Words sometimes have more than one definition. For example, “organic” can mean “having to do with life” or “food grown without non-natural chemicals,” or it can simply mean “contains carbon.” But when justifying the unjustifiable, Christian apologists often need to invent new definitions that aren’t supported by the dictionary.
In part 1, we saw an apologist trying to deal with the reality that if God answers every prayer, his “answers” are indistinguishable from no answers at all. That he’s not even embarrassed by his predicament makes his handwaving no more convincing.
What is a miracle?
Let’s move on to another pious redefinition, this time for the word “miracle.” Our apologist this time is Jim Wallace, who recently analyzed the story of a claimed miracle. A couple in Tennessee had parked at their apartment and gotten out of their car. Only then did they notice three bullet holes in the side of the car and two more in the trunk. The wife soon found something else. One bullet had come through and lodged in her purse. Without the purse, that bullet might have hit one of them. Her interpretation of the purse stopping that bullet: “Just by the grace of God. It’s a miracle to keep me or him from getting hit.”
Wallace said, “When I was an atheist, I would roll my eyes at statements like this.”
I hear you. Why didn’t God stop the shooter in the first place? Or why didn’t he redirect the shooter’s life years ago so that he wouldn’t turn to violence?
Alternatively, if you imagine God saving this couple, what explains him not saving the other 10,000 people that die from gun violence in the U.S. each year? Your happy miracle story morphs into the problem of justifying God’s capriciousness. “God works in mysterious ways” won’t do—if you say that God performed a miracle in this case and had good reasons to let the bullets kill someone in another case, you must support that incredible claim with evidence.
Alternatively, why not just call this a coincidence, where a situation was bad but not so bad that anyone got injured? The naturalistic explanation (lots of gunshots are fired in public, and this just happened to be one of those situations where no one was hurt) explains all the facts. God performing a miracle is an unnecessary complication to the story.
But no, none of these interpretations are where Wallace wants to go. Now that he’s a Christian, he says that he’s reconsidered his position on miracles. He wants to label as “a miracle” events like this injury-free shooting.
You say that you don’t accept miracles? Wallace argues that all naturalists accept miracles. Here’s his argument.
1. The Big Bang is the standard explanation for the origin of the universe.
2. The Big Bang tells us that the universe—that is, space, time, and matter—had a beginning.
3. “Everything came into existence from nothing.”
4. What caused the Big Bang? It couldn’t have been anything to do with space, time, or matter, since they hadn’t been created yet.
5. “See the dilemma? My naturalistic belief in ‘Big Bang Cosmology’ required an extra-natural ‘Big Banger.’ ”
6. The dictionary defines “miracle” as having a supernatural cause, and “supernatural” as “above or beyond what is natural,” so the Big Bang drags the naturalist into accepting at least one miracle, that of the origin of the universe.
Correcting that poorly defined argument
Let’s highlight a few problems.
2. There are plausible models of the universe that have no beginning.
3. No, the Big Bang doesn’t say that everything came from nothing. That’s one possibility, but that’s not the consensus view.
4. Does it make sense to ask for a cause before there was time? And if the Big Bang were a quantum event, it might’ve had no cause (not all quantum events have causes).
5. “Big Banger” deliberately suggests an intelligence, but if the Big Bang were just a quantum event, that would be a natural cause with no mind required. Maybe our universe is just one of many universes that started with this natural cause.
At best, this argument points out that cosmologists have unanswered questions about the Big Bang. That’s true, but that’s no excuse to inject a supernatural explanation involving your favorite god. If science doesn’t have the evidence to justify an answer, don’t pretend that your religion does. If making everything from nothing is a problem, then how did God do it? We need evidence, not dogma. And if “God did it” explains the origin of the universe, what explains the origin of God?
What happened to the good, old-fashioned miracle?
You want a miracle? During the famous Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War, English and Welsh archers delivered a stunning victory over French cavalry. Almost exactly 500 years later during the Battle of Mons during World War I, in the same part of Europe as Agincourt, ghosts of those archers materialized to save the British from a vastly superior German force.
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t match the history. That’s always the problem, isn’t it? The good stories don’t withstand scrutiny, and the true ones are just luck, like the woman whose purse stopped a bullet.
So if bullet-stopping purses are what pass for miracles in society today and you can’t raise the quality of miracles, then just pull down the definition so that there’s a match. That was the goal of the “you naturalists believe in miracles, too!” argument. Like the redefinition of “answered prayer” in the previous post, just redefine “miracle.”
Christians, this may be what you need to help you sleep at night, but this is not an honest way of looking at the evidence. By changing definitions, your argument has lost any power. You’ve salvaged your words—“answered prayer” and “miracle”—but at what cost? Convince yourself that you’ve won the battle if you must, but with these dishonest games you lose the war.
like your horoscope in the newspaper will give you answers.
It’ll be so vague as to apply to anyone in any situation.
— commenter watcher_b
Image via Stuart McAlpine, CC license