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Does a miracle constitute a sufficient evidence for the truth of a claim?

I see lots of religions really presenting a history of their pivotal figures being able to perform miracles. However, the source of the miracle is generally attributed to some divine being. It's generally understood that miracles are supportive of their faith that they are coming from extra-terrestrial source, which they claim to be divine.

But I don't understand how it is sometimes taken to be a sufficient evidence for the truth of what they claim. Supportive evidence is not the same as sufficient evidence. For example, wearing a skirt is supportive evidence of being female, but it is not sufficient evidence; however, having an XX chromosome is. I mean: performing miracles only means that who performs it is in possession of something that others do not have, but that possession doesn't directly entail that its source is as the performer claims; it might as well have an extra-terrestrial source. Even yet, this source might not be God; for example, it might be other intelligent source.

Of course I'm not claiming existence of such sources, but I'm merely examining the details of the presentation. I mean: for the sake of discussion, let's assume that a proof was advanced of some action which was deemed miraculous to humans and other known beings on earth, i.e. they are incapable of doing that action; now suppose that proof was scientifically valid! Even then, this would only prove that there is an intelligent being, more intelligent and capable than humans, who is the source for that action; but that in itself doesn't provide us with any detail about that being

What is this intelligent being exactly? Can it lie, for example? Was it actually lying? What is its intention? All of those remain in the darkness; i.e., we have no illuminating evidence about answers to those.

In other words "being a miracle" in itself doesn't grant, for example, that the source of that miracle is as it claims. For example, if the source of the miracle is claiming to be God, it doesn't follow that just because it did a miracle, i.e., something that humans cannot do, then it is really what it claims itself to be; i.e., it doesn't follow that it is really God!

In order to prove that the source is God, for example, we need evidence that everything in existence other than God cannot do that act; but we don't have the whole universe in front of us on the table to be examined, so this is not a verifiable claim. What is verifiable is that humans (and other objects on earth) cannot do it. So, at best, it just proves the source being some extra-terrestrial being, or even a terrestrial intelligent being that we didn't discover, or something like that. There is no guarantee that it is saying the truth about itself.

On the contrary, since that source is a STRANGER, then we ought not to listen to it in the first place; we don't know his intentions, and being so intelligent would put more suspicion on his intentions, because from experience with nature on earth, the more intelligent a being, the more it is capable of fooling lower intelligent beings. So the miracle would place us humans at a lower intelligent capability than the source of the miracle, rendering its real intentions more of a suspicion than it being a fountain of comforting faith.

Now, the problem would get worse if, in that religion, the source of the religion (a Deity, God, supernatural, etc..) claims that his miracles are sufficient evidence, and base consequences of denying them as of those of denying sufficient evidence, like being subject to his wrath, dispelled from its mercy, eternal damnation, etc.

Some religious people claim that the evidence is not in the miracle itself, but it is a conjoint evidence of some rational thought about existence that to them is an evidence for an existence of a creator (argument of design, among others). Now, this creator cannot be imagined to stay there not connected with us, so to them this is an evidence of the will of the creator of this universe to make a connection with us, since he couldn't have created us in vain; i.e. leave us to our own devices, which are imperfect and cannot reach him, so he must send prophets, apostles, sages, etc. When those do miracles it is just a sign of this already confirmed in a priori manner expectation, and so the miracle would constitute the key that would open the door for the pathway to God. However, finding the door in the first place resided on a priori reasoning about existence.

The problem with that way of reasoning is that even if the a priori reasoning of existence of a creator is supposedly correct, still the expectation about his will to send prophets is not as clear; since, by then, this will open the door for any being more intelligent than us to claim this argument and place himself as God.

So the defect is not breached by this a priori expectation about God's will to communicate with us. It's a very risky kind of ideation. It might as well be possible that God's plans didn't encounter him making that connection with us, for reasons best known for him. Such a speculation about God's will is not the kind of the general expectation that God must be Good in the general sense; no, this expectation is very detailed, and we know that the detailed will of God is not clear.

Even the religious people maintain that the detailed will of God cannot be anticipated by human reason. God didn't prevent innocent children from catastrophes and calamities of this world; while, if we are to make a theory about expectations of God's will, the opposite would have been the expectation. So actually no religious man claims he has an exact theory of expectation of the detailed will of God.

There is no clear evidence that the matter of God willing to establish a connection with us through prophets with miracles as signs of that connection. There is no evidence that this is not among the detailed will of God that we humans cannot grasp.

So, still I don't see miracles even when viewed as topping an already existing a priori philosophical edifice of contemplation about existence; still, I don't see all of that constituting a proof of the truth of a claim. What is worse is that those claimed a priori evidence are not easy material to fathom, and no consensus on their validity is reachable; so this makes matters even more grim. What is really worse is for a God to consider all of that as valid in a clear manner that he'd sentence people to eternal damnation in hell for not observing such a difficult to prove argument. This is neither mercy nor justice.

The last standing is that some religious people say that "miracles" are just gestures to draw attention to a message from God, but the validity of the message doesn't have any connection to them; a position which to me seem to be more reasonable. But many people thought according to what's presented in the main books of those religions that "miracles" are the proof. They are NOT!

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  • You are approaching "faith" with a rational (scientific) point of view... Obviously, it is not the main one. Having said that, "rational theology" has a very long tradition at least in Western world : it is hard to assert that it succeeded in proving the existence of God and the main dogmas. Feb 9, 2019 at 11:47
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    I'm sorry, Zuhair, but there is no chance of me reading through all of this. It needs breaking up into manageable chunks. I don't believe anyone thinks a miracle is a proof of a religion, or not just because it seems to be a miracle. Jesus had some things to say about this. But a lot depends on what we mean by 'miracle'. . .
    – user20253
    Feb 9, 2019 at 11:49
  • definitely there are people who believe that miracles are proofs of their religion, I actually encounter those EVERYDAY.
    – Zuhair
    Feb 9, 2019 at 11:53
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    I think in most cases only people who believe in and pray for 'miracles' actually experience them. Not always, of course; but true in most cases.
    – Bread
    Feb 9, 2019 at 13:17

5 Answers 5

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A miracle is a violation of a Law of Nature by some agency. If you are satisfied that a Law of Nature has been violated, you need to establish (a) that it has been violated by some agency and (b) that the relevant agency is that assumed by the religion in question. So, briefly, no, a miracle, suppose such to have occurred, is no proof of the truth of a religion.

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  • so you agree with me on that! good
    – Zuhair
    Feb 9, 2019 at 12:14
  • I think satisfaction of violation of a law of nature need a proof of (a), a proof of (b) is needed only when one is satisfied with what the agent violated this rule is saying, I mean satisfied with its claims about itself, by then (b) becomes very compulsory, one must present by then evidence of lets say honesty of that agency. In order for us to be satisfied that a miracle constitute a proof of a religion then both (a) and (b) must be satisfied!
    – Zuhair
    Feb 9, 2019 at 12:25
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    If God himself writes the laws of nature, then it is impossible for him to violate them. That is not how I define miracle. From the Latin, etymologically it simply means object of wonder. And in Acts of the NT miracles is at least twice textually linked to wonders. You have provide us with the dogmatic definition of the word, which I consider a false doctrine.
    – Bread
    Feb 9, 2019 at 13:35
  • The Arabic translation of "miracle" means something that the audience challenged cannot do. For example Islam challenges Humans and Gin to bring something like the Quran, if they cannot do so, then it is a Miracle. It really doesn't matter whether it breaks a natural law or not, but of course since it is attributed to God, then the general expectation is that it breaks natural laws, but not necessarily! For example Leonardo Da Vinci's painting is miraclous to most of humans, because they cannot draw a painting like it. But of course the Quran is claimed to be something that Only God can do!
    – Zuhair
    Feb 9, 2019 at 19:24
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    @Bread - I share your view and do not understand the premise of the question.
    – user20253
    Feb 10, 2019 at 11:46
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Miracles are not a reliable evidence for the truth of a religion, for two main reasons :

1- A sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic : suppose that an alien visited earth in the past, and performed miracles (that are not breaking the laws of nature except in the eyes of ancient people), would that be qualified as evidence for the religion that alien founded? no. Now suppose a more technologically advanced alien visited earth today, we would think he can perform miracles (although they are mere science), even though he is not God.

2- We do not know how many beings can break laws of nature (if such beings exist) : Suppose that a man who says that he is prophet sent from God performed genuine miracles (and not just by means of highly advanced technology). One would say that since he performs miracles then he must be from God. But this conditional presupposes that only God can break the laws of nature.

Although we know that this conditional is false even according to religions themselves : We know that, according to religion's claims, even demons, Djinns, angels are given the ability to perform miracles , therefore the conditional If it is a miracle then it is from God is false, since it can be one of those mythical entities.

The correct conditional is if IS-GOD then CAN-DO-MIRACLES, but not IF CAN-DO-MIRACLES then IS-GOD.

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    +1 I think your last sentence answered the OP's question about sufficiency of the evidence provided by miracles. Miracles are not sufficient for a religious position. Feb 9, 2019 at 14:11
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    @FrankHubeny thanks, also, I was always thinking whether there is anything at all that can be qualified to be evidence for God being the source of such and such. I do not know whether there are some references that investigate this subject in western philosophy of religion, but my conclusion is that there exists nothing that is qualified to be evidence that something is from God, for a simple reason : We do not yet know how God ought to provide His evidence, or what His evidence ought to look like...
    – SmootQ
    Feb 9, 2019 at 14:19
  • Precisely because we do not know what criterion(or criteria) can be objectively devised to say that if something matches that criterion , then no being can do it but God.
    – SmootQ
    Feb 9, 2019 at 14:21
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    @MauroALLEGRANZA provided a good reference in his comment to the OP's post that might be relevant here: plato.stanford.edu/entries/miracles/#WouMirEviForExiGod I am still reading it. Feb 9, 2019 at 14:25
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    @FrankHubeny , this is a bit different, the link discusses whether Miracles are evidence for God, and not 'what kind of Evidence (or even Miracle) can be qualified to be only possible if God were behind it, in other words : How do we know if x is from God, and what criterion (method) or particulars should we use.
    – SmootQ
    Feb 9, 2019 at 14:30
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In the Judeo-Christian religious tradition, a "miracle" is typically not just a feat of supernatural power, but simultaneously a demonstration of some larger metaphysical principle. In the Old Testament, the principle is always the single primacy of the God of the Israelites as the one true God, creator and ruler of the universe. In the New Testament, the miracles are quite often supernatural metaphors for how we are supposed to treat each other, for example, feeding the needy ("Loaves and Fishes"). Jesus himself warns his followers repeatedly about being too obsessed with miraculous signs.

There are several incidents in both the Old and New Testaments where ungodly forces (or representatives of other religions) are shown to exhibit supernatural powers. This demonstrates that, at least within the Judeo-Christian religious tradition, demonstration of a feat of supernatural power is not, by itself, presented as sufficient proof of a religious belief.

Interestingly enough, Jesus does on occasion cite his miracles as evidence that he has come from God, but it is NOT the supernatural part that he focuses on, but the fact that his deeds are good works, and therefore cannot come from an evil source.

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  • Sometime evil sources can do some good work to fool others that they are good. Anyhow.
    – Zuhair
    Feb 11, 2019 at 21:08
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No, but it's necessary evidence!

If a person wants you to believe X, where X is some statement about supernatural things (i.e. the future, the afterlife, origins, deities, souls, morality, etc.) then you have the right to demand some indication that he knows a thing or two about supernatural things.

"Why should I believe you, when you are just like me? How did you come to know these supernatural things?" ...is a question that we all should ask.

If the answer isn't satisfying, then even if you do adopt the religion it won't be moving for you and its effect won't be lasting, I think.

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  • I agree that it is necessary for anyone who claim to have a revelation from God or any supernatural entity, that's correct!
    – Zuhair
    Feb 12, 2019 at 7:32
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You've presented some terms here that must be unpacked before we can reasonably discuss the question.

Sufficient Evidence

The term "sufficient evidence" is subjective. The first thing to unpack is what bar are you setting and how do you justify that bar? If you are looking for absolute evidence of any truth, you will not find it, save the cogito. Everything else is relative from some presumed framework. When you are discussing the truth of a belief system, religious or otherwise (as the term "religious" unnecessarily singles out those which include a deity), you are asking questions which challenge the presumed framework, and as such, the term "sufficient evidence" ceases to be any coherent standard. It may happen that your belief system has a bar of "sufficient evidence" which must be met, but all you are proving by meeting that standard is that the the given belief aligns with your existing belief system which isn't what you seem to be trying to do. Your belief system may not be justified by "sufficient evidence" of another religion and that's fine. Once you drop your preconceptions or requirements for a different belief to align with your current faith, then "sufficient evidence" can be examined in a different context, which I will attempt below.

Defining "miracle"

The next thing that we may need to define is what exactly are miracles. Modern definitions define "miracle" as being something supernatural or without any scientific or natural explanation. However, the Greek, the actual words which we translate into English as "miracle", do not have that connotation. There's "δύναμις", meaning something like "ability or power", and "σημεῖον", meaning a sign or token. I want to clear up this matter as it means that these are concrete things rather than speculative things. Could turning water into wine be proven by science using empirical evidence and following natural laws? I do not know. Would it be a token that somebody had access to an ability not possessed by other people? Certainly. But also because we are not demanding that a miracle (sign) be supernatural, we do not have any need to prove that it did not come from some natural source and we don't need to have all knowledge to know that it's a sign. It is sufficient that it is some ability which, as far as the observer can tell, is beyond what could reasonably expected for a typical person. It implies that it is more likely that some other agency is at work rather than just the individual himself.

Are miracles intended to prove the truth of a religion?

Probably not by themselves. I cannot speak for all religions, but you seemed to have referenced Christianity when you talked about a man claiming himselft to be God, and so I can start there. I will use Christianity as an example, but take what you can to apply it to other belief systems. In Christianity, miracles seem to be excluded as primary proof. The clearest is probably:

For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:

1 Corinthians 1:21-22

You may have picked up that the word translated "sign" here is "σημεῖον", what in other places is translated "miracle" as mentioned above. Here, you and even your question would be lumped in with the Greeks, and it is apt as we are here talking about the wisdom of trusting miracles.

Consider that Peter writes about his experience literally seeing Jesus transfigured and a physical voice of God telling him that Jesus is His Son and alone worthy of worship, but Peter then says that the Scriptures are even a more sure thing to believe, not the miracle. Also, Jesus refused to perform miracles for certain people who otherwise wouldn't believe. Finally, consider that when the Antichrist comes, he will be performing miracles as well, and those are explicitly not to be believed as proof. I think that these things allude clearly that there is better evidence available. That is not to say that miracles are not useful, though.

How miracles can be used as evidence

Once we remove the bar of "sufficient evidence", we can evaluate what sort of evidence miracles can provide.

Inductive reasoning

I would be remiss if I did not here mention the process of induction. While it would be nice if we had absolute understanding of all potential variables in the universe related to our observations, in many situations we do not. We therefore often rely on a process of induction where we infer things from our observations. No, this isn't "proof" in some sort of undeniable way, but it is how most of us approach the world, so it's pragmatic and at least common.

If we observe a person regularly performing actions, particularly those which are to our benefit, we tend to perceive that person as different from other people and we may be more likely to trust that person or at least stick around to see what they will do next. Supposing that we have some framework or belief system which values observing actions and outcomes then the miracles do in fact add credibility to the claims that these people are acting through the authority of God. It isn't objective proof in the same way that seeing your mother isn't proof that she's not a clever Russian spy, but most people are fine with this sort of evidence. If most people saw a flying saucer shine down a beam of light and carry people off in it, they would probably believe that they saw an alien, and I think that most of us, even if we suspected a different agency, would say that the observers were unreasonable in reaching that conclusion.

Discrediting competing explanations

I think that the most striking utility is in the ability to discredit competing explanations. The prophets and Jesus who were demonstrating these miracles were claiming that they were speaking for God. We can imagine that any person could be speaking for God just the same as they could be just making up a story. However, if a person is able to do so while performing miracles the competing theory that they were just making up a story becomes a harder stretch. They could still be making up the story but you would now also have to account for how they got those abilities and imagine an alternate theory about why they were using them in such a way.

Consider when Korah and others turned against Moses. Moses had said that he was speaking for God, but Korah and his companions presented the alternate explanation that they all were holy and that Moses was not special. Korah's rebellion ended as God opened up the ground under the tabernacles of specifically Korah and the men who rejected Moses so that they were swallowed up. Perhaps this didn't prove in some philosophical sense that Moses was talking for God, but it certainly confirmed that the competing theory was not correct.

Consider the case of Christ. C. S. Lewis famously said of Jesus that he was either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. In this sort of argument, we are comparing the possible competing explanations of why Jesus would claim to be the Christ. The only possibilities are that he was telling lies to trick people, he was mistaken and really thought, incorrectly, that he was Christ, or he was telling the truth. The fact that Jesus was able to perform miracles and to the extent he was able to perform them is evidence that he was not a mad man who didn't know what he was doing and just saying nonsense. You still have to handle the possibility of him telling a lie, but that runs into different problems, as well as then having to present an alternate explanation of the abilities.

Powers from a different source

You had mentioned the potential that these miracles could be coming from some source other than the one claimed by those performing them. That could be possible, as much as about anything is possible. Perhaps the person performing the miracles was even unaware. The question, though, is whether those alternate explanations are the best explanations. For instance, in the case of an advanced extraterrestrial as you suggested, we would have to conceive of some reasonable impetus as to why such a being would act in such a way. These miracles were all used to say that there is a God who cares about us and that there is exactly one set of truths about how we should act to care about each other, and then later to ensure that we know that Jesus was the Christ who fulfilled the sacrifice. It is a very specific story that they tell, and it makes complete sense that these miracles happened for that reason. But why would an alien go through the trouble to present that message to us? If it just wanted us to behave in a certain way, why wouldn't it just tell us that it was an alien and will zap us with lasers if we don't? I cannot think of a single competing explanation which would not be better achieved through different means. That doesn't mean that there's not some alternate explanation or factor I haven't considered, but it means that it would not be unreasonable, all things being the same, to accept the one explanation which does make sense.

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  • Thanks a lot for this rather very informative answer. I shall provide a better comment latter. For now, regarding the last possibility, i.e. the powers from different source, you said the purpose of the miracles "is to say that there is a God who cares..... sacrifice". But, that is not the full purpose, the real purpose is that the miracle want to prove that the teachings coming from the doer are coming from God, and those teaching are not just what you say, they are actually thousands of verses, and tens if not hundreds thousands (sometimes millions) of words, all claimed to be ...
    – Zuhair
    Jan 26 at 6:18
  • continuation... and those thousands of words constitute what that religion is about, so NO, they miracles are not about limited general claims, no they are about specific actions, beliefs, feelings, etc.. most of which we don't have the slightest evidence about their truth outside what the doer is claiming to be true. Why should an alien being do that, we of course don't know. But, the point is that this can be the case, and so the miracle by itself is not sufficient. By the way, Christianity is not the typical religion I'm actually addressing, because its founder though did Miracles,
    – Zuhair
    Jan 26 at 6:22
  • yet he himself doesn't give a lot of credit to them. He wants people to believe what he say because of ethical, spiritual, etc.. reasons and not because of it being a miracle by itself. But, other religions are presenting such claims. Actually, other religions present the argument of miracles as a final decider on the source of the teachings of the doer, and make full stresses on it, and considers it very sufficient that who rejects it shall be deemed into eternal fire because he rejected a shinny undeniable PROOF. That's how Miracles are used in these religions.
    – Zuhair
    Jan 26 at 6:32
  • sorry for the first comment I wanted to end it by saying , all claimed to be coming from God.
    – Zuhair
    Jan 26 at 6:34
  • About the argument of Lewis, this is really very old, for example Muslims used to advance such an argument about Mohammad since the origin of Islam, and I'm sure this kind of argumentation is very naïve and it is way deep in history. There are many other explanations. But, mainly as regards Jesus the explanation is a combination of false story and Mystical beliefs. Jesus himself is a mystic, his beliefs are related to Gnostic Jewish traditions present at that time. After his death a lot of false information was added, like resurrection, miracles, etc.. , quite expected!.
    – Zuhair
    Jan 26 at 7:29

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