Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Salamanders and miracles

Let’s suppose that I’m lecturing somewhere and some terrorists interrupt the event, come up on stage, and behead me for saying Muhammad was a false prophet. While the commotion was occurring, some audience members dial 911. When sirens announce the approaching police, the terrorists flee. An hour later, while audience members are being interviewed by police and members of the media outside of the auditorium in which my headless corpse still lies, a strange thing occurs. A moment later, I walk out of the auditorium with head attached and in perfect health! Everyone is stunned and ask what has happened, to which I answer that God has sent me back to tell everyone the Christian message is true. I then begin calling out the names of a few audience members, one by one, and tell each that, while I was in heaven, I spoke with one of their family members who had died and who has sent a message to them. I then provide the names of those family members and messages, messages that contain accurate information I could not have known otherwise. A physician then approaches me and checks my vitals. 
There is no question that such an event would be a miracle and would probably require an act of God. But the physician has no access to God using the methods of her discipline. So, if we were to follow Bart’s principle, the physician could not affirm that I was alive, since only theologians have access to God! You can see how this approach fails, since the physician could certainly affirm that I was alive, but could not affirm that God was the cause of my miraculous return to life. In a similar manner, historians can look at the data, formulate hypotheses which they then weigh using criteria of inference to the best explanation to see which best explains the data. If the Resurrection Hypothesis does a better job of fulfilling those criteria than competing hypotheses, the historian can affirm that Jesus rose from the dead, while being unable to affirm that God was the cause of Jesus’s miraculous return to life (although he could suggest God is the best candidate for the cause). So, one is free to suggest there is not enough evidence to confirm that Jesus rose from the dead or that there is a better hypothesis than one stating that he rose. But, in principle, there is no good reason for why historians cannot investigate a miracle claim. 

I discussed Licona's example once before, so I don't wish to belabor the point:

However, I would like to comment on how Larry Shapiro responded in his debate with Licona. One of Shapiro's naturalistic explanations is that if this really happened, it might mean Licona is a freak mutant or extraterrestrial with the natural ability to regenerate, like salamanders that can regrow a lost tail. But that's an example of special pleading:

i) The fact that lizards and salamanders can regenerate some organs or body parts is hardly analogous to instantaneous regeneration.

ii) Likewise, the fact that an organism can temporarily or even permanently survive without some organs or body parts is hardly analogous to decapitation. The brain is a vital organ. Not only a vital organ in its own right, but it directs the functions of other vital organs.

So Shapiro's response illustrates the irrational lengths to which an atheist will go to rule out miracles.  

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