He is Risen Indeed!

As we approach Good Friday and Easter, we might wonder whether we can really believe in the historicity of the events we celebrate.  Let’s tackle then the strongest argument ever made against them.  One of the more influential arguments in the history of philosophy is David Hume’s argument against the rationality of belief in miracles.  It goes like this:

1.  A miracle is a violation of a natural law.

2.  Natural laws are based on “uniform human experience.”

3.  Therefore any report of a miracle has the entire experience of humanity against it.
4.  Therefore it is always more rational to believe that the person reporting a miracle is either deceived himself or is deceiving you than it is to believe he is telling the truth.

David Hume

Hume’s infamous argument does explain why we are rightly skeptical about most claims of the miraculous and demand pretty good evidence before we believe them. But it has two flaws.  First, we do not have to accept the definition that a miracle would violate natural law.  God might perform miracles by applying  force to nature that our understanding of natural law could not have predicted–but the object to which that force was applied could respond to it without breaking any laws at all.  If the definition of miracle need not be accepted, then the rest of the argument is moot.
Second, Hume commits the fallacy of circular reasoning.
How is the argument circular?  It is because he cheats on the phrase “uniform human experience.” How could we know that human experience of the irreversibility of death was uniform before looking to see if the alleged eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection were truly exceptions to it?  We couldn’t. and Hume didn’t.  Having cheated on the word “uniform,” Hume cannot then justify his use of the word “always” when he says it is always more rational to believe that the one reporting a miracle is either deceived or deceiving than to believe he is telling the truth. If the attestation is strong enough, if the alternative explanations are sufficiently stretched and unable to account for the data, and if the miracle in question fits elegantly enough with what we know to be the plan and purposes of God, then there could be times, albeit rare, when it is indeed more rational to believe.

 

Hume thinks he is nailing shut the lid on the coffin when he says that we would only be justified in believing a miracle if the alternative was more miraculous than the miracle itself. He thinks he is driving the last nail into the coffin, but he has really just handed Christian believers the game. For the resurrection of Christ neatly meets precisely that criterion. When you compare the egregious ignorance of the physiology of crucifixion and tomb construction required to accept the “swoon theory,” or the gullible naivety required to believe in mass hallucinations, etc., with the demands made on our credulity by the claim that God raised Jesus from the dead, the finality of Hume’s defeat becomes inescapable.

For it is not some random dude about whom we make this claim. It is the Son of Man.  It is the one whose coming had been prepared by Providence and predicted by prophecy for two thousand years.  It is the one whose disciples kept asking themselves “What manner of man is this?”  This is one who spoke like no man ever spoke.  This is one who had already shown himself to be sovereign over life and death. If ever there was one about whom we could rationally believe such a thing, it was this man. It was Jesus of Nazareth.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.
Donald T. Williams, PhD, is R. A. Forrest Scholar at Toccoa Falls College in the hills of NE Georgia.  He is the author of ten books, most recently Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Lantern Hollow Press, 2016).
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About gandalf30598

Theologian, philosopher, poet, and critic; minister of the Gospel who makes his living by teaching medieval and renaissance literature; dual citizen of Narnia and Middle Earth.

Posted on April 13, 2017, in Christianity, Donald Williams, Theology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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