Three Centuries of Objections to Biblical Miracles -- By: Mark J. Larson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 160:637 (Jan 2003)
Article: Three Centuries of Objections to Biblical Miracles
Author: Mark J. Larson

Three Centuries of Objections to Biblical Miracles

Mark J. Larsona

The miracles recorded in the Bible have been a problem for many people in recent centuries. As Thornwell put it, “The supernatural has been the stone of stumbling and the rock of offence.”1 This article discusses a number of challenges to miracles and includes assessments of those objections. The thinkers examined here are in the three philosophical movements of the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and atheistic naturalism.

Miracles in the Age of Reason

John Locke (1632-1704)

Though the eighteenth century was a period marked by unbelief about miracles, it is remarkable that the century began with a treatise by Locke in which he affirmed the legitimacy of the biblical miracles. Written in 1702, A Discourse of Miracles was published posthumously in 1706. Locke said miracles have three characteristics. They are “wrought by God himself”;2 they are to be understood as “contrary to the established course of nature”;3 and they are for the “attesting of divine revelation.”4 They are “the basis on which divine mission is always established.”5

Locke recognized the existence of “lying wonders,” phenomena that are “above the force of natural causes and effects,” such as “the producing of serpents [and] blood and frogs, by the Egyptian sorcerers.” True miracles can be distinguished from lying wonders because “miracles … carry the evident marks of a … superior power.”

Voltaire (1694-1778)

Ironically Locke, a staunch advocate of miracles, became a stepping stone for Deism and its repudiation of miracles. The proponents of natural religion saw in Locke’s Christian rationalism a precursor of their own rationalistic approach. The French Deist Voltaire conceived of the cosmos as a smooth-running machine,6 which operates according to the laws of nature.7 “A miracle,” he said, “is the violation of mathematical, divine, immutable, eternal laws…. A law cannot be immutable and violable at the same time.”8 Something of Voltaire’s customary ridicule is reflected in this statement of his: “Let a dead man walk five miles carr...

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