Wednesday, April 13, 2016


The core issue, as I indicate above, is how to account for the claims of Jesus’s postmortem appearances. I think that they are accounted for in much the same way that we account for UFOs and alien abductions, sightings of Bigfoot, homeopathic “cures,” and the innumerable visions, epiphanies, theophanies, visitations, possessions, hauntings, and so forth reported in all cultures throughout history.

When Parsons lumps together these disparate phenomena, an implication of his statement, although it may be an unintended implication, is that it's arbitrary for Christians to privilege Biblical miracles but reject Bigfoot, alien abductions, &c. Although Parsons might not have had that in mind when he wrote it, I'm sure that's what he believes–given his general outlook. But that's confused.

1. To begin with, we need to distinguish between natural kinds of phenomena and supernatural (or paranormal) kinds of phenomena. If Bigfoot or extraterrestrials exist, these would be physical beings that are subject to natural constraints. When we consider claims about these types of entities, we rightly evaluate such claims in light of what's naturally or physically possible or probable–given their ostensible identity. 

By contrast, ghosts, theophanies, demonic possession, angelic apparitions, and miracles like the Resurrection are supernatural phenomena. Some of them aren't natural or physical phenomena at all, while others are natural or physical effects of supernatural agency. 

If these kinds of things exist or occur, they aren't subject to the same natural constraints. Hence, when we consider claims about them, we can't evaluate them in light of what's naturally or physically possible or probable unless we know that the only sorts of actual phenomena are physical or natural in character. But that's circular, since that's the very issue in dispute. 

Therefore, a Christian can properly distinguish between different types of claims. To pick up on some of his examples:

2. A stock objection to intergalactic space travel is that, according to contemporary physics, superluminal travel is either impossible or results in backward time-travel. Of course, if we had direct evidence of extraterrestrials visiting the earth, that would be reason to revise our understanding of physics. 

3. Another problem is that even if superluminal travel is possible, how would spacecraft traveling at that speed avoid a disastrous collision with interstellar debris? Surely it's moving too fast to detect the debris and change course. And at that speed, wouldn't a collision with even small debris be catastrophic? 

If you dive into a water from ten feet above, no harm done. If you dive into water from a mile above, you might as well be falling onto pavement. 

4. Take Bigfoot. One stock objection is that for there to be a minimum viable population, there ought to be enough individuals in the woods that if Bigfoot existed, hunters would have killed or captured a specimen by now. That's not a knock-down argument, but it's one reason to be skeptical.

5. In addition, what evidence we'd expect to find (or not) depends on what kind of creature Bigfoot would be, if it exists. For instance, if it's an giant ape that crossed the Bering land bridge during the last Ice Age, then that creates one set of expectations. If, on the other hand, it's supposed to be a hominid, then we might expect it to live in villages with huts, tools, weapons, and campfires. 

6. A potential line of evidence is American Indian lore about Bigfoot. However, that's complicated:

i) The stories I've read aren't confined to Bigfoot but include tales about skinwalkers, Stone Giants, the Windigo, &c. That doesn't refer to natural creatures, but legendary, mythological, or paranormal beings.

Some stories could be campfire tales to deter kids from wandering into the woods unaccompanied, where they might get lost or be attacked by predators. 

Likewise, the Indian stories I've read treat Bigfoot as a being with supernatural abilities. So that testimony won't mesh with theories about Old World primates, or hominids. 

By the same token, some stories depict Bigfoot as having humanoid intelligence. Even superior to human intelligence. But if that were the case, shouldn't we expect corresponding evidence of cultural artifacts? 

ii) Another complication is dating the source material. To my knowledge, most Indian tribes were originally preliterate, oral cultures. So that makes it hard to assess the antiquity of some of these stories, or how much legendary embellishment they may have undergone as they were handed down by word-of-mouth.

Related to that is the cross-pollination of Indian traditions with Caucasian culture. Modern-day Indians are acquainted with the science fiction and horror genre popularized by Hollywood. Likewise, some tales have a suspiciously apocalyptic or environmentalist motif. So there's the question of how much contact with the white man and modern western culture might "contaminate" Indian lore about Bigfoot. 

iii) In addition, American Indians traditionally practiced pagan witchcraft. If you believe that can tap into genuine occult power, then some of these stories may have a basis in fact. But that involves a different paradigm than primates and hominids.  

7. Finally, the Resurrection is infinitely more consequential than Bigfoot. If we discovered that Bigfoot exists, that would be very interesting, but it doesn't affect human destiny. By contrast, the Resurrection is all-important. Therefore, there's incomparably more reason to have an informed opinion on the Resurrection than Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, or even alien abductions. In terms of what to study, that takes absolute precedence. 

No comments:

Post a Comment