The Simplest Explanation?
Let me suggest that Lerner advise his atheist-fearing congregants that they spend more time worrying about people like the Reverend Mark Creech. The last time we saw Mr. Creech he was calmly explaining that only someone who was insane could be a liberal.
This time he's lecturing us about the simplest explanation for the Biblical account of Jesus walking on water:
Nevertheless, not to be outdone among the skeptics, Professor Doron Nof of Florida State University claims it may have been ice Jesus stood on and not water. According to a recent article by Reuters, “Nof used records of the Mediterranean Sea's surface temperatures and statistical models to examine the dynamics of the Sea of Galilee, which Israelis know now as Lake Kinneret. Nof's study found that a period of cooler temperatures in the area between 1,500 and 2,600 years ago could have included the decades in which Jesus lived. A drop in temperature below freezing could have caused ice -- thick enough to support a human -- to form on the surface of the freshwater lake near the western shore ... it might have been nearly impossible for distant observers to see a piece of floating ice surrounded by water.”
It's hard to believe any such theories are ever taken seriously. Yet they often are. Why? Why is it so incredibly hard for some to believe the obvious -- a miracle took place?
As a graduate student I once attended a debate hosted by a Christian student group on the subject of whether God existed. During the debate, the theist made much of the assertion that Jesus' tomb was empty. This, he claimed, was a strong piece of evidence in favor of the resurrection.
The atheist, who was a philosophy professor at Dartmouth (where I went to grad school), replied roughly as follows: “But let's suppose my opponent is right. Suppose that Jesus' body was placed in the tomb and then three days later the tomb as empty. Then we have two choices. We can either believe that roughly two thousand years ago one particular dead body behaved in ways no dead body before or since has ever behaved. Or we can believe that somebody moved the body.”
I don't understand a person who could seriously say that a two thousand year old account of a man walking on water is best explained by the assumption that a man really did walk on water.
Creech isn't finished:
Moreover, apologist Josh McDowell writes: “[W]e must remember that scientific laws neither dictate events nor do they explain them. They are merely a generalization about observable causes and effects .... The proper way of determining if something happened is not whether we can explain it. The first question to be asked is not can it happen, but rather did it happen .... If an event can be determined as having happened, yet it defies explanation, we still have to admit that it happened, explanation or not. The evidence for biblical miracles is as powerful historically as other historical events (such as the fall of Rome and the conquests of Alexander the Great). Just because miracles are outside our normal daily experience does not mean they have not occurred and do not occur.”
Still another reason why some people have a hard time accepting the miracles described in the Bible is because they compare them to Greek and Roman mythology -- tales of pagan miracle accounts that are clearly superstition. The difference, however, between the miraculous events recorded in the Bible and those in pagan religions are the firsthand accounts. In the Bible, miraculous events are always validated by the testimony of eyewitnesses.
But when a person comes to us with a story that stands in stark defiance of all natural laws as we know them, surely we are entitled to think that the person is mistaken about what he witnessed. A person seeing a magic act for the first time might return with fantastic stories of elephants disappearing from the stage, women being sawed in half, and rabbits appearing in hats that were previously shown to be empty. Something more than an alleged eyewitness account is required if we are to accept such stories, especially when we are separated from the events in question by thousands of years.
For that matter, I routinely see magicians perform feats that I can not explain. Is it just my naturalistic bias that leads me to believe there is a non-miraculous explanation for what I saw? I suspect neither Creech nor McDowell believes that it is.
We skeptics have a saying: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Two thousand year old hearsay testimony doesn't count.