Introducing My Next Anthology "The Case against Miracles"

[Update on 11/18/19: This Introduction has been significantly lengthened].

I finally submitted the digital book files to my publisher Hypatia Press, an imprint of Ockham Publishing out of the UK.
David G. McAffe is the editor. It has been seven months since I started working on it. Getting authors, working with them, and writing my own chapters while on the road for the last two months has wore me out. I'm glad that hard phase is over. I'm told it should be published by September or October, just in time for year end holiday shopping. How good is it? Well, I consider it the best anthology yet, and they've all been good! You can see the chapter contents right here. To whet your appetites my Introduction is below:


Let’s begin at the beginning. There have been a lot of definitions of the word miracle. In the pre-scientific biblical past the term “signs and wonders” sufficed. This biblical depiction referred to the actions of god in his created world. But in the Bible everything that happened was due to god’s action in the world. The only conceptual difference that mattered was whether events were ordinary (that is, they occurred frequently, or frequently enough), or extraordinary (that is, they didn’t happen much, or not at all), or miraculous (that is, were extraordinary events of the highest kind). Ordinary events were the result of divine actions no less than extraordinary events and miraculous events. Whether it was the birth of a baby, or a virgin birth, rain or a deluge, a sun rising in the sky or standing still, feeding millions in the desert on manna, or a famine, they were all the result of divine deeds. For people living in this pre-scientific superstitious era anything was possible,[1] so they could even pray for a mountain to be uprooted and cast into the sea and it was to be done (Mark 11:23; Matt. 21:21; Luke 17:6). (I’m sure such a petitionary prayer was never answered in the way intended, instantaneously!)
The most accurate definition of a miracle is one that escapes too many philosophers of religion, most notably by believers who focus on David Hume’s more famous definition of a miracle as “a violation of a law of nature.” Hume’s less famous definition is found in a footnote, where he defines a miracle as “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity or…some invisible agent.”[2] David Kyle Johnson whittled this definition down to just nine words: “A miracle is simply an event caused by God.” Johnson argues, “For any given event, if we knew that God took special care to cause it, we would (and should) call that event a miracle—regardless of whether it involved the violation of natural law.” He argues that Hume “simply equated the definition of miracle with the conditions under which one is justified in believing in a miracle.”[3] Of course, whether a miraculous event was caused by some god depends on the criteria for recognizing it. So Johnson goes on to agree that,
one cannot be justified in believing that an event was miraculous unless it violates natural law. Why? Because, if an event does not violate natural law, then it will have a natural explanation—and available natural explanations will always be more adequate than supernatural ones.”[4]
As the editor of this volume one of my tasks is to come up with my own definition of a miracle, or to have a whole chapter on the question. Okay then, here goes: A miracle is a supernaturally caused extraordinary event of the highest kind, one that’s unexplainable and even impossible by means of natural processes alone. I use the word “extraordinary” here thoughtfully, and I defend its use in chapter 3. It conflates together both of Hume’s definitions. There are plenty of other good definitions.
David Hume’s most often quoted definition, if read charitably together with its wider context, is quite powerful as a way to both identify a miracle and to properly assess whether one ever occurred. That’s why he offers it in the body of the text, placing the other one later in a footnote. See for yourselves:
A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. Why is it more than probable, that all men must die; that lead cannot, of itself, remain suspended in the air; that fire consumes wood, and is extinguished by water; unless it be, that these events are found agreeable to the laws of nature, and there is required a violation of these laws, or in other words, a miracle to prevent them? Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it ever happen in the common course of nature. It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle; nor can such a proof be destroyed, or the miracle rendered credible, but by an opposite proof, which is superior.
The plain consequence is (and it is a general maxim worthy of our attention), ‘That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish; and even in that case there is a mutual destruction of arguments, and the superior only gives us an assurance suitable to that degree of force, which remains, after deducting the inferior.’ When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.[5]
 The context shows Hume is making it clear that miracles are extraordinary events of the highest kind, events that are impossible to take place in the natural world by natural processes alone. He also offers a general maxim for how reasonable people should evaluate miracle claims. Is there any better way to treat them? I think not, not when we consider the specific concrete examples he offers. Elsewhere he mentioned two other concrete examples, “the raising of a house or ship into the air.”[6] That’s why I focus on concrete examples, like the claim of a virgin birthed god in the ancient superstitious past. That’s what this anthology focuses on. It’s the best way to examine miracle claims.
Atheist philosopher Michael Levine agrees. He finds little interest in the kinds of questions others love to quibble about, listing three of the most important ones on the topic of miracles. He astutely informs us:
There are basically three philosophical questions of interest about miracles. The first is whether miracles are possible. The second is whether anyone can ever be justified, epistemologically speaking, in believing that a miracle has occurred. With regard to this question it is important to note that the fact one can imagine conditions in which belief in a miracle would be justified does absolutely nothing to show that anyone has been so justified. The third question is whether anyone is or has been so justified…The first two questions have sheltered philosophers from dealing with the only philosophically significant question about miracles per se -- the third question. The first two questions…may be worth pursuing in their own right, but they are of little consequence when it comes to the important third question about miracles. Is anyone epistemologically justified in believing in a miracle—for example, on the basis of Scripture and historical evidence?
Philosophical discussion about miracles frequently ignores the question of whether there exists historical evidence, testimony--including testimony in the form of Scripture--or first-hand experience, that justifies belief in the miraculous. Those who wish to champion miracles either argue that such evidence exists or else they merely assume it. But the question of whether such evidence does exist, by itself, is the crucial question about justified belief in miracles.”[7]
The overwhelming focus of this present book agrees with what I quoted from Levine.
As the author of the book Unapologetic: Why Philosophy of Religion Must End (Pitchstone Press, 2016) I should preemptively ward off any critics, since that book is a call to end the philosophy of religion as unworthy of thinking adults. I never once said we should stop thinking and arguing about religion or religious doctrines. It was actually the opposite. We should do so until such time as religions no longer exist, if that should ever happen. I do however, accept the rhetoric of what Hume said at the very end of his Enquiry:
If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.
I’m not arguing for censorship though, only the demand that philosophers of religion should put up the requisite evidence for their respective faiths, or proverbially shut up.
In Unapologetic I started with what most philosophers of religion already recognize, that the philosophy of religion discipline is in crisis. There is a current debate on how to teach it in the university classrooms, and with it, several different proposals for doing it right. My book is an atheist proposal for how atheist philosophers should teach the philosophy of religion correctly—italicized for emphasis since some people just don’t get it.
My call was to stop giving any specific religion more credence in the classrooms than others around the globe. I called on atheists to treat all faith-based doctrines the same, favoring none, to the extent this is possible. I even suggested that ridiculing religious beliefs was a fair response to ridiculous religious beliefs. We already do it, you see. It’s just that all religious beliefs are ridiculous to some degree. That doesn’t mean the time has come. But the more we marginalize religion and religious faith-based claims the less force religion will have over our lives. And the best way to treat religion isn’t to do it philosophically by analytically taking some religious doctrines seriously more than others, but by treating religion and its doctrines according to the already existing parent discipline of Religious Studies and its subsidiaries, Comparative Religion, and Anthropology of Religion, along with Biblical Studies, Koran Studies, and so on, if done correctly as I explain, by eschewing faith in the classroom just as surely as we do in other disciplines of learning. Faith in any specific religion shouldn’t get special treatment in the university. The doctrines of religions and their miracle stories should be understood and according to the standards of historical research and science whenever applicable, without any special pleading,
In this present anthology I’ve divided chapters into two parts. Part 1 Miracles and Christian Apologetics, has to do with the reasonableness of believing in and defending miracle tales. Chapters 1-3, written by David Corner, Matthew McCormick and myself, have a philosophy of religion orientation, with a bit of unavoidable overlap. They are more than sufficient in introducing the philosophical issues this book must address. Both Corner and I think Hume’s arguments succeed, and we defend them against his detractors [Corner finds attractive the Advaita Vedanta Hindu philosophy]. McCormick starts out by forcing believers into a dilemma, arguing that if the god of theism exists he would not do miracles. So either give up the miracle stories in the Bible, or show why McCormick’s philosophical arguments are wrong. The way these three chapters are written is how philosophers should teach the discipline in their classrooms. Atheists should teach what we think in the classroom to the best we can, that’s all. Allow room for discussion, yes of course, but an atheist should not back down from controversy, as best as possible. We should argue against faith-based conclusions. Faith-based conclusions are not worthy of university graduates.
One thing noteworthy is the kinds of things people have considered possible has changed over the centuries, with the advances of science. So the Christian god—along with other ancient deities—are doing less and less as science progresses. Strange that! Especially since the plausibility of accepting miracle claims in the ancient superstitious past depends, to a large degree, on verifiable miracles taking place in today’s world. That is, if they don’t take place today, why should we believe they took place in the ancient superstitious past? If in our world miracles do not happen, they probably did not happen in first century Palestine either, and that should be the end of it. Chapters 4-5, written by Darren Slade and Edward Babinski, show how to properly investigate that specific issue with regard to Christian apologist Craig Keener’s claims.
My chapter 6 on apologetics forces Christian to think about what could have been different. What if there was sufficient objective evidence for the Christian faith? What if it really existed? Then there would never be any different apologetics method, or strategy, to defend the Christian faith other than evidentialism—which claims to accept the challenge to put up the sufficient objective evidence to believe. The fact that eighty percent of Christian apologists reject evidentialism in favor of four other different methods is proof, all on its own, that even Christian apologists don’t think there is sufficient objective evidence for their faith. Then in chapter 7 Valerie Tarico more than adequately explains why people still believe in miracles, despite the fact that there aren’t any good reasons based on sufficient evidence to do so.
In Part 2, Biblical Miracles under Scrutiny: Case Studies, there are eleven chapters dealing with several concrete biblical examples of miracles that cover most of the important ones, from creation to the failed return of Jesus. We’re told that miracles and prophecy support the Christian faith. The arguments in these chapters show why that claim is bogus.
In chapter 8 David Madison argues for five inconvenient truths that undercut any hope of using the Bible to defend Christian faith. With that out of the way the honest Christian can investigate his or her faith for probably the first time. Then in her chapter 9, Abby Hafer deals with the miracle of creation, which is the biggest miracle of all in practically every religious tradition. One of the biggest scientific revolutions has been evolution by natural selection’s successful and complete explanation of the origins of humans and nature, and Hafer expertly presents the evidence showing why evolution is a fact. It’s probably the single best chapter on it in print. Readers should then be open to what Randall Heskett presents in chapter 10, about the miracle stories in the Old Testament. He conclusively shows these miracle stories are nothing more than folklore and legend, just as Hafer did with regard to creation stories. These tales should never have been taken seriously.
Clay Farris Naff’s chapter 11 is an interesting one. Using the Flood tale of Noah in Genesis he forces believers into a dilemma. In his words, “If a miracle is an event that defies normal explanation, then why attempt to use science to explain it?” But “if science can provide a plausible explanation for an event, then it’s not truly a miracle.” Believers cannot have it both ways!  
Robert Miller in chapter 12 shows why the prophecy miracle claim can’t be used in defense of the virgin birth of Jesus, nor his messiahship, ministry, and death. Robert Price’s interesting and important point in chapter 13 is that the incarnation of Jesus can be neither true nor false, since it’s meaningless, premised on equivocation and ambiguity.
I am happy to have Robert Conner write three chapters. His work needs to be better known. In chapter 14 he argues that Jesus and the earliest Christians were magicians, not miracle workers. In chapter 17 Conner provocatively argues from what we know about the apostle Paul, that there’s reason to think he was crazy. If so, and if he was the original Christian, then the credibility of Christianity is seriously damaged. While I’m not so sanguine as to think Christians will accept this, Paul’s personality is the issue if we’re to think he’s a credible witness on behalf of Christianity.[8] Lastly, Conner effectively argues in chapter 18 that the prophecy of Christ’s return was a failure, and with it Christianity.
 Chapter 15 is written by Evan Fales, on the Cana of Galilee story of Jesus turning water into wine. He argues this story didn’t happen, which is reasonable to think, per David Hume. Why then was it written? We know the tales in the Old Testament were originated, borrowed, edited and compiled in later centuries for social/political purposes, and/or had metaphorical meanings for people of that day. Why not some of the tales in the New Testament? Could some of these tales be nothing more than metaphor with social/political meanings that the people of that day would understand? Could it be that neither the authors of these stories nor the original readers actually believed they took place? That’s the point of this chapter. While I don’t think his view explains all the miracle tales, especially the resurrection of Jesus (I Corinthians 15:14), it explains a few and maybe more, and that’s good enough. Chew on it yourselves.
Chapter 16 is mine, on the resurrection of Jesus. I’ve written a lot on this topic as it’s considered by apologists to be one of the three main miracles showing Christianity has good objective evidence on its behalf. The other two are the miracles of creation and messianic prophecy. Reason and the woeful lack of objective evidence demand that we conclude the resurrection never took place. 
I’ve now had one book published per year beginning in 2008 with my magnum opus, Why I Became an Atheist. That’s eleven books if we count the revised edition to that first one. I never expected I would write one book much less this many. One might think of them as containing a small encyclopedia of arguments against the Christian faith and religious faith in general. Keep in mind, I’m not in it for the money. I don’t claim to be anything special either. I’m just doing the best I can based on what I know with a passion as great as any good athlete.
I thank my readers, no matter how many works of mine they’ve read. I also thank each and every contributor for helping to bring believers to their senses about religion and miracles. Yes, what we do matters, one person at a time. All I can hope for at this point is that these works gain a wider and wider audience.


[1]On this see chapter 13 of Why I Became an Atheist, “The Strange and Superstitious World of the Bible.”

[2]David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section X “Of Miracles” footnote 21, online at: The full quote: “A miracle may be accurately defined, a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent. A miracle may either be discoverable by men or not. This alters not its nature and essence. The raising of a house or ship into the air is a visible miracle. The raising of a feather, when the wind wants ever so little of a force requisite for that purpose, is as real a miracle, though not so sensible with regard to us.”

[3] David Kyle Johnson, “Justified Belief in Miracles is Impossible,” in Science Religion and Culture (May 2015 | Volume 2 | Issue 2 | Page 62). In an email he said it’s “roughly a worldly event caused by God.”

[4] Ibid, p. 63.

[5]David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section X “Of Miracles” Part 1, #90-91, online at:

[6]Hume “Of Miracles” footnote 21.

[7] In Graham H. Twelftree, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Miracles, pp. 291-294. Levine purposely left out the possible fourth question, “what is a miracle?” and explains in a footnote, “I do not, however, think that there is much of philosophical interest attached to this question.”

[8]David Madison makes a great case against Paul’s credibility himself in his post, “When a Nasty Piece of Work Writes Scripture” URL: In it he quotes classical scholar Michael Grant, saying that Paul’s letters “display a startling mixture of conciliatory friendliness and harsh, bitter, inexorable bullying.” Paul “…is the very opposite of a tranquil, serene personality. Always pursuing, always pursued, he is the victim of violent, manic-depressive alternations of moods.” (Saint Paul, pp. 22-23). He also quotes A. N. Wilson, who adds, “To say that the apostle Paul was self-contradictory is an understatement. He was a man who was fighting himself and quarreling with himself all the time; and he managed to project the warfare in his own breast on to the Cosmos itself.” (Jesus, p. 23) Then Madison insightfully adds:
Paul assumed that God’s default mood was wrath, and Paul himself was far too furious too much of the time (Romans 1:29-32): “Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.”

“Gossips…rebellious toward parents…“…they deserve to die…” So don’t give too much credit to Paul for “love is patient, love is kind…” (I Corinthians 13).

His deficiencies emerge so clearly from his letters; he displayed no interest whatever in philosophy, art, architecture, education; he ridiculed ‘earthly wisdom.’ His gaze was always on the clouds, awaiting Jesus’ arrival. That error poisoned everything. It’s no surprise that this religious fanatic was wrong about marriage, about angels being judged by cult members who got into the Jesus kingdom, and about governments being ordained by God. His goofy beliefs emerged from his hallucinations—in which he was sure he heard personally from the dead Jesus.

So we’re entitled to ask: How can Paul’s central theological certainties—let’s be honest: his flashes of magical thinking—be trusted even a tiny bit?