Q: Look, I’ve heard all kinds of tall tales. So the miracle stories in the Bible must be tall tales too, right?
A: That just seems like an excuse to avoid studying the evidence. It’s poor reasoning in any case.
Q: How so?
A: You wouldn’t want safety inspectors to reason that way. “This medicine has never harmed patients in the past; therefore it will not hurt anyone tomorrow.” “These buildings have withstood all earthquakes until now; therefore they will withstand the next earthquake.”
Q: Your point being?
A: Relying on your experience of what usually happens can lead to terrible mistakes. Sometimes the evidence can tell you that an unexpected, unprecedented event will occur, or has occurred. So stop being lazy and look at the evidence.
Q: But how could there be any good evidence for a miracle? Wouldn’t a miracle violate the laws of nature?
A: The laws of nature are just descriptions. They tell us how things normally work in the natural world; but suppose there’s more to the universe that the natural world. Suppose the reason the universe behaves in an ordered, law-like manner is that the universe has a rational creator. If so, isn’t it possible that God could have reason to do something extraordinary in his universe now and then?
Q: But if I concede that one miracle is possible, then I might as well believe in every tall tale. I should believe in tooth-fairies and ghosts and guardian angels…
A: Not at all! It’s possible to believe in a miracle (say the resurrection) and to be extremely sceptical about most reports of paranormal activity.
Q: Isn’t that inconsistent?
A: Again, not at all! I said God might do something extraordinary, now and then, when he had good reason (say, to reveal something about himself). Events that happen in a predictable, regular manner don’t seem all that extraordinary. So I’d expect miracles to be rare and to be events that God would have a good reason to bring about. Then there’s the question of God’s reputation.
Q: I don’t see how that’s relevant….
A: Christians and Jews are told not to use God’s name lightly. So, before I claim that God directly brought some event about for some special reason, I’d better make sure that I’ve good reason to make that claim. If I idly believe every tall tale about God, I’m not treating him with any respect.
Q: But if miracles are very rare, how can you ever have good evidence for a miracle?
A: Ask yourself two questions. One: would this be the sort of evidence that I would expect if a miracle had occurred? That’s the easy part. Two: is there a good non-miraculous explanation for this evidence?
Q: Can you expand on what you mean by the second question?
A: Basically, you’re asking if there’s a good non-miraculous explanation for your evidence. So, is there evidence of a hoax, or elaborate story-telling, or is there some scientific explanation for what seems like a miracle.
Q: Do any miracles pass the two tests?
A: I’m glad you asked. But the main point here is that we should keep open minds. Always look at the evidence before dismissing important claims.