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. 

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