The most clear evidence when people state their belief is experience.

The reasons vary:

  • logical expressions of belief is somewhat inverted (read this paragraph)
  • experience is connected to intimate feelings and thus valued over analog reasoning
  • maybe others...?

During my studies of calculations in probability at the university, I had to be very careful to distinguish events and their relative dependance on each other.

If you do not rightly separate events from their dependencies - the calculated results can be very surprising because intuition can be misleading. If you are not very familiar with this, there exists a very basic problem that illustrates a simple example: Monty Hall problem

"Two Events are independent...

...when they have no connexion one with the other, and that the happening of one neither forwards nor obstructs the happening of the other.”

I have strong problems of regarding so called personal experiences of god as true evidence of his interference in life because they are not independent. They cannot be verified as being divine in any way.

Usually, the experience...

  • ...can be explained to be a rather unlikely event, but that does not make it divine.
  • ...is only real to the witness. (narrator; one person)

In the last case the experience is not an independent event to a third person like me. The experience is always connected to the witness.

What would true independent divine interference 'look' like?

How can you define divine interference?

  • Close duplicate to a few previously asked questions: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/4655/… and christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/384/… Dec 28 '11 at 23:11
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    What would true, independent interpersonal interference 'look' like? How do you know your father (or mother, or spouse, or best friend) treats you they way they do because they love you, and not strictly out of random chance? Every interaction with a loved one 1) can be explained to be a rather unlikely event, but still not proof of love, and 2) is only real to one person.
    – Flimzy
    Dec 29 '11 at 7:09
  • I cannot produce undoubtful evidence to show if my parents treat me the way they do out of love. Yet, I do know that they have choice to decide what they do. Likewise the interaction with a loved one is not an unlikely event but depends on the move one person makes. I am not a slave of my feelings, I can direct my motives above of my feelings.
    – user1121
    Dec 29 '11 at 9:29
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    Matt, I'd suggest that you check out a book by John Earman, who is an atheist and an academic dealing extensively with probability theory as it relates to miraculous events. You might be surprised. Dec 30 '11 at 15:20

Your question makes the assumption that some good things occur as the result of divine interference, and that others occur by way of chance. This is a faulty assumption.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. - James 1:17 NIV

So in answer to your question, what would true independent divine interference 'look' like?:

It would look like a good and perfect gift.

Now I know your question isn't asking specifically about "good things," but more generally about determining whether "personal experiences" are divine. I think the same litmus test can be used, though.

Was the personal experience a "good and perfect gift?" If so, it came from God.

Any genuine personal experience with God also won't contradict any other part of scripture.

I believe most protestants (and possibly other groups) value personal experience, but always in light of scripture. Personal experience is considered a very real, and valuable thing, but without an ironclad standard (God's word), it is too easy for it to contradict reality (and even for one experience to contradict a later one, experienced by the same person).

  • So the real-life problem is knowing when an event is a good and perfect gift, right? I ask this because I would assume that a good and perfect gift - by definition - would require the absence of doubt. But scripture records people being doubtful of Jesus miracles even though they saw him with their eyes. However, if the presence of doubt is accepted, the knowing when becomes dependent on the evaluator.
    – user1121
    Dec 29 '11 at 10:16
  • Maybe the understanding of divine interference simply has to be dependent on the evaluator because - according to scripture - it is God who gives knowlege? Exodus 31:1-3
    – user1121
    Dec 29 '11 at 10:16
  • I think identifying a "good and perfect gift" often is difficult. Often we do not receive what we want, but rather what we need. In those situations our emotions often make a good and perfect gift appear less than good or perfect. The Bible also tells us that God works all things for the good of those who love the Lord; even things that appear tragic or otherwise "bad," God can turn into "good and perfect gifts."
    – Flimzy
    Dec 30 '11 at 7:23

Types of Unusual Events There are several different categories of uncommon and unusual events.

  1. Anomalies are natural events with a pattern
  2. Magic includes sleight of hand, which is basically a trick.
  3. Satanic Signs include demonic influence.
  4. Psychosomatic Events include mental states of mind, such as the power of positive thinking.
  5. Providence includes naturally explained phenomenon occurring at opportune moments.
  6. Miracles are supernatural acts that by definition defy natural law.

    From the book, I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist

Providence Of particular interest for this particular question are the latter two. It was likely Providence that someone forgot something at home and turned around just before another car would have hit them. Did God intervene? Perhaps, so. It's not incontrovertible, but is certainly possible.

When I prayed for a job years ago, did God keep me from getting a job at a company that would get bought out and dismantled in few short months? Then did He provide a job at another solid company? Sure, it could be coincidence, so that's not a verifiable "miracle", but it's part of the life of faith and dependence on God.


Miracles are really the issue here, though. It must be first stated, though, that if we begin with the mandate that no miracle is evidence unless we are the ones to see it face to face, then that is a bit presumptuous and probably an invalid standard of evidence to demand.

A miracle could certainly be quite verifiable even if we are not there to see it. Several hundred people saw Jesus after the resurrection. The empty tomb, the changed lives of those who saw Him, the explosive growth of the church, the conversion of hardened enemies of Christianity like Paul and others--all of these give substantial evidence to the resurrection. Of course, God's drawing of a person's spirit is only discernible to that person, but it also serves to validate the message.

Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 1 Corinthians 15:6 ESV

In modern days, there are numerous accounts of very miraculous events occurring, including miraculous healing (medical miracles). I heard a speaker tell of how his wife's body was full of cancer. They prayed diligently that God would intervene somehow, though they knew not what that might mean. Shortly after the surgery began, the doctor came out and sat down with this man and informed him--in shocked tones--that they could find no trace of the cancer that had been all over her body a few short days before. The doctors was not a Christian at that time, but he is now.

The Place of Miracles

It seems that God generally chooses not to give miracles to those who demand to see them before they will believe in Him.

But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. Matthew 12:39 ESV

The sign spoken about here is that Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the dead three days later.

So, why doesn't God show miracles to people? Wouldn't they all believe in Him then? The biblical answers is, "No, they wouldn't believe in Him if they saw miracles."

The Pharisees saw many of the miracles Jesus performed, yet still refused to believe in Him. Jesus rose from the dead, and they still would not believe. They did not deny the miracles, since they themselves were eyewitnesses. Rather, they attributed Jesus' ability to do the miracles to demonic powers (Matthew 9:34).

Some today state emphatically--even as a challenge--that if they themselves saw miracles firsthand, then they would believe. If we can't produce miracles for them, then they claim that proves Christianity is false. However, like the Pharisees, seeing miracles certainly does not automatically result in faith in Jesus, and whether or not Christianity is true certainly does not depend on that either.

Faith and miracles are related, but in exactly the opposite way--Seeing miracles does not produce faith, but faith can result in a person seeing miracles.


So, divine interference can look like what we would expect--truly miraculous events or providential events. The truly miraculous do occur today and can be verified, but miraculous events cannot be demanded of God as proof of Christianity.

Providence includes naturally occurring events at the most opportune times as well as specific answered prayers. As you said, you can certainly give a natural explanation for these, but for the person who is living a life of faith, it's real to them. And that's the whole purpose of God's intervention in their lives--not to prove to the unbelieving, but to demonstrate His faithfulness to His promises to us.

  • Minor point: "The truly miraculous do occur today and can be verified" - any examples of such? unlikely things get verified routinely (in about the quantity we expected by their probability)- however, it is perhaps over-stating things to say that truly miraculous (in the sense of the definition) things are independently verified
    – Marc Gravell
    Dec 29 '11 at 14:28
  • @MarcGravell I mentioned the woman whose cancer miraculously disappeared. There is medical evidence of the cancer before, and then there is medical evidence of its disappearance.
    – Narnian
    Dec 29 '11 at 14:35
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    @Narmian (bites tongue and thinks carefully about phrasing) yes... but a: that is just a speaker - i.e. anecdotal, not verification, and b: not everything surprising is miraculous; even knowing that somethig has happened says nothing about how it happened; through history, our ability to understand deeply surprising events has done nothing but improve, and we can now explain a vast range of things that once may have been deemed miraculous
    – Marc Gravell
    Dec 29 '11 at 14:45
  • @MarcGravell This raises the issue of what standard of proof would be acceptable. As mentioned above, the Pharisees saw indisputable proof of the miraculous, as at Jesus command, the blind received their sight, the lame walked, the leprous were cleansed, water turned to wine, the loaves and fish fed thousands, disease was cured, and the dead were raised to life. Some could certainly maintain skepticism and hold out for a naturalistic explanation for all of this. The available evidence is beyond a "reasonable doubt", but not beyond an "unreasonable" doubt.
    – Narnian
    Dec 29 '11 at 14:53
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    I realise that that is is scripture, and I do not seek to undermine it: but - by today's standards (of "verifiable") those reports would not be classed as hugely reliable. Meaning: insufficiently reported, with the only reports having undue bias.
    – Marc Gravell
    Dec 29 '11 at 15:11