Monday, January 02, 2006

Non-Christian-Exclusivity of Possible Miracles

I mentioned this in passing in an earlier thread, but it deserves a thread of its own.

In discussions over the years with those skeptical of Christian truth claims, both live and email, I've run into a certain sort of behavior. The behavior is exemplified in a quote like follows [it comes from an atheist who went to the NTRMin board:]

My first question to you to begin this phase is: What other source of ancient religious propaganda, outside the bible, do you accept as being a report of facts only and containing not the least bit of embellishment or untruth, as you view the New Testament? Your answer will tell me whether your view is based on analysis of the data, or whether you are committing the fallacy of special pleading by asking that we accord the religious propaganda of the NT gospels the special place of "facts-only-reporting" and refusing to grant this huge leap to other non-biblical ancient religious propaganda.

The attitude seems to be that the person who is [in the atheist's mind] truly consistent with the evidence has to admit the high probability of non-Christian miracles having occurred. Usually, this is accompanied by an attitude of "that would be fatal for the Christian."

By way of reply, I'd like to make the following points.

(1) The evidence for the bodily Resurrection of Jesus is not contingent on accepting or denying the high probabilities of pagan miracle claims. Neither the number of eyewitness, nor the veracity of their testimony, are affected by the existence of some body of evidence for a pagan miracle.

(2) More generally, an evidential examination of the Christian worldview does not hinge on the existence of lack of miracles in other worldviews. The high or low probability of the Christian worldview is unaffected by, say, the quality of the evidence for Vespasian's alleged healing of the blind.

(3) Steve Hays adds the following commentary to what I've said:

****BEGIN QUOTE****

I have a few comments on Eric’s helpful remarks.

a.There is not automatic relation between miracle and dogma. If a Tibetan monk were able to levitate, that wouldn’t prove the law of karma or reincarnation or the Buddhist theory of evil. It would be completely unrelated.

b.By contrast, a number of Biblical miracles are parables in action or natural metaphors for a particular teaching or doctrinal claim. In that case, the miracle is a direct attestation to the doctrine which it illustrates.

In order for non-Christian miracles to offer any warrant non-Christian doctrine, there would have to be that kind of internal relation.

c.Likewise, miraculous attestation is, at most, a necessary, but not a sufficient condition of revelation.

d.Scripture doesn’t deny, but rather affirms, that the dark side has some preternatural power. So extra-biblical prodigies, even if ungodly, are consistent with Scripture.

e.Some religious, like Islam, have no miracles. Muhammad laid no claim to be a miracle worker.

f.Other religions have finite gods. Even if their gods were real, they would not be omniscient.

g.The old pagan religions are dead religions. If their gods were true gods, why did their gods allow these old pagan religions to die?

h.In Scripture you sometimes have a prophecy which is fulfilled by a miracle. This would multiply its evidentiary value.

****END QUOTE****

(4) Despite all of the bluster that accompanies Freethinker and skeptical arguments against the major miracle claims of Christianity, I have as of yet to see an actual alleged miracle [versus a hypothetical] put forward that has on par with the evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

In case anybody is curious what the general thrust of the evidence is, a crude outline of a good portion of it goes something like this:

(a) It was in the Roman and Jewish authorities' interest to produce the body of Christ, but no body was produced.

(b) There was no immediate advantage to proclaiming the risen Lord. On the contrary, there was great social disadvantage.

(c) The risen Lord spent a good amount of time post-Resurrection with the disciples, who were hardly the credulous bunch. [See: St Thomas.]

(d) The apostles and intimate followers of Jesus often died horrible, grisly deaths, not on account of something that they merely thought was true [but could be possibly mistaken] but on account of something for which they possessed first-hand knowledge.

None of this proves anything, but, it does provide strong probability to the truth of the historical claim.

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