A while back, I wrote an article titled Heads I Lose, Tails You Win, in which I complained that theists try to paint naturalists as being unreasonable because they would never accept any evidence of a supernatural being or event as a genuine indication that something supernatural actually exists. Naturalists have offered many examples of things that, if they were actually able to witness such a thing, would be convincing to them. But no matter what they say, the theists' response is always to deny that the naturalist would really be convinced by it. For the naturalist who is attempting to be reasonable and provide an honest answer to the question "What would it take to convince you?", the situation amounts to "Heads I Lose, Tails You Win". There is absolutely nothing he can say that would be taken as a reasonable answer by theists like Reppert.
Now Victor Reppert has responded directly to my post, and I want to give his response all due consideration. Let me start out by explaining why I think we have this stand-off in the first place. Theists insist that miracles happen, and indeed, that is a significant part of their reason for theistic belief. Skeptical naturalists, on the other hand, insist that miracles never happen, and that is a significant part of their reason for non-belief. What examples do the theists point to? In general, there are two categories: one is the kind of miraculous event described in the bible, where physical laws are obviously violated, such as a resurrection. The other is what I call a "modern miracle", such as an unexplained healing, where doctors can't provide a scientific explanation for the event.
It is important to understand the distinction between these two categories. The ancient miracles are truly supernatural - they obviously violate physical laws. They are attested in the bible, but nobody ever sees them in modern times, and the biblical stories can't be verified. The modern miracles don't obviously violate physical laws, but the explanation remains unknown. We do see things like this from time to time, but the naturalist has no reason to think that anything supernatural has occurred, because no physical laws are being violated. So the theist sees a wealth of "miracles", both ancient and modern. But the skeptic, who insists on seeing verifiable evidence, has never seen any miracle at all. If he doesn't start from a position of belief in the stories of the bible, there is no reliable account of a supernatural event ever happening in the history of the world. And the modern miracles are not supernatural at all. (Let us not fall into god-of-the-gaps explanations for apparently natural events that science has yet to explain.)
The theist is understandably frustrated by this. He is convinced that miracles happen, but the naturalist rejects every single example of miracles that the theists claims to have occurred. There are two reasons for rejecting those claims: either it doesn't violate the laws of nature, or there isn't sufficient evidence that it actually happened. This prompts the theist to ask, "What would it take to convince you?" And the answer is always something along the lines of "Show me something that is objectively observable, and that clearly violates the laws of nature." But the theist must bear in mind that what the naturalist is asking for is something that, as far as he knows, has never been shown, despite the theists' insistence that they have.
So now Victor offers two things to consider. One is his firm belief that if Keith Parsons' example of stars moving in the sky to spell out a message from God actually happened, then the naturalist would simply say that it is the work of some advanced civilization.
But such alien intelligences could have a more advanced technology from ourselves, and so conceivably they could perform any "miracle" that could be agreed to have occurred including the one Parsons mentions about the galaxies spelling out words. - ReppertYes, that might be conceivable. But there would be no justified reason to believe that an advanced civilization was doing that, unless we had some independent evidence that such a civilization exists. In truth, it would be beyond belief to me that some natural being out there has the ability to rearrange the galaxies in the universe, and does so exactly one time, but otherwise leaves no shred of evidence that we can observe of its existence. Skeptics don't just invent explanations without basis - not even natural ones. We have to rely on the observable evidence, and the evidence doesn't give us any reason to think there is such a being. Of course, it would be different if we could see that a civilization and a technology like that exists, but the whole point of Parsons' answer is that we wouldn't have any reason to think that the event in question is caused by something natural. It would be, as best we can tell, an objectively observable supernatural event.
Victor then provides the additional example of a "modern" miracle - a boy who revived after being submerged in near-freezing water and not breathing for an extended time. This falls into the second category I discussed above - things that don't have a known scientific explanation, but don't violate any laws of physics. Actually, in this case, without researching the event, I can easily postulate a non-miraculous explanation. When the body cools down, metabolism slows, and may endure for some limited period without breathing or blood circulation. This is not miraculous. It has been observed on numerous occasions, and even though there may not be a known definitive medical explanation for this particular event (because all the relevant facts are not known), it is not hard to see that a natural explanation is possible. In fact, unless you are a theist, it seems that a natural explanation is quite likely.
Victor wraps up with this:
We don't know that everything has a natural explanation, there are surely many things for which we end up shrugging our shoulders and saying that there has to be a natural explanation out there even if we don't see what it is. Believers may say to many things. - ReppertVictor, what you're doing here is conflating two very different categories of miraculous events. I will grant that we naturalists always assume that there is a natural explanation for things that appear to be natural. There are many cases of "miracle" healings where we don't see any physical laws being violated. Our ignorance of the exact explanation doesn't change the fact that there is still nothing apparently supernatural about it, and no reason to resort to god-of-the-gaps as the explanation. Show me a case of a rotted corpse rising from the dead, and my response will be different, I can assure you. The other category of miracles, those that really do seem to be supernatural events, are still things that we don't ever observe (in a manner that can be objectively verified). That's what we're asking for, Victor. Show me something that is objectively observable, that is clearly and obviously supernatural, and then I'll believe that miracles happen.