How can you believe in miracles?
But we need to be clear about this. Because someone who believes in miracles is not saying that miracles happen all the time. They are not even saying that they themselves witnessed a bona fide miracle. They are actually saying that miracles are possible. So that's the million dollar question; are miracles possible?
And this is where we run into something called an a priori decision – a decision made prior to a fair assessment of the evidence. For example, David Hume has famously said that it is unreasonable to ever believe in miracles, no matter how much evidence. That would be an a priori decision, and that's the first and biggest hurdle for people when thinking about belief in miracles.
Here's an example. Let's say there is an ancient king who believed that the earth was flat, like everyone else around him. Then one day, a sailor comes to him with an astonishing claim. The sailor says that his ship actually traveled west for 6 months, and after 6 months, he arrived back home. And the sailor shows this document – a detailed record of the ship's log – that shows that they did travel west. It has the star charts, it shows cross-referencing, and other witnesses on the ship saying that this is what happened. In other words, document's authenticity is solid in every sense. Except one problem: if this document is true, then that means the earth is round! But you know what? We already know that the earth is not round! It's flat. That's why we stay on the ground. It's ridiculous to believe that the earth is round. So, therefore, the king rejects the evidence. It doesn't matter how strong it might be, or how many people were on the ship. There must be something wrong with the evidence, and it's not really worth looking into. As David Hume said, it is unreasonable to believe it, no matter how much evidence.
So that's why having an a priori assumption is not good. It prevents us from examining the evidence. So in the case of miracles, if someone says, "miracles are impossible," what is the underlying a priori assumption there? In order to know that there is no such thing as miracles in this entire universe, one must pre-assume the non-existence of any higher being, because if there is a higher being, such as God, then miracles are possible. But if there isn't, then miracles are not possible.
But that's not good; how would you ever be convinced that the supernatural exists, if you already made up your mind that the supernatural cannot exist, and therefore will not entertain any evidence? That's why we need to momentarily suspend our a priori assumptions and entertain the possibility.
At this point, someone might say, "Hey, isn't it the same thing for people who believe in miracles? In order to believe in miracles, those people must have an a priori assumption that a supernatural being exists!" That's a good point, but if we think about it, I think we can see a subtle but very important difference. Like I said in the beginning, people who believe in miracles are not saying miracles happen all the time. If it did, then we would stop calling it a miracle, right? They believe that miracles are possible. And in order to believe that, no a priori decisions are necessary. They don't have to have an a priori decision that the supernatural exists. They don't have to believe that God exists. They merely have to be open to the possibility that a higher being exists, thus miracles are possible. I think that's a more fair and open-minded position to hold, because then, we can become open toward evidence for miracles without any a priori commitment. At least that's the starting point. And that's what we have to decide as we think about
this question. Are we going to be open to the possibility?