Thursday, February 7, 2008

"The Argument from Miracles" and "Some Minor Evidential Arguments for God"


This week I chose to do both Chapters Seven and Eight since they were both a little shorter than most chapters. I will start here with Chapter Seven and do Chapter Eight after my critique of Chapter Seven.

Chapter Seven of 'Atheism' is Dr. Martin's critique of the argument for the existence of God from the occurrence of miracles. The argument from miracles is a historical/ empirical argument and is therefore different from the traditional arguments. As with the previous article, I am split with my evaluation of this Chapter. There were many strong points made by Dr. Martin, but there were also many misunderstandings and mistakes. Overall, I believe that Martin is correct that 'miracles' themselves may not be sufficient to prove theism, but given a theistic worldview (as proven by the Cosmological Argument which was left standing after Martin's criticisms) miracles could be very informative.

Summary of Martin's Claims

Martin begins this chapter by presenting what he believes to be the generic argument for God by way of miracles. Simply stated:

P-1: There have been many miracle claims (in the Bible, church history, and in other traditions)
P-2: Given that such accounts cannot be explained naturalistically, the best explanation is God
Conclusion: God's exists

After briefly noting that some theists do not use this argument for God's existence but rather for the affirmation of a particular theological scheme, Martin goes on to define what he means by 'miracle.' For Martin, a 'miracle' is not simply an unusual or unexplainable (or unrepeatable) event nor is it necessarily a violation of a natural law. Instead, a 'miracle' is considered to be an event brought about by the exercise of a supernatural power. Before going forward, Martin clarifies that, by 'supernatural,' he means going beyond 'nature,' i.e. those beings or powers that are measurable in the material world.

After this introduction, Martin makes the claim that even if miracles actually occurred, they aren't necessarily the acts of God, but could be brought on by other supernatural beings besides God. After this brief assertion he goes on to critique Swinburne's claims as well as some claims of the Bible. Regarding Swinburne, Martin faults him for not taking into consideration other possibilities besides theism and naturalism in his handling of the 'miraculous.' Regarding the biblical claims, Martin says that some are contrary to specific Christian doctrines. He adds that others are impediments, cause confusion, or mislead, which contradicts God's omnipotence. Still others, he claims, are capricious or trivial which contradicts God's justice. More will be said of these assertions in the Critique section.

Next, Dr. Martin takes on an argument presented by famous Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. Martin frames C.S. Lewis' argument as follows:

P-1: If naturalism is true then miracles are a priori impossible
P-2: But if miracles are held to be a priori possible, then supernaturalism must be assumed
Conclusion: Therefore, one must determine between naturalism and supernaturalism before he can truly investigate the possibility of miracles.

Martin rejects that one needs to prove naturalism or supernaturalism before evaluating miracle claims. He then goes on to say that Lewis' attempt to prove supernaturalism fails anyway (Lewis attempted to do so by arguing that naturalism leaves no room for logical inference and no room for justifying morality). He claims that the first part fails because it assumes that naturalists need to explain things in terms of cause and effect. Then he claims that the second part fails because naturalists do have a justification for morality.

In the next section, Martin attempts to show the difficulty in even recognizing a miracle. He begins by presenting David Hume's a priori argument against miracles and then critiquing it at many points, concluding that there are no a priori reasons to reject the miraculous. He then defends the idea that there are a posteriori reasons to reject the miraculous. He offers three reasons in defense of this cl.. 1) Not all natural laws have been discovered; hence it cannot be shown that the event wasn't naturally occurring. 2) Not all miracles can be shown to conflict with natural laws (some mysterious events can actually be the result of trickery, deceit, or magic; he offers two examples of this regarding Christianity: a) Jesus' purported miracles may have been fraudulent and b) the witnesses of Jesus may have seen what they wanted to see). And 3) the scientific laws may be statistical rather than deterministic. Thus the events may be uncaused—not naturally or supernaturally determined.

Finally Martin assesses what he claims are the best documented reports of miracles, a collection of claims from a town called Lourdes. If these are suspect—he claims—then there is good reason to believe that all others are suspect. After review, he believes that these "miracles" are naturally explainable in some cases and that others have been shown to have been questionably recorded. To conclude the chapter, he assesses those that believe that indirect miracles occur (those that are miraculous because of their timing). He claims that there is no reason to assume that these are not merely coincidental and, nevertheless, if one were to accept these as genuine he must do so at the expense of free will.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

First, I would like to point out that I appreciate Dr. Martin mentioning that some theists believe that miracles are better suited for demonstrating the proof of a particular religion rather than demonstrating the existence of God. I hold this position, and I would like to view his arguments against the Christian claims someday. Second, I love that he took time to define miracles in such a way as to allow for the timing of events to be considered miraculous. I also think that his rejection of Hume's a priori argument is correct in its conclusion and I appreciate his a posteriori reasons, though I do not believe that they successfully undermine any Christian claims. Finally, I think that he has fairly treated the accounts at Lourdes, though I disagree that disproving those claims has any relevance to all other claims.


There are a few areas that I think are well-deserving of a critique in Chapter Seven. First, he criticizes Christian miracles in three ways. Regarding the first criticism, that some are contrary to specific Christian doctrines, he cites that Jesus is not merciful because He allowed demons to enter a group of pigs when they were going to run of a cliff and because He caused the fig tree to whither. Now, I am not sure why either of these criticisms should be taken seriously. However, granted that Martin does take them seriously I will answer simply, God is also just (regarding the fig tree) and God has created free creatures that have the ability to choose to harm others (regarding the pigs). The second criticism of Christian miracle claims is that some are impediments, cause confusion, or mislead, which contradicts God's omnipotence. But this misunderstands the source of the confusion, since it is the deficiency in the hearer that causes this rather than the miracle itself. This can be shown by pointing out that some understand the significance of the events. Further, the idea that miracles 'impede' science falsely assumes that physical science is the Holy Grail of wisdom. This is false; theology is queen of the sciences (used loosely here). Finally, Martin criticizes Christian miracles as being capricious or trivial which contradicts God's justice. However, the 'capricious' claim assumes that the own seeing the miracle knows more about the situation than does the one doing the miracle and the 'trivial' claim assumes that the events classified as such are true miracles. I would reject both.

Next, I would like to critique Martin's criticism of Lewis' arguments against atheism. First, Martin has misunderstood Lewis' claim regarding the ability to make inferences in a materialistic world. Lewis is pointing out that if all reality is natural, i.e. governed by nature, then all inferences are governed by nature, and thus they are not actually inferred from the data but determined by prior conditions. Secondly, he has also misunderstood Lewis' claim about there being a justification for moral judgments in a materialistic world. Following the prior point, if there is nothing beyond nature, then all is determined. If all is determined then one cannot choose between moral alternatives and, thus, there is not actual moral choice since there is no choice. But where there is no choice there is no condemnation. Thus Lewis' arguments still stand.

Next, I would like to comment on his a priori reasons for rejecting miracles. His first criticism can be countered by noting that miracles are not events in a vacuum, they may be scientifically explainable but miraculous insofar as their timing. The second criticism assumes that a miracle must conflict with natural laws, something he supposedly ruled out earlier in his definition. In his first example of theological trickery he asserts that Jesus' purported miracles may have been fraudulent, but this is unbelievable based on what we know of His character. In his second example of deception, he claims that the disciples fooled themselves into believing what they wanted to, and he cites the instance of the calming of the storm as such an example. Now, this is a terrible example for Martin to use since the disciples were frightened when they saw it—who wants to be scared? Further, we have evidence that Jesus' followers were constantly rebuked for not seeing what they should have been seeing. Finally, such examples do not account for the signs that converted James and Paul.

Though I have some other criticisms throughout the chapter, I will skip over them and end with my criticism of Martin's handling of indirect miracle claims. First, he asks why we shouldn't just chalk such events up to coincidence. But if this is a theistic (proven by the Cosmological Argument) world and the event accompanies a religious message, then is it more rational to believe it is a coincidence or accept the truth claim in accompaniment? Second, he claims that such occurrences would negate free will. But this is just false. God is not in time, thus an event can be determined (in that it will surely happen, not that God is causing it) to occur based on free choices.


In Chapter Eight, Martin takes on a collection of what he believes are some of the more 'minor' arguments for God's existence. I will try to be very brief on this section seeing as I have already created such a large post. Off the bat, I would like to note again that I agree with Martin that these arguments aren't demonstrative, but I do believe that, given the fact that the Cosmological Argument succeeds, these arguments all have some value.

Summary of Martin's Claims

Martin begins this chapter by critiquing the argument from consent for the existence of God in three forms: 1) that God is demonstrated based on innate ideas, 2) that God is demonstrated based on an innate yearning, and 3) that God is demonstrable based on sound reasoning. On the first two he points out that there is no such evidence to support these claims and even counterevidence when one notices that atheists don't believe and don't yearn for God. On the third point, Martin answers that most believers don't believe by reason but by indoctrination and that those who are most reasonable, the scientists, are more likely to be unbelievers.

Next, Martin critiques four forms of the moral argument for God's existence. The main arguments he challenges are: 1) disbelief in a theistic God would result in a drop in morality; 2) no one has shown that morality can be objective without God; 3) conscious can not be explained naturalistically; and 4) Kant's deontological argument. For time's sake, I will further address these in my critique.

Next, Martin critiques the argument from reward which claims that believers are happier than unbelievers. Hoe points out that this argument is not demonstrable, does not prove theism, and can be explained naturalistically. Then he critiques the argument from justice which claims that our sense of justice tells us that all evil should be repaid or balanced out. But it isn't here. Thus there must be a place/time where that occurs. He likewise points out that this argument also is not demonstrable nor does it prove theism. After this he critiques arguments from scripture, which appeal to reliability of a historic document and then to miracles and self-claims at divine authority. He notes that some Holy Books do not make such claims, others contradict one another, and some such as the Bible, are internally inconsistent and not confirmed by independent sources. Next, he critiques the argument from consciousness which claims that the interaction between the mind and brain demands a theistic explanation. He answers this by claiming that this interaction can be explained naturalistically and, nonetheless it doesn't prove theism. After this, he critiques the argument from providence which states that after an analysis of possible worlds, it can be seen that this world has an extremely friendly environment that is best explained by appeal to a heavenly organizer. In response he points out that there are many unfriendly elements and also appeals to the Problem of Evil, which will be dealt with in a later chapter. Finally, Martin critiques the argument from cumulative evidence, which states that theism is supremely explanatory among all hypotheses. He responds that Kuhn's approach has problems, points out that there is no agreed upon paradigm for comparison, and appeals to the second half of his book for evidence that atheism would have better explanatory power.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

Again, I would like to note that I see a lot in this chapter that is very true. Particularly regarding the facts that these arguments, taken by themselves, do not prove that theism is true. Nor are most of them demonstrable outside of a theistic context. This agreement applies to almost all of the arguments offered by Martin in this chapter.


I would like to focus my critique on just a few points. As noted earlier, I think that each of these arguments has value, but I agree with Martin that the value is not in demonstrating theism. That said, I think that the first two criticisms of the argument from common consent are valid, but the third I think is not. I do believe that God can be demonstrated by reason. Though most people today believe because of 'indoctrination,' Martin neglects to point out that the Christian faith was founded on evidential appeals and rational inference. So when the chain is traced back it ends with reason. Second, the fact that most scientists disbelieve (which I doubt seriously but will grant for the argument) proves nothing. If anything, these are not the champions of reason but observation. Philosophers are the champions of reason per se and most of these believe that there is some ultimate reality behind the physical world.

Next, regarding the moral argument, I think each criticism is flawed in some way. First, the claim that many believe that disbelief in a theistic God would result in a drop in morality may be true, but that is not by any means the intellectual argument offered by theists. We claim that disbelief in a theistic God results in a lack of justification for moral standards. Second, the claim that no one has shown that morality cannot be objective without God is just false. I did earlier by pointing out that naturalism entails determinism thus negating morality. Third, the claim that conscious can be explained naturalistically is also false. It cannot be explained unless without invoking free choice, which is unavailable for the naturalist. Finally, Martin's critique of Kant's deontological argument still doesn't explain why the good is to be considered good.

Next, in Martin's critique of the argument from consciousness he claimed that the 'apparent' interaction between the mind and the brain could actually be explained naturalistically. But this is only true up to a certain point. Eventually, there must be a first originating cause for every act/choice.

Finally, in his criticism of the argument for God based on cumulative evidence, Martin asserts that there is no agreed upon paradigm by which we could judge the value of the evidence. But this assumes that all evidence is merely scientific (in the strict physicalistic sense). The truth is that there is a paradigm by which we can judge the evidence, logic. And there has never been a paradigm shift regarding the acceptance of the laws of logic rational inference. They are universally used and undeniable.

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