Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Miracles and History

[Part three in the Scripture and History series]

This is the crux of the issue. It cannot be denied that the Bible includes history. When people talk about "historicity" in Scripture - they are really talking about one thing and one thing only - whether the miracles that are reported in the Jewish and Christian scriptures are historic or not. Ultimately, it comes to a point in the greatest, and most important, miracle of them all - the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, that is exactly where this series is going as well. This in not really a question of history or science - it is a question of philosophy and theology - no matter how much rationalists argue that it is. However, philosophical antisupernaturalism and rationalism has impacted the historiographic view of the Bible.

As I indicated in the introduction to the paper, this steel thread joining many scholars together, all the while producing different pictures of the historical Jesus, appears to be one aspect of their worldview. They are antisupernaturalists for the most part, grounded in the rationalistic naturalism arising out of the Enlightenment . . . "The 'historical Jesus' is a hypothesis reconstructed from the Gospels by the use of the historical-critical method on the basis of naturalistic presuppositions. Such a Jesus must be altogether and only human—a Jesus without transcendence."

This particular worldview is not only devastating to Scriptural testimony, it is also fallacious historiographically speaking and indefensible philosophically.
That comes from, and I am following, "The Historical Veracity of the Resurrection Narratives", by Greg Herrick Th.M., Ph.D..

The study will proceed first by arguing for a worldview that at least permits the supernatural. A brief history of the discussion regarding antisupernaturalism in biblical studies will be offered, followed by a critique of this position which has for so long dominated biblical studies. The defense of the supernaturalistic worldview will rest primarily on historical and philosophical considerations. To wrap up the first section, a statement will be offered as to the best worldview a historian can possess in doing historiography.

Second, based upon the worldview argued for in the first part of the paper, the study will apply the criteria of authenticity to the resurrection narratives to see if they indeed are historically credible. We will see that the resurrection accounts fair very well and should be considered historically trustworthy and an integral part of any reconstruction of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
He starts with the wedge driven between history and theology by the Enlightenment and its scholarly commitment to antisupernaturalism - and particularly focuses on Benedict de Spinoza, David Hume, and Troeltsch. He examines the first two on the basis of how this view reflects on the possibility of miracles; and the last in terms of how the rationalist worldview has affected doing historiography.

"Nothing, then, comes to pass in nature in contravention to her universal laws, nay, everything agrees with them and follows from them, for whatsoever comes to pass, comes to pass by the will and eternal decree of God; that is, as we have just pointed out, whatever comes to pass, comes to pass according to laws and rules which involve eternal necessity and truth; nature, therefore . . . keeps a fixed and immutable order" - Benedict de Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus,
Geisler in Miracles and Modern Scientific Thought

[Note: J.M. Bochenski calls this the most cogent defense of miracles that he's ever seen.]
points out that Spinoza's argument against even the possibility of miracles rests on:

  1. Euclidian or deductive rationalism;
  2. a Newtonian view of natural law and
  3. a certain understanding of the nature of God — pantheistic
Herrick: Insofar as Spinoza's arguments rest on deductive reasoning he is begging the question. He has assumed in the premises what he hopes to defend as the conclusion. He never proved through evidential means that natural laws are immutable nor that miracles are necessarily violations of natural laws — two of his key premises. The argument is formally true, but not valid. The Newtonian worldview is seriously questioned today as well. The universe appears to be expanding and getting older which destroys his argument. In other words the laws of nature are not inviolable, but rather caused and therefore contingent — not eternal and absolute, but mutable. And if it is true that the universe and natural laws came into existence at a point in time, then we ipso facto have a miracle — i.e. the creation ex nihilo of the universe.
. . . the kernel of his argument is as follows:
  1. A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature;
  2. Firm and unalterable (i.e. uniform) experience has established these laws;
  3. A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence and
  4. Therefore the proof against miracles is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.
Herrick: Hume's argument can be interpreted so as to preclude miracles a priori. We will follow the interpretation of the argument which understands him to say that the wise man will never believe in a miracle because he will never have enough evidence to substantiate such a belief.
Hume's argument is not against the possibility of miracles but against identifying or accepting them. C.S. Lewis in Miracles

Now of course we must agree with Hume that if there is absolutely "uniform experience" against miracles, if in other words they have never happened, why then they never have. Unfortunately we know experience against them to be false. And we all know the experience against them to be uniform if we know that all reports of them are false. And we can know all reports to be false only if we know already that miracles have never occurred. In fact, we are arguing in a circle.
Back to Herrick:

Since Hume's second premise is incorrect, his whole argument is weakened and as far as its ultimate intention, destroyed. But, what can be said of Hume's argument from the laws of nature and personal experience is that miracles are rare and therefore witnesses must be questioned to establish the probability of the event having happened.

A final critique of Hume's method concerns the vantage point in his argument . . . to argue from within the laws . . . presupposes certain truths about the laws, namely, eternality and immutability. This he could never prove as one subject to the laws. These presuppositions . . . cannot be defended today on scientific grounds, much less personal experience.
Again, as with Spinoza, there is a pantheistic assumption by Hume that God exists within the universe and laws He created, and is bound by them. Herrick's conclusion to this section

The result is that miracles are not logically absurd, nor historically impossible and therefore the wedge between history and theology (i.e. the supernatural) is unfounded. This does not mean that every report of a miracle is as probable as the next. One must critically examine the historical evidence. As concerns the Gospels this is a welcome study. Many principles have been enumerated for doing historiography and critically examining the miracles recorded in the Gospels. In the next section we will briefly state some accepted, sound guidelines for doing historiography before we directly examine the "criteria of authenticity"
Next time, I will follow Herrick through an examination of Troeltsch's views of historiography and on into an historical-critical view of the resurrection accounts free from a antisupernaturalist bias.

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly