“Although natural causes should be considered first, a supernatural cause may be considered when all natural theories fail, and there is credible evidence in favor of divine intervention.” —Habermas and Licona, p. 140
Gary: This sounds very reasonable. I have no problem with this logic.
” …when the facts seem to point strongly to the divine, and all natural explanations appear to be highly improbable, a supernatural explanation should be strongly considered.” —Habermas and Licona, p. 140
Gary: Wait a minute! You have just moved the goal posts, gentlemen. By definition, a supernatural explanation is the most improbable explanation. Therefore, if all the natural explanations for a particular event are highly improbable, but still possible, they are still more probable than the most improbable explanation, a supernatural explanation. This is BIG, folks. This is why Christians and skeptics can never agree on the strength of the evidence for the Resurrection. Christians do not see supernatural explanations (that involve their religion) as being the least probable of all causes of an event. Christians and skeptics do not agree on the same definition of probability and that’s a big problem.
Let me give an example: The Empty Tomb.
Skeptics can give many possible, natural explanations for the Empty Tomb claim. Christians reject these natural explanations as being “highly improbable” and less probable than the Christian supernatural explanation. One such naturalistic explanation is that someone moved the body of Jesus after sundown Saturday night after the Sabbath was ended. Christians state that first century Jews would never have moved a body that had just been buried. Skeptics point out that even if this was the usual first century Jewish custom, it is much more probable that a first century Jew (or Jews) did violate this custom and did move the body than the supernatural explanation that a dead corpse exited his sealed tomb in some fashion the next morning, to pop in out of thin air to his friends in the Upper Room, to join them for a broiled fish lunch.
Who is right?
So how often did first century Jews move recently buried bodies in first century Judea? If the moving of a recently buried body occurred even twice, that is twice as often as the alleged Resurrection and therefore a more probable explanation for the Empty Tomb? Why is that so hard for Christians to grasp?
And what about my claim that supernatural explanations are the least probable explanation for any event? I assert that in most situations, even most Christians follow this truism. If a Christian cannot find his car keys in the morning, how high on his list of possible explanations is “God took my keys“? I will bet that for the overwhelming majority of western Christians, the explanation “God took my keys” is at the very bottom of the list of plausible explanations. So why shouldn’t the explanation that “God moved the body of Jesus” be at the very bottom of the list of explanations for the Empty Tomb??? Why jump over “a human or group of humans moved the body” explanation for the Empty Tomb and go right to “God moved (resurrected) the body” as being a more probable explanation? Admit it Christians. You are being inconsistent.
“Scientific reliance upon natural processes to explain everything does not answer the question of whether all things that happen are controlled only by natural processes. God may have momentously stepped in to do something that nature cannot explain. Further, if we had evidence that such an event occurred, this evidence would actually be superior to the natural working of nature’s laws, since that would mean that God performed an act for which nature cannot account.” —Habermas and Licona, p. 141
Gary: Ok. Sure. If we allow for all possibilities, including supernatural possibilities, it is possible that a god (or gods) exist(s) and it is possible that this god is capable of overriding the laws of nature and performing “miracles”. I won’t deny that. But if they occur, why do these “miracles” always seem to occur when the television cameras and cell phones are not recording? Why are the “miracle healings” always of conditions that are known to have spontaneous recoveries anyway, such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, and cancer? Why aren’t major amputees ever healed? And why do healing miracles only occur at Roman Catholic shrines and in Pentecostal churches; they never occur during a Presbyterian or American Baptist worship service. Seems fishy to me.
I think Habermas and Licona had it right in their first statement: “Natural causes should be considered first…”
Did you get that, Christians? Natural causes should be considered first. Let me repeat: Natural causes should always be considered first! And only when all natural explanations have been completely ruled out should we even consider the possibility of a non-natural explanation.
But when we talk about the early Christian Resurrection belief, there is no shortage of possible and very plausible natural explanations:
- The Empty Tomb: Someone moved the body in the middle of the night; someone stole the body; the Empty Tomb is fiction; it is a later literary invention.
- The appearance claims: one disciple had a bereavement hallucination, vivid dream, or other misperception of reality (illusion); this one delusional disciple then convinced the other disciples that his delusion was true. The other disciples then had their own hallucinations and experiences, some of them group illusions and other misperceptions of reality which gave rise to the group appearance claims in the Early Creed quoted by Paul in First Corinthians 15. The detailed group appearances stories in the Gospels are later, literary/theological inventions.
- James the brother of Jesus converted prior to his alleged appearance experience. His appearance experience can therefore be explained as being no different than that of the disciples: an hallucination, vivid dream, or other misperception of reality by an emotionally hysterical believer.
- Paul was mentally ill. His mental illness, which he referred to as his “thorn in the flesh”, caused him to be delusional at times and in one of his delusional states, he believed that Jesus, the man whose followers he had bitterly persecuted, appeared to him…as a bright light, and told him to stop persecuting Christians and to become the greatest of all Christian apostles. Mentally ill people believe and do some very strange things. Paul subsequently believed that he received ongoing private revelations (messages sent directly to his brain) from “God”. This is a telltale sign of psychosis.
It’s that easy, folks. I do not know why Christians claim that skeptics cannot come up with plausible, alternative, naturalistic explanations for the (very limited) evidence that exists regarding the early Christian resurrection belief. I have just given you one possible scenario.
And these natural explanations are much, much more plausible and probable than that an ancient Hebrew deity resurrected a dead corpse…unless…you have already convinced yourself of the existence and supernatural powers of this ancient Hebrew deity and then, of course, the probability that Yahweh could perform such a “miracle” is much higher than any natural explanation. THAT is the problem, folks!
Christians presume the existence and powers of their god, Yahweh! They presume the existence of this ancient Hebrew deity in their discussions and debates regarding the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus instead of debating the evidence for the Resurrection on its own merits.