Athiesm and the Leper that Returned

I’ve listened to and watched many popular atheists talk about God. When asked what it would take to convince them, the most common response is some sort of personal supernatural experience. It might be an angel shouting from the sky or something equally unscientific but undeniable. But, they say, nothing short of this is enough. Arguments that these types of experiences are common in those who believe fail to sway them because they are not personal. They don’t even count as scientific evidence.

Sunday’s sermon was on the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus. The story is found in Luke 17:12-19:

12And as he entered a certain village he was met by ten men who had serious skin diseases, who stood at a distance. 13And they lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14And when he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And it came to pass, as they went, they were cleansed. 15But one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice, 16and he fell on his face at his feet, giving him thanks—and he was a Samaritan. 17And Jesus answering said, “Were not the ten cleansed? But where are the nine? 18Were there none found that returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” 19And he said to him, “Get up and go on your way. Your trust has made you whole.” (REV)

Jesus healed all ten men, but only one of them returned in thanks and honored God. Jesus said something curious to him when he said that his trust (or faith) made him whole. Were not the nine also made whole?

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus was concerned with the Kingdom of Heaven and our spiritual needs. The Bible shouts this theme over and over. What did the one leper get that the others missed? It wasn’t physical healing. It was spiritual wholeness.

The nine were healed and they did what was ritually required when they presented themselves to the priest. They went about their lives. But they were not truly changed.

Throughout my life I’ve witnessed the supernatural in my life on a number of occasions. I’ve witnessed many times in the lives of others. I’ve forgotten most of these events. How can this be? Miracles and the supernatural are relatively unimportant when it comes to proving God’s existence or being a Christian in general.

Ten lepers received a life-changing miracle. They could not have been any lower in society. They were completely isolated outcasts who had to shout every time they saw someone coming. Yet when they experience miraculous healing, only one returned to thank Jesus and praise God. Only one of them had a spiritual awakening.

Miracles are important in the life of a believer to provide confirmation that one is on the right path. They provide assurance. But it is the condition of the heart, the act of searching, that leads to truth. Miracles can, and will, be rejected. When the Pharisees demanded a sign from Jesus, he called them wicked. Jesus understood, as we should, that signs and miracles do not convince those who already decided.

Miracles Don’t Contradict the Laws of Science

John Lennox, professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, often uses a particular analogy when discussing the existence of God and miracles. I’m going to adapt it and hopefully lend some insight.

Let’s say that I put a ten dollar bill in the glove compartment of my car. The next day I put another $10 in the glove compartment. A day later, I open the glove compartment to discover zero dollars.

Have the laws of mathematics been violated? Is $10 + $10 = $0? How about the laws of physics? Might the bills have spontaneously disappeared? Or have the laws of the United States been violated?

Of course you immediately know which one of these it is, but how did you arrive at that conclusion? You assumed that the laws of mathematics and physics are valid and that the glove compartment is not a closed system. Therefore, someone must have taken it.

When Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, what should he have done? He knew the law of nature that person sinks in water. This was an undeniable fact. But he also knew that the lake was not a closed system. Because the law of nature was not violated¹, an external force must have acted upon it. Is it such a stretch that the creator of water might be able to do such a thing? Of course not!

When the naturalist/materialist atheist rejects miracles, what he is doing is accepting the laws of nature, but rejecting the open system and thus any possibility of a creator. There is no reason besides a personal philosophical presupposition.

Let’s be very clear: belief in a creator is not a violation of any laws of science, it is a choice to treat the universe as an closed system.

When a scientist is faced with an apparent contradiction to the laws of nature, they do have another choice: to claim that the evidence is invalid. The natural consequence therefore is that because the universe is a closed system, then the evidence must be faulty. In this way, the atheist can, quite conveniently, reject all claims of miracles automatically without addressing the evidence at all. This is nothing more than intellectual dishonesty.

If one did not assume a closed system, then miracles could be treated on their own merits as evidence for the creator. And so they are for many people. Alas, the very evidence that an atheist requires to prove God’s existence is the very evidence they cannot consider by their own assumptions.

I don’t expect this to sway anyone, and by all indications it rarely ever has. But hopefully it will help clarify the assumptions and issues at stake and why you see the reactions that you do from those who reject both a creator and miracles.

¹ A law can only be violated if the law applies. If my wife took the money out of the glove compartment, then no criminal laws were broken. Similarly, if the creator intervenes in his creation, no natural law was broken. A law of nature is merely a description or explanation of observations, but there is no scientific requirement that all observations will conform to expectations. On the contrary, this is why experiments are performed over and over again. Laws (and expectations!) sometimes don’t apply or are incomplete and must be amended.