The Resurrection and Miracles

Christians contend that the Resurrection was not merely a symbolic representation of the significance of Jesus of Nazareth but a real historical event, occurring in space and in time. In fact, Paul argues that apart from the reality of the Resurrection, Christians are without hope and are ultimately wasting their time (1 Cor. 15:12-19). As such, apologists contend that there is verifiable historical evidence that supports the Resurrection of Jesus—that there are a number facts that nearly all historians recognize (the death of Jesus, the empty tomb, the appearances of Jesus after his death, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the rise of Christianity, etc.) which beg for explanation. While various alternative theories are proposed (hallucination, stolen body, swoon theory, and so on), these fail to account for all of the facts in a meaningful and non ad hoc way. The best explanation is the Resurrection: God raised Jesus from the dead.

Nevertheless, some respond that the Resurrection, while the best explanation of the available evidence, is not a live option. This is because, they argue, miracles are impossible. The objector assumes a standpoint of Metaphysical Naturalism (that supernatural events are impossible), or at least Methodological Naturalism (that, whether or not Naturalism is true, it supplies the appropriate methodological considerations for historiography). Methodological Naturalism seems like a reasonable standpoint, and relieves the interlocutor from having to argue against the possibility of miracles. But how effective is a methodology that artificially prevents someone from discovering the truth? Methodological Naturalism holds that, even if Jesus was supernaturally raised from the dead, history does not permit us to conclude this. This methodology is a prison and not a window.

The reality is, the contention that “miracles are impossible” is a metaphysical claim. It cannot be proven empirically (how could anyone show that a miracle has never happened anywhere in the universe?). Furthermore, there is no good reason to believe that Naturalism is true. Naturalism must be assumed in advance, which is circular (at least from the perspective of the Naturalist, who forbids such presuppositional commitments). As Craig notes, “In order to be a Naturalist, you have to deny the foundations of Naturalism—namely, that reason, science, and experience are the only sources of authority—because otherwise you cannot believe that the natural world is all that there is.”[1] Moreover, the person who claims that miracles are impossible must demonstrate that it is impossible for God to exist. If God exists, certainly miracles may exist—and if there is good reason for believing that God exists, then there is good reason for believing that miracles are possible.

Indeed, there is good reason to believe that miracles have actually happened, not only in the past but in our own time. Contrary to Naturalistic assumptions which rule out miracles a piori, the evidence points in the opposite direction. For example, Craig Keener has provided documentation for accounts of miracles occurring throughout history and in the modern day.[2] The Naturalist can interact with these veridical cases only by means of special pleading:

“We know that the Resurrection did not happen because miracles do not occur.”

“But miracles have indeed happened.”

“We know that those cases are false reports because miracles do not occur.”

Thus, the circle narrows.

David Hume has developed a softer claim that miracles, if not impossible, are extremely improbable. Accordingly, it is always more reasonable to appeal to a Naturalistic explanation than to believe the miracle claim.[3] Now, one of the reasons that Hume assumes that miracles are to be considered improbable is because they do not happen today, and therefore it is all the more unlikely that they did not occur in the past (i.e., the principle of uniformity). This, of course, ignores evidence to the contrary of modern miracles (such as those documented by Keener). But the more significant problem is Hume’s misapplication of probability theory, due to the fact that he was writing before the development of the probability calculus.[4] It is mathematically fallacious to compare the intrinsic probability of the miracle against the background information of the world without also taking into consideration the explanatory power of the Resurrection hypothesis in relation to the facts in evidence, compared to the explanatory power of competing theories. In other words, when considering the probability of an event that is an explanation of other events, the entire picture must be held in view.[5]

The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead is the appropriate conclusion to be drawn from the available evidence. Those who reject this conclusion because they are allergic to miracles are not following the evidence but pre-judging it on the basis of prior faith-based commitments.

 

[1] William Lane Craig, in debate with John Shook, “Does God Exist?” University of British Columbia (2008).

[2] Craig Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011).

[3] David Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 10.1-10.2.

[4] John Earman, Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

[5] This is discussed in William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth in Apologetics (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 270-277.

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About Evan May

Evan May is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary and a pastor at Lakeview Christian Center in New Orleans.
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