by Glenn R. Morton 2020
I have been thinking of miracles and what it means to believe God. The earliest use of the word believe in the Bible concerns Abraham. Scripture says (Ge 15:4–6):
And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. 5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. 6 And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness .
What exactly was it that Abe believed? He believed something that was scientifically impossible, that he and his aged wife would have a child. Such an event is out of the range of normal events, yet, if we are to believe what the Bible says, Abe and Sarah had Isaac when he was 99 and she 90. The question is, should we believe such nonsense? I would say, if we have a God, who interacts in this world, yes we should, but many say no we shouldn’t. One could say this isn’t a miracle but that Sarah had some sort of hormonal episode at that age, which made birth possible, It is, however highly unusual.
Recently I have been given two criteria for how we know things are not meant to be taken literally, but figuratively. I want to use these two criteria to look at some of the miracles in the Bible to see what is left of them. I used a list of miracles in the OT but edited the list down.
Christy’s view of how to tell what is and isn’t real, thus to be considered figurative–if it doesn’t comport to reality.
*There are lots of clues, like you point out, that we are not intended to take the Genesis account as describing a historical event. It is a story. But many sentences in the story are meant to be interpreted literally in the reality the story creates. In the story, I think we are to understand God as actually walking in the garden and the snake as actually talking. Those are the “facts” of the story. *That they don’t comport with information we know about reality is how we know it is a story, not a factual account of history. source
Mitch’s view that God can’t violate natural law:
If by miraculous you mean things contrary to the laws of nature, then no, I don’t believe in such things. I do not believe that God breaks the laws of nature which He created and no I don’t believe anything else breaks the laws of nature which He created either. source
Christy’s criteria basically says if it doesn’t comport to reality, then it is figurative, and Mitch says anything that violates natural law must be taken as something other than real history. By this standard one might not allow the birth of Isaac at his parent’s elderly age.
Both of these views are effectively weaker statements or partial statements inspired by the logical positivism of the Vienna Circle. Alfred Jules Ayer gives the logical basis of positivism in the quote below.:
“ The views which are put forward in this treatise derive from the doctrines of Bertrand Russell and Wittgenstein, which are themselves the logical outcome of the empiricism of Berkeley and David Hume. Like Hume, I divide all genuine propositions into two classes: those which, in his terminology, concern ‘relations of ideas,’ and those which concern ‘matters of fact.’ The former class comprises the a priori propositions of logic and pure mathematics, and these I allow to be necessary and certain because they are analytic. That is, I maintain that the reason why these propositions cannot be confuted in experience is that they do not make any assertion about the empirical world, but simply record our determination to use symbols in a certain fashion. Propositions concerning empirical matters of fact, on the other hand, I hold to be hypotheses , which can be probable but never certain. And in giving an account of the method of their validation I claim also to have explained the nature of truth. ” Alfred Jules Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, (New York: Dover Publications, 1952), p. 31
Then he lays down the criteria for an empirical statement of fact to be considered to have meaning:
“A simple way to formulate it would be to say that a sentence had literal meaning if and only if the proposition it expressed was either analytic or empirically verifiable To this, however, it might be objected that unless a sentence was literally meaningful it would not express a proposition; for it is commonly assumed that every proposition is either true or false, and to say that a sentence expressed what was either true or false would entail saying that it was literally meaningful.” Alfred Jules Ayer, 1946 ‘Introduction” Language, Truth and Logic, (New York: Dover Publications, 1952), p. 5
Comporting to reality and not violating the laws of physics fits nicely within the above. Consider Quine’s famous sentence,
“ ‘ The present king of France is bald .’
“The definite description here is a vacuous expression. It does not refer to any existing thing, since there is no present king of France. Now, this problem of non-being can be generated by the following argument. The sentence is meaningful and thus is either true or false. If true, then it is true of something, namely, the present king of France, and if false, then it is false of something, namely, the present king of France. So whether the sentence is true or false, there is a present king of France. But this conclusion conflicts with our assumption that there is no such being.” Alex Orenstein, W. V. Quine, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), p. 28-29
The reason I delved into my philosophical graduate studies is the question of whether or not the Biblical statement below conforms to reality, or is ‘verifiable’ by the standards of logical positivism? Consider 1 Cor. 2:29:
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”
This sentence is not verifiable because it is not a statement about our reality. It would fall into the same situation as the bald present king of France, who is not part of our reality, or the statement that “Frodo had hairy feet”. Statements like this do not conform to reality. Into what category do we place the statement “God loves us”? Like the statement about the present bald King of France, if God doesn’t exist, this statement is vacuous. All agree that God is empirically unverifiable, which places him outside of science and what the world views as our only reality. Does this make him as figurative as the miracles? There is no empirical reality which to which God conforms. Furthermore, God might violate the laws of physics, individual claims and beliefs in his inability or unwillingness to do so notwithstanding…
The question that should arise to anyone interested in such things is if we apply such criteria to the scripture to determine what ‘conforms to reality’ and reject what violates the laws of physics, should we also reject the above 1 Cor 2:29?
Should we also spew out of our mouth’s statements of Scripture, equally unverifiable/unconforming to our reality such as Rev. 3:14-21
And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; 15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. 17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: 18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. 21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
Even if we can identify those who share traits with that ancient church(which no one actually thinks it applies to them), can this passage be verified? Does it conform to reality? No and no. It is a statement ultimately about where we will sit in another reality. Is this figurative language? Yes. Is it really going to happen, that we Christians will sit with the Father? I may be a stupid, hick geophysicist of 47 years experience doing geophysics, but I say yes, it will happen. Verse 21 does comport to the above definition of reality because reality is much bigger than what Christy defines as reality. Reality is bigger than just what happens in the material universe. To believe otherwise is to gut Christian theology like a bass taken out of my lake or a deer shot in the Fall and field dressed. The parts important to the life, the heart, lungs, liver, stomach and intestines of the fish or deer have been cut out and left on the ground to steam in the cold Fall air, food for the vultures; similarly the intellectual parts of Christian theology, important to the vibrant life of the saint, have been cut out and left on the ground. Whether dead ideas steam in the cold air, I wouldn’t know.
In light of the above, let’s look at some of the miracles taken from here. I have added a few they don’t list. They will be numbered with an A and B. I won’t do all 67 in the list, but only the ones I find interesting.
1. Creation. Creation of the universe, including plants, animals and humans (Genesis 1 – Genesis 2).
Unless one believes that the universe exists eternally past, it had to have a beginning, in which case the laws of physics were created with the universe and were not prior to the universe. In this case God definitely had something to do with it. Some physicist say that the laws of physics existed prior to the existence of the universe, in which case, creation was according to natural law, and God had nothing to do with creation, unless God is moved back to a deistic role of merely creating the laws of physics long ago.
I know Christy would say God chose not to tell us about creation. and accommodated his story to the culture of the day (I would phrase it the stupidities of the day). Since there are multiple religions, each with their creation story, the only way one can know which of the Gods is the true god is by the one who tells the true account of creation. Accommodation removes that source of comparative religious information.
A.God walking in the Garden. This clearly Christy has already stated that such a thing is not to be believed. But has she considered that Jesus was the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, that he existed from then, and that he might have been the member of the God head walking in the garden? If we believe Jesus is God, then God walked from Galilee all over Israel, 2000 years ago. Why the concept of God walking is so foreign, I can’t imagine.
B Talking snake I think this is the one that embarrasses everyone. It isn’t cool to believe that this is possible. I think the question here is: Do we believe Eph 6:12
" For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places . "
And do we believe that God created them? Col 1:16 says:
“For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him”
We don’t know what those principalities and powers have in the way of well, power, to make an animal speak, or to speak through them. Christian theology defines reality as a much bigger thing than material/scientific reality.
But such an event clearly violates both positivist criteria for what is real, so here is another miracle shot down. My problem with shooting things like this down is that it says we don’t believe what God’s Word says, and if this is our position, why believe water to wine, or Lazarus’s resurrection?
4. Sodom and Gomorrah Destroyed. Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:4).
5. Pillar of Salt. Lot’s wife turned into a “pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26)
These events go together. It now is a scientific fact that an airburst meteor hit the area of Sodom and Gomorrah. I have a page on my blog that explains it but I won’t put a link in this the opening post cause that is against the rules. An airburst meteorite, that heated rock instantly to 12,000 C would have superheated the surficial waters of the Dead Sea and caused a tsunami. If Lot’s wife was below the splash line of the tsunami, she would have been coated in salts as the superheated water hit her cool body and the water evaporated out almost instantly. (source and I have read unpublished work by these authors)
The only miracle here in this story is that two men came and dragged the family out of Sodom and sent them on their way. Even today we have a hard time detecting such meteors before they enter the atmosphere. How did those two men know to get Mr. and Mrs. Lot and the girls out of the town? Such a thing would violate both criteria because it would mean knowledge they couldn’t possibly have had given their level of technology. The two ‘angels’ must be figurative angels and the Lot’s were just going on vacation by chance the day the meteor exploded…
7. The burning bush not consumed. Moses before the burning bush (Exodus 3:3).
Clearly violates both natural law and does not comport to reality–it must not have happened. That would mean that Moses’ mission was not of God.
22. Balaam’s Donkey Speaks. Balaam’s ass speaks (Numbers 22:21-35).
Like A, the talking snake, this is both embarrassing, uncool and violates both criteria. But again, if we have a God who performs miracles, why not a talking donkey? These criteria might be more indicative of our view of the power or powerlessness of God than it is of what God is capable of doing.
24. Jericho’s Walls Destroyed. The walls of Jericho fall down (Joshua 6:6-20).
The modern problem with this is archaeological based on the traditional chronology, but new information indicates that these events occurred a couple of hundred years earlier and at that time, there is archaeological evidence for the walls of Jericho fell. This miracle does not violate natural law, nor what comports to reality. Seismic waves generated by people walking in a circle would concentrate their energies at the center of the circle and thus might have caused the walls to crumble. Years ago, a geophysicist calculated that China could destroy us by having everyone in China jump from a 6 foot platform at the same time. Yes, it would severely damage China, but the waves would concentrate on the opposite side of the globe wreaking more havoc along the Eastern seaboard.
25. The Lord Stills the Sun and Moon. The sun and moon stayed to allow the Israelites to avenge their enemies. (Joshua 10:12-14).
This clearly violates natural law. But if it happened, there would be no astronomical evidence for it (contrary to many YEC claims) because when everything started again, everything was in the same relative position as when it started. Again, the question is, do we have a great and powerful God, or a deistic demiurge who can do no miracles?
38. Miracle of Elijah and the Widow’s Oil Increase. Widow of Zarephath’s meal and oil increased (1st Kings 17:14-16).
39. Miracle of Elijah and the Widow’s Son Raised From the Dead. Widow’s son raised from the dead (1st Kings 17:17-24).
These two violate natural law–the conservation of mass. If we have a theistic God who involves Himself in our history, who is powerful, then yes, this is certainly possible. If our God is powerless to intervene and break natural law then clearly this is nonsense, and nothing to be believed. This clearly does not comport to what we know of reality. The question is, do we believe that our God is powerful or not?
46. Elijah Carried to Heaven. Elijah carried up into heaven (2nd Kings 2:11).
We all know no man is carried to space much less heaven, by chariots. The story violates everything we know about reality and thus must be figurative. But this one is interesting in that Jesus met with Elijah on the mount of Transfiguration, another event which violates everything we know about nature and reality.
So, these criterion cast doubt on the literalness of Luke 9:29-30: And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. 30 And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias :
People’s clothing does not become white and glistening, and dead people don’t meet with the living. Again, the only way this could happen is if our God is actually a powerful God. If we don’t believe He is powerful enough to do this, could he really raise a man from the dead, be it Lazarus or Jesus?
54. Naaman Cured of Leprosy. Naaman cured of leprosy, Gehazi afflicted with it (2nd Kings 5:10).
Of course, again we know that this is not how leprosy is cured, dipping into the Jordon 7 times. This passage must be deleted
55. Iron Axe Swims the River. The iron axe-head made to swim, river Jordan (2nd Kings 6:5-7).
Clearly some kind of nuttery to believe this–laws of physics being what they are, but isn’t it equally nutty under these two criteria to believe a man dead 3 days arose and ate fish?
56. Elisha Knows the King of Syria’s Plans. Ben hadad’s plans discovered. Hazael’s thoughts, etc. (2nd Kings 6:12). [GRM: Hadad is an old name. My Lebanese wife’s sister dated a Hadad]
57. The Syrian Army Blinded. The Syrian army smitten with blindness at Dothan (2nd Kings 6:18).
This two miss the real miracle. It was that an invisible army was on the side of the Hebrews: 2nd Kings 6:15-17 said
" And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do? 16 And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. 17 And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.
This is reminiscent of Paul’s statement that our struggle is not against flesh and blood. But this can only be believed if we actually think there is a spiritual world out there.
59. The Dead Revived. Elisha’s bones revive the dead (2nd Kings 13:21).
Does God actually have this power? If not, then 1 Cor 15:29 can’t be true either:
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed
All of this doesn’t mean we have to be gullible, and can’t examine these events with science. I do have a problem with believing that I should worship a powerless god who can’t raise me from the dead. What would be the point of that?
64. Three Hebrew Boys Delivered from the Fiery Furnace. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego delivered from the fiery furnace, Babylon (Daniel 3:10-27).
Clearly no rational, science minded person can believe that 3 guys walked in a fire and were not hurt. It violates everything we know about reality and the laws of physics. Is your God powerful enough to have done this or do we believe He isn’t? Do we really believe in a powerless god and in a book full of garbage like this?
65. Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Daniel saved in the lions’ den (Daniel 6:16-23).
This certainly doesn’t violate any natural law, but is highly unlikely that hungry lions would ignore a ready snack for several hours. Is this just another figurative story?
New Testament miracles were taken from here
MIRACULOUS CONCEPTION. Technically this doesn’t violate natural law or reality. There is a rare process in biological species known as parthenogenesis, in which the female of the species can give rise to offspring without a father. It is unknown in humans but here is how it could exist in humans. Let’s say the odds of parthenogenesis in humans in 1 in a 50 billion. Well, that might have happened once in the past 50,000 years. There have been around 110 billion people who have lived on earth in the past 50,000 years. If such were the odds, and Mary were the lucky person, then it could happen naturally.
But how on earth would she have a male child?
There are a few females who have xy and androgen insensitivity syndrome. Normally they are infertile, but some have been found who are fertile. Here is an account of this:
Context: We report herein a remarkable family in which the mother of a woman with 46,XY complete gonadal dysgenesis was found to have a 46,XY karyotype in peripheral lymphocytes, mosaicism in cultured skin fibroblasts (80% 46,XY and 20% 45,X) and a predominantly 46,XY karyotype in the ovary (93% 46,XY and 6% 45,X).
Patients: A 46,XY mother who developed as a normal woman underwent spontaneous puberty, reached menarche, menstruated regularly, experienced two unassisted pregnancies, and gave birth to a 46,XY daughter with complete gonadal dysgenesis. source
If parthenogenesis occurred in such a person, Mary’s virgin birth could be a natural event and produce a male if he was not similarly androgen insensitive. While I think it was miraculous, one can’t rule this completely out of the natural realm. It would be a stretch to make it natural, so I believe it is miraculous.
I am going to list the rest of the miracles without comment. Each of Jesus’ and the disciples’ miracles violate what we know of reality and the laws of physics. To be consistent, one believing in these criteria must think they too are all figurative, which leaves us with a Jesus of no special significance. It leaves us with a Jesus who did nothing special. and without the resurrection, there really is no need for Christianity, but it above all violates natural law and reality. I would argue the above criteria actually destroy Christianity.
While the criteria for positivistically comporting to reality and following natural law is used on OT miracles, to explain them as figurative rather than literal events. It is not clear why they should not also be used on the miracles of Jesus as well, making them figurative rather than literal. In my mind, it is far easier and more consistent, to assume God is powerful enough to do these things rather than simply say these all are religious faerie tales. Conclusion after this list.
- STAR OF BETHLEHEM appears and leads wisemen to young Christ. [GRM:This
is not a real heavenly this world star]
- HEALING—2 blind men (Matt 9:27-31)
- MONEY—needed tax/tribute money miraculously provided in a randomly caught
fish’s mouth, as promised by Jesus Christ (Matt 17:24-27)
- HEALING—deaf and dumb man healed (Mark 7:31-37)
- HEALING—blind man of Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26)
- JESUS PASSES UNSEEN through hostile crowd attempting his murder
- FISH—the miraculous draught of fishes (Luke 5:4-11)
- RESURRECTION—the raising of the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11-18)
- HEALING—woman with the spirit of infirmity (Luke 13:11-17)
- HEALING—man with the dropsy (Luke 14:1-6)
- HEALING—ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19)
- HEALING—of Malchus (Luke 22:50-51)
- WATER TURNED TO WINE (John 2:1-11)
- HEALING—Cure of nobleman’s son, Capernaum (John 4:46-54)
- HEALING—impotent man at Bethsaida healed (John 5:1-9)
- HEALING—man born blind healed (John 9:1-7)
- RESURRECTION—Lazarus raised from the dead after (John 11:38-44)
- FISH—draught of fishes instantly caught at Christ’s instruction (John 21:1-14)
- HEALING—Syrophoenician woman’s daughter healed (Matt 15:28; Mark 7:24) 21. LOAVES AND FISHES—4,000 fed from 7 loaves and a few little fishes
(Matt 15:32; Mark 8:1)
- FIG TREE destroyed (Matt 21:18; Mark 11:12)
- HEALING—Centurion’s servant healed (Matt 8:5; Luke 7:1)
- HEALING AND EXORCISM—blind and dumb demoniac cured
(Matt 12:22; Luke 11:14)
- EXORCISM—demoniac cured in synagogue at Capernaum
(Mark 1:23; Luke 4:33)
- HEALING—Peter’s wife’s mother healed (Matt 8:14; Mark 1:30; Luke 4:38)
- SEA STORM STILLED ON COMMAND (Matt 8:23; Mark 4:37; Luke 8:22)
- EXORCISM—Demoniacs of Gadara cured (Matt 8:28; Mark 5:1; Luke 8:26)
- SWINE SUICIDE—about 2,000 swine rush into the water and drown after Christ
allowed demons to transfer to them from demoniacs (Mark 5:1-20)
- HEALING—leper (Matt 8:2; Mark 1:40; Luke 5:12)
- RESURRECTION—Jairus’s daughter raised (Matt 9:23; Mark 5:23; Luke 8:41)
- HEALING—woman’s issue of blood healed (Matt 9:20; Mark 5:25; Luke 8:43)
- HEALING—man sick of the palsy healed (Matt 9:2; Mark 2:3; Luke 5:18)
- HEALING—Man’s withered hand healed (Matt 12:10; Mark 3:1; Luke 6:6)
- HEALING—lunatic child healed (Matt 17:14; Mark 9:14; Luke 9:37)
- HEALING—2 blind men instantly healed (Matt 20:29; Mark 10:46; Luke 18:35)
- JESUS WALKS ON SEA (Matt 14:25; Mark 6:48; John 6:15)
- FOOD—Jesus feeds 5,000 “in a desert place”
(Matt 14:15; Mark 6:30; Luke 9:10; John 6:1-14)
- THE TRANSFIGURATION of Jesus Christ (Matt 17:1-8)
- RESURRECTION of Jesus Christ after declared dead by Roman authorities and
buried for days (John 21:1-14)
- ASCENSION of Jesus Christ to Heaven (Luke 2:42-51)
- HEALING—Peter and the HEALING of a the paralytic Aeneas at Lydda
(Acts 9:32, 35, 38)
- TONGUES—miraculous ability to SPEAK AND/OR UNDERSTAND A FOREIGN
LANGUAGE (tongue) previously unknown to the speaker (See: Gift of tongues
- RESURRECTION—Tabitha (Dorcas) raised from the dead (Acts 9:36-43)
There is one more thing to say about applying positivist criteria to the Scripture and then believing that the Scripture is actually revealing the True God. The concept of a true God is not verifiable by positivist standards. Further, believing a document which is so full of positivistically unverifiable/unconformable/non-meaningful statements of miracles, and claims of other worldly rewards, is not an act of a person whose belief system conforms to reality. It is inconsistent to use the criteria above to reject miracles and other uncomfortable Biblical stories and then believe 1 Cor 2:29. Believing a document so unverifiable, so full of weird stuff that it is declared to be unreal and just figurative is not an act of intellectual consistency. Neither can the rejection of miracles be claimed as evidence of the person’s rationality. It is irrational to believe a book so full of miracles, misstatements or statements about some other universe in a galaxy far far away. If one believes in God who gives us seats with him in the afterlife, then what exactly is the problem of believing he can perform miracles? God is an all or nothing hypothesis. Trying to stand in both camps, the popular scientific position of verifiable facts and the unpopular, religious position of unverifiable facts, is not consistent. In life we must chose which side we are on. Being on both sides is like being Benedict Arnold–who eventually learned that neither the Americans nor British liked him. Being double-minded does not make for intellectually coherent argumentation.
I believe the miracles because I believe in God and his power. Abraham believed God (against all observational evidence) and it was counted as righteousness. This is the great divide the world has and it is one which no one can span with intellectual argumentation, or the false science of the YECs.