Atheists and the dead man

I don’t know how many people are familiar with the story of the man who thinks he’s dead and cannot be convinced otherwise. Here’s a short version of this:


A man is convinced he is dead. His wife and kids are exasperated. They keep telling him he’s not dead. But he continues to insist he’s dead.  They try telling him, “Look, you’re not dead; you’re walking and talking and breathing; how can you be dead?” But he continues to insist he is dead.  The family finally takes him to a doctor. The doctor pulls out some medical books to demonstrate to the man that dead men do not bleed. After some time, the man admits that dead men do not bleed.  The doctor then takes the man’s hand and a needle and pokes the end of his finger. The man starts bleeding. He looks at his finger and says, “What do you know? Dead men do bleed!”

According to an atheist’s worldview, miracles are impossible.  They are as nonsensical as square-circles which is why their asking for “evidence” for miracles is an exercise in futility.  For the Atheist who demands or expects evidence for miracle claims, he knows he is playing a rigged game, there is no evidence as far as he is concerned.  Not because none exists, but according to their worldview, no evidence is possible.  Evidence offered in favor of a miracle claim is dismissed using any possible alternate explanation no matter how unlikely or implausible, since of course, any alternate explanation is more plausible than the possibility of a miracle given a naturalistic worldview.

There could be a dozen lines evidence for argument in favor of a particular miracle, and the skeptic would continue to protest, “that’s not enough”.  The point being, there will never be enough evidence to satisfy a quantity sufficient enough to convince him miracles can happen, they are careful to always leave themselves that escape.

No type of evidence will be ever be extraordinary enough for the skeptic either.  I can see it now: pictures and video can be altered, witnesses can be mistaken or lying.  Even seeing for themselves would not likely elicit the concession of a miraculous event.  For example, if the skeptic proposed that if “I am God and I do exist” were to be written in the stars, they would admit miracles happen.  But I have my suspicions. Even if it were to happen before their eyes, I believe they would still seek another explanation — any other explanation except a miraculous one.

I’ve asked Atheists in the past what it would take for them to believe God exists.  The majority of the respondents said they’d concede theism if God would perform some miracle in front of them.  However, I don’t have any confidence that they wouldn’t simply say, “What do you know? The stars arranging themselves to read ‘I am God and I do exist’ is a natural phenomena after all!”


  1. I think that is why I prefer the title “Agnostic”. As far as miracles…well I wish they were real, but I haven’t ever seen one. Statistically improbable things happen, but that isn’t the same as a miracle. And why would God grant some people special privilege over others via intervention? Maybe it’s all part of his “plan”, but his plan seems pretty harsh for starving Africans and Haitian babies. So I think there is a conflict to believe that a just God would play favorites.

  2. So the foundation of this post is the frustration theists have when trying to present “miracles” as evidence.

    So, John, I’ve asked you this before and you never answered it: How do you, John Barron, evaluate a claim? Many people across the globe claim to be witness to miracles. Many people around the world believe in other religious miracles apart from yours. Are they all valid too?

    • Z

      That’s too broad a question and I’ve told you that before. Each claim has to be taken on its own circumstances, you can’t investigate one claim on the status of an unrelated claim.

  3. I would also like to point out that usually Miracles are just things we don’t understand yet. People used to believe that mass deaths caused by disease and cancer was a magical curse. Or that they needed to pray to God for a good harvest. Etc. Etc.

    Over time we come to understand the natural cause of previously explainable phenomena. So to call something a Miracle and assume it is supernatural is to stop searching for the scientific cause.

    For example, if Cancer disappears in a patient and we assume it is a miracle and stop looking for the cause we may miss an opportunity to find a natural cure for cancer. However; when we find the reason we can repeat it. It becomes science, not supernatural.

    So do Miracles exist? Sure. But they are not supernatural and they are not applied by a supreme being. Miracles are ways we figure out how to exploit nature and make the statistically improbable, repeatable.

  4. @Atticus
    What I find interesting is when people point to a survivor among thousands of casualties as a miracle. I can’t help but to think of those poor folks in the Philippines. Even a government official there said he guessed God turned his back when the storm hit.

    • I don’t think miracles are doled out in the form of cancer cures and surviving a storm. Sure, it could be but miracles, as performed in the bible, we’re for the purpose of proving the person declaring to be relaying the word and authority of God was a true messenger. Jesus healed by the power of God and to show he had authority to forgive. He didn’t do parlor tricks.

      Some survivals and cures may very well be divine intervention but I hesitate to assign divinity to them.

  5. So I guess all the miraculous events logged in the bible are true only because they must be believed in order to accept the narrative.

    Some of the reasons I’ve heard on this very website as to why bible miracles are accepted are:

    1. The bible is inerrant, so it must have happened that way.
    2. Do you have any evidence to prove it didn’t happen?
    3. Why would they lie?
    4. It’s your fault for not accepting them because of your worldview.

    None of these actually support the claim that the event happened in the first place.

  6. So instead of actually addressing the points, you resort to calling me a liar. Nice.

    Number 4 is the essence of this very post.

    According to an atheist’s worldview, miracles are impossible.

    I’ll let the readers decide.

    • That isn’t an argument in favor of miracles. I also didn’t claim you a liar unless you’re claiming I have offered those reasons as defenses to miracles. Well apparently you are claiming I’ve offered those, so you are lying. I never have.

    • Here’s the deal Z, you can retract your comment as being innaccurate, or I can ask you to leave. I allow dissent of opinion, not disinformation intended to discredit my name. Your call.

  7. John,

    In fairness to Z, I don’t believe he is lying. And he didn’t actually say that you said them.

    He said,

    Some of the reasons I’ve heard on this very website as to why bible miracles are accepted are:

    I think he’s talking about the Christians that frequent this blog.

    1.The bible is inerrant, so it must have happened that way.

    Glenn has suggested this numerous times. I haven’t suggested it, but I too believe the Bible is inerrant.

    2. Do you have any evidence to prove it didn’t happen?

    This has been a theme among Christians on this blog. And why shouldn’t it be? There is ample evidence to believe in the existence and divinity of Jesus, but little evidence to dispute it!

    3. Why would they lie?

    I have said something similar to this. It doesn’t make sense to me that people would sacrifice their lives for something they knew to be a lie.

    4.It’s your fault for not accepting them because of your worldview.

    I haven’t heard this one exactly, but I’m sure there was reason to extrapolate this.

    • And then you read his follow up response?

    • #1 I have never offered in any form

      #2 I pose as a question to skeptics in order to see if they have any evidence to not believe the historical record other than the fact that they just don’t buy it.

      #3 same thing. I ask if they believe there is a motivation for deception.

      #4 is pointed out to show that discussing miracles may be fruitless with some skeptics.

      Never has any of these been offered to defend the veracity of miracles by me.

  8. Well John, think of it this way,

    For every miracle new and old that you attribute to your God, the same can be tallied for most other monotheistic gods. They do not think that your evidence qualifies anymore than you value their evidence. Do you believe that the world was born from a sockeye salmon? Of course not. That would be absurd. But I value your “evidence” the same as I value the various native peoples of the world and their evidence.

    The non believer sits on the sidelines and simply looks through history and sees that every single mystery ever solved had zero mechanisms that have been attributed to anyones god.

    The difference here is that your faith provides the impetus for unquestionable belief. This unwavering belief though, oddly, cannot find a footing for other sects claims of miracles.

    • Nash, that presumes the accounts are similar in quantity and quality. I disagree. I don’t lump them all together like the skeptic does. They need to be taken as their own incident.

      • Your idea of quality and quantity are purely subjective and based on the overbearing bias that your faith introduces the equation. It is not possible for you to be even remotely objective with regards to christian miracles.

        And I fully agree with your point about the case by case basis for review.

        It also doesn’t help that no one in the christian faith of any flavor can define what a miracle is. The word is thrown around during football season quite often……not sure Jesus would give 2 cents about your football team no matter how hard you prayed.

        • You can’t just presume I have a bias to the degree where I can’t honestly evaluate the evidence. You also presume that I didn’t come to believe AFTER evaluating the evidence.

          Do you think skeptics have a monopoly on objectivity?

          • Well that’s a conundrum, you have a bias, yes, but not to the degree in which your findings are not affected by your faith? Hmmmm….How do you come to define that your bias only affects a certain or specific degree of the outcome?

            And no, I do not feel that skeptics have cornered objectivity, but I do feel that religious faith very much is a burden to deductive reasoning. You would have to admit that in most cases they are mutually exclusive. Not many from the faithful side of the fence can reason without faith.

        • Oh, and I agree that many Christians toss around the word miracle like any coincidence is a miracle. I don’t have any problem defining miracles. I would say a miracle is an intervention by God to produce an effect which confirms the authority of God. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an interruption or suspension of the natural order of things. For example the dew on the fleece.

        • I haven’t always been a Christian you know, I didn’t believe until my early to mid 20s

  9. This assumes that Christians can’t examine and analyze objectively. Pretty biased on Nash’s part to presume such a thing. While the very poorly educated might jump to the conclusion that the unusual denotes a miracle, this isn’t true for the average Christian. There’s no basis within the faith for such assumptions, as reason is highly regarded. You have a very stereotypical view of Christians.

  10. I would also say that the notion that miracles are only events that have yet to be explained scientifically is a rather convenient point of view. It allows the denier to deny with extreme prejudice “knowing” that eventually a naturalistic explanation is out there somewhere.

    But let’s assume that is true for all miracles, that science can offer clues to how it was possible. How would it explain the forewarning that usually precedes the miracle?

    For example, in the Book of Daniel is the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who were thrown into a furnace for refusing to worship the gods of Nebuchadnezzar. Before the execution of their sentence, they told the king God would save them (and even if He didn’t they still would not serve his gods). They did not burn in the furnace or were even lightly browned.

    There was a show some years back that sought to explain mysteries of the Bible (I believe it was narrated by Leonard Nemoy). They covered this miracle and presented a scientific explanation for how these guys could have actually survived being thrown into a furnace so hot it killed the guards who brought them to be cooked. From a physics standpoint, it sounded like a reasonable explanation, but it doesn’t explain the fact that the men believed God would save them and said so before they were dropped in. Forewarning. It is routine in the tales of most of the miracles in Scripture.

    In other miracles alleged to have occurred, such as those at Fatima or Lourdes, there were also some forewarning for the events said to have happened there. (The miracle at Fatima was reported by members of the press, which itself was somewhat miraculous give the secular sentiment of the time within the elites).

    As to evidence otherwise being found, I don’t know that such is possible unless leaving something behind was purposeful. That is, so that it could be attested to by others after the fact. In most cases, such as turning water to wine, there’s be no way to determine that the wine that was water ever was, because it is now wine. But the movie from years ago that related the Lourdes events had a scene where the girl with the visions was told to dig in the dirt to uncover a spring. Her efforts seemed for naught and everyone left except the dude who had the hots for her and his father, who was blind. From the spot where she had dug, water began to seep and the dude began to run after everyone, while the blind guy, who was right in front of it, knelt down and washed his eyes and was able to see. He ran to his doctor proclaiming the miracle. The doctor examined his eyes, which apparently were visibly different than normal, and thus insisted no such change had occurred. He had the man read an eye chart and the old man couldn’t do it, but because he couldn’t read. But he insisted he could see as clear as day. No visible change to the physical state of his eyes, but he could now see.

    Of course, as I said, this is just a scene from a movie, but that would be an example of what must happen for there to be evidence left over from a miracle. But would the doubter still insist that there is a scientific explanation that just hasn’t yet been detected? Most likely.

    • Marshall,

      Let’s go ahead and hear about how much reading of Islamic apologetics you guy’s have done. Any? Do any of you know anything about Islam from any muslims who maybe profess to be moderates/progressives? Would you consider explanations for radical behaviors by Muslims, from Muslims to be biased? Would you consider explanations for muslims behaviors from radical muslims? Why not? Why not just embrace the bias instead of attempting some quasi intellectual semantics that leaves you in the same place you started.

      You can’t honestly believe that your christianity, which identifies you, and your entire worldview, to not affect or bias how you view anything tangential to your faith, or maybe you can.

      The Catholic Church tallies and records everything that they consider to be a miracle. That definition seems to be in line with what you and John have loosely described here. None of those to my knowledge have any forewarning.

      For example, my next door neighbors lost their father/husband last year to liver failure. They and their church Southern Baptist) of course were praying first for God’s intervention to simply reverse his condition, then as that prayer went unanswered and he required evermore dialysis, they prayed for him to get on the donor’s list. When he did eventually get on the list it was classified by their church as a miracle, it was an answer to their prayers. God was listening……..then he needed dialysis 4 times a week for 4 hours at a time. Then he died an excruciatingly painful death. All those prayers and that “miracle” only to have him pass in a horrific way in front of his 3 kids and wife.

      Instances of miracles like this, even if filtered for football games, are abundant. But it would seem that the faith bias present makes it impossible to evaluate the evidence and ultimate circumstances/fallout. There is a pattern here. When prayers are answered, it’s because God is listening to our prayers, and sometimes the situation is such that the event is significant enough to be classified as a miracle, but then the other times that those prayers go unanswered and those people suffer and die, or another 24k children die today, it’s all very mysterious and the will of this god is not for us to know. Only a faith bias could allow for such cognitive dissonance.If this track record of performance was happening in any other sphere of your life, you would change it to make it more predictable, no?

      And you seem to specify the miracles that had some foreshadowing, what about those in the bible with none? Or the miracles accounted for with no forewarning?

      • I ordinarily read other’s apologists. Just as often as I read the political left’s apoligists. I like to know why the other sides believe what they do. I listen to debates daily for the same reason. I absolutely concede I am probably the exception in this, but I’m kind of a boring person and like the argumentation from all angles.

  11. I have not had a conversation with a muslim in some time. I do not recall speaking specifically about miracles. But I have spoken about truth claims within each religion. At least in my discussions, they were unable to respond to my questions of evidence for theirs, while also, like atheists would, simply dismiss evidence for mine.

    As to miracles in Scripture, I cannot think of one offhand that did not have some forewarning of some kind, aside from those performed by Jesus. He did not announce what He was about to do. But the prophets are a different story.

    Getting back to islam, I do not think there is much in the way of miracles to speak of, except for some examples of after the fact pronouncements by Muhammed that what had just occurred was Allah’s will. But I am not well versed enough in that faith to speak authoritatively on such things.

    I would also say that many Christians look to favorable outcomes of serious situations to be miracles. I do not agree with such. Medical issues, for example, are limited to the best judgements of doctors that aren’t always perfect. All signs might lead doctors to believe that death is imminent while of course, family members are praying their keesters off. Should an unexpected reversal occur, of course a miracle was bestowed, while an intense exam might reveal why the doctors were off on their prediction. To what lengths do doctors normally go to discover their error when the result of the error is so good? I wouldn’t know.

    As to forewarning, I use the term loosely. I would include prayers as a forewarning since a miracle is reason for the prayer. But I don’t think most churches would record every good outcome just because prayers were prayed for that very outcome. It would be rather frivolous.

  12. R. Nash,

    For example, my next door neighbors lost their father/husband last year to liver failure. They and their church Southern Baptist) of course were praying first for God’s intervention to simply reverse his condition, then as that prayer went unanswered and he required evermore dialysis, they prayed for him to get on the donor’s list. When he did eventually get on the list it was classified by their church as a miracle, it was an answer to their prayers. God was listening……..then he needed dialysis 4 times a week for 4 hours at a time. Then he died an excruciatingly painful death. All those prayers and that “miracle” only to have him pass in a horrific way in front of his 3 kids and wife.

    Admittedly, I’m not following the exchange between you and Marshall. But this particular tidbit caught my eye. It sounds like you’re pointing to this single incident as an example of some inherent flaw within the Christian faith. I wonder if you’re familiar with a fellow atheist that frequents this blog by the name of Jefferey Krauss. This is a person who rejects all manner of charitable giving. Is that an archetype of atheism, do you think? Should this individual, and others like him, be used by intelligent men to reject atheism in general as being immoral?

    And if not, then why use this example to prove some wider point about Christians?

    • At this point Terrance I would expect that you would have a pretty good idea of my background. and not be making such presumptions. I certainly am not holding this example up as the single reason for dismissing the christian faith. It represents what I see across a wide bandwidth of christians. I have seen it for decades. Is this a sweeping indictment of the entire christian religion? No. It’s a mark on a barometer of years of experience. I am speaking specifically to prayer/miracles, hence the example because I have seen these types of flippant uses of the term miracle. To me, it just doesn’t hold up.

      How exactly does charitable giving or not, have anything to do with non belief in supernatural beings?

      Is there a word that any of you use to describe what happens when your God rejects your prayers and you get nothing? What is it called when you pray to get on the donor’s list, or pray to come home and not find your children killed by a tornado, only to find them dead, etc. What is the word used to define the action your god takes that is antithetical to your prayers?

      • Nash

        Did you read any of those posts?

        • Yes I did John. Some of them quite interesting. I can see where you probably don’t necessarily walk in lock step with some of your compatriots, although in most instances it would appear that they held enough of the belief system in similar fashion and will not be going to hell for doing some things differently.

          Is that a correct assumption?

          • Yes, that’s right. The majority of those are issues common in many if not most Christian circles but aren’t necessarily ‘deal breakers’ so to speak. If I remember, I don’t think any of those are core to Christianity. But you’d be surprised (or maybe not) how closely held some of those things are and how passionately some will argue them.

  13. I only asked if a single atheist or group that believe in Ayn Rand’s brand of individualism are representative of all atheists. It’s certainly no more a tenet of atheism than your story is a tenet of Christianity. That’s all I was saying.

    Now, people often say “God’s will,” but I believe that’s a comfort phrase. Because to believe God is involved in every little thing that happens is theologically indefensible and shoots the notion of “free will” directly in the ass. But rest assured, I’ve met more than my fair share of crackpot Christians. My wife and I checked out a new church a few years ago. We attended for a couple of weeks. At first, we didn’t think much of anything. We thought the behavior of the congregation during the ceremony was a little odd (people laying on the ground crying, praising Jesus), but everyone seemed nice.

    But then we decided to attend one of their classes. People in the class started blaming every negative in their life on “demons.” One guy claimed a demon sat on his shoulder and made him drink. Some woman claimed to have done “spiritual battle” with a Warlock and lost, evidenced by her hysterectomy the next day. And all sorts of bat-shit-crazy stories. Anyway, we left the church and never went back, knowing that people like that are a minority.

  14. So if miracles actually happen how come there have never been any miracles in which missing legs or arms are restored? Why does God hate amputees?

    • Meskin

      That’s a rather tired pedestrian complaint. I’m still hopeful that someone will offer a genuine discussion.

      • meskin murkin says:

        Yep, it’s a tired, pedestrian question but you haven’t answered it. You’re avoiding the answer because you have no valid answer. So, why aren’t there verifiable miracles involving missing limbs?

        • What would you need for evidence that you wont gainsay? Video can be altered, anomalies can be claimed. Why do you place so much trust in people with labcoats?

          • meskin murkin says:

            I trust science because it can be verified by multiple sources. The evidence can be replicated and its conclusions tested over and over. Bogus claims can be exposed by this method. On the other hand, “miracles” are taken only on the word of a witness or two, or no witnesses at all. We realists don’t have answers for all of nature’s mysteries. And we probably won’t solve most of them but we refuse to accept the pat answer that “God did it” and thus closing further inquiry. But back to my original question which you continue to evade — why are there no miracles in which missing limbs are restored?

            • Scientists are witness of their experiments. So it seems a lab coat makes someone not lie?

              • meskin murkin says:

                Now you are being deliberately obtuse. Of course, people of all stripes can lie but if scientist A makes a discovery it is peer reviewed by several, perhaps hundreds or thousands of other scientists. If the discovery is true then it will be successfully replicated. So by your lights every scientist is suspect if they don’t agree with your views? Have you ever thought about who might have lied to you about your faith — based on zero empirical evidence?
                So, again, why are there no “miracles” in which missing limbs are restored?

              • I think my point is that most scientists have a philosophical commitment to naturalism. They have conditioned themselves to exclude certain explanations. I’m not convinced that even if confronted with a bona fide miracle that they would accept it as such.

              • meskin murkin says:

                My point is that if a “bonafide” miracle were to occur, scientists would test it every way possible to verify it. This is in contrast to religious folk who take their leaders’ words as fact with no proof.
                There are countless “facts” that science has disproven over the course of history when contradictory evidence is found. The same cannot be said about religious dogma unless it’s deemed convenient. Two examples: slavery is no longer ok in most religions; Mormons decided that being a black person isn’t a barrier for salvation.
                So, still no response to any miracles involving missing limbs?

              • Im trying to figure out if youre just sloganeering or if youre interested in a reasonable discussion.

                if a scientist were to witness a limb grow back, do you think they would classify it as a miracle? Or chalk it up as a medical unknown anomaly?

              • meskin murkin says:

                I don’t know how a restored limb would be classified, though I doubt that it would be called miraculous, as that term implies a supernatural cause. There are some amphibians that can grow legs and tails to replace amputated ones. So in the case of a human having a limb restored, I would expect medical science to try to find the physical cause for the event and not reflexively call it a supernatural intervention. That’s where secularists differ from the religious. We are forever asking who, what, when, where, and how. Whereas the religious are perfectly happy with an easy answer —- God did it. No more thinking required.

                It may well be that God does exist. Nobody knows for sure, not even you. You may believe it but you don’t actually know it beyond a dead certainty. If it turns out that God is real I’m sure I can accept that verifiable fact. Until then, I will be a doubter — show me some proof; and please, no dogma.

              • That sounds like an admission that you will never accept a phenomena as a miracle

  15. meskin murkin says:

    You’ve made an incorrect conclusion as to my state of mind. I’m not wedded to immutable ideas or ideologies. I can change my views according to evidences that dispel previously held positions.
    You are correct in one respect. There is so little hard evidence for the existence of a supernatural being save for the conjectures of philosophers from the Middle Ages that unless better evidence is produced I would not term anything a miracle. But, being a reasonably logical and intelligent thinker that could change.

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