11 Sep 2011

Jesus Spoke Logically on Miracles

Religious 33 Comments

This is perhaps an anal little point, but apropos my thoughts on miracles and the laws of physics–where I say that by definition, God can’t break the laws of physics, because if He did then they wouldn’t be laws–here is Jesus (Mk 10: 23-27):

23 Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches[a] to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, “Who then can be saved?”
27 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”

I think a lot of the people pooh-poohing me and saying, “Bob, God can do anything; He can certainly violate the laws of physics!” would probably also say, “God can do the impossible.” But note that’s not what Jesus said in the above.

In fact, Jesus’ stance on the (im)possible is exactly my stance on miracles. Jesus is acknowledging that God can do things that, to humans, seem impossible (or violations of the laws of physics), yet to God they are possible (i.e. not violations).

So just to belabor the point, Jesus in the above didn’t say, “With men it is impossible, but God can do the impossible.” Rather, He said that the same thing that would be impossible for men, is possible for God.

This makes perfect sense. It would not make sense for Jesus to say, “God can do the impossible.” If God could do it, the thing wouldn’t be impossible, now would it?

Put another way, it doesn’t limit God’s sovereignty to say He can’t do the impossible. That’s just a semantic issue. Rather, the way you handle the fact that God is omnipotent, is to say that for Him, nothing is impossible.

33 Responses to “Jesus Spoke Logically on Miracles”

  1. Yosef says:

    “for Him, nothing is impossible”

    It is impossible for God to be courageous, or to overcome adversity. It is impossible for God to improve himself, or create something better than himself. God is unchanging, finished. In short, God is the opposite of everything we teach people to love and strive for.

    [More seriously though, I once heard someone say “Because God has always existed, He knows nothing of His origin, or of improvement. God made man to see the birth of gods”]

    • Secret Agent says:

      The concept of God is a concept of non-action.

  2. KingTooter says:

    I can dig it — totally.
    God bless us all.

  3. Luke says:

    God cannot do something that is a violation of His own existence and nature. Therefore, He cannot make a rock so big he can’t pick up, or make something bigger than Himself, etc. But, not being able to do this does not mean He is not God, nor that He is not omnipotent. Omnipotence is not the ability to do anything conceivable, but the ability to do anything consistent with His nature and consistent with His desire within the realm of His unlimited and universal power which we do not possess. This does not mean He can violate His own nature. If He did something inconsistent with His nature, then He would be self-contradictory. If God were self- contradictory, He would not be true. As for his miracles, bending the laws of physics is simply altering a piece of his creation.

    • Secret Agent says:

      But, not being able to do this does not mean He is not God, nor that He is not omnipotent. Omnipotence is not the ability to do anything conceivable, but the ability to do anything consistent with His nature and consistent with His desire within the realm of His unlimited and universal power which we do not possess.

      Contradiction. To claim that omnipotence lacks a certain power is to evade and deny the very meaning of omnipotence and speak about something less than omnipotence.

      Even saying that the concept of God has a particular nature implies that the concept has some attributes but not others, and thus can wield some powers but not others, which necessarily implies less than omnipotence.

      Omnipotence is the ability to do anything, which always exceeds what any acting entity such as humans are capable of conceiving.

      If He did something inconsistent with His nature, then He would be self-contradictory. If God were self- contradictory, He would not be true.

      The concept of God already is contradictory.

      • Paul says:

        Can God exist and not exist at the same time? Of course not, but it is a nonsense question. Self contradictory actions are intrinsically impossible, thus they are nonsense. The definition of omnipotence should really be “to have the power of God” which means the ability to do everything that is not nonsense.

        • Secret Agent says:

          Indeed, but isn’t there a difference between saying that a concept exists and saying that a concept has a specific nature?

          To me the latter is much more precise and thus much more “limiting.”

          Isn’t it true that an omnipotent concept can only be “limited” and “bounded” by negative and non-existent concepts? For example, if a God exists, it would have to be not mortal, but immortal, not bounded by space, but everywhere in space, not only capable of lifting a large rock, but capable of doing anything to any sized rock, etc?

          • Paul says:

            I’m not really sure what you are getting at here, so maybe you could explain further. When it comes to beings/entities having a specific nature, there are boundries and limitations, yes. Physics, to humans, is but a medium in which we act. Higher order beings operate in different mediums. Likewise God operates in the ultimate medium, and not within the medium of lower order beings. This ultimate medium exists contains all sensible actions.

            I would say that the difference between a concept existing and a concept having a specific nature lies in the intrinsic ability of that concept to exist. If something is not self contradictory then it is possible for a certain order being to perform the action. With God being of the highest order, all things are possible thus He has to be declared infinite. It is nonsense to say that there can a being greater than God, for the greatest is the definition really. What can be greater than the greatest? Nothing, for it is self contradictory. I guess you could say that the only limitation on God is the lack of ability to perfom nonsense, but I would say that is not a limitation at all.

            This is a very difficult thing to wrap my head around and explain well. I’m only human.

    • RobertH says:

      Agreed. To add another example: God cannot create a married-bachelor because creating the logically contradictory just isn’t something ‘power’ can do.

  4. JJ says:

    Bob, what’s with all this religious stuff?? It’s freaking me out no end!!

  5. Secret Agent says:

    I say that by definition, God can’t break the laws of physics, because if He did then they wouldn’t be laws

    Only if you DEFINE “laws” as “whatever I think the concept of God has the power to do.”

    Using your circular logic, one could say

    “I say that by definition, I can’t break the laws of physics, because if I did then they wouldn’t be laws.”


    “I say that by definition, I can break the laws of physics, because if I couldn’t then there wouldn’t be miracles, for miracles are by definition violations of the laws of physics.


    “I say that by definition, I can be everywhere at once, because if I couldn’t then there wouldn’t be a universe everywhere in which to exist.

    Biblical miracles violate the laws of physics, such as instantly turning water into wine, walking on top of the sea, commanding the weather with words, satisfying the hunger of 5000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 small fish, etc. It is a silly illogical jump to conclude that these events do not violate the laws of physics because a 2000 year old text contains passages that they occurred.

    What about all the other miracles and violations of laws of physics contained in other religious texts besides the bible? Is it going to be an evasive “I am not familiar with them” response? If I showed you another ancient text that contained another messianic figure who also performed miracles, then what standard will you use to judge whether or not the text is true? Since you’re not going by scientific evidence or logic or reason in accepting the bible’s passages, then will you use the same standard of faith in accepting it? If not, why not?

  6. Martin says:

    For some reason, this reminds me of talking about income in income tax law. There is the economic concept of income and then there is the tax concept to give it some traction in the real world. Our laws are the latter, whilst God is the former. Arguing that God cannot violate the laws of nature is akin to arguing that because we’ve written a tax code nobody can avoid taxes.

  7. Robbie says:

    God is neither above nor below the law but is co-eternal with the law.

  8. David S. says:

    Hey Wrong Way Bob, are you going to address Krugman’s latest post on what’s moving gold prices?


    And how do you like this graph?


    What is the correlation between CPI and gold prices? Remind me.

    • bobmurphy says:

      David S., I seem to recall you telling me–complete with a “lmao you idiots” flourish–that gold was rising because of demand from emerging markets. Just like Krugman was telling us that gold was a bubble due to Glenn Beck.

      But now is the explanation du jour that it’s low real interest rates?

      Tell me when you’ve settled on your theory.

      • MamMoTh says:

        I have a theory involving low interested gnomes, for anyone interested.

        • Secret Agent says:

          Someone told me that the gnomes eat paper.

      • David S. says:

        I never claimed to have a complete model for gold prices. I pointed to the World Gold Council data revealing rising retail and industrial demand versus falling supply. That story hasn’t changed. That explains why gold often rises with expected aggregate demand.

        But, I had no idea why gold was rising when aggregate demand seemed to fall. Maybe expectations of falling real rates tells most of the story.

        Now, let’s focus on your story. Doesn’t it say gold prices are directly correlated with inflation, whereby the market is dumb enough to send mixed signals? That is, falling inflation expectations in other commodities, stocks, and the bond market? lmao You’re ridiculous enough to think gold is money, aren’t you?

    • Secret Agent says:

      From the Crossing Wall Street article, the author writes:

      “Before I get to my model, I want to take a step back for a moment and discuss a strange paradox in economics known as Gibson’s Paradox. This is one the most puzzling topics in economics. Gibson’s Paradox is the observation that interest rates tend to follow the general price level and not the rate of inflation.”

      What’s the difference between “the general price level” and “the rate of inflation”? Aren’t they the same? If the general price level goes up, then isn’t that inflation?

      • MamMoTh says:

        inflation is the 1st derivative of the general price level

        • Secret Agent says:

          So if an interest rate and a price level are positively correlated, aren’t we already in a 1st derivative of price level context? I mean, doesn’t the notion of “positive correlation between X and Y” imply that X and Y are changing in specific ways relative to each other?

          When I see the statement “Gibson’s Paradox is the observation that interest rates tend to follow the general price level and not the rate of inflation” that to me means that what is being measured is the rate of change in the price level as compared to the interest rate. If not, then how can you compare a percentage (interest rate) with a price level only (dollars, yen, etc)?

          I just can’t understand how comparing an interest rate to a price level can mean anything other than comparing that interest rate to the rate of change (1st derivative) of the price level.

          • MamMoTh says:

            You can compare (e.g. look for any correlation) any two given quantities. The price level is one quantity, the rate of change in the price level is another quantity, so they can be both compared to something else.

            • Secret Agent says:

              So if the price level changes, and a particular interest rate changes, then the comparison is not between the rate of inflation and the rate of change in the interest rate?

    • Brian Shelley says:

      So, when the federal reserve prints a bunch of money to push short term bond rates down towards zero, and thus creates negative real interest rates. Ergo, the price of gold goes up? I’m not seeing the contradiction to Austrian theory.

    • Martin says:

      I understand what side you think you’re on, but what I do not understand is why you’re on that side – or any side for that matter – when you are incapable of arguing that side properly.

  9. Drigan says:

    Worth noting: “the needle’s eye” was the gateway to a city in ancient times. It was designed to limit the amount of flow into and out of a city. This made it more difficult to overwhelm the city defenders even once the door was broken down. Unfortunately, it also made commerce more difficult; to get a camel inside the walls, a merchant would have to take most or all of the items off the animal, then have it crawl through on its knees.

    I think the ancients may have been amazed by this not because it breaks our understanding of physics, but because they believed that wealth was a sign of blessing from God.

  10. knoxharrington says:

    Internal/logical consistency within the “miracle” story(ies) is nice but it begs the question of whether the miracle story(ies) itself is true. On that score, the probability of miracles is low (I would say non-existent) and the means of transmitting the stories (the Gospels in particular and the Bible generally) which testify to the veracity of the miracles are totally unreliable.

    “God” acting consistently within a religious story proves a theological point but does not form the basis for proving “God” exists.

    • Anonymous says:

      The stories in the Bible are always true. But it must be interpreted correctly. If you read 1 Corinthians 13:12 — you cannot interpret it literally. It’s foolish.

      The Bible is concerned with the spirit — for that is the eternal part of us.

      If you read 1 Corinthians 2:12-14 it confirms this. Jesus spoke in parables using physical examples to explain spiritual truths.

      There are other miracles in the Bible that did in fact happen, though not the way we read it. The truth is here: 1 Malachi 3:6. God created the laws of Physics and sticks by them so we do not die.

      • Secret Agent says:

        The stories in the Bible are always true.

        Ex cathedra.

    • RobertH says:

      Your argument kind of sounds like Hume’s reasoning, against identification of miracles. I think you will get a kick out of this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqZJvStSr-8

      • knoxharrington says:

        Craig can really build a castle in the air. The “evidence” in his probability equation is the very point in contention among biblical scholars, i.e., are the Gospels reliable. He assumes the “background knowledge” and “evidence” are true and voila – the resurrection happened.

        Craig never answers direct questions about Bible reliability and always falls back on his “I have four points to make …” spiel. He is completely disingenuous. Watch the Craig-Ehrman debate and watch him not answer direct questions about Gospel reliability. If the Gospels are unreliable, and they are, then the “evidence” disappears before our very eyes and we are left with the probability that none of this stuff actually took place.

  11. konst says:

    Not sure about this one yet but your previous inquiry of Mark 8:22-26
    … ‘and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands upon him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see men; but they look like trees, walking.” Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and saw everything clearly.And he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.’.

    was explained as follows in a Greek Orthodox Church forum:

    “The man is being healed in stages, his healing is the reenactment of the healing of Israel, just as our ability to know God grows gradually. The leading out of town is the Exodus. The first “healing” is the Law and the prophets, the second healing where things are seen clearly is the coming of Christ. But it is not yet time for His glory to be revealed to all, so he is told to tell no one.”

    Link to forum post: http://www.monachos.net/forum/showthread.php?6820-Mark-8.22-26-the-blind-man-is-healed&s=748b803972a39ca86a745a3556750e5e&p=89300&viewfull=1#post89300

  12. RobertH says:

    I do not understand your stance on miracles. Of course God can ‘break’ the ‘laws’ found in nature (physics, etc.). To say these ‘laws’ cannot be ‘broken’ because they are laws is just semantics and really seem to me to miss the point. They are only laws to humans (and other lesser creatures). Let me give you an example. There is a wildly popular online game called World of Warcraft. Even though the game is a magic-fantasy based game there are all types of things that the characters in the game cannot do but the game designer can do! Just because the characters themselves cannot fly does not mean at all that the game designer cannot temporarily edit some code to make one character fly continuously. Now, this seems like a law that cannot be broken to the characters, no one can fly continuously (just like in the real world), but to the game designer (God) it could not only be done, but easily be done.

    I know that is kind of a bizarre example but I think it works great… I hope I explained it well enough.