Skeptics, who maintain a naturalistic worldview, quickly reject the historicity of the gospel accounts because miracles appear within the narrative. Their a priori assumptions preclude supernatural occurrences, which severely limits their ability to analyze the narrative, thereby causing them to classify the gospel accounts as legendary, without conducting a proper investigation. Christian apologists vehemently challenge this worldview, attempting to prove that acceptance of the miraculous remains a tenable position. Apologists leverage two approaches in addressing miracles: 1) the “bottom-up” approach (argues from miracles to the existence of God), and 2) the “top-down” approach (provides independent reasons for God’s existence, before contending that miracles are possible).1 This essay will briefly outline the strengths of both techniques while demonstrating why the top-down approach proves superior.
The Bottom-Up Approach
William Lane Craig masterfully employs the bottom-up approach, arguing that a supernatural hypothesis (i.e., resurrection) best explains the historical facts of Jesus’ life, death, and postmortem appearances, thus providing evidence for God’s existence. Dr. Craig summarizes his argument as follows:2
1. There are three well-established facts concerning the fate of Jesus of Nazareth: the discovery of his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the origin of his disciples’ belief in his resurrection.
2. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of these facts.
3. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” entails that the God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth exists.
4. Therefore, the God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth exists.
Although Dr. Craig routinely uses the bottom-up technique, this is merely one argument extracted from a larger apologetic. Inherent limitations of the approach reduce the effectiveness of the argument if employed alone. For instance, the argument places the burden of proving God’s existence on historical evidence. While a systematic analysis of historical evidence would render support for the resurrection hypothesis, most skeptics will opt not to undertake such a painstaking task. As a result, skeptics either insist upon a naturalistic postulation or reject the historicity of the event(s) entirely. Because of such limitations, the bottom-up approach does not provide a standalone apologetic for the miraculous/the existence of God.
The Top-Down Approach
In contrast to the bottom-up technique, the top-down approach employs independent arguments to support the existence of God (e.g., the cosmological argument, the teleological argument), providing a basis for the occurrence of supernatural events within human history. Fundamentally, the apologist must only show that miracles are not logically impossible; however, delineating multiple lines of evidence and employing strong independent arguments for God’s existence, dramatically increases the plausibility of miraculous events. The basic argument is as follows:
1. If God exists, then miracles are possible.
2. It is possible that God exists.
3. Therefore, miracles are possible.
In using this argument, the apologist does not assert that every anomaly or scientifically unexplainable event has a supernatural cause, understanding that individual miracle claims require inquiry to determine their validity. Instead, the objective of this argument is merely to eliminate the a priori assumptions inherent in the naturalistic worldview, and the inveterate tendency to reject supernatural events arbitrarily.
This approach proves superior to the bottom-up technique, as it does not rely upon historical evidence to prove the existence of God. Moreover, several independent arguments for the existence of God utilize general facts that the scientific community accepts, which is more likely to produce a meaningful conversation with a skeptic, rather than focusing upon a controversial anomaly (i.e., the resurrection of Jesus). Beginning a discussion/examination of Jesus’ resurrection, after providing rational arguments for the existence of God and ascertaining a justification for miraculous events, appears more proficient.
The presence of miracles within the gospel accounts, serve as a point of contention for skeptics maintaining a naturalistic worldview. As a result, the apologist must challenge the philosophical foundations of the skeptical worldview, by presenting logical arguments for the existence of God and the possibility of miracles. While both the top-down and bottom-up methods have proven effective, it is clear that inherent limitations of the bottom-up technique place unnecessary burden upon the apologist and the historical evidence. Accordingly, the top-down approach provides a superior apologetic, by presenting positive arguments for God’s existence, thereby allowing for the possibility of the miraculous.