Atheism/Regarding miracles



What does science say about miracles. For example, there are many incidents like a person surviving plane crash while everyone else died, a living baby taken out of earthquake rubbles after 10 days and so on. These events are real & true but cannot be explained by physical laws. How does science explains these extra-ordinary events?. What is the atheistic explanation to these extra-ordinary events?


I do not accept there are such things as "miracles", full stop, but there are "miracle reports". (Personal claims of something phenomenal occurring) These reports, provided they're consistentexist just like UFO reports, but must be supported by extraordinary evidence since an extraordinary claim has been made. Even if no extraordinary evidence is available, a first threshold test is the *Hume miracle test* as Richard Dawkins applied to the alleged "miracle at Fatima" (in his book, 'Unweaving the Rainbow').

That is, given two competing claims for an anomalous event, one for a "miracle" (say the Sun being moved around in the sky as claimed by many at Fatima) and the other for a very unlikely prosaic cause (e.g. that all the observers were hallucinating) one always accepts the prosaic unlikely cause in the absence of objective, extraordinary evidence for the "miracle".

The approach of the scientist is much like that of a very cautious journalist: "The facts please, and nothing but the facts."  And if one claims an extraordinary event, the evidence for it must be equally extraordinary.

For example, the alleged miracle by which Lazarus was brought back to life is a serious violation of the entropy law (2nd law of Thermodynamics). A truly dead body (not near death!) is in a highly disorganized state, indeed it is in a process of decay. The entropy law makes clear that the associated molecular energy changes are irreversible, and that the tissues and cells of the body's organs can never again recombine or participate in metabolic processes which require useful energy. There exists no medical or other evidence that a dead individual (certainly for 2 or 3 days) can return to life. One can choose to believe it, of course, but this belief is devoid of any scientific support.

Apart from the above considerations, there is no logical reason to invoke miracles anyway, say to support a presumed, uniquely divine plan. Paul Davies, for example, notes that apart from convincing the rational skeptic that such phenomena can occur, the believer is faced with the added burden of:

“convincing him that miracles are in any way connected with God. This means either accepting all supernatural events (even the unpleasant ones) as the work of God or somehow establishing a clear distinction between God's miracles and the rest”

Note the secular definition of "miracles" is:

“A claimed or perceived pathological event that overturns one or more laws of nature or physical principles.”

So any miracle report must be based on this,

Observe that none of your cited examples, or "incidents" do so, because none of them are technically in violation of a scientific law. A baby emerging from an earthquake after a day or two (I've never seen any reports for 10 days - but I'd be interested to hear the exact event and source) may be improbable but it isn't scientifically impossible. Neither is surviving a plane crash when everyone else dies. The survivor may merely have had the good luck to be seated in the best place on the plane to survive!

So, no, none of the cited examples is truly an "extraordinary event" - say that overturns a law of nature-  they are merely rare events, with improbable (but not impossible) outcomes,

Hopefully, this clarifies what counts as a miracle report and what doesn't.  


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Philip A. Stahl


I specialize in the areas of scientific materialism and consciousness described as a materialist epiphenomenon. Also can answer questions pertaining to general atheism, atheist-agnostic differences etc.


I have been an atheist for over 36 yrs. and have written four books on the subject: 'The Atheist's Handbook to Modern Materialism'(2000), and 'Atheism" A Beginner's Handbook', 'Dialectical Atheism' (2011), 'Beyond Atheism, Beyond God' (2013)

Intertel, Mensa, American Mathematical Society, American Astronomical Society, American Geophysical Union

Atheist articles: 'The American Atheist' magazine, assorted U.S. newspapers (e.g. Baltimore Sun, Denver Post); papers-articles published in Intertel's Journal: Integra. Books: 'The Atheist's Handbook to Modern Materialism'(2000), 'Atheism: A Beginner's Handbook' (2007), 'Dialectical Atheism' (2011), 'Beyond Atheism, Beyond God' (2013)

Master of Philosophy in Physics. Also took more than 3 yrs. of theology and metaphysics courses at a Catholic University (1964-67) - before I became an atheist. Thus, I have much more religious familiarity & background than many atheists.

Awards and Honors
Writers' Digest Award for the essay 'The Atheist in America' (2000), Government of Barbados research in solar physics award (1980-84), AAS Solar Physics Award (1984)

Past/Present Clients
American Atheists, Barbados Philosophical Society, Harrison College- Barbados, Colorado Springs Freethinkers

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