Tom Gilson

A Case Against Miracles, or Unreasonable Skeptical Demands?

I’m reading Loftus’s Case Against Miracles. One author in it, David Corner, argues in favor of Hume’s take on miracles, which (in the briefest language) is that no miracle can be known to have occurred. Corner keeps saying that the person who believes in miracles must do this and must do that, all without asking the naturalist to assume the supernatural is possible. This is essentially the language of his demands, one of which I’ve quoted below.

There are problems here, including the apparent assumption that naturalism is the default position, and supernaturalism cannot be proved except from within a naturalist framework. As far as I can see it’s every bit as question-begging as it sounds.

From another perspective, Corner seems to be assuming that the supernaturalist has no epistemic grounds to stand on, unless she can prove her case to the satisfaction of the naturalist. The naturalist decides the case; the naturalist rules. This is clearly signaled in lines, like:

If we were confronted with an apparent exception to natural law, we would no doubt continue to operate with our previous understanding of the law until we discovered the circumstances under which the exception might be repeated. But this does not make it unreasonable to suppose that we will someday discover what these are, and this is what is demanded of the apologist.

What “is demanded,” he says. By whom, I wonder, or by what principle of discourse, other than the assumption of naturalism as the default position? Or by the naturalist seeking to rule? How much more honest if Corner had used the active voice at the end: “This is what we demand of the apologist.”

What Kinds of Demands are These?

“What we demand” — quoting it (of course) in the way he should have said it. I don’t know anyone else who’s making that demand. And I’m not at all sure the apologist has to care what the naturalist demands, at least not as far as knowing truth is concerned. The apologist certainly wants to find something that will persuade the naturalist to turn to life in Christ. But that’s not going to happen by acceding to atheists’ attempts to assert naturalist control over knowledge and reason.

And that is precisely what Corner seems to be attempting. He persistently assumes naturalism while telling the supernaturalist we cannot ask anyone to assume supernaturalism.  His assumptions are allowed, ours aren’t. This is not exactly good faith argument. The more appropriate way to handle this evidentially is for both sides to ask, given the evidence E, on which hypothesis (naturalism or supernaturalism) would we or should judge E to be more likely?

Both sides are allowed to factor in their background beliefs, naturally. That’s fine, and atheists are welcome to do that — except Corner seems to be saying only his side has that privilege. This is not merely discourteous. It’s rationally deficient, largely by its being question-begging.

Via Facebook messages with John Loftus, I hear that his book supposedly defeats all objections raised against Hume’s take on miracles. I’m only a couple chapters into it, but if this book is going to accomplish that, it’s going to need to turn itself around and start aiming in that direction. Considering how it’s begun, I don’t hold out a whole lot of chance for that happening.

Image Credit(s): Jon Tyson/Unsplash.

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