Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Centrality of Miracles

In the last post, I tried to make two main points regarding miracle accounts in the Bible. The first is that, whatever else we do with them, it is illegitimate to explain them away as the naive, uncritical acceptance of the unnatural by the unsophisticated people of Bible times. The second is that the issue (of the possibility of miracles) really boils down to the metaphysical question of whether naturalism or supernaturalism (Christian theism) is a more accurate understanding of reality.

Today, I want to take on another modern claim made against the biblical miracle accounts. It goes like this...
There are miracle stories not only in the Bible but also in the sacred texts of other world religions, many of the latter of which you Christians would say did not actually happen. So isn't there a sense in which the miracle stories of all the world religions--including Christianity--cancel one another out? Or, to put it another way, if there's good reason to disbelieve the miracle claims of other holy books, aren't we equally justified in disbelieving the miracle claims of the Bible?
First, let me point out that this objection is not an argument. The move from the premises (such as "miracle claims of other religions are probably false") to the conclusion ("we are justified in dismissing biblical miracles") is not sufficiently supported. That is, the conclusion does not logically follow from the premises. So what we are dealing with here is mere opinion or conjecture, not logical reasoning of the sort that my regular readers like to see.

But let me also point out a couple of things that distinguish biblical miracles from those of other world religions. The first is this... whereas miracles are somewhat tangential or secondary to the truth claims of other religions, they are central and primary in Christianity. One can be a faithful follower of other religions while remaining skeptical of any of the specific supernatural elements in their scriptures. But miracles--especially the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus Christ--are foundational and necessary parts of the entire Christian claim. As the apostle Paul has it (in I Cor. 15:17, my paraphrase)
If Jesus was not bodily raised from the dead, then Christianity is a worthless undertaking.
This truth makes all the more incomprehensible the position of so many (in the past 100 years or more), those who claim to be Christian but who at the same time seek to divest the Bible of anything supernatural. They seek to find natural explanations for all biblical miracles, so that they can hold their heads high in a sophisticated, scientific age and culture. With Paul, I ask, "Then what's the point?"

A related distinction is this... The miracle accounts in the Bible (unlike those of other world religions) have a great deal of evidential value. They serve a purpose (or, in many cases, multiple purposes). Let's look particularly at the miracles Jesus performed--walking on water, multiplying loaves and fish, calming wind and waves, healing blindness, and raising people from the dead. For the Jews of the second-temple period (Jesus' day), the thing that distinguished the one true God from all other beings (real or imaginary, including humans, angels, demons, idols, and the false gods of the Greeks, Romans, and Canaanites) was His unique role as Creator and Sustainer of the universe. And what caused these strict monotheists (including the authors of every New Testament book) to make room in their concept of God for this man Jesus was his demonstrated power (in the miracles mentioned above) over the creation itself. The apostle John explains his reason for writing his gospel and, more particularly, for recording some of the miracles (signs and wonders) that Jesus performed (John 20:30-31)...
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

1 comment:

Jack Niewold said...

Good posts on miracles, Rick. I'm catching up a bit here and enjoying what you write. Keep up the effort!