Miracles-What Do You Expect Me To Believe? (Part 4)

Posted: February 19, 2011 in Historical apologetics, Philosophy
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by Matt Lefebvre

This post is a continuation of the series on miracles. Please see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 if you have not read them yet.

For the purpose of showing that God has acted in history

According to Hume, the task of marshalling sufficient evidence for a miracle claim is insurmountable.  The witnesses are never good enough!  False miracles abound and people are easily taken in by them!  Miracles would not be so popular if they had to get started among a more intelligent society!  One claims a miracle by his god and another claims a conflicting miracle by his own god, so neither can be rationally believed!  These are quite bold assertions, but in the end, even they seem to be irrelevant to Hume, who says something which I find paradoxical.

“Our most holy religion is founded on Faith, not on reason; and it is a sure method of exposing it to put it to such a trial as it is, by no means, fitted to endure.” (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding)

I am not exactly sure what Hume thinks will be left of such a religion founded on faith if that faith is not founded on reality.  However, I do know what 1 Corinthians 15:17 says, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”  Hume thinks he is actually protecting the Christian religion; to which I say with friends like these, who needs enemies?  In my effort to defend Christianity, I make it my aim to defend what truth claims it makes, for if its claims are not true, it is not worth defending.

Hume’s first objection to miracle claims is that the quality and quantity of witnesses are lacking.  As far as quantity, it is unfortunate that he does not give us an approximate number, because it makes it hard to judge what a sufficient number would then be, but I have a pretty good number in mind.  If you thought I was going to say twelve, you would be wrong (perhaps based on uniform experience again!), for the New Testament says much more than that.  In 1 Corinthians 15:6 we find, not only the appearance of Jesus, resurrected from the dead, to more than five hundred people at the same time, but also that most of them were still alive.  The implication of this would be, anyone who doubted the testimony of Paul could ask these other witnesses to the risen Christ.  If you want to read more about this early Christian witness to the risen Christ and other widely recognized facts about the resurrection of Jesus, you can look at The Minimal Facts Approach, but here suffice it to say that the quantity objection seems stretched pretty thin in this case.  The quality of the witnesses is a little less straightforward, but still hard to question.  Among Gary Habermas’ 129 facts from ancient sources for the life and teaching of Jesus are references to, not only the integrity of the early Christians, but also their willingness to die for the message of Christ’s death and resurrection (The Historical Jesus, p.243-250).  Now those who heard the preaching of the apostles and subsequently died for this belief in the resurrection of Christ may be likened to a Muslim suicide bomber today, just dying for what someone else has told them is true.  However, the same cannot be said of the apostles.  They claimed to have seen the risen Jesus and no suffering or even threat of death would get them to recant.  So it seems that if they were not deceivers, since they had nothing to gain from what they were propagating, but quite the contrary, perhaps they were deceived, then, as Hume might put it.  This may go along with his requirement that they be of unquestioned good sense, education, and learning.  The New Testament is not silent on this matter, for at least Peter and John were uneducated, common men, but this was not a strike against them, for they were recognized as having been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). I consider Hume’s restriction in the case of education to be quite arrogant and unnecessary.  I wholeheartedly agree that a witness must be of great integrity to testify to the truth they have seen, but to think that someone who had not been to university could not testify to what they saw and touched, namely Jesus, is asking too much.  If the disciples had all believed immediately after hearing of the empty tomb, without seeing Jesus, then that would be subject to criticism, but the fact that Jesus appeared to them personally would not take rocket science to judge correctly, especially considering their disposition to believe that Jesus was dead.

Click here to see part 5 of the article


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