Thursday, May 10, 2012

Challenges from Atheists: How do you define "miracle?"

by Rob Lundberg
This is the third part of a series responding to questions and challenges that came from dialogues with atheists at March 24th's Reason Rally.

Whenever one finds themselves involved in a conversation with someone skeptical of religion or more specifically the Christian faith, the skeptic is quick to challenge anything that is in terms, “supernatural.”  By supernatural I am referring to something that cannot be explained in natural terminologies.

In the Christian context, the term “miracle,” is one that has supernatural connotations.  It is also a word that has lost much of its actual meaning in our present day.  Why is this?

Is it because we do not see miracles happening every day?  No.  It is primarily because our speech has evolved in such a way that if by the end of the month we hit a certain level of units sold that is “off the charts,” we would say that “it was a miracle that we made x amount of sales and are receiving y amount of bonus for our production.”   Or if you are taking an exam that you forgot to study for and you need a certain good grade and you get a passing grade you say “it’s a miracle.”  It very well mean that you knew just enough to get that grade without studying.

Definition of the word, Miracle.

 The term supernatural or miracle receive a lot of criticism, cynicism and even ridicule from folks like Richard Dawkins, James Randi and others.  Their groupies are the ones you and I run into every so often in our comings and goings and often times when we are challenged, we are pressed by our co-conversant to define this word, “miracle.” The biblical definition for a miracle is not a problem.  The first thing we need to understand is that not everything hard to believe can be considered or quantified as a miracle.  Miracles are those things that come from outside the natural realm and they are those acts that only a supernatural God can perform, because they supersede natural laws.

To give a definition from Baker’s Dictionary of the Bible, we see that a miracle is defined as “an event in the external world brought about by the immediate agency or the simple volition of God.”  The entry in the Dictionary also states that a miracle occurs to show that the power behind it is not limited to the laws of nature, the laws of matter, nor the laws of the mind, but that a miracle interrupts fixed natural laws.  They are “super”natural.

I also like C. S. Lewis’ definition of a miracle, who defines the word in his book, Miracles.  He says, a miracle is "an interference with nature by a supernatural power."  Obviously, to interfere with natural law may not necessarily mean to break the natural law.

In fact when a miracle occurs, nature and the super-natural realms have become interlocked, and nature carries on according to the change brought forth by the interference or the interruption. 

To give an example from the realm of science, let look at the law of inertia (vis-a-vis Newton’s first law of motion) which states that an object will remain at rest until an external force is applied. We look around us and see that things are definitely not in a state of inertia.  The material natural realm can only move from event to event through supernatural intervention.


We Christian theists believe that God has intervened in nature by its inception, that is He is the first Uncaused Cause of the universe and it is sustained and finely tuned  for our existence, by His preserving power.  Ultimately He will redeem it through the final act of intervention.

When we look at the creation and then look at the incarnation of Christ, we can see two perfect examples of supernatural inertia (another way of referring to a miracle).  We can also see the conclusion of these interruptions of inertia, not to mention their conclusion as well, beginning with His resurrection and His ascension and culminating in His imminent second coming.

It is God who interrupts the natural order of things, and it is God who is still in the business of working miracles. As thinking followers of the risen Christ, we wait eagerly for that greatest miracle of them all -- the redemption of all creation. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Challenges from 'Atheists': Is or Is Not Atheism a Worldview?

by Rob Lundberg

This is the second part of a series responding to questions and challenges that came from dialogues with atheists at March 24th's Reason Rally.

Not long ago I posted a link entitled, young Millennials losing their faith in record numbers on my Facebook page.  Apparently the comment stirred up conversation that provides the topic for this posting, and another response to the challenges that come from atheists.  This posting has to do with whether or not atheism is indeed a worldview.  The conversation sparked by one of my atheistic friends on Facebook,  stayed cordial.  However during the exchange, he made the following comment:

"You are aware that atheism is not a worldview.  You are aware that there are many world-views consistent with atheism." - J.S.

I would like to dissect this comment a little deeper in this segment on challenges that come from "atheists."  While my counterpart in the Facebook conversation does not identify themselves in the subset of what one would consider the "new atheism," he does bring forth a popular objection which displays a reductionist view of a worldview.  What makes it a reductionistic view of a worldview is seen in the comment that a worldview is that my commenter stated that a worldview is, at least in his thinking,

"a comprehensive view of the world.  This would include, among other things, a position of God's existence, a view of "aughtness" (sic), a view of the nature of things etc."

How does this break down?  While a worldview does address some of these things, the things that are brought into this comment have to do the categories of metaphysics.  Let me sustain my point here by referring to two points in his statement.  First is the reality of whether or not God exists or not.  Also in this category, comes his statement that worldview is "a view of the nature of things."  These things have only to do with the tertiary elements of a worldview.

Second, my atheistic commenter misses the mark with his statement that a worldview has to do with "aughtness."  I think he means "ought-ness."  This has to do with the question of ethics and morality, what is right and what is wrong.  Morals have to do what is deemed right and wrong by an individual or a group of people.  Ethics has to do with what "ought" to be no matter whether the individual or a group conforms to that standard or not.

So his definition of a worldview is an attempt to "swing for the cheap seats," how ever it goes well foul by not dealing with whether or not atheism is a worldview.  Let me say that atheism is a worldview, just as much as theism is a worldview.  Many atheists will try and point out that "religions" like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and other religions are world views.  Simply stated this is not true.  They are religions that have a worldview undergirding them.  Let me now sustain this for us.

What is a worldview?

To my atheist commenter's credit there are many definitions of one's understanding of a worldview.  However let it be pointed out that one short simple definition might have some facts that are true about a worldview, like it is a "comprehensive view of the world."  However this is not the only definition.  Let me give for us a definition that takes this issue of a comprehensive view of the world and expounds upon that.  By looking at the following definition by James Sire, we can see that what my commenter is saying is not the end of the ruler on defining a worldview and by using this definition we will be able to establish whether or not atheism, like theism is a worldview.

Here is the definition. . .

"a worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions, that may be true, partially true, or false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides that foundation on which we live and move and have our being".[1]

Another writer states that "a worldview is, first of all, an explanation and interpretation of the world, and second, an application of this view to life.  In simpler terms, our worldview is a view of the world and a view for the world."[2]

Let's apply this to theism and atheism?

Worldviews, in order to sustain their soundness, need to answer four questions whose answers must correspond with each other.[3]

Looking at the worldviews of theism and atheism, I think it is pretty clear they both have commitments to the orientations of the respective hearts.  Atheism commits to God's non-existence. Theism says that God exists.[4]  They both have their respective understandings about the basic constitution of reality.  Theism says it is realistic to believe that God does exist and atheism counters that with the negative, that God does not exist and that it is unrealistic for anyone to think that God exists.

Both theism and atheism seek to provide some sort of "foundation for which we live and move and have our being", whether or not my commenter wishes to go here with Phillips' definition of atheism having a view of the world and a view for the world.  Atheism surely tries to explain and interpret the world through its spectacles.  The problem that is that if we follow atheism to its logical conclusions it is quite unlivable, if those conclusions were to be lived out honestly.

What about the statement made by my commenter that Christianity is a worldview?  This is not the case.  If we were to look at two theistic religions, say Christianity and Islam, we would find that there are different tenets providing each of the religions understanding of God's existence that disagree with one another.  Some atheists wrongfully dump both Christianity and Islam in the same "worldview bucket." [5] Each hold to a theistic worldview, but they differ in their major tenets.  They are religions that hold to specific features of a worldview in the the category of what kind of God exists.  They believe that one God exists, but come to different conclusions.  They not only differ in their tenets but they differ in key areas of world views.


Atheism looks at things like God as non existent, ethics are relative, matter is eternal, and there is no need for salvation.  How an atheist lives their worldview is highly relativistic.  IF it is relativistic in morals then answering the question of living and moving and having one's being is on a slippery slope to meaninglessness and purposelessness.

Atheism answers question of origin by means of natural causation.  Meaning is grounded in subjective existentialism, in that the experiences of the individual are those things that bring meaning to the individual atheist.  Morality is subjective.  There can be no altruistic actions made by an atheist without it bringing personal pleasure for one's philanthropy or it brings a tax deduction.  The question of destiny is irrelevant to the atheist.

So is atheism a worldview?  How does it "explain and interpret the world?"  How does it explain the "basic constitution of reality?"  It does so differently from the theistic worldview and thus atheism is a worldview.  Q.E.D.[6]


1. James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1988), 17.  Even Wikipedia has a page that defines a worldview pretty well and can be found here at

2. W. Gary Phillips and William E. Brown, Making Sense of Your World (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), 29.

3. Those questions are origin ("Where do I come from?"), meaning ("Why am I here?"), morality (How can I change?") and destiny ("Where am I going once this life is complete?")  The answers to these questions must be logically consistent, empirically adequate, and experientially relevant.  If they are not then chances are there are some holes in one's worldview.

4.  By "God," I am referring to the personal, timeless, infinite, and immaterial cause of the existence and design of the universe.  This eliminates all the other deities that some atheists might like to bring into the "fight."  This definition does not refer to spaghetti monsters, nor any pagan deities that some like to throw into the mix.

5.  Another way of looking at this issue is by viewing it from how each worldview looks at God's existence, the make up and constitution of man, the issue of the need for salvation.