Monday, October 16, 2017
A Better Way To Define Miracles - Building An Argument For God's Existence From Consideration Of Christ's Resurrection And Miracles
In the last couple of posts, we have considered an improved definition of miracles over against the standard definition of: "violation of nature's laws". We have proposed two traits for the miraculous thus far:
1. Infrequently or irregular events done by God
2. Such events are naturally impossible, which is to say, they cannot be brought about by natural processes inherent within themselves.
In today's posting we are going to offer a third important piece to our definition: the religio-historical context. This third element is crucial in our attempt to improve upon the standard definition of miracles. Skeptics (thinking of philosophers such as David Hume) will often charge that even if miracles are possible in our world, we nevertheless cannot hope to know when such things occur.
Context is key in determining whether a given event or phenomena is a miracle or a simple anomaly not yet explained by current scientific theory. Philosopher and theologian Dr. William Lane Craig has written extensively on this subject of miracles and the need for a religio-historical context. In using Dr. Craig's discussions on miracles and their place in the course of naturally occurring events, as well as some other observations, we can propose a sample argument for God's existence that involves our discussion on miracles.
What is meant by "religio-historical" context? Why is this crucial in defining the miraculous?
When we talk about a "religio-historical" context, we refer to the particular spiritual ideas that inform a given people group and their given historical situation in which such ideas and practices occur. When we talk about the person and work of Jesus, we are dealing with a first-century historical context that includes the lives and practices of Jews involved in 2nd Temple, Palestinian Judaism. Jesus was a Jewish male that interacted with Jews, as well as Greeks and Romans. The given beliefs of both his contemporary Jews (with their various sects) and the Greco-Roman thought and government of the first century must be included when talking about the historical context of the Four Gospels.
Jewish beliefs about the after-life, including the belief that the resurrection would not take place until the end of history, were deep convictions. A survey of the Jewish literature outside the Old Testament (such as the Apocrypha, Pseudapigrapha, Josephus "Antiquities of the Jews") as well as the Old Testament books themselves will yield this observation's accuracy.
Furthermore, a survey the New Testament books (particular the four gospels) will reveal that none of Jesus' disciples were expecting their Messiah to rise from the dead.
The strong religious context and historical situation of Jesus' day reinforced these expectations. Yet despite every expectation to the contrary, the disciples came to the conclusion that Jesus raised from the dead. This begs the question: "what prompted the disciples to affirm Jesus' resurrection from the dead"? Unless Jesus physically raised from the dead and appeared to His disciples in a physical, bodily manner - then there is no adequate naturalistic explanation for the facts. What are those facts? the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances and the disciple's sudden switch from skepticism to robust faith.
As Dr. Craig has noted on more than one occasion, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead befits His remarkable life and unprecedented sense of Divine authority which He carried in His words, His actions and His life. This is but a sample of what we mean when we talk about a given "religio-historical context". By knowing such things, we are prepared to better identify a miracle when it occurs.
Applying what we have learned thus far about miracles to the subject of Jesus' resurrection
We once more consider Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Known physical laws and processes describe for us a physical reality in which we should not expect dead men to rise from the dead. Having identified a miracle as an "infrequent act of God", certainly the claim of resurrection would qualify. With respect to this miracle being a naturally impossible event, again, the key assumption behind Christ's resurrection is that "God raised Jesus from the dead".
Now what about the religio-historical context? In having already discussed what the disciples would had been expecting, given the background information of their Jewish beliefs, what is the probability of them proclaiming Jesus as resurrected if in fact He did not raise from the dead? The answer: nearly zero or zero period. How one explains this sudden switch of the disciples from skepticism to robust faith over this matter is a burden that no skeptical, naturalistic hypothesis on the empty tomb can fully bear. Given the religio-historical context of the resurrection event, it makes the most sense to conclude that this greatest of all miracles did occur.
Offering an argument for God's existence from what we have discussed about miracles
Thus in noting the historical reality of Jesus' resurrection, we can only conclude that it is a miracle that did occur. Furthermore, in being a miracle, a non-natural, albeit a "Supernatural" cause is behind Jesus' resurrection- namely God Himself. In using the tools of historical inquiry and our proposed definition of miracle in establishing Jesus' resurrection from the dead, we can construct a theistic argument for God's existence based on miracles. The logic for this line of thinking may go something like this:
#1 Miracles are infrequent events done by God that are naturally impossible and identified within a particular religio-historical context.
#2 History's task is to explore all events that occur and give the most probable explanation (including frequent naturally-possible events, infrequent-naturally-possible events & infrequent- naturally-impossible events)
#3 History's task is to explore and interpret the contexts of all events that occur (whether the context is religiously significant or religiously benign).
#4 The Gospel records are taken (even by the majority of skeptical historians) as, primary source documents that deliver first-hand information about the life and ministry of Jesus, hence making them historical documents.
#5 The facts of Jesus resurrection agreed upon by the majority of historians (empty tomb, post-mortem appearances, switch from skepticism to faith by the disciple's) are best explained by the hypothesis: "God raised Jesus from the dead". Such a hypothesis entails God's existence.
#6 Jesus' resurrection was an infrequent, naturally impossible event that occurred in a religio-historic context, thus making it possible to identify it as a Divine miracle. This entails the activity of God as the Direct Agent behind the resurrection
#7 Therefore, God exists