Saturday, August 13, 2005

What do Miracles Prove?

Various religions rely on miracles as a justification for their validity. In Christianity perhaps the key miracle is Jesus' resurection from the dead, although many other miracles were and are used to confirm teachings and make converts. Here I am not questioning the validity of the miracles -- I'm assuming they are true miracles. My question is: Given someone does a miracle, does that prove that what that person teaches is true? That happens a lot in the Bible; someone does a miracle and then everyone believes what that person teaches. Is that a reasonable response of the people?

If someone can do miracles at will, like healing people, then surely that demonstrates that the person has power (or at least access to a power) that the rest of us don't. But does having power imply that someone speaks the truth and is not deluded in his beliefs? Surely not; plenty of people have extraordinary powers and at the same time lie or are deluded. Well, one might reply that supernatural powers like healing people at a command only come from God, and God only gives them to people who are truthfully representing him. But where do all those qualifiers come from? First how do we know it is only God who bestows miracle-working powers? If one assumes God gives these powers, then it does not take much to assume other supernatural beings might give those powers as well. Second, even if the miracle power can be shown to be from God, how do we know on what basis God gives that power? The Bible says all earthly authority is from God, and if so then God bestows it on plenty of unpleasant and untruthful characters. He could equally well bestow miracle-working powers on charlatans.

Miracle workers tend to conflate power and truth as a way to gain credibility for their teachings. However power and truth are very different things, and power does not imply truth. If one seeks truth one is not going to be convinced by dogmas or doctrines that are justified by miracles.