Monday, July 24, 2006

Of Miracles And History

I finished reading a debate that occurred recently between William Craig and Bart Ehrman called Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus? and am very disappointed with Ehrman. In fact, I'm willing to say that if this was a boxing ring, Ehrman was KO'ed. There were, however, some “blunders” on Craig's part also (read the debate to get the pun). I'm not at all sure if I can agree with any of Craig's appeals to a “personal faith” and to “experiential knowledge” of the resurrection (although I'm glad at the relative lack of that appeal). It had Existentialist written all over it, especially considering that no non-Hellenistic, traditional Jew in the first century—especially Jesus—would ever talk about “personal faith” and/or “experiential knowledge” of him in such a sense.

But on to my main focus...Erhman's unrelenting condition toward historical study. Again and again, he kept pressing what Craig revealed as a self-defeating, contradictory conclusion: that historical study can say nothing about God and that it must deny resurrection or any other miracle as a valid historical conclusion.

Discounting the assumption of not talking about God in historical study, I have to question the “agreed assumption” that we must deny a resurrection or any other miracle as a valid historical conclusion for a number of reasons--chief among them being that if we deny what the evidence might lead us to say before we investigate it, not only are we proceeding against scientific method, but we are also locking ourselves into the current understanding of things without room for progress and the accumulation and discovery of new and better knowledge.

Imagine if early scientists had got together and agreed that the stars and planets revolve around the Earth and that no other models could be discussed in a scientific investigation because the geocentric universe was the “agreed assumption” or methodology of the professional community. Talk about closed-minded, absurd, and scientifically debilitating.

Okay, but a miracle—we'll take the resurrection as an explicit example—and the orbit of stars and planets are not the same thing because one occurs in the realm of the observable and appears in the natural world while the other doesn't. All right, then what about gravity, quarks, and the mind? Gravity, quarks, and the mind are not observable and do not appear in the natural world. The reason we believe in gravity and quarks and the mind is by inference of those things we do observe and that do appear in the natural world. No one is going to say that a falling object is gravity or that a brain is the mind or that the electrons in the nucleus of an atom are themselves quarks.

If we're going to only deal with things we can see and not draw valid conclusions to explain them from outside the realm of the observable in nature, then there are quite a few things we would have to deny if we are going to be consistent. But Erhman doesn't discount those other things, only if it relates to “God”. Indeed, as Craig pointed out, history itself does not deal with things we can observe or measure in the natural world, but it deals with the past, which can no longer be observed or measured in nature. Taking Erhman's argument to its logical conclusion would mean we can say nothing about history itself and a historical statement becomes a statement that cannot be made historically.

The fact is, our knowledge both scientifically and historically is changing all the time. What we believed yesterday, we do not believe today. And what we know today is not even the tip of the iceberg. It may be that in 100 years everyone will believe that resurrection is not only possible, but natural. What if there was a way to resurrect a human being from death? What if we discovered it and implemented it? Unlikely? Well, if a naturalist is going to appeal to the possibility of evidence in the future for belief in rationality arising from non-rationality in the past despite all available present scientific evidence, I don't see what favors that unlikely discovery over this one--except that in the case of rationality arising from non-rationality, evidence has been examined and the conclusion found wanting, whereas in the case of a resurrection, the evidence has simply been denied a hearing.

It is only closed-minded prejudice against anything that is not one's own current belief and knowledge which would make someone deny at the outset something like resurrection from happening historically and from being discussed historically.


Blogger mishabomb said...

Is it possible to measure history and the past by the consequence on the present, the now, and also the future?

9:40 AM  

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