Here’s another example of a Christian apologist troubled by a misbehaving word. You'll be impressed with how he sidesteps this problem: just change the definition to a more pleasing one. This time, the problem word is “miracle.”
Words can have more than one definition. For example, “organic” can mean “having to do with life” or “food grown without non-natural chemicals,” or even simply “contains carbon.” But when justifying the unjustifiable, Christian apologists are often forced to invent new definitions that aren’t supported by the dictionary.
In the previous article, we saw apologist John Mark Reynolds trying to deal with the reality that God’s answers to prayer are indistinguishable from no answers at all. That Reynolds doesn’t even acknowledge his predicament and isn’t embarrassed by it might give him points for bravado, but this makes his handwaving no more convincing.
Miraculous good fortune?
Let’s move on to another pious redefinition, this time for the word “miracle.” Our apologist this time is Jim Wallace, and he analyzed a claimed miracle. A couple in Tennessee parked at their apartment and got 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.”
Consider the title of Wallace’s article: “Woman Says It’s A Miracle Her Wallet Blocked Bullets – Why Not Believe Her?”
I’ll tell you why not. It’s because natural explanations are sufficient. Natural explanations are far, far better than supernatural ones. There are many supernatural claims but zero supernatural explanations that are accepted in the same way that countless natural explanations are (the scientific explanation for lightning, for drought, for disease, and so on). Even that the miracle claim was made up is far likelier than that this is the report that finally will prove to the world that the supernatural does indeed exist.
This was clearly an emotional experience for the woman who made the claim. She was lucky that she didn’t get hit. If she says that, to her, it was a miracle, that’s fine. But the rest of us can see it with more rational eyes.
Remember the woman’s claim, “It’s a miracle to keep me or him from getting hit.” About this, Wallace said, “When I was an atheist, I would roll my eyes at statements like this.”
Amen to that. Why didn’t God just stop the shooter? 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.
Why not just call this a lucky turn of events, 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 the cases 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.
Perhaps miracles are more common than you think
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.
7. The Bible agrees. It says that the origin of the universe was due to God (and therefore a miracle), and if that’s the case, God could surely pull off something as trivial as a resurrection. Or stopping a bullet with a purse.
Correcting that poorly defined argument
Let’s highlight a few problems.
Step #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. And if “coming from nothing” is startling and needs an explanation, Christians say that God created the earth from nothing. Explain that.
4a. 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).
4b. The only life we know of depends on space, time, and matter. If God was putting the universe together in a time before time (and in a space before space), how did he exist? You might say that he doesn’t need those things or he’s outside of them, but you need evidence. We know of no life for which this is true.
5a. “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.
5b. If God is a mind, what is that mind stored in? The only minds we know of reside in brains. Yes, I realize God isn’t supposed to have a brain, but again, you can’t just handwave this claim. You need evidence. Tag—you’re it.
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. 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 stand up to 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.
The Bible will give you answers
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