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There are those who say that if they saw the miracles that happens in the time of Moses, or the disciples they would surely have faith.

What are the Biblical reasons for miracle? Is it to create faith?

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Preface: this is a generalization. Atheists, like Christians, can't simply be lumped into a group where all of them think, act, react, and believe the same way.


I don't believe so. In the words of Jesus Himself,in Matthew 16:1-4 (KJV)

1 The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. 3 And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? 4 A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.

In this case, Jesus was specifically dealing with the hypocritical "spiritual leaders' of the day, but I believe that the lesson can just as easily be applied to those who don't believe at all. The problem with the Pharisees and the Sauducees was that they didn't believe and that they didn't want to believe because believing that Jesus was the messiah, the son of the living God, would have upset their world-view. They were comfortable in their beliefs.

With most atheists that I've rubbed shoulders with (or even myself when I was one) the problem is only partly that we have no proof of God's existence. The other half of the problem is that we would reject the proof if we saw it.

As reference for this last statement, go back and search this site for questions on miracles - why are there no miracles seen today, and other similar questions, and read the comments. If you do, you'll see that the atheists asking here pretty much reject any miracle as coincidence, or something explainable via non-miraculous means.

Additionally, non-atheists from other religions wouldn't necessarily be convinced by miracles. The Old Testament is filled with stories of other nations seeing the miracles of God, but still worshiping their own idols and gods.

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Minor point of note: it isn't so much a rejection so much as a call for evidence. Until evidence is presented to consider, there is nothing to either reject or accept; the first question is always "did what is reported actually happen; through accidental or deliberate act, is the report reliable" etc. When such evidence is presented for review, it is equally true that valid criticisms of the evidence are often ignored (cough Teresa cough). It cuts both ways! - but other than that small point, a good answer. –  Marc Gravell Jan 23 '12 at 15:59
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Good question, but

  • not only would miracles not cause people to believe
  • but also miracles would not accomplish what God wants

Miracles do not cause people to believe

Luke 16 contains the story often called "The Rich Man and Lazarus" or "Dives and Lazarus" in older times.

The gist of the story is that a rich guy (rich is 'Dives' in Latin, pronounced Div' - ees) dies and goes to hell. Once there, he really, really doesn't like the place, and begs Abraham to be able to go back and tell his brothers to change course, lest they end up there with him. His reasoning is simple - surely a miracle would prove to them that they need to repent!

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

In other words, Dives is making the case that if a miracle were given, then clearly people would believe and repent. Abraham is, however, proved exactly right every day, however, in that Jesus did come back from the dead [I know somebody is going to disagree with me on that!] and yet people didn't listen to him either.

As God cries out in Isaiah 65:2,

"All day long I have stretched out my hands to a stubborn and obstinate people."

Miracles do not accomplish what God wants

In the end, however, if "seeing is believing," then seeing would ultimately be counter-productive, because God explicitly desires faith. And faith, as we know is the evidence of things hoped for - the rebuke / the real proof (my translation) of things not seen. (Heb 11:1) Jesus says as much to Thomas, after the miracle of the resurrection, in John 20:29 when he says:

"Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

And as it says in Hebrews 11:6

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him

In other words, miracles might "prove" something, but God doesn't want to overwhelm us - he wants us to believe on our own.

So then, why are miracles given at all?

Miracles are given in order that we might believe (Mark 2:9-10). They are signs that God is in fact behind a thing. Jesus forgave a lame man's sin, and the Pharisees grumbled. So, Jesus says, "in order that you might know that I have authority to forgive sin..." he performs a miracle.

The problem, of course, is that then people want miracles not as evidence but rather for gain. Herod wanted Jesus to perform tricks in order to prove his god-hood, but Jesus would not.

Ultimately the best indictment, however, comes from Luke 11:28 -32

29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

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Your statement about Miracles not accomplishing what God desires is preposterous. How can an act of God not accomplish what God desires? Miracles may be rewards of faith or a catalyst to the formation of faith. See my answer for more details. –  JoeHobbit Jan 23 '12 at 22:02
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In the same way that a baker can make anything he desires, but if he desires that the result be an omlette, he is constrained to using eggs. :) If God's desire is that his people choose to follow not because they are compelled by signs, but rather because they willing to trust him of his own accord, then His own character constrains him to be gentle and not overpower. Far from being preposterous, its argument that has been bandied about in theological circles for centuries. –  Affable Geek Jan 24 '12 at 2:26
    
What does it mean to trust God "of his own accord"? Jesus said (John14:11) "Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves." Does it matter whether someone believes because of a testimony vs. a miracle? A sheep is a sheep whether it walks through the gate or is carried. Oh, and God is not like a baker in that God can make omelette without eggs. –  JoeHobbit Jan 24 '12 at 23:52
    
In The verse you cite, Jesus clearly shows that his preference would be that you believe based on Jesus' character- the miracles are a second best option (He desires that all should be saved). What I mean is that God would rather we love him for who he is, rather than what he does (miracles). Ergo, browbeating someone into the kingdom is not God's desire. Yes, he'd drag in a sheep rather than lose it, but he'd rather that the sheep walk in on it's own. –  Affable Geek Jan 25 '12 at 0:45
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The definition of faith: To believe in something that is not seen but is true.

Miracles were provided after faith to confirm ones faith. So many wonderful things happened during the time of Moses and yet... The children of Israel wondered in the desert for 40 years, worshiped idols and would not look upon the raised up snake to save themselves. Why? Because they didn't have faith so no mater how many miracles they saw it was not enough to 'give' them faith.

So to answer your question no miracles are not to give faith. They never have been and they never will be. Things that are seen are forgotten (above example of the Israelite's coming out of Egypt) which is why faith is confirmed by the Holy Ghost.

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Aside: I find the idea that faith is only possible with a lack of evidence to be unconvincing. There are plenty of places that that falls down within Christian ideology. Consider the apostles' faith, for example.

No, faith is simply a conviction that something is or will be. The faith can be blind or it can be guided, but it's still faith. Even Doubting Thomas had faith. So he was "less blessed", whatever that means, but that doesn't matter in the long run.

Anyway, to answer the question: many of the miracles of the times of Moses are trivial to reproduce in modern day with modern illusion, trickery, and technology. We are a much more learned people today. The miracles would have to be much greater in scope. Or perhaps more personal in scope. An identical revelation to all people on Earth simultaneously would be convincing to many, I'm sure.

So I'm going to give this a tentative yes.

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"We are a much more learned people today." Ahh, the joys of chronological arrogance! We are so much more advanced than those poor, backwards of yore. Our machines would cow them. And clearly, the benefits of this technology has fulfilled us so much more, made us so much happier! Our psychology and drug treatments, and everything is so much more advanced! And we are so much more responsible about how we deal with the planet. Indeed, they were so backward, I don't see how we ever learned anything from them... –  Affable Geek Jan 24 '12 at 3:59
    
Okay, that may be a little over the top, but really - don't you think its just a little bit condescending to people who were actually far more in touch with their (admittedly more limited) worlds than we are today? As Blaise Pascal said, it is the modern tragedy that man cannot abide being alone in his own room. I'm not saying the ancients were saints - but be careful with the assumption that we are a more learned people. I'm a software developer and a priest - trust me when I say, advances in technology are just that - they are not a signal of learning. –  Affable Geek Jan 24 '12 at 4:02
    
@AffableGeek Chronological arrogance? Just stating the facts. We know why thunder and lightning happens. We know why the sun rises and sets. We know why the tides come in, and why they go out. At one time, these were mystical events powered by magic. Our knowledge of the world and universe around us has increased so much! I don't doubt we still have a long way to go, but my point was that such miracles will have to go a long way beyond spontaneous bonfires and parlour tricks in order to be convincing. –  Kaz Dragon Jan 24 '12 at 9:58
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If you believe what people say, the answer is clearly "yes, some more would believe". One can with little trouble find discussions just like this on various forums. (Here's one regarding conversion of atheists.) If you believe what people say, the answer is again clearly "yes" given that some people say they did convert because of miracles. (Another example, this time converting from Islam.)

Then the question is: can you believe what people say?

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There are at least three reasons for miracles.

  1. So that the works of God may be displayed.

    John 9:1-3

    1As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

  2. To reward faith.

    Luke 8:48

    Then he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace."

  3. To catalyze the formation of faith.

    Matt 11:23

    "And you people of Capernaum, will you be honored in heaven? No, you will go down to the place of the dead. For if the miracles I did for you had been done in wicked Sodom, it would still be here today."

Therefore, yes, miraculous works can help bring more people to the faith.

Jesus said (John14:11)

"Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves."

Does it matter whether someone believes because of a testimony vs. a miracle? A sheep is a sheep whether it walks through the gate or is carried.

P.S. Jesus miraculously appeared to doubting Thomas with the stated goal of producing faith.

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So, I would argue that 1 & 2 both fall under the heading "to prove what God has said," which was my point. #3 is a rebuke against a city that precisely proves the point - the miracles themselves didn't produce the "desired" fruit of repentance. These are good verses to cite, but (a) they don't answer the original question (Perhaps you should ask the question, "Why are there miracles?") and (b) if anything #3 proves my point that a miracle by itself may not produce what it is that God desires. –  Affable Geek Jan 24 '12 at 2:30
    
By the way, I do think this is a good answer to the question, "What is the purpose of miracles?" Could I suggest you raise it and use this as an answer? –  Affable Geek Jan 24 '12 at 2:31
    
@AffableGeek What do you mean by "raise" it? Improve it? How? I thought it was already an answer. –  JoeHobbit Jan 25 '12 at 0:00
    
I'm suggesting that you have uncovered a new question; "What is the purpose of miracles?" which is different from this one. I suggest you ask it and then use this answer –  Affable Geek Jan 25 '12 at 0:37
    
One other thing: you do realize that to say God is constrained by his character does not denegrate God, but rather glorifies him for his immutability and constancy, right? –  Affable Geek Jan 25 '12 at 0:39
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