Thursday, May 15, 2014

Does Lourdes undercut the Resurrection?

Should we think that the general reliability of the early Christians who spread the Jesus story was greater or less than the pilgrims at Lourdes? I should think it would be much lower. The pilgrims are modern, educated, scientific era people. Many of them are doctors, lawyers, and scientists, people who are trained in making good decisions and being skeptical. They have the benefit of 2,000 years of investigations into the natural causes of allegedly supernatural events. The early Christians, by contrast, would have been largely illiterate, poor, uneducated. They would not have the benefit of the huge body of scientific and empirical knowledge that we take for granted.  
When people take the Jesus stories seriously and make comments like, “Why would the early Christians lie?” or “what incentive could that have for making it all up?” or “how could they have perpetrated such a deception?” they are simply ignoring the strength of the tendency in the human mind to see miracles or events of spiritual or supernatural origin at every turn. We don’t need to have a better, alternative explanation to be quite sure that Jesus was not resurrected from the dead. The reliability of the information transmitted in those stories to us is just too low.
Several problems:
i) McCormick is using Lourdes as a wedge tactic. The gist of his argument is: if you don't believe miracles ever happen at Lourdes, why believe Biblical miracles? 
A problem with that analogy is that it's reversible. If you do believe there are credible reports of miracles at Lourdes, then by parity of argument, that lends credibility to Biblical reports. 
I'm not saying that's why Christians should believe in Biblical miracles. I'm just responding to McCormick on his own terms. 
ii) McCormick also muddies the waters by speculating on the percentages. The ratio of pilgrims to reported miracles. But that's a decoy. Atheism is a universal negative. Atheism disallows a single miracle. So the fraction, however small, is irrelevant. Even one well-attested miracle at Lourdes would be sufficient to sink his position.
iii) Likewise, raw percentages are irrelevant. You can only evaluate the claim on a case-by-case basis. The specific details in any given case. 
iv) I don't have any antecedent objection to the possibility of miracles at Lourdes. For one thing, it's not as if the Church of Rome has a monopoly on reported miracles. Moreover, I don't think the sole function of miracles is to corroborate doctrine. 
v) It's not that hard to call McCormick's bluff. Stanley Jaki researched two cases at Lourdes. I find them fairly persuasive: 


  1. See chapter 8 of the e-book here for some responses to Matt McCormick written by Steve and me. We briefly address his claims about the Lourdes miracles there.

    Also, here's a post I wrote about Roman Catholic miracles in general and what Evangelicals should make of them. That post is part of a larger series on modern miracles, found here. That series gives examples of modern miracles supported by multiple eyewitness accounts, before-and-after x-rays, hostile corroboration, and other significant evidence.

    And keep in mind that the Shroud of Turin is one of the lines of evidence for the resurrection that critics like McCormick need to explain. I've argued that both the Shroud's image and the state of the bloodstains are evidence of something paranormal occurring with the body, which is best explained by Jesus' resurrection. For a link to posts about the Shroud and other lines of evidence for Jesus' resurrection, see here.

  2. I comment on McCormick's percentages here. In my attempt to find actual numbers I found the argument can actually be run in reverse and used against the atheist.