“The light of common sense, thrown on the stories of making snakes out of rods, of the Red Sea dividing itself, of Christ’s making wine from water, curing blind men by rubbing spit in their eyes, walking on water, the story of the flood, God’s making the world in six days, of making a woman from Adam’s rib and all the mythical, miraculous stories of the Bible would cause any sensible man to question the veracity of the whole book, including all the stories of the gods, spirits, angels, devils, and the things that common sense tells us are not true.”
This quote, from a website devoted to atheism, is similar to so many I have received from skeptics over the years. The basic claim is this: Christianity defies common sense.
In other words, the very existence of miracle claims in the Bible immediately discredits it.
While there certainly are many Christians and skeptics engaging in deeper, more scientific or philosophical battles online, simplistic appeals to common sense are the down-and-dirty weapons often hurled through social media. You don’t need to know one thing about logic, theology, history, biblical scholarship, philosophy, or science to cobble together an emotionally impactful statement that can make someone feel utterly stupid for what they believe. That’s why appeals to common sense can be so powerful: They’re easy and effective. The general message is that what Christians believe is so ridiculous, anyone with just a little common sense can see it’s not true.
Common sense is presented as a one-size-fits-all bulldozer against faith.
And if your kids haven’t been trained to think critically about the nature of miracles, their faith will be easily crushed by that bulldozer.
Here’s a 10-step framework to help your kids think well about this subject. Each point builds on the last. You can easily use these brief explanations to discuss a point each day on the way to school or at the dinner table.
1. Just because something sounds crazy, that doesn’t mean it’s false
This is a basic starting point for discussion. A practical example is that we live on a big rock that jets around the sun at an average speed of 66,600 mph and we don’t feel a thing. If our test for truth is what happens to make sense to us, we’ll indiscriminately reject almost any idea that strikes us as weird. Instead, we need to look at what evidence there is for the truth of any claim.
2. People use the word miracle in a lot of different ways, so it’s important to define it as it relates to biblical claims
Philosophers can argue all day about the most appropriate definition of a miracle, but for all intents and purposes, a good working definition is, “An extraordinary event with a supernatural cause.” This is very different than the colloquial ways in which people sometimes use the word. For example, we might say that it’s a “miracle” our kids cleaned their room. But when we’re talking about the kinds of miracle accounts found in the Bible, we need to be very clear that we are specifically talking about claims that God (a supernatural cause) intervened in the world in an extraordinary way.
3. If God doesn’t exist, miracles are NOT possible
Given the definition of a miracle, if nothing exists beyond nature - nothing supernatural exists - then miracles aren’t possible. This is where Christians can find common ground with skeptics. When skeptics say miracles aren’t possible, it’s typically because they are assuming God doesn’t exist. We can simply reply, “If nothing (such as God) exists beyond nature, and a miracle is something with a cause from beyond nature, then I agree with you! Miracles by definition wouldn’t be possible. But you’re assuming nothing supernatural exists.”
4. If God does exist, miracles ARE possible
The flip side of the logic we just saw in point 3 is that if a supernatural being such as God does exist, then miracles are - once again, by definition - possible. God can choose to intervene in His creation in any way He sees fit.
Note that in points 3 and 4, we’re only talking about logic. We haven’t even made any claims about whether or not God actually exists. This logical framework is extremely important for kids to understand. I began teaching this thinking to my kids when they were in kindergarten: If God exists, miracles are possible. If God doesn’t exist, miracles are not possible.
5. The possibility of miracles is, therefore, tied to the evidence for God’s existence
We can now see from the last two points that the question of whether or not miracles are possible is ultimately a question of the evidence for God’s existence. If there’s good reason to believe God exists, there’s good reason to believe miracles are possible.
Explaining the pieces of evidence for God’s existence is beyond the scope of this post, which is meant to give a broader framework for thinking through the question of miracles. For an explanation of key pieces of evidence for God’s existence and conversation guides to use with your kids, see my book Talking with Your Kids about God.
6. Believing that miracles are possible doesn’t mean Christians believe every miracle claim that is made
Skeptics sometimes think that Christians are willing to believe anything is a miracle if we believe miracles are even possible, so this point bears mentioning. When we acknowledge that if God exists, miracles are possible, we’re not saying we believe every miracle claim people make. If we did, we would be gullible. We have to look at the evidence to determine if there’s good reason to believe a miracle actually happened in any given case.
7. The truth of Christianity depends on the truth of ONE miracle
If we need to test miracle claims, as we just discussed, then we need to be really clear on which miracle claims ultimately have bearing on the truth of Christianity. People often get caught up in discussing modern day miracles (or lack thereof), but there is only one miracle claim that is the ultimate test for the truth of Christianity: the resurrection. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”
8. There is strong historical evidence for the resurrection
Now that we’ve established the miracle claim we need to test, we need to consider the evidence for it. There are several historical facts surrounding the resurrection that nearly all scholars agree on (both Christians and skeptics) - for example, that Jesus died by crucifixion, that the disciples at least believed Jesus rose and appeared to them, that the church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed, and that Jesus’s own skeptical brother James was suddenly changed as well. The pertinent question is, What is the best explanation for these facts?
I discuss the competing theories and why a supernatural resurrection best fits the facts in chapters 21-23 of Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side. For a deeper book-length treatment of the topic, see The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona.
9. There is strong evidence for the reliability of the New Testament
The Gospels describe many miracle accounts. If we have good evidence that the Gospel writers were credible eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus, we have good evidence of such miracles - and that’s exactly what we find. Again, I give an introduction to this subject in chapters 25-28 of Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side, but for a deeper book-length treatment, see Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace (there is also a kid’s version available for 8-12 year olds!).
For those who have already read Cold-Case Christianity, an excellent book that looks at New Testament reliability from another angle is Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts by Lydia McGrew.
10. Jesus validated the truth of the Old Testament
Finally, you may be wondering about the many Old Testament miracle accounts - what about talking animals, burning bushes, and walls falling around Jericho, for example?
If we’ve established points 8 and 9, we can also establish the veracity of the Old Testament as a whole because Jesus Himself validated it. Jesus:
- appealed to the Old Testament as a source of authority (Matthew 4:4,7,10);
- acknowledged the need to correctly understand Scripture (Matthew 22:29);
- referenced the existence of Old Testament persons such as Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:4-6), Noah (Matthew 24:37-38), and Jonah (Matthew 12:40);
- said He did not come to abolish the “Law or Prophets” (a term for the Scriptures at the time; Matthew 5:7); and
- taught how the Old Testament bears witness to Himself (Luke 24:27).
In summary, miracle accounts simply don’t automatically discredit the Bible. Anyone who thinks they do hasn’t thought critically about the subject. Please help your kids understand this so they’re prepared the next time someone tries to make them feel like a fool by making simplistic appeals to “common sense.”