An Atheist view of Miracles

An atheist can admit that "miracles" happen,  but what the atheist means by "miracles" and what the theist means by that same term can be two very different things indeed. For the theist, a miracle is as easy to explain as it is impossible to comprehend, because it is simply an act of God. As such, no further investigation is necessary because all further investigation is futile. After all,  it's a miracle!

For the atheist, on the other hand, miracles are simply things we do not yet understand, and nothing more. They may just be the result of powers of the mind over our own body that we have yet to fully understand, for example. After all, it has been demonstrated that people can use their mind to alter chemistry in their body.  But in any event, assuming them to be anything more than a giant question mark is a dubious interpretation at best or a deliberate act of manipulation at worst. The only thing we all know for certain is that a "miracle" is either something we will understand in the future, or it is something we will never understand - ever. But it is far more honest to admit the limits of what we know and understand than to leap to the conclusion that God did it in the conservatory with the candle stick.

In fact, it's quite possible that all of the "miracles" mentioned in the Bible actually happened, but that they were only "miracles" because people didn't know what else to call them. Restarting a person's heart in 2000 B.C.E., for example, would likely be called a "miracle" by all who observed it. What else could they call it?  Indeed, we call it a miracle even today. The difference is that today, such a "miracle" is not so much an act of God but of a good doctor. And the fact that God could cure everyone with his miracles, but instead chooses to selectively cures only some, is like a doctor with an infinite supply of a panacea that cures absolutely everything, who chooses to provide it to a few patients arbitrarily in the hope that the rest will love him for it. 

The people who wrote the stories in the Bible were not PhD's in literature or history, as far as we know. They were fishermen and shepherds and carpenters and, of course, story tellers. Story tellers are not just historical stenographers, but artists, who often paint the picture of the ideas they wish to convey with the power of prose and the color of poetry. Picasso, for example, painted ideas he gleamed from the writers and poets he surrounded himself with in Paris. A writer paints the image of their idea on the canvas of our own imagination using the medium of language.  And the finished product, as is often the case with literature, is usually a portrait of ourselves spied through the retina of an author's pen.

Perhaps the biblical authors, in this same way, simply choose to describe the act of walking on a sand bar as "walking on water," not in an attempt to deceive but to describe the image more powerfully to their audience. Or maybe the author genuinely believed that Jesus was "walking on water" instead of a sand bar. After all, an author is only as human as their audience and as such, he (or she) is as fallible in discerning what they see as we are creative in interpreting what we read.

Whatever the case, it is certainly not a belief in "miracles" that is the problem between theists and atheists, but the different meanings that each derives from them. The theist thinks a miracle informs us about the existence of a higher intelligence, while the atheist knows a miracle is simply evidence of our own ignorance. And while one sees them as a license to act like God, the other sees them as a reminder that we are only human.  


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