Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Miracles Prove That There Is No God

Suppose that the miracle claims are true, and that Jesus, for example, did perform all of the miraculous feats that he is credited with. Typically, these miracles are taken as indicators that an omni-God exists. Here's the problem. Consider for a moment what sort of acts an omni-God would engage in. Being all powerful, all knowing, and all good, this sort of being will not act lightly. He would not make mistakes, he would not perform an act that did not accomplish exactly what he desires, in exactly the way he desires, and in the best possible manner. He wouldn't be unclear about the outcomes of his actions in any way. So if an omni-God were to act in the world, that action would be a perfect, flawless manifestation of that being's power, knowledge, and goodness.

Now consider some of the miraculous acts that are commonly attributed to God: Jesus is said to have walked on water, healed the sick, and resurrected the dead; Mohammed is said to have split the moon, and to have transcended directly into heaven, and so on.

This challenge has been put to theists concerning God's omnipotence: is God capable of acting in a way that would limit himself, such as by making himself not God, or making someone else God, or creating a challenge that he can't meet (like creating a stone that he cannot lift)? If he is, then there will be something he cannot do as a result of his action. If he is not capable of performing these kinds of actions, then, again, there is something he cannot do. So either way, God's power is limited and he is not omnipotent.

Theists like Aquinas and Plantinga have responded by pointing out that being omnipotent is having the power to do anything that is logically possible, or that does not involve a logical contradiction. All of these acts, they argue, are contradictory in some way. So these are impossible acts, and it is therefore no limitation on God's power to accept that he cannot do them. Thus it is widely accepted that the paradox associated with omnipotence conceived as the power to do anything is solved by understanding omnipotence as the power to do anything logically possible.

Now consider the purported miracles of Jesus and Mohammed above. Those acts were all minor, insignificant acts with regard to what an omni-God could do. That is, God is capable of doing far more than healing someone who is sick, or splitting the moon. He is alleged to have created the universe from nothing, after all. So it would appear that in those acts and all the purported miracles in history, God is acting far below his capacity. But it has been argued and widely accepted that an omni God wouldn't act in self-limiting ways. Doesn't that include acting in ways that are vastly beneath one's capacity? If I have a goal that I want to achieve, and I have means at my disposal to achieve it, it wouldn't make sense for me to only employ some of my abilities in a limited fashion to achieve that goal. I might act in a less than optimal way, applying some but not all of my knowledge, or some but not all of my power, if I don't understand all the relevant facts about the situation--I mistakenly think that the guy behind me in a marathon is too tired to catch me, so I don't push as hard as I could, but he's faking and he beats me, for instance. Or I lose the race simply because I don't have as much endurance as the next guy. Or I lose the race because I don't have the mental fortitude. But God won't have those limits in power, knowledge, or desire.

So it's hard to see why an omni God would act in such tiny ways. But it is easy to see why some lesser being, who is not God, might act in such ways. These miracles are the sorts of things that Vegas magicians would engage in. They are intended to impress by being flashy, provocative, and attention grabbing. These acts are localized, not universal the way an omni-God would act. These miracles are only seen by a handful of people (compared to the number of people that an omni-God could reach). These miracles leaves all sorts of doubts open and questions unanswered. In short, nothing about these acts suggest the infinite knowledge, power, and goodness of an omni-God. And everything about them suggests that someone of limited knowledge, questionable goals, and partial goodness like us was responsible. So it looks like that miracles, even if they were to happen, are actually evidence against the existence of God. The only sort of being that would perform such superficial party tricks is one who is limited in knowledge, power, and goodness.

So contrary to what most people seem to think, even if miracles do occur, the most they would show is that whatever is responsible for them it is not God.


Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be safe to assume that an omni-god fitting the mold of the Christian one could be engaging in miracles that seem "limited" or "less-than-optimal" to achieve some specific purpose beyond the obvious?

For example, why would Jesus merely heal a leper when he could at the same time remove all other infirmity from the leper, all body fat, tone his muscles, and throw in a new set of teeth?

A theist might reasonably argue that god's intent wasn't to make the leper's life perfect, but to help him out just enough that he will believe in the power without removing all the challenges of life.

After all, doesn't God purposely allow us to suffer for all sorts of reasons, both expressed and mysterious?

Perhaps miracles only seem less than optimal uses of power because we don't (or can't) understand the full rationale behind them?

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks Philomorph. This is a really interesting set of points. A couple of comments: Isn't it possible that an omni God could be acting below his capacity with some full rationale behind the act that we don't see. I suppose it is possible, although I am not sure what sense of possibility we are invoking here. I don't trust my gut to be a good guide to logical possibility, and if we are talking about natural possibility--what's likely given the laws of nature--then the hypothesis that there is some supernatural being that defies all natural law is certainly not probable. But back to the point: My argument has been that such party trick miracles underdetermine the existence of an omni being as their author. We can't infer the existence of an omni being from such an event, if one were to happen. It is often claimed that God could purposely allow suffering to acheive mysterious goals. But notice that this is not a point arguing for the existence of God. This is an attempt to reestablish the possibility that there could be one despite the existence of suffering. The problem of evil argument for atheism concludes that an omni being wouldn't allow all of these kinds of suffering. The theist comes back with, "It is possible that God has mysterious goals." But that's not a reason to think that there is a God or that he does have those goals. Possible doesn't equal probable. And the argument I am offering is that miracles, if there were any, would be much more easily explained, much more probable, on the hypothesis that the responsible agent is not an omni being. Maybe an omni being did them (supposing that they had happened) but that hypothetical explanation raises far more difficulties than the explanation that some sub-omni being was responsible. So the sub-omni being explanation is more probable. Far too often people engaging in this debate have slipped from asserting that "perhaps" God wanted X, and that God "could have intended" X, to thinking that they have successfully defended the conclusion that he did want X and that is why X occurred. There is a vast gap in the argument and the evidence between "maybe X is true" and "we have good, compelling evidence to think that X is true."

Anonymous said...

Please consider this: The intellect of mankind is limited to the 'natural', whereas god's intellect is 'supernatural'. None of us can possibly concieve of timelessness. We might think about what God was doing before He created the universes, before there was any people, etc., etc. But God exists in eternity. Our intellect's cannot handle eternity. God exists in the 'present' tense only. We need the 'past', 'present' and 'future', or, in other words,'time' to think logically. God doesn't "think": God knows. Everything.

I could go on and on, but the point is that it is entertaining to delve into mysteries, but, by definition, mysteries cannot be understood. Why try to understand the supernatural with only a natural intelligence?

God tried to tell us this in humanistic terms in Matthew 55:8,9 which says, in part, "...for My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts".

Faith, not reason, is apparently what God seeks from us. He gives us faith, if we will only accept it, but He did not give us supernatural reasoning powers.

Crux Australis said...

"Why try to understand.." and that, right there, is the basis of Creationism in particular. The answer, of course, is that, by understanding the processes we see around us, we can begin to control them. Fifty years ago, no-one understood why atoms are stable. Now we make transistors based on quantum uncertainty. One hundred years ago, no-one understood how the Sun could keep shining for so long. Now we make fusion reactors. Two hundred years ago, no-one understood what causes diseases. Now we develop vaccines and antibiotics to cure them. Understanding gives us the power to improve our world. That is why we should try to understand.

Anon97 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anon97 said...

Miracles are there to strengthen faith, what is learned from the miracle is just as important as the individual helped. If miracles are meant to rare occurrences, they wouldn't happen to everyone, and there wouldn't be as many witnesses as there are to the laws of nature - they wouldn't be spectacular.

Similarly you could argue that in the book "A course in Miracles," by Helen Shucman, a miracle is something that brings one closer to peace. That peace "that passes all understanding" is a central theme of the book, and its realization is inevitable. Our guilt and projections keep us from seeing peace and experiencing love. Miracles represent the removal of an obstacle to the awareness of that which is true.

It appears that a miracle are rationalizations that our mind makes up when faced with a truth that it cannot face, not a proof in divine providence.

Anonymous said...

"This challenge has been put to theists concerning God's omnipotence: is God capable of acting in a way that would limit himself, such as by making himself not God, or making someone else God, or creating a challenge that he can't meet (like creating a stone that he cannot lift)? If he is, then there will be something he cannot do as a result of his action. If he is not capable of performing these kinds of actions, then, again, there is something he cannot do. So either way, God's power is limited and he is not omnipotent."

Either God is bound by the rules of logic or he is not.

If he is not bound by the rules of logic then this argument will not bind him and he is truly beyond our understanding.

If he is bound by the rules of logic then yes he must work within those restraints. That is all these sorts of things "prove." But that is something we already *assumed* so what is the point?

Anonymous said...

You want bigger miracles. Raising yourself and others from the dead is not enough.

I think there is a reason why God does not make his presence always manifest. It would impinge on our free will wouldn't it?

Some argued that by making his existence known and his will known he has already impinged on our free will.

Isaiah actually raises this issue. consider the end of Isaiah 63 and Isaiah 64. He says if God would not remain hidden we would not sin. But because he remains hidden we do. I agree with that.

I think the point of not literally standing over us all the time is so that this life can reveal something about ourselves. Not to God but to ourselves. Its sort of a proof to us of our own nature and that his judgment is just.

Unknown said...

All I have to say, is first off, I am an atheist and don't believe in miracles. What my point is however, is that, let's say for arguments sake there is a God. Now something happens which is deemed a miracle. Now in my opinion, with there being a God, it would be no miracle at all. I feel that that is a contradiction.

Wouldn't that 'miracle' just be God being God? Or as I see it, like a man who once in a great while decides to lace his boots up and do some work for a change.

Dee said...

That's a good point Frank. However, how would you know if a miracle is a miracle or not if you cannot observe or define them? You may be witnessing miracles frequently but denying their validity because it doesn't fit with the reality you have constructed through experience and communal consensus.

On the other hand, If we as Christians define a miracle as "an extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore attributed to a divine agency." but then through the use of science, determine the mechanism of action that led to the events deemed a miracle, does it cease to be a miracle?

When I reflect on all the points from both sides of the argument I land at the question - Is there purpose and design to everything that happens or is it sporadic and coincidental/opportunistic?

Fresh Teacher said...

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