I intend to make my case that miracles are possible by refuting the strongest argument against them. I am not trying to defend the veracity of a particular miracle. I am simply saying miracles should not be dismissed in advance as unscientific or incredible. Like all Christians I concede that miracles are improbable—that’s why we use the term miracle—but improbable events can and do happen, and the same is true with miracles.
The strongest argument against miracles was advanced by philosopher and skeptic David Hume in his book Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Hume’s argument is widely cited by atheists; Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens both invoke it to justify their wholesale rejection of miracles. Hume argued that:
1. A miracle is a violation of the known laws of nature.
2. We know these laws through repeated and constant experience.
3. The testimony of those who report miracles contradicts the operation of known scientific laws.
4. Consequently, no one can rationally believe in miracles.
Hume’s case against miracles has been enormously influential, but it can be effectively answered. To answer it, we must turn to the work of Hume himself. His writings show why human knowledge is so limited and unreliable that it can never completely dismiss the possibility of miracles. In formulating his objection to miracles, poor Hume seems to have forgotten to read his own book. My refutation will show that:1. A miracle is a violation of the known laws of nature.
2. Scientific laws are on Hume’s own account empirically unverifiable.
3. Thus, violations of the known laws of nature are quite possible.
4. Therefore, miracles are possible.
To see Hume’s influence, we must turn to his modern-day followers, who typically call themselves logical positivists. Atheists and “brights” don’t use this term, but if you examine their presuppositions you will see that they are based on logical positivism. A logical positivist thinks that science operates in the verifiable domain of laws and facts, while morality operates in the subjective and unverifiable domain of choices and values. The logical positivist is confident that scientific knowledge is the best kind of knowledge, and whatever contradicts the claims of science must be rejected as irrational. These people are all around us today. Many of them are extremely well educated and speak with an air of certitude, so even people who do not agree with what they say have a hard time answering them.
For the logical positivist, there are two kinds of statements: analytic statements and synthetic statements. An analytic statement is one whose truth or falsity can be established by examining the statement itself. If I say, “My neighbor is a bachelor with a beautiful young wife,” you know right away that I am not telling the truth. The term bachelor means “unmarried man,” so a bachelor cannot have a wife. For Hume, mathematics provides a classic example of analytic truths. Mathematical axioms are true by definition; they are, one may say, inherently true.