David Marshall has posted a critique of my first post in this series about the resurrection of Jesus.
Here is the first in the series of my posts on the resurrection:
Here is Marshall’s critique of that post:
There are several points of criticism raised by Marshall (about 11 that I see). I have replied to two of Marshall’s objections in the comments section of my initial post. Here I shall focus on one of the more significant objections raised by Marshall in his critique.
“My position on the resurrection claim is that it should be analyzed into two main claims:”
1. Jesus died on the cross on Friday of Passover week (and remained dead for at least six hours).”
2. Jesus was alive and walking around on the Sunday following Friday of Passover week (or within a few days after that Sunday).”
The exact dates do not seem of absolute importance, but let’s follow this and see where it goes.
“However, even if one grants, for the sake of argument, that (2) is true, the evidence for the resurrection still falls short of what is required, because the combination of (1) and (2) is a physical impossibility (more or less). So, in supposing (2) to be true, the requirement of evidence to establish (1) becomes rather difficult to achieve.”
Then Marshall raises an objection to this passage:
This looks like begging the question. Yes, it can be assumed that miracles don’t happen — if they don’t. But if it is even POSSIBLE that God is real, then it is not “physically impossible” that Jesus rose from the dead. …
Owen [sic] appears to be assuming, before looking at the evidence, that it is impossible that God exists. That would not seem to be the correct first step in discovering whether or not He does in fact exist. …
Does the reasoning in the passage quoted from my post on the resurrection involve the fallacy of begging the question?
I. An Objection Worthy of Serious Consideration
First of all, this is an objection that needs to be taken seriously. Begging the Question is all too common in discussions and debates about religion, so it is quite possible that I have stumbled into this fallacy that is so tempting for people when engaged in argument about religious beliefs.
Secondly, whenever a miracle claim is being discussed and debated, the problem of avoiding the fallacy of begging the question is particularly of concern, because, as I shall explain later, it is not at all obvious how atheists and theists can avoid begging the question when miracle claims are what is at issue.
So, even if Marshall fails to prove that my reasoning involves begging the question, that will not put my reasoning completely in the clear. For, we need to figure out, in general, what counts as begging the question, as well as what counts as begging the question when discussing miracle claims, whether it is even possible to avoid begging the question on such issues, and finally, how in particular atheists and theists can rationally and objectively discuss and debate such issues, without either side engaging in the fallacy of begging the question.
Once such principles and guidelines have been spelled out, then we can return to my reasoning, and evaluate it in relation to those principles and guidelines to see if it is in keeping with them or not. In short, whether or not Marshall can prove his objection to be correct, he has raised a point that is certainly worthy of further thought and discussion.
II. “Yes, it can be assumed that miracles don’t happen–if they don’t.”
Marshall clearly implies that my reasoning in the quoted passage makes the assumption that ‘miracles don’t happen’. However, nowhere in the passage do I assert that ‘miracles don’t happen’. In fact, the word ‘miracles’ does not occur anywhere in the passage that Marshall quoted. Nor does any synonym for ‘miracles’ occur, nor any phrase that could substitute for the word ‘miracles’. Since there is no explicit claim made about ‘miracles’ in this passage, it far from obvious that my reasoning makes the assumption that ‘miracles don’t happen’.
I concede the obvious point that IF my reasoning does involve the assumption that ‘miracles don’t happen’ then my reasoning does involve the fallacy of begging the question, and my reasoning should, in that case, be rejected. But in looking over the claims I make in the quoted passage, I don’t see any claims (or set of claims) that makes the assumption that ‘miracles don’t happen’. So, unless Marshall can clearly explain which specific claim or claims I have made involve this assumption and how it is that they involve this assumption, I do not see any good reason to accept his assertion that such an assumption is made in the passage he quoted from my post.
III. “But if it is even POSSIBLE that God is real, then it is not ‘physically impossible’ that Jesus rose from the dead. “
Oddly enough, this statement by Marshall is not only false, but it commits the very same fallacy that Marshall is attempting to show my reasoning to have committed.
Now, I don’t mean that Marshall has begged the question in favor of miracles, but rather that he has himself begged the question against miracles. This was unintentional, no doubt, but nevertheless, his statement, looked at objectively, implies that miracles never happen.
Marshall’s statement above implies the following Physical Impossibility Claim:
(PIC) If it is possible that God exists, then Jesus rising from the dead was NOT physically impossible.
This particular claim about the alleged resurrection of Jesus is presumably based upon a more general Physical Impossibility Principle:
(PIP) If it is possible that God exists, then there are no events that are physically impossible.
But if (PIP) was true, then from the assumption that it is possible that God exists, one could infer that there are no events that are physically impossible. But if no events were physically impossible, then no events would be miracles. In other words, from the possibility that God exists it would follow that ‘miracles don’t happen’. Marshall’s statement implies the very assumption that he accuses my reasoning of making.
In order for an event to be a miracle, it must satisfy at least the following two conditions:
1. The event must involve the violation of a law of nature.
2. The event must be brought about by God.
But an event is physically impossible if and only if it involves a violation of a law of nature. Therefore, if there are no physically impossible events, then there are no events involving a violation of a law of nature. And if there are no events involving a violation of a law of nature, then there are no miracles.
Since Marshall clearly believes that the existence of God is possible, his acceptance of (PIP) commits him to the logical implication that ‘miracles don’t happen’. As soon as Marshall realizes this implication of (PIP), I am confident that he will quickly reject (PIP) as being false, and then we will both agree that the assumption upon which his fallacy charge was based, was a false assumption.
To be continued…