Book Plunge: God’s Gravediggers Part 2

Do gods have to compete? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re returning to God’s Gravediggers and looking at chapter 2 on the logical rivalry of the gods. Now Bradley’s main area is philosophy. You would hope that a professor of philosophy would give you something worthwhile. Sadly, that is not the case.

Naturally, you have the whole idea that how can people just believe the religion they were born in happens to be the right one? Well, if a religion is right, then some people will be born into it, and yes, they will be born into the right one. However, you don’t see any interaction with anything like Muslims that are regularly having dreams and visions of Jesus and becoming Christians despite growing up and living in Middle Eastern countries.

There’s also the talk about religion being the cause of war when usually more often, religion becomes an excuse for war. Of course, religion can’t be as peaceful as atheism which never leads to destruction, unless you count Stalin, Mao, and Pol-Pot. I do not count Hitler as an atheist, but I also don’t think World War II was a religious war as in followers of one religion against another.

There is the mention of Pascal’s Wager which is badly misunderstood. It’s a shame that the wager seems to be about the only thing anyone remembers of Pascal. Pascal is giving an argument along the lines of the person who is sitting on the fence between atheism and Christianity. He’s suggesting you try to live out Christianity and see how it works out for you. He’s not talking about someone who is unsure if any religion is true and wants to investigate several of them.

Now after all of this, he does give an interesting lesson on logic and validity and soundness and other such matters. There is little if anything here that is objectionable. If anything, a number of atheists could be helped by getting a crash course in logic.

Unfortunately, then we get back and we get Hume with his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. I will quote the section that Bradley quotes in its totality:

“I may add as a fourth reason, which diminishes the authority of prodigies, that there is no testimony for any, even those which have not been expressly detected, that is not opposed by an infinite number of witnesses; so that not only the miracle destroys the credit of testimony, but the testimony destroys itself. To make this the better understood, let us consider, that, in matters of religion, whatever is different is contrary; and that it is impossible the religions of ancient Rome, of Turkey, of Siam, and of China should, all of them, be established on any solid foundation. Every miracle, therefore, pretended to have been wrought in any of these religions (and all of them abound in miracles), as its direct scope is to establish the particular system to which it is attributed; so has it the same force, though more indirectly, to overthrow every other system. In destroying a rival system, it likewise destroys the credit of those miracles, on which that system was established; so that all the prodigies of different religions are to be regarded as contrary facts, and the evidences of these prodigies, whether weak or strong, as opposite to each other. According to this method of reasoning, when we believe any miracle of Mahomet or his successors, we have for our warrant the testimony of a few barbarous Arabians: And on the other hand, we are to regard the authority of Titus Livius, Plutarch, Tacitus, and, in short, of all the authors and witnesses, Grecian, Chinese, and Roman Catholic, who have related any miracle in their particular religion; I say, we are to regard their testimony in the same light as if they had mentioned that Mahometan miracle, and had in express terms contradicted it, with the same certainty as they have for the miracle they relate. This argument may appear over subtile and refined; but is not in reality different from the reasoning of a judge, who supposes, that the credit of two witnesses, maintaining a crime against any one, is destroyed by the testimony of two others, who affirm him to have been two hundred leagues distant, at the same instant when the crime is said to have been committed.”

The whole of this is that every religion seems to have miracles and these miracles contradict one another and thus rule them all out. However, this is simply false. What if I said, “In studying biological evolution on the origin of life, every scientist has a different theory and all these theories are used to argue against the other theories and so no theory is true.” You can be a Christian who fully disbelieves in evolution and still see that as highly invalid.

“Gentlemen of the jury. We have seen many theories put forward today to explain the crime. All of them contradict one another, so there is no reason to believe that my client committed the crime.”

Not only that, but let’s look closer and especially at the big three, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Judaism would certainly want to deny some miracles of Jesus, like the resurrection, if not all miracles, and Islam does acknowledge the miracles of Jesus and many in Judaism, but not the resurrection and sees Muhammad as the final prophet, but Muhammad did no miracles. It is only in the hadiths years later that we have any miracles.

Meanwhile, Christians have no problems with the miracles in the Old Testament and since there are no miracles in Islam in the life of Muhammad, we really have no problem there. We just look at the evidence for Islam and problems in the Qur’an. We also still have the very positive case for the resurrection.

So thus far, color me unpersuaded by Hume’s observations.

Now it should be acknowledged that a general theism can be held by all the religions. In the Middle Ages, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim philosophers could all use arguments like Aristotelian ones to argue for the existence of a deity with such and such attributes. Knowing which deity it is would come down to personal revelation. Not a single one of the five ways of Aquinas establishes Christianity, but they do establish theism and thus refute atheism and they are consistent with Christianity, but also with Judaism and Islam. If one faults the argument for not proving Christianity, then one is faulting an argument for not proving what it was never meant to prove.

He then goes on to talk about the resurrection. Please do not be drinking anything as you read this:

“Did the Resurrection occur? Of course, the question itself rests on the presupposition that Jesus actually lived: he can’t have been resurrected unless he’d been alive beforehand. And some might question that. But suppose one grants this contentious presupposition. Then someone intent on exploring the credentials of this belief may be dismayed to find that the four Gospels provide different, and inconsistent, stories of the Resurrection; that those stories were unmentioned by, and apparently unknown to, early Church Fathers until well into the second century A.D.; that there are no independent and well-authenticated records of Jesus ever having lived, let alone having died and having risen from the grave; or, again, that many of the earliest Christians of whom we do have an authentic historical record, the so-called Docetists, whose views held sway from 70 C.E. to 170 C.E., regarded Jesus as having always been nothing but an apparition, a spirit without any physical body that could die or therefore be resurrected.”

Bradley, Raymond. God’s Gravediggers: Why no Deity Exists (pp. 69-70). Ockham Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Sorry, but only on the internet is there really any contention that Jesus lived. I am sure Bradley would be horrified if I said about a scientific argument, “This assumes that evolution is true, but suppose one grants this contentious presupposition.” Unfortunately for him, that is the exact way mythicism sounds. Not only this, but he pays no attention to Paul in 1 Corinthians, where most scholars go to today to argue the resurrection, does not look at any Gospel scholarship for those who want to go that route, and gives no indication from the Church Fathers on the beliefs of early Christians that he claims.

He later asks why a resurrection proves that one is divine. Didn’t Lazarus rise in the Gospels and many when Jesus died in Matthew 27? Even accepting both of those for the sake of argument, no one ever said because someone rises from the dead, they are divine. It is first the nature of the resurrection of Jesus, as He rose to never die again, but also that His resurrection was based on the claims that He was making about Himself and who He said He was. The resurrection was God’s vindication of Jesus’s claims about His own identity. It would behoove Bradley to read some N.T. Wright. At least he could be better informed in his disagreement.

Bradley also uses an analogy of a horse race. Suppose you have reason to believe the race has been rigged so that the horse you are betting on will win. Unfortunately, everyone else has that same position and the majority disagree with you, so you’re probably wrong.

If Bradley thinks this is an effective argument, why is he an atheist? After all, the majority of people alive and who have ever lived have not been atheists and so it would seem the preponderance of the evidence is that atheism is false. In reality, we could say easily that most any position on most subjects is wrong. In the ancient world, the majority of people thought there was no problem with slavery. If Bradley traveled back in time to that era, should he just accept he is wrong if he disagrees?

Bradley then asserts that a diligent inquiry into matters will show that the evidence for a religious belief is not valid, but this just reeks of the Mormonism claim to pray the prayer to see if Christianity is true. I have done a diligent search and concluded Christianity is true. Yet by Bradley’s definition, he would say I must not have done that because I did not arrive at the conclusion he did. Now if I did become an atheist, well then, I searched diligently. Anyone who disagrees does not.

Yet Bradley gets even worse in this very section:

“He might go so far as to question, with Albert Schweitzer and others, whether there is good historical evidence for the existence of a Christ Jesus, and end up embracing merely the so-called “ethics” associated with the Jesus myth. He might even come think that there’s good reason to subscribe to the so-called “Mythicist” tradition of those who confidently assert that belief in Jesus has no more warrant than does belief in Santa or Sherlock Holmes.”

There is wiggle room here, but it looks like he’s asserting that Schweitzer was a mythicist. Obviously, there has been a lack of a “diligent inquiry.” Schweitzer was definitely not a mythicist. Mythicism is highly regarded as a joke position today. Unfortunately, Bradley does not know this.

In talking about laws of nature, he says that they are descriptive and not prescriptive. So far, so good. Then he says “Who made them? Who enforces them? How frequently are they broken?” He tells us that these questions do not arise from laws of nature, therefore, there is no reason or experience for thinking someone like a god is behind them.

Sorry, but many people still think that the question of where these laws comes from is a good question and just asserting your position is not a good argument in reply. He also says there is no warrant in reason or experience for thinking they have ever been broken. This is true, granted that you completely ignore the reasons people give and the experiences they do for thinking just that. Nope. No need to give an argument. They’re just wrong. He also says that even if science hasn’t brought about the way for how a phenomenon came about, we can be confident that it will.

Because?

He could be right, but upon what grounds? Even if he is right, how does that rule out theism? It doesn’t.

He then tells us that all miracles done in the name of God or religion have a foundation in illusion or self-delusion.

Isn’t it great to be an atheist and get to make sweeping grand claims without any evidence that people should just take on faith? God forbid he read any of Keener’s books on miracles!

But wait, he does give one! They are impossible because they violate the laws of nature which cannot be broken. Let me spell out the logic for you here.

The laws of nature have never been broken.
Therefore, miracles are impossible.
Miracles would be a breaking of a law of nature.
But a law of nature has never been broken.
Therefore, miracles are impossible.

The argument is entirely circular. It is only if you know the laws of nature have never been broken can you assert that it is impossible to break them. However, even if we granted they have never been broken, that doesn’t mean they never will be. Hume himself said that if you drop a stone and it falls 1,000 times, that does not prove it will fall the next time you drop it. Why should past experience of consistent laws in a universe that is an accident lead me to think that the future will be the same?

Whew! That’s a lot, and keep in mind this is only covering the highlights of the chapter! Next time we look at this book, we will cover chapter 3.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge Part 3: Three Views on Creation and Evolution

What do I think of Howard Van Till’s view? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This chapter is easily the longest one in the book, and that’s understandable. Van Till is taking on a position that is seen as a negative in much of the Christian community. There are too many times when a Christian says that they are open to evolution and immediately the hounds of heresy come out ready to devour.

So let’s get some positives.

First off, I fully agree with this aspect of Van Till’s essay. We don’t need to make it the point to anyone that they have to choose either evolution or Christianity. That does harm both ways. An atheist who is convinced by science, rightly or wrongly, that evolution is true, but is told he has to abandon that to become a Christian is not going to be able to easily do this.

For the Christian, if they see evidence that convinces them that evolution is true, rightly or wrongly, they could be ready then to abandon Christianity. This is especially so if we don’t give them reasons for thinking Christianity is true other than their emotional feelings. Now add in also that for young people in college, they could be more easily tempted to give in to strong sexual desire and have more emphasis to abandon Christianity.

The focus of Christianity is not creation. It is Jesus. I would rather have someone have the wrong view of creation and the right view of Jesus, rather than have the right view of creation, such as a Jewish person who treats the Old Testament like Scripture, and is wrong on Jesus.

Second, I appreciate his points on supposed gaps that we sometimes seem to want to see in evangelicalism. We often give the impression that the more questions science answers, the more God is out of a job, but what a poor view of God for both the Christian and the atheist. A God who is just a stopgap? Both the atheist and Christian have poor theology and yes, every atheist has a theology. They have a doctrine of the deity or deities they don’t believe.

Van Till says that a universe that has all of this seamlessness needs its own explanation. Something I notice in the book is I can’t remember one time Aquinas is cited. For Aquinas, the idea of sustaining of the universe would be essential to him. The existence of God is shown by something as simple as change in the universe.

I also appreciate that Van Till did spend some time in Genesis. I think he spent more than the others, but again, I wish he had spent a lot more. He did stress the importance of taking the text seriously.

Some negatives here?

I would have liked to have seen more of the evidence of evolution that he finds convincing, rightly or wrongly again. I do grant though that for those of us who are not scientifically minded, this could be difficult. We more often just hear that the majority, even Christian biologists, accept evolution, and this could be true, but I want to know why they do.

Second, I want to know how prayer works in his world. Van Till believes in miracles, but he doesn’t seem to explain them. What are we wanting God to do? Van Till can sometimes make God be too transcendent just as his opponents can overemphasize immanence.

Third, I would like to have had something explained about the soul in creation. How does man get one? Now it could be that Van Till holds to anthropological monism. Okay. Say that then. If he doesn’t, then explain what does happen.

Overall though, I think Christians need to listen to this position and don’t have the hounds of heresy come out. Making a war of science and religion only hurts both sides. These need to be viewed as allies and not as enemies and anyone who says they are enemies is doing a disservice to both. I am sure that is not the intention of many, but that is often the effect.

Next time, I plan to give some concluding thoughts.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: Part 2 — Three Views on Creation and Evolution — OEC

What do I think of Robert Newman’s view of Old-Earth creationism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Regular readers of the blog know I’m someone who is on the fence in a way between Old-Earth Creationism and Fully Gifted Creationism, OEC and FGC respectively, using the latter term as that is the term used in part three and I wish to be respectful to the one who uses it. I have some qualms about what evolution can explain, but if I was convinced it was true, it would not change my interpretation of Scripture or my beliefs about Jesus.

Thus, when I read Newman’s essay, I found much that i agreed with. I saw that he wants to be faithful both to Scripture and science. Regularly, it is said that if we are handling both correctly, they will agree. This should be a statement that all three camps in the debate should be able to agree to.

I did like that he paid some attention to Genesis 1-2, but sadly again, not much. Now I realize the book is about creation and evolution and not necessarily Genesis, but if you’re talking about Christians, you eventually do have to get to Genesis if you’re talking about creation. Howard Van Till in part three will spend the most time on this, but again, he is sorely lacking in spending a lot of time on it.

One major point of disagreement I had with Newman, however, is that in his chapter he talked about how he gets concerned when some Christians say the Bible does not have anything to say to us about science. Well, maybe it does. But then again, maybe it doesn’t. Why should I go to the text assuming that it wants to answer modern science questions any more than I should go to it to get a strategy guide for the latest video game or learn how to do algebra?

Now I realize that seems a bit playful. After all, video games and algebra weren’t really in practice when the Bible was written, but yet in the same way, modern science as we know it wasn’t being practiced. Why should I think that Genesis is trying to give me a scientific account? It could be that it is, but that needs to be argued and not assumed. We have often thought some places in Scripture were giving scientific accounts and it has not ended well.

Newman’s repliers seemed to be friendly to him and briefly, this is something I had a problem with in this book. It seemed that most every reply was from someone who held to the OEC position. J.P. Moreland was a lone exception who holds to it, but admitted that he sometimes thinks YECs have a good case. I would have either liked to have had the writers reply to each other, or else had a Christian who was YEC, one who was OEC, and one who was FGC all replying. The problem was you have four replies and all seem to come from the same camp.

Overall, I don’t have much to say about Newman’s essay as I agreed with a good deal of it. For me, the question of whether evolution happened or not is a non-question and that will be covered more in part three where I do plan on giving some ideas that do give me qualms still about being willing to sign on the dotted line. At the same time, I realize I am approaching this as a non-scientist and there is only so much time to study any given field. I like to admire it as an outsider, but I don’t take parts in debates of science as science. The history and philosophy I will do, but not the data itself.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Ehrman vs Price

What are my thoughts on this debate? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I have been recovering from a sickness and I’m still at home so yesterday after watching my church service, I decided to also watch the Ehrman/Price debate that was held before Mythicist Milwuakee. This is probably the first debate where I was ever on the side of Ehrman. While in many areas like politics and abortion I side with Price, in this area, being the existence of Jesus, I side with Ehrman.

However, this debate brought out to me the multitude of problems both sides have. Let’s start with mythicism. Mythicism is a ridiculous proposition from the get-go. There is a reason the scholarly academy has rejected it over and over and over again. I generally refer to mythicism as a conspiracy theory for atheists. When I meet someone who espouses it seriously, I know to not take them seriously. By that, I mean someone who argues it thinking it is true. I would have no problem with an atheist saying “I just don’t understand why no one would write about Jesus if He was such a miracle-working figure and I would like to know,” and assuming that is an honest question, I would be glad to answer it. (Such an answer can be found here.)

Most atheists are no like this. These are people who think they know better than the entire academy. Note that these same people will mock young-Earth creationists for doing the same thing with evolution. I am not a young-Earth creationism, but I can understand that at least they interpret a text that they regard as holy and think God has said in the text that the Earth is young.

However, I think Ehrman and Price both have a problem with who Jesus is. Ehrman will clearly say in the debate several times that he does not believe Jesus did anything miraculous whatsoever. He’s interested in defending the historical Jesus and surely the historical Jesus never did anything like that.

This leads me to ask the question of where these miracle accounts came from. Ehrman rightly says that we need to get past Albert Schweitzer who talked about an event like the feeding of the 5,000. The scholars of his day said one person brought out his lunch and then others did and Jesus encouraged everyone to share and it eventually became the miracle account. Schweitzer thought all of these accounts were ridiculous and strongly argued that.

I agree, but I still want to know where the miracles came from. Now the answer could be “Well, they needed to build up Jesus since He was their Messiah.” Okay. Well, that makes sense, except for one question. Why was Jesus chosen to be the Messiah?

It is absolutely certain that Jesus was crucified. Aside from the mythicists, you won’t find anyone denying that. What sense does it make to take a crucified man and say “He’s the Messiah!” The last time I asked this to someone, I was told it was because of prophecy. Okay. Can you show me who was interpreting Isaiah 53 this way? I know that rightly or wrongly, Christians today do that, but were Jews doing that and even if they were, why choose this man instead of anyone else?

We could go further and ask “What did Jesus do that got Him crucified?” I remember years ago reading Five Views on the Historical Jesus where John Dominic Crossan had a chapter and in his, Jesus saw His cousin John the Baptist get killed so Jesus went on a much kinder streak then and spoke about the love of God and the brotherhood of men. That might not be an exact quote, but it is the general idea.

I kept thinking the same thing reading it. “This Jesus does not get crucified. You do not get crucified for being Mr. Rogers. This Jesus is not a threat to anyone.”

This is why Jesus is really the most difficult figure in history to explain. The basic facts about Him are the biggest problems. Why was He crucified? Why did He have a reputation as a miracle-worker and exorcist? (Note. That is not saying He was those, though I think He was, but it is accepted He had that reputation.)

Most Biblical scholars I am sure agree that the ethic of Jesus is excellent. Why then crucify a teacher who had such a great ethic? What about the cleansing of the temple? That’s one that is generally accepted to have happened.

Now we have to ask the question. Why did He do that? Was that also alone sufficient? Could Jesus not have just been seen as a madman? You don’t crucify someone for being insane. Jesus had to have some kind of movement to get even that going, on especially since he had twelve disciples which is also accepted. Why?

The idea of this Jesus that someone like Ehrman has comes loaded with questions. Why was He proclaimed Messiah? Why was He declared to be risen from the dead? Why was He crucified? Where did these miracle stories come from and how did they overcome the “true” accounts so quickly?

I really have hopes that as things go along, New Testament scholarship of the secular sort will find itself pushed into a corner more and more. The ideas conceded today would not have been the ones done fifty years ago. The questions I am asking also I consider basic. Why? Jesus was crucified? Why? Jesus has a reputation of doing miracles? Why?

Of course, I think Jesus did the miracles, but I think historical Jesus research has a problem if we show up and say at the outset “Well we know Jesus didn’t do any miracles.” If that is from a position you have not argued for, why should I think that? If the historical Jesus did do miracles, you have a method that has ruled out the truth from the outset.

Now suppose you are a philosophically-minded historian who says “These are the problems I have with theism and why I think atheism is true.” Okay. You at least have a basis for your skepticism, Even then, you should still be able to say, “But if there is enough evidence for the miracles in the Gospels, I will be open to changing my opinion.”

Years ago Chesteron said that the believer in the miracle believes in the miracle, rightly or wrongly, because of the evidence. The skeptic disbelieves, rightly or wrongly, because he has a dogma against them. I find that still to be entirely accurate. As a theist, you could eliminate every miracle out there and God would still exist. (Christianity would be false, but atheism is not necessarily true.) It could be that God exists and just hasn’t done any miracles.

For the atheist, however, grant one miracle and something happening outside of the materialistic chain of events, and there is a problem. There is much more at stake. Take a book like Keener’s “Miracles” and every single miracle in there has to be shown to be false.

In the end then, Price’s position is completely untenable, but is Ehrman any better off. I have several questions about his Jesus as well. Now if Price wants to go with something like “Well one person shared his lunch and that’s how the miracle story of the feeding of the 5,000 came about”, I don’t find that plausible, but it’s at least an attempt to find an answer. Oddly enough, at least mythicism recognizes the problem there.

As someone who thinks about these issues, I do ask these questions. Every position of Jesus has questions to answer, but I really find the orthodox view of Jesus has the best explanatory power of the data. All others are wiling to try, but for now, I will stick with the Jesus I find the most likely to be the world changer that there is today.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: Raised on the Third Day

What do I think of Mike Licona and David Beck’s work published by Lexham Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Gary Habermas has done more in defending the resurrection of Jesus in scholarly work than anyone I can think of save going back to the apostle Paul. Not only that, he keeps doing more. Also, he has the character of one who is meant to be an apologist. He not only deals with the resurrection, but especially deals with doubters and will invest plenty of time on them and answers all of his own emails and phone calls.

This is a work dedicated to Gary Habermas with a range of scholars coming together, all of whom have been impacted in some way by Gary and his work. The book has some of everything. Some chapters I didn’t understand at first, such as Francis Beckwith’s chapter on legal issues involving the redefinition of marriage, until I found out that Gary has an interest in that area as well.

Want to know about substance dualism? J.P. Moreland delivers. What to know about the Shroud of Turin? Barry Schwortz is here. You can discuss the moral argument and purity in the Gospel of John in relation to the empty tomb.

Veterans and novices alike will find something in this book that can greatly help them. Those with legal challenges will find Francis Beckwith’s work fascinating. Those interested in the Shroud again will enjoy the chapter by Schwortz that discusses the history. Mike Licona’s chapter will be of interest to those who hear the argument about the authorship of the texts being in question with what he says about ancient historians.

The book also has personal looks at Gary Habermas. The two that are in this field are Alex McFarland and Frank Turek. I want to take some time to personally expound on this issue from my own personal position.

Many of you know that I know Gary Habermas personally. If I send him an email, I can normally expect that within 24 hours, he will respond to that email. There have been times that I have called him on the phone and he said that he only had ten minutes he could give, but he ends up giving an hour.

Gary’s personal investment in taking the time to meet with people he doesn’t know and invest in them, even hardened skeptics, is a testament to his character. I was never a hardened skeptic, but he took the time to invest in me once and has helped me tremendously. With the trouble that is going on in my own marriage right now, Gary has been an invaluable help to me.

When I in the past had been caught in the throes of extreme depression over the situation, Gary was right there willing to help. I could call him feeling utterly miserable and hang up feeling good. As one can expect, I would not be filled with joy, but Gary is a good listener who knows the psychology of what he speaks and knows how to talk to people who are suffering. This is fitting for him since he himself went through that with the death of his first wife, Debbie.

That having been said then, that is about the only lack in this book is a chapter on dealing with doubt. This has been an emphasis of Gary Habermas for a long time and it is something that any great thinker will deal with. I know many skeptics reading this will say it as a smear that an apologist can have doubt, but if anyone who is a serious thinker doesn’t ever have doubts about their position, I consider them NOT taking that position seriously.

Thus, if I would have changed anything about the book, I would have included one chapter on the different kinds of doubt and how to deal with them. It would have included an emphasis on emotional doubt since that is the one most common on a personal level. Such a chapter would be a benefit to many apologists and to any seekers reading the book.

Still, this is a fine book to read. It is an excellent tribute to an excellent man. Gary Habermas is a gift to the Christian apologetics community and we can be thankful for what he has done.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
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Evidence and Miracles

Can there ever be sufficient evidence for a miracle? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I saw someone recently post something on Facebook critiquing Hume’s argument against miracles. In a comments section, the part being discussed was the idea that no amount of testimony would be sufficient to establish a miracle and a wise man always goes with the evidence. This is similar to the kind of argument that Ehrman has given against miracles.

At this, a question must be asked. Is the person really saying that no amount of evidence could ever confirm a miracle? Does this sound ridiculous to you? I wish it was, but unfortunately, a number of atheists have made statements about what they would consider to be sufficient for a miracle.

In A Manual For Creating Atheists, Peter Boghossian has said that if we all went outside one day and saw all the stars align to spell something like “I am YHWH. Believe in me”, that that could be suggestive. He does not rule out that we could be experiencing a mass delusion though.

Or consider Jerry Coyne:

“The following (and admittedly contorted) scenario would give me tentative evidence for Christianity. Suppose that a bright light appeared in the heavens, and, supported by winged angels, a being clad in a white robe and sandals descended onto my campus from the sky, accompanied by a pack of apostles bearing the names given in the Bible. Loud heavenly music, with the blaring of trumpets, is heard everywhere. The robed being, who identifies himself as Jesus, repairs to the nearby university hospital and instantly heals many severely afflicted people, including amputees. After a while Jesus and his minions, supported by angels ascend back into the sky with another chorus of music. The heavens swiftly darken, there are flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, and in an instant the sky is clear. If this were all witnessed by others and documented by video, and if the healings were unexplainable but supported by testimony from multiple doctors, and if all the apparitions and events conformed to Christian theology—then I’d have to start thinking seriously about the truth of Christianity.” Faith vs. Fact p. 118-119

Note the wording here. Coyne would say he has “tentative evidence” and only then would he have to start thinking about the serious truth of Christianity. In both of these cases, none of this would count as sufficient evidence. If this was not sufficient for something, one has to wonder what would be sufficient.

So what if Hume does say no amount of evidence will ever establish a miracle? Then we have a sort of presuppositional argument going on. It is decided whatever the evidence is, the evidence is insufficient. Now if that is your position, why bother studying something like the historical evidence for Christianity? Why bother listening to a case? Why should a Christian even bother giving a case?

So then, if no amount of evidence is sufficient, then the evidence really isn’t the problem. If your position will not be changed by evidence, then your position is not really based on evidence. It’s based on a prior commitment.

And what if evidence can be sufficient?

Then Hume’s argument fails again. On the one hand, we have an argument that doesn’t work if there can be sufficient evidence. If there can’t be, then we have an argument that has just begged the question. Either way, it doesn’t work.

Now does this mean a miracle has occurred or Christianity is true or Jesus rose from the dead or God exists? No. Those have to be established on their own. It does mean the position given is insufficient to argue against miracles. Defenders of miracles will have to be ready with the evidence to establish them, but if the skeptic says no amount of evidence will be sufficient, there is no use trying.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

The Case Against Miracles Chapter 4

How do we access miracle claims? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This chapter is by someone named Darren Slade and involves asking how we access miracle claims. I found this chapter really to be a slow chapter. There was little if anything said about miracle claims themselves and much more said about how to access people for credibility.

That’s fine, but at the end of the day, it made it look like someone has to jump through 1,000 hoops before we will take them seriously on a miracle claim. At the same time, it is claimed that it is not hyperskepticism. Excuse me if I’m skeptical of the idea that this is not hyperskepticism.

Keener was treated as someone who is naive and believes too easily. I saw nothing like that in my reading of Keener. Nothing was also said of the times that Keener provided medical documentation of some miracles in his book. To be fair, the next chapter deals with this more, but it would have been good to have seen something.

There is material on how eyewitness testimonies are routinely inaccurate. This is something that really boggles my mind when I see it. When we are told about the New Testament, we are told that it is late and thus not by eyewitnesses. When we can show it was by eyewitnesses, then the claim becomes you can’t trust eyewitness testimony anyway. Heads, I lose. Tails, you Win.

Slade also says that a theistic worldview should not play a determining role in evaluating the evidence. If you want to do that, then neither should an atheist or agnostic worldview. Making claims of miracles jump through 1,000 hoops is doing just that.

He also says because someone has a history of truth telling. For some reason, he leaps into straight the opposite and uses Joseph Smith as an example. Joseph Smith is certainly a candidate for being a witness that is not credible. I still do not understand the sudden shift, however.

Slade also says something about the Innocence Project has exonerated 361 people and 2/3 were convicted on faulty eyewitness testimony. That sounds impressive, but I want to know the other side. How many people have had the eyewitness testimony stand up? How many times has it been accurate?

The problem with many of these tests for memory and credibility is that they are often designed to make the person slip up in their memory and use tests to bring out fallibility. It’s a way of stacking the deck. People are often looking for the way memory errors instead of the ways it is reliable.

In the end, I remain unconvinced. I just saw someone being forced to jump through 1,000 hoops as I have said. While several things could be said about Keener, it’s hard to say he’s not thorough. This guy writes and researches so much he probably wrote another book while I wrote this blog.

We will continue later.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Case Against Miracles Chapter 3

What do I think of John Loftus’s chapter? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Well, I was wrong. I thought I had got to the chapter last time that was the worst. I thought nothing could top Matthew McCormick’s chapter. Sadly, I spoke too soon. John Loftus had a chapter next on defending ECREE.

If you don’t know, that means Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence. The problem with this is first off, what is an extraordinary claim varies from person to person. I consider it an extraordinary claim that God doesn’t exist. Someone might consider macroevolution an extraordinary claim. Another would consider Intelligent Design an extraordinary claim. Some might consider Muhammad being a false prophet an extraordinary claim. Some might consider reincarnation being false an extraordinary claim.

Who decides the standard?

Second, how do you recognize extraordinary evidence? Does it glow in the dark? What does it really look like? The terms are way too vague.

Also, this whole chapter seems at times loaded with any atheist canard that Loftus can put in there. This especially goes after New Testament ideas. It would have been better for Loftus to just stick to his argument, which is essentially just repeating Hume ad nauseum.

In defining his terms, Loftus says that

Third, a miraculous claim is one made about miraculous events that are unexplainable and even impossible by natural processes alone, which requires miraculous levels of testimonial evidence.

Is this not begging the question? It requires miraculous evidence? Who says? Suppose I pray for someone blind to have their eyes opened and as I pray in Jesus’s name for their healing, their eyes open and they see. Am I justified in believing in a miracle? Why not?

He also talks about the way believers treat Hume.

They continue to believe in their sect-specific miracles despite his standards. But they duplicitously use his standards when assessing the miracles of the religions they reject.

Well, no. Not all of us. I have no problem with miracles occurring in other religions. I am fine with Muslims having prayers answered or anything like that. Maybe God is giving them a dose of grace to lead them to Him. Maybe some miracles are demonic in nature. If you talk about visions of Mary appearing, I am open, and even if I don’t know what is going on, I do not rule it out. I also do investigate those in my own tradition, much like I investigate political claims in my own political walk. Many of you know my father-in-law is a New Testament scholar and when possible, I try to verify him as well.

Now some claims I do think are quite false for evidential reasons. I don’t think many of the claims of Mormonism are likely to be true, but could miracles happen there, if perhaps even by demonic powers? Why not? I don’t rule it out.

Loftus interacts with a critic who argues it is self-defeating to use ECREE since the principle itself doesn’t have extraordinary evidence. Loftus has a threefold response. I will deal with what I deem relevant. First

My response is threefold. First, since all claims about the objective world require sufficient corroborating objective evidence commensurate with the nature of the claim, it’s clear that extraordinary types of extraordinary claims require more than mere ordinary testimonial evidence.

But this is just him stating his principle again to which one just has to ask, “Why?” All he has done is taken ECREE and restated it as if that counts as a response. Why should it?

Second, such an objection entails there must be exceptions to the ECREE principle.

Or it could just entail that ECREE is false.

And then we get into the usual arguments.

But what we find exclusively on behalf of miracles in the Bible is human testimony, ancient pre-scientific superstitious human testimony, second- third- fourth-handed human testimony, conflicting human testimony filtered by editors, redactors, and shaped by early Christian debates for decades and/ or centuries in the ancient pre-scientific world, where miracle claims were abundant without the means to discredit them.

Where does someone begin with a train wreck like this? First off, pre-scientific? Granted they didn’t do science like we do, but they had rudimentary knowledge. They knew dead people stay dead. They knew people don’t walk on water. They knew virgins don’t give birth. They knew paralysis and blindness don’t just get healed without a reason. They are called miracles for a reason.

Also, not all of this testimony is second or thirdhand. Consider 2 Corinthians 12:12.

I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. 

Here Paul is saying that he did miracles in the midst of a testimony to a church that is questioning Paul’s apostleship. Note that also no one disputes that Paul wrote this. If Paul is making a claim like this, he’d better be sure that even his opponents know it.

Finally, miracles back then could be evaluated and they were often scoffed at. Lucian is a prime example. If people just believed miracle claims blindly, then why did the whole world not immediate turn to Christianity? Loftus himself will have something in his book about most Jews rejecting Jesus at His time. Why, if miracles were blindly believed?

Next he looks at the virgin birth, which I do affirm.

Let’s take at face value the extraordinary miraculous tale that a virgin named Mary gave birth to the god/ baby Jesus. There’s no objective evidence to corroborate her story. None. We hear nothing about her wearing a misogynistic chastity belt to prove her virginity. No one checked for an intact hymen before she gave birth. Nor did she provide her bloodstained wedding garment from the night of her wedding that supposedly “proved” she was a virgin before giving birth (Deuteronomy 22: 15– 21). After Jesus was born Maury Povich wasn’t there with a DNA test to verify Joseph was not the baby daddy. We don’t even have first-hand testimonial evidence for it, since the story is related to us by others, not Mary, or Joseph. At best, all we have is the second-hand testimony of one person, Mary, or two if we include Joseph who was incredulously convinced Mary was a virgin because of a dream, yes, a dream (see Matthew 1: 19– 24), one that solved his dilemma of whether to “dismiss her quietly” or “disgrace” her publicly, which would have led her to be executed for dishonoring him.[ 97] We never get to independently cross-examine them, along with the people who knew them, which we would want to do, since they may have a very good reason for lying (pregnancy out of wedlock?).

The reason why we believe the stories here is because we believe in the resurrection of Jesus and believe He’s fully God and fully man and lo and behold, a miraculous birth seems consistent. Some other points to consider are Mary would hardly be able to implicate YHWH immediately. A story of rape or just a one-night stand would be shameful but more readily believed. Second, the writers would not want something that could seem remotely close to paganism, and yet critics would use this. Third, it would confess that Jesus was not the biological son of Joseph which would bring shame to Him. Fourth, while Loftus dismisses a dream, we do not know all the content of this dream. We just know it was convincing and why couldn’t God speak in a dream?

He also says the Gospels were anonymous, which simply means the names weren’t included in the manuscript itself, much like the majority of other ancient works from that time. It’s not the case that no one knew who wrote it. A Gospel did not just show up at the door of a church one day and no one knew who wrote it. A person delivering it would know or somewhere on there it could say who wrote it. Any New Testament survey could give you reasons why a traditional authorship can be believed.

No reasonable investigation could take Mary and/ or Joseph’s word for it.

Because? I mean, if Luke or Matthew is already convinced of the deity of Christ and His being the Messiah and His rising from the dead and doing other miracles, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to believe in these miracles. Perhaps they also spoke to the wise men and/or shepherds. We don’t know. We know Luke was a thorough researcher though, particularly in Acts.

For if this is the kind of research that went into writing the gospels, we shouldn’t believe anything else they say without requiring corroborating objective evidence. But if research was unnecessary for writing their gospels— because they were divinely inspired—why do gospel writers give us the pretense of having researched into it (see Luke 1: 1– 4)? Why not simply say their stories are true due to divine inspiration and be done with the pretense? Then the gospel authors would be admitting their tales lack the required corroborating objective evidence, which in turn means there isn’t a good reason to believe them.

So Loftus says “They did research that ends in miracles and we know that didn’t happen.” How? This is begging the question. Then because these are divinely inspired, then why do research? Loftus brought up inspiration. Not I. Inspiration is a detail that doesn’t really matter. If it’s true, it’s true whether inspired or not. Even if God is inspiring the work, why can it not be done through the means of research? Thus, Loftus has it that if they go and do their research, we can’t believe them because research would never admit a miracle. If they don’t do research, we still can’t believe them.

He then goes on to quote Robert Fogelin.

Hume nowhere argues, either explicitly or implicitly, that we know that all reports of miracles are false because we know that all reports of miracles are false… Hume begins with a claim about testimony. On the one side we have wide and unproblematic testimony to the effect that when people step into the water they do not remain on its surface. On the other side we have isolated reports of people walking across the surface of the water. Given the testimony of the first kind, how are we to evaluate the testimony or of the second sort? The testimony of the first sort does not show that the testimony of the second sort is false; it does, however, create a strong presumption— unless countered, a decisively strong presumption— in favor of its falsehood. That is Hume’s argument, and there is nothing circular or question begging about it.

So it is. How do we evaluate it? Well, off the top of my head I would say we examine the claimants and see what evidence they give and see what the environment is and what the claim entails and then decide if it happened or not. It’s noteworthy in all of this chapter I didn’t see Keener referenced once. You know, the guy who went out and did just that with the evidence. I also don’t see Candy Gunther Brown referenced. Not a shock.

In my previous anthology, Christianity is the Light of Science,

I have to say I was delirious with laughter when I read this. Now, I know we could say it’s just a typo, of which is the first chapter I read with such typos, but I don’t know if we can. I mean, this is the great John Loftus we’re talking about. He studied under William Lane Craig. Surely he would not make a mistake like this. Well, I guess he wants us to know that Christianity is the light of modern science. Excellent!

One idea he says about archaeology disconfirming the Bible is first off, the Exodus. The problem here is that there are some who have questioned this, such as Hoffmeier in his books. Second, such used to be said about David as well. Used to be. Now we have found David in archaeology.

The next is Nazareth being a town during the life of Jesus. Bart Ehrman doesn’t even think this one has validity. See here for details.

Loftus then goes on to mention atheists who have argued against Hume’s argument.

Graham Oppy, who has been every fundamentalist apologist’s friend for taking their beliefs seriously, strangely says “Hume’s argument against belief in miracle reports fails no less surely than do the various arguments from miracle reports to the existence of an orthodoxy conceived monotheistic god.” Surely he doesn’t really mean that? Does he?

Oh please say it isn’t so! Say that Oppy really doesn’t mean it! Surely he would know better! If Loftus’s argument is reduced to “Surely he doesn’t really mean that does he?”, then we have the case of a child just crying wanting it to be otherwise. This does not count as an argument against Oppy. Perhaps we could say it’s “cognitive dissonance.”

He also argues against Mike Licona who says that much of what we know about the past comes from one source and rarely beyond all suspicion. Loftus says

So if historical evidence about ordinary claims in the past has such a poor quality to it, as Licona admits, then how much more does historical evidence of extraordinary miracle claims in the past? If the first is the case, then the second is magnified by thousands.

But Licona didn’t say they have poor quality. He said there’s sometimes one source and just because it is disputed doesn’t mean the evidence is poor. That vaccines don’t cause autism is disputed. That 9/11 wasn’t an inside job is disputed. That heliocentrism is true or the Earth is round is disputed.

Loftus also begs the question again about his standard for miracles. If I question his standard before, why should I accept it now?

Finally, Hume argues that competing religions support their beliefs by claims of miracles; thus, these claims and their religious systems cancel each other out.

I can only surmise that Hume didn’t know much about miracles and religions. Let’s consider Judaism first. The grand miracle of that would be the Exodus. Christians have no problem with that and I doubt Muslims would as well. Jews would reject Christianity’s grand claim of the resurrection as does Islam. Islam itself has no founding miracle except the Qur’an itself. Hinduism and Buddhism have no founding miracles.

If we go further, Mormonism depends on Christian truth to some extent such that if there was no resurrection, Mormonism would likely fall as well. I can also question Mormonism on other grounds, like the Book of Abraham. So I have to ask what Hume was getting at.

Furthermore, all this proves is not all religions would be true, which we would accept. Some would be false. Would it work to say some theories on the origin of life contradict, so they all must be false? Of course not.

If miracles are the foundation for a religion, then an apologist for that religion cannot bring up a miracle working god to establish his supposed miracles. For miracles are supposed to be the basis for the religion and its miracle working god.

And later

Apologists might start by first arguing for their god’s existence, but very few of them say, “Here is the objective evidence that our god exists.” They always seem to talk in terms of “presenting an argument” rather than “presenting the evidence,” which is very telling. So, an unevidenced god will not help an unevidenced miracle, just as an unevidenced miracle will not help an unevidenced god. The only thing apologists can do is special plead to their god and his religion by assuming what needs to be proved.

Loftus doesn’t realize apparently that an argument is evidence, which he should since all he has been giving in this chapter is an argument. I find that very telling. Second, there is nothing inconsistent. This is the classical approach. One uses arguments, like the Thomistic ones, to show that there is a God and some qualities He must have. At this point, belief systems like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are still in the running. Then one looks at the different religious claims to see how that God might have revealed Himself.

One could also start the other way though. One could look at the evidence for the resurrection and be convinced it happened and say “There must be a God then!” That’s not inconsistent at all. Loftus knows if Jesus rose, it would be the Christian God. As he says,

At this point they’re already assuming their Christian god exists and is the one who raised Jesus from the dead, for if the hypothesis was that “Allah raised Jesus from the dead,” we already know the answer— of course not! Nor would it be the Hindu god, any of the pantheistic gods and/ or goddesses, a deistic god, or even the Jewish god, since overwhelming numbers of Jews don’t believe in the Christian god.

But it’s not being assumed. A case is made that a God exists that is consistent with the Christian God, but it does not necessitate the Christian God. That is an important fact to remember.

Finally, he gets to what he calls private miracles

There are two of them. One) Christians claim the gospel writers received private subjective messages from the spirit world who subsequently wrote down these messages known as the divinely inspired Scriptures. On this see David Madison’s excellent chapter for a refutation. Two) Apologists also argue that Christians receive their own private subjective messages that lead them to trust the private subjective messages of the gospel writers.

I’ll be fair and say I agree with some criticisms here. I tire of people constantly thinking God is talking to them or the Holy Spirit is giving them a secret message. Why do I trust the Scriptures? Not because of anything I feel. I trust them because the evidence for them is strong.

So I conclude once again that if this is the best kind of argumentation Loftus has, our Christianity is in really good shape.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Case Against Miracles Chapter 2

What do I think of Matthew McCormick’s article? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The only work of Matthew McCormick I had ever previously reviewed here was his work “Atheism and the Case Against Christ.” The great delight of that was getting to catch him in a major gaffe. This one was about the fake god Jar’Edo Wens.

Now after reading this chapter, I am even more sure of the kind of researcher McCormick is. His whole chapter is about God would not perform miracles. Nowhere in this chapter did I see interaction with people like Alvin Plantinga or Craig Keener or anyone like that. Plantinga would have been an important one since McCormick’s whole article is really the problem from evil and saying “Well, if God wanted to do a miracle of healing, He would heal everyone wouldn’t He?”

It’s really amazing that McCormick’s whole argument is all about what an omniscient and omnipotent and omnibenevolent being would do, because, you know, McCormick certainly has a lot of experience with beings like that to make proper judgments. I went through this whole chapter wondering “How do you know that?” It certainly doesn’t make any sense to me to say, “If I was this being, I would do that.” It’s like it’s never considered that maybe if you were omniscient you would know some things that you don’t know now.

McCormick says

Even if a full-blown violation of the laws of nature occurs, we have compelling reasons to reject the hypothesis that the all-powerful, omniscient creator of the universe was responsible for it. A being of infinite power and knowledge wouldn’t act by means of miracles.

Well, this is quite a claim. Let’s see how good he does at backing it. At least on one level, McCormick puts forward the appearance of being open. As he says later in his essay:

It would be a mistake, I believe, to rule such a claim out a priori or virtually so with Hume’s global standards. Surely the all-powerful creator of all of reality would have sufficient power at its disposal to generate evidence that would be compelling; and I’d rather be prepared to revise all of my beliefs and the convictions I attach to them proportionally to the evidence.

As we go through, McCormick says

The Christian God is, by all accounts, an omni-god. He is the all-powerful, all-knowing, singular, personal and infinitely good creator of the universe. Jesus is alleged to have been his son, who was divine, but he was also a man, by Christian doctrine. The extent to which he was a man and lacked the status of a fully omni-being is a point of some controversy, even between believers.

Not among believers. Maybe between believers and heretics, but believers have always included in our creedal statements that Jesus is fully God and fully man. This is yet another point that makes me doubt McCormick really understands the Christianity he criticizes.

He also says that walking on water would require less power than stopping fusion reactions in stars. Sure, but also pointless. After all, God has infinite power so it’s not like He has a storehouse He has to reach into and then recharge. I wonder why McCormick keeps bringing up things like this.

He also says some statements about what a being who is omnipotent could do. One is reverse time, but even this one is debated. Aquinas said that God could not change the past and yet Aquinas never once questioned that God is omnipotent.

McCormick argues that for some miracles, a being would not have to be omnipotent. This is true, but I don’t know of academic philosophers arguing that God is omnipotent on purely miraculous grounds alone. There is always some metaphysics involved.

This is part of the problem for McCormick. He never looks at arguments for theism. If theism is true, and this can be demonstrated by the Thomistic arguments I believe that are inductive, and then we have evidence of miracles taking place, such as from Keener, then it’s reasonable to conclude miracles are the work of the omnibeing that has been shown to exist. McCormick wants to go after miracles still more so he says later that

The problem is that at any given moment on the planet, now and when these miracles are alleged to have happened, there are millions or even billions of other people who are not being cured, healed, or benefitted by a miracle. A miracle that we attribute to an infinitely good God is problematic because of what it omits; it is alleged that it indicates that God is there, and under some circumstances, he will intervene in the course of nature to achieve some good end. But there are all of these other cases, many of which appear to be perfectly parallel, or even more desperately in need of divine intervention, yet none occurs. While Jesus turns water into wine at one party, thousands or millions of other parties go dry. Even worse, millions of people suffer horribly from disease, famine, cruelty, torture, genocide, and death. The occurrence of a finite miracle, in the midst of so many instances of unabated suffering, suggests that the being who is responsible doesn’t know about, doesn’t care about, or doesn’t have the power to address the others. If a doctor travels to a village with enough polio vaccine to inoculate 1,000 children, but only gives it to ten of them, and withholds it from the rest, and then watches the rest get sick, be crippled, or die, we would conclude that doctor was a monster, not a saint. That doctor had the power, the knowledge, the wherewithal to alleviate more suffering, but did not. That doctor must be lacking in some regard.

The problem is McCormick is making this argument so he has to back it. His argument is there is no good reason for God to not heal everyone else if He heals one. Okay. Maybe there isn’t, but He needs to convince me of it. It’s not just enough to assert it.

Let’s go with the doctor example he gives of the doctor with a polio vaccine. Let’s suppose he knew that one child he would give the vaccine to somehow would grow up and become a dictator in that country and murder most of the population. He chooses to withhold the vaccine. We could debate if that was right or wrong, but we can all understand why he did it.

He goes on to cite Christine Overall asking why Jesus is turning water into wine at a party when He could have been healing lepers. McCormick also says if God can heal everyone, why hasn’t He done so already? Why not yesterday?

The water into wine was done because Jesus was invited to the party and He wasn’t trying to make the party go longer, but rather to help the host of the party avoid shame. It was a good act to do to help out. As for why not heal, McCormick wants God to be a Johnny on the Spot fixing all of our problems. Is that really God’s goal? What if God has something far greater and nobler in mind than making sure we all have perfect lives here on Earth?

McCormick also cites William Rowe about situations in the inductive problem of evil. Note that I am sure Rowe would reject the argument McCormick puts forward as McCormick seems to be going with just the logical problem of evil. Now saying evil exists is no longer enough to refute theism as the majority of atheist philosophers on the subject concede. So what does Rowe say about certain instances of evil?

William Rowe has called these, “instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.”

So again I have the same question. How does he know? How does he know that this evil could have been stopped without losing a greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse? How could this possibly be established? Note that the atheist has the burden of proof. They are making the claim that needs to be backed.

McCormick later says:

If God has the goal of instilling belief, inspiring faith, fortifying resolve, discouraging misbehavior, or enforcing commandments, it takes very little imagination to conceive of more direct, effective, and sustained means of achieving those ends.

Notice it’s “If God has the goal.” We wait to hear how McCormick has discovered the goals of the Almighty, but that is not coming. He goes on to cite Ted Drange saying:

if these were God’s goals, then it would have been a simple matter to directly implant belief into all people’s minds, or perform more spectacular miracles that would convince more people. What would be more personal than if Jesus had reappeared to everyone, not just a handful of easily discredited zealots? Millions of angels, disguised as humans, could have spread out and preach the word behind the scenes. Or God could have protected the Bible from defects in writing, copying, and translation.

If those were the goals. What if they’re not? After all, Biblically, it’s been when miracles have been at a high that faith has often been at a low. Jesus was doing miracles and got crucified. The Israelites in the wilderness got several miracles and still rebelled. Maybe God’s goal is not just getting people to know He exists. Maybe He wants people to really seek Him on their own and want Him on their own. Maybe He doesn’t want to compel, but simply to woo. Of course, McCormick’s essay would not be complete without a version of Ancient People Were Stupid:

Consider the problem this way. For all of the alleged miracles in history, facsimiles that are undetectable to anyone but an expert can be performed naturally by even mediocre magicians and illusionists. David Copperfield makes the Statue of Liberty disappear on television. Penn and Teller catch bullets in their teeth. A Las Vegas magician appears to walk on water in a swimming pool and float in the air over the Luxor hotel. Imagine the social and religious impact these ingenious illusionists could have had amongst the superstitious, poor, and uneducated masses of New Testament Palestine. Religious leaders such as Billy Graham, Peter Popoff, Robert Tilton, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell use cruder and more transparent trickery and deception to win the hearts of millions of people and acquire vast wealth from more educated, modern people.

To begin with, I don’t know anyone who would think that Billy Graham was out there trying to get vast wealth from people. However, does McCormick not realize ancient people knew some basic facts? They built ships because they knew people don’t walk on water. They made wine because they knew it didn’t just happen. They grew food because they knew food doesn’t multiply. They knew blind eyes don’t suddenly open and paralytics don’t get up and walk and dead people stay dead. This was not news to them. If we want to talk about things modern people fall for that is unbelievable, it’s that they still fall for this line of reasoning McCormick gives.

In conclusion, I am once again seeing why it is that McCormick could fall for something like Jar’Edo Wens. He really just thinks he’s asking astute questions, but he’s not. There is no interaction with any number of Christian experts on the problem of evil whatsoever. There are just blanket assertions. Anyone can raise questions. It’s a shame he doesn’t try to find answers.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Case Against Miracles Chapter 1

What do I think of David Corner’s chapter? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

David Corner has the first chapter in John Loftus’s book on Miracles and the challenge of the apologist. Why is it that an apologist would have a hard time with miracles? Reading through, I didn’t really find anything that I found remotely convincing in Corner. It looked like more just pointing back to Hume over and over.

Also noteworthy is I remember no mention of Keener’s work in the chapter. If a miracle has taken place, then the challenge of Corner is taken care of. Corner could try to just say “Well, it’s some natural thing we don’t understand yet.” Feel free to think that, but most of us will be unconvinced.

Early on, Corner starts with defining a miracle. He cites both Augustine and Aquinas, but then goes to Hume. This to me sounds like going to Ken Ham when you want to learn about evolution. Even if you disagree with Augustine and Aquinas, why not go with them because then you know you’re going with someone who represents your opponents’ side? I think we know why. Still, let’s see what he says about Hume.

In his Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding,[ 30] David Hume offered two definitions of “miracle;” first, as a violation of natural law;[ 31] shortly afterward he offers a more complex definition when he says a miracle is “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent.”[ 32] This second definition offers two important criteria that an event must satisfy in order to qualify as a miracle: It must be a violation of natural law, but this by itself is not enough; a miracle must also be an expression of the divine will. This means that a miracle must express divine agency; if we have no reason to think that an event is something done by God, we will have no reason to call it a miracle.

I do think the idea of being connected to God at the end a good point to have. Suppose we have a case where someone is in a state such as a comatose state and has no response whatsoever and there are people gathered in prayer. Just as they are done praying, the person wakes up. Are they justified in believing in a miracle? Yes.

The problem also is Corner spends a lot of time addressing supernaturalism, but he never talks about what it is really. He says this about the idea of nature:

Those who would defend supernaturalism sometimes do this through a commitment to an ontology of entities that exist in some sense outside of nature, where by “nature” is meant the totality of things that can be known by means of observation and experiment, or more generally, through the methods proper to the natural sciences.

But what is meant by observation and experiment? I know 2 + 2 = 4 by observation. I don’t have to do experiments to find that out. At times throughout the day, I can look out my office window here and see cats. There are many different cats, but I get the idea of cat out of all of them and learn what a cat is despite differences in size, color, etc. The same could be said for dogs.

I can reason to other things like triangularity or goodness from there. I can also reason to God. I don’t do an experiment. I just follow rules of deductive reasoning to get to my conclusion. What I wonder though is by Corner’s definition if the nature of cats, triangularity, goodness, etc. would be part of nature or not. Evolution might explain how cats came about. It doesn’t explain how the universal nature of cats exists.

He also contends methodological naturalism tells us that observation and experiment can tell us all that we need to know. I disagree with this definition of it. What I see it as being is that when a scientist does his work in the lab, he assumes that there are no external agents interfering without cause.

The first hurdle Corner deals with is testimony. Can testimony evidence a miracle? The problem is Corner presents a number of ways testimony can go wrong, and it can. He never says how it can go right. What are the grounds by which a miracle could be said to have a reliable source? If he cannot give any, then is he not begging the question to say it can never overcome?

That would make sense since that is what Hume said. The best Corner can say is it will give us the suspension of judgment, but if you approach every testimony to a miracle with “Either false or suspend judgment” then you will never conclude a miracle has happened. Why? Because you know a miracle has never happened. This gets us into begging the question. More will be said on that later.

He also does cite Earman, but there’s not much engagement. Earman points out that Hume’s argument would work against marvels being believed and would thus be a science stopper if followed through. Earman says this as an agnostic. One point made is that Earman says we could have a large number of witnesses. Corner replies that we have no way of accessing their credibility as witnesses so we shouldn’t trust them.

But again, this just gets us to begging the question. The account cannot possibly be accepted as true. Corner gives us no grounds and even if true, it is insisted that it would have to have a natural cause. Corner has things stacked in his favor here. No matter what, it has to be a natural event because, well, reasons.

When asked about begging the question, Corner says we can’t assume the “supernatural” worldview is correct and says an apologist arguing for a miracle is. Yet at the same time, Corner thinks it’s just fine to assume the naturalistic worldview is correct. An apologist arguing for a miracle does not have to assume a supernatural worldview. He can present this as evidence for God and the person responding can decide if the evidence is reliable or not. You don’t have to accept God’s existence to think there could be good evidence for a miracle.

Corner later goes so far as to say that we usually say that either an event has a natural cause or a supernatural cause. He argues maybe it had no cause at all. He would have someone who would challenge that. Namely, David Hume, or is this the point where we drop Hume?

“But allow me to tell you that I never asserted so absurd a Proposition as that that anything might arise without a cause: I only maintain’d, that our Certainty of the Falsehood of that Proposition proceeded neither from Intuition nor Demonstration; but from another Source.” (David Hume to John Stewart, February 1754, in The Letters of David Hume, 2 vols, ed. J. Y. T Greig[Oxford:Clarendon Press, 1932], I:187)

And once again I am reminded how far skeptics like Corner will go to to defend their position. It strikes me as a position of believing anything else before believing a miracle. Nature can just go through spontaneous lapses sometimes in uniformity, but yet this would destroy science itself. Would Corner sacrifice science to avoid a miracle? Possibly.

Corner also asks how a God could do a miracle. He says:

All of the cases of causal interaction of which we are aware occur between physical entities that are fundamentally similar to one another in terms of possessing physical properties such as mass, electrical charge, location in space, etc. Thus, we know for example how one billiard ball may move another by virtue of the transfer of momentum. But God, as normally conceived by theistic religion, possesses none of these qualities, and cannot therefore interact with physical objects in any way that we can understand. God cannot, for example, transfer momentum to a physical object if God does not possess mass.

Yet this is again begging the question. What if I believe that I have an immaterial aspect to me and that that aspect of me interacts with my body? Then I have firsthand evidence in my case that immaterial forces can do that. Do I know how? No. Not at all. I don’t know how I fall asleep at night either, but I seem to do it every night.

Even if all that we had indicated physical changes are caused by physical objects, that does not demonstrate immaterial objects can’t do the same thing. Corner needs to demonstrate this and he hasn’t done so. Furthermore, if I have theistic arguments and I am convinced they work, then I have a priori evidence that this does happen.

He also says the problem of miracles is they lack predictive power, but why should this be a problem? If I am dealing with a free-will agent, why should I think they will always follow rules like that? My wife will appreciate something from me at one time and the next time not appreciate it. Some days I might enjoy a game and some days I might not. Free-will agents don’t act according to natural laws like that.

He also asks about miracles that do have natural causes, but this is not a problem. Suppose the Israelites cross the Jordan and we are told that regularly the waters stop so people can walk through. The miracle is not that they stopped, but when they stopped, in direct response to prayer.

In conclusion, I really don’t see anything convincing in Corner’s argument, at least for his position. If anything, it makes me more aware of the hurdles skeptics go to to avoid miracles. It’s easier to believe in things even Hume called absurd apparently than to be open to a miracle at all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters