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The Miracle of New Life

As most readers of the blog know, I do not believe in miracles.   At least in literal miracles as normally understood.  I suppose most people think of an actual or literal miracle as an event that cannot be explained through natural causes but requires some kind of supernatural intervention, an act of a divine being who is outside of this nexus of cause and effect, an act of God.

I should stress that this does not necessarily mean that we *do* know the natural causes of everything that we do not consider miraculous – only that in principle they are discoverable.  I stress that point because most of us have no clue how *most* of what happens happens.  I couldn’t explain how my toaster works if my life depended upon it, let alone anything (just about *anything*) having to do with biology, chemistry, or physics, let alone the wonders of the human brain, or the expansion of the universe, or, well, as I said, most things.   But that doesn’t mean that I need to appeal to a miraculous intervention of God every time I want to cook my breakfast or think about my brain.  It just means that there are in principle explicable things that I myself can’t explain.

A miracle would involve the violation of what we used to call “natural law.  There aren’t strictly speaking any laws, since, well, there is no cosmic congressional body to create them and no heavenly judicial branch to enforce them and, in any event, what we used to think of as laws often have exceptions that can be explained.  And so, instead of invoking “law” it is it’s probably better to talk about nature as acting in *highly* predictable ways when the constants are constant.   Some things apparently can’t happen.

It can’t happen that humans unaided can elevate into the air and fly across town; or that humans can walk on luke warm water in the middle of a lake; or come back to life after being dead for three years; to pick just three out of a billion examples.

I have gotten into long debates with conservative evangelicals over whether it is possible to *prove* whether a miracle has ever happened in the past.   Their view, boiled down to its essence, is (a) we should not disallow the possibility of miracle in principle, since that would be bringing an anti-supernaturalist bias into the discussion and one should never allow one’s biases to dictate their conclusions, and (b) there is often good evidence for miracles – for example, people we trust who claim they have seen them (e.g., walking on water, or healing the sick with a touch of the hand, or, well, rising from the dead).

When I have these debates I simply bypass point (a) by saying that I’m willing to admit for the purposes of argument that miracles are possible and not allow my bias against them to have any bearing on the argument I make and then point out that however well attested a miracle is, there are always natural explanations that on balance are necessarily *more* probable than the supernatural explanations.  (If your neighbor swears that she and ten others saw her pastor walking on the water, I can think of a dozen explanations for her being wrong about that, all of which are more probable than that her pastor was somehow able to suspend the “laws” of physics to make it happen.)

Even though I do not believe in miracles in a *literal* sense, I still think the world we live in is a fantastically, amazingly, unbelievably miraculous place, in a metaphorical sense.  I have been captured by the wonder of the world more and more as I grow older.   I can’t get my mind around how there can be 100 billion stars in our galaxy, and that there are two trillion galaxies in our universe, and that there may be an incalculable number of universes.  How does anyone realize this without becoming breathless in awe and marvel?

Or how can we understand that there are also 100 billion neurons in each of our brains?   The brain is an absolute wonder to behold and consider.  I have to admit every time I reflect on it the words of the Psalmist come to mind “Oh Lord, I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

I have experienced a vastly increased sense of wonder and awe about the world, and about my brain, and my body, and my life, and the existence of life, and lots of other things over the past four years as I’ve developed a meditation practice.  I spent three years simply meditating on my physical being, my body; now I’ve spent a year exploring my mind and the life principle that lies beneath/behind it all.   Truly awe-inspiring.  We are amazing beings.

The closest thing I’ve actually had to *witnessing* a “miracle,” though, was when I was present for the birth of my two children, Kelly in 1980 and Derek in 1982.  Absolutely mind-boggling.  The appearance of new life.  Out of non-life.  The coming of new life into the world is one of those things I can’t and never will understand.  It’s not that I think “God did it” – any more than I think that God made it rain yesterday (something else I don’t understand).  But I think new life is beyond my ability to comprehend and I marvel at it.

This has been brought very close to mind (and heart) this week.   Three days ago my grandson was born to my son Derek and his wonderful wife Amanda.   Elliot Benjamin Ehrman-Matson.  A new life in the world.   My third grandchild and first grandson.   Life goes on, and on, and on.  May it go on forever and may wonders never cease.

Ehrman & Licona: Are the Gospels Historically Reliable? Part 2
The Marvels of Media Attention



  1. John4
    John4  March 22, 2018

    New best seller, new grandkid. You’re on a *roll* this week, Bart!

    Warmest congratulations, second day in a row, lol.


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    NancyGKnapp  March 23, 2018

    What joy this little one brings! I enjoyed your beautiful tribute.

  3. Julian
    Julian  March 23, 2018

    100% agreement. The wonders of the universe are more than a ‘consolation’ for lost faith. They’re an upgrade in living quality. Some of us are really lucky in that we are free to follow extraordinary interests in life and explore its richness. In my case the local astronomy club, a Classical Greek private instruction class I’ve enjoyed for 12 years, quality books and instructional material that put life’s ups and downs into a new perspective, and much more. But over-riding everything is the joy of one’s family and the rewarding experience and responsibilities of love.
    The education of our young is far and away our greatest responsibility so that they might follow their own paths to fulfilment.
    Thank you Dr Ehrman for your informative contributions to what I suspect is an increasingly large community of people coming to a similar realisation.

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    Judith  March 23, 2018

    All of your posts are terrifically good, I think, but then on occasion there is one that is truly wonderful like this one. Thanks, Dr. Ehrman.

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    RonaldTaska  March 23, 2018

    Wow! What a terrific post. Save it and give a copy to your grandson on his 12th birthday.

    That this vast, incredible world came from nothing makes no sense. That God came from nothing also makes no sense. As Bogart said in the “African Queen”: You pays your money and you makes your choice.”

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    SidDhartha1953  March 23, 2018

    Thinking about the brain is an interesting example, since it is the brain that does the thinking! Somewhat analogous to jumping in your car and driving to the steering wheel.

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    SidDhartha1953  March 23, 2018


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    Colin P  March 23, 2018

    Hi Bart. Just finished your very enjoyable and well argued book The Triumph of Christianity. What impressed me was just how few Christians there were at the start. If there were just 1500 or so dotted around the place in 60 CE, isn’t it surprisingly that Nero had heard of them let alone chose to scapegoat them for the fire that destroyed Rome? Is it possible that Tacitus got this wrong?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 24, 2018

      Yes, it’s interesting, but not implausible. There were probably more in Rome than elsewhere, and possibly they were maligned already for their strange behaviors and ways. We don’t know how many he executed. A couple dozen? More? Less?

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    Jon1  March 23, 2018


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    jimdomino@comcast.net  March 23, 2018

    Dear Professor Ehrman:

    Congratulations on the birth of your new grandson! I wish him and you all the best.

    Jim Domino

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    Jana  March 23, 2018

    A close friend of mine of now 24 years was involved in a head on collision with a tractor trailer that swerved into their lane while they were returning from vacation in an adjoining state. His brother-in-law who was driving was killed instantly My friend was on the driver’s side and was flung through the window shield (no he was not wearing a seat belt/ he had in fact just changed seats with is wife in the van’s backseat and hadn’t time). When I visited him in the hospital in the ICU, I was told by the presiding doctor that he was brain dead. All tests showed brain death. Frankly, the diagnosis made me angry and I won’t repeat how I responded. Last night I had dinner (pizza) with Luis. His brain is fine and his memory is a lot better than mine. He is back at work full time at two upscale restaurants as head of maintenance and he does it all. Yes. His body is held together by 43 screws and a number of iron rods and he’s had 9 surgeries .. but brain dead? There is no signs of trauma. I have never heard him complain and he has no time for depression. I consider this a miracle and I thank yes God every day. He is also my hero!

    I’ve got more personal stories and experiences.

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      flcombs  March 24, 2018

      AsI’m certainly glad it went well for him and sorry no miracle for the other guy. Medical situatuons are always iffy since so much is still unknown. It might be thought by many more as a miracle if some had laid hands on him and his broken bones and injuries instantly were gone. But as you point out, there was a lot of medical science and hardware involved. I’ve seen a lot of contraversy from time to time about brain death due to how and where it is measured (any internal probes?) . Among the miracles you claim to have seen: any decapitations or amputations instantly fixed? Etc.? With all the wrecks and disasters there are plenty of opportunities to demonstrate miraculous powers if anyone has them. I am always in awe of all the people claiming “In God We Trust” and belief in the power of prayer that insist on going to doctors and take medicine. Given a choice between antibiotics or prayer, what do Christians choose?

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    ddorner  March 23, 2018

    Congratulations Dr. Ehrman on your new grandson! 😊

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    beachdaze  March 24, 2018

    Many congratulations Dr. Ehrman. We too have a son named Derek born in 1982, but alas, no grandchildren from him. His little brother, Nathan though, has given us two beautiful granddaughters, Kairi Lynne and Marjorie Ashlyn. I’m still waiting for a grandson to carry on the family name one more generation.

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    Jana  March 24, 2018

    Yes. Congratulations on your grandson!

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    madi22  March 24, 2018

    Congratulations on the birth of your grandson! Recently I heard a christian theologian discuss his skepticism of modern day miracles/or the definition of them, as he clarified the reason Jesus’s miracles had been defined as such was because there was no other method to combat the problems of that time. (eg. modern day medicine or science). Would you as a scholar agree to an extent with this? Maybe the modern day church has missed the memo of why things were labelled miracles.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 25, 2018

      Ancient people thought of miracles as divine acts in our world; the word for “miracle” in the NT is literally “act of power.” So, yes, if a person was healed by invoking a god, then that was a miracle (since in most cases there was no medical solution)

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    mannix  March 26, 2018

    2018 seem to be your year Bart….the Book, the baby. They say things come in threes…I bet you’re having fun guessing what will complete the Hat Trick!

    If I may digress (sorry)…the Passion was read at Mass this past Sunday with Mark’s version. Mk 14:51-52 has always struck me as curious [the man who was seized during the arrest , but escaped naked, leaving his sole piece of linen clothing]. This seems totally irrelevant to the scenario (almost TMI) , and I wonder why the author thought it important to include. The succeeding synoptics apparently didn’t think so, nor did John. Has any scholar (including yourself, of course) discussed this?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2018

      Yes, there are many, many interpretatoins about what it is all about. But I”ve never plunged into trying a definitive interpretation; just too much is uncertain about it.

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    anthonygale  March 26, 2018

    Congrats on the addition to the family.

    I don’t believe in the supernatural, but I think if “supernatural” things did exist, the explanation wouldnt be that they defied nature, it would be an aspect of nature people don’t understand. If there did exist a being willing the behavior of every subatomic particle (stealing a line from a cheesy movie), that being should be able to accomplish anything. I know you don’t believe such a being exists and I have my doubts. But looking at it that way makes me more sympathetic to the idea of a “miracle.”

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    madmargie  March 27, 2018

    I don’t believe in miracles either. I have seen amazing things that I can’t explain happen…. just as most of us have.For example, a couple of things I attribute my amazing good health to at 82….. going on 83 is (1) good genes and (2) a belief that our own bodies have capabilities we are not even aware of. Mind over matter sometimes is the explanation. For example, I am determined to be healthy and do everything I possibly can to enhance that with good healthy food and lots of exercise. That doesn’t guarantee good health but staying slim and getting good food and exercise make the positive outcome more likely.

    Also, I have seen a person recover from a terminal illness because they actually believed with all their heart and mind that it was possible because they were prayed for . That’s highly unlikely and not even provable but its the explanation they give.

    And….Congratulations on the new grandson!

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    LouVon  March 28, 2018

    Enjoy that grandson! Nothing better

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    1jdefrancisco@comcast.net  March 29, 2018

    Congratulations Dr. Ehrman. I hope Elliot Benjamin Ehrman-Matson has the same desire to search for truth as his grandpa. All the best to you and your family.

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