Apologetics Lesson #10: Naturalism & The Supernaturalism

In the third section of his book, Geisler examines the matter of distinctively Christian apologetics more closely. In a technologically advanced age, many of the attacks against the faith center around doubts as to the extent to which God can intervene in the world and to what degree can we trust the accounts purporting to be a chronicle detailing this intervention.

In the chapter “Naturalism & The Supernatural”, Geisler examines the argument against acts of God classified as miracles. The basic argument, presented in its textbook form by David Hume, is stated in the following manner: “(1) A miracle by definition is a violation of (or exception to) a law of nature. (2) But the laws of nature are built upon the highest degree of probability. (3) Hence, a miracle by definition (as an exception) is based on the lowest degree of probability. (4) Now the wise man should always base his belief on the highest degree of probability. (5) Therefore, the wise man should never believe in miracles (266).”

The variations of this argument that have been developed over the decades and centuries since the time of Hume share a number of assumptions. The first is the assumption that the universe operates in accord with repeatable norms which we refer to as natural law. The Christian also shares this belief as God has chosen these to imbue the physical creation with what we perceive as order and what causes events contradicting these principles to stand out as events worthy of special attention.

However, it is beyond this point that the Christian and those that believe God does not intervene in the creation must part company. The naturalist essentially pursues two lines of reasoning that the Christian cannot endorse.

One principle basically eliminates miracles by definition. This is accomplished by postulating that whatever occurs in the natural world is a natural event. We as finite individuals might not be able to explain or understand why something happened in the way it did, but that does not mean there is not some kind of reason within a closed system to account for the phenomena in question without having to appeal to an interdiction by an outside higher source.

The other major assumption underlying arguments against the miraculous is that miracles do not occur because such events would be a violation of the probabilities natural laws are derived from. While natural laws are descriptions of what transpire in most instances, the sincere researcher aspiring to the distinction of scientist must study the events that actually take place and not sweep away those that do not conform to preconceived notions as to what is and is not possible. It is only by carefully scrutinizing these instances out of the ordinary that the researcher is able to uncover either explanations that fit within the normal operation of natural systems or rather the intervention of an intelligence beyond that which mortal minds are not generally accustomed to interacting with.

Even though the Christian must accept and defend the notion that natural laws as we understand them are not so inviolable, neither should the Christian go to the other extreme and herald every unexplainable occurrence as an undeniably direct intervention by the hand of God. As Geisler deliberately points out, there is a set of criteria an event should be evaluated by before the Christian accepts it as a miracle (280-282).

Foremost, the investigator seeking to determine the nature of an event contradicting normality must ascertain if its origin is possibly Satanic. Scripture warns that in later times there will be deceitful signs and wonders that would deceive the very elect if that were possible. The Christian must always let God’s revealed message rather than experience be the final court of arbitration.

Secondly, the Christian must be careful to distinguish between miracles and anomalies. For example, if someone appears to die on the operating table, is hauled off to the morgue, and seemingly comes back to life several hours later, though there would be reason to rejoice and look to this as a gift from God, there still might not be sufficient grounds to declare this a miracle. This is because such an occurrence could very well be an anomaly firstly because the event may have a cause which may be naturally explainable but at the time beyond the boundaries of our scientific understanding. And secondly, there is not necessarily any moral or theological claims connected to the unexpected healing.

To help the believer through this confusion, Geisler provides a number of guidelines an alleged miracle must measure up to in order to be categorized as such: (1) A miracle must be an exception to the normal pattern of events. (2) A miracle involves some kind of theological truth claim as an act of God would not contradict what God has revealed about Himself. (3) A miracle must also have good moral impact as God would not violate his standards. (4) And lastly, miracles suspend normal patterns rather than violate natural processes (282).

by Br.  Frederick Meekins