The Instigator
Pro (for)
6 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
9 Points

The Term 'Miracle' is a Misnomer--No Such Thing Exists

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after 3 votes the winner is...
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 7/20/2011 Category: Religion
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,494 times Debate No: 17588
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (7)
Votes (3)




I would enjoy an argument over my following claim:

The term miracle needn't exist. It describes something that can never occur. Here's my reasoning:

1. A surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is considered to be divine.
2. A highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment.

1. The phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations.
2. The physical force regarded as causing and regulating these phenomena.

1. The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment

My argument:
P1. A miracle is an event that cannot be explained by scientific/natural laws.
P2. Nature describes phenomena of the physical world.
P3. Nothing can be known to us outside of what our senses tell us. (Exception: Descartes's famous 'I think there therefore I am')
P4. Our senses give us information by means of observing our physical world.
C. A so-called "miracle" is attributed to events that are highly improbable and contrary to scientific laws, but, as mentioned above, our scientific laws can only be determined via observation. Therefore, if one witnesses a "miracle" one must come to accept that it part of our physical world's phenomena, and thus part of nature.

Basically, a miracle is a contradiction. An event cannot be without being part of nature, and a miracle supposedly defies natural laws. Simply because we do not understand the process of a "miracle" does not mean that it isn't part of our natural world.

My argument has nothing to do with God(s). Now, if one were to redefine miracle as being 'an event that contradicts CURRENT scientific understanding' then it would be legitimate, but I dare say that Copernicus would have called his discovery an explanation of a "miracle".


I would like to thank my opponent for posing this debate. I hope that it is enjoyable for both us as debaters, as well as for our readers as they work through this issue with us.

I also see that my opponent is new to the site, so I want to welcome him to the DDO community.

On with the debate.

Opening Remarks
It is important to note that this debate is necessarily semantic. Often times debaters will exploit a weakness in a semantic aspect of heir opponent's debate, when the debate is otherwise not semantic. While this is not necessarily dubious, it is often seen as poor conduct or poor taste. However, this debate is different. For you see, although we are debating the existence of miracles, we are debating it on somewhat semantic terms. As my opponent has noted in his argument, if we were to define miracles in a different way then this debate would be moot. Furthermore, his entire argument rests on the definition of a miracle rather than on the ontological existence of said phenomena.

Second, I would like to note that as my opponent is pro and instigator of this debate, he possesses what is known as Philosophic Burden of Proof [A] This means that he is responsible for positively proving his arguments beyond a shadow of reasonable doubt. My task as Con is simply to cast that reasonable doubt. I can either do this by mounting my own affirmative argument to the contrary of his, or simply by attacking his argument. Simply put, I a not required to prove that miracles exist but am only required to prove that his argument does not work.

My opponent begins his argument by providing a definition for Miracles. For sake of space I will not repeat it. However, in his argument he fails to follow that definition strictly. Since my opponent has cast out the concept of God in this debate and the first definition relies on divine interaction, we must accept only the second part of the definition since my opponent has clearly dismissed the first. As such we are left simply with a highly improbable event. The noted New Testament Text Critic Bart Ehrman seems to agree. In a debate with William Lane Craig over the historicity of the Bible he says "What are miracles? Miracles are not impossible. I won't say they're impossible. You might think they are impossible and, if you do think so, then you're going to agree with my argument even more than I'm going to agree with my argument. I'm just going to say that miracles are so highly improbable that they're the least possible occurrence in any given instance."[B] As such we see that the term miracle need not only apply to events that violate natural law. By the definition given by my opponent, if I stand at one end of a basketball court and close my eyes and throw the ball to the other end... and make a basket, it is a legitimate miracle. This is indeed a highly improbable and extraordinary (outside of ordinary) event.

Furthermore, there is a flaw in my opponent's syllogism. In a syllogism the conclusion is only true if the premises are true. Beyond that, as Pro my opponent is required to prove all premises that are not common and accepted knowledge. In P3 of his syllogism he states that "Nothing can be known to us outside of what our senses tell us." This is not only an unproven premise and begs the question, but it is false. My opponent himself notes that there are exceptions. Descartes's quote is one, but the various theories of quantum mechanics are another. Many of these theories are derived entirely from mathematical formulae and have nothing to do with sense data. Furthermore, my opponent's epistemological statement is only reflective of on school of epistemology, namely empiricism. Many epistemological systems would say that we begin life knowing everything and we must only remember it (Plato's Innatism).

Thank you, I look forward to the next round.

Debate Round No. 1


Thank you for the kind welcome.

My opponent said that he is "not required to prove that miracles exist" and I would like to remind the audience that it is the semantic nature of the word itself that I am confronting and not whether miracles exist [based on what most people understand them as being]. Though it is only a small mediation, it is an important distinction to make.

I will admit that my opponent has justly shown that I have improperly built the first stage of my argument by straying away from the definitions that I provided. The definitions came straight from a dictionary and not the ones from which I later developed my argument. I understand the hit to my legitimacy and humbly accept it with open arms—I have learned from it and will not repeat it again. Though I have undermined my own efforts in this argument, I would like to refurbish the argument into a stronger one. My opponent would be in the right if he objected to this but I am here to expand my knowledge and I believe that both my opponent and I would benefit the most if I were allowed the following.

"What are miracles?" is a crucial question to our purposes. I would like to refine the definition as being an event that is inexplicable by natural law conventions and that contradicts the current knowledge of causation. You might recall this as being the first part of the definition provided in the first argument, but this time without the divinity clause. I do not think that my opponent was fair in initially denying this. He claimed that he could do so because I myself had dismissed the importance of God(s) in our argument. I should have explained that I meant that I did not want to bog down the argument with such meddlesome inquiries, such as whether God(s) could indeed interfere with our universe, or whether they have already, or whether we would even notice. I was merely trying to steer the argument away from the multitude of questions that, though worthwhile on their accord, have no place in this particular argument.

I believe (and am well aware that I myself included it in the first place) that an improbably event is an inaccurate portrayal of a miracle. I am well aware that I myself listed it as so in the first place. The definition that I was working under was defined in P1, but please note that I improperly reintroduced the improbability clause in the conclusion. Remove the clause and my argument stands strong.

My opponent said that P3 of my argument is weak, and that apparently I myself have noted "that there are exceptions". I would kindly ask that our audience look at my argument, and specifically at my choice of words. Did I indeed admit that there are multiple exceptions to my premise? No--my opponent has tried to weaken my premise by means of changing my intended meaning. Let me clarify: I mean to say that there is only one exception to P3, one that is irrelevant to our discussion.

In clever anticipation, however, my opponent proceeds to provide another example of an exception. He claims that "many of [quantum] theories are derived entirely from mathematical formulae and have nothing to do with sense data." I would like to argue that this statement is false. Every single mathematical formula that has ever existed has depended on sense data. How would you propose to conduct arithmetic without understanding that A is A, or rather, that 2 equals 2? Would you have ever learned that 100 is greater than 99 without sense data? Mathematical concepts arise entirely from sense data. The Pythagorean Theorem, for example, could have never been derived if it hasn't been for sense date—how else would you know what a triangle is?

As a concluding remark to his argument my opponent adds that there are other systems of epistemology that disagree with empiricism, but this is equivalent to saying that people disagree with one another. No argument has been contributed in that last part and should be ignored by the audience.


Thank you to my opponent for his response. I appreciate the the conduct he has shown thus far in the debate, polite and civil discourse is something that this organization desperately needs.

On with the argument.

Semantics at the Core
My opponent has clarified that we are indeed not arguing the actual existence of whether miracles exist. Rather we are arguing if the definition of the word /miracle/ allows itself to be actualized in reality. That is, my opponent is arguing that since the definition of miracle is that it defies natural law, and all we can observe is natural law, then necessarily anything that we observe cannot be called a miracle. Underlying this argument seems to be an assumption that things which we see now only apparently contradict natural law and that at some point in the future we may understand the phenomena using naturalistic scientific categories.

Redirecting the Argument
My opponent seeks to redefine the term miracle to refer exclusively to things that defy natural law, with the absence of a divine influence as part of the definition. I have no problem accepting this definition for the sake of the debate. Rather, using this definition I shall prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the term miracles refers to something that indeed exists.

Types of Existence
If I say to you, think of a unicorn. What comes to mind. Every single person reading this debate will think of the same basic thing. While there may be variations (color, size, temperment, etc), everyone reading this will invariably picture the same basic animal. That is, an animal that is essentially a horse with a single spiral horn extending from the forehead of the beast. Why is this? This is what might be called, subjective existence. That is, the item concieved of exists in your mind. Subjectively it exists, just not objectively. Consier the following analogy: If I am a painter and I concieve of the painting I wish to create. First I see it in my mind. This is the subject of my thought. Once I commit that paint to paper, it has become an object and exists objectively, independent of my thought. I would argue that miracles exist in the same way. We can all concieve of something that defies natural law. Perhaps it is an object that floats ddespite all other reasoning to the contrary. Whatever it is, we are able to concieve of an event that defies natural law. That event therefore exists subjectively in your mind.

Response to "In clever anticipation..."
My opponent claims that "Every single mathematical formula that has ever existed has depended on sense data." My opponent has done nothing however to substantiate this claim. He gies a single example of the Pythagorean Theorem which necessarily relies on sense data, because the formula is an explanation of an object. However, the concept 2+2 does not necessitate any sort of sense data. He also refers to the concept that A is A. How can we have sense data of theoretical numbers that do not exist. Furthermore, the very concept of negative numbers cannot be explained using sense data. Can you show me -1 of anything? Of course not! By definition, -1 of an object does not only does not exist (0) but has an existence that draws away from something else. How would one show this in sense data? In addition, theoretical formulae exist that require no sense data. The proof that [A+B=C and A+D=C therefore B=D] relies on no sense data what so ever. The very fact that something exists called "imaginary numbers" that defy actual existence proces this as well.

My opponent is right to point out that I did not provide arguments for competing epistemology. This was due to space limitations. In the dialogue "Meno" Plato demonstrates A Priori knowledge through a story of Socrates questioning a young boy about how to make a square twice as large. You can find the account at;. I am still limited for space, so I will expound upon this in my final round.

Thank you.
Debate Round No. 2


I second my opponent's opinion on the conduct of our debate. My opponent’s civility provides a comfortable environment for our mutual expansion of knowledge.

Semantics at the Core
My opponent has summarized my view and put forth the assumption that all things that we now consider as miracles have some naturalistic explanation. This is a correct explanation of my view, though I wish to emphasize that our understanding of nature and our environment is done entirely through our senses.

Types of Existence
My opponent has made the distinction between various types of existences. I understand where he is going with this and it is a sensible direction. However, I would like to note that his introduction of subjective existence parallels that of Plato’s forms. Everything has a general form that we can all appreciate but that we define in various forms within our psyches. I must ask my opponent: Would this general form be known to us without sense data?

Response to "In clever anticipation..."
“My opponent has done nothing however to substantiate this claim. He gives a single example...”

Those two sentences above contradict one another, seeing that you didn’t mention any counter-argument to my argument of the Pythagorean Theorem. Coincidentally, contradictions are a large part of my following argument.

My opponent has responded by saying that 2 + 2 does not require sense data. But if you were born without sense data would you be able to understand quantity? Why is my opponent comfortable with dismissing mathematics as ‘theoretical numbers’ when I can see for myself that quantity is an observable data? That A is A is crucial to this understanding. You would never be able to perform any mathematic query without first accepting that just clause that something cannot be without being. One apple is one apple, and this knowledge can only be known through sense data.

The mention of imaginary numbers puzzled me at first and I thought myself stumped. But my opponent believes that I must show him an example of an imaginary number, which is in fact not the case. One cannot be shown an imaginary number, but how does one arrive at the concept of an imaginary number? By first understanding the concept of 1, thereby meaning that A is indeed A. He continues to say that [A + B = C & A + D = C therefore B = D], but how comfortable would you be in dictating this argument if you didn’t understand that something exists by its own accord? B will never equal D if you cannot first admit that A is A, and you can never understand that A is A unless you observe it.



Response to "Types of Existence"
My opponent is right to conclude that the introduction of subjective existence parallels Plato's forms. He poses the question "Would this general form be known to us without sense data?"

The answer to this is simple, and reveals the, in my oppinion, fatal flaw of my opponent's argument. That fatal flaw is that it begs the question. This question reveals that my opponent is assuming epiricism as a mode of epistemological inquiry. In fact, Plato's ideal forms presupposes A Priori (that is without experience) knowledge of the forms. While this does not prove that sense data is not required, it does show that competing epistemological schema exist that do not require it. Up until this point my opponent has done nothing to show that these schema are less tenable than empiricism.

Response to "Response to 'In clever anticipation...'"
My opponent's example of the Pythagorean Theorem necessarily requires sense data, because it is explaining an inherantly physical object. It is describing how something we aprehend with our senses function, so of course it requires sense data. However, he has done nothing to show that theorems and formulae that are describing purely theoretical constructs require sense data. My opponent argues "If you were born without sense data would you be able to understand quantity?" This all depends on your epistemological framework. If you assume empiricism, of course not. However, in a debate we cannot simply assume a given epistemological framework without proving it. If you assume A Priori knowledge, then you absolutely can understand quantity without sense data.

I shall ask again, what sense data can possibly lead to the concept of -1. It is impossible to aprehend -1 with sense data, as -1 does not exist in the sensual world. My opponent then also argues "how comfortable would you be in dictating this argument if you didn't understand that something exists by its own accord?" My opponent acknowledged that there is something that we can understand exists without sense data. If I am able to divise my own existence simply through cognition, then I provide the framework for understanding quantity, since I am the quantity one. No other sense data is required. I am then able to theorize that one of me and another one of me is two. And therefore divise all mathematics off the knowledge (which my opponent admits can be obtained without sense data) of the fact that I represent the quantity "one."
Debate Round No. 3
7 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 7 records.
Posted by KristophKP 7 years ago
Thank you for the clear voting comment Double_R.
Posted by KristophKP 7 years ago
@ RA,
I believe it to be unethical to continue the discussion on the comment section and yet I have more to say on the issue. As I mentioned before, let us continue our debate another time. I will hold proudly the banner of empiricism and we shall revisit all our examples.
Posted by KristophKP 7 years ago
Thank you RA for the argument. We should hold a debate in the future about empiricism--I'll argue for it as the only means for knowledge and you against.
Posted by ReformedArsenal 7 years ago
Kohai, you lost your right to vote when you cheated, plagiarized, lied about who you are, and quit multiple accounts.
Posted by ReformedArsenal 7 years ago
Wierdman, we turn on "Required Reasons for voting" for a reason. Can you please explain your vote?
Posted by ReformedArsenal 7 years ago
How is that dumb? It's the way debate works.
Posted by JohnJohnSHTOOKAH 7 years ago
"Second, I would like to note that as my opponent is pro and instigator of this debate, he possesses what is known as Philosophic Burden of Proof [A] This means that he is responsible for positively proving his arguments beyond a shadow of reasonable doubt. My task as Con is simply to cast that reasonable doubt."

dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by Double_R 7 years ago
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: Both participants seem to miss the fact that according to the definition, miracles do not violate natural laws, they simply can not be explained by them. With that said I did not find Cons argument to be valid but Pro accepted the premise of subjectivity and did not provide an adequate response. Both sides would have benefited from more summary statements and conclusions tying their arguments together.
Vote Placed by kohai 7 years ago
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Total points awarded:60 
Reasons for voting decision: counter bomb.
Vote Placed by wierdman 7 years ago
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Total points awarded:06 
Reasons for voting decision: .