Skepticism Is Not An Argument

Do you need a reason for your doubt? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many times I get caught up in debates on miracles and that leads to an automatic skepticism by many people. After all, we live in an age of science and in this age of science, we know things the ancients didn’t know. Therefore, we know that miracles don’t happen.

I like to point out to these people that they even knew back then that dead people stay dead, people don’t walk on water, food doesn’t instantly multiply to feed 5,000+ people, it’s not expected for blind people to see and paralyzed people to walk, and of course, virgins don’t give birth. (Although I do affirm the virgin birth.) If people insist at this point, I ask when it was that science made these great discoveries that they didn’t know about. It’s also helpful to ask which branch of science has disproven miracles.

The problem that often comes up is that someone will just say I’m a skeptic but without giving any basis for their own position. If we as Christians are often obligated to give a reason for the hope that lies within us, why should our intellectual opponents not give a reason for the doubt that lies within them.┬áPlease note that I am not saying all doubt is wrong. I am suggesting instead that we talk about a reasonable doubt.

For instance, let’s suppose you say that you will not believe in miracles because you have never experienced one. Of course, if you did experience one and you knew it, you would likely believe in miracles, but if you haven’t, do you really want to say the only way you will believe in a miracle is if you yourself witness one? If that’s the case, then no amount of arguing and persuasion is going to work with you. You’ve already decided at the outset a miracle can’t happen because you’ve never experienced it. (It’s also interesting that other people’s experience in the case of miracles is invalid, but your experience of not having one is completely allowable!)

It also won’t help then if it’s automatically decided that any story that you hear is just someone being gullible or mistaken or lying. No doubt, people are often mistaken about miracles, but the argument against miracles depends on every single case being an error in some way. Chesterton told us years ago that the theist believes in the miracle, rightly or wrongly, because of the evidence. The skeptic disbelieves, rightly or wrongly, because he has a dogma against them.

So let’s take a work like Craig Keener’s massive two volumes on miracles documenting miracles done all over the world. For the skeptic, every single miracle in there has to be false. For myself, all of them could be false and I could still have a case for miracles because I have arguments for theism and I have arguments for the resurrection.

So when pressed, what needs to be asked is why is someone being skeptical? What is behind the skepticism? Note also this can go both ways. Christians can be unreasonable in their skepticism of positions that disagree with them. I do not encourage Christians to say you will only disbelieve in the resurrection if you see the bones of Jesus. If Jesus did not rise, his bones are likely long gone and even if they aren’t, you really don’t have much way of identifying them. Set the bar reasonable. I just ask for a better explanation for the rise of the early church than the one the church itself gave that better explains the data.

Skepticism can be good. We should not be gullible and credulous, but at the same time, we need to be reasonable even in skepticism. If we demand our own personal experience, we’re not really entering into the discussion fairly and saying that intellectual arguments won’t convince us. That’s hardly being reasonable.

In Christ,
Nick Peters