In my article, “Responding to a Stale Atheist Talking Point on Miracle Claims,” I … respond to a stale atheist talking point on miracle claims. But since the article is a relatively brief amalgam of some tweets, it lacks in clarity what it makes up in brevity. However, I thought a second article that surrendered brevity in favor of clarity would be wise. And in case you haven’t surmised by now … this is that article.
Imagine that you were to encounter a person who rejects the principle of testimony, i.e. the principle that we can have properly basic belief based only on a person’s testimony. They ask you,
“Okay, smart guy, if you’re going to believe testimony at face value, what keeps you from accepting just anybody’s testimony? Like, why don’t you accept the testimony that an alien landed on your roof?”
“I judge testimony based on what I believe about the world. It’s called a ‘plausibility structure’ and it provides a prima facie means to sort the plausibility of various testimonial claims. To be sure, it is indeed only prima facie and can be challenged by good evidence. I don’t think that aliens exist, but my brother-in-law does. So I would be skeptical of that testimonial claim unless evidence was provided. I wouldn’t take it at ‘face value.’ But he’d likely be more open to it. And so, if he found the testifier to be especially credible, he might believe it without further evidence.
“And so, there is nothing inconsistent with accepting some testimonial claims at face value and rejecting others. We make such judgments relative to our background beliefs. And from our respective frameworks, each of us then assesses the claim.”
Now switch out “testimony skeptic” with “miracle skeptic.” The exact same response applies. There is nothing inconsistent with granting prima facie credibility to one subset of miracle claims based on one’s background set of beliefs. Nor is this invoking a special exception. Rather, it is precisely the same norm that is applied across the board when we evaluate truth claims, including testimony. As a Christian, I’m prima facie skeptical of Sathya Sai Baba’s miracles for the precise same general reason that Counter Apologist is skeptical, i.e. because those claims are inconsistent with other things I believe about the world. To be sure, the precise set of specific reasons that I will be skeptical will differ to some degree from that of Counter Apologist. But nonetheless, we will both be skeptical of the Sathya Sai Baba miracles for the same general reason: inconsistency with our current beliefs about the nature of reality.
To conclude, it should be underscored that since my skepticism is prima facie, if you provide powerful evidence for those miracle claims or other anomalous or extraordinary claims, then I’ll consider it. Case in point, in this article I note why I take Ian Stevenson’s evidence for reincarnation seriously even though I’m not ultimately persuaded by it. And also read my article “On taking an objective approach to inexplicable events.” And for kicks and giggles, you might also read my article “What a coincidence! An exercise in worldview analysis.”