So I came across yet another anonymous placard and my knee jerk reaction was to write another point-by-point response to its nonsense.
Except that most points have a similar theme and are, to some extent, true (not all of them). The points on this list, more or less, describe events recorded in the Bible.
This placard is deriding Christians simply for accepting what the Bible says is true, basically.
The reasons this post is ridiculous are a little more general.
Oh by the way here’s the placard:
Some stuff in the above list definitely seems weird right?
A donkey talking sounds just ridiculous.
What is it that’s so weird about a talking donkey?
Well it’s weird because no one has ever seen a talking donkey before, except Balaam apparently. It’s utterly contrary to our experience, and the fact that anatomically we know that donkey’s simply don’t have the physiological requirements for human speech.
So we know that it’s impossible for a donkey to talk.
Well, not impossible. But it would take, like, I dunno… a miracle…
which funnily enough is exactly what every single one of the above points is, a miracle.
The examples used in this placard were probably selected because they have maybe some comical appeal. They are rather peculiar acts of divine intervention. But beyond that, there’s nothing particularly different between the really weird miracles in the Bible, and the other less weird but still powerfully miraculous events.
I don’t know anyone who would say that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a weird thing. Not in a comical way like the story of Jonah in a fish, or Balaam the witch doctor talking to a donkey.
But it is still a completely supernatural event.
A miracle is an event that, by definition, occurs contrary to the laws of nature. This doesn’t mean that miracles are impossible (or silly). But it does mean they require a supernatural cause.
What the above placard is implying is the Creationist or Christian is silly for believing in miracles. But there is no obvious reason to think this!
Most human beings for all of human history, including most humans alive today, wholly accept the existence of the supernatural, and miracles.
For Christians it goes something like this:
Christians believe in God (the supernatural, eternal cause of everything).
Christians believe the Bible is God’s inerrant word.
The Bible contains historical accounts of miracles that occurred throughout history.
Therefore Christians believe in miracles.
Atheists, despite all the evidence, reject the supernatural by definition. So if an atheist said that they believed in miracles that would be crazy.
Miracles, like anything else, are only silly to believe in when there just isn’t very good evidence to believe in them. But if there is, then it is not silly to believe in them.
If miracles are real (and supported by strong enough evidence) then it is, in fact, silly not to believe them (if we’re being honest.)
The only question that really matters is, do we have good reason to believe that miracles occur?
I think that we do.
But there is also evidence of Christ’s miracles outside of the Bible too. There are at least two historical sources, which do not come from the Bible, which both report on the ‘strange’ things that Jesus was doing when He was on the earth.
The atheist today has the problem of explaining, without any supernatural explanation how Jesus did things which were so amazing, and the evidence was so strong that even His critics recognised that they were miracles.
Hostile critics were at a loss to explain Christ’s wonders, and had no choice but to write them off as ‘sorcery’.
The atheist today doesn’t have this luxury.
As far as the evidence required to believe in a miracle William Lane Craig summarises in his brilliant textbook, Reasonable Faith, some of the important dialogue surrounding miracles during the enlightenment.
This dialogue continues to inspire discussion amongst philosophers and theologians still today.
For example Samuel Clarke in the early 1700’s argued that God upholds all of creation, including the natural. That natural laws simply prove God’s divine order and trustworthiness, and that miracles are simply some unusual event that God chooses to do beyond what we describe as ‘natural’ (Craig, p52).
Further on it explains that we only think that ‘natural laws’ are natural and immutable because we rarely, if ever experience any event to the contrary.
Another famous example is William Paley, best known I think for his argument for design, via irreducible complexity. But Paley also had something to say about miracles. Paley’s argument was that God’s existence was proven based on his argument from design, and because of this there is nothing particularly extraordinary about miracles at all.
Paley explains that we should be willing to trust powerful confirming evidence.
For example, imagine a group of unrelated individuals who simultaneously witness a supposedly miraculous event.
Imagine these people all had a reputation for being sensible people, of a sound mind, and were known to be honest and full of integrity.
Imagine that it was so obvious to them all that they were willing to suffer greatly and even take their testimony to the grave, rather than admit that it was a lie (which would also imply that the event had some very special importance to their lives).
So it’s important to understand that miracles are not something that are only believed by a small minority of religious quacks. A great many very intelligent, thoughtful and sensible people believe in miracles and have very sensible arguments to show that it’s rational to believe in them, provided that there is good evidence to do so!
There’s another problem with the placard.
Creationists do not reject ‘science’.
Science is a process. It’s a method of understanding the natural world.
Science is a practical process of designing an experiment, gathering data and interpreting results. Those results might give you a clue about the physical world, they might give you a clue about past events.
If you look at the data, and think of what this might tell you about the world, then you can use this make a hypothesis or theory.
A hypothesis or theory is an attempt draw out information from a direct observation, to say something about it and what it tells us about how the world works. We can use good experimental design to tell us something interesting about the world, and this is a good thing.
What we say about that observation is not ‘science’, strictly speaking. Science is the process. Scientists debate endlessly about how to interpret data. This is a very ordinary, necessary and good thing for scientists to do. It’s what scientists do all day.
But scientists ‘interpretations’, are not the same as scientists ‘observations’.
So the key difference here is ‘science’, and ‘scientists’.
Creationists reject ‘secular scientists’ interpretations of the data.
Creationists reject the ‘argument’ that ‘all of life evolved from a single common ancestor’ over a period of 3.5 billion years.
Creationists reject the argument that mutations and natural selection are enough to produce all the diversity of life from a single common ancestor.
Creationists argue that the evidence suggests a recent creation, that ‘several thousands of distinct phyla appeared simultaneously, in the fossil record’.
Creationists argue that science can provide us with insights about the mechanisms of adaptation, from this time onward, but the that the initial appearance of these organisms was an act of special divine creation by God (a miracle).
Creationists are also not so naive to believe that science is sufficient to explain all that life has to offer. Science is strictly limited, by definition, to natural, physical phenomena.
In short, creationists are very pro science, especially those creationists who are scientists.
As usual, the vast majority of hostile critics to Christianity are not to be feared. This placard is just another example of misunderstanding and empty words.
But Geoff, didn’t you say at the beginning that not all the points were entirely true?
Yes I did. Some of them are plainly false. So let’s finish up by briefly-ish summarising each point and explaining what’s really going on. I’ll also throw in the Bible verse that it’s talking about because… well it seems like a good idea.
1. a donkey talked
When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam was angry and struck the donkey with his stick. And the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” Then Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.” The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?” And he said, “No.”
Numbers 22:27-30 – via Bible Gateway
As you can see from the passage above, the Bible says that the Lord ‘opened the mouth of the donkey’.
And in a discussion about miracles, that’s about as direct as you can get when it comes to divine intervention. The Lord literally intervened. So again, the only question really is whether it’s silly believe in miracles or not. Just because this event is quite peculiar (even humourous) does not make it ridiculous to believe.
2. a man lived in a fish
And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.
Jonah 1:17 – via Bible Gateway
This is a slight (perhaps deliberate) exaggeration. The man in question here is the famous prophet Jonah who, anyone who knows anything about the Bible, has probably heard of.
Jonah did not ‘live’ in a fish. Jonah was swallowed by a giant fish when he was thrown overboard, and only spent three days inside the fish.
This one is interesting because there is clearly a miraculous element to it, but there’s also the tantalising scientific question of whether it’s possible for a human to survive inside the belly of a fish for three days.
It would have to be a huge fish, and there would have to be access to oxygen inside the fish, among other things. There is however, no problem with calling a spade a spade. If it looks like a miracle and tastes like a miracle, it probably is. The passage above makes it clear that God ‘prepared a fish’, especially for this particular situation.
3. a woman turned to salt
Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
Genesis 19:24-26 – via Bible Gateway
As you can see this one is pretty much correct. God had just told Lot and his family to flee the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, because they were terribly wicked and God was about to destroy them. If you read the whole story you’ll see actually that Lot and his family were the only individuals in the whole entire city worth saving.
Lot’s wife disobeyed God’s instructions when she looked back, and so God turned her into a pillar of salt. Not a particularly difficult miracle for a God who by this point had already created the whole universe and caused a global flood to spread across it, among other things.
It’s worth noting that salt is a rather simple chemical compound, compared the immense complexity of the human body, so practically speaking this miracle is somewhat less impressive than say, turning water into wine.
Slightly off-topic side note: You might read this and think ‘geez, a pillar of salt, that’s a bit harsh isn’t it?’. It’s important to note though that this was no ordinary event. God specifically warned them to leave and explicitly said “Do not look behind you”. Lot’s wife ignored this explicit command and, more importantly, demonstrated that her heart was not with God, but with the cities she was leaving, so her fate was ultimately, the same as theirs. It’s also worth pointing out that even though God saved Lot and his family, they were still not perfect. They hesitated and complained and didn’t trust God throughout. I encourage to read the whole chapter, it’s actually really interesting.
4. a snake talked
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Genesis 3:1-5 – via Bible Gateway
I think we can all agree that serpents are pretty crafty. I also think it’s worth point out that the talking snake event happened very shortly after the entire universe, earth, life and humans creating event. An event which, in my humble opinion, is far more impressive and miraculous.
I should like to think that if God just created the entire universe, it’s a small step further to imagining a talking snake. However, the difference in this case is that the talking snake was a miracle performed not by God, but by Satan (which just FYI proves that evil spirits can perform miracles just like good ones).
5. a man rode a tornado to heaven
Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
2 Kings 2:11 – via Bible Gateway
Again pretty straightforward. Perhaps worth reiterating again that these examples are all quite peculiar, so much so that they sound like the stuff of children’s bedtime stories.
Imagine someone who grew up their entire life and had never been outside. Ever. Imagine they had never ever seen, or even heard of animals of any kind. The idea that there was even a world outside their little house was completely foreign to them.
Imagine trying to explain to this person what the ocean was like, and that there were fish in it who could breathe underwater. How incredible would it sound to this person to imagine this strange ocean thing with fish so small that you couldn’t see them with the naked eye, and other fish so large a single tooth would be longer than a human.
This person could scarcely take you seriously. Even if you showed them photo graphs, and used a glass of water to try to extrapolate out, it would still be almost impossible for them to believe surely.
But it’s easy for us because we know it’s true. So it’s important to realise that it doesn’t matter how strange these events seem, it only really matters whether or not they’re possible. If you believe in God, then they are certainly possible.
6. the sun stood still for a day
Then Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,
“O sun, stand still at Gibeon,
And O moon in the valley of Aijalon.”
So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,
Until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies.
Is it not written in the book of Jashar? And the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. There was no day like that before it or after it, when the Lord listened to the voice of a man; for the Lordfought for Israel.
Joshua 10:12-14 – via Bible Gateway
Another really interesting thing to note with the miracles on this placard, is that for many of them, the same chapter they appear in contain a number of other miracles that all occur at about the same time, or within a time frame and are all related. Sometimes the other miracles in a given chapter are even more impressive, but maybe they have less comical appeal.
In Joshua Chapter 10, the Israelites are fighting another nation as they continue their campaign to claim their promised land, and in this passage it also states that “the Lordconfounded them before Israel”, and “the Lord threw large stones from heaven on them”.
But the wonderful thing about this example is that it apparently is not the only report of this event. The book of Jashar (which is unfortunately lost to history) apparently also recorded this particularly amazing miracle.
The author is also not a fool. They are careful to explain that there ‘was no day like that before it or after it’. Obviously the author appreciates the special nature of this day, and wasn’t just some crack pot.
Russel Grigg, from Creation Ministries wrote about this event, and explains that there are stories from other nations which talk about an extended day, and from other nations on the other side of the world that talk about an extended night.
This more good evidence, outside of the Bible, that gives some credibility to this event.
7. hundreds of thousands of animals lived on a 500′ boat
Genesis 6, 7, 8 and 9… It’s a long story, but a really entertaining and easy read, so you should just read the whole story. Come to think of it, the whole book of Genesis is one of the most readable and interesting books in the whole Bible.
OK… Do not underestimate how big the ark was. 500 feet is over 150 meters long and 4 stories high.
In fact, we no longer even have to imagine. By the grace of the Almighty God, Answers in Genesis has built a frickin scale replica of the actual Ark, from the actual story of Noah!
This is still amazing to me. How many people in human history will have the opportunity to see either the actual original ark built by Noah, or an exact life-size reconstruction of it? Christian or not, that is just so amazing and you should do yourself a favour and go see it one day… it’s certainly on my bucket list.
Also it’s important to note that it was nowhere near ‘hundreds of thousands’ of animals (proof that the person who made this placard actually has no idea).
Creationists estimate that it is most likely only around 7000.
Despite that, the ark actually had a truly enormous carrying capacity anyway. So not only was there enough room, but it would have probably been somewhat comfortable.
8. zombies wandered around Jerusalem
And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.
Matthew 27:51-53 – via Bible Gateway
As you can see from the above passage (the only one in the Bible I can possibly believe this point is referring to), these were not ‘zombies’. They were believers who had been raised from the dead, not mythical brain-dead bodies infected by viral particles that reanimate dead tissue.
This is so interesting. The author of this placard wants to make fun of Christianity and make Christians look stupid by describing this event as ‘zombies wandering around Jerusalem’, when in fact it was individuals being raised from the dead… Which is exactly what Jesus Christ did!
If you’re going to deride Christianity by making fun of miraculous resurrections, then why not cite the other examples too. John Chapter 11 reports that Jesus, during his earthly ministry, also raised Lazarus from the dead, who had been dead four days, it even reports that one of the witnesses told Jesus “by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days”.
I mean I’m just saying if I was going to make fun of Christianity for bringing people back from the dead, then that would probably be my go-to… I’m just saying!
9. a disembodied hand scribbled on a wall at a party
Suddenly the fingers of a man’s hand emerged and began writing opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, and the king saw the back of the hand that did the writing. Then the king’s face grew pale and his thoughts alarmed him, and his hip joints went slack and his knees began knocking together.
Daniel 5:5-6 – via Bible Gateway
One mistake that I think we can make is trying to, kind of, normalise the miracles in the Bible, as if they are just part and parcel of a world that God made. This is not the way to think about miracles.
The Bible describes 6000 years of earth’s history, and both within the text of the Bible and without, it’s important to realise that miracles are actually quite few and far between.
More importantly as you read through the Bible you also get the impression that they are not evenly spread out across time. There were specific times where miracles were more frequent, and always occurred for some specific reason.
The Bible verse above does a good job of showing what is very sensible reaction would be to genuine miracles… to freak the hell out.
The Bible does not normalise miracles. On the contrary, the Bible shows that actually miracles are extremely special, and peculiar events, and many of the miracles in the Bible are met with the exact kind of amazement you would expect.
10. half a trillion cubic miles of water fell as rain for 40 days and 40 nights
This is another reference to the global flood and the story of Noah in Genesis. Although I think the author of the placard is getting rather desperate for source material at this point, because I find nothing particularly comical or peculiar about this.
I honestly don’t even find the idea of the flood particularly strange. It’s not at all difficult for me to imagine that God caused it to rain for 40 days and 40 nights. Genesis 7 also explains that:
“on the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened”
This is a great example because shows some of the interplay between nature, and miracles. This was obviously a miraculous event. But the flood was a massive, earth altering event. We cannot use science to ‘understand’ a miracle, because that would be illogical. Science is limited to natural phenomena.
However the flood was a cataclysmic event that changed the whole face of the earth, and we can certainly use the tools of science to see if there’s evidence that such an event actually happened in history.
11. water droplets didn’t refract light before Noah’s flood
God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh.
Genesis 9:12-15 – via Bible Gateway
Another reference to the flood in Genesis. Actually, there is good reason to believe that there were rainbows (which are a refraction of light) before the flood. Although the author of the placard could be forgiven for thinking this.
12. blowing a horn and yelling will make city walls collapse
So the people shouted, and priests blew the trumpets; and when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted with a great shout and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight ahead, and they took the city.
Joshua 6:20 – via Bible Gateway
Again, we should be willing to call a miracle a miracle. But there are a few interesting points to make here though.
Firstly, there is actually very powerful archaeological evidence to support the historicity of the battle of Jericho.
Second, the claim that the trumpets made the walls of Jericho fall down is false (or at least unnecessary). The point is the event was a miracle. Maybe it was a perfectly timed earthquake… still a miracle. It was not the shouting and the trumpets that caused the walls to come down.
13. plants grew before there was sunlight
The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning, a third day…
God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also… There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.
Genesis 1:11-19 – via Bible Gateway
And last but not least, a casual reference to the first chapter of Genesis, where it says that on the third day God made all the plants, and on the fourth day He made the sun.
Technically, the Bible is silent on whether these plants actually grew on this first day, it just says that God made them. However, this whole situation is just one small part of one of the greatest and most impressive miracles that ever happened. The creation of the whole universe.
Surely it’s not much of a stretch to think that God could keep the plants alive for a day, after He created them, until He created the sun.
Besides that, it’s also important to point out that before God made the sun, He made light. Which means that the plants would have had that light (wherever it came from) to sustain them until the next day.
Again, these events are only really hard to believe if you’re not a Christian, and reject the supernatural.
The real question is, is there good evidence that they actually happened? I think I’ve at least given you some reason to think that this isn’t completely crazy to believe.
I hope you enjoyed this post and as usual, thanks so much for reading.
Craig, W.L., 2008, Reasonable Faith, Crossway Books, third edition, pp 247-283