Last week we talked miracles. I managed to upset both atheists and Bible-believing Christians, which tells me to persist in this line of thinking.
==> For the standard Christian who gets nervous that I am somehow diminishing God’s magnificence, let me make sure you at least see where I am coming from. In my view, what I’m saying renders God far more glorious and brilliant than the standard interpretation.
At least in the standard evangelical Protestant view, everything that happens is the outcome of God’s will. It’s not as if Nature is chugging along, doing her thing, and then God says, “Whoa whoa whoa, I am going to intervene here to change things so that My desires are satisfied. I was getting a little uncomfortable with how things were going, but eventually I had to act in history, because I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
On the contrary, I think it’s more accurate to say (in the standard evangelical Protestant view) that every single moment of existence in the history of the universe is exactly what God wants to happen, all things (including His preference for a universe where humans have free will) considered.
Now, one of the things God wants (apparently) is for the physical universe to be comprehensible to us. So He made its constituent parts obey (apparently) simple laws, at least in the cases that we have scientifically studied.
So: If God wants, say, Jesus to be born to a virgin mother, there’s no question that He has the power to do it. But I am arguing it would be more impressive if He did so without making the cells involved violate any of the “normal” rules that modern scientists have codified. Yes, it would take a crazy bunch of “coincidences” of the environment (Mary’s DNA, her diet growing up, solar radiation she may have received that caused a mutation…??) in order for this to happen–it’s a miracle, after all–but I think it would actually be more impressive, it would be more an example of God showing off just how ridiculously clever and creative He is, if He could generate such an outcome in the physical universe, without the molecules involved doing anything except obey the “normal” laws of physics.
Consider: If Shakespeare has to tell a wonderful story of court intrigue, is it more or less impressive if he does it in iambic pentameter? If you manage to pull off a feat with more constraints, that makes the achievement more remarkable. It in no way diminishes the grandeur of the Author.
==> For the standard atheist who prides himself on being rational and scientific, let me point something out. Numerous such critics have asked me things like, “But Bob, why do all these miracles only happen thousands of years ago? Why don’t we observe them today, when we can study them?” In response to that, I note:
* I’ve testified that I’ve personally experienced miracles. You guys didn’t say, “Oh gosh, I had always thought miracles were just something that allegedly happened thousands of years ago, and that solidified my atheism. Now that you’re telling me I was wrong, I will be a good Bayesian and update my views.” Of course not. You confidently told me I was nuts and/or erroneously jumping to conclusions about mere coincidences.
* I’ve talked to people who had their faith greatly strengthened when miraculous things happened, such as a loved one having brain cancer suddenly going into remission where the doctors flat out said, “I can’t explain this. But, as of right now, he’s apparently better.” But there’s no point in me even bringing this up; you guys “know” that the people either were lying to me, were confused about what happened, or just got lucky.
* Suppose I could show you an example of a reproducible effect, some action that humans could take that would (say) cure a disease even under conditions of a controlled experiment. Then that would finally give you the evidence of God that you seek, right? No, of course it wouldn’t. You would label the action “modern medicine.”
Now note, I haven’t in the above steps proven that there is a God who loves us and sent His only Son to die for us. No, I’m attempting the much more modest of goal of showing my harsh critics that their position is non-falsifiable. No matter what the evidence is, they would think it lacked any sign of a miracle.
This comment from last week’s discussion was wonderful; it epitomizes the pattern I am describing. According to that commenter, either (A) Jesus’ resurrection cannot be explained by modern science, and so it must not have happened, or (B) Jesus’ resurrection can be explained by modern science, so it is not a miracle. Either way, he “knows” Christianity is false, and he thinks he has come to this conclusion through an empirical investigation. But no, since he has framed the dichotomy in this way, it isn’t an empirical investigation at all; no matter what the evidence is, he already has an “all roads lead to agnosticism” flowchart.
Last thing: I realize it will do little good for me to say it, but let me just make it official: I am NOT here claiming that I have empirically demonstrated anything about the reliability of the gospel accounts. I realize that an agnostic/atheist could understandably scoff at some of the alleged events contained in these books. What I am trying to get the agnostic/atheist to see is that your worldview is far more a priori than you probably realize.