Miracles, a Double Burden of Proof, and Control Beliefs.

When it comes to believing in miracles, Christians have a double burden of proof. On the one hand, they must show that a particular “event” was not very likely. Hume goes so far as to say that a miracle is a “violation of a natural law.” But the point is that the more unlikely an event is by the standards of natural law, the more its occurrence can be understood as a miracle. Who, for instance, would claim that a blooming flower is a miracle, or a thunderstorm, or even the birth of a baby?

Dennis Weaver narrated a video series called “Mysteries of the Ancient World,” which tried to show how it would’ve been possible for several Biblical “miracles” to occur. But in explaining how these “miracles” happened, they were explained away as chance events, not miraculous ones. For instance, by showing how it may have been possible for three of Daniel’s friends to have been placed in an upper “cooling” chamber of Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace, then there is no longer a miracle!

On the other hand, Christians must show that the purported miraculous event happened. And yet, everything they say to establish the first burden of proof takes away the strength of the second burden of proof. That is, the more they argue that an event was miraculous, the less likely such an event occurred. But the more they argue that an event was likely to have occurred, then the less likely that event can be understood as miraculous.

The only way people judge whether or not a miracle occurred is whether or not it fits within their control beliefs (i.e., which God he believes in and was taught to believe). One cannot start with the evidence for a miracle to show that the Christian God exists, simply because a person must already believe it’s plausible for the Christian God to exist in the first place (unless it’s a case of accepting what someone says because that person is believable). Otherwise, the evidence isn’t evidence for anything, much like how the evidence in a criminal trial isn't evidence of anything since the prosecutor and defense attorney will have two different ways of seeing that evidence based in separate control beliefs. And yet, how is it possible to believe in the Christian God in the first place without the cold hard evidence that will lead him to believe? The explanation of a self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit doesn’t solve anything.

The Christian believes and defends the Christian miracles. He rejects other miracles; those that don’t align themselves with his control beliefs. Even among Christians themselves they disagree. Do Protestants accept the Virgin Mary sightings in Fatima, Portugal, 1917? No. Why? Because they don’t think Mary is everything that Catholics say she is.

Our control beliefs dictate what we will be skeptical about. And 99% of the time the control beliefs we have are caught not taught; they are socially assumed not individually chosen ones. Why else would there be the battle fought in our school systems over the hearts and minds of our children? For the overwhelming majority of people, the first believably sounding person to teach a young person what to believe will have that child believing in that idea.

This is why I have proposed the outsider test.

First posted on March '06