Argument from Miracles

The argument from Miracles is one of the more peculiarly Christian arguments for the existence of God and the truth of some revealed religion (in this case the Christian religion). This is especially true for the Catholic tradition, as Catholics during the reformation offered the observed miracles of saints alive at the time of Luther and Calvin (and their immediate successors), along with the lack of such miracles in the protestant camps, as an argument for the truth of Catholicism; an argument which was to haunt the reformed tradition and shape it in curious unforeseen ways (for example, cessationists are almost exclusively protestant, not to mention liberal protestantism’s denial of miracles in the New Testament, etc). However, the argument from miracles for the truth of the Christian faith survives to this day even in evangelical Christianity. Perhaps the most popular form of it is the argument from the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is ably defended by N.T. Wright, W.L. Craig, Timothy & Lydia McGrew, Michael Licona, Gary Habermas, and others. What is interesting is that this argument is usually proposed very tentatively even by Catholics today. However, I recently stumbled upon and skimmed a document of Vatican I which had the following propositions:

3. On Faith

4. Nevertheless, in order that the submission of our faith should be in accordance with reason, it was God’s will that there should be linked to the internal assistance of the Holy Spirit external indications of his revelation, that is to say divine acts, and first and foremost miracles and prophecies, which clearly demonstrating as they do the omnipotence and infinite knowledge of God, are the most certain signs of revelation and are suited to the understanding of all.

5. Hence Moses and the prophets, and especially Christ our lord himself, worked many absolutely clear miracles and delivered prophecies; while of the apostles we read: And they went forth and preached every, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it [18]. Again it is written: We have the prophetic word made more sure; you will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place [19].

Canons

4. If anyone says that all miracles are impossible, and that therefore all reports of them, even those contained in Sacred Scripture, are to be set aside as fables or myths; or that miracles can never be known with certainty, nor can the divine origin of the Christian religion be proved from them: let him be anathema.
~ First Vatican Council, Session 3, the Dogmatic constitution on the Catholic faith

It strikes me as incredibly interesting that the Catholic Church has historically been so adamant about proposing that miracles are not only a good argument for the Christian faith, but also that miracles can sometimes be known with certainty, and can prove the divine origin (and presumably nature) of the Christian religion. Miracles, certainly, play a seminal role in the Catholic tradition’s self-understanding (which is one of the reasons Pentecostals, along with other factions of the Wesleyan tradition, often find themselves joined in hand with factions of the Catholic Church). I think this should invite Catholic theologians today to re-examine and re-appropriate arguments from miracles for the Christian faith. Remember that when St. Francis of Assisi decided that the quickest way to win the crusades was to convert the Muslim antagonists, and thus going to confront Al-Malik Al-Kamil directly, was invited to debate with Muslim theologians. Instead of indulging the request, he said he would rather avoid sophistry, and suggested that they make a fire and see which of them could walk through unharmed – all the Muslims were disinclined. Of course, that was a great saint, and no Christian today should ever think so highly of themselves that they have confidence God will perform whatever miracle they might like. As the Catholic Church makes clear, the gift of miracles is not like the gift of tongues.

The gift of miracles is one of those mentioned by St. Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians (12:9-10), among the extraordinary graces of the Holy Ghost. These have to be distinguished from the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost enumerated by the Prophet Isaias (11:2 sq.) and from the fruits of the Spirit given by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians (5:22). The sevengifts and the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost are always infused with sanctifying grace into the souls of the just. They belong to ordinary sanctity and are within the reach of every Christian. The gifts mentioned in the Epistle to the Corinthians are notnecessarily connected with sanctity of life. They are special and extraordinary powers vouchsafed by God only to a few, and primarily for the spiritual good of others rather than of the recipient…

This gift [of miracles] is not given to any created being as a permanent habit or quality of the soul. The power of effecting supernatural works such as miracles is the Divine Omnipotence, which cannot be communicated to either men or angels. The greatest thaumaturgus that ever appeared in this world could not work miracles at will, neither had he any permanent gift of the kind abiding in his soul.
~Catholic Encyclopedia, Gift of Miracles

Putting aside concerns of modern epistemology, Christianity, when considered how it should fair given this argument in comparison to other religious traditions, clearly comes head and shoulders above other traditions. What I mean by that here is that when one compares arguments from miracles for the truth of Christianity (typically the ministry and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth) with similar arguments for the Truth of Islam (typically that the Qur’an is beautiful and without errors) or Mormonism, or just about any other tradition you like – the argument powerfully serves to demonstrate the eminent plausibility of Christianity in contradistinction with other religions. Moreover, if we take concerns of modern epistemology seriously, not only does nearly everyone agree that Hume’s arguments (and Humean arguments in general) are abject failures, but one clearly does ‘know’ (have a justified true belief) that Jesus Christ rose again from the dead even without appeal to religious experience. At least one can have a justified belief in it, since there is no plausible naturalistic alternative explanation, and thus only rash scepticism can obscure the weight of this argument on the rational mind.

I note that, having come out of a Baptist tradition myself, I have always been unreasonably uncomfortable with miracles. Miracle healers falsely so-called, swindlers, televangelists and the like are all too common; they are so commonplace that several reformed traditions, including the Baptist tradition, shy away from such exotic and questionable expressions of the Christian faith, preferring instead to focus on the study of the Scriptures and fellowship among believers. However, miracles characterize and set apart the Christian tradition as a whole in a very significant way, even today in the life of the Church. It is to the discredit of Christians (such as myself) and not to the Church as a whole, that miracles are of such poor repute in their eyes.

Miracles, as part of the heritage and nature of the Christian religion, should not be dismissed so easily; instead miracles, particularly the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, are perhaps apologetic treasures latent in Christianity which Christians are invited to take inventory of in the exposition of the faith.

Perhaps it is as Peter Kreeft has suggested after all

“Subtract miracles from Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, or Taoism, and you have essentially the same religion left. Subtract miracles from Christianity, and you have nothing but the cliches and platitudes most American Christians get weekly (and weakly) from their pulpits”
~Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, p.358

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About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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