A recurring theme of late is that even if you believed the resurrection happened, that would still not justify the inference that there is a God or that the resurrection was a supernatural event. There are some 500 posts or more (I kid you not) arguing about the ‘divine inference’ and a recent commenter has issued the same challenge. It is worth reading the comments on this post of mine about my academy’s course on the historicity of the resurrection.
Now, to me the most telling thing about such lines of argumentation is that they seem geared to perfectly insulate atheism from any kind of refutation. If the resurrection happened, that still wouldn’t warrant believing that God was at work, they say, but very quickly they add, but there is no evidence of it happening, either! It should be self-evident that the one who objects that an actual resurrection ought to be construed in naturalistic terms ought to drop all objections to the occurrence of miracle. Consider this article by Jeffrey Jay Lowder, for example, which says:
Thus, virtually every naturalistic scenario, no matter how far-fetched, must seem a priori more plausible to the atheist, than something as miraculous as the resurrection.
This is a refreshingly honest analysis. This is indeed the perspective of most atheistic objections to the resurrection. But can such an approach be reconciled with the assertion that even in the face of an actual miracle, that is, granting that the miracle really happened, it still does not justify the inference to the supernatural? It would seem that musings about ‘background probabilities’ are irrelevant if the events were insignificant even if granted. But that is the beauty of modern atheism: they wish to have their cake and eat it too. Not only are the events insufficient demonstrations of the supernatural but also there is no evidence that they happened, either! “What luck!”
It seems to me that if the events are of little consequence then there is little reason to object to them on the grounds of evidence. If they actually happened, at most they would simply call for a revision of what is believed to be the laws of nature. Since then there is no threat to the naturalistic world view by an actual miracle or resurrection, then surely we should be able to find some atheists who believe the resurrection and the miracles really happened on simple historical grounds.
After all, the resurrection is much better substantiated than many if not most other historical claims. Even if we took the latest possible dates for the writing of the New Testament books, they would still be much earlier and more numerous than most secular accounts and histories. Why not then simply concede that on historical grounds it would appear that the events really happened but deny the import?
Since the events would be naturalistic events then they would not longer be ‘extraordinary claims’ and so would not require ‘extraordinary evidence.’
When I find an atheist who does in fact accept the resurrection and perhaps the miracles as actual events in mankind’s history and yet remains an atheist, I will take so called challenges to the ‘divine inference’ seriously. I would settle at this point for the production of even one atheist who firmly believes that the resurrection happened.
Until then it looks like an exercise in C.Y.A. to me. The intellectual battle is not faring as well as they like so they are reduced to denying even the import of the event, even if we assumed it actually happened. I don’t think I am far off in welcoming such an approach. Seekers will be surprised, I think, to learn where atheism is headed these days.
As a brief response both to the commenter on the thread I already mentioned and to Jeffrey Jay Lowder’s essay… such considerations still miss the critical point: did the events actually happen? Our best way of knowing about whether events actually happened before the days of video and photos (that was just a shade past a hundred years ago, in case you didn’t know) is to study the historical record. But if Lowder’s atheistic comrades are right, it wouldn’t matter if it did, and if the divine inference is to be rejected, its only worth talking about if confronted with an instance we mutually agreed actually occurred. So did the resurrection happen or not?