By Jeremy Linn
When talking with skeptics about the resurrection of Jesus, it seems obvious to go straight to the historical evidence for the resurrection. But for many skeptics, there is an intellectual barrier that needs to be broken down before historical evidence can even be considered.
The barrier is: A strong skepticism towards miracles.
I came across this barrier in a discussion I had with a skeptic about Jesus’ resurrection. When the discussion began, I immediately started talking about historical sources that provide the best evidence for the resurrection. The skeptic responded back with a request for empirical evidence in order to show an event like the resurrection – a miracle – could actually happen.
At this point, I knew we would need to talk about miracles before getting any further in our discussion about historical evidence. I requested permission to turn the conversation towards miracles. When the skeptic agreed, I ran through five steps – all of which are important to incorporate conversations with skeptics about the topic of miracles:
Define what you’re talking about
Both people involved in a discussion need to agree on the definition of keywords they will use in the discussion before significant progress can be made in the discussion. With the topic of miracles, a keyword that needs to be defined is, of course, “miracle.” The agreed-upon definition of miracle will impact discussion on the possibility of them occurring, evidence needed to verify them, and other topics that could come up in the course of conversation.
In my discussion with a skeptic, I asked immediately for a definition of a miracle, knowing the definition would impact the rest of our discussion. The skeptic did not have a definition for a miracle in mind and asked me to provide my own definition. He agreed to use my understanding of miracles – which involves natural laws as we understand today being altered or broken into by a supernatural force – as a starting point for our discussion.
Understand what evidence is required by the skeptic
With the definition of “miracle” set, it’s now time to understand what type and degree of evidence for a miracle the skeptic would require. This step provides an excellent opportunity to listen as you ask a question like, “What evidence would you need in order to be convinced that a miracle occurred?” The key here is to understand and ask clarifying questions if needed, rather than to assess or go on the attack.
In my conversation with a skeptic, it took a while to get to the specifics of what “convincing evidence” for a miracle would look like. For this skeptic, the only acceptable evidence would be repeatable events, tested and verified by a team of scientists multiple times under the same conditions. Now I understood exactly what evidence would be required for the skeptic, and could continue on to the next step.
Assess if the required level of evidence is reasonable
This step helps you determine which direction to take at this point in the discussion. If the skeptic’s requirement for evidence exceeds a level that is reasonable or even possible, then the skeptic likely won’t be convinced no matter what evidence is presented. In that case, it may not be worth continuing discussion about evidence for miracles. Instead, the discussion may need to turn to the nature of evidence itself.
In my discussion, I didn’t know exactly how to assess the requirement for a team of scientists to repeatedly test miracle events – it’s a requirement I had never heard before. But upon later reflection, it became clear that the requirement in not reasonable. If a repeatable event was tested and verified by groups of scientists over time, that event would be considered by the skeptic to be a natural event – not a miraculous one. Thus, the potential for miracles is immediately ruled out by the skeptic’s requirement.
Provide any case examples that could satisfy the requirement of evidence
If the skeptic does provide a requirement for evidence that appears reasonable, then you can provide some case examples which may satisfy the requirement. There are a few ways to approach this part of the discussion. One way is to bring up a miracle account that is based on eyewitness testimony and ask how the skeptic would explain the details of the account. Many eyewitness accounts are provided in books like Miracles by Craig Keener and The Case for Miracles by Lee Strobel. For another idea, you could point the skeptic to miracle accounts that include medical documentation people can view for themselves, such as the miracle story of Sean George.
In my discussion with a skeptic, I didn’t provide specific miracles examples since I didn’t come prepared with examples. That is one thing I would change in my next discussion about any topic related to miracles – to have specific examples written down or memorized so they can be used when needed.
Don’t expect the evidence will immediately convince the skeptic
This “step” may be more of a principle to keep in mind as you enter into a discussion about miracles. Even if a skeptic requests a specific level of evidence, and you provide satisfactory examples, don’t expect the skeptic to suddenly embrace the miraculous. Factors beyond evidence can hold someone back from accepting the reality of miracles – factors like a naturalistic bias, a difficult emotional experience in the past, or a negative perception of the supernatural.
Ultimately, God is the one to change someone’s mind and heart regarding spiritual topics such as miracles. We have a role to play in this process, but our goal is not to convince a skeptic by our own power. Our goal is to listen, to understand, and to be open to God using us in leading a skeptic one step closer to the truth.
Recommended resources related to the topic:
The Case for Miracles: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernatural by Lee Strobel Kindle Edition
Defending the Faith on Campus Complete Package by Frank Turek DVD
Jeremy is the co-founder of the ministry Twin Cities Apologetics and is an accountant for a law firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He’s also going to Bethel Seminary for a graduate degree in a program called Christian Thought (basically Apologetics!). Outside of Apologetics, Jeremy enjoys sports, playing guitar, and making videos.