Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The law of large numbers

Unbelievers often raise contradictory objections to Christianity. I've noted some of these in the past. Here's another example:

On the one hand, you have debunkers (e.g. James Frazer, Joseph Campbell, Robert Price, Richard Carrier) who draw attention to alleged parallels between Bible narratives and heathen mythology. They cite these to show that Bible writers borrowed their material, in which case their own accounts are fictitious. 

On the other hand, you have debunkers (e.g. David Hand, John Littlewood) who dismiss reported miracles, answers to prayer, and cases of special providence on the grounds that coincidences are bound to happen, and happen with some frequency. 

But these two objections cancel each other out. If, according to the law of large numbers, coincidences are inevitable and commonplace, then even assuming there are genuine parallels between Biblical narratives and heathen mythology, that's consistent with the historicity of the Biblical narratives. That's to be expected. That happens in real life. So that, by itself, creates no presumption that Biblical narratives are fictitious. 

If, on the other hand, alleged parallels between Biblical narratives and heathen mythology are deemed to be too unlikely to be coincidental, then the same can be said for some reported miracles, answered prayers, and cases of special pleading.

So this poses a dilemma for secular debunkers. Either they must make a damaging concession to the historicity of Scripture or make a damaging concession to the credibility of miracles. 

And this assumes, for the sake of argument, that these are genuine parallels. Of course, that's very dubious. If so, then Christians don't suffer from a comparable dilemma. 

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