There is almost nothing to like in Larry Shapiro’s The Miracle Myth: Why Belief in the Resurrection and the Supernatural is Unjustified. But, as Shapiro would be sure to agree almost nothing is not nothing.
What’s good is Shapiro admits he cannot prove the impossibility of miracles, saying he “wouldn’t even know where to start” such a proof. It’s clear he believes in this impossibility, however, just as it’s also clear he wouldn’t know where to start. For though Shapiro has interesting, but mostly wrong, things to say on the epistemology of miracles, his metaphysics is lacking.
The book is focused, however, on the epistemology of miraculous claims, a subject near and dear to regular readers. Shapiro has two main arguments which insist nobody is ever justified in believing in miracles which involve the probability of miracles and something called inference to the best explanation. Since explaining these will takes some space, I will in other parts refute these arguments. Today I highlight some general problems.
Another thing worthy of praise. Shapiro loves a bad joke and never passes up an opportunity to insert a groaner. I am a connoissewer of bad jokes—maybe because these are the only jokes I’m good at. Let that pass.
Here’s one more jewel. Shapiro recognizes the lousy but popular argument that says the laws of nature are inviolable, and miracles are violations of these laws; therefore miracles are impossible. This assumes what it wishes to prove. “I don’t assume that there’s a way the world works that makes violations of natural laws impossible. Maybe laws of nature can be violated.” But he doubts it.
All this rather depends on what a “law” is, or if laws are, and here Shapiro is of no help. His lack of metaphysical grounding (a bad joke!) stings. He says things like “after all, the very recently dead can be revived with medical interventions in some lucky cases.” So is it a law of nature that the dead can return to life? Hence resurrections are possible? No. Dead means dead, and it is the nature of dead things to stay dead things unless a supernatural force changes the nature of that particular dead thing so that it can come back to life.
It has been said, and said with truth, that the laws of nature are the law of natures. What we see are the operations of things according to their natures, not puppets operated on (somehow) by laws. Natures have to have authors, and there is only one candidate for the author of the essence of all things. Even if this explanation of nature is wrong, which it isn’t, and laws were the rule (another gem!), it still must be that the laws had to have an author other than themselves. And again there is only one candidate.
But let’s skip all that for now, coming back to it as needed in explaining Shapiro’s epistemology. Let’s do history, instead.
Today’s title is a quotation from page 111 from the chapter in which Shapiro in vain attempts to disprove Jesus’s resurrection.
Before I began researching this book, I had a pretty naive view about the New Testament. Actually, the word naive hardly begins to capture my understanding of it. “Profoundly ignorant” is perhaps a better way of putting things.
If he started that way before researching the book, he didn’t end far from it at its end, either. His case would have been far better if he did not attack a subject in which he was blind, and it’s a wonder he included it at all. A guess would be his publisher thought a book of only epistemology would be dull, and could he juice it up by attacking a cherished belief?
He says, “The men who followed Jesus around also couldn’t or didn’t write anything. They were fishermen, day laborers, and tax collectors. We thus have no written record from Jesus or anyone associated with Jesus of anything Jesus said or did during his lifetime.”
Except for Peter and John, of course, the authors of letters and, in John’s case, a gospel and an apocalypse. And then there’s Paul and Luke, and, but, oh, never mind. But since Shapiro admits to never having read the New Testament before, it’s not surprisingly these lowly men, and the lengthy chapters containing their exploits, slipped his mind.
Shapiro does explain he’s “not an expert in this literature” and that professional historians would do a better job. And that leads him to say, in print and in public and without blushing, that “Most of what [he] learned about the gospels and their history comes from reading historians such as Bart Ehrman and”—wait for it…wait for it—“Richard Carrier.”
To which the learned response is Bwahahahahahahahahaha!
You’ll allow me that bad joke. The litigious Richard Carrier is an embarrassment even to fellow atheists. What Shapiro never tells his audience is that Carrier not only denies Jesus rose from the dead, but he insists Jesus never even lived. This “Jesus” is one gigantic conspiracy theory, designed to keep Carrier from his utopia-pan-orientation, or whatever label he is using now. Don’t believe me. Read Tim O’Neill, a self-described atheist appalled by Carrier’s antics.
Next time, an explanation of inference to the best explanation and its limitations.