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.