Are Miracles Illogical?

Many who adhere to philosophical naturalism or materialism call claims that supernatural events occurred in the past (and are possible today) illogical because of their pre-commitment to a view of the world that precludes anything that transcends nature. They equate being rational with holding to some form of naturalism and therefore conclude that any claim that contradicts naturalism is irrational. But this is fallacious. It will not do to dismiss miracles out of hand on the grounds that nature is all there is. That’s the very question at the heart of the dispute between the Christian theist and the atheist. If we inhabit a universe created, upheld, and governed by a transcendent, omnipotent, all-wise God, then there is no problem with the possibility of miracles. One can only claim that miracles are impossible if, in fact, one knows that God is not there. But as the late Greg Bahnsen noted, “The denial of the very possibility of miracles is not a piece of evidence for rejecting the Christian worldview, but simply a specific manifestation of that very rejection.”

Atheists and materialists aren’t the only ones who might use the adjective “illogical” to describe reported miracles, however. Some Christians, too, though they believe the biblical reports of miraculous occurrences and that God is able to perform them today, claim that miracles themselves or belief in them is illogical. By this, they mean to emphasize the fact that miracles surpass our ability to comprehend. We can say that God has performed them, but we don’t know how He did. That’s true as far as it goes. But there’s a substantial difference between saying that something is beyond reason and saying that it actually contradicts it.

The problem with both uses of the word “illogical” is that they are the result of an imprecise definition of the word. To say that something is illogical is to say that it violates the basic principles of reasoning, commonly known as the laws of logic. These norms of thought (the law of non-contradiction, the law of identity, and the law of excluded middle) are essential to reasoning and communication. The law of non-contradiction affirms that something cannot be A (where A represents a particular quality) and non-A at the same time and in the same manner. It’s possible for a ball to be black and white at the same time if it’s striped or spotted, for example; but it’s not possible for it to be uniformly black and white at the same time. With regard to propositions, the law of non-contradiction says that one cannot be true and false at the same time, in the same respect.

The law of identity states that a thing is itself or “A is A.” In their book, Apologetics at the Cross, Joshua Chatraw and Mark Allen note that the significance of this law is “that all things have certain qualities that can be described—qualities that set them apart from everything else.” “Without such qualities,” they continue, “we could not identify something in the first place.”

Finally, the law of excluded middle states that a thing is either A or non-A. An assertion is either true or not true.

Someone might conclude on the basis of the observed regularity of nature that miracles are impossible and therefore conclude that they are illogical, but that would be faulty for two reasons. First, what we call the laws of nature are descriptions of how the world ordinarily functions, but they are not prescriptions of what must always be the case. Concerning this point, John Frame observes:

Certainly, in almost 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 irregularity is impossible, 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.

Even if we granted that miracles are not physically possible (which I obviously don’t think we should), it would be erroneous to confuse physical impossibility with logical impossibility or illogic. At my age (let alone weight), it’s not physically possible for me to dunk a basketball. (Come to think of it, it never was!) But there’s nothing about the thought of my doing so that is contrary to any of the laws of logic.

Neither the miraculous events reported in the Bible nor believing in them inherently violates the laws of logic. Consequently, it’s not appropriate to describe them as illogical. Believers and unbelievers alike should refrain, therefore, from describing them as such.

Keith Plummer (@XianMind) is a member of the School of Divinity faculty at Cairn University in Langhorne, PA. He previously served in pastoral ministry. 

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Keith Plummer

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