“I couldn’t ever go back!” cried the Christian to me. “I’ve seen too many miracles!*”
Oh, have you now, I thought.
What he didn’t know–because how could he? He’d certainly never asked–was that I’d heard that exact claim many, many times, and had even repeated it myself long ago.
Miracles are one of the biggest evangelism tools in Christians’ toolbox, and they are wielded both eagerly and frequently. I can see why, really; if miracles are real, then obviously such a truth has enormous, breathtaking implications regarding the rest of the religion’s veracity–and indeed regarding the functioning of the entire universe.
Normally the concept of “miracles” isn’t defined very well, but for most folks, a miracle is the meddling of a supernatural being in this material world to benefit someone by magically bending and twisting–or even outright breaking–the normal rules of physics, chance, or the like. A miracle can’t be explained in any other way except by such supernatural interference; it is, by definition, not natural at all.
Miracles lend that personal touch to what really is a completely preposterous claim. “Seeing is believing,” as the saying goes. Most Christians have at least one miracle claim somewhere in their testimonies–and most folks who deconvert were no different when they were Christians. Moreover, these miracles are paraded in front of people’s eyes as a visible, palpable, tangible sign of favor from a particular supernatural being with a suggestion that such miracles are available to anybody else who believes and behaves as that miracle’s recipient does. It’s not enough for a believer to have won the miracle itself; the miracle has to demonstrate the obvious favor enjoyed by the recipient and offer similar benefits to others who make themselves just as amenable to that supernatural being.
If Hell is the stick in Christianity, then miracles are the carrot. The Bible and Christian culture itself is as thick as mayonnaise with the promises of miracles of all sorts, from magic healing and resurrection, to earthquakes freeing imprisoned and persecuted Christians, to the ability to speak a language the Christian doesn’t know, and many more. Just the mere hint that such a miracle might be available for the having is enough to drive some people to ridiculous lengths to obtain that favor. I’ve known some people who deluded themselves for years that Any Day Now™ they’d get their named-and-claimed miracle; some wake up from that fever-dream, while others remain deluded even today, clinging to their (false) hope that sooner or later they will get what was promised to them.
Miracles aren’t actually very compelling at all to anybody with the ability to critically examine a claim, no, but that doesn’t hinder Christians one bit in seeing them absolutely everywhere. They often live in and breathe and move through a universe filled with angels, demons, and a living god who all–if these Christians are to be believed–are downright obsessed with humans, meddling with us all the time like serried legions of helicopter parents.
Did you drop your iPhone and it didn’t break? Find a great parking spot? Have your mild injury or illness clear up after receiving healthcare? Acne clear up before your wedding? Test wasn’t quite as hard as you’d feared? Got a job you had been seeking for ages? Had a near miss on the freeway? Spotted a $20 bill on the sidewalk one day?
ZOHMYGARSH ITSUH MEERKUL!
I have personally encountered Christians making every one of the abovementioned claims–and long ago I even made variants of them myself. Christians sell their souls for these picayune, muddled little “miracles.” They are taught and socialized to see miracles in every single semi-maybe coincidence, and to think that anybody who rejects supernatural explanations for these sorts of events is being willfully obtuse for some sinister reason. How things have changed from the days of manna from heaven, resurrected children, and pillars of fire in the sky!
There are a lot of reasons why miracle claims simply aren’t credible:
* Nobody’s quite sure how to define a miracle.
The working definition of “miracle” that I mentioned at the start of this post is not universally accepted by Christians. But exactly what would a miracle really look like? We’ve never found any evidence of a supernatural world at all, much less one that interferes with our own, so we don’t really know what it’d look like to find an event that didn’t fit into the natural world somehow. The obvious stuff that would definitely give scientists and doctors the excited creeps, like regrowing amputated limbs on demand or every human on the planet having a simultaneous vision in a universal language, never happens–EVER. So that leaves us with acne, car keys, illnesses, and mysterious money. I have a friend who thinks that most Christians don’t even really know what they mean when they use the term “God,” and I’d add to that that most Christians also don’t know what they mean when they talk about miracles.
* It’s painfully obvious that big miracles don’t happen.
Jesus himself is supposed to have told his followers that they’d all do bigger miracles than even he did while on Earth. That means they’d regrow amputated limbs, move mountains, raise the dead, and a host of other stunning stunts. But nothing like that has ever been credibly demonstrated to have happened. There’s an entire website devoted to this exact problem and it’s worthwhile reading. Instead of a fireworks display the equal of a Dubai New Year’s Eve, though, what we get instead are paltry little coincidences that can only be seen as a miracle if you tilt your head just-so and squint just right to see the proverbial sailboat in the Magic Eye poster. And as the modern age becomes more and more connected and as more and more people carry cameras and computers right on their persons with them, as the webcomic xkcd has devastatingly noted, we’ve pretty much settled just how credible supernatural stuff in general is.
* There’s no way to tie a proposed miracle to a particular god, much less to a particular denomination.
When a Christian claims that “God” did a miracle, I can’t help but think about my own time in Christianity–when we knew that Satan did miracles too, as did other angels and demons. Unfortunately for Christians, every single religion out there features miracle claims, and even if these miracles were credibly supported, there’d be no real way to know their source.
If I saw a little girl on fire and in response to her distress I gave her a candy bar and walked away, I couldn’t be displaying a worse lack of proportion than Christians routinely attribute to their “god.” In a world rife with violence and harm, to hear a Christian chirp about a “healed” twisted ankle or a nice parking spot just sounds horrifying to me. Christians’ senses of empathy must have been scorched out of them if they can hold up a case of healed acne as “proof” of a god’s love while 21,000 people worldwide die every day of starvation.
* These stories are hilariously underpowered and unconvincing to anybody who is not already favorably inclined toward the idea.
I wish I had a dollar for everybody I’ve ever heard who wound up a “miracle” story that ended with a variation of “Well, you might not think that was a miracle, but I sure do!” If someone has to say that, then by definition what happened was not, well, miraculous. It should be downright humiliating for a Christian to say that the immortal and all-powerful god of the entire universe reached down and…. strong-armed a college professor into only asking the questions that Susie Cru had actually studied on that Intro to Psych final.
* These claims are not falsifiable.
There is seriously no way for any event to be seen as non-miraculous, if a Christian tries hard enough, and no lengths to which a Christian won’t go to grasp at that straw. I once asked a Christian how he even knew if something wasn’t miraculous, and he hard-locked. Without a way to know if something is not miraculous, it’s really hard to define what actually would be. (I’ve seen Christian ministers get totally overexcited about the “miracle” of getting a nice table at a restaurant. At a non-peak time. In a suburb on a weekday. If that is their idea of a miracle, then one wonders if they also think it is miraculous that their toothpaste stayed on the brush that morning.)
* Obviously, none of these stories are ever verified or fact-checked before being embraced and passed along.
The vast majority of miracle claims turn out to be exaggerations or mild coincidences, if that. Many are simply made up or are regurgitated urban legends–maybe accidentally absorbed years ago and personalized so that the teller thinks that the story happened to him or her, which happens innocently sometimes, or maybe the whopper will be deliberately pushed out at an audience trained from birth not to question miracle stories. These stories are also often grabbed off the internet and shoved at non-believers with a smug EXPLAIN THIS! attached; I once tangled with a Christian on social media who clearly hadn’t done the five minutes of work necessary to figure out if a “miraculous cancer healing” he was recounting was really anything of the sort. I ignored the claim at first, but when he got persistent I debunked it as thoroughly as I could and explained at length why the claim wasn’t credible at all. The Christian got mad at me, and the next day I saw him elsewhere online making the exact same miracle claim to a new audience.
* When their “miracle” gets discredited, Christians tend to get mad at the person who actually did their work for them rather than examine why they spread a false story around, much less take responsibility for spreading an untrue story!
Miracles are proof of the supernatural–until they get disproven, at which point nobody should be testing a god. The burden of proof is on the Christians insisting that a miracle happened to show that it really was a miracle, but they tend to repeat these stories with the clear expectation that nobody will ever ask them to pony up that proof. It’s almost comical to see how outraged and ruffled they get when their claim is questioned in any way; I suspect based both on my own experience as a Christian and how I see Christians acting nowadays that there’s a social contract in operation here that protects these claims from any examination. If someone rejects a Christian’s miracle claim, then that skeptic is called “close-minded” (because obviously, the best show of open-mindedness is leaping on the first preposterous “explanation” offered for something and refusing to even wonder if there’s some better, more credible explanation for it).
So no, I don’t find miracle claims to be even the slightest bit compelling or credible. I find them to be the exact opposite.
And as terribly non-compelling as these miracle claims are, this constant, endless stream of debunked stories and exposed fraud attempts are all there are. There aren’t any compelling claims.
It’s incredibly annoying and frustrating that non-believers are the ones who end up doing Christians’ work for them and fact-checking these claims. I wish Christians understood that every single time they let fly one more of these false claims, every single time they repeat a lie with wide, trusting eyes, it makes their entire religion seem that much less credible and viable to outsiders, and it makes them look not only gullible but maybe even deceptive. That said, I don’t expect Christians to quit pushing them at me anytime soon; if they could critically evaluate claims and separate what’s true from what’s false, then likely they wouldn’t be the sort of Christians to push miracle claims at people in the first place. I mean, what is the reasoning here? Just because she rejected the last kabillion miracle claims as non-credible, maybe this time my “god” will do some massive miracle and strong-arm her into buying this kabillionth-and-first non-credible miracle claim. THIS time it’s different!
Well, it’s not. It never is. Christianity’s had 2000 years to come up with one single verified miracle, and it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t imagine it will anytime soon.
Besides being completely non-credible, the concept of miracles is also morally untenable. I’ve got my own particular reason to bristle at Christians’ false miracle claims, which is where we’ll take this topic up on Friday. See you then.
* If you’re wondering, this Christian’s “miracle” was witnessing a young boy get “healed” of some kind of serious lung illness. When I pressed for details, I learned that he didn’t have any idea who the boy was; he’d been traveling and had dropped in on this church at random. He never verified the “healing” and didn’t even talk to the boy, the preacher, or the child’s father after the revival service; he had continued on his way the next morning. And yes, this Christian got really mad at me for casting doubt on the “miracle” upon which he had hung his entire conversion. I can’t blame him. I’d been pretty mad too–at myself!–when I’d realized that my own “miracles” weren’t anything of the sort!