for what would count as evidence of miracles, God, the Christian God, etc.

I called into an atheist TV show known as the Atheist Experience. I spoke to ex-evangelical-turned-militant atheist Tracie Harris. I was particularly interested and captivated by her deconversion story so I asked her specifically some questions.

I raised two accounts of blind people being healed. The first account was this by creationist Astronaut Charles Duke who walked on the moon years ago:

In his book Moon Walker pages 271-273:

I have seen miracles of healing, miracles of deliverance as demons fled in the name of Jesus, and wonderful manifestations of the love and power of God, just like in the Bible.

One such instance was at a military prayer breakfast in San Antonio, Over the years I have spoken for a number of prayer breakfasts–conventions, states, cities, and military. During this particular meeting held at Fort Sam Houston, there was opportunity for ministry following the program. A number of people came up for prayer; one was a young girl and her father.

The father explained, “My daughter’s eyesight is failing. She has this disease and is declared legally blind. All she can make out are shadows and shades of light. The doctors say that within a month she will be totally blind.”

General Ralph Haines, who had organized the breakfast, and I laid hands on this young girld and asked God to heal her eyes and restore her sight. After the prayer, they thanked us and left. Nothing seemed to have happened–no-miracles-so we continued to pray for other who were waiting in line.

A few minutes later, this same girl came running throught the back door of the NCO Club, joyously happy! She was screaming at the top of her lungs, “I can See…I can see… I can see!” Everyone stopped what they were doing while she came running over to us to explain what had happened.

and this account in John 9 in the New Testament:

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

I asked Tracie, hypothetically, if these were accounts were true, and if she were the young girl in the story, or the blind beggar, and were healed, would she believe and serve Jesus the rest of her life. I said, “yes”, she said “no.”

She said, “I’d want to figure out the mechanism and get everyone healed.” I was actually shocked at her answer. To me, if God granted grace, I would follow Him. To her, the right thing would be to take that technology and heal everyone. Since I hold to reformed theological views, I tend to think we should be grateful for when God spares us from wrath, but Tracie echoes the common view that God ought to make the world a happy place if He has all this power, so by way of implication, the events of such statistically improbable miracles can’t be miracles of God in the ultimate sense, but rather miracles of indifferent nature. That’s not exactly what she was saying, but in conveys the sentiments of many people in general with respect to statistical miracles.

So this leads to a question for Christians also. If they accept that Jesus fed the 5,000 and rose from the dead, if they accept those account based on human testimony alone, they are accepting violations of natural law (more properly, normative expectation). One is faced with the possibility these accounts are fictions. After all, even the great Evangelical Albert Mohler was duped by the human testimony of CJ Mahaney, so how much more should one be skeptical of claims about history based on human testimony 2000 years ago! One might appeal of course to religious/spiritual experiences, but these are only available to the individual, they could be delusions, and they certainly aren’t amenable to laboratory experiments.

Some have said, they would accept miracles if they could demonstrate them in the lab, but by definition repeatable mechanisms aren’t miracles. Further more, if one can tell God what to do, when, and how, and how many times at the whims of the experimenter, then the experimenter is greater than God! There is a certain logic to this as far as believability, but the problem is that if the is God who is Lord of the universe, evidence is provided at God’s discretion, not according to human whims. If someone displeases God, He just might let them wallow in their delusions and not give them evidence of His existence:

Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness – 2 Thes 2:11-12

So then we’re left with issues like abiogenesis, evolution, solar system evolution, galactic evolution, cosmic evolution. Did these happen by slow God-made processes or were they the result of miraculous instantaneous acts of special creation like God turning water into wine, feeding the 5000 by creating matter de novo (a violation of the 1st law of thermodynamics).

Ok, so let’s suppose hypothetically these WERE miracles of instantaneous special creation rather than God working through natural processes. At what point would anyone decide, “this looks like a miracle.” There is a comparable issue with the search for the aether. At some point the quest ended for some. The same might be said for a naturalistic solution to the question of abiogenesis, eukaryotic evolution, solar system evolution, galactic evolution, cosmic evolution.

Some fine chemists like James Tour and Marcos Eberlin and even Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley don’t think abiogenesis agrees with the normal operation chemical principles in a pre-biotic environment. How exceptional must an event be before a miracle of God is accepted as the cause of the event. Again, I’m suggesting we think of the question on the hypothetical assumption the event was a miracle. I think the answer for some would be, “well if were a miracle, I’m just going to be wrong because I’ll keep looking for natural answers.”

Those were the sentiments of Robert Shapiro, who ironically, inspired a lot of ID and creationist researchers:

some future day may yet arrive when all reasonable chemical experiments run to discover a probable origin of life have failed unequivocally. Further, new geological evidence may yet indicate a sudden appearance of life on the earth. Finally, we may have explored the universe and found no trace of life, or processes leading to life, elsewhere. Some scientists might choose to turn to religion for an answer. Others, however, myself included, would attempt to sort out the surviving less probable scientific explanations in the hope of selecting one that was still more likely than the remainder.

I do not find that story plausible. I also find the concept of “military prayer breakfast” disturbing. And it shows, if anything, that God is capricious in rewarding his followers, which is not a good attribute. Finally, the story would be more convincing if the young girl were missing a leg. Do you have any like that?

Man, before the Alabama-Duke game Saturday at the CFA kick off game they made us stand and pray. I may be a Christian and I was disturbed by that.

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For what? Which side was God on?

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Not a missing leg but a shortened one that got lengthened instantly at a prayer meeting. Miss America 1980, Cheryl Prewitt. She reports her leg was miraculously lengthened in a prayer service. She was in a car accident and walked around highschool with a limp, and then after getting healed, she entered a beauty contests and eventually became Miss America.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1980/05/27/cheryl-prewitts-born-again-american-beauty/0ef867a5-ac68-4274-b387-6391d215a877/

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, the glory of Kings is to search out a matter. Prov 25:2

Thank you for you comment, John, but on the assumption the story happened to you, hypothetically would you serve the Lord Jesus from that day forward? Or what if what happened to Cheryl Pruitt happened to you, would you serve the Lord or would you need more evidence. I don’t fault skepticism, and that’s a great quality to have as a researcher, but, me personally, at some point, if atheism offers me lower expected value (as defined by Gambling theory), I’ll wager on Christianity.

Do you think what you do is serving the Lord Jesus? And please, not Pascal’s Wager; you’re embarrassing yourself.

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Some of the rewards are deferred for the next life, so it’s not as capricious as it seems (at least according to reformed theology).

This momentary light affliction is build for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison 2 Cor 4:17

The most extreme example being the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus:

The Rich Man and Lazarus luke 16
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

Also, the hiddeness of God is to maximize the humiliation of certain people in the final day. 1 Cor 1

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being[d] might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

What is the definition of a miracle? How does one objectively determine if an observed event qualifies as a miracle?

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Ah, another claim conveniently immune from evidence. I suppose it comforts you, but it’s hardly an argument to convince anyone else, if that’s what you’re trying for.

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To quote Lloyd Blankfein, “we’re doing God’s work.”

But the essential point of the essay is “what is the criteria one will use to decide if something is a miracle of God, especially if one doesn’t see the miracle in real time with our own eyes in the 21st century?” The Christian faith asserts many miracles of this sort starting with the resurrection of Christ!

If a Christian will accept the miracle of the Christ’s resurrection and Christ’s miracle that violated the 1st law of thermodynamics (the feeding of the 5000), why is it outrageous to think then that life is a miracle in the same sense of violating the accepted priniciples of physics and chemistry operating in a random pre-biotic environment and evolving thereafter.

For me, and speaking only for myself, I find the miracle of the life strong corroborating evidence for the existence of a Creator claimed in the Bible. John Sanford’s work suggested to me that humanity is young, thus corroborating the genealogy of Christ as indeed an inspired historical writing. If the fossil record is young and is caused by a flood, this corroborates Noah’s flood, and thus strong evidence the rest of the Bible is inspired.

Maybe the theoretical models based on empirical observations aren’t formally provable, but to the extent they become believable, they make the miracles of the Bible more believable.

Going back to Ohno’s nyloase claim. What was there for me to gain if Ohno was right? Nothing. Besides, it’s moot now since it appears Ohno was wrong. Those are my sentiments regarding abiogenesis theory and evolutionary theory and the age of the fossil record.

I think it’s more credible that you’re doing Voldemort’s work, driving people away from Christianity. But you do you.

However, the fossil record is not young and was not caused by a flood, which shows that Noah’s flood didn’t happen (or was a much smaller thing than Genesis claims). Your ability to entertain that notion diminishes, in fact destroys, any credibility you may hope to have. You admit your biases, but you don’t seem to realize that they make you unable to judge the evidence.

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@John_Harshman you can make your point without accusing anyone of being in league with the devil. Please edit.

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This thread was mostly, but not exclusively directed at Christians. The issues is should Christians restrict claims or hypotheses of miracles to only those reported in the Bible?

One might argue the Bible teaches life is a product of miraculous instantaneous special creation, but suppose one doesn’t immediately accept that interpretation, is it fair game to postulate that life is a miracle of God to the extent that it violates the principles of chemistry in a pre-biotic environment? Is it fair game to postulate common descent, if it happened, necessarily required miracles such as in the emergence of eukaryotes and then the emergence of multi-cellular animal life?

And if I may point out, accepting the Christ rose from the dead is a bit of a God-of-the-gaps argument. One might say,

well, it’s obvious a lot of people believed Christ rose from the dead, and it can be challenging to explain the accounts in a naturalistic way, even though embellishment and myth making might be good explanations, some of us believe it because it would seem to require a miracle.

Afterall many Christians accept the existence of the New Testament as a God-of-the-gaps argument, as in, “I don’t think there is a natural explanation for the origin of the New Testament in terms of myth making, therefore Jesus rose from the dead.”

I’m just pointing out, if one is a Christian, one already invokes God-of-the-gaps to some level. That is, after all, why people believed miracles of healing were of God rather than natural coincidences.

I do not think the Ressurection invokes God of the gaps.

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Might I suggest that you are free to posit miracles unless there is evidence, perhaps massive evidence, to the contrary? The universe, earth, and life are ancient. Miracles that contradict that are either untrue or assume that God is deceptive.

No, it’s a God of the “no physical evidence would be expected, yes or no” sort.

Do they? Are you sure?

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FWIW, the material I’m discussing here is a warmup round to material I’m presenting soon to my church’s regular Creation forum. A good fraction of the Creationists came from background as theistic evolutionists. I myself was a theistic evolutionist. But because I was open to the possibility of miracles, when I heard even atheists like Fred Hoyle highlighting the miracle of life, and no more recently world-class evolutionary biologist Eugene Koonin, the hypothesis that the abiogenesis/origin of life event is a miracle became even more compelling.

Not quite sure how ignoring the huge amount of scientific evidence which directly contradicts your young Earth / Noah’s Flood / Noah’s Ark claims constitutes “doing God’s work”.

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@stcordova, maybe you are starting to ramble? Too long-winded and you get yourself in trouble. What could you possibly mean by the above statement?

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@stcordova, maybe you are starting to ramble? Too long-winded and you get yourself in trouble. What could you possibly mean by the above statement?

Christians accept the testimony of the gospels. They accept as accurate that Jesus then rose from the dead, and that his rising from the dead is not a natural event. Some skeptics have attempted to explain the resurrection in naturalistic terms because they found it unlikely that the gospel accounts were fabricated.

There is a similar issue regarding the healing of the blind. I asked Tracie Harris, hypothetically if she would follow Jesus if healed like that. By way of implication, people who believe the account and believe the events are miracles of God rather than coincidences, believe there is a gap that naturalism can’t bridge. It is not a gap of knowledge, though atheists like Harris suggests it could be.

From Dave Snoke:
http://www.christianscientific.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/gaps.pdf

What I’m saying is, though many theistic evolutionists say they aren’t using God-of-the-gaps reasoning, they actually are.

Uh, no. That is totally imagined reasoning being imputed on others.

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