Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Reply to Randy on miracles

Randy wrote: "Dr. Wainwright's positions was that if you were prepared to accept the possibility of the miraculous, it is reasonable to so in many cases. I accepted that position then, I have seen no reason to change my mind since."
1. Miracles are possible.
2. A book contains accounts of many miracles
3. The book is historically accurate.
Looks like fallacious reasoning to me. Simple acknowledgement of the possibility of the miraculaous does not help us in determining the likeleood of the veracity of a book.
That is why I think your supernatualism vs. naturalism presuppositionalism is misguided. It is kind of like a red herring that distracts one from the real issues in interpreting and analyzing any ancient text. One has to look at the actual evidence and arguments the scholar uses in order to evaluate the validity of his analysis of a particular text.
9:23 AM


VR: That's not how I was arguing. I didn't say that the actuality of the miraculous follows from the possibility of the miraculous. Based on his study of the NT, Wainwright thought that it was reasonable to accept certain miracle claims if didn't take some hard-line Bultmannian or Humean view on the antecedent probability of the miraculous. Antecedent probability is an important issue because how you evaluate the NT texts depends on how you perceive the antecdent probability of the miraculous.

Take the resurrection for example. The best theory to explain the NT reports if there was no Resurrection is the hallucination theory. But a lot of people had to hallucinate the same thing if it was hallucinations, and then you still have to explain the empty tomb.

7 comments:

Randy said...

I am afraid that you didn't quite catch the point I was tring to make.

I didn't say that the actuality of the miraculaous follows from the possibllity of the miraculous.

I said that that simply because a text recounts a miraculous event, that doesn't mean the text is historically accurate. Assuming, of course, that miracles are possible.
There are other, more important, criteria for determining the veracity of an historical text.

One can still believe a resurrection is possible and not believe that the text referring to Jesus' resurrection is a reliable account.

Don Jr. said...

It seems, then, like your just making an irrelevant comment Randy. Dr. Reppert never suggested that some piece of work is historically accurate because it records miracles. I doubt that anybody, ever, in the history of mankind, has argued such an asinine line of reasoning as "But it has miracles so it must be true."

Victor Reppert said...

I did indeed acknowledge, and agree with, the point that you were making: it doesn't follow from the fact that miracles are possible that these particular miracle reports are true. So I wasn't making the mistake you were accusing me of making. Rather, I was saying that as someone who doesn't have a Humean prior probability for the miraculous, I have found the evidence sufficient to support the claim that, for example, the Resurrection did take place, and gave a brief reason why I think that. Of course there are other criteria, but telling the story of Jesus with the miraculous element in makes more sense to me than telling the story with the miraculous element left out.

Now I don't think the case is so strong as to overwhelm the skepticism of, say, the majority of atheists, though I do think the evidence for the Resurrection can serve as part of a cumulative case for theism.

A good book on that subject is Stephen Davis's Risen Indeed. Davis is a professional philospher with an excellent knowledge of biblical scholarship.

Randy said...

Don Jr.,
I was attempting to clarify what I took to be a misunderstanding by Victor of what I had said earlier.

I'm trying to pointing out that the antecedent probablity of whether or not miracles are possible is a red herring when it comes to a scholarly analysis of the Bible or any other ancient text.
As I pointed out earlier, Raymond Brown did not think the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are completely historical. Whether or not he believed in miracles or the supernatural is entirely besides the point. He came to his conclusions based on the textual evidence and knowledge of the historical time in which Jesus lived.

I don't see this as an atheist vs.theist issue here. It has more to do with what methodologies scholars use when analyzing ancient texts.

For example, there is not a single written report of Jesus' resurrection by an eyewitness. And the accounts relating the events surrounding the resurrecion are not in agreement as to what happened. I'm not going to make the case here that this proves the resurrection didn't happen. Rather it points to how difficult it can be for a scholar when analyzing a text or texts to determine their historical authenticity.


Victor,

In your original post you said: "Take the resurrection for example. The best theory to explain the NT reports if there was no Resurrection is the hallucination theory. But a lot of people had to hallucinate the same thing if it was hallucinations, and then you still have to explain the empty tomb."

This is simply begging the question of whether or not the basic outline of the Jesus story is accurate or whether or not there was an empty tomb. What one believes with regard to miracles or the supernatural is besides the point for a scholar trying to determine the reliability of the historical narratives of Jesus' life.

Victor Reppert said...

My claim is that many scholars are pushed by the miraculous content of the Gospels to take a more skeptical position concerning them than they would have taken if the subject matter were about, say, the battle of Actium. Others don't have such a big problem with the miraculous. And some treat the miraculous inconsistently, having a poorly position on the matters.

Bultmann is very explicit about this, while D. F. Strauss in explicit about accepting Hume's "Of Miracles" as a good argument. My own view is that skepticism with respect to the miraculous drives scholars to deny the autheniticity of what they would otherwise accept. William Lane Craig quotes D. H. van Daalen:

"It is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds; those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions."

Of course it is possible to be an anti-Humean about miracles and still think the evidence is insufficient for, say, the Resurrection. All I said was that as an anti-Humean with respect to the likelihood of the miraculous, I find the evidence in support of the resurrection sufficient.

Randy said...

"Of course it is possible to be an anti-Humean about miracles and still think the evidence is insufficient for, say, the Resurrection. All I said was that as an anti-Humean with respect to the likelihood of the miraculous, I find the evidence in support of the resurrection sufficient."

Since you agree that one can be an anti-Humean and come to the completely opposite conclusion regarding the historical validity of the Bible as you do, that seems to go along with my point that one's a priori commitement in regards to the supernatural is irrelevant in reaching that conclusion.

If an anti-Humean after closely examining the text finds that say John has almost zero historical validity while Mark has more, then why can't a Humean using that same methodology also be allowed to reach the same conclusion?

By the way, I looked into Stephen T. Davis. He appears to be a philosopher and not a biblical scholar. At least I could see little indication from his curriculum vitae, that he is personally engaged in analyzing ancient texts in their original language. IMHO, it's much better spending the time reading scholars like Brown or Metzger or Ehrman who actually work directly with the texts than a secondary work like Mr. Davis's. But if you can point me to info regarding Mr. Davis that indicates I'm mistaken about him, I'll be more than happy to try and get a look at his book.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic, A few rational points:

1) We only have the story of "Jesus' resurrection" from believers in it.

2) None of those who wrote down such stories were eyewitneses.

3) Their stories either are copied from one another with redactions (some being particularly ridiculous redactions), or their stories don't match up.

4) Even the author of Acts admits that believers only started preaching the resurrection seven weeks after the crucifixion.

5) Anyone can compare the N.T. verses about Jesus' resurrection and see how the legends continued to grow from Paul to Mark to Matthew to Luke to John. I went into detail in a letter to apologist Gary Habermas, and have since learned of further details http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/asym/babinski-jordan/2.html

There are plenty of questions concerning the N.T. stories, questions of different levels of reliability in different Gospels and different passages. Some descriptions and stories are very probably later pious legends beyond belief for most, in other words, untrue in any historical sense. So we've got truth mixed with fiction even in the story of a central claim of Christianity.

What if truth is mixed with fiction throughout the entire Bible as many scholars strongly suspect?

Might not also some of the subsequent twists and turns in the history and growth of Christian dogmatics also contain both fact and fiction, and only be partly reliable, partly true as descriptions of what "must" be believed about God, Jesus, soteriology, eschatology, etc.?

Hence, Christianity and the Bible might be true in some sense, but mixed with fiction also, and therefore THE TRUTH in the widest possible sense might be less ammenable to being nailed down by attempts at dogmatic theologies and wider than even the "Mere Christianity" of Lewis.