Wednesday, April 12, 2006

History, prodigy, & credibility

Why are there folks who don’t believe the Bible? What is it about the Bible that they find unbelievable?

Well, some of them are offended at certain aspects of Biblical ethics, like hell and holy war.

But I suppose the main reason they find the Bible unbelievable is the miraculous dimension.

Because nothing miraculous has ever happened to them or to anyone they know, it has an air of unreality.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the Bible reported no miraculous events. Would removing the signs and wonders remove an intellectual impediment to believing in the Scriptures?

There are, in fact, liberal apologetes who attempt to render the Christian faith more acceptable to modern man by disinfecting the Bible of all supernaturalism.

And, at one level, the answer is yes. It isn’t just that unbelievers deny the miraculous events in Scripture. They are also sceptical of the ordinary events because the ordinary events are associated with a book full of portents and prodigies.

If the same book were to report the same historical events without the presence of the supernatural incidents, unbelievers would find its historical reportage more credible.

But assuming that we would separate the naturalistic elements from the supernaturalistic elements in Scripture, would this operation make the Bible more believable as a record of God’s existence?

By removing the miraculous side of Scripture, would those who otherwise find the Bible unbelievable suddenly find it a more credible record of God’s existence?

The answer is obviously not. If nothing out of the ordinary ever happened in Scripture, an unbeliever would scarcely take that as evidence for the existence of God.

An unbeliever is of the opinion that you can explain natural history and human history without recourse to divine agency.

The only evidence for the existence of God would in fact be evidence of something that cannot be accounted for by natural forces alone, if at all.

This isn’t the case for a Christian. We don’t believe that nature is self-explanatory. Even apart from the miraculous aspect of human experience, the ordinary course of nature still demands a supernatural cause.

But, for the average unbeliever, that is not the case.

Suppose we expurgated the Gospels of every dominical miracle. Would the unbeliever find the life of Jesus more plausible?

At one level, yes. He might believe in Jesus the same way he believes in the existence of Alexander or Cicero or Caesar Augustus.

But would that operation render him any more likely to believe in the divinity of Christ or the divine mission of Christ?

Obviously not. Remove the miraculous element, and Christ is, to all appearances, just another man.

So they would be more likely to believe in the existence of Jesus, in his words and deeds, as long as that could be abstracted from the supernatural claims and miraculous deeds.

So this poses an acute dilemma for the unbeliever. On the one hand, his primary evidence for disbelieving in Scripture are the reported miracles.

On the other hand, his primary evidence for the existence of God would be the occurrence of one or more well-documented miracles.

For an unbeliever, a bona fide miracle or series of miracles would attest the existence of God, yet he automatically discounts any attestation to the occurrence of a miracle.

This is the conundrum of unbelief: a miracle would be the only compelling reason to believe in God, but a reported miracle is a compelling reason to discredit the witness.

Vicious circularity doesn’t get any tighter than this.

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