Thursday, July 08, 2010

Anything but a miracle!

From C. S. Lewis's Miracles: A Preliminary Study.

“The ordinary procedure of the modern historian even if he admits the possibility of miracle, is to admit no particular instance of it until every possibility of “natural” explanation has been tried and failed. That is, he will accept the most improbable “natural” explanations rather than say that a miracle occurred. Collective hallucination, hypnotism or unconsenting spectators, widespread instantaneous conspiracy in lying by persons not otherwise known to be liars and not likely to gain by the lie — all these are known to be very improbable events: so improbable that, except for the special purpose of excluding a miracle, they are never suggested. But they are preferred to the admission of a miracle.” (C.S. Lewis, Miracles, p. 133)


Walter said...

I like this quote by Dr. James McGrath

Excerpt from here:

And so what does it mean to do history from a Christian perspective? It doesn't mean to allow for miracles in the Biblical stories while assuming that, when the cookies are missing and your child says he or she doesn't know what happened to them, that you're dealing with a lie and theft rather than a miracle. It doesn't mean defending Christian claims to miracles and debunking those of others, nor accepting Biblical claims uncritically in a way you never would if similar claims were made in our time.

Walter said...

Luke Muehlhauser interviews Robert M. Price on the historical method applied to Jesus. This is for those Christians here that don't mind listening to what the "other side" has to say on the subject.

Interview is a little over an hour long.

Tim said...


Maybe McGrath needs to get out more. When people say things like this, I have to wonder how much they have read of mainstream protestant apologetics over the past three or four centuries. There's a whole wide world full of Christian writers who would just love to see people apply a single rational standard across the board.

Robert Price -- the guy who can't even figure out that Jesus existed as a real person -- as an authority on historical method? Even Bart Ehrman knows better.

Walter said...

There's a whole wide world full of Christian writers who would just love to see people apply a single rational standard across the board.

I believe Dr. McGrath is the one applying a rational standard across the board for historical claims. He just doesn't play favorites with Christian miracle tales; they get treated the same as any other miracle stories written in ancient times. I respect Dr. McGrath for his integrity.

Tim said...

The goal of evenhanded evaluation is laudable. But to the extent that Dr. McGrath believes he is characterizing traditional Christianity -- and this is a little hard to determine, since he is not quite clear -- he is guilty of stereotyping. That simply isn't what is done in the main stream of Protestant apologetics.

I understand that most people are completely ignorant of the history of apologetics. But that is no excuse for making false generalizations. They should do their homework before saying things like this.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I think you overestimate the merits of the human mind. Koresh, Heaven's Gate, etc..

Jim Jones' followers claimed they saw him perform miracles. They were certainly willing to martyr themselves for their belief. I don't see why folks make such a great deal out of similar kinds of incredibly strong beliefs back in the days when superstition was the norm.

People strongly believe crazy things all the time. That is, such powerful devotion is not "known to be very improbable".

Tim said...


This is an old objection, and one well answered long ago. See the quotation from Robert Jenkin, here.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Tim I am not seeing why that quote isn't merely an extended exercise in poetic question-begging. Can you restate the argument? It seems my point stands.

Perhaps I'm missing the point of the Jenkins quote, but my take on that is that he is just one true believer in one of the devotional cults (to put it tendentiously) standing up to say that just because many people strongly believe in what is false, that doesn't mean that those of us that believe in something else are not right.

That seems to take all the wind out of the sails of these arguments that are supposed to actually establish something substantive, as it puts the burden of proof back on the devotee to show on other grounds (independent of the existence of crazy devotees) that what they believe has merit.

I agree with Victor in a recent post that what you get out of it will be very strongly biased by what you bring in. I look at the resurrection story as a metaphysical Rorschach test that tells us a lot about someone's prior philosophical take on things.

Steven Carr said...

'The ordinary procedure of the modern historian even if he admits the possibility of miracle, is to admit no particular instance of it until every possibility of “natural” explanation has been tried and failed.'

I think Lewis has read the accounts of the church investigations of miracles at Lourdes and forgotten in which context he read them.

Gregory said...

I did not grow up in a "Christian" home. I was baptized Lutheran in my infancy and I was taken to Church until I was 12, to be sure. But I wasn't raised in my own home, by either precept or example, to love God...or even to just openly express some sort of reverence, or acknowledgment, of His reality.

But I had direct and indirect reminders of God throughout my childhood. The "Christmas Season", of course, was always a unmistakable reminder of God....even though I entertained very few "philosophical" concepts of Him then.

The reminders of God, outside of Church or religious Holidays, were the things I discovered as "uncanny", "frightening" and "weird"....things like thunder storms, dark cellars and nightmares. In fact, it is through those "dark" encounters of "experience" that I began to believe in demons. And that the power they held was not in what they could do to you, but in what you believed they could do to you....that their power was not in the manipulations of forces, but in manipulative ideas.

The Preacher may have mentioned things about "hell" on Sunday morning, but I would also be reminded of "hell" by tuning into the "Twilight Zone", "Night Gallery" or "The Outer Limits" on Sunday night. I knew that there was a "devil" mentioned in the Bible. But I got a chance to see what he might be like from watching movies like "Time Bandits" and "The Omen".

But what I really took away from all that was the ability to think about all of the possibilities that were open to me.....and of the many doors to be walked through! And I did have the occasional, though very rare, "experience" of God. Probably less than the amount of fingers I have on my hands, in my nearly 40 years of existence. But there were 2 or 3 notable times in my youth. I attribute all of those experiences to my "baptism", since--as I have mentioned--I wasn't cultivated in the pious patch.

And by my mid-teens, when I had come "out of the closet" with my Christian faith, there was a kind of upheaval within my family about it. And I think that begun, for me, a slow process of marginalization as a member of the family. But when I began to show intellectual interests in religion, perhaps pursuing a "pastorate".....well, that didn't go over well with anyone. And, from there, began a long series of attempts to undermine any-and-all reasons I might have for believing in God and in Christ. And this story gets more bizarre and harrowing than I have the heart to tell.

But it's taught me to look beyond myself and all the cloud and mire of human opinion, as much as I am able to at any given time, to world's beyond that of which I now see.

When I was a child of 4 years, I wanted to go see my maternal Grandparents, who lived in small country town in Michigan. And I wanted to see them because, in my heart of hearts, their place felt like "home". And I loved them very much. So, I told my Dad that I was running way....running away to my Grandparents. My Dad, being humored by how far I'd get before I got scared and turned back, obliged me by tying my belongings on a stick and sending me on my merry way. But he stayed behind me, as most fathers would, to make sure I was ok. After about a mile or so, he realized that I wasn't going to come back. So, he fetched me and took me back home.

It is that feeling of "home" and of never feeling like you've really arrived there yet......this is what keeps me going. And, of course, I view my discontent and desire, as exemplified in my "running away" to be with Grandpa and Grandma, as a concrete picture of my own spiritual journey. But, I certainly wouldn't feel like going anywhere, let alone gotten somewhere, if my "philosophy" had informed me that there wasn't anywhere to go!!!

Gregory said...

"Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."

---G.K. Chesterton