Home >> Volume 3, Issue 02

Epistemology, Miracles, and the God Who Speaks

Lydia McGrew

Atheists have many means of demoralizing Christians. Sometimes they use what one might call factual objections—that the Bible contains specific errors or contradictions or that specific miracles are not well-supported by empirical evidence. It would not do to downplay the psychological force of these. A student faced with a professor who confidently rattles off ten anti-Biblical claims in the space of three minutes is likely to leave class feeling a bit battered, unless he has already researched all ten of them. On the other hand, in-principle objections make it impossible even to begin to discuss the pros and cons of Christianity. In an in-principle objection, the atheist claims that we need not even bother looking at the specific evidence; we can know in advance that religious belief is irrational or that any alleged evidence for it must be somehow defective.[1]

Among in-principle objections, a set frequently encountered involves the claim that it is always illicit to use the action of God (characterized dismissively by the atheist as the claim “God did it!”) as an hypothesized cause for any event in the real world. When we consider that atheists also think Christians irrational for believing on the basis of insufficient evidence, the “heads I win; tails you lose” nature of this objection should be self-evident. How is it at all reasonable to tell Christians that they do not have enough evidence for their belief and then to tell them, in the next breath, that any evidence they do bring to the bar must be ruled out of court? Yet the claim that Divine action can never be rationally hypothesized can be surprisingly slippery and hence can seem surprisingly difficult to answer.

God the unknowable

Philosopher of science Elliott Sober has done, in a sense, a service to Christians by attempting to make one version of this objection rigorous. Sober begins with the principle that all hypothesis testing is comparative. There is, Sober points out repeatedly, no probabilistic way to “rule out” an hypothesis as an explanation of some event simply by noting that what we see has a very low probability given that hypothesis. It may just turn out that something very improbable has happened, and that’s all. If we wish to “rule out” hypothesis A we should bring forward some better explanation B as a competitor.

On Sober’s view, the action of an omnipotent God cannot participate in such competitions and therefore cannot be a good explanation for any empirical phenomenon, because God is so unlike man that we cannot have any idea what God would or would not do. In order to compare the hypothesis of Divine action to any naturalistic hypothesis in a rational fashion, we would have to have some idea that we would be more likely to have our evidence if God had acted than if only natural processes were at work. But if we have no idea whatsoever what God might or might not do, we can make no such comparison. Hence, Sober argues, however improbable the event is on all available naturalistic hypotheses, we are not justified in hypothesizing Divine action. Sober argues for this position like this:

The problem is that the design hypothesis confers a probability on the observation only when it is supplemented with further assumptions about what the designer’s goals and abilities would be if he existed....There are as many likelihoods as there are suppositions concerning the goals and abilities of the putative designer. Which of these, or which class of these, should we take seriously?
It is no good answering this question by assuming that the eye was built by an intelligent designer and then inferring that the designer must have wanted to give the eye features F1 ... Fn and must have had the ability to do so since, after all, these are the features we observe. For one thing, this pattern of argument is question-begging. One needs independent evidence as to what the designer’s plans and abilities would be if he existed....
This objection to the design argument is...continuous with the precepts of “negative theology,” which holds that God is so different from us and the world we already know about that it is impossible for us to have much of a grasp of what his characteristics are....We are invited...to imagine a designer who is radically different from the human craftsmen we know about. But if this designer is so different, why are we so sure that this being would build the vertebrate eye in the form in which we find it? (Sober 2007, pp. 10-11)

Sober is most concerned to apply his argument in the context of the debate over biological design, but his principles have no intrinsic limitation to that field. If they applied, they would also apply to the conclusion that a miracle had occurred in a non-biological context, a point to which I will return later. The God Sober envisages is a God so ineffable, so utterly unlike ourselves, that we can know nothing whatever about him.

Sober even goes to far as to argue that omnipotence makes matters worse for the theist:

Even supposing that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly benevolent, what is the probability that the eye would have features F1 ... Fn, if God set his hand to making it? He could have produced those results if he had wanted. But why think that this is what he would have wanted to do? The assumption that God can do anything is part of the problem, not the solution. An engineer who is more limited would be more predictable. (Sober 2007, p. 13)

This is an odd claim and one that deserves further scrutiny. Why should omnipotence make God inscrutable? Why should the hypothesis that God is omnipotent make it even more difficult to be justified in concluding that God has acted? Here Sober’s drive for rigor fails him, for he simply asserts this claim about omnipotence and gives it no probabilistic gloss, leaving the reader to guess why omnipotence is “part of the problem.”

Perhaps Sober is assuming that we should think that an agent is equally likely to do any of the things that he is able to do. In this case, since the number of things (and even the number of types of things) an omnipotent God can do is (plausibly) infinite, the probability that he will do any one of them becomes impossible even to estimate, as it would involve giving equal probability to an infinite number of possibilities. Perhaps we are supposed to picture ourselves becoming intellectually lost in the contemplation of the vast number of possibilities available to God, leaving us entirely without guidance even in guessing whether God or blind chance is the better explanation of some phenomenon.[2] Even short of infinite possibilities, if we must apply an equiprobability measure to a vast number of possible actions available to God, it could well happen that the probability of God’s doing any one of them would end up lower than the incredibly low probability of the event given chance alone.

On this interpretation, Sober’s argument is unconvincing. Do we reasonably believe that finite agents are equally likely at any given moment to do any of the things they are able to do? Such an assumption would make nonsense of most of our hypotheses of agent action. There are many things that any human being is capable of doing at any moment, but of course he is not equally likely to do all of them. Nor does a rich and powerful man approach utter inscrutability the more power he obtains, through sheer excess of available options.

One might therefore think this reconstruction of Sober’s argument uncharitable, but it is difficult to make anything else out of the claim that “omnipotence is part of the problem.” The reference to a man who is rich and powerful, however, may give us a clue about the image of God that Sober (and others) have in mind.

God the capricious

Human beings do have a larger number of possibilities open to them the more (say) wealth they possess, and we therefore must take more seriously the claim that our wealthy friend Matt has suddenly and unexpectedly flown to Tahiti than we would take the same claim if made about his much poorer brother Mark. This is uncontroversial, and it hardly follows that Matt’s actions are utterly unpredictable.

If, however, a rich and powerful man also has a capricious temperament, then we may reasonably say that he is more unpredictable than a similarly capricious poor or weak man. A person who likes to do exactly what his whimsy dictates, if confined to a hospital bed by paralysis, can probably be found at the same address tomorrow as today whatever his whims might be. It seems, then, that Sober begins by saying that God is unknowable and then adds the unstated assumption that an omnipotent God would be capricious. And it is nearly true by definition that the actions of an utterly capricious and all-powerful being could take any form whatsoever, which might very well result in the probabilistic inscrutability Sober asserts.

The notion of a capricious God brings us to a slightly different argument, related to Sober’s—the ubiquitous “science stopper” objection. A much-quoted passage by Richard Lewontin puts the point rather starkly:

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen. (Lewontin 1997, p. 31, emphasis added)

Lewontin moves directly from the “Divine Foot in the door”—the existence of an omnipotent deity—to the idea that a miracle may happen “at any moment,” which seems to imply that an omnipotent deity is a capricious deity and that admitting his action will make scientific investigation impossible.

Here is Richard Dawkins gleefully elaborating on the idea:

Here is the message that an imaginary ‘intelligent design’ theorist might broadcast to scientists: ‘If you don’t understand how something works, never mind: Just give up and say God did it. You don’t know how the nerve impulse works? Good! ... Is photosynthesis a bafflingly complex process? Wonderful! Please don’t go to work on the problem, just give up, and appeal to God. Dear scientist, don’t work on your mysteries. Bring us your mysteries, for we can use them. Don’t squander precious ignorance by researching it away. We need those glorious gaps as a last refuge for God.’ (Dawkins 2006, p. 159)

Or, as a friend has put it to me, explaining the atheist concerns on this subject, “If ‘a god did it’ were the explanation for seemingly miraculous phenomena, then we would never have discovered the x-ray — Wilhelm Roentgen would have thought a god was making his screen glow.”

The science-stopper objection involves the unspoken assumption that if one accepts miracles as an explanation in some cases one must see miracles as (at least plausibly) occurring anywhere and everywhere. On this view, one who accepts a miraculous explanation must abandon the very concept of a natural order. Indeed, Dawkins apparently thinks that a miracle-working God is ipso facto a God whose repeated, miraculous acts might well be the immediate cause even of apparent regularities such as photosynthesis. If one asks why a repeatable phenomenon like the glowing screen in Roentgen’s lab is “seemingly miraculous” in the first place, the answer will presumably be simply that its cause is unknown (or was at one time unknown) and that, if the cause of anything in the physical world is unknown, the religious believer is obligated to think that God might be constantly “doing it” by a miracle simply to entertain himself or for some utterly inscrutable reason. Hence there is no reason to search for any underlying physical mechanism, scientific curiosity is stifled, and science grinds to a halt.

The God who cannot speak

The unknowable God discussed by Sober or the capricious and ever-intervening Omnipotence assumed by the “science stopper” objection is, ironically, a God who cannot make himself known. Such a God is “omnipotent” only in a strange and pointless sense, for the one thing he cannot do is send any clear message to man. The nineteenth-century Dominican Henri Lacordaire said something similar in response to the deists:

That is to say, gentlemen, that it is impossible for God to manifest himself by the single act which publicly and instantaneously announces his presence, by the act of sovereignty. While the lowest in the scale of being has the right to appear in the bosom of nature by the exercise of its proper force,...to God alone it should be denied to manifest his force in the personal measure that distinguishes him and makes him a separate being!...God can no longer act, appear, communicate himself. That is denied to him. (Hazeltine 1905: 5858)

The deists, of course, posited a God who can perform no miracles at all. But a similar point can be made regarding a God who performs miracles for no particular reason and no discernible purpose, who neither has set up nor maintains a regular course of nature, and whose character and attributes are so utterly unlike ourselves that we have no idea what random act he might carry out next.

In the immortal words of Gilbert and Sullivan, if everybody’s somebody, then no one’s anybody. Consider the case of a closed lottery: We are not justified in concluding that the outcome was the result of cheating simply because Bob wins and because someone might have been cheating in favor of Bob. While it is true that, if someone were cheating in favor of Bob, Bob was more likely to win than if only chance were operating, this does not justify us in concluding that cheating has taken place. After all, someone had to win the lottery, and there is no more reason to expect cheating in favor of Bob than in favor of anyone else. If Bob’s win could (say, in a lottery large enough) justify us in concluding that someone must have cheated, then we would always be justified in concluding that cheating had taken place in a very large lottery, no matter what the outcome. This seems wrong. Rather, we should say that we are not justified in concluding that cheating has taken place, because Bob is, as far as we know, just like everyone else in the lottery—whether we are considering cheating or the fair operation of a chance selection process. Similarly, if we must treat all of God’s possible actions as equiprobable, there is no way to conclude that he has acted in any given case. Something had to happen, and there is no more reason to ascribe this event to Divine action than that event.

It is important to realize the radical consequences of the atheist objections we are considering. Some atheists will imply that if only God would do something truly dramatic, like organizing the stars to form the message, “I am Yahweh, and all who do not worship me will perish everlastingly,” they would be forced to believe. But if God is so unlike ourselves that we can never say that his action is a better explanation of some event than pure chance, this is simply an unprincipled exception. To put the matter in Sober-esque terms, what independent reason do we have for believing that God’s goals include the production of a message by means of stars? If God is so totally unlike ourselves as all that, we have no independent reason for conjecturing anything about him. He might, for all we know, be no more likely to communicate with man than, say, to make a pointless rearrangement of the molecules on some distant Himalayan peak. Why even take the sentence actually to be English? We have no independent reason for believing that God’s goals include using the English language. Perhaps, just as the atheist would insist that molecular “machines” only appear to be machines—their parts arranged deliberately to perform a function—and DNA “language” only appears to have been constructed intentionally to code for a particular function, the arrangement of the stars only appears to designate a linguistic utterance. (See also McGrew 2004.)

These objections also call into question any attempt Christians might make to be what one might call functional deists in a realm designated “science,” where they can never conjecture Divine action, while permitting Divine action in the world of “salvation history.” (See the position taken by Miller 2007.) For if it is irrational in principle, because of the utter unknowability of the character of God and the capricious nature of omnipotence, to conjecture Divine action, there is no reason to think that things are any different in a realm we choose to designate “salvation history.” Neither Moses in the desert nor the Virgin Mary sitting in her room had good reason to think that they were about to be caught up into “salvation history.” The day was, presumably, a day like any other, until one saw the burning bush and heard the Voice and the other saw an angel. Moses believed that God was speaking to him because he heard what sounded like comprehensible words coming from the burning bush and, untroubled by frivolous philosophical objections, believed that they really were comprehensible words coming from the burning bush.

One response to this point should be dealt with before we continue: Someone may answer that, even if we cannot be rational in believing that God has acted, God can still speak to man in the privacy of the heart, and man can still understand and respond to God by a faith which is beyond mere reason.

An evidentialist will have many things to say in response to this position, but here I will focus on just one: The Scriptural and traditional Christian view of miracles is that God is able to use miracles as a public sign by which his activity in the world is manifest, not merely as an adventitious trigger for a private, subjective will to believe. This point is emphasized repeatedly by St. John:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life. (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.) (I John 1:1–2)
This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him. (John 2:11)

Nicodemus says, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” (John 3:2) And Jesus himself tells his disciples, “[B]elieve me for the works’ sake.” (John 14:11)

One might, indeed, wonder how God could verify to mankind, in a way that mankind ought to accept, that he was working in the world, that a messenger was his prophet, or that a revelation came from him except by a public sign. A miracle is a public sign only if it is intersubjectively accessible and only if man can be rational in believing that it came from God. A private feeling, capable of being interpreted in multiple ways, cannot fulfil this purpose.[3] To deny, therefore, that we can be rational in believing that God has acted in the world is to deny that God can reveal himself to mankind.

The question begged

If the God imagined by atheists in the objections we are considering is a God unable to speak and reveal himself, then the atheists raising these objections are in an important sense begging the question against the theist. They require the theist to hypothesize a “God” defined by themselves and then triumphantly point out that we can never have good reason to believe that such a being has acted in the world. But since that God is not the sort of being the traditional theist wishes to use as an explanation of events in the world, there is no reason for the theist to play the atheist’s game. The theist is free to hypothesize the sort of God he is actually interested in and then to test that hypothesis comparatively, seeing whether it is a better explanation of the evidence than other hypotheses, including impersonal chance.

Several properties of the Judeo-Christian God are clearly relevant to the conclusion that God has acted miraculously. First, the Judeo-Christian God is a personal being. From this fact alone we know that we should not think of God as utterly unknowable, as bearing no resemblance of any kind to ourselves. The use of language to communicate and the coordination of means to ends are not only to be expected from a personal being but are also Scripturally supported. God is the creator of all, who has made us “curiously and wonderfully” (Ps. 139:14) and who has made all things in wisdom. (Ps. 104:24) God repeatedly speaks comprehensibly in Scripture, both to individuals and to groups. God’s personal nature gives us at least some reason to expect apparent teleology in natural objects and divine communication to man in language that man can understand.[4]

Here it is worth noting that Sober’s requirement that we know, independently, the “goals and abilities” of any agent whose action we wish to hypothesize would preclude the possibility of a rational first contact between ourselves and agents (or kinds of agents) we had never met before. On the individual level, when we first meet someone, we have not previously had independent reason to believe that that person exists at all, much less that it lies within his goals and abilities to write to us, speak to us, or otherwise communicate with us. Yet somehow, despite this limitation, we rationally hypothesize all the time that a person exists and that he is willing and able to communicate with us. We do so precisely because this composite hypothesis makes the most sense of our receiving what appears to be a communication from this person. Similarly at the level of whole species: Were some alien race to make contact with us or were we to discover evidence of their existence, at the time of first contact, we would have had no previous way of knowing their “goals and abilities.” We would learn that information by means of their communication or by discovering what appeared to be their artifacts. So it is with God. There is no more reason to block the possibility of “first contact” with God by reference to our lack of previous knowledge of him than to block the possibility of our first justified knowledge of new persons or intelligent species.

The Judeo-Christian God is not only a personal being but also a being who has special purposes for individuals and groups. He chooses a people, he helps them and punishes them, he has plans for the salvation both of his chosen people and of the human race as a whole, he concerns himself with the doings and well-being of individuals, and at least on some occasions he grants requests made in prayer. Moreover, the Judeo-Christian God has given definite commands, such as the command to worship no other gods, not to commit adultery, and the like. His actions therefore should not by any means be expected to range at random over all possible states of affairs. On the contrary, God is more likely to act to save those who worship him than those who do not, those who have humbly requested his help (perhaps with repentance for past sin) than those who have not, and those who keep his commandments than those who do not. Or, to take a negative example, he is most unlikely to set an apparent stamp of approval on the ministry of a “prophet” who is an unrepentant charlatan or philanderer.

It is important here to emphasize that what is needed is not a positive prediction of divine action, as though we must know independently that God will act just here. What is needed is merely information that shows us that God’s action is a better explanation of the event than something other than God’s action. For this purpose such general points as God’s nature as a personal agent, his wisdom, his ability to coordinate means to ends, his creative genius, his love for his people, his desire to reveal himself to man, and his hatred of sin and idolatry can be quite sufficient in particular instances. (See McGrew 2004 and McGrew forthcoming.)

Third, the Judeo-Christian tradition has always recognized that God has established a natural order and performs his interventions against that natural order as a background. This point can be seen as the converse of the point above about miracles as a public sign. The virginal conception of a child would not have been considered a sign of God’s action at all if first-century Jews believed there to be no such thing as a natural order but rather only the chaotic and continuous interventions of a capricious God. (Austin Farrer seems to have been making a similar point with his university examination question: “Just how ignorant was the first-century Jew?” [Como 1979, p. 151])

In a response to Spinoza, Robert Boyle emphasizes both that God is entirely able to set aside the order of nature for his own purposes and that God is not capricious and does not do so at whim or for trivial reasons:

Wherefore thô the Supream Author of things, has by establishing the Laws of nature determin’d and bound up other Beings to act according to them, yet he has not bound up his own hands by them, but can envigorate, suspend, over-rule; and reverse any of them as he thinks fit.... I say then, as has been already noted; that God is a most free Agent; and his Divine Wisdom does accompany all that he does, in such a manner, as not to impair his Freedome; but concur to accomplish the Exertions or Issues of it, in the best manner that is possible.... I think we dim-sighted men presume too much of our own Abilities, if we dare, as some do, magisterially determine; That the great God, the most Free & Omniscient Author of Things, can have no Ends, to which it may be congruous, that some of the arbitrary Laws he has establish’d, in that little portion of his Workmanship that we men inhabit, should now & then, (thô very rarely) be control’d or receded from.... And indeed; as ’tis generally and justly granted, that God being a most wise as well as supream Legislator, dos not work miracles, (which do as it were repeal, or controul, or suspend, the Laws which he himself establish’d in nature[)]...without weighty reasons: ’tis rational to conceive that he dos not even in working miracles, overrule or exceed those Laws any further, then is necessary for the production of the supernatural effects design’d: since any further recession from those Laws, seems, for so much, not to be accounted for by the same weighty reasons that may be given for the Miracle it self,....(Colie 1963, Appendix)

The hypothesis to be tested, then, is not the action of the entirely ineffable, nearly impersonal God of Sober’s “negative theology.” Nor is it the action of the whimsical omnipotent child of the “science stopper” objection, ever playing with the world for any reason or no reason at all. It is the action of the infinitely wise, personal legislator envisioned by Boyle. This is not a God bound to a “hands off” policy; however, he is a God who acts for rational ends which men can apprehend by way of that abductive reasoning from effects to causes which is, indeed, our usual way of understanding the world and the agents around us.

The atheistic objections we have been considering involve a heavy dose of wishful thinking. If only Christians can be cozened into accepting the utter unknowability and arbitrariness of God, the atheist’s work is done. That hypothesis—that an utterly arbitrary and unknowable God has acted in the world—cannot be tested or confirmed, even comparatively. But why restrict ourselves in that way? To do so is to grant that the God of Christian thought and tradition must be ruled out ab initio, that the hypothesis of his existence and action should not be on the table to begin with. If the atheist could offer some compelling reason to believe that a God who is able to reveal himself to man cannot possibly exist, things might be different, but of course no such argument is forthcoming. In its absence, any objection that begins with such a premise is self-evidently question-begging against the Christian theist.


The hypothesis Christians should be putting forward for consideration is that a God has acted who is sufficiently like ourselves that (at least sometimes) we can perceive that he has acted. The God we are considering is a God who speaks. He is not constrained to effective silence by a great gulf fixed between himself and man which makes all his works incomprehensible to man’s rational faculties.

Whenever an argument is presented for the action of this personal being in the world, the skeptic should confront the argument, not seek to evade it. Is the action of such a being the best explanation of the evidence in question? If not, why not? What other explanation does a better job? Or is it that the action of God is indeed a good explanation of some particular evidence, better than any non-theistic or naturalistic explanation, but that this is insufficient to overcome some other evidence against the existence of God? These are the kinds of questions the skeptic or atheist should be asking and answering.

A persistent oddity in encounters between theists and atheists is a reluctance on the part of atheists to make their case in these terms. The atheist might admit outright, “Yes, that is some evidence for the existence of God,” and then add, “but I believe that the problem of evil outweighs it” (for example). He might argue, “I believe that this naturalistic explanation would more strongly lead us to expect that evidence than the action of God, and here is why.” But rather than making any of these arguments, the atheist often prefers to try to head off the evidential theistic argument before it ever gets started, to tell us that the action of God is no explanation at all, that we cannot ever use the action of God as an hypothesis because he is so unlike us, that it is “unscientific” to admit miracles into our set of possible explanations, or that no testimonial evidence could be sufficient to lead us to believe that a miracle has happened.

The in-principle argument has a fatal attraction for the atheist. For that very reason, the theist must be prepared to refuse to grant its premises.

Works Cited

Colie, Rosalie (1963). “Spinoza in England: 1665-1730,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 107, number 3: 183-219.

Como, James T., ed. (1979). C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table. New York: Macmillan.

Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Hazeltine, et. al. (eds.) (1905). Masterpieces of Eloquence: Famous Orations of Great World Leaders From Early Greece to the Present Time, Volume XIV, New York: Collier.

Lewontin, Richard (1997). “Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997.

McGrew, Lydia (2004). “Testability, Likelihoods, and Design.” Philo 7:1 (Spring-Summer 2004):5-21.

McGrew, Lydia (forthcoming). “History and Theism,” V. Harrison, S. Goetz, and C. Taliaferro, eds., Routledge Companion to Theism. Draft available until book publication at <http://www.lydiamcgrew.com/Wholepaperdraft.pdf> (accessed September 29, 2011).

Miller, Kenneth (2007). “Intelligent Design On Trial” transcript <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/id/defi-text.html> (accessed September 27, 2011).

Sober, Elliott (2007). “The Design Argument” (expanded version) <http://philosophy.wisc.edu/sober/design%20argument%2011%202004.pdf> (Accessed September 27, 2011).

[1] This division between empirical and in-principle objections corresponds approximately to the division between Part I and Part II of Hume’s essay “Of Miracles,” though in the opposite order.

[2] Throughout the paper I use the term “chance,” but this does not mean that I am unaware of the argument often made by Darwinists that Darwinian natural selection is not merely a chance process, since natural selection “locks in” advantageous traits. My argument throughout is a response to the alleged inscrutability of the probability of our evidence given the “design” or “theistic” hypothesis, and if this probability truly were inscrutable, then it would be the case that one could not judge it to be higher than the probability of the event on chance. Moreover, both Sober and Lewontin appear prepared to grant, whether they use the term “chance” or not, that the probability of some event may be extremely low on the non-personal or non-theistic hypothesis.

[3] While both Mary and Moses were alone at the time when God spoke to them (in the case of Mary via the angel Gabriel), it seems reasonable to assume that if someone else had been present, what was visible and audible to Mary and to Moses would have been accessible to that person as well. Moreover, in both cases the initial revelation was followed by further signs for other people—Mary’s pregnancy and the miracles Moses was enabled to perform to convince the Israelites that he was God’s messenger.

[4] Some of the examples alluded to above and discussed in other papers of mine on this topic arise in the context of the debate over intelligent design theory. Someone may therefore point out that many intelligent design authors insist that the designer they are hypothesizing need not be the Judeo-Christian God. That is true, though for purposes of this paper I am amalgamating God’s design of things in the world to the larger category of miracles, since I find it difficult to give meaning to design as carried out by God (which in fact I believe has occurred) as anything other than a miracle or set of miracles. It does not follow, however, that there is something deceptive about the claim by intelligent design theorists that for their purposes the agent need not be the Judeo-Christian God. This first characteristic of the Judeo-Christian God (his personal nature, including his ability to coordinate means and ends) is only one facet of the nature of the Judeo-Christian God, and finite beings possess similar personal traits. It is the characteristic of being a personal agent that is most relevant to intelligent design hypotheses. I argue here that the atheist begs the question against the Christian theist by hypothesizing a God so unlike ourselves that we cannot possibly know when he has acted. The same is true, mutatis mutandis, for the more generic designer hypothesized by the more limited conclusion of an intelligent design argument. It is illicit to tell the ID theorist that he must hypothesize an unknowable agent.