August 12, 2005

Invincible Skepticism

I've just listened to (what I believe to be) the last debate between Gary Habermas and renowned atheist Antony Flew on the evidence for the resurrection. It was really more of a dialog, and Habermas did most of the talking. Other than the fact that Flew is getting on in years and is slow on the uptake, it was a very remarkable discussion.

Flew pitched out some alternatives to the Biblical story, which included such things as Jesus not really dying on the cross (the "swoon theory"), the body not really being buried in the tomb (no tomb to be "empty"), and the resurrection appearances being just "visions" (the "hallucination theory"). Habermas gave detailed refutations to each of these theories, and Flew even seemed satisfied with his case and offered almost no follow-up arguments.

The discussion seemed as though it would dead end, with Flew's shortage of objections, when Habermas finally challenged him on the falsifiability of his unbelief, that is, if there was any conceivable evidence that could break through his skepticism. That's when Flew spoke the words that I find to be a classical formulation of the skeptic's case against the Christian faith:

"I have an almost invincible disinclination to believe in the resurrection."

To be fair to Flew, I shall give his justification for making such a painfully candid statement. He simply finds the resurrection – indeed, the whole supernatural portrait of Jesus – to be so beyond natural experience and his understanding of reality that he simply cannot fit it into place. But my response would be, that is exactly the point!

If there were a God – a premise that Flew has recently come to accept – exactly how would one expect Him to demonstrate His presence and intentions? Isn't it miracles that every skeptic is ultimately demanding? So many times have I heard skeptics say things like, "if God would just make this table rise..."

The thing is, according to the Bible, God has granted miracles in spades. Indeed, he affirms their place in validating His existence and authority, and the authority of His spokespersons (Ex 10:2; Dt 18:22; Jn 10:25,38; 1Ki 18:20-39). How else could we separate the natural from the supernatural?

It seems that the skeptic is caught in an epistemological limbo. He demands the miraculous to validate the existence of the supernatural, but he passes all religious claims through the sieve of the "natural," which excludes the possibility of such things as miracles. The very thing that is necessary to validate the Biblical story becomes that thing which makes it most implausible.

I'm sure that Jesus had not only the Pharisees in mind but also those like Flew when He insisted that there are some who are simply disinclined to belief, and who "will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead" (Lk 16:31).



At 8/14/2005 4:45 PM, Blogger Vman said...

Kudos for considering both sides of the argument. Check out for my take on the DaVinci code and the ideas it presents. I think you will agree with some of it.

At 8/16/2005 7:32 AM, Anonymous Jeff said...

I just heard this debate too (like you said, not so much a debate as a panel discussion among friends).

I too was struck by Flew's admission that he was disinclined to believe even though the evidence seemed so strong as to abolish his alternative explanations. I admire that kind of intellectual honesty.

I thought it interesting that Flew both rejected the miraculous on the grounds that it flies in the face of experience AND that he made a point to say that if Jesus really were divine then proof of that would require something REALLY REMARKABLE.

So he was saying that he wouldn't believe Jesus was divine without a one-off miracle and that he wouldn't accept any one-off miracles....pretty much where most skeptics are coming from.

At 8/17/2005 12:29 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...

This is a good observation. Flew was a David Hume scholar, and although he acknowledged in his first resurrection debate with Habermas that there were flaws in Hume's case against belief in miracles, he thought the argument could be rehabilitated. Flew doesn't seem to have ever dropped his epistemological argument against miracles, which is pretty simple. One just asks himself, "Which is more reaonable to believe? That a dead guy rose from the dead or that there's some other explanation for the evidence?" As far fetched as many of the alternative explanations (such as the swoon theory) are, they don't seem quite as far fetched as the idea that a dead corpse came back to life. One might even throw up their hands and admit that they just don't know what really happened, and say that if it's even possible that something quite natural happened to explain things, then it's more reasonable to believe there's a natural explanation than a supernatural explanation.

Ronald Nash, in his book on Faith and Reason talked about this some. He said that whether a person will believe something or not depends on their entire noetic structure--all of their beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions about reality.

Since Flew decided there must be some kind of God, I would like to have known if that changed his opinion about the possibility of miracles. It's too bad he died. I would like to have heard his thoughts on it.


At 9/22/2005 4:00 PM, Anonymous jyeager said...

Sam, when did Flew die? I haven't heard anything to that effect.

At 9/22/2005 7:38 PM, Blogger Paul said...

This was a mistake that was caught and corrected in the comments here.

At 2/13/2006 3:03 PM, Blogger JELyon said...

I know this is an old thread, but: A directly observed miracle is a different critter than purported events recorded in documents from 2K years ago.


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