I appreciate each of your responses. Sean, I think you add a key piece that this investigative process is not abstractly intellectual, but involves our spiritual disposition. Jennifer, I think you illustrated this point powerfully with the story of the Israelites fleeing Egypt! Jessica, you spoke about the importance of faith in knowing God. Terrell, you point out one example of how we are regularly reminded of Christ’s birth in daily life. Jimmy, you keenly demarcated between the kind of evidence we expect in repeatable scientific experiments and in historical investigations - they are different kinds of knowing - a point echoed by Emilio. And Helen, I love your care to show that even within this brief article, Shermer himself casually makes extraordinary claims without offering any evidence for them. This is a hallmark case of begging the question. Omar, you take a similar line as Helen, pointing out the confusion between probability and evidence. We all believe in rare events. The particular combination of words in this very topic is quite rare!
I wanted to briefly add to this discussion some powerful words from Ravi on critical thinking in regards to this question:
RZ: You know, I find the atheist very clever in what they do. For example, why do they discount miracles? According to David Hume, because the natural law functions routinely—so why do you look for miracles, an oddity in the midst of natural law? So they did away with the miraculous because they were going with what was normative and what was routine. But then when it came to ethics, they very cleverly switched the terms. If you started talking about an absolute, which was normative, they would interject an exception like, “What happens if you walk into your home and your family member is being assaulted? Are you telling me you will not fight or take a baseball bat or something?” Very fascinating. When it came to natural law in the realm of the sun and the planets, they did not allow for the exceptions. But when it came to ethics, it was the exception that debunked the absolute.
So what do those two reactions have in common? They both want to get rid of God—because if you bring in the miraculous in natural law, you have to accommodate the presence of God. If you take the normative and the absolute in ethics, you have to invoke upon the very person of God. So it is more the atheist that is anti-reason and anti-rational, but the accusation that is made against the Christian is leveraged to their advantage now.
But what about the origin of the universe? Is it repeatable? No.They themselves say this could never happen again. What about the contingencies that it took? Thirty some contingencies the exactitude demanded. The very fact that you and I are here is the process of what even atheists would sometimes say is so awesome that it is tantamount to being something like a miracle. Some of the scientists have used that very word. So what I say to them is, you have already accepted that which is not repeatable. You have already accepted that which is so rare. You have already accepted the fact that when you come to a singularity, you are actually seeing the laws of physics do not apply to all of those origins. Do we really think that the consummation of love between and a man and a woman and the birth of a child is just something that is explainable so naturalistically? Rather than seeing the miracle of birth and the wonder of it, we think just by describing it that we have debunked the notion of the miracle.
So when we talk about walking on water and the miraculous, we are talking about a theistic framework. When you are able to defend the existence of God, you also talk about the intervention of God in history and the intervention of God in the process of a natural law. To me, the very fact of natural law is a miraculous expression of God to sustain life. You remember when we had the two astronauts visiting us here at the office. They talked about looking through the windows of space as they were orbiting the earth and seeing something so unique about this planet and its particularity. I think we live with the miraculous every day.
Now the atheist is unfortunately partially correct when he or she attacks the Christian faith and we make no proper defense of it. So I think the defense of the existence of God, the defense of the very person of Jesus Christ, and the defense of the miraculous can be done and ought to be done.
To take this conversation another way, I think that L.T. Jeyachandran had a brilliant approach to this claim:
Some years ago, Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, professor of eastern ethics at Oxford University, made the comment that Christians are just ordinary people making extraordinary claims. Yet elsewhere, Dr. Radhakrishnan seemed to make an extraordinary claim himself: “Jesus is not exceptional but typical.” If the claims of Jesus to uniqueness are extraordinary but untrue, what are we to make of him? What are we to make of Christianity? If Jesus is merely a typical specimen of humanity, what are we to make of his influence over the world? What are we to make of our own lives?
L.T. goes on in his article to point out the many ways that Jesus was quite exceptional. So if Jesus was exceptional, but we claim that he was just an ordinary person, then the burden of proof has shifted! Now we need extraordinary evidence that he was just an ordinary man! And the whole focus of the conversation is on the many extraordinary characteristics of Jesus - a good place to be!