Monthly Archives: December 2017

Miracles and computer games

People often argue that miracles are impossible and, therefore, that the Bible is unbelievable. Here’s a simple thought experiment which is intended to demonstrate the flaws in this argument.

Consider a computer game, one that you know well. It could be a game as vast as World of Warcraft or as simple as Tetris or Pac-Man.

From your observations as a player of this game, could you come up with a set of laws which govern how the game’s universe operates? Could you create rules which define the circumstances under which a character always dies, say, or a mission always succeeds? Yes you could. In the universe of Pac-Man, for instance, your laws might say that Pac-Man always dies when he touchs a ghost in its normal state and that a level is always complete when he eats the last dot.

As a player of the game, are you bound by those laws you have observed? Yes you are – you can’t make Pac-Man survive an encounter with a ghost in its normal state or allow him to stay on a level when all of the dots are eaten.

Do you believe, then, that the authors of the game, the people who wrote the code for World of Warcraft or Tetris or Pac-Man are bound by your laws? Are the authors of the game limited by your observations as a player of their game? Or are they free at any time to change the code so that the game behaves differently? Are they free to make temporary or permanent changes to their game whenever they like or even to include Easter eggs, hidden areas of the game which operate differently to the rest of the game’s universe? Yes, they are free to make changes. Of course they are.

So let me ask you this: If God is the author of the universe, why would He be forced to obey our observations as players in His game of life? Isn’t God free to change the universe either temporarily or permanently or even put Easter Eggs into the universe, hidden areas which behave differently to the rest of the universe? Yes He is. Of course He is.

So what would prevent God from allowing certain characters to be healed instantly, to walk on water or to rise from the dead? Nothing at all. If God exists, He could change the code of the universe as easily as coders change a computer game. The Bible goes even further than this by stating that God is the sustainer of everything, by which Christians understand that the universe is not static code that God has left to run by itself – it is sustained (and therefore infinitely changeable) by His will.

I think we’re ready, then, to consider two key problems with the ‘miracles are impossible’ argument.

The first is that that the starting point of the argument is to assume that there is no God or that if there is a god, it’s a kind of powerless god which is bound by the universe as we are. An argument which claims that miracles are impossible is simply knocking down a straw god – it does not consider or disprove the all-powerful God described in the Bible. It’s also worth noting that this approach to God is entirely consistent with how the Bible describes us as sinful, rebellious humans – our desire is to reject Him rather than consider who He is (because doing so might require that we surrender our lives to Him).

The second problem with the ‘miracles are impossible’ argument is that it’s circular – it says that because miracles have not been observed, we can discard all observations of miracles. That’s a very convenient loop if your goal is to deny the existence of anything supernatural.

Now that we can see that God would not be bound by our so-called laws of the universe, we cannot simply reject observations of miracles – we must consider them on their merits. This does not mean asking whether the observed miracle was a normal or repeatable event (and therefore not a miracle at all) – it means asking whether the observer of the miracle is a credible witness. That is, miracles cannot be assessed by acting as scientists because this mode of discovery is bound by the normal and repeatable laws that we (as mere players) must obey. Instead we must act like historians and lawyers – we must look for evidence of the veracity of a person’s claim and consider the purity of their motives in making that claim.

If the witness of the miracle is credible, we may have found compelling evidence that something unexpected happened and this, in turn, may require that we update our view of the universe. This is why the Gospels (the written observations of Jesus’ life in the Bible) record that Jesus referred to his miracles as ‘signs’ – by deliberately doing things which are impossible for mere players in the game of life, he was providing evidence for his claim that he is the author of life. We would do well, then, to listen to and obey him.