A believer who goes by the handle “Jayman777” has written a blog post taking me to task. He’s not happy with my remarks at Evangelical Realism about how William Lane Craig handles the historical arguments for Jesus.
I have not read this book by Craig but DD’s post contains a few problems common to arguments from skeptics that should be addressed. I will restrict my focus to whether the Gospels are the best sources for reconstructing the life of the historical Jesus and whether the Gospels are generally reliable on historical matters.
Fair enough, I welcome his input. Let’s see what his criticisms are.
Christianity is, above all else, a story. . . . Miracles like healing someone born blind, or resurrecting someone who died three days ago, only happen in the tales told from the pulpit and in ancient parchments.
Notice how it is merely assumed that miracles do not happen in the present. It is hardly surprising that when you presuppose metaphysical naturalism, and you judge the Gospels on this basis, that the Gospels are determined to be of questionable historical value. But what if we take an approach that is neutral concerning the occurrence of miracles?
Notice how he twists the words around to make them fit his worldview. We do not observe (says Jayman) that there’s an absence of raising the long-dead and of healing the congenitally blind. It’s “merely assumed that miracles do not happen.” He talks about taking a neutral approach towards miracles, but he wants to begin by declaring that anyone who observes the lack of verifiable miracles is merely assuming that miracles do not happen.
True neutrality does not attempt to bias our observations in this way. If you’re going to be genuinely neutral, you need to be able to make observations, and report them honestly, and not have them blithely dismissed as “mere assumptions” just because they’re inconsistent with some predetermined conclusion. In this case, we do not assume that miracles cannot happen, we simply observe that they do not.
Jayman himself provides us with one such observation. Since we are comparing the stories in the Gospel with real-world observations, he can easily debunk the observation that the long-dead are not raised and the congenitally-blind are not supernaturally healed by simply providing us with the name, address, and phone number of a modern day individual who was brought back to life after having been lifeless (no heartbeat, respiration, or brain activity for 72 hours or more), or who was born blind and then in early adulthood was miraculously (and documentably) restored to full vision. He does not do so, despite his desire to debunk the skeptical observation and despite the effectiveness with which this would indeed revolutionize the whole discussion. Thus, it is fairly obvious that he himself is among those who, if they were truly neutral, would have to admit that they do not observe such miracles happening in real life.
What he does offer is hearsay: unverifiable stories that some third party (or fourth party, or nth party) has reported about certain situations that “might” be miraculous (or else just urban legends—there’s not enough information given to allow fact-checking). In the process, he kindly documents for us just how low Christian standards are when it comes to what kind of “evidence” they’re willing to accept as a basis for believing in miracles. Jayman himself will only commit to the possibility that these stories claim miracles that “may still happen today” (emphasis his). He can’t verify them either, but other Christians still report them as true. Thus, we have two observations: that we do not see such miracles occurring, and that Christians use unreliable evidence to support their belief in miracles. So if there were nothing more to the Biblical stories than the same sort of evidence (which does not convince even him), would that really be so big a stretch, given our observations?
Remember, the issue here is not whether some remote, unknown, hypothetical observer might have seen some secret and unverifiable miracle, it’s whether WE ought to conclude that the stories in the Bible are consistent with the truth. We can speculate all we want about how magical invisible unicorns are supernaturally intervening in people’s lives to deceive them with false beliefs about Jesus, so that we’ll be too distracted to hunt for magical invisible unicorns. But if we’re truly neutral, we ought to admit that such fanciful speculations do not change the fact of our real-world observations. And that fact is simply that we do not see miracles happening in the real world. Even Jayman does not, no matter how much he might like to wish that we did. He assumes that they must be possible, but he does not have any verifiable observations to back that up.
Hence his accusations that skeptics are biased. Sigh.