From Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory:
‘And I dare say the first time you saw a man raised from the dead you might think so too.’ He giggled unconvincingly behind the smiling mask. ‘Oh, it’s funny, isn’t it? It isn’t a case of miracles not happening—it’s just a case of people calling them something else. Can’t you see the doctors round the dead man? He isn’t breathing any more, his pulse has stopped, his heart’s not beating: he’s dead. The somebody gives him back his life, and they all—what’s the expression?—reserve their opinion. They won’t say it’s a miracle, because that’s a word they don’t like. Then it happens again and again perhaps—because God’s about on earth—and they say: these aren’t miracles, it is simply that we have enlarged our conception of what life is. Now we know you can be alive without pulse, breath, heart-beats. And they invent a new word to describe that state of life, and they say science has disproved a miracle.’ He giggled again. ‘You can’t get round them.’
We’ve talked before about how some dismiss miracles and prodigies by positing an alternate explanation for the happenstance. Alternate besides God, I mean. Water turns to wine, a miracle. Yet that could have happened if the water didn’t turn to wine but instead was substituted for wine by wily servants. Or the water was always wine, but weak, and, when no one was looking, this weak wine was fortified by the good stuff.
Or people in the enthusiasm of the feast, and already well fortified themselves, imagine the whole thing, which was started by a rumor from the kitchen. After all, nobody really saw the water undergo its transmogrification.
The sun danced in the sky in front of tens of thousands, and then the sun fell to the wet ground drying it without burning any soul.
Yet it could be that starting at the sun only made it seem to dance, even though none were blinded by staring. Somehow, maybe because of the moisture in the air, blindness was prevented. And because the sun only “danced” due to jangled optic nerves, it only seemed to fall to the ground, which anyway couldn’t have been that wet. People forget these kind of details all to easily. Even tens of thousands of people.
Well, you can always do this. Any event, any observational contingent event, always has lots of possible explanations, and at least one of these will exclude God from having performed the event. Of course, there may be no other corroborative evidence for any alternate explanations proffered. But that never seems to matter. For instance, no servants who pulled the water-wine swamp were ever discovered to have confided in friends, friends who later wrote the matter down. The joke, if it was a joke, is pure conjecture, made up whole cloth, fiction from start to finish.
Yet that the fiction could be thought of is taken as proof of the mundane, it is taken as a certain demonstration that the miracle did not happen. It is not that the fiction casts doubt on the miracle, which might make sense if the alleged miracle is suspicious in some way. That the alternate explanation might create agnosticism is fair enough, and in most cases more than fair enough. But no: the fictions makes it such that miracle is itself thought to be the fiction. And that is still not the strangest thing. The folks who discard eyewitness testimony and substitute it for fictions call themselves “rational” for this.
But since anything short of actual demonstration of the alternate explanation is not proof, then substituting fictions as proof is an irrational act. Again what is strange, is that this irrationalism is often accompanied by cries like, “Where is the evidence! Bring us the evidence!” It always does no good to say, “But you have discarded the evidence in favor of a fiction.” Why? Because the evidence is thought not to be persuasive because it was used in proving the miraculous. And the miraculous is ruled out of bounds as a matter of empiricist metaphysics. You can’t dent the thick wall of empiricism with evidence.