Modus ponens is a basic, valid argument form. Typically, it consists of a conditional premise, a second premise that asserts the antecedent of the first premise (i.e., the “if…” clause”), and a conclusion that asserts the consequent (the fulfillment of the conditional clause in the first premise). Its formula runs thusly,
- If P, then Q.
- Therefore, Q.
- If the media accurately reports the 2008 election results, the public will know who won the presidential election.
- The media accurately reports the 2008 election results.
- Therefore, the public knows who won the presidential election.
Of course, we could quibble over “accuracy” or the veracity of the media, but the argument above is valid. In fact, any argument having the form of modus ponens is valid (Note: Truth is another matter; validity has only to do with the structure of an argument. While any true argument must be valid, not all valid arguments are true.)
- If miracles are possible, then hope is reasonable.
- Miracles are possible.
- Therefore, hope is reasonable.
The presupposition of miracles is, of course, God’s existence. If God does not exist, then miracles as classically (not popularly) defined are not possible. A miracle is a special act of God, not merely an extraordinary event. You see, extraordinary events may be explained by other events not yet known or a series of prior events not understood to be aligned in a causal fashion to the extraordinary event in question.
Most secular people have an a priori assumption that miracles are not possible since all events can be explained by natural causes, even if we have yet to surmise those causes. But why must the acceptance of modern science as the explanation for some extraordinary phenomena entail a rejection of all other explanations, divine or otherwise? Can’t scientific explanations coexist with miraculous causes? Or, are they mutually exclusive?
Granted we are more likely to believe that events in nature are caused by natural means, but does this mean the natural world is solely sufficient to provide a satisfactory explanation for all phenomena in the world?
If some events cannot be explained by natural causes, then those events have some other non-natural explanation. (Sidebar: The popular bumper sticker from some years back “Stuff happens,” or something like it, is patently false. All events have causes. “Stuff” is an event. Therefore, “stuff” has a cause!). If some events have non-natural explanations, then we have good reason to believe that God exists, since God is a non-natural agent. If we have good reason to believe God exists, then we have reason to hope that God may intervene. Thus, hope is reasonable, given that God exists.
What might this communicate to atheists or those living as such? Is it reasonable to hope if one has only the natural world to explain all phenomena?