The Real Miracle Would Be Demonstrating One

At the most recent meeting of the Atheist Christian Book Club, we took a break from books to watch this old debate between Bart Ehrman and William Lane Craig. The discussion hinged upon the admissibility of miracles as an explanation for historical events. Craig claimed that, in the case of the resurrection, a miracle was the only explanation that fits the evidence. Ehrman stressed that miracles cannot be addressed by historical methodology as historians cannot presuppose the existence of a particular God.

Ehrman takes to the extreme the colloquial usage of the term “miracle.” He considers miracles as possible but inherently so improbable that almost any other explanation is more likely. This means even the most dubious naturalistic explanation is more plausible than a supernatural one.

This is the challenge to those who wish to prop up ancient miracle stories. Have they ruled out trickery on the part of the miracle worker? Have they ruled out embellishment, even unintentional, on the part of the writer? Have they ruled out an unknown but entirely natural explanation?

Even those who believe Craig’s supernatural explanation for the resurrection do not apply the same thought process to everyday life. If you find your lost keys under the couch with no idea how they got there, do you immediately assume that God put them there? Or do you figure there’s some relatively mundane reason that you don’t happen to know?

Supernatural intervention is an explanation of exclusion, not of evidence. Craig does not support his claims with his own affirmative evidence. Instead, he decides that no sufficient natural evidence has or can be presented to disprove him. Craig’s argument thus becomes an overwrought god of the gaps: he can’t come up with a convincing naturalistic explanation, therefore it must be God.

Craig says it’s entirely plausible that God raised Jesus from the dead, assuming the existence of God. But if we assume one god, why not assume others? Once you start admitting supernatural causes, where do you stop? How do you decide which otherworldly beings interact with our world and which do not? Can you say for sure that it was Jehovah and not Poseidon that gave Jesus the ability to walk on water? Was Jesus raised from the dead by Jehovah or Dionysus? Once you open this can of worms, the worms are all over the place, so you’d better have a damn good reason for touching that lid in the first place.

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Pop Quiz, Hot Shot

1. Which creation story sounds the most plausible?

  1. The gods fashion man unsuccessfully first from mud, then from wood, and finally succeed with corn and corn meal
  2. A god fashions the first humans from clay mixed with the flesh and blood of a deceased god
  3. A god fashions the first human from clay, and another god breathes life into it
  4. A god fashions the first man from the dust of the earth, and then fashions the first woman from a rib of the man

2. Which flood story sounds most likely?

  1. A great flood lasting generations is abated with the assistance of various supernatural creatures
  2. A great flood lasting several years is survived by one man on a giant boat containing all animals and plants
  3. A great flood lasting several days is survived by one man, one woman, and a multitude of babies on a massive canoe
  4. A great flood lasting forty days is survived by one family on a boat containing sets of every animal

3. Which miracle most likely occurred?

  1. A man multiplies the yield of date trees to help someone pay off their father’s debts
  2. A man produces fire from one side of his body and water from the other
  3. A man cures his immobilized leg and arm by sprinkling them with water
  4. A man feeds a crowd of thousands using only five loaves of bread and two fish

4. Which is the most believable afterlife destination?

  1. Islands of fertile soil, bountiful produce, and fair winds
  2. A massive hall with a roof made from golden shields and an endless supply of mead
  3. A paradise of palaces filled with sensual delights, including delicious food and drink
  4. A city with golden streets, gates of pearl, jasper walls, and jeweled foundations

Why should we believe the Jewish/Christian account of creation and not the Mayan, Babylonian, or Greek versions? Why should we believe the Jewish/Christian flood narrative and not the Chinese, Hindu, or Squamish accounts? Why should we accept the miracles of Jesus and not those of Muhammad, Buddha, or Sathya Sai Baba? Why aim for the Christian heaven and not the Greek, Norse, or Muslim variants?

Growing up Christian, I was raised hearing certain stories in church and naively accepting them. This stores didn’t seem strange until I stepped back and viewed Christianity in the context of other world religions. When you realize your faith has its fanciful tales, and other faiths have their fanciful tales, you start wondering which is actually true – or if none are true.
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