In a recent exchange with an anti-theist I was asked to defend the supernatural and why the Bible is similar to so many other ancient religious texts. I think that last claim is exaggerated but I chose not to quibble about it. As for the first criticism, it is interesting how often the philosophical naturalist’s anti-supernaturalism based on science rears its head these days in discussions.

My anti-theist friend wrote, “Science provides enough evidence to make the explanation that the Bible was written by normal men, and the supernatural episodes in it are largely myth, vastly more probable than the alternative that they actually happened.

 This can be judged by comparing the relative frequencies between human beings inventing mythical stories, which they believe whole heartily, to the number of mythical stories which have turned out to be true and those that turn out to be false

 We have a vast body of knowledge, from every angle, that human beings invent myths involving supernatural elements. We have a body of evidence consisting of nothing to substantiate that sometimes those myths involving supernatural elements are actually true.

The hypothesis: “a given myth of a supernatural nature is an invention of humans” is vastly more probable than “the same myth of a supernatural nature is actually the case.”

My response, “I agree with part of what you have implied in that the Bible’s origin as ancient literature is not often considered by believers (perhaps especially American Christians). Many of us read the first 11 chapters of Genesis as if it were newspaper style reporting and do not recognize how it has obviously borrowed from the Enuma Elish and particularly Egyptian cosmogonies to make its own spiritual points in an accomodationist manner to its original audience. Genesis 1-11 are best approached as theological history rather than as a documentary history or scientific text.

Or we read the book of Joshua as if the “genocides” of the Canaanites really occurred as written rather than realizing that the book of Joshua is in the same hyperbolic historical genre as all the other extant ancient Near Eastern military accounts (e.g. the accounts of Thutmose or Ramesses- both of whom claimed to have completely annihilated the kingdom of the Israelites which outlived both pharaohs). 

I think anti-supernaturalism was most powerfully argued for by Hume but even his argument by uniform experience (which seems to be what you are getting at) is ultimately a circular argument. I like to call it Hume’s Hamster Wheel and it can be summarized as follows:

1. A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature.
2. Firm and unalterable experience has established these laws of nature.
3. A wise person proportions belief to evidence.
4. Therefore, the proof against miracles is overwhelming.

Now, if it is indeed the fact that uniform experience shows miracles have never happened then we would have to agree. But we can only know that humans have never experienced a miracle only if we know every reported miracle is false. The only way to know that every reported miracle is false is to already know that miracles have never occurred. That many of us have never witnessed a miracle only proves that they are not everyday occurrences. They are, in a word, miraculous.

It seems to me that both anti-supernaturalism and supernaturalism are philosophical conclusions, not scientific hypotheses.”


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