Atheist Demands for a Miracle to “Prove” God (Dialogue)

Atheist Demands for a Miracle to “Prove” God (Dialogue) February 22, 2019

This is a discussion with Gavin G. Young, who recently wrote of himself“I am an ex-Christian. I am now an atheist and scientific naturalist and in most respects I am also now a secular humanist.” It originated in the blog combox of my paper, Atheists, Miracles, & the Problem of Evil: Contradictions.

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When atheists talk science, no miracles are permitted or even imaginable.

But when they talk problem of evil or getting evidence for God that even they will accept, the more miracles the merrier: we are supposed to think that God should perform literally millions of miracles in order to stop all suffering and make His existence manifest to one and all: no doubt whatsoever.

To put it another way, in effect the atheist argues (in self-contradiction):

A) You Christians believe in miracles, which are unproven and irrational and contrary to science; therefore I reject your belief-system.

B) If your God doesn’t perform many miracles in order to alleviate human suffering, either this proves he doesn’t exist, or that he is evil and/or weak and ineffectual.

A contradicts B (claims of miracles are a disproof of Christianity / miracles are required to prove Christianity’s God). Yet atheists habitually make or simultaneously assume both arguments. It’s illogical, irrational, and most unfair as a critique. The atheist can’t have it both ways and remain logically consistent.

There isn’t really a contradiction in what atheists are claiming. Point A says there’s no scientific evidence for the existence of miracles and thus miracles don’t happen, but since Christianity says that miracles happen, then the lack of evidence of miracles [evidence that should be there if Christianity is true in its claims about the Christian god] is evidence against the existence of the god of Christianity. Point B says that since miracles don’t happen then a loving all-powerful all-knowing type of god doesn’t exist, but most Christians believe that their god is loving, all powerful, all-knowing. Thus the god that those Christians believe in doesn’t exist.

My point (B) was that atheists demand that God perform miracles in the case of human suffering, and if He doesn’t, He doesn’t exist. They also demand them in the case of proving His existence; i.e., He has to perform some extraordinary miracle like writing “John 3:16” in the stars; then the hardened, cynical atheist will submit in dust and ashes (God having “performed” according to the all-knowing epistemological requirement of the wise atheist). So it’s an odd situation, whereby atheists 1) state that miracles are categorically impossible, yet 2) they demand this very thing as virtually the only means by which they can be brought to belief in God (and then reject it when it happens).

From the Christian, biblical point of view, it is recognized that human excessive disbelief and skepticism (of the hardened, rebellious type) will not be overcome even by a miracle:

Luke 16:29-31 (RSV) 29] But Abraham said, `They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ [30] And he said, `No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ [31] He said to him, `If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’”

Defining miracles as impossible (which is extremely difficult to do, logically or philosophically) is the key to why atheists almost never come to belief. The prior assumption determines what they will accept, so that even when a miracle is documented and presented to them, they dismiss it because they have already concluded that miracles are absolutely impossible.

I think this is some of what Jesus hit upon in the statement above: nonbelievers reject revelation; therefore they will even reject a miraculous rising from the dead. In other words, nothing is good enough for them. They will reject what even they themselves claim is the thing that will convince them.

I agree with some of what you said in reply to my post. Many atheists, myself included, do expect for evidence to be provided before they and me will be believe in a god. As Carl Sagan said (I paraphrase because I don’t know the exact wording for certain) ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.’ I and many other atheists don’t want to be credulous, we don’t consider blind faith to be a virtue. Before I had become an extremely convinced atheist I prayed to the biblical god saying “God if you exist please provide me with evidence of your existence, evidence of the sort that you know (if you exist) will convince me.”

In the prayer I also said to the god that according to the Bible when a man made a request to Jesus to perform a miracle (to end the demon possession of his son), the scripture passaged hints that the man didn’t believe that his son would be healed but that his request was granted anyway. For it says (Mark 9:24 [NASB] “Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” ” Jesus then said the man’s son was healed. I applied that scripture to my situation and said “God, help me in my unbelief like the Bible says the other man was”. In other words I made clear that even though I didn’t believe god existed, my lack of belief should not be used as a reason for god (if he existed) to not grant my prayer request for evidence.

Furthermore in the Gospel of/(according to) John, scripture says that Thomas said he wouldn’t believe that Jesus was resurrected, unless Thomas was provided with specific evidence. According to the account Jesus then offered the evidence to Thomas (extraordinary evidence of the extraordinary claim that Jesus was resurrected). Then Thomas said he believed and John 20:29 KJV says “Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

Exodus gives an account in which the Bible claims that Yahweh God (Jehovah God/the LORD) said that if certain miracles would be performed then certain people would believe (though the account also says they might not initially believe based upon some of the initial miracles) and the god offered to perform those miracles through Moses as evidence. See Exodus chapter 4. Note the following portion of it from the Exodus 4:1-10 [ASV]:

4 And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice; for they will say, Jehovah hath not appeared unto thee. 2 And Jehovah said unto him, What is that in thy hand? And he said, A rod. 3 And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it. 4 And Jehovah said unto Moses, Put forth thy hand, and take it by the tail (and he put forth his hand, and laid hold of it, and it became a rod in his hand); 5 that they may believe that Jehovah, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared unto thee. 6 And Jehovah said furthermore unto him, Put now thy hand into thy bosom. And he put his hand into his bosom: and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous, as white as snow. 7 And he said, Put thy hand into thy bosom again. (And he put his hand into his bosom again; and when he took it out of his bosom, behold, it was turned again as his other flesh.) 8 And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe thee, neither hearken to the voice of the first sign, that they will believe the voice of the latter sign. 9 And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe even these two signs, neither hearken unto thy voice, that thou shalt take of the water of the river, and pour it upon the dry land: and the water which thou takest out of the river shall become blood upon the dry land. 

There is also the account mentioned in 1 Kings chapter 18. Verses 36-40 (ASV):

36 And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening oblation, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, O Jehovah, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. 37 Hear me, O Jehovah, hear me, that this people may know that thou, Jehovah, art God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. 38 Then the fire of Jehovah fell, and consumed the burnt-offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, Jehovah, he is God; Jehovah, he is God. 40 And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.

Thus according to some parts of the Bible Yahweh/Jehovah and Yeshua/Jesus are willing to provide evidence, even miracles – even extraordinary ones, to help people believe, that Yahweh and Jesus did sometimes provide such evidence and that as a result some people believed. Thus atheists are only asking for the type of evidence that the Bible itself says God and Christ provided in the past.

Dave, regarding your comment of saying some atheists say that god “has to perform some extraordinary miracle like writing “John 3:16″ in the stars; then the hardened, cynical atheist will submit in dust and ashes”, the Bible actually says that at some point a miracle of such magnitude would happen. The atheists you refer to are only saying that they require something of magnitude of what the Bible itself says will happen (though according to the Bible many seeing it will mourn) will be needed to convince them. I am referring to “the sign of the Son of Man” and accompanying signs; see Matthew 24:29-31 (NASB):

29 “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. 31 And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

I don’t say with 100.0000% certainty that miracles never happen (though my degree of certainty is now extremely close to 100%), but rather that since there is no good evidence for them (like there is no good evidence for the existence of Santa Claus, a being that is claimed to have magical/supernatural powers) it is reasonable to conclude they don’t happen (and one would have justification in believing they don’t happen) and that I thus don’t believe they happen. But I have ideas of what I would consider a confirmed miracle and if such happened then I would believe that the supernatural exist. And if it were a certain type of miracle (and could be confirmed by scientifically), then I would be convinced that the biblical god exists. In other words I remain open to new evidence. I test from time to time my assumptions and conclusions to see if a viewpoint/belief of mine is in error. Another way of saying it, is I believe provisionally and to an extremely high degree of confidence that miracles don’t happen and that no theistic god exists, but I still remain open to future evidence showing that I am wrong.

I never received any evidence that convinced me the biblical god (God the Father) nor the heavenly Christ Jesus (as opposed to a historical human Jesus who was called the Christ) exists, despite requesting such evidence (I prayed both to Yahweh and to Jesus – and even to a generic [unknown god] in case someone other than Yahweh and Jesus is a real god). I also don’t believe Satan, angels, demons, Zeus, Aphrodite, Hathor, nor any other spirit beings (including spirits of the dead) exist, nor Santa Claus, magical elves, gremlins, etc.

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Thanks very much for your long and meaty comment. This is good to discuss.

Thus according to some parts of the Bible Yahweh/Jehovah and Yeshua/Jesus are willing to provide evidence, even miracles – even extraordinary ones, to help people believe, that Yahweh and Jesus did sometimes provide such evidence and that as a result some people believed. Thus atheists are only asking for the type of evidence that the Bible itself says God and Christ provided in the past.

That’s quite true. But the very fact that it was “sometimes” means that there are also times when He does not. So this means that sometimes God wants someone to come to Him whether there is physical / empirical evidence (not the only kind there is) or not: that He can reach them through other means. But human free will dictates that some people will not believe in Him, anyway, and sometimes despite miracles. As you note, He appeared to Doubting Thomas and offered proof, but He also noted at the same time that it was more blessed for folks to believe without the proof of miracle and an extraordinary post-Resurrection of Jesus.

Thus, you might be (from our perspective) in the category of person for whom God will not perform a miracle, for whatever reason (only He knows). The biblical record is mixed, and you can’t argue from it that it is normative for God to appear every time an atheist demands Him to (or else he will refuse to believe or state that he is unable to). It’s not normative. Miracles (by definition) are always rare and the exception to the usual course of events.

Yes, the Second Coming will be an event that everyone sees. But by then it’ll be too late if a person hasn’t repented. As you cited, He will at that time gather His elect, who freely accepted His grace and became His disciples.

That’s why, in the next chapter (25), starting at verse 31, it’s the great judgment scene of the sheep and the goats. The people aren’t judged based on whether they responded to the obvious fact that He appeared in His Second Coming. They are judged based on how they treated the poor and unfortunate (25:35-45). That’s got nothing to do with seeing a miracle. It comes from the inside: the knowledge of right and wrong that God put into our conscience. We know what is right, and can either choose to act accordingly or rebel against it and end up damned (25:46).

You say you are open to the possible evidence of an extraordinary miracle which would make you believe. I believe you. I have no reason to doubt your report. But I take a step back and examine the underlying premise (being the relentless Socratic that I am). What makes you think that God is bound to such a request from you (as if there is no other possible way to come to believe in Him), or that He should fulfill it? You tried to argue that the Bible indicates it, but it does only on some occasions. There is no indication that this will always be the case.

The same Bible (St. Paul) also states in Romans 1:19-20 that everyone knows that God exists just by looking at His creation. Therefore, in the biblical view every person knows there is a God. It may be buried down deep, but they know. At least that’s what we believe about it. Obviously, you disagree, but that’s why we’re talking: seeking better understanding of our views.

So I submit that is why God doesn’t (usually) bow to these requests from atheists to perform some huge miracle sufficient to break down their resistance. I could see God saying, “you’re not fooling anyone: least of all Me. You already know that I exist, so why do you play this game of demanding a sign as “proof” for what you already know?”

That’s why Abraham said (as reported by Jesus, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead” (Lk 16:31, RSV). In other words, inspired revelation was sufficient. But if someone rejected that, then they would also reject someone rising from the dead as an equally unsatisfactory proof. They will simply deny that it happened (just as nonbelievers do with regard to Jesus’ own Resurrection). I think Jesus was partially alluding to Himself in this story and how many wouldn’t believe in Him even after He rose from the dead.

I have written a post about the medically documented cures at Lourdes. I highly doubt that you will accept any. You’ll find a way to dismiss any and all of them. Or maybe you won’t, and it’ll be your time to cease disbelieving and to enter into the joy of His grace and fellowship (I hope so). Further evidences of miracles are presented in another post.

As for the usual stock comparison of belief in God to “Santa Claus, magical elves, gremlins, etc.”: that is easily responded to, and I have, in this fashion:

[G]iven the fact that many thousands of philosophers, theologians, and scientists have believed in God, but not in Santa Claus, it’s rather silly to put God and Santa Claus in the exact same epistemological boat. There is a plain, obvious difference there. It’s a reason to more closely consider theistic arguments, not a proof in and of itself of God’s existence.

No matter how many atheists are also prominent in philosophy and science does not overcome my point, which is that the sharp folks who believed in God did not place Santa Claus in the same category of likelihood. That goes against your breezy, casual claim that the two beliefs were equivalent and equally compelling (which is, not at all). (God: Is He No More Believable than Santa Claus?)

In another paper I wrote:

[M]any many great thinkers and philosophers have accepted and built up theism and theology, whereas there is no “tooth fairyology” or “leprechaunology.” . . .

Of course we deny that there is no evidence or justification or warrant for our beliefs. I compiled the various different arguments in hundreds of links, so people like you can peruse them if you wish. I have collected seven lengthy collections of links:

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Cosmological Argument for God (Resources)

Teleological (Design) Argument for God (Resources) 

Ontological Argument for God (Resources) 

15 Theistic Arguments (Copious Resources)

Science and Christianity (Copious Resources)

Atheism & Atheology (Copious Resources)

God: Historical Arguments (Copious Resources) 

The evidences and arguments are there for anyone who wishes to read them. But you can bring the horse to water; you can’t make it drink.

When the atheist claims there is no evidence whatsoever and no reason to be a Christian, then I produce this. . . .

Like I said, if there were well-established academic fields of “tooth fairyology” or “leprechaunology” then the argument might have some weight. But since there are not . . .

I’ll say again what I have stated over and over: the presence of a long and noble history of theistic thought among philosophers goes to show (I think) that theism as a worldview is vastly different in kind from “tooth fairyism” and “leprechaunism” (infinitely more substantiated academically and philosophically); not that theism is true (the latter would be the ad populum fallacy). . . .

This is what I strive to get atheists to see regarding Christianity. We utilize reason; we love reason; we love science; we love evidence. We don’t espouse blind faith, but rather, a rationally informed faith, not inconsistent at all with either reason or science. We’re not against any of those good things. We simply come to different conclusions than atheists do. (Dialogue with an Atheist on “Tooth Fairyology” vs. Theology)

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Photo credit: Doubting Thomas, by Guercino (1591-1666) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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