Objection #2: Since Miracles Contradict Science, They Cannot Be True (2001)
(Interview w/ William Lane Craig, Ph.D.)
Craig is quite notorious on the Secular Web. If you are interested in the transcript of a debate between Craig and (atheist) Dr. Douglas M. Jesseph on the existence of God, it may be found here (The Jesseph-Craig Debate: Does God Exist? 1996). Before I launch into my actual review, I'd like to take issue with the phrasing here. I think Objection #2 is phrased particularly weakly - the easier for Craig to refute. Strobel is suspect of lobbing softballs to his interviewees, so they can feed him the answers he wants and expects. I will criticize Strobel's journalism in greater detail in my Conclusion. I don't think most scientists would argue that, "miracles contradict science, therefore they cannot be true." Science rarely says things "cannot" be true. It's more like "based on all the evidence we have gathered, the universe seems to operate in this fashion, therefore, until we see some counter evidence, we are going to assume that's the way it is." The problem with miracles is that they are notoriously "one time only" events, or completely unpredictable. No one seems to ever be present to scientifically document the "one time" variety, and no one can be scheduled to record the "unpredictable" kind. The other thing is that reported miracles can be explained naturalistically. To me, when any event is reported by a witness, we have 4 possibilities (which may even be combined):
We know of and can document innumerable cases of #'s 2, 3 and 4. But in the case of a miracle, we cannot say that about #1. When these natural, well-known possibilities are available, it is hard to buy into the miraculous. I think a more fitting, albeit lengthy way of stating this chapter's objection would be: "Miracles are not backed by scientific evidence, therefore, until such evidence emerges, they should be treated with severe skepticism." And this is exactly what atheists really argue, as shown in the Secular Web's library on the Argument from Miracles.
The Virgin Birth
Craig's claim that miracles are absurd only sans-God is telling of his entire position. Craig has already decided to believe in a God who can do anything, so any miracle ascribed to Him is easily swallowed, and if some evidence can be dug up to support it, well that's nice too. Not a very scientific attitude - and science, after all, is what this chapter is supposed to be about.
Miracles versus Science
I agree that miracles must fall within the province of natural law. This is not because of a dogmatic contention that the natural laws are indisputable, but rather the idea that natural law, by definition, governs the universe, i.e. "anything that is possible." Therefore, if something contravenes the law then that thing is obviously "something possible" and the law needs to be reworked so that it fits the facts properly. An example of what I mean is Newtonian physics. At a certain point, reality began to deviate from the laws of Newtonian physics. Rather than deem these deviations miracles though, Einstein reworked the laws of physics so that they fit the universe correctly (as far as he could tell anyway). So the issue is far more complex than Craig lets on, and the Secular Web library on Naturalism gives a peek at why the findings of science make miracles dubious.
Real Acts of God
Craig specifically brings up Michael Behe's book to exemplify his "real" acts point, saying, "His conclusions are based on solid scientific analysis" (64). Not too solid, however, given the fact that his peers are punching holes in it left and right. Craig brushes off Hume's criticism of the resurrection that, "We have thousands of years of uniform evidence that men simply do not return from the dead." Craig says that Hume's argument doesn't work because the contention is that "Jesus was raised" not "all men are raised" (65). I think he is missing Hume's point (perhaps deliberately?). Hume isn't saying resurrection is impossible, but rather: since God isn't in the habit of raising anyone from the grave at all, when we suddenly hear of a resurrection, do we assume that it must be true, or that perhaps it is more likely people are mistaken or fibbing? Craig also notes that while a "natural" resurrection of Jesus is highly improbable, "...that's not the hypothesis. The hypothesis is that God raised Jesus from the dead" (65). Well that's great. But a hypothesis needs to be testable, and this is not. So it's an assumption. Once again, it is indicative of Craig's presupposition-riddled thinking which goes something like this:
1. Okay, we've got this guy, God, who can do anything.
Craig talks about how logicians have a body of data and then draw from a pool of live options for the option that best explains the data. He begrudges them the fact that, "Some skeptics, however, will not allow supernatural explanations even to be in the pool of live options...if there is no natural explanation for an event, they're simply left with ignorance" (67). There's a good reason for this. The problem with supernatural explanations is that they can be used to explain anything. So, if none of the other options worked, they could always invoke God or whatever. But they are still left with ignorance - they have just renamed it. There are also good reasons to disbelieve in the possibility of miracles, as noted in the Secular Web essay The Problem with Miracles: the Shaky Groundwork of Corduan and Purtill by Richard Carrier.
The Miracles of Jesus
1. They were written between 30 and 70 years after the death of Christ . So they weren't exactly eyewitness accounts - at best, they were remembrances. Anyone who has played the "telephone" game knows how easily stories can be elaborated in a matter of minutes, much less decades. And despite the tradition of the apostles' authorship, there is in actuality no clear mark of authorship on the Gospels, so they are not even necessarily first hand accounts.
2. The Gospels were written by members of the early Christian movement. Not exactly the most objective of reporters. This argument is along the lines of "history is written by the victors" - there is always a slant.
3. The Gospels have undergone revision and editing from their original forms - not to mention translation. Scholars are still attempting to put together a "most original" version, but the true originals are likely lost forever.
4. Historical standards were not exactly what they are now. Fact-checking and corroborating sources weren't required. Elaboration was acceptable, and even expected. Homer's Iliad is a history of the Trojan War, however, nobody presumes his blow by blow description is accurate (not to mention the intervention of the Gods).
5. Skepticism wasn't what it is today. Someone who tells you today that a demon jumped out of a tree, or a giant sea monster devoured a ship is likely to be ridiculed or sent to the Daily Sun. However, such tales were quite common and widely accepted with little question in Christ's day. Notably, most Christians put little stock in these stories, outside of the feats of Christ .
6. The Gospels disagree on several material points, and John diverges wildly from the three synoptic Gospels .
Miracles and Legends
One possibility for the empty tomb is that Christ's body was never placed there at all. It was turned over to Joseph of Arimathea who might have, for whatever reasons, given a false location. Another scenario involves Jesus having survived the crucifixion. Sure, he looked dead, but what if he was simply in a near death comatose state? Did anyone on hand (or at all in those times) have the necessary medical expertise to make such a judgment? Perhaps he came to on the way to his tomb or in it and managed to live consciously for a few days before expiring. This would explain both the empty tomb and appearances (see, for example, The Evidence Casts Suspicion on the Event being a True Resurrection by Richard Carrier). Another possibility for the appearances is that they were not physical appearances, and were not intended as such. That the disciples believed in solely a spiritual resurrection is entirely possible from the Gospels (see, for example, The New Testament Casts Suspicion on Jesus Actually Appearing After Death by Richard Carrier). If any of these ideas seem wild to you, just think if they are any more wild than Christ being raised from the dead: no matter how improbable, they are not improbable enough to be ruled out. And there are better theories than these, which are not wild at all, as is shown in "Historical Evidence and the Empty Tomb Story: A Reply to William Lane Craig" by Jeffery Jay Lowder, "The Historicity of the Empty Tomb Evaluated" by Peter Kirby, and "Craig's Empty Tomb and Habermas on the Post-Resurrection Appearances of Jesus" by Richard Carrier.
As to the exaggeration of the Gospels as they proceed in time, Strobel sets up Craig with an easy nitpicking word change. He compares Mark 1, which says all were brought to Jesus and many were healed, to Matthew 8, which says many were brought and all were healed, to Luke 4, which says all were brought and all were healed. This is a classic straw man argument. Strobel picked perhaps the easiest example to refute. A much better example would have been Christ's appearances which range (in the chronological order in which they were written) from none at all in the original Mark, to a vague account in Matthew, to a later addition to Mark, to Luke with a proto-Thomas story, then to John with his elaborate Thomas story.
We might also consider Matthew's description of the miracles surrounding the death of Jesus, which include a couple of earthquakes, the appearance of a mighty angel, and legions of the undead rising from their graves and walking the streets of Jerusalem (Mat 27: 51-2, 28: 2-4). Contrast with the gospel of Mark, which contains none of those events. Since Matthew followed hard on the heels of Mark, this clearly refutes Craig's contention that such legendary developments could not have occurred so quickly.
The "Miracles" Of Muhammad
The Personal Side of Miracles
Faith in a God Of Miracles
Craig's defense of faith is that many Christians have intellectually investigated the claims of their faith. The problem is that their investigation techniques are suspect. I'm not saying the following is true of all Christians, but it seems to entail the majority. Basically, they start with the conclusion that "the Christian God exists" and sometimes further "The Bible is the inspired word of God." They already know these things to be true in their heart, without a doubt. Therefore, when they investigate they are only searching for evidence which supports that which they already know is true. When evidence crops up contrary to their position, they discard it quickly since it must be in error. In fact, I have often coaxed the admission out of Christians that nothing could convince them that their core beliefs about God and the Bible are wrong. This is not a scientific way of proceeding.
On to the five reasons:
Reason #1: God Makes Sense of the Universe's Origin
This is the age old "First Cause" argument. Craig summarizes it as follows: "First, whatever begins to exist must have a cause. Second, the universe began to exist. And, third, therefore, the universe has a cause" (76). This argument hasn't been convincing to anyone for about 300 years. Alas, I will go through the motions. The obvious refutation is the question, "So what caused God?" The theist's response is naturally that God is eternal and uncaused. And the atheist in turn notes: now that we have allowed for the possibility of eternal existence, we might as well attribute it to the universe instead of God. Case closed. Craig tries to avoid this trap by claiming the Big Bang assures us that the universe began to exist approximately 14 billion years ago. But it does no such thing. The Big Bang tells us the universe began to expand approximately 14 billion years ago. But it existed prior to expansion in a form of unbelievably condensed matter and energy. When did this incredible ball of matter/energy come into being? For all we know, it could've been eternal.
So we decidedly do not know that the universe had a cause. But suppose it did. How is it a reasonable move from "the universe has a cause" to "God was that cause"? It could've easily been some unconscious, eternal mechanic. The possibilities are numerous and Craig's response doesn't even begin to address the matter, as can be seen in the Secular Web's library on the Cosmological Argument.
Reason #2: God Makes Sense Of The Universe's Complexity
This is the almost equally well-known argument from design. The concept here is that the universe bears the mark of an intelligent designer, not random chaos. The main problem here is that Craig is laboring under the false assumption that a natural universe, unguided by an intelligent being, would be a place of chaotic disarray. There is really no reason to suppose this. There is a concept called "spontaneous order" which applies to all kinds of things. The example most familiar to the majority of people is the free market economy. In an unregulated, decentralized market, you might expect a complete lack of order. But rather the opposite is the case. Competition drives prices down for consumers, supply and demand balance out, and the most people are able to buy and sell goods and services. This high level of order (which has never been replicated by a command economy with "intelligent design" in charge) occurs despite the fact that each person is only out for himself without any regard for others. Another good example in nature is that of animals and ecology. The animals which we observe have often meticulously carved out ecological niches. It is tempting to think they must have been designed just so. But then, think what happens if an animal isn't able to find an ecological niche. It becomes extinct. So, it should come as no surprise to us that those animals which are alive have struck a balance with nature. If they had not, we wouldn't be seeing them. The precarious nature of these niches is evident when the encroachment of humans often disturbs the balance and precipitates the extinction of a species.
We begin to realize that the universe is a not a perfect first draft. Think about all the planets, and stars, and galaxies that didn't form. Think about all the animals and plants that didn't survive. It becomes apparent that the universe is more like a giant process of trial and error--not what we would expect from an omniscient Creator. It seems likely then that the things which exist, exist precisely because they have struck a balance (at least temporarily) with nature. This is why all those mathematical improbabilities of the universe coming together at "random" are invalid. I admit that such an argument is convincing if you imagine the universe being dumped out of a cup and falling perfectly into place all at once. But our model of the universe allows for billions of years of blind alleys and dead ends on the way to order.
Another point to consider: while the complexity of the universe would certainly be impressive if it were the work of an intelligent being, is it consistent with the Christian God? I mean, if the focal point of God's universe is humans on Earth (especially the last 2000 years since the coming of Christ) why the ridiculously unnecessary prelude? Why bother creating millions of galaxies, billions of stars and planets, and millions of living species, and developing the whole process through 15 billion years of evolution to reach this point? While it is possible to create an inordinately complex system of gears and clasps in order to hold sheets of paper together, a paper clip is a much more elegant device. In fact, it is what we'd expect an "intelligent" person to use. Can we expect any less from an intelligent Creator?
Reason #3: God Makes Sense Out Of Objective Moral Values
Craig declares that without God, you cannot have objective moral values. I struggled with this very issue for a long time. Ultimately, I'd have to agree with Craig. Without God, we don't have objective moral values. And that's the end of that. But not for Craig. Because according to him we do have objective moral values. And here is the sum of his argument: "We all know deep down that, in fact, objective moral values do exist" (81). Wow. This is, of course, not an argument at all but rather an appeal to feelings. This is not an intellectual position - it is a cheap rhetorical trick of the variety common to politicians. Craig further solidifies the politician comparison by bringing up the universal disapproval of the torture of children as his example of an objective moral value. Notice that any time a politician gets a chance he will trot out alleviating the suffering of children as the reason to support him.
The bottom line is this: Does most everybody agree that child torture is wrong? Yes. Does that mean there is a God who ordained it as such? No. It does not follow that because people tend to share certain moral convictions, God is the source of those convictions. I think Craig realizes this since he doesn't even really try to deflect an obvious alternative: morality arose as a sociological advantage. All he says is: in that case, things aren't "really" right and wrong. As to why moral actions are "really" right and wrong in the case of a Cosmic Daddy who says so, I am not sure.
Also, not all atheists agree with me that there are no objective moral values: many believe they exist and can be accounted for without positing anything supernatural; and even if moral values are ultimately subjective it is not the end of the world: see the Secular Web's libraries on the Moral Argument and Divine Command Theory, Morality and Atheism, and Secular Humanism.
Reason #4: God Makes Sense Of The Resurrection
Craig recognizes this argument only really works if we accept that Jesus was miraculously raised from the dead. So why should we think so? Naturally, Craig provides us with the Gospels. And I can't consider them reliable for the reasons outlined above. Furthermore, even based on what the Gospels tell us I don't think Craig's certainty is warranted. He claims as fact that "on multiple occasions and under varied circumstances" (82) Jesus appeared alive, in the flesh, after death. His main support for this seems to be Paul's list of eyewitnesses to the Corinthians. This is a highly dubious source, however. Historian Richard Carrier examines that scripture far better than I could, so I'll let him take over for a minute:
Paul claims there are hundreds of eye witnesses, many alive at the very time of his writing (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Doesn't that make invention as well as delusion unlikely? Paul, remember, includes himself among the witnesses (15:8). Yet we know that Paul was not an eye-witness. He only saw a light and heard a voice, well after Jesus had already been "taken up." So this passage cannot mean anything more than that hundreds have seen Jesus in visions, not necessarily in person. The verb "appeared" used several times in this passage is ôphthê (from horaô), which is as vague in Greek as in English. Used in the passive voice, as it is here, it means only "was seen" or "appeared" and frequently means "appeared in a vision" (as in the case of Paul's vision, cf. Acts 9.17). But above all, one second-hand report of over 500 unnamed people, being sent to men in Greece (too far from Palestine to have any chance of checking the account), who may have seen a vision no more material than that of Paul himself--a man who all but declares that he is willing to fib, at least a little, to save lives by winning converts (1 Cor. 9.19-27)--is the flimsiest of evidence. Stories were apparently exaggerated over time in order to win an audience: see for example Acts 22.9, which is the exact opposite of 9.3-8, and suspiciously elaborated again at 26.13-19; compare these three accounts with Paul's own at Galatians 1.7-24. This shows that Christian writers like Luke, and even Paul himself, if what he said is accurately recorded in Acts, were ready to do this. And a vague, unconfirmable, hyperbolic assertion is just the sort of claim all men ought to suspect as rhetorical.
Note also that Paul does not name any one of these witnesses, except Peter and James [literally, 'Jakob'] (though he does mention "the twelve" even though there were only eleven disciples when Jesus supposedly appeared, according to all the Gospels). These are not new witnesses being reported, but the same ones (or rhetorically invented ones). For all we know, Paul could have been including men who had an experience that was like that of Stephen in his list of witnesses (a martyr whose death he watched), even though we have no reason to believe Stephen was an eyewitness to any appearance of Jesus in the flesh. Paul could also have been reporting hearsay, which I think is most likely--after all, I seriously doubt he interviewed over 500 people, and so should you. [section 3c of 6]
Craig also tries to impress us with the fact that, "the original disciples came to believe so strongly that God had raised Jesus that they were willing to die for that belief" (83). But do we know this to be true? After all, apart from very late legends, we have no record of any of the twelve disciples being martyred - with the exception of Peter. And even he is a poor example since he was killed for his politics, not his religion. Stephen is the first real martyr, but he was a convert - not an eye witness. It annoys me that Craig dismisses possibilities that Jesus survived the crucifixion or that his body was never placed in the tomb to start with. He treats these suggestions as far fetched and unworthy of consideration. Yet he wants us to consider that a man was raised from the dead. Again, the issues are far more complex than we are led to believe, as is shown in the Secular Web's library on the Resurrection.
Reason #5: God Can Be Immediately Experienced
Craig comes right out and admits this is not a rational argument, which is good, because it's not. Undoubtedly there are millions of people who "feel" one with Christ and "experience" Him in their hearts. However, I think that Christians (especially!) must admit that these feelings are poor indicators of actual truth. After all, hundreds of millions of people, in the past and present, have experienced powerfully religions contrary to Christianity. So, if Christianity is true, their feelings must have been unreliable. Naturally, it is not fair to suggest non-Christians' feelings are unreliable while Christians' experiences are right on the money. See the Secular Web's library on Religious Experience.
|Top of Page|