Monday, March 23, 2009

A Canard That Needs to Go

Updated...(see below)
Canard (noun) 1. A false or baseless usually derogatory story, report or rumor.

2. A duck intended or used for food.

On occasion, we hear the statement, “You atheists reject claims within the Bible because you presuppose supernatural things can’t happen.” Yeah, Dr. Craig—I’m looking at you! (If you have ever heard a debate with Dr. William Craig, this inevitably comes up—how one’s “philosophical” view affects one’s “historical” view.)

In one very slight aspect this concept is true—because we are convinced no god exists, we necessarily believe no god interacts in the world. The same way you believe there are no unicorns in your back yard results in you not believing the claim unicorns are doing anything in your backyard.

However, just as you are convinced it is more likely there are no unicorns because of the evidence you know—we are convinced there is no god because of the evidence we know.

See, we reject miraculous claims not because of some presupposition; but rather because we are convinced a natural explanation is more compelling. Or, in some situations, a possible natural explanation is more likely.

Let’s put the shoe on the other foot, for a moment, and demonstrate why it is not presuppositions; but rather proof. Take your average Christian. They obviously believe in a God. They believe in a God who interacts within our natural world. A God who “shifts” things from what would be a natural, normal course, to a new course. A miracle.

Your average Christian even prays that God would intervene. Rather than Aunt Jane dying from cancer, as would naturally occur—God would swoop in and stop the natural process. Rather than miss a job interview, God would strategically place the Christian miraculously next to the perfect employer on their next plane flight.

Your average Christian believes in a God who is so mighty, He could perform momentous miracles--spin the continents with a passing thought, and so conscientious He can perform the tiniest of interferences—a smile from a child when needed.

There is every reason in the world such a God can miraculously affect…toast. So does the Christian really believe God miraculously put the Virgin Mary’s Face on a Grilled Cheese Sandwich? Remember, it is logically possible. (The last bastion of every Christian argument.)

Nothing prevents the Christian God from entering the natural world in Miami, 1994—and instead of the normal scorch marks appearing on such sandwiches—rearrange them so they would take the shape of a face. A particular face. Mom.

This is the same God who obtained a coin from a fish’s mouth. Or broke a few loaves of bread into such itty-bitty, tiny pieces, once divided, it could feed 1000’s with basketfuls left over. A God who made bones dance, and sent dreams, and stopped the sun for a whole day. Toast would be a piffle.

So why does the Christian believe this isn’t a miracle? Is it because of some presupposition against Catholicism? Against Cheese? Against cheesy miracles? Of course not! It is because the natural explanation is more believable than a claim of a supernatural intervention.

We see scorch marks on grilled cheese all the time. Putting butter in contact with heat will do that. And we understand how our minds make patterns from randomly generated shapes. It is how, on a summer’s day, we see pirate ships and flying pigs in cloud formations. It is perfectly natural we would do the same with shapes in scorch marks and “see” a woman. (Obviously, it is made even more humorous that the Virgin Mary appears as depicted in Church art, and no one knows what Mary would look like—let alone if that was her.)

We can pick other miracles. Does the Christian believe the Gospel of Peter, and the miraculous sign of Jesus coming out of the tomb, helped by angels whose heads reached to the clouds? And a talking cross following them out? Or tales of Jesus’ swaddling clothes causing healing? Or Thelca magically opening prison doors and not being burned by a fiery execution?

See-no one believes every miracle story ever written. Not even every miracle story written by those within their own religion. At some point, their own skepticism kicks in and they think, “There is a perfectly good natural explanation for this, outweighing any need to resort to supernatural.”

We do the same thing. Only we happen to find natural explanations more sufficient in YOUR claims of miracles. You may not like it; you may think the evidence is compelling and sufficient. But please understand it has nothing to do with presuppositions—just like you it has to do with evidence.

Lose the idea, “You don’t believe this because you presuppose against miracles.” I’ll show you how you suffer from the same “presupposition”—that you are reviewing evidence and remain unconvinced.

Updated: Bugger Blogger. I posted this twice. Vinny and Bruce – I moved your comments to this one and deleted the repetitious entry. Thanks for understanding


  1. I've had the accusation made against me of having a anti-supernatural presupposition often enough that it makes me wonder what's going on. Evidence is all well and good, until it touches upon the "core doctrines" needed to be held by christians, then it can go out the window. Perhaps it is the only way some christians can wrap their minds around someone not believing what they believe. But it sounds like a convenient debating tactic to me coming from an apologist who has had a lifetime to think through the issues.

  2. Eddie Tabash thumped Craig on this point pretty well during his debate. Craig says "I admit that Jesus couldn't be raised naturally, but there's nothing implausible about Jesus being raised supernaturally. Here is what Tabash said in reply.

    Dr Craig says there is no reason to reject supernatural claims if you have God as a factor in making them come about. OK. Well then my claim that I arrived here tonight on a Martian built flying saucer is implausible until I tell you that God gave me that flying saucer directly. Does that add anything? Of course not. That's no different from Craig's position.

    Tabash's performance was great. Interesting that the lawyer has outperformed many of the philosophers.

  3. Vinny Said:

    My wife once met a woman who claimed that God had made her invisible. A friend had invited my wife to a women’s luncheon at an Assemblies of God church. After lunch, the women shared what God had done in their lives during the previous week. One woman announced that God had made her invisible.

    It seems that the woman had gone to the hospital to visit a friend in the intensive care unit. According to hospital policy, only relatives could visit patients in the ICU. Nevertheless, the woman walked right past the nurses’ station without anyone challenging her. As she sat praying with her friend, nurses and doctors came into the room, but none of them noticed her. The woman concluded that God had made her invisible so that she could visit her friend.

    I have met people like this, too. I once attended a retreat at a Catholic church where a man claimed that God had fixed his vacuum cleaner. He didn’t provide the details of the miracle, but he assured the rest of the group that there was no way that the problem could have corrected itself.

    I don’t think my skepticism about the Bible stories comes from a worldview that precludes a God who can perform miracles. I consider myself an agnostic and I think I probably lean more towards theism than atheism. I think my skepticism derives in large part from the fact that I know people who prefer supernatural explanation to natural ones for every coincidence and happenstance in their lives and who uncritically accept supernatural explanations from others. Before I could take a miracle claim seriously, I would have to be satisfied that the person reporting the miracle is the kind of person who considered the event with a critical eye. There is simply no way I could ever do that with the quality of evidence the Bible provides.

  4. Bruce Said:

    While I may not, quite, yet, be ready to throw out the miracle baby with the bathwater ;)

    I do know it is impossible to "verify" a miracle. Once someone makes an "other world" claim what are we to do? I have found it is utterly a waste of time to try to objectively argue with someone over a subjective experience.

    One story from my pastoring years:

    A woman woke up one night having heard a voice. Was this God speaking to her, she wondered. She prayed, "Jesus if this is you make yourself known." All of a sudden she saw a bright blue light and she started saying "Praise Jesus" over and over.

    What in the world can anyone do with a story like this? There is no way to prove it is Jesus. It could have just as likely been that she was dreaming about a Blue Light special at K-Mart.

    I leave people to their miracles. As long as they don't affect me or the country I live in fine.

    If people want Jesus or Mary on their toast....a ok. Not me though.

    The bigger problem comes when people say "God told me" or "God is leading me", etc. I always ask, "How do you Know it is God". Of course there is no verifiable answer to my question.

    These questions and how people have answered them have resulted in a lot of tragedy and death. Wars, murders, abuse, etc all because God told me to ________.


  5. Yes, I have heard Craig at a debate. That line was one of many he threw out there for me to roll my eyes at.