David Hume was an 18th century skeptic from Scotland who is considered an authority by many philosophers in challenging miracles. Consider his take in An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding:
A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience as can be imagined… It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed, in any age or country. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation.
Hume’s idea of “extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence” is pictured in a scale. On one side is full proof and the other side is the evidence from all people in all the ages for the regularity of the laws of nature, which also amounts to full proof. Thus, proof stands against proof and does not incline in either direction, the wise man cannot hold to a miracle with any degree of certainty. According to Hume, miracles are violations of the “laws of nature” that “firm and unalterable” experience has solidly established. Only a superior testimony of experience may override this proposition, but, unfortunately, there cannot be such a testimony, for if there were, miracles would no longer merit their name.
How about a more scientific challenge? Early and mid 20th century theologian Rudolph Bultmann argues that “man’s knowledge and mastery of the world have advanced to such an extent through science and technology that it is no longer possible for anyone seriously to hold the New Testament view of the world… the modern conception of human nature as a self-subsistent unity immune from the interference of supernatural powers must take its place.” According to Bultmann God is the Wholly Other, there are no points of contact between us and him. God is, but we cannot know him objectively. God is hidden and thus neither God nor his actions are open to verification. This world is a closed system of cause and effect; we can never find God by empirical processes. There are no breaks in the links of causation; thus, there are no miracles. No event can ever be ascribed to God; all are natural causes. There is an infinite qualitative difference between God and the world, which makes it impossible for God to objectively act in the world. Paradoxically, the hidden God reaches down to finite humanity and reaches himself (via the kerygma). Miracles would be intrusions of God into the natural realm.
Hume’s basic argument:
- The evidence from experience in support of a law of nature is extremely strong.
- A miracle is a violation of a law of nature.
- Therefore, the evidence from experience against the occurrence of a miracle is extremely strong.
Hume begs the question: “Firm and unalterable experience”; He assumes that miracles have never occurred in order to prove that miracles have never occurred. C.S. Lewis notes,
“[N]ow of course we must agree with Hume that if there is absolutely ‘uniform experience’ against miracles, if in other words they have never happened, why then they never have. Unfortunately we know the experience against them to be uniform only if we know that all the reports of them are false. And we can know all the reports to be false only if we know already that miracles have never occurred. In fact we are arguing in a circle.”
Hume presupposes naturalism. Yet if God exists then surely miracles are possible. Hume misuses probability: 1) Highly improbable events do occur; 2) probability cannot tell what actually happened in the past. Miracles appear as sense perception and therefore can be supported by testimony; if miracles are possible then claims should be investigated rather than just ruled out a priori.
What is quite interesting about Bultmann is that he was a contemporary with the rise of Einsteinian physics and relativity. Bultmann was still shaping his theology and philosophy to a Newtonian system. It’s not so much that God wouldn’t cause miracles; rather, it’s that he can’t. It would be morally wrong if he interfered with his creation.
The closed-universe view, which says that the universe contains all of reality, is now being either questioned or flat-out rejected by many scientists. Many cosmologists are adopting the view of the multiverse, which is an open-system. This is quite interesting, though I’m not using it argumentatively, if God were to create, wouldn’t you expect him to create an open-system such as the multiverse given his infinite creativity? Physical science cannot account for all events purely on natural laws. Probability applies even to the field of physics. Some physical events are unpredictable and do not conform to laws (depending on which interpretation of quantum mechanics one ascribes to, particularly concerning wave collapse). Causal agents (agents with libertarian freedom) create several events, which are unpredictable and cannot be ruled out. Investigating an event to see if it actually occurred is valid apart from science and is regularly practiced in other fields (particularly the historical sciences). All we need to establish by this method is that miracles cannot be ruled out a priori.
Miracles shape the crux of the Christian worldview. The Jesus Seminar presupposes the impossibility of miracles, “The contemporary religious controversy turns on whether the worldview reflected in the Bible can be carried forward into this scientific age and retained as an article of faith… the Christ of creed and dogma… can no longer command the assent of those who have seen the heavens through Galileo’s telescope.” Miracles are a stumbling block for naturalists. The use of miracles as an apologetic method is known as evidential apologetics. Evidentialists will appeal to miracles to argue for theism: 1) historical evidence shows miracles occurred, 2) a theistic context is necessary for a miracle; 3) therefore, God must exist. One of the most prominent proponents of this method is Gary Habermas. This is what he calls “one step apologetics”. Classical apologists also use the resurrection and miracles as arguments for the existence of God; however, they use it in conjunction with other arguments for the existence of God to set up a theistic context prior to arguing for miracles.
 C.S. Lewis, Miracles, (New York Macmillan Publishing Company, 1960), 102.
 R.W. Funk, R.W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, “Introduction” to The Five Gospels (New York: Macmillan, 1993), 2. For more on miracles, arguments for them, and applications see William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith ed. 3, a source for much of the included information.