Skeptical Approaches to Miracles – Part 2

I can think of at least four different skeptical approaches to miracle claims.

The Big Guns – AtheismAtheism eliminates biblical miracles, but it is difficult to persuade religious believers that there is no God. Also, God is just one of many supernatural persons who can allegedly override the laws of nature, so disproving the existence of God leaves open the door to “miracles” performed by angels, demons, spirits, witches, shaman, etc.

The Nuclear Option – Naturalism
This approach not only eliminates all of the religious beliefs associated with the activity of God (creation, miracles, revelation, salvation, and divine judgment), it eliminates a number of other religious and New Age beliefs as well (angels, souls, afterlife, etc.). However, there is an even greater psychological resistance to naturalism than to atheism, because it completely demolishes the world (i.e. the worldview) of the religious believer.

Sniper Fire – Scientific SkepticismOne big advantage of the scientific-skepticism approach is that it is fairly non-threatening to the psyche of a religious believer, in comparison with making a case for atheism or naturalism. Furthermore, scientific skepticism can, in some cases, be very powerful and persuasive. However, scientific skeptics pick off miracle claims one at a time, and there is an endless supply of miracle claims, so the scientific-skepticism approach can never completely resolve the question of whether miracles occur.

Tank Attack – Epistemological Objections to Miracles
There are philosophical objections to miracles that do not involve sweeping metaphysical claims like atheism or naturalism and that have broader implications concerning miracles than the approach of scientific skepticism. These philosophical objections usually focus on conceptual or epistemological problems surrounding our ability to know or to prove that a miracle has occurred.

I will concentrate on these sorts of objections to miracles, because they occupy a middle ground between the broad scope of atheism/naturalism on the one hand and the narrow scope of scientific skepticism on the other hand. These philosophical objections to miracles generally meet with less psychological resistance from believers compared to atheism/naturalism, and yet they carry a significant skeptical impact that can potentially eliminate belief in all miracles, or at least belief in all miracles attributed to God.

Future essays on this topic will provide an historical survey of philosophical and epistemological objections to miracles, starting with the writings of Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677), and continuing on to skeptical philosophers in the present day.