By Maria Runde, July 10, 2011
The Christian faiths depend utterly and completely on the miracles upon which they are founded. Absent the miracle of resurrection, the entire structure of Christianity falls apart.
It seems a critical question, then, as to whether we can believe the stories of the Christian miracles. When one begins to critically analyze the concept of a miracle, it becomes obvious that we have a serious problem at the foundation of religion.
By definition, a “miracle” is an event that is contrary to the sensory experience and logical intuition of all humans who have ever lived. A miracle defies the natural laws of the universe, revealed to us over centuries of investigation.
If a friend tells you he swam two miles across a lake, we may find the story dubious, but certainly not miraculous, as we know from experience that this has been done by many humans and is within the range of human ability.
When the doctor tells us that he finds no evidence of the cancer that had been seen on MRI testing just six months earlier, our strong tendency may be to think it miraculous, yet there are many examples of spontaneous involution of tumors in the medical literature, and we understand enough about the immune system to formulate an explanation of how it could happen.
However, when a veteran tells us of the spontaneous re-growth of the arm he lost in the war years earlier, very different ideas develop in our head. We weigh the fact that there has never been a documented case of spontaneous limb re-growth ever in the history of mankind. We reason that there is no known medical science to support such a claim, and we begin to wonder about the mental state or the state of intoxication of this suspicious plaintiff.
Ultimately, the rational person does not find this to be a case of a miracle but instead one of prevarication or delusion. There can be no other explanation, as this man’s testimony runs counter to all of mankind’s experience.
Consider, then, the claim of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Very few witnesses saw the actual event — why do the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark and Luke vary so in their accounts? One must assume that this had been the first and only resurrection that the apostles had ever witnessed, and certainly worthy of a precise and complete account.
The day of the rising, the time of rising, and other important details vary from one story to another. Does this give one confidence in the truth of the event or call it into question?
Why is it that the impressive miracles only occurred in the distant past and were revealed only to a select few peasants in the ancient desert? Wouldn’t it serve God’s purpose if the miracles were witnessed by the entirety of the Earth’s population at the same time so that there could be nothing lost in translation?
Why don’t we witness any resurrections, walking on water or turning water into wine in modern times, especially when we could now document, preserve and broadcast the miracle for all to witness? A single well-documented and widely witnessed miracle such as occurred with apparent regularity 2,000 years ago would end all debate over the presence of God.
If we awoke to see three moons in the sky one night, emblazoned with the words “God is alive” across the face of the moons, there could be no skeptics, no agnostics and no deniers.
Why, then, are we expected to rely on the testimony of men who lived 2,000 years ago, which was not even written down until decades after the purported event itself?
We have a dangerous tendency to assume that information that is very old must be true. On the contrary, it should be subjected to at least as intense scrutiny as current knowledge. Age alone does not make knowledge secure. It must continually reconcile itself with new knowledge that is acquired, and if it fails to conform, it must be rejected as false. This is the scientific method.
David Hume said, “It is experience only, which gives authority to human testimony; and it is the same experience which assures us of the laws of nature.”
In other words, the combined experience of all the people in the world tell us that resurrection and walking on water cannot have happened, as they are contrary to the laws of nature, have never been reliably witnessed before or since, and therefore it is infinitely more likely that those claims are simply false.