Many of us, during college or high school, had to take an introduction to philosophy class. Most likely we encountered a philosopher by the name of Hume, and we learned that Hume believed miracles to be a violation of natural law.
Perhaps we shrugged off this idea or thought, “Well, God is supernatural, so ‘phooey’ to natural laws.”
But we actually may not have fully grasped how insidious this concept is. Essentially, here, Hume says that anything we think to be a miracle actually follows the laws of nature.
A true miracle, according to Hume, violates the very laws by which we live and therefore, are abominable, mutational, or dangerous.
In this article, we’ll look at the definition and examples of miracles, we’ll critique Hume’s objections to miracles and show that his argument creates a straw man out of miracles.
Let’s dive in.
What Is a Miracle?
As all good philosophers do, we must first define our terms.
According to the KJV Dictionary, “In theology, an event or effect contrary to the established constitution and course of things, or a deviation from the known laws of nature; a supernatural event. Miracles can be wrought only by Almighty power, as when Christ healed lepers, saying, ‘I will, be thou clean,’ or calmed the tempest, ‘Peace, be still’.”
In other words, a miracle essentially means a rare supernatural work of God that appears to go against the known laws of nature.
The definition gives us some examples above (Matthew 8), but let’s talk about what a miracle is not.
A miracle is not a man of good health suddenly passing away, or a man on the brink of death recovering. We can most likely attribute natural causes to both of these cases. A miracle happens when an event occurs that defies natural explanation, such as a man coming back to life after having been declared dead for days.
We also have to examine why God uses miracles.
When we analyze the life and ministry of Jesus, he did miracles for a number of reasons. First, he claimed divinity. This put the burden of proof on him.
He also did miracles to highlight his teaching and reveal his power. He didn’t just talk the talk, like so many false messiahs and zealots had in his day, he provided actions to back up his identity and power.
But wait a moment, doesn’t this just confirm Hume’s theory? Didn’t Jesus violate natural law?
Let’s examine where Hume had fallen short in his arguments.
Where Hume Went Wrong
Hume not only believes in miracles violating natural law, but our experience of natural forces solidifies the idea that we don’t experience natural laws — we just may not have uncovered the natural law for the so-called miracle.
In other words, Hume is saying, “Science can and will disprove all miracles. It’s only a matter of time until we find out the natural causes behind these supernatural events.”
We could of course say, well Jesus is the Son of God, and God created the laws of nature, so couldn’t God choose to operate outside of those laws as he pleases?
Secondly, we have a limited scientific method and a finite human understanding. Think of how many new discoveries that have occurred over the past few centuries in the world of science. How we’ve proven time and time again that our understanding of how the universe works has a limit.
Although God created science and the natural laws, we don’t know everything about either.
Also, we have to understand just how subjective Hume’s perspective is. He says a miracle “is contrary to our experience.” Whose experience? Depending on who you ask, and where in the world they live, miracles may occur all the time.
Simply because one cannot understand a miracle nor encase a miracle in a scientific definition or law does not negate the possibility for miracles to occur, nor does it demonize a miracle simply because we believe it violates the laws we know.
In short, although our scientific method is sturdy, it’s not airtight or without flaw. No doubt we’ll uncover new discoveries in the next few decades and centuries that proved wrong what we believed before.
If anything, to assert that one’s finite understanding of how the world works should combat the action of a supernatural God who knows the laws of the universe far more than we do, sets up the person arguing against miracles for failure.
We may not understand miracles fully, but we understand the God behind them (Isaiah 55:8-9).
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Hope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, a multi-published novelist, and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,200 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy is out with IlluminateYA. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in November of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.