Miracles are a big topic. The skeptics dismiss then, faithful believe in them, many pray for them to occur in their lives. However, a lot of atheists seem to mis-define them. I was talking with an atheist friend who stated "By definition, a miracle violates natural law." By violate, I think he means "contradict." He isn't alone in that definition. The 18th century Scottish skeptic David Hume also sought to dismiss any claim of miracles as unreasonable in his Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding. He wrote:
A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as 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.1That definition has become popular with hose seeking to debunk any miracle claims. However, Hume was wrong. A miracles doesn't violate the laws of nature, it suspends them. That's a big difference. The suspension of a law isn't a violation; it's simply an intervention. If you were in your kitchen and saw an egg rolling off the counter, you would know that gravity will pull that egg to the ground. However, you can intervene and catch the egg to keep it from falling to the ground. You've exercised your power to stop what would by the laws of nature produce a mess. So if God can intervene in our world to keep a man from falling into the sea, allowing him to walk on water, we would see it as a miracle.
Some may object that the example above isn't fair. After all, catching an egg is just as natural as letting it fall. While this is true, the concept of intervention holds if the one intervening is not limited to the natural world. As an example, think about computer programs. If you are a programmer, you write a computer program to perform certain tasks in a certain order. Perhaps you are creating a shopping site and you wish customers to enter their names, address, credit card number, expiration, and card verification value (that little three digit number on the back of the card) before you process the sale.
You've created these rules and any time the customer checks out, they will always follow this pattern. But, as the programmer you sometimes have to test certain portions of your code. When you are running sample transactions over and over, it becomes too time consuming to enter all that information each time. Yet, because you are the programmer, you can choose to initiate your code at any point. You can write a script that will bypass all these requirements and process a transaction with no data whatsoever. Then, when you are satisfied with the code, you remove the test script and allow the page to function as it normally does.
"Back-Door Code" to the UniverseThere is nothing illogical about this kind of suspension of the computer program's rules. They weren't violated, they were bypassed. Similarly, God wrote the rules for how the world works. Therefore, he can write "back-door" code to bypass the normal systems and it is perfectly appropriate to do so. Just as a computer programmer can still not violate the operations of his programming language but suspend the laws of submit a blank transaction, so God can work within his own abilities and suspend the laws of nature to achieve his desired result.
Philosopher Richard Purtill defines a miracle as "an event in which God temporarily makes an exception to the natural order of things."2 That's a pretty good definition.
- A miracle is a temporary (the natural course of order will resume upon the miracle's completion)
- It is an exception to the ordinary course of nature
- It requires us to know what the limits of "ordinary course of nature" are.
References1 Hume, David. "Of Miracles. Part I." An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Bartleby.com, 1993. Web. 20 Jan. 2015. http://www.bartleby.com/37/3/14.html#12.
2 Purtrill, Richard L. "Defining Miracles." In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God's Action in History. By R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1997. 62. Print.