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God, miracles, and logic

Why do atheists call the miracle-working God a ‘magic man in the sky’? And how do atheists account for the laws of logic? Jackson C. from the United States comments:

wikipedia.org miracle
God does not perform miracles arbitrarily: He uses miracles in His providential care of history in a purposeful and logistically careful way. (Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still upon Gibeon by John Martin)

Nearly every skeptic I have ever encountered had the same problem with believing in the Bible. It was God performing miracles, which they in turn use to equate God with a “magic man in the sky” (even though the sky is part of finite creation and God exists outside of creation).

I’ve read Sarfati’s article on miracles and science, but it didn’t seem to help me in addressing the whole “magic man” argument. When atheists call God imaginary, are they also calling the laws of logic and unchanging moral laws imaginary as well? I think this may be the answer I’m looking for, but I do not know how atheists account for the existence of the laws of logic. No man can be the source of the laws of logic, so that would thoroughly debunk the “magic man” claim. I’m scared of going to atheist websites because they’re mean, lolz:(

I cannot thank CMI enough for everything you do. I’m a big fan of Sanford, Sarfati, and Wieland. Your books and articles have greatly expanded my knowledge. Thank you.

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

When an atheist misrepresents God as a ‘magic man in the sky’, it’s not an argument; it’s an insult. But there’s an unvoiced belief behind it that can be put into an argument: if God does miracles, God is arbitrary, and we therefore couldn’t trust that science would work if God existed. But this is nonsense. As you point out, God is rational. He’s also unchangeably rational.

There are also reasons for God to sustain the world in ways that seem to us ‘immovable’. For instance, God would sustain the world so we could make choices in it. But to be able to make choices, we need to be able to expect our choices to result in consistent consequences. For instance, the choice to walk requires the world to behave in consistent ways for us to be able even to put one foot in front of another. If we couldn’t expect a consistent consequence when we make a particular choice, then we wouldn’t be able to choose anything, which undermines pretty much everything about us, not least of which would be our ability to relate to God. As such, not even the Christian theist would expect God to do earth-shattering miracles all the time, and He certainly wouldn’t do anything that destroys our ability to make choices—that would be inconsistent with both His perfect mind and perfect character. Miracles, especially if they reveal God to us in a special way, don’t automatically contradict this, and an all-knowing God would certainly know how to use miracles in the world in ways that don’t destroy our ability to make choices. For more on this, please see Miracles and Science, Defining arguments away—the distorted language of secularism, and Whose god? The theological response to the god-of-the-gaps.

But why would God bother to ‘intervene’ with miracles? The simplest reason is that He may wish to communicate more about himself than we can learn through general revelation. This becomes especially poignant when we realize that God is morally perfect and we are not (Romans 3:23). A morally perfect God can’t simply ignore our sin, and without His special intervention to reconcile us to himself, we would all be doomed. So, does He refuse to intervene and let us all perish, or does He do something to restore us to himself? It seems pretty obvious that a gracious God who steps into history to offer an olive branch to His enemies is more praiseworthy than a god who just lets us all suffer. As James says: “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). And that of course is precisely what we claim God did in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. For more on this, please see Is God obscure and arbitrary in what He wants from us? and Why would a loving God allow death and suffering?

Now, as to the question of whether an atheist can account for the laws of logic, they would say that truths like ‘a rock is a rock’ and ‘a rock is not a car’ are true regardless of whether a mind exists or not. They might parse this out in a couple of different ways. One option is to say that the laws of logic, along with numbers, truths, properties etc. are abstract objects; i.e. they are objects that have no causal power, but exist necessarily and independently of anything else. As such, the existence of God is irrelevant to the question, since these objects would exist independently of God whether or not He existed. Another option is to say that the laws of logic are not things needing an explanation, since the laws of logic don’t ‘exist’ like a chair or a bee or a star ‘exists’. Rather, the ‘laws of logic’ are just descriptions of the essential self-consistent nature of reality. In other words, they would say that the structure of reality is inescapably logical, even if physical reality is all there is.

One way around this is an argument for God known as the argument from concepts for God’s existence, which treats e.g. numbers and the laws of logic as objects of a special type—ideas. The argument runs like this: the laws of logic are ideas, and ideas can only exist in minds, but since the laws of logic exist necessarily, the laws of logic must be constituted in a necessary mind, such as God, therefore God must exist (for more information, please see Ronald Nash’s argument from numbers). This argument rests on the notion that ideas are real objects (like chairs and stars) that can only reside in minds. But if that’s not true, then the argument fails. And there is debate even among theists over whether the laws of logic are ideas, and whether ideas are really existing things. As such, not every theist would consider this argument for God sound. Nonetheless, it’s an open question. So if you choose to use this argument, just beware that the atheist may reject the argument in similar ways to how some theists would.

Another possible solution is that the theist can agree that the laws of logic are not ‘things’, but are just our descriptions of the essential self-consistent nature of reality. In this case, rather than making the laws of logic things that are somehow dependent on God for their existence, the theist could say that ‘logic’ is just a description of how God’s mind works; i.e. God is logical. This doesn’t necessarily put theism and atheism on level footing, since there are arguments for God that argue for His necessity and don’t rely on the laws of logic being actual objects—e.g. moral arguments, arguments from contingency,1 and ontological arguments. If these arguments are successful, they would show that while the atheistic analysis of the laws of logic in itself is coherent, saying that this is true ‘even if God doesn’t exist’ is ultimately incoherent, since God necessarily exists. Rather, the logical structure of reality is ultimately grounded in God’s logical nature. For more information, please see Did God create time?, Does God depend on logic to exist? and Is God 'simple'?

Whether we believe logic is an object or not, the facts that God cannot fail to exist, and is himself perfectly logical, provide plausible explanatory grounds for logic that atheism simply lacks. And since God is perfectly logical, we can trust that the way He providentially orders miracles in history will also be logistically solid.

Published: 19 March 2016

References and notes

  1. Arguments from contingency ask the question ‘why is there something rather than nothing?’, and conclude that God is the naturally necessary being that provides the ultimate reason why anything at all exists. Return to text

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