Humanism And The Supernatural

Ronny Milliner
Indianapolis, Indiana

Humanists "reject the idea that God has intervened miraculously in history" (A Secular Humanist Declaration, p. 18). Not only do they reject the miraculous, but they also have a very degrading view of those of us who do believe in the miraculous. Paul Kurtz, the editor of the humanist magazine Free Inquiry, wrote in that publication, "I think that if he (Jesus, RM) existed he was either a disturbed personality and/or a magician . . . . Anyone who believes that he was sent by God . . . is, in my judgment, clearly disturbed" ("Letters to the Editor," Free Inquiry, Spring 1984, p. 3). In the same issue of that paper is an article entitled "On Miracles." Its author Randel Helms, affirms, "It requires theological maturity to outgrow the idea of miracles - a truly adult outlook to accept that the processes of the world are sufficient and sufficiently blessed, that the laws of nature never have and never will be set aside" (p. 44). In spite of the fact that we might be considered "clearly disturbed" and immature, we do believe there is sufficient evidence to show "that God has intervened miraculously in history."

If there is no such thing as a miracle, then Christianity cannot exist. There is no such thinj as a non-miraculous Christianity. As one has well stated, "If opposition to the supernatural is consistently carried out, it cannot stop with denial of miracles, but must carry the person straight over into agnosticism or atheism. It is the height of inconsistency for the modernist to admit the existence of God and yet to deny the miracles recorded in Scripture on the ground that they are opposed to natural law. A little reflection should convince anyone that the whole theistic conception of the universe is at stake in the denial of miracles" (Loraine Boettner, Studies in Theology, p. 53). It is either miracles or atheism - there is no other choice.

The Definition Of Miracle

Webster defines a miracle as "an extra-ordinary event manifesting a supernatural work of God." The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says a miracle is "an extraordinary work of God.... transcending the ordinary powers of Nature, wrought in connection with the ends of revelation" (Vol. III, p. 2062). The Westminster Dictionary of the Bible states, "Miracles are events in the external world wrought by the immediate power of God and intended as a sign of attestation. They are possible because God sustains, controls, and guides all things, and is personal and omnipotent" (p. 399).

Here the humanist objects and says, "There are no breaks in the orderly sequence of things" (Randel Helms, "On Miracles," Free Inquiry, Spring 1984, p. 45). He observes that since we have never observed a break in nature then such has never occurred. There is not now, nor ever has been, a miracle, because that would be a disruption in the laws of nature. Such reasoning begs the question.

Howard F. Vos has well answered this objection. He wrote, "It should be clear, then, that the laws of nature are merely observations of uniformity or constancy in nature. They are not forces which initiate action. They simply describe the way nature behaves - when its course is not affected by a superior power . . . . It is contrary to the laws of nature for immense steel ships to float or for airships weighing many tons to fly. Other factors have been introduced . . . . Is God less than man?" ("Miracles," Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 11, p. 1136).

Also C.S. Lewis, in his book, Miracles, has provided a good illustration. "It is with them as with the laws of arithmetic. If I put six pennies into a drawer on Monday and six more on Tuesday, the laws decree that - other things being equal - I shall find twelve pennies there on Wednesday. But if the drawer has been robbed I may in fact find only two. Something will have been broken (the lock of the drawer or the laws of England) but the laws of arithmetic will not have been broken .... In calling them miracles we do not mean that they are contradictions or outrages; we mean that, left to her own resources, she (nature) could never produce them" (pp. 70,75).

But our understanding of miracles can be further enlightened by looking at the four different words in the Bible which are used to describe them. Sometimes the word "work" is used as in John 9:3, "Jesus answered, It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him." The Greek word used here is ergon and defined as "deed, accomplishment - of the deeds of God and Jesus, specifically the miracles" (Arndt and Gingrich, p. 308). This word emphasizes the source of miracles. They are the works of God; they cannot be the works of men (including magicians).

We find Nicodemus using the word "sign" to describe the miracles of Jesus. He said, "Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." The Greek word here is semeion and means "a sign, mark, token; ... of miracles and wonders by which God authenticates the men sent by Him, or by which men prove that the cause they are pleading is God's" (Thayer, p. 573). Here we see the purpose of miracles - to show that one was from God and that his message was divine instead of human.

The third word used is "wonder" or teras which W.E. Vine says is "something strange, causing the beholder to marvel" (Vol. IV, p. 228). Peter uses this word in Acts 2:22 when he said, "Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know." The word "wonder" shows the effect of miracles. They were such awesome events that they caused amazement in those who witnessed them.

The final word used is the word "power." Used by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:12 this word, dunamis in the original, means "the power of performing miracles" (Thayer, p. 159). This last word emphasizes the cause of miracles. They are done by such a great power that it can only be the power of God behind it.

The Evidence Of Miracles

"We find insufficient evidence for belief in the existence of a supernatural." So reads the Humanist Manifesto II. The reason they have not found the evidence may be the same reason a robber can't find a policeman. We believe the evidence is there. Let us examine it with an open mind and honesty.

First of all what kind of evidence can we expect. It is certainly not a personal testimony, for we both agree that there are no miracles today. So we will make our case from historical evidence. Charles P. M'Ilvine wrote, "There are various descriptions of evidence, as the evidences of sense - the evidence of mathematical demonstration - the evidence of testimony. Each of these has its own department of subjects. A question of morals cannot be demonstrated by mathematics, or proved by the senses. A question of historical fact can be settled only by testimony. We are just as certain that such a man as Napoleon once lived, as that any proposition in geometry is true - though one is a matter of testimony, the other of demonstration. We are quite as sure that arsenic is poisonous, as that food is nutritious - though one is, to most of us at least, a matter of testimony only; while the other is, to all, a matter of sense . . . . Mathematical evidence is evidently inapplicable to the question. It is a matter fact belonging to another century, and therefore intangible by sense. Nothing remains but testimony. This is perfectly appropriate to the question" ("M'Ilvaine's Review of Hume on Miracles, " pp. 7-9).

John W. Montgomery agrees, as he expressed, "The only way we can know whether an event can occur is to see whether in fact it has occurred. The problem of 'miracles,' then, must be solved in the realm of historical investigation, not in the realm of philosophical speculation" (History and Christianity, p. 75).

We will call two witnesses to the stand. One is a Galilean fisherman by the name of John, and the other a physician called Luke. John was a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, and wrote a book about this unusual Nazarene. There has been found a fragment of a manuscript of the Gospel of John, called the Rylands Papyrus, dated from 100-150 A.D. Irenaus, writing around 185 A.D. and a student of John's student, Polycarp, affirms that John was the writer of the fourth Gospel. We learn from other historical writings that this man was willing to suffer great persecution for the belief he had in what he had written. John states his reason for writing in John 20:30-3 1, "Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God-, and that believing you may have life in His name."

Our other witness was a traveling companion of the apostle Paul, a former persecutor of the early followers of Jesus, but who, for some reason, changed to become a fervent follower of the Nazarene. W.M. Ramsay, after comparing Luke's writings with known facts of the first century, concluded, "Luke is a historian of the first rank; . . . in short, this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians" (The Bearing of Recent Discovery, p. 222). Luke states in the beginning of his book, "Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word have handed down to us, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you might know the exact truth about the things you have been taught" (Lk. 1:14). Luke, as a man of science, was only interested in "the exact truth."

What do these two reliable witnesses have to say about the miracles of Jesus? First, they show that the miracles of Jesus were varied. He showed power over diseases (Jn. 4:46-54; 5:1-9; 9:1-7; Lk. 4:38-39; 5:12-26; 6:6-10; 7:1-10; 8:43-48; 13:10-17; 14:1-6). He showed power over demons (Lk. 4:31-36; 11:14; 8:26-39; 9:38-42). He showed power over nature (Jn. 2:1-11; 6:16-21; Lk. 5:1-11; 8:22-25; 9:12-17). And He showed power over death (Lk. 7:11-15; 8:4142; Jno. 11: 17-44). (What magician ever raised a man who had been dead for four days?) The miracles of Jesus were also numerous (Jn. 20:30; Lk. 4:40-41; 7:21-22). His miracles were done publicly (Lk. 6:6-11; 9:37-43; 18:35-43). His miracles were qffirmed by His disciples (Jn. 2:11), the multitudes (Jn. 6:14), the cured (Jn. 9:11,24), and even by His enemies (Jn. 11:47-53). The miracles of Jesus also confirmed His claims. Jesus could say, "I am the bread of life" (Jn. 6:35,48,51), because He had fed over 5000 with 5 loaves of bread (Jn. 6:5-13). Jesus cold say, I am the light of the world" (Jn. 8:12; 9:5), because He gave light to a man born blind (Jn. 9:1-7). Jesus could say, "I am the resurrection and the life" (Jn. 11:25), because He gave life to a dead man (Jn. 11:38-44). No sane man would make such claims! But Jesus did and proved the proclamation by the miraculous signs.

The Attacks Of Miracles

The Jews were the first to attack the miracles of Jesus. Their attack was not a denial of the miracles, but rather they attributed Jesus' power to the Devil (Mt. 12:24; Mk. 3:22-27; Lk. 11: 15-22). Jesus' answer remains the same today, "And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand?"

The Pantheist has denied miracles on the basis that God is nature. But the truth is God is above nature. The Pantheist would put a strait jacket on God and His power.

The Sceptic doubts the possibility of miracles. Let him doubt no longer, but examine the evidence and accept the only reasonable conclusion - Jesus did miracles!

The Rationalist says that the miracles are only myths made up by writers centuries later than the time of Jesus. But as we have seen the evidence comes from men who lived in the first century. They lived and wrote during the time when miracles were being done. If we accept the historical evidence for Julius Caesar, why will we not accept an even stronger historical evidence for Jesus and the signs He performed.

The Critic argues that the testimony is full of mistakes and contradictions. Where is the proof? This argument has been made for centuries, and we still are waiting for the first contradiction to be given.


Friends, without the miraculous we have no hope. Paul reasoned in 1 Corinthians 15 that if the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus is false and thus our hope in Christ is only in this life "we are of all men most to be pitied" (1 Cor. 15:16-19). "Without the miraculous element Christianity would have no message, no solace for our age . . . . The only answer to the choppy seas of life is a Savior who can say, 'Peace, be still.' The only hope for victory over Satanic power is through the One whom the demons recognized and obeyed. The only hope for the body in this life and the next lies in the One who is Lord of life and death. The only hope for the soul rests in the one who died for our sins and rose again and ever lives to make intercession for us" (Howard F. Vos, "Miracles," Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 11, p. 1137).

Let us remember, "these (signs) have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name" (Jn. 20:31).

Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 13, pp. 393, 408-409
July 5, 1984