Apologetics Lecture 11 Miracles

What is a Miracle?

This is a slightly important topic. Basically because the incarnation and the resurrection make up the essence of Christianity. Without these two miracles, we do not have Christianity.

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Read Matthew 12:38-40. The religious leaders of the day wanted to test Jesus by asking of him a sign in order to determine who he was. Jesus responded with the sign of the resurrection. For Jesus, the resurrection proves His identity, that He is the Son of God; God in the flesh.

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Therefore, the miracle of the resurrection proves the validity miracle of the incarnation.

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So, the resurrection from the dead is the ultimate proof of the person of Jesus and the claims he made.

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But for the resurrection to be possible demands that miracles be possible. What is a miracle?

Miracles Defined

Beyond saying that a miracle is, “An event brought about by a special act of God” there is wide disagreement. Some would say…

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 a miracle must involve an exception to the laws of nature. Or possibly…
 a miracle involves some event that exceeds the natural powers or capacities of natural things OR…
 (traditionally) a miracle is a sign that shows something about God or God’s purposes and that such events do not have to be scientifically explained.

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Right now, I hold to the third bullet, that it is a sign that has (1) a divine purpose. (2) I am not required to scientifically explain it.

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(1)It has a divine purpose and that purpose must be spelled out by Scripture.
(2)I am not required to scientifically explain it; however, it does have some relationship (or lack thereof)…
a.to the natural course of events and/or
b.to natural laws.

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Miracles Described

There are two types of miracles I would like to discuss: The miracles of providence and the miracles of creation. They can be described within their relationship to natural laws and timing. Miracles of creation focus on their relationship to the natural laws while miracles of Providence focus on their relationship to timing.

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Miracles of Providence[1]

 Description: God acts providentially within the confines of natural laws.
 Relationship to natural laws: Does not appear they have been set aside, modified, violated, altered, transcended, or interrupted in any way.
 Focus: Immediate timing of the event, not the event itself.
 Someone would say, “How did that happen when it did? I can believe that that would happen, but not when or how it happened.”
 Examples. In all the cases below, no natural laws seem to be affected. God used natural phenomena. Timing was what made it miraculous.
 2 Kings 19:35 (Isaiah 37:36): The Lord destroys the 185,000 man army of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, with the angel of the Lord after Hezekiah prayed.
· That 185,000 were killed is not surprising. What’s surprising is that they all died at one time.
· If you did an autopsy, you might discover a natural cause of death; in other words, you might not discover a divine sword wound.
 Genesis 19, Sodom and Gomorrah: God could have used a geological phenomenon to destroy the cities.
· Sulfur, etc. is not surprising. What’s surprising is that it happened when it did.
 Acts 16: God used an earthquake[2] to open prison doors.
· Again, earthquakes in and of themselves are not miraculous. It’s the timing.
 Matthew 17: the coin found in the fish’s mouth
· A coin in a fish’s mouth …could happen. The miracle is in the timing and at Jesus’ command.

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Miracles of Creation[3]

 God acts, it seems, outside the confines of natural laws.
 Relationship to natural laws: Appears to have been set aside, modified, violated, altered, transcended, or interrupted in some way.
 Focus: Universal possibility of the event, regardless of the timing.
 Someone would say, “That is not possible under any circumstance or in any time period. I would never have believed that that would have ever occurred unless I had observed it.”
 Examples. In all the cases below, natural laws seem to be affected. God transcended natural laws in some way, making it miraculous.
 John 2: Jesus turning water into wine. No matter when this happened, even 5000 years from now when technology is super advanced, this will always be a miracle.
 Matthew 14: Jesus feeding the 5000. The multiplication of bread and fish is miraculous by virtue of Jesus creating, not that he did it at that time.
 John 11: Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Resurrection is miraculous no matter when it happens. It does not happen by natural means.

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Who Cares?

How does knowing this help my apologetic encounter?

Biblical Purposes of Miracles

The people you encounter will have a natural presupposition against miracles. Even so-called “Christian” liberal theologians have removed miracles from the Bible.

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Of course, this makes Christianity merely a man-made religion. There are two primary uses for miracles in the Scripture: they authenticate God’s messengers and message and prove the divinity of Jesus.

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Miracles authenticate God’s messengers and their message

Throughout biblical history, God sent messengers to deliver his message is to his people. There were prophets and leaders who spoke forth (and wrote forth) God’s word.

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How would anyone ever believe them?

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Well, the truth is, most of biblical history is not peppered with miracles. There are three major periods of miracles: Moses, Elijah and Elisha, and Jesus and the apostles.

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Interestingly, neither Elijah nor Elisha were writing prophets.

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Pharaoh likely demanded that Moses authenticate himself with a miracle, Exodus 7:9.

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The apostle’s miracles confirmed their empowerment by God. Read 2 Corinthians 12:12 (confirmed messenger) ; Hebrews 2:3-4 (confirmed divine message).

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So, yes, they have a purpose, but they can only do so much. What value does this contribute?

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Miracles prove the divinity of Jesus

In the life of Jesus, miracles played a major role. He was miraculously conceived, performed signs and wonders, and was raised from the dead.

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The following verses highlight the fact that Jesus’ ministry was filled with the miraculous. Let it have its compounding effect. Read Mt. 4:24; 8:16; 11:5; 12:15; 14:14; 15:30; 19:2; 21:14; Mk. 1:34; 3:10; 6:5; Lk. 5:15; Lk. 6:18.

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The NT records longer narratives describing individual events, but it has just short verses that describe the widespread nature of his miracle working ministry.

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Most of Jesus’ miracles were never recorded John 21:25.

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The miracles Jesus performed were not for amusement or display. They met a human need either to know Jesus as the Son of God or to heal from disease or death.

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Jesus refused to perform miracles on occasion, for example, Luke 23:8-9.

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Additionally…

Scripture testifies that God does these works so that other people know that the God who is, is Yahweh. For example, Exodus 6:7; 7:5, 17; 8:22; 9:14; 10:2; 11:7; 14:4, 18; 16:12; 29:46).

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Apologetic Value

The apologetic value of miracles is limited by the Scripture itself.

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Because miracles authenticate God’s person and nature and a confirms the message of His will as the Lord, we can appeal to miracles to help confirm the truth of Christianity.

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However, miracles and the report of miracles have a limited value.

 First, nobody here has seen a miracle in the biblical sense of that term. The Scriptures give us the story and testimony of those miracles, which is reliable; however, it is a report.
 Secondly, the Scripture warns us not to put too much confidence in miracles to convert others. 3 points here.
 Recall our discussion concerning Luke 16:31.
 Even the enemies of Jesus would admit he did the miracle, but refuse to believe him.
 Plus, even his own disciples, after Jesus was raised from the dead, “doubted” Matthew 28:17.

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So a nonbeliever can, like other truths, choose to suppress the truth and message of the sign. He can merely say, sure it happened but strange things happen. “It doesn’t mean anything.”

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Nevertheless, a miracle can be just the thing that someone needs, for example, doubting Thomas and John 20:27-28. Indeed, this is one of the very purposes of the book of John, read 20:31.

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Therefore, we can conclude, that not just an observed miracle, but the report of a miracle is a divinely ordained way of coming to know Christ as the Lord.

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But What if Somebody Says…

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Now we will launch into arguments against miracles. Often, people will discredit the reality of miracles.

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[btw, if someone believes in the existence of God, it is unlikely that you will have to go through all of this. Given the fact that God exists, is it too much to believe that God is able and willing to perform miracles?]

…Miracles just don’t work into my worldview

[but what if you do not believe in God?]

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Of course, no one would actually put it that way. But, for example, someone just graduating from a secular University or someone teaching psychology, anthropology, biology, etc., in a secular University would, on the basis of their presuppositions, reject miracles.

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This is because the culture of that we and they are steeped in assumes the impossibility of miracles. Remember, that our Western culture is dominated by secular humanism, whose philosophical foundation is naturalism.

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The universe is eternal and nothing exists outside the material world. There is nothing beyond our senses or the natural world. Everything has a natural explanation, including so-called “miracles.”

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So, for many people who reject miracles, they are merely assumed in advance not to exist given the truth of the person’s worldview. It’s not that they have actually studied the historical accounts of miracles or have thought through the philosophical possibility of miracles.

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But, you could say, “Have you ever investigated the actual evidence for the existence of God and the resurrection?”

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Let’s investigate the philosophical case against miracles.

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…The probability of miracles is so low so as to demand disbelief.

This one was championed by David Hume[4] in Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.

Simply put, miracles are unreasonable to believe. He has three arguments

(1)It is unreasonable to believe that natural laws were ever broken, since our experience tells us otherwise.
(2)It is unreasonable to believe that the witnesses of a miracle are credible.
(3)It is unreasonable to believe in miracles, since other religions claim similar miracles, thereby arguing against the competing religions, resulting in the cancelation of all religions.

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Unreasonable to believe that natural laws were broken

Hume’s argument in a nutshell:

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1. A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature.

2. Firm and unalterable experience has established these laws of nature.

3. A wise person proportions belief to evidence.

4. Therefore, the proof against miracles is overwhelming.

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In other words, our experience tells us that the laws of nature are unalterable. Evidence proves this. Therefore, the proof against a law of nature altering is overpowering. You can draw from experience in order to disbelieve every claim of a miraculous event.

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It could look this way, in other words…

1. A miracle is by definition a rare occurrence.

2. Natural law is by definition a description of regular occurrence.

3. The evidence for the regular is always greater than that for the rare.

4. Wise individuals always base belief on the greater evidence.

5. Therefore, wise individuals should never believe in miracles.

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Answer?

It either is begging the question or is the case of “special pleading” (e.g., deciding to leave out details when they don’t fit his hypothesis).

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Let me explain. By arguing this, Hume is claiming he knows the degree of regularity of all natural law. But he has not tested every occurrence, but he still claims to know when a natural law can be described as a “regular occurrence.” In other words, he cannot know all possible experiences of natural law without studying and accessing all possible experiences of that law.

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Well, Hume might say, “I am just talking about those select experiences of some persons.” Then, he’s just leaving out the experiences of those who don’t fit his theory. That’s arbitrary; that’s not honest.

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 In other words, Hume would be correct if all of human experience testifies that miracles never happened (= “uniform experience”).
 However, we only know if experience is uniform if we can prove all the reports of them to be false.
 We can only know all the reports of them to be false if we know that miracles have never happened.
 We can only know that miracles have never happened, then, if all of human experience testifies that they have never happened.
 But we only know if they have never happened if we can prove all the reports to be false.
 But all the reports can be falsified only if we know that they never happened…
 Keep going?

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In other words, this is arguing in a circle and does not prove his point. Clearly, he is not weighing the evidence; he is adding up the evidence against miracles and looking at it from a probability standpoint. He would say things like, “it is more likely that a man should tell a lie than for nature to go out of her course.”

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One author put it this way, “Certainly, in most all our experience, things happen in regular patterns, to some extent describable by scientific law. But there is nothing in this experience to persuade us that irregularities are not possible or that everything always behaves naturally and regularly. Experience tells us what is happening it does not tell us what is or is not possible, or what “always” happens. We have not seen what everything always does, for we have neither seen everything nor seen things always.”

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The question would be, at what point does probability cease to matter? For example, statistically speaking, concerning the history of the world up to this minute, more people have been born than have died. Does that mean that we should not believe in death?

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Hume is saying that one would only be wise to believe in what is most probable. Wise people would therefore never try to play baseball in the major leagues, because good players are those who are more likely than not going to fail at getting a hit.

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It is unreasonable to believe that the witnesses of a miracle are credible.

Hume argues that there is not enough evidence to establish the miracles as recorded in the New Testament. He argues that there was not a sufficient number of men who had unquestionable good sense, education, integrity, and learning to be credible witnesses.

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They were too private and they occurred in ignorant and barbarous nations. He goes on to argue that all reasonable people should always reject miracles. Therefore, he would not accept any miraculous event if that happened before his eyes. He would find no reason to test the credibility of the witnesses. Plainly speaking here, he has a bias against accepting miracles.

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But why should this only apply to miracles? For example, we could use his argument a another way.

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Say for example this was a debate about whether water could freeze. Let’s say that Hume is someone who has always lived on the equator during the Middle Ages.

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Hume is interviewing people, and someone living with Hume his whole life on the equator would say that water never freezes. However, say someone from Athabasca walks in on the conversation…they would clearly argue that water does freeze. Hume would never accept the testimony that water freezes, because …. ? It sounds outrageous and he’s going to deny it, period. It’s called a presupposition! Hume has an anti-supernatural bias and here he has an anti-water-freezing bias. Same story.

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To talk to somebody like this, we would need to show them the historical evidence for the reliability of the biblical documents. We have biblical documents that can be proven to have been written within a generation after the events they record happened.

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The following are Hume’s criteria to believe a witness.

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1.Do the witnesses contradict each other?
 No. We have some minor discrepancies in the Bible that have sufficient answers. We expect minor discrepancies, given the true nature of eye witness testimony.
2.Are there a sufficient number of witnesses?
 There are 27 books in the New Testament written by nine or so people.
 We have multiple testimonies with in the gospel records themselves of miracles.
 We have multiple historical references outside of the New Testament that testify to the historical Jesus as we know him in the Gospels.
3.Were the witnesses truthful?
 The disciples do not fulfill the profile of a liar.
 They grew up Jewish.
 They were taught by Jesus to love.
 They taught others not to lie, Colossians 3:9.
 Biblical archaeology validates biblical claims.
4.Were they prejudiced?
 In other words, were the witnesses predisposed to believing what they witnessed?
 We have every reason to believe, as stated in the lecture on the resurrection, that the disciples had every reason not to believe in the resurrection. Read Luke 24:11, 25; Matthew 28:17; Luke 24:41.
 The disciples had nothing to earthly to gain from this; they were persecuted.

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It is unreasonable to believe in miracles, since other religions claim similar miracles, thereby arguing against the competing religions, resulting in the cancelation of all religions.

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In other words, since all religions have the same sort of miracles, no miracle firmly establishes the truth of their doctrine, since they all refute each other.

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However, in saying this, Hume assumes that all alleged claims of miracles are equal. However, upon investigation, some supposed miracles can be psychosomatic occurrences or even magic tricks.

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For example, there’s a difference between walking on hot coals and walking on water!

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There is a difference between healing recurring headaches and healing someone who was born blind, raising the sick versus raising the dead.

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This argument also assumes that all witnesses have equal credibility. And this simply is not the case. Hume needs to apply some principles to every claim of the miraculous.

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The New Testament is made up of eyewitnesses; however, Islamic miracles stories appear a generation later at least. Therefore, we cannot assume that the validity of each miracle story and witness is the same.

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…Science disproves miracles

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Really, how? How has science disproved miracles? Has it tested them in some way?

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There are 3 ways to answer the claim that miracles conflict with science

1.Science is limited to the observable.
2.The nature of natural laws is not as steadfast and reliable as many think.
3.The universe does not operate within a “closed system” as some would think.

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Science is limited to the observable.

“How do you know that science can answer the question on the probability of miracles?”

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What scientific atheists fail to understand is that their area of expertise (science) does not allow them to come to their philosophical conclusions. Science, by definition, cannot support atheism. Science deals with the observable and the repeatable. You cannot scientifically validate miracles; by definition miracles are not repeatable in the scientific sense. Miracles are a matter of history, whether they happened or not, not a matter of scientific investigation. In order to determine the authenticity of a miraculous claim, we must investigate history, not science.

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So, science is not the field of study to evaluate the validity of miracles. It’s like trying to observe amoeba with binoculars. Wrong tool.

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…Secondly…

The nature of natural laws is not as steadfast and reliable as many think

Whereas Newton’s theories claimed the world operated much like a machine, Einstein’s theories as well as quantum theory have revealed that we live in more of an unpredictable universe than was once thought.

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Natural laws describe generally how nature behaves, not how it must behave. That miracles could exist that could violate such general laws is not as surprising.

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The universe does not operate within a “closed system” as some would think.

A closed system is a system in which no outside force exists which can influence natural laws or available energy. If we live in a closed system, this would rule out miracles. However, “science” today disagrees.

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The Big Bang theory, that the universe came into existence by an explosion of an unknown cause, could only be true if an outside force fulfilled the role of this unknown cause. I’m not saying the Big Bang theory is credible; I’m pointing out that within the atheists realm of expertise, their own doctrine can’t substantiate the “closed system” hypothesis. Therefore, miracles are possible.

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Additionally, the second law of thermodynamics (nature is ‘running down’ constantly deteriorating) requires a force outside of natural laws. Let me explain.

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If the second law is true, from what state is the universe running down or deteriorating? It must go back to a beginning. If the universe has a beginning, an outside force must have caused that beginning.

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Summary

Argument Against Miracles

What he’s saying…

Assumption(s)

What’s behind what he’s saying…

Answer

Here’s what you should say.

“It’s just so incredible, I just don’t believe the report of them.”

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 Anti-supernaturalism
 I’ve never investigated whether they are credible.

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 Miracles can be historically investigated for truthfulness.
 Give evidence (e.g., reliability of NT documents)

“It is unreasonable to believe that natural laws (‘regularities’) were ever broken, since our experience tells us otherwise.”

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 Claims to know the degree of regularity of all laws.
 Assumes experiences of natural laws limited to some persons (not those who claim miracles).
 Have your tests revealed that all laws never vary?
 You’re leaving out the claims of who have experienced them.

“It is unreasonable to believe that the witnesses of a miracle are credible.”

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 An ill-conceived notion of what is credible.
 Show credibility of NT authors, even from Hume’s criteria above.
 Give frozen water illustration.

“Science disproves miracles.”

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 Science can address non-observable phenomena.
 Laws are always reliable.
 Universe in a “closed system.”

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 Science doesn’t answer the question of miracles; history does.
 Laws generally describe nature, not how nature must behave.
 For Big Bang/beginning to be true, outside force is required. 2nd Law true? Deterioration requires a beginning; and beginning requires outside force.

“Other religions claim miracles, which refute other religions. Miracles cancel out all religions.”

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 Assumes all witnesses to miracles are equally credible.
 Assumes all miracle claims are equally credible.

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 NT witnesses are superior (multiple eyewitnesses)
 NT miracles are superior (resurrection)

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…So Miracles Happened

Can you prove otherwise?

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Go to BibleTrove.com Home Page from Apologetics Lecture 11 Miracles

Go to Theology Main Page

Go to Apologetics Lectures Main Page

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  1. Inside of natural laws

  2. When is a miracle not an earthquake?

  3. Outside the confines of natural laws.

  4. He was one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment”

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