Wednesday, January 16, 2008

God Wouldn't Do Miracles

Even if a miracle occurs and there’s compelling evidence for it, what would that show?

Suppose I am confronted with what appears to be a miracle, and all of my earnest efforts to investigate it point to the conclusion that a genuine violation of the laws of nature has occurred. (Let’s leave Hume’s criticisms of these sorts of arguments aside for the moment.) This one really looks like it’s the real thing. What could be going on here, I wonder.

If God were attempting to demonstrate his existence to me I can’t see any obstacle to his doing so. Being all powerful and all knowing, he’d have no problem making his existence manifest if he wanted to. But miracles are always insufficient to this task. Somebody’s walking on water, someone coming back from the dead, healed sick people, floods that wipe out humanity don’t show that the origin of the event was omnipotent or omniscient. A less than all powerful, and less than all knowing being or force could have done it. (Just imagine that the being in question only has enough power to do this one thing, or only knows how to do this one and nothing else.) So the miracle I witness doesn’t show that God (the omni-God) exists. He would do a much better job than this if he was trying to demonstrate his existence.

Maybe God’s trying to accomplish some good in the world with this miracle, right some wrong, reward someone’s virtue or piety? But if God were attempting to accomplish good in the world, then there would be no obstacle to his achieving much more of it than any particular miracle accomplishes. Suppose that thousands of the sick get healed, or the hungry get fed, or the Red Sea parts to save the Israelites, or someone survives a plane crash, or someone has a baby, or someone wins the lottery. These miracles don’t accomplish nearly as much as God could if that’s what he’s up to. So this miracle is can’t be God’s trying to achieve good in the world. He would do much better than this if that was his goal. “Come on, God! Is that the best you’ve got? I’m pretty underwhelmed down here. . .”

Maybe he’s trying to punish the wicked. It’s frequently alleged that he does. Lot’s wife gets turned to pillar of salt for watching the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah when God commanded them not to. They say that Hurricane Katrina was sent to punish sinners in New Orleans. They say that HIV/AIDS is God’s punishment for homosexuality. Lots of people think that when they have a heart attack or a car wreck, God’s trying to tell them to change their lives.

But if God were attempting to exact some punishment or retribution through a miracle, then he wouldn’t arbitrarily single out one individual for some petty misdeed while ignoring so many others, particularly when the crimes of others are so grievous. Nothing stopped the Nazis. Lots of them fled to Argentina and lived out comfortable lives on the beach. Idi Amin died of old age, same for Pinochet and Pol Pot. And lots of completely innocent people have suffered horribly from natural events where God could have violated the laws of nature and didn’t. An omni-being could achieve vast, effective, balanced punishment if that was what he was trying to accomplish. So this miracle cannot be God’s attempting to punish. He’d do a much better job of punishing if that’s what’s going on here.

If God were attempting to accomplish anything unambiguous in the world, then he could. But this miracle is ambiguous. They always are. So this miracle cannot be God’s attempt to achieve any clear goal. He’d do a much better job of accomplishing a clear objective, if that’s what’s going on here.

So for any miracle I encounter, I would have to conclude that whatever is going on here, and whoever or whatever is responsible, it is not God. God doesn’t do miracles.

4 comments:

NamesAreHardToPick said...

It's interesting, but yes, what God doesn't do is just as fascinating as what God does. It does seem odd that some people attribute certain negative events as punishments from God, but then many who are evil continue to be successful. It is nothing but endless ad-hocism, but always makes one wonder why is it that people don't reflect on why these things occur this way?

Yaab said...

I don't follow your argument. What could possibly be more clear than an image of the Virgin Mary appearing on a piece of toast?

(Yes, this is a joke.)

Jon Morgan said...

For a start, one relevant word would be faith. Instead of having faith that God knows what he is doing, you assume that you are able to think like him, and that you know all his motives and so forth.

If you happen to read the Bible, you will find some of these questions discussed frequently - the Psalms and Habakkuk spring to mind.

trueandreasonable.co said...

"Being all powerful and all knowing, he’d have no problem making his existence manifest if he wanted to."

You should read about Jesus.

You claim to want more evidence. Yet it seems you have decided nothing could possibly be evidence of God.