Many of us are familiar with the famous line by sportscaster Al Michaels after the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team upset the Soviet Union Olympic Hockey Team to advance the medal round: “Do you believe in miracles?” He immediately answered his own question with a resounding “yes!” as the U.S. team spilled onto the ice in celebration.
But while many acknowledge the “Miracle on Ice,” for a lot of people, miracles are on the same level as fairy tales – they don’t really exist. And that brings us to this week’s problem:
Many Christians accept at face value that Jesus’ miracles as described in the Bible were true historical events. However, these alleged miracles occurred in Roman-occupied lands, and the Romans had spies that attended large gatherings of Jews to detect any whispers of insurrection. News of these miraculous events, especially feeding thousands with only five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14:13-21), would have spread rapidly all around the empire and eventually to the Roman emperor. It is hard to imagine that the Romans would not have investigated these extraordinary phenomena, documented it in their written accounts, and perhaps have tried to determine if Jesus or his methods could be used to solve some of the problems of the empire. The lack of Roman documentation of the miracles makes their historicity highly suspect.
Actually, there are extra-biblical accounts of Jesus with some accounts claiming he performed miracles. So, does that mean the challenger and those like him would now believe that Jesus did in fact perform those miracles?
Though I can’t speak for him, I strongly suspect, based on the other content of his problems with Christianity, that his answer would be “no.” In that case, it’s not the (supposed) lack of documentation outside the Bible, but rather the miracles themselves that he finds “highly suspect.” But did you know that even atheists believe in miracles?
According to Dictionary.com, a miracle is an effect or extraordinary event that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.
Given this definition, everyone believes in one kind of miracle or another. Even atheists believe in at least one miracle – the creation of the universe and time itself. Cosmologists still subscribe to the “Big Bang Theory” – no, not the TV show – but rather a hypothesis that proposes that all space, time, and matter had a beginning.
If that’s true, then we are living in a caused universe (since everything that has a beginning has a cause). However, the cause cannot be space, time or matter since space, time and matter came into existence as a result of the cause. A thing cannot cause itself to exist since that means it would have to exist prior to the point of its own beginning.
So, even atheists and skeptics believe in a spaceless, timeless, immaterial cause to the universe. So what defines supernatural (again, not the TV show)? Dictionary.com says it’s something pertaining to, or being above or beyond what is natural; unexplainable by natural law or phenomena.
It would seem this spaceless, timeless, immaterial cause fits the definition of “supernatural.” This cause is clearly “above or beyond what is natural” and cannot be explained by “natural law or phenomena.” J. Warner Wallace sums this up nicely:
As it turns out, the most spectacular and impressive miracle recorded in the Bible is actually found in the opening line of Genesis Chapter 1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Christians believe the beginning of the universe to be a supernatural miracle. Atheists agree. As a skeptic investigating the claims of Christianity, I eventually had to admit I also accepted at least one supernatural, miraculous event, and if I was willing to accept there might be a force capable of accomplishing something this remarkable, the lesser miracles described in the New Testament seemed much less implausible. As an atheist, my “reasonable” account of the history of the universe included a miraculous event. How could I then reject the Christian accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry just because they also included miraculous events? To be consistent, all of us (theists and atheists included) need to suspend our presuppositional biases against the supernatural to assess the claims of Christianity fairly.