Why I Don’t Speak of the Supernatural

Is there a problem with this term? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many times when debating atheists, I find it amusing that they will always use the word “supernatural.” I don’t. Majority of the times, when I ask what this term means, I do not get an answer. It is a term I refuse to use anymore as I think it’s much more problematic.

For one thing, with this term, whatever is natural is treated as a given. What has to be proven is the supernatural and who gets the burden of proof then? That’s right. The theist does. The atheist has to make no defense of the natural.

Let’s look at that for a bit. One of the big mistakes we make is that we think we just need to argue for how the world came to be. How about arguing for how the world is? What keeps the world in motion? Look at your own self. You could go and end your own life with suicide if you wanted, but if Christianity is true, you would not end your existence. Your existence would go on. (I realize some Christians believe in conditional immortality, but even then it is God who destroys your existence and not yourself.)

You can sit in a chair all day and say “I will myself to not exist” and it will not happen. You will go on existing. You might starve yourself to death or some other means, but your mere will alone will not terminate your existing. You also are not always willing yourself to exist. After all, you have to sleep sometimes. Your existing comes from something else.

Atheists don’t usually seem to want to engage with this question.

But then, let’s go a step further. What is natural? It is hard to describe. This gets us into making supernatural even harder to describe. If natural refers to the material world, many of us believe in things that we don’t see in the material world. We believe in triangularity even if there weren’t any triangles. We believe in love and goodness. We believe laws of logic are real. We believe our consciousness is real. There are differing opinions, but some believe numbers are real. We could even say existence itself. After all, you can’t take some existence, put it in a jar, and study it.

If material reality is all that there is, then these things mentioned here do not really exist. None of them are material in nature. This is one reason I prefer to not use the term supernatural, but I instead speak of the extramaterial. A skeptical will be in a much harder position dealing with those realities, and yet here they are.

Supernatural too often becomes a term coined with anything referring to religion. (Another hard term to define, but we won’t go down that rabbit hole again.) Get rid of that and what is left but atheism? Atheism is treated as a given then, the default position.

If a skeptic wants to claim only material realities or natural (Whatever that means) exist, let him demonstrate that claim. That’s the rule. Whoever makes a claim has the burden to demonstrate it and failing to demonstrate one claim does not mean the other claim is demonstrated. It just means one party has poor reasons for believing their claim.

Defining terms is always important in debate. When supernatural comes up, it tends to end in a debate on what the supernatural is. It tends to put the Christian automatically on the defensive because they accept the term. I recommend then not using the term. It only leads to problems.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Chapter 2.

How do skeptics respond to miraculous healings? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I count Nabeel Qureshi as a friend. My wife and I prayed for him every day when we found out he had stomach cancer of the most advanced kind. There were several people praying for Nabeel all over the world.

Despite this, Nabeel died.

So yes, I am familiar with people talking about faith healing. I do believe that it can happen, but it’s not a necessity. God does things for His own reasons. It is my duty to trust when I don’t know those reasons.

In this chapter, David Pye looks at miraculous healings. I find this an odd place to go to so early on. I do believe there is good evidence that miracles have happened and do happen, but generally, it’s not the best starting point. If you’re a hardened skeptic, you will find a way to explain everything in that lens. If you are a Christian, you are far more prone to see the miraculous.

So let’s go through David Pye’s chapter.

At the start, he does list several conditions people are said to be healed from, but then we get to a problematic statement.

“But what about conditions like Alzheimer’s disease? Huntington’s chorea? Cerebral palsy? Why are people diagnosed with these conditions never healed?”

How does Pye know this?

To begin with, if you don’t believe miraculous healing is possible, then of course, miraculous healings of these have never taken place, but alas, we are arguing in a circle at that point. For Pye to know this, he would have to have exhaustive knowledge of all the Earth past and present. Even if the claim was true, that would not rule out that it could happen. There could hypothetically never have been a miracle in Earth’s history, and yet miraculous healing could still be possible.

In all this chapter, there is never any interaction with the best sources on this. Of course, such a work could have been written before their release, but it would be nice to see more miracle claims looked at. Only one is really examined. There is no interaction with a work like Craig Keener’s Miracles. Keener in this work traveled all over the world collecting accounts of miraculous healing, some with medical documentation.

Pye prefers to speak of surprising or astonishing healings. He does say that these happen in other religions and happen in hypnosis. I believe we are getting into the whole “Why do miracles happen in other religions?” I do not know why that would be a problem for me.

You see, if a miraculous healing takes place, then miracles are possible and the position of atheism is in serious trouble. As a Christian, I can think of any number of reasons. Perhaps it is a demonic interaction taking place. Perhaps God is extending some grace outside of Christianity to bring someone to Christianity. We don’t know. For the former, there is even a Biblical precedent. One could look to the beast being healed in Revelation 13 for an example. Of course, I read Revelation differently than most Christians, but the idea of a healing from a dark source is still there.

He goes on to say that

“If Christianity were true we might expect miraculous healings to occur only through Christian healers. Or we might expect Christian healings to be far more impressive than  healings in other contexts – for example, there being conditions which only Christian healers, but no-one else, are able to heal. I am not aware of any definitive investigation of comparative success at healing in different religions but my strong impression is that all have about the same success rate. Christianity doesn’t stand out as noticeably superior (nor does any other religion).”

I find this again quite odd. He is not aware of any definitive investigation, but he wishes to make a universal statement on a “strong impression.” How is this done? If I say I have a strong impression that many skeptics don’t come to Christianity because they want to continue living in sin, would anyone really accept this?

He also quotes from John Dominic Crossan on Wikipedia about healing shrines. Absent is any data directly from the shrines themselves. Someone like Keener actually did the hard work on that level.

He then tells a story about a man healed from a chronic skin disease. Then, he describes a similar story with someone healed under hypnosis. I do not see how this is meant to be a rebuttal. God could do through miraculous means what could be done through natural means. In understanding miracles, there are first-class and second-class miracle. First class are things that cannot happen by any means we know of. Jesus rising from the dead would be one. For a second, consider Israel crossing the Jordan to enter the Promised Land. The waters stop so they can pass. That in itself is not a miracle. The waters had stopped before and probably have since then. What is a miracle is that it happened when it happened. Keener lists several times in his book where something was healed because of a prayer in the name of Jesus specifically.

The next section is about exorcism. Pye does think something happens, but it is certainly not the expulsion of a demon. I invite Pye to really look at such accounts of demonic possession, such as the ones with super strength and such. Note also exorcism was common in the ancient world and it wasn’t just Christians doing it, but Jesus was the one deemed the most successful and it is widely agreed among New Testament scholars today that Jesus had a reputation as both a healer and an exorcist.

It’s worth pointing out that Pye regularly speaks of the natural and the supernatural. I will not speak of the supernatural save when he does. I do not really like the term supernatural as it is way too vague. My thoughts on that can be found here.

Pye does list many realities of life about suffering. The problem is while these may seem foreign to a Western audience, to the audience Jesus spoke to and Christianity rose up in, while the science would not be there, the reality would be well known. Suffering is real. Many of these people encountered death on a regular basis. Pye thinks Buddhism is more real in admitting these realities up front. Chrisitanity does too though. It has no reason to deny them. This was the world Jesus lived in. The problem for us is our modern Western world treats suffering like an exception. People in many countries today risk their lives if they walk to church. We consider it suffering if we don’t get a parking spot near the church on Sunday morning.

There is something on church politics and how that some people don’t talk about healing lest they be seen as immature and such. My wife and I are both part of Celebrate Recovery at our church. That leads me to think that this is not really valid. In a group like this, people are encouraged to come and let their guard down. In turn, through this, I have come to know this group of people much better than others. I think the church could learn a lot here.

Finally, Pye has something on the disabled. Readers of this blog know that my wife and I both have Aspergers. That awareness is near and dear to my heart. I rejoice at seeing Autism coming into the mainstream through such shows as The Good Doctor.

Pye says here

“So, here we have two viewpoints, two approaches, with regard to disabled people – and the results of both approaches can be evaluated.
On the one hand many Christians have said that disabled people can and should be healed of their disabilities. But, in practice, such healing doesn’t happen.

And on the other hand you have a primarily secular initiative which sees disabled people as full people who have full human rights and who deserve respect, acceptance and opportunities just as much as non-disabled people. And this sort of outlook has changed society for the better (and continues to do so) giving disabled people a better chance of fulfilling lives.

Which position is better? One that promises much but delivers little (and may even cause harm)? Or one that is more modest but has, nonetheless, delivered significant changes for the better?”

I find this to be a radical dichotomy. There is nothing wrong with praying for someone to be healed who has a seriously debilitating disability. (At the same time, I have no wish to be healed of Aspergers. Others would, but not I.) That does not mean that they are any less human. If someone thinks so, this thinking does not come from Jesus.

Yet I have to ask, where does the secularist position come from? Disabled are full people who deserve full human rights? I agree, but upon what are these rights grounded? What makes a human so valuable? Are we not all the result of a cosmic accident? Why should any of us “deserve” anything? It looks to me like a morality floating in air.

This does not mean that I am not thankful that Pye takes the position that he does with the disabled, but I wonder how he could ground it. I think too often skeptics have taken the morality that comes from Christianity, assumed that it is just something everyone really knows, takes it for granted, and then acts like it fits in right at home with their worldview.

When we return to this book, we’ll look at chapter 3 on evangelism and eternity.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

 

Book Plunge: The Historical Reliability of The New Testament

What do I think of Craig Blomberg’s book published by B&H Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Craig Blomberg has recently written a rather large tome on the reliability of the New Testament and it is one that is definitely in-depth. There is hardly a major issue of New Testament studies that you won’t find here. Blomberg has extensive footnotes as he wrestles with most issues that are alive today in discussion.

Want to know about the Gospels and who wrote them? It’s there. When were they written? It’s there. What about the epistles? There. What about forgery in the epistles? Blomberg has you covered. There’s even a section on Revelation. Why? Because much of Revelation does fit into a historical setting. (This could also be an area I disagree with Blomberg some on as he prefers what he calls a Preterist-Futurist approach. I prefer just an Orthodox Preterist approach. I’m pleased to see he rightly condemns neohymenaeanism.

Blomberg also writes on issues related to textual criticism and the canon. How do we know that the New Testament has been handed down accurately? Even if it has been, there were a lot of other books that could have gone into the canon. Right? Wasn’t this just a decision made at Nicea? (I would also go against Blomberg here saying that this largely comes from Dan Brown. Brown popularized it, but this claim was going on long before Dan Brown.)

If you want to know about those other accounts, there’s a section on them too. Like I said, Blomberg is thorough. It’s hard to think of a way that he could be more meticulous than this.

The final section is on miracles and the resurrection. Again, this is one area where I would disagree on the use of the term supernatural. I have a hard time with this because it is never clearly defined and I think it in fact gives the atheist a free pass with thinking that the natural doesn’t really need an explanation. While it’s not in his area, Blomberg starts off by pointing to others who have written on the existence of God (And I do wish he’d mentioned the Thomistic arguments, in my opinion, the best.) and then goes on to make the case for miracles largely using the work of Craig Keener.

The positives of this volume are that despite it being large, it is also easy to understand. A layman will get a lot out of this volume. If the reader only wants to know about one area, say the synoptic Gospels, for instance, no problem. Just go there. If you want to know about the formation of the canon, no problem. Just go there.

A work like this is also a good response to people who immediately decide there is no evidence for anything in the New Testament. Sadly, few of them will ever bother to pick up a work like this and will instead run to internet sites that already agree with them. Those who do manage to work their way through Blomberg’s book will be blessed for it.

If you want a go-to book on the reliability of the New Testament as a whole, this is the one to go to. In New Testament courses on apologetics even at a Seminary’s level, Blomberg’s book should be a staple for a long time to come. He has also said he will be having a theology book coming out next. We eagerly look forward to it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/31/2015: Mark Hunnemann

What’s coming up on the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Halloween is upon us. It’s the time where we think about all those scary things that go bump in the night and sit around campfires and tell ghost stories and try our hardest to scare each other. Some people really do get scared on Halloween and there are many concerns about how Christians as well should celebrate the holiday or even if they should celebrate it at all. Each year, I try to have someone come on who is familiar with the occult to talk about these kinds of things usually due to their experience in such matters. A few years ago I was advised to never study it for myself and I have followed that. Therefore, I decided to have my friend Mark Hunnemann come on who wrote Seeing Ghosts Through God’s Eyes. So who is he?

MarkHunnemann

In his own words:

I graduated in 1979 from ASU (Appalachian St U) with a BA in Philosophy…minor in religion. Went directly to graduate school or seminary at Covenant Theological Seminary in St Louis as well as Erskine, where I graduated…..3 year Masters of Divinity Degree. I debated on whether to get PhD in Philosophy and teach but felt the Lord calling me to the pastoral ministry. I was ordained in 1985 in the ARP (Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church) and was an assistant pastor for 4 years in my hometown of Greensboro, NC. I then started a church plant and was pastor for 10 years. I now focus on writing and educating people re the explosive growth of the occult worldview, which has now displaced secularism as the main threat of Christianity. I have also worked with people who are oppressed because their homes are demonically infested.

We’ll be talking about his book and famous ghost stories and what evidence there is that anything unusual is going on. What about in a day and age where there’s rampant skepticism of anything demonic? Don’t we live in America and in the 21st century and in the modern scientific age? What are people today to do about demons? On the other hand, are there not some people on the opposite end who do think that nearly everything that they see around them is demonic? I can’t help but think of a video Allie and I watched recently from the Prophecy Club that we just ended up laughing at, particularly when the guy who was an ex-satanist started saying that Pokemon was a plot to lure our kids into satanism. How do we find the fine middle line to avoid complete hysteria and complete ignorance? After all, Lewis told us years ago that a demon would be equally pleased with a magician as he would a materialist. We’ll also talk about some of those ghost shows that you see on TV and what we can learn from them or rather, not learn from them.

I hope you’ll be tuning in this Saturday to hear Mark, and Happy Halloween!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why I Reject A Natural/Supernatural Distinction

Are we buying into a paradigm that we ought not to? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many times when I’m in a debate, I’m told that I accept supernatural realities. My response is always along the lines of “Who said I do?” I in fact do not accept such because I do not believe that the term supernatural is really that meaningful anyway. I consider it a claim we have from the time of the Enlightenment that takes for granted an idea that we got from that time.

You see, in this view, the world that we see everyday is “natural.” For that, it is the one that does not need to be explained. Outside of this world is supposed to be a world that is deemed “supernatural.” This world is supposed to be a catch-all to includes ideas like fairies, goblins, demons, angels, miracles, and of course, God or the gods.

Is this really an approach we want to take?

You see, I can readily accept there are realities that we see everyday, and to be fair, most atheists and agnostics would seek to have an explanation for this rather than “It’s just there” as some sort of brute fact, but at the same time I believe in many realities that I do not have the ability to see everyday and do not operate according to “laws of nature.”

“Of course you do. You’re a theist. You believe in God.”

Okay. How about triangularity?

But don’t we see triangularity around us everyday?

No. We don’t. We can see several triangles. We don’t see triangularity itself. You could not draw me a picture of triangularity. You could only draw me triangles.

How about numbers? Now to be fair, I’m not convinced numbers exist in the same way triangularity does, but if you think that numbers do exist like that, then what is your explanation for that?

What about morality? Many of us do believe that there are objective moral truths and that some things are objectively good. This is not something that we can detect through scientific means however. It’s not visible so how could we just call it “natural”?

And then of course, there’s existence itself. Now we can say we see existence, but we don’t. We see things that exist. You can’t take just existence itself and put it in a jar.

When we accept the false natural/supernatural dichotomy, we make it so that we entirely have the burden of proof and we accept a more materialistic worldview right at the start. Why should we do that? If someone wants to say there is a natural/supernatural dichotomy, then it is up to them to demonstrate that.

When we accept it also, everything gets accepted under this catch-all term so it becomes “Oh? You believe in miracles? Then do you believe in fairies also?” The nonsense idea is that all claims of this sort are equal entirely. Of course some claims of suprahuman realities are false, but that does not mean all are. Each claim must be examined on its own.

I urge Christians to question this dichotomy wherever you find it. If you use this terminology, you’re already well on your way to accepting a materialist worldview. Don’t do it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters