Philosophy of Religion

Chapter  5 Arguments for the Existence of God: Experience

Section 7. Miracles


I. Introduction

II. The Questions

III. Problems with Miracles

IV. Final Questions


I.  Introduction

The Argument from Miracles

1. There is an event that has taken place that violates the laws of nature.

2. If the laws of  nature are violated it could only be by a power that could violate the laws of nature that could only be the power that would have created those laws-the law maker, the deity.

3. Thus, the power that would have created those laws-the law maker, the deity must exist.

Many but not all of the religions of the world have as part of their traditions claims of Miracles. The Miracles have different forms and play different roles within each religion. The religions of the West have many things in common that have a bearing on the way in which they view Miracles. They share in being religions of the holy book or sacred text. They place importance on events which have been reported to have occurred in history. They rely on the existence of Miracles. The events which are reported to have taken place in the time of Moses are key to the acceptance of the idea of the One God for the peoples of Israel and all who follow after them. The events during the times of Jesus, the Christ, are also the basis for the acceptance of Jesus as being the Son of God by the followers of Jesus. The spread of Islam is also an event regarded as miraculous and a proof of the legitimacy of the claims of Mohammed. So, Miracles are important for the Western religions.

The Miracles have served as the foundation for the historical proof of the existence of the God of the western religions. The leadership of the religions of the West do not want miracle taken lightly and do not want false claims of miracles. These religions will often be the first to investigate claims of miraculous events in order to disprove them! The concern is that if people come to accept the claim of a miracle and it later turns out to be disproved, then those who had come to believe in it might come not only to stop believing in that particular "miracle" that had been disproved but in all other such claims and thus might come to loose their faith altogether. The fear is that people would think something similar to this: "If I could be fooled into thinking this recent event was a miracle, then what about those people long ago who reported experiencing a miracle? Could it be possible that they too were deceived? Or mistaken?"

 Current cinema offers several movies that have miracles as their theme.  A few have a member of a church sent to investigate the legitimacy of a claim of a miracle.  The movies are for entertainment and most of these films result in some sort of confirmation for the audience.  In real life it does not work out that way.  Claims of apparitions and cures are usually quickly dispelled by investigators.

II. The Questions

The questions are:

1. What exactly are Miracles ?

2. Do they prove the existence of a supernatural realm?    A deity? God? The supreme Being?

3. What does it take to prove that a miracle has taken place?

4. Could it ever be proven that a miracle had taken place?

 III. Problems with Miracles

  1. The Problem of Definition

Exactly what constitutes a miracle is a matter for careful consideration , given the importance of the reports of such events, should they be correct and truthful.

A miracle is an event believed to be caused by interposition of divine intervention by a supernatural being in the universe by which the ordinary operation of Nature is overruled, suspended, or modified. The term is derived from Latin word miraculum meaning "something wonderful".---From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia  READ Miracle

A. Unusual or Extraordinary Event

Some consider any unusual event as a miracle or at least an unusual event with a positive outcome, e.g. winning Lotto. Negative events with less probability (being hit by lightning, three separate times) are not considered as miracles. This is a very weak use of the term "miracle" .

This can not be the basis for a proof for the existence of God because unusual events occur all the time and have explanations using natural factors.

Surviving an auto accident is NOT a miracle .  This event happens often and has an explanation using the laws of nature.  Such survivals do NOT violate the laws of nature.

If surviving an auto accident were to be considered a miracle because GOD brought it about then so would DEATH be a miracle because if GOD determines who survives such an accident so too does GOD determine who dies!  However, we do not hear people say :  He died in the accident!  It was a miracle!


There are many happy events.  Winning Lotto, surviving a crash and surviving a disease.   They are not miracles in the sense that we need for an event in order to use it to prove that there is a supernatural being. 

There are particular problems with HAPPY EVENTS being called a miracle.


  • A.         A person survives cancer.  The chances were 1 in 50.

  • B.         A person survives a car crash.  5 other people were killed in the crash.

 The survivals are happy events but if the survivals are miracles and indicate that a deity is behind them and caused them then the deity also caused the deaths of the 49 from disease and the 5 from the crash.  Those deaths would be miracles as well. Most would not want to call them miracles. 

To accept some event as being a miracle in order to use it to prove the existence of a supernatural being we must satisfy two conditions:   1. the event must violate the laws of nature and 2.there must be clear and indisputable evidence which compels us to accept that the event took place just as reported

Falling Down:

It is highly unusual for someone to die from a fall of less than 4 feet, say off of a chair or step stool.  It is highly unusual for someone not to die after falling over 10,00 feet.  BOTH events have happened.  People fall off of a chair and hit their heads and die and people fall out of planes and live.  We call those who live after an unusual fall a miracle but not those who die after an unusual fall.  If we call the event a miracle because it is so unusual and not at all what was expected why not call the event of someone's dying after falling off of a chair a miracle?

The following events appear on lists of world records and not as miracles.

 Highest Jump or Fall WITHOUT a Parachute

1. "Lieutenant I. M. Chisov of the former Soviet Union was flying his Ilyushin 4 on a bitter cold day in January 1942, when it was attacked by 12 German Messerschmitts.  Convinced that he had no chance of surviving if he staged with his badly battered plane, Chisov bailed out at 21,980 feet.  With the fighters still buzzing around, Chisov cleverly decided to fall freely out of the arena.  It was his plan not to open his chute until he was down to only 1000 ft above the ground.  Unfortunately, he lost consciousness en route.  As luck would have it, he crashed at the edge of a steep ravine covered with 3 ft of snow.  Hitting at about 120 mi/h, he plowed along its slope until he came to rest at the bottom.  Chisov awoke 20 min later, bruised and sore, but miraculously he had suffered only a concussion of the spine and a fractured pelvis.  Three and one-half months later he was back at work as a flight instructor."     Hecht, Eugene. Physics: Calculus.  2nd ed. United States: Brooks/Cole, 2000.  p 85

2. Flight Sergeant Nicholas Steven Alkemade was on a bombing mission over Germany on 23 March 1944 when his  Lancaster bomber flying at 18,000 feet was blazed apart and in flames when he was forced to jump, without a parachute or be burned to death. He dove out of his destroyed aircraft hoping on a quick death. His speed accelerated to over 120 miles per hour and he impacted on a snow covered sloping forest. He was completely uninjured and later captured by the Germans who refused to believe his story.  (     

3. The longest survivable fall, 26 January 1972,  was Vesna Vulovic a stewardess in a DC-9 which blew up at 33,330 feet. She was in the tail section of the aircraft and though injured survived the fall. 

There are other such survivals at lesser heights.  You might want to call these falls and survivals "miracles"  but most people do not do so.   

B. No explanation

Some consider events for which there are no explanations as miracles. It isn’t clear whether this would mean no explanation at the present time or no explanation possible. This can not be used as a proof for the existence of God because these events could receive a completely naturalistic explanation in the future after science has advanced.

It is possible that events could be explained by advanced science. It is even possible that events that appear "miraculous" because there is no explanation at present could be the result of aliens with advanced technology causing them to occur here on this planet.

Medical cases are not good cases for miracles because there are too many alternative explanations and they are almost always NOT violations of the laws of nature.  Medical doctors and scientists do not know everything.  Common place events today would have been thought to be miracles in the past (over 100 years ago).  Therefore, simply because a medical diagnosis or prognosis proved to be inaccurate or incorrect, there is insufficient evidence from that to conclude that the event could only have been caused by the Single Supreme Being-GOD.  Take for example heart resuscitation.  Reviving a stopped heart is not a miracle.  Bringing a person to full life appearance from what was thought to be death is not a miracle.  Curing a person of influenza is not a miracle.  Restoring a person's sight through surgery is not a miracle.  These would have been thought to be miracles over 100 years ago but no longer.  So, if someone who is very sick or thought to be dead turns out not to be dead or becomes well, those are no longer miracles. 

A miracle can NOT be simply an unexplained or rare event , those happen often and as time goes on we learn more and can explain more and come to know how often people are hit by lightning and win LOTTO.  To be a MIRACLE an event must VIOLATE the LAWS of NATURE.  People getting well do not violate the laws of nature.  The best medical knowledge can only give percentages, as in , a person with ovarian cancer has a 40% survival rate with surgery and radiation treatment.  Some survive and some do not.  If someone survives it is not thought to be a miracle but that they have had a reversal of the disease process due to surgery or medication or radiation or mental focusing of the bodies regenerative powers or a combination of those factors.  Why do some survive and others do not?  Well there are different body chemistries, different mental attitudes etc...  If you think the person who is cured is cured because it is a miracle brought about by GOD then why not consider those who die as dying as a result of a miracle as well.  GOD wanted them dead and so they are.  People who win LOTTO may think it is a miracle or God's will.  People who lose LOTTO do not think of it as a miracle or God's will.  The factors in play with LOTTO are the same for winners as for losers.  Likewise with physical ailments.

Some people think that a recovery from a physical ailment would not be evidence of a miracle because there is fate or destiny working. e.g.: "I would not think of that as a miracle because that person I guess that it was not the time for him to die and that's why he got saved, because if it is your time to die no one will be able to save you. "

To think this way requires that  you believe in FATE or DESTINY. If so,  what determines your FATE or DESTINY? If it is a deity or deities then you are already a believer. But, what evidence is there that there is FATE or DESTINY? What evidence or proof is there that there is a deity?

Can you give an example of a miracle that would be an event for which there are no alternative explanations but that it is the work of the Single Supreme Being (GOD) and that is because it is clearly a violation of the laws of nature that no other power could bring about?

C. The Requirements of a Definition of Miracles

What is needed is a definition that is strong enough so that the events claimed to be Miracles would establish the existence of a supernatural and very powerful entity, i.e. , God.

What is needed is an event that could ONLY be caused by God. This event can have no other possible explanation! So, what results is the strong definition of Miracles .

Miracles are events which violate the laws of nature itself. This is an event that could only be caused by the author of those laws. It can not be an event which has no present naturalistic explanation, for in the future there might be one. It could not be caused by advanced technology possessed by advanced alien societies.

  1. The Problem of Verification

Not all who learn of the reports of such Miracles accept them as conclusive evidence for the existence of a supernatural reality or spiritual beings. Many have attempted to give alternative accounts of such experiences that do not involve acceptance of the existence of any supernatural entities or reality.

Naturalism is an approach to religious experiences and Miracles which explains them as being the result of natural forces. It accounts for such phenomena in natural terms without recourse to anything that is beyond the physical realm. In general, all reality and all experiences can be accounted for (fully explained) in terms of physical processes.

There are different explanations for the origin and nature of religious experiences and Miracles. What they have in common is the rejection of a supernatural source or object and the attempt to offer a full explanation in empirically verifiable terms.

READ: Examining Miracle Claims by Joe Nickell  originally published in the March 1996 issue of Deolog This article covers such phenomena as: magical images, relics, divine experiences (speaking in tongues, serpents, stigmata and apparitions),and faith healing.


3.   Examples of Miracles

  1. Creation of the Universe
  2. Miracles in the time of Moses
  1. Burning Bush
  2. Staff into snake
  3. Plague of locusts
  4. Plague of frogs
  5. Nile from blue to red
  6. Death of children of the Egyptians
  7. Parting of the "Red" sea

C.    Christ

  1. virgin birth
  2. wedding feast-water into wine
  3. walking on water
  4. cures of the blind, deaf, lepers
  5. multiplication of the loaves and the fishes
  6. raising the dead-Lazarus
  7. Resurrection

D.    More recent phenomena

  1. statues that bleed
  2. paintings that cry
  3. stones that drink milk
  4. apparitions on walls, floors, windows, bagels!


  1. Creation of the Universe – universe has always existed-cycling over and over again-in and out- one big bang after another
    B. Miracles in the time of Moses

i     Burning Bush – hallucination- heat distortion-mirage effect-

ii    Staff into snake – trick done as well by other Egyptians

The natural disturbances caused by the explosion of Santorini caused a number of strange and dangerous phenomena across the Mediterranean coast of Africa.  Moses took them as signs that his deity wanted the Jews to be let go.  Moses used them as warnings to Pharaoh to be used with his petition to let the people of Israel go from the land of Egypt. .  They took place before Moses went to Pharaoh but in the retelling it is exaggerated and it is reported that they took place after the warnings.

Exodus related Events- called miracles

The idea that the events described in the Bible related to the Exodus might have occurred in a manner somewhat similar to the description in the bible and as a result of natural phenomena has been advanced by many natural scientists using the techniques of archeology, history, geology and scriptural studies.  Bringing together many artifacts and archeological evidence with several current theories a coherent hypothesis is presented for an explanation of the biblical account that involves events resulting from a volcanic eruption.  Most recently The Exodus Decoded(2006), a two-hour documentary by award-winning Israeli-born filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, suggests that the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt as recounted in the Bible occurred around 1500 BCE, about 230 years before the date most commonly accepted by contemporary historians and identifies the ancient Israelites with the Hyksos, a Semitic people living in Egypt at that time who, according to the program, suddenly fled the country en masse.

“The earlier date of the Exodus proves key to Jacobovici's thesis, as it places it at the time of the cataclysmic eruption of the volcano on the Greek island of Santorini, the linchpin to many of the theories proposed. Citing documented modern parallels such as the 1986 Lake Nyos disaster in Cameroon, he believes that much of what the Book of Exodus describes can be explained by a chain reaction of natural phenomena, triggered by the Santorini eruption and a related earthquake. The 10 plagues that smote the Egyptians, according to the Bible, are explained in the documentary to be the result of a volcanic eruption on a Greek island that occurred 3,500 years ago.

He even has a ready answer for the slaughter of the firstborn by the angel of death: It was a lethal cloud of poisonous carbon monoxide gas released by the geological upheaval.

Of course, the most dramatic event recorded in Exodus is the parting of the Red Sea, a scene immortalized by Cecil B. DeMille. But while revealing ancient carvings and hieroglyphics that he argues support the Old Testament account, Jacobovici again offers a scientific explanation. Suggesting that the biblical reference to the "Red Sea" is actually a mistranslation of an ancient Hebrew word which meant "Reed Sea" – a now-dried body of water – he hypothesizes that the seismic activity caused by the earthquake may have temporarily raised a land bridge for safe passage and the pursuing Egyptians were the unfortunate victims of perfectly-timed tsunamis approaching from the Mediterranean.

Jacobovici also speculates on the true location of Mount Sinai and uncovers a gold trinket overlooked among other ancient artifacts in an Athens museum which he believes depicts the legendary Ark of the Covenant. --‘Exodus Decoded,’ l By David DiCerto 8/11/2006 Catholic News Service

iii  Plague of locusts –caused by debris from eruption of volcano on Santorini (Atlantis)

iv   Plague of frogs caused by debris from eruption of volcano on Santorini (Atlantis)

v    Nile from blue to red - caused by debris from eruption of volcano on Santorini (Atlantis)

      vi    Death of children of the Egyptians - caused by bacteria and viruses that were spread by insects and vermin that moved into the city because of the  debris from eruption of the volcano on the island of  Santorini (Atlantis?) The Egyptians lived in the "city" while the slaves were kept apart and out near where the work was required.  If you can accept that it is POSSIBLE that the stories in the bible are perhaps a bit exaggerated or distorted over time then what happened may be such as this:

The natural disturbances caused by the explosion of Santorini caused rodents and other pests and insects  to move from the river banks of the Nile towards the inhabited areas and with them they brought a disease that caused death amongst the weakest of the Egyptians-small children and the aged.  The waters were also poisoned by the falling dust from Santorini carrying poisons to animals and humans.   Many families had only one child.  So it would be exaggerated that the first born were selected to die.   Animals died as well as infected by and as carriers of the disease. They could also be infected from poisons in the waters that were contaminated by the falling dust from Santorini.   The Jews were being held in captivity working on structures away from that city and were spared the infections.  Moses used this as still another sign that his deity favored the Jews and that it indicated the Egyptians should let the Jews leave.

vii    Parting of the "Red" sea –caused by tsunami as a result of the eruption and sinking of the island of Santorini-first the waters are "retracted" by the implosion and seismic activity and then they return as a tsunami wave.

  1. Christ
  1. virgin birth – a lie devised by Mary and her cousin, perhaps with Joseph's approval, to cover up becoming pregnant by boyfriend Joseph.  A unmarried woman pregnant would be scorned or worse by the Jewish community at that time.
  2. wedding feast-water into wine –Jesus innocently discovers there are other urns filled with wine during the wedding reception.  There is no more wine for the guests on the tables.  Jesus indicates there is more wine.  Bride’s father didn’t want to admit that he was keeping his best wine hidden away  and then said it was just water only to be found out by Jesus instructing servants to bring the urns for inspection and so the bride's father lied to cover up his cheapness and said it was a miracle.  Jesus would not want to embarrass him by claiming it was otherwise.
  3. walking on water – mirage or low tide
  4. cures of the blind, deaf, lepers – psychological effect- placebo effect
  5. multiplication of the loaves and the fishes – people had the food hidden in the garments and bags and didn’t want to share with the others as was the custom of the day.  When they began to offer the few loaves and fishes available people took out their own concealed food and even offered some into the baskets for general distribution.
  6. raising the dead-Lazarus – mistaken pronouncement of death-Jesus enters the cave and finds Lazarus prone and wrapped but with a pulse and revives him.
  7. Resurrection--Jesus found in cave by his followers after the crucifixion.  He was presumed to be dead.  When they arrived they find that he is not.  Fearing that the Romans will kill him if they find out they remove him from the cave and he is taken away to another town by followers and given another identity- Story of his resurrection and ascension made up by his followers to gain more supporters and avoid the Christ  being hunted and killed.   The gospels tell of the fear of the Romans of such a plot and therefore the placing of the stone to prevent the "stealing" of the body.  This might have been added into the story as a denial of what actually occurred.  The gospels also tell of Jesus meeting with his closest followers and discussing matters of succession and their continuing the mission of reform.  The idea that this was after the death of Jesus rather than after the disappearance of Jesus may have been another alteration for the sake of gaining supporters for the new path for life that would now support the promise of a life after death with the tale of Jesus returning to life after @ 48 to 70 hours of being kept away from others after being taken down from a cross.
  1. More recent phenomena
   xv. statues that bleed – have been determined to be faked Weeping Statues

  xvi. paintings that cry – have been duplicated by researchers Weeping Paintings

  xvii.  stones that drink milk –(India)- found to be faked

  xviii.  apparitions on walls, floors, windows, bagels! – nothing but a coincidence of a suggestive shape-simulacra, are identified by the brain with some prior image or pattern such as:

  • “appearances” of Jesus on walls, windows, bagels, floors although they are NOT the same image or depiction of the same face!!!
  •  How does anyone today know what Mary or Jesus or any one form long ago looked like?

See further:

Examples of Recent "Apparitions" and Claims of Miracles or are they?

ix. READ Stigmata- are these appearances of wounds similar to what people believe are the wounds of Jesus Christ brought about by natural or supernatural causes?

READ  Examining Miracle Claims by Joe Nickell at

VIDEO critical of Miracles:

Penn and Teller miracles 

Penn and Teller exorcism


You cannot claim that "miracles exist unless someone proves that they do not exist."  The burden of proof is always on the claim that X exists rather than on the claim that X does not exist. It is a fallacy to claim that X exists unless you prove that there is no X.  What is improper is for a person to claim that "X exists" and when asked to prove it the person who made the claim uses as a defense of "X exists" the claim next claim that no one has proven that X does not exist.

IMPORTANT!!!!!    READ: The Burden of Proof

What is the best way to proceed when there is a report of some appearance of a religious figure on a wall or pancake, etc...  Should the process favor a more natural explanation until proven otherwise?
The best explanation would be the one that has the best fit with facts or the explanation that is best supported by claims that are themselves each well supported by other well supported claims.This is a process of explanation that rests heavily on the use of reason and the insistence on evidence to support claims about physical events or a physical state of affairs.  So any appearance of any phenomena that is detectable by the senses should have an explanation concerning how the physical state of affairs has come about to produce that appearance to human senses.  The burden of proof concerning physical claims is with those making the positive assertion.
The explanation must also avoid the pattern of thinking that if one cannot prove that X is not the cause then X is the cause.  One can not appeal to the absence of evidence or proof as constituting the basis for any conclusions.  If one cannot prove what caused phenomenon P then one must withhold accepting the conclusion that any particular cause C is the cause of P.
If there is a claim that phenomenon N (natural event-perceived by the senses) was caused by factor S (supernatural cause) then there needs to be evidence to support the claim.
So the explanation of an event such as the appearance of a figure resembling what someone thinks of as a figure from religious history would need to have evidence to support it.  In the absence of physical evidence, then the preponderance of the evidence is support of explanations of phenomena of a similar type might be given "preferred" status until subsequent evidence supports another conclusion.
Using the resort of a supernatural explanation has so many "gaps " in that it is less preferred in the absence of strong evidence in support of a naturalistic explanation or the holding of the expectation of a naturalistic explanation to be forthcoming. The supernatural explanation has no physical evidence (natural) to support it and no explanation of how it is that non-physical entities cause physical events in the natural realm.
There is also the very important question to be answered in this particular case of why it is that anyone alive thinks that they known just what Mary looked like.  Why assume that the image is the image of any particular historical or or mythical entity?  This is a case of a simulacrum.
The use of the reasoning pattern :
If you can not explain the event or phenomena by use of a natural explanation then it is a supernaturally caused event involving the spiritual or supernatural beings A B, C, etc...
is both illogical and generated by and rests upon faith that is held to sustain hope.  This is a habit of mind that is quite strong as it has consequences thought to be beneficial by the holder of the habit.


1.   The Argument from Miracles

1. There is an event that has taken place that violates the laws of nature.

2. If the laws of  nature are violated it could only be by a power that could violate the laws of nature that could only be the power that would have created those laws-the law maker, the deity.

3. Thus, the power that would have created those laws-the law maker, the deity must exist.

The criticisms of this argument or proof attack the first premise.  What evidence is there that there has ever been an event that has taken place that violates the laws of nature.  What would be required to establish that such an event has , in fact, taken place?

Philosopher David Hume was skeptical about claims of miracles.  In his An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section X "Of Miracles," (1748), Bobbs-Merrill, Library of Liberal Arts edition) he held that : forms a strong presumption against all supernatural and miraculous relations that they are observed chiefly to abound among ignorant and barbarous nations; or if a civilized people has ever given admission to any of them, that people will be found to have received them from ignorant and barbarous ancestors, who transmitted them with that inviolable sanction and authority which always attend received opinions (Hume, 126).

His position is simple and direct:

A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.(Hume, 122):

and again:

There a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation.(Hume, 122):

The conclusion would be that :

no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish. (Hume, 123)

Hume maintains that the preponderance of the evidence will always be hat the laws of nature are being followed. Any claim that there has been a violation of those laws would need to be substantiated (supported) by clear and convincing evidence. Since there is so much evidence that the laws are not violated, any claim to the contrary would need to have a good deal of evidence to support it. Hume does not believe that such evidence exists, has ever existed or could ever exist!!!

Evidence in support of Miracles would need to satisfy the following criteria:

  1. sufficient number of witnesses
  2. witnesses of good sense and education
  3. witnesses of integrity and good reputation
  4. public performance of the miracle event

These conditions have not been satisfied.

Hume argues that Miracles do not occur and that there is a logical obstacle to humans ever proving that events are Miracles .

Richard Swinburne:

Swinburne believes that :

  1. evidence does exist that Miracles can occur
  2. evidence does exist that Miracles can be the result of a deity, of God

The event must be contrary to the laws of nature and with no evidence that it could be repeated under similar circumstances. The event must be seen as the result of the intervention or action of a god who is not a material being.

Swinburne concludes that there is no logical impossibility in there being an event that satisfies his conditions. He does not offer evidence that any such event has ever occurred. He only argues that Miracles could occur.

J.L. Makie:

Makie argues that there are epistemological reasons why there will be no substantiation of a claim that Miracles have taken place. That there is no justification to believe in Miracles .

For there to be a proof of Miracles two conditions need to be satisfied:

  1. proof the Miracle event has occurred
  2. proof that Miracle event violated the laws of Nature

Makie’s point is this:

That there is so much proof against satisfying condition 2 that if you satisfied condition 1 there would be the claim that the event did not satisfy condition 2. If you had an event that would clearly satisfy condition 2  it would be near impossible to satisfy condition 1.

Let's look at his.

First , if condition 1 is satisfied the event does not satisfy condition 2.


A painting has an image that cries or a statue is bleeding or someone is cured of a physical illness or someone is brought back from the dead- now let's stipulate that there was water on the painting and blood on the statue and that the person was ill and now is not and that the apparently dead person is now alive.  OK Condition 1 is satisfied there are the actual events.  But in none of these cases were the laws of nature violated because they all have alternative explanation involving hoax, fraud, natural remissions and a premature and inaccurate pronouncement of death

Second,  if condition 2 is satisfied then condition 1 would not be.

Here is what that means:

Someone describes an event that would violate the laws of nature and claims that it did occur. People think about that event and agree that if it did occur it would be an event that does violate the laws of nature . Now they go to check out whether the event actually did occur.  The evidence that they want is not present.

So condition 2 was satisfied in the DESCRIPTION but condition 1 was not satisfied with EVIDENCE.

For example:

Someone reports that a human had an arm sliced off completely at the shoulder and it fell to the ground and lay there with blood dripping out while the human had blood spurting out of the arm socket and then 30 seconds later a new arm grows down from the shoulder socket with a hand and all other component parts . The new arm is completely grown in 60 seconds is as the old one was that is still lying on the ground. The DNA in the cells of the new arm match that of the human.  This event would violate the laws of nature.  This would be a miracle. But did it actually happen? 

Now the people who hear the report go to look for evidence and they do not find the old arm. Or those who witnessed the event cannot produce the old arm There is no videotape of the event either.

Condition 2 is satisfied but not condition 1.

If there was severed arm produced along with the intact human and the severed arm matched the DNA of the intact human then the investigators would want to insure that the human was not one of identical twins or triplets and the arm was not taken from the body of another of the twins or triplets.


J. L. Mackie’s “Miracles and Testimony”

Summary by Meghan Ramsay (QCC, 2004)

In his essay, Mackie follows David Hume’s argument that while it may be logically possible for a miracle to occur, it is seemingly impossible to prove that one has in fact occurred.  Mackie asserts that miracles are a special instance where one may not simply take another’s word for it that the event has occurred.  Instead of questioning whether or not the witness of a miracle is credible, Mackie argues that one must, instead, question how fundamentally probable or improbable the event is.  Mackie argues that we are quite able to discern the laws of nature—we have a fundamental set of basic laws upon which we develop other laws in order to describe how the world works when left free of supernatural intervention.  Additionally, Mackie argues that an occasional violation of the laws of nature is also a law, as through these occasional violations, we discover new laws.  Mackie states that not only does a miracle have to be the intervention of a supernatural being upon a closed system (the world) which brings about results that would otherwise be highly inconsistent with the working laws of nature, but this miracle must also have the purpose of directly fulfilling the intention of a supernatural being.  He argues that successful prophecy could be seen as a miracle.  For instance, if at 12:00, one predicts an event and the event occurs at 12:02, we could, at 12:03 investigate the evidence of the prediction.  If the event did not occur as a result of the prophecy or in an accidental manner, then most likely the event was a miracle.  Thus, Mackie concedes that the concept of a miracle is a coherent one.   

Mackie asserts that when discussing a miracle, the law of nature that is supposed to have been broken must be a solid law for both the believer in miracles and the non-believer.  The believer needs the law to be well established in order to claim that the event has, in fact, broken a law.  At the same time, the non-believer needs the law to be well-established in order to argue that it is absurd to believe testimony that the event actually took place.  Since the believer must accept the fact that the law is well-established, s/he must also accept the fact that the violation of said law is immensely improbable.  Therefore, aside from testimony, we have an extremely strong basis for believing that the event did not occur.  Thus, the testimony has the insurmountable task of overcoming the “maximal improbability” that the event occurred.   

Mackie lays out two lines of defense for those who deny miraculous occurrences:   

  1. The event occurred, but it was in accord with the laws of nature.
  2. The event, had it occurred, would have violated the laws of nature.  However, the evidence cannot outweigh the incredibly strong improbability that said event has occurred. 

Thus, Mackie argues, it is incredibly unlikely that one could believe that a miracle, as previously defined, has occurred.   

Finally, Mackie touches on the idea that perhaps one has witnessed a supposed miracle and does not have to rely on the testimony of others.  For such an occurrence, defense number one is still valid.  Additionally, due to the fact that one can misremember, misobserve, and deceive ones’ self, the actual witnessing of a miracle is still subject to the rigorous burden of proof needed of testimony in defense number 2.  

Mackie, J. L.  The Miracle of Theism.  London Oxford University Press, 1982.


Richard Swinburne:

Swinburne argues that:

  1. it is plausible that there is a God- a supreme being
  2. it is plausible that God would reveal god’s own existence
  3. it is plausible that god would confirm the revelation by Miracles

There is reason (a priori) to believe and expect that God would reveal god’s existence to humans, that God would want humans to know( in some primitive manner) that god does exist. Therefore, there is reason to believe that revelation does occur and that it is confirmed by Miracles and that Miracles that are predictive are primary examples of the Miracles that would confirm the Revelation.

Swinburne, Richard.  “For the Possibility of Miracles.”  Philosophical Quarterly.  18.  (1968). 

Summary by Meghan Ramsay, QCC 2004

Swinburne looks for historical evidence as proof for the existence of miracles in 2 steps.  First he questions whether there could be evidence of a violation of natural law.  Swinburne asserts that something occurring that defies prediction based upon natural laws does not automatically constitute a miracle.  He argues that the event must also be non-repeatable under similar circumstances, for if an event can be repeated we would have to institute a new law of nature or, at least, revise the existing law to include an exception under certain circumstances.  Thus, Swinburne concludes that if an event defies the laws of nature as we know them and we are unable to revise the laws or create new ones that will consistently predict similar such events, then the original event is indeed a miracle.   

The second aspect of Swinburne’s argument relates to proof.  Contrary to Hume (who argued that proof would be testimony of witnesses which would be finite), Swinburne argues that historical proof for a miraculous event would consist not only of testimony of witnesses but also a study of the effects of said event.  He claims that one would have to experiment to see what other event, if any, could have caused the same effects.  Thus, for Swinburne, proof is easily infinite.   

However, in order for an event to be a miracle, it must also have been caused by a god.  Swinburne argues that if an event that violates the laws of nature in a way so that the event is similar to actions that a human is capable but occurs when no human is making such actions, the event must have been performed by a rational agent without a body (god).  Additionally, Swinburne points out that if an event occurs as a direct response to prayer to a god, there is additional proof for the existence of that god.  While Swinburne argues that it is logically possible for a miracle to occur, he does not specify that such an event has. 


“Miracles and Revelation” by Richard Swinburne 

Summary by Meghan Ramsay (QCC, 2004)

In his essay, “Miracles and Revelation,” Richard Swinburne begins with the assumption that the existence of a God is possible and that this God has revealed himself to humanity in order to provide people with the knowledge of how to worship him and gain his favor in the after-life.  In fact, since these things are not discernable through the natural world, Swinburne argues that God is, in some way, expected to reveal these truths to mankind.  Swinburne argues that in order for a prophet to convey the message of a God, sometimes the message will have to be conveyed through the truth of the time period, in order for it to be on the same level as the recipients of the message.  For instance, if God wanted to convey the message that he controls the orbit of the earth to a society which perceives the earth as flat with a dome over it that contains the sun, moon and stars, he might do so in a manner that accepts their belief in the flat world.  Otherwise, their whole “scientific” world could be shattered when they find out that not only does God control the planet’s orbit but that the earth is also round.  Swinburne argues that it is the message that is important, not the history and science surrounding it.  Swinburne also argues that although the history and science surrounding the message does not have to be wholly true, the message which the prophet is claiming as a direct communication from God must contain no falsity.  Additionally, Swinburne argues that the message must be “deep,” so as to provide men with moral instruction in regards to things that are not readily apparent.       

For a prophet’s message to be true, it must be examined and found to be in line with events or our own moral inclinations, otherwise the prophet must be rejected.  Additionally, if one thing that the prophet says is true, there is a further likelihood of the rest of his/her claims as true.  However, this is only slight evidence, for one can conceivably teach things that are both deep truths and at other times teach falsities.  Although some of what a prophet claims can be easily proven true or false with evidence that is readily available, there are times when a prophet might convey things that are beyond our capacity to obtain independent verification for.  One such instance occurs when prophets speak of life after death, which many of them do.  Swinburne admits that we must still use evidence in order to determine the truth of such a claim, and he provides what is acceptable evidence through analogy.  Swinburne likens the prophet to a messenger who visited the king of a far off land in the days prior to the technology that allows for speedy communication of messages and quick travel.  When the messenger returns with a message from the king there are certain evidences that could show that the message did indeed come from the king.  For instance, the message could contain a prediction of a future event which the king would have control over but the messenger would be unable to influence.  Additionally, the messenger could return with an item that could only have been given to him by the king so as to prove that the messenger met with the king.  Analogously, the prophet can prove him/herself by predicting a future event that no human who has not received a message from God could predict, i.e. an event that defies the laws of nature.  Additionally, the prediction would have to be of an event that occurred by the hand of God, thus a miracle.  Additionally, the prophet could evidence his/her revelation if his/her life were to coincide with miracles that would justify his/her teachings.   

Finally, Swinburne gives evidence showing that God would become incarnate through a prophet.  He states that the quality of the prophet’s life as a human shows a God-like pattern.  The prophet must behave in the manner that God would behave in, were he to be limited by the constraints of human-hood.  Although one cannot be certain as to in what way God would live as a human, Swinburne argues that this life would certainly have to be one of holiness and sacrifice.  However, Swinburne points out that many men lead holy and sacrificial lives.  Thus, the prophet’s life must also be one in which s/he can work miracles of his/her own volition, and that the end of the prophet’s life must be in some manner that violates natural processes (i.e. the resurrection of Jesus Christ).    

Swinburne, Richard.  Faith and Reason.  London Oxford University Press, 1981. 



So event X is reported to have occurred.


If event X can have either a NATURAL CAUSE or SUPERNATURAL CAUSE it can NOT be a MIRACLE

Why not?

Because a MIRACLE is defined to be an event that can ONLY HAVE a SUPERNATURAL CAUSE.


Because then it can be used to prove that there is a SUPERNATURAL BEING aka GOD.

Anyone who wants to claim X is a miracle needs to satisfy the  two conditions presented above for an event to be accepted as a miracle.

The BURDEN of PROOF is on defending that X is a miracle and not the other way around.

Yes, people choose to believe that events are miracles even though they do not satisfy the conditions and even though there is evidence against the events being miracles and even though if the reports were true it would not necessarily mean that the event was the result of the Supreme Being bringing about the events.

In LOGIC it is shown that you can never prove a general negative claim.  Those that assert the affirmative have the burden of proof within the community of reasoning beings.  This goes for claims that there are purple elephants with yellow stripes, that there are miracles and that there is a single Supreme Being.  MIRACLES are very, very difficult to prove.  So difficult that several philosophers have concluded that there have been none thus far.

To be a miracle an event would need to violate the laws of nature.  For any report to be accepted the evidence would need to be pretty convincing and all alternative explanations would need to be ruled out (completely eliminated)!  That is a very difficult thing to do.  The evidence would come from witnesses but the more unbelievable (violating the laws of nature) the event was the more we would doubt the witnesses.  Given the lack of reliable witnesses and the inability to completely eliminate all other possible explanations (fraud, delusions, greed, optical illusions, advanced technology, alien activities, etc...) miracles are not accepted by most rational people.

READ  this overview of Miracles from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy





D.  Joe Nickell, Examining Miracle Claims:

E. Spontaneous Remissions in Medicine


Weeping Statues

Weeping Paintings



Pareidolia  c


Miracle pictures in Islam

Virgin Mary on Wall

Virgin Mary on Toast $28,000

Nun Bun or Mother Theresa Bun stolen


Miracle Tortilla


Solving Mysteries - Exploring the Science of Miracles

Luigi Garlaschelli  Liquifying Blood –Stigmata-Shroud of Turin

PENN and TELLER: Signs from Heaven

DERREN BROWN: Miracles for Sale Faith Healing

Miracle Detectives - Mysterious Oils: Skeptic Meets a Believer



Miracle Detectives - Holy Dirt of Chimayo: Healing Testimony


Quranic miracles debunked.


Are there reasons to think that the reports of Miracles are not reliable?

Can the reports of Miracles be accepted as being true?

Can Miracles ever be verified?

Do claims of Miracles need to be authenticated?

Can reports of Miracles be used as support for a belief in a deity, the supernatural realm?

Outcome Assessment

This argument or proof does not establish the actual existence of a supernatural deity.  It attempts to argue for the existence of such a being by offering evidence that is highly questionable and for which there are alternative and often more plausible explanations.  While the argument can not be used to convert a non-believer to a believer, the faults in the argument do not prove that there is no god.  The Burden of Proof demands that the positive claim that there is a supernatural deity be established by reason and evidence and this argument does not meet that standard.  The believer in god can use this argument to establish the mere logical possibility that there is a supernatural deity or at least that it is not irrational to believe in the possibility that there is such a being but the argument does not establish any degree of probability at all when there are alternative explanations for the reports of experiences offered.  The veracity of the reports has not been established.


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