Miracles-What Do You Expect Me To Believe? (Part 6)

Posted: February 28, 2011 in Historical apologetics, Philosophy
Tags: , , , , , , ,

by Matt Lefebvre

This post is a continuation of the series on miracles. Please see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 if you have not read them yet.

The line of thought for this third problem goes that miracle stories are much more common among those too stupid to recognize that it is nonsense, or more directly, contrary to science.  Richard Dawkins certainly thinks so.

“When pressed, many educated Christians today are too loyal to deny the virgin birth and the resurrection. But it embarrasses them because their rational minds know it is absurd, so they would much rather not be asked.” (The God Delusion, p.187)

It sounds like Dawkins meets a lot of people like Rudolf Bultmann, who attempted to demythologize the Bible, because he thought that, as paraphrased by William Lane Craig, “no one who uses the radio or electric lights should be expected to believe the mythological worldview of the Bible in order to become a Christian.” (Reasonable Faith, p.247). Elsewhere, Dawkins mocked the miracles of the Old and New Testaments, saying that “they are very effective with an audience of unsophisticates and children.” and the Jesus Seminar’s The Five Gospels says “The Christ of creed and dogma, who had been firmly in place in the Middle Ages, can no longer command the assent of those who have seen the heavens through Galileo’s telescope.  The old deities and demons were swept from the skies by that remarkable glass.” (Cited in Who Made God?, p.88).  I, for one, am not embarrassed about the virgin birth or the resurrection, but I do understand why some people are.  While I might think it speaks so much more of God to look at His creation through a telescope, there are others who think this represents a choice between science and religion.  In the present context, it even means choosing between the enlightened thinkers in the universities and the barbarian ignoramuses down in the mud.  However, as Norman Geisler has pointed out, “belief in miracles does not destroy the integrity of scientific methodology, only its sovereignty.  It says in effect that science does not have sovereign claim to explain all events as natural, but only those that are regular, repeatable, and/or predictable.” (Miracles and Modern Thought, p.58).  What about the charge that miracle claims abound among the ignorant?  Well, both John Lennox and Craig Blomberg will tell you that it takes only a moment’s thought to realize that to recognize something as miraculous, you have to know what is normal.  Lennox mentions the story of Elizabeth in Luke 1 (Luke was a doctor) and how Zachariah her husband refused to believe that she would bear a son, because he was old and his wife was barren.  They had as much difficulty believing as someone today might, and they believed in the end because of all the evidence, and not because of ignorance toward the laws of nature (God’s Undertaker, p.199).  Blomberg says basically the same, saying that people of every generation know that two parents are needed for conception and that death is irreversible (The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, p.105).  Furthermore, N.T. Wright observes,

“Proposing that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead was just as controversial nineteen hundred years ago as it is today. The discovery that dead people stayed dead was not first made by the philosophers of the Enlightenment. The historian who wishes to make such a proposal is therefore compelled to challenge a basic and fundamental assumption — not only, as is sometimes suggested, the position of eighteenth-century scepticism, or of the ‘scientific worldview’ as opposed to a ‘pre-scientific worldview’, but also of almost all ancient and modem peoples outside the Jewish and Christian traditions.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.10)

“Did any worshipper in these cults, from Egypt to Norway, at any time in antiquity, think that actual human beings, having died, actually came back to life?  Of course not.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.80)

Stephen Davis also asks, if belief in miracles was so common in ignorant times, why were Jesus’ miracles taken to be so significant (In Defense of Miracles, p.174)?  In reading these perspectives, I found myself amazed at some modern skeptics: he must consider the disciples of Jesus to be so stupid as to not know miracle from nature or anything else, but so smart as to create an elaborate and seemingly credible forgery in which the miracle is distinct from nature or anything else.  Another question the modern skeptic has to answer is why the disciples would include potentially detrimental information in the accounts if they were false.  If we look at the virgin birth, we have to ask along with Blomberg, “What follower of Jesus would have invented an account that led to Jesus being scorned as a mamzer (bastard) throughout his life as well as after his death?” (The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, p.117).  You might say that the disciples were trying to make Jesus’ life fulfill prophecy, but to be honest, the reference in Isaiah to the virgin birth is kind of obscure and not clearly about the Messiah.  I find it more logical to believe in the actual event bringing the thoughts together that the Messiah would be born of a virgin, rather than the disciples combing the Scriptures for what might make Jesus look like the Messiah.  Okay, so let’s say that the virgin birth was not a fabrication of the disciples; how then do we explain how a virgin gives birth?  For some this is really a large obstacle and is probably why Dawkins uses it in his embarrassment examples, but is it really that absurd to think of a virgin giving birth?  William Lane Craig has a recent example.

“in a recent conference at Notre Dame on `Science and Religion in the Post-Positivist Era,’ Arthur Peacocke claimed that modern cell biology has `radically undermined’ the credibility of the virgin birth because it would require God’s making a Y-chromosome de novo in Mary’s ovum-in other words, it would have to be a miracle!” (Reasonable Faith, p.280)

This makes me feel like we are back in elementary school again, finding out how babies are made and thinking we have discovered something new.  Mary could have told you that it would have to be a miracle, as she was sure that she was a virgin, and she did not need to have modern cell biology tell her that.  Is it really so incredible to think that God could create a Y-chromosome inside Mary?  I have a cousin who is unmarried, but still wants to have a baby.  For a large sum of money, she can have that opportunity, and far from prohibiting this, it is science that makes it possible.  It is called artificial insemination and she could technically still be a virgin and yet get pregnant.  I echo the words above once again in saying that if humans can do this, surely God, as Creator of both the Y- and the X-chromosomes in the first place, could create a Y-chromosome in Mary.  Very fitting that the words spoken in response to Mary’s question (yes, she asked how she could bear a son while still a virgin) were that “nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37).

Click here to see part 7 of the article

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