Over the last couple years I have been asked by multiple apologists and skeptics alike to take a look at Craig Keener’s Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. Keener published his 1200+ pages, 2 volume set in 2011, and since then several apologists in evangelical circles have argued that Keener has provided strong evidence of miracles occurring in modern times across multiple regions of the world. On the other hand, I am not aware of any particularly remarkable reception that Keener has received in medicine, parapsychology, or science, which are the fields of expertise most relevant to his research (as will be discussed below).
I have ILL’d Keener’s two volumes to my university library multiple times over the last couple years, both to study Keener’s evidence, to discuss the volumes with online commenters, and to include footnotes about the volumes in various essays. I have not had a chance up until now, however, to write an extended review on Κέλσος. (This review will likely be several parts long, and I may publish new parts somewhat sporadically, depending on my schedule and other blogs that I publish alongside writing this review.) For this first part of this review, I will be discussing, prior to my discussion of the volumes’ contents, the methodology and types of evidence that I think could be used to make a persuasive case for the existence of miracles in modern times. In the subsequent sections of this review, I will then be discussing how Keener’s evidence holds up to these criteria, and/or whether he can provide better arguments for other evidential criteria.
I am fully open to believing in the existence of miracles, provided that empirical evidence of miraculous events can be provided. It is not enough to merely provide rumors and reports of miracles, since such claims can easily circulate without the occurrence of an actual miraculous event–due to misinterpretations of one’s senses, misdiagnosed medical conditions, remarkable coincidences, constructed memories, hearsay, and plain old lies–similar to how rumors and reports of UFO abductions and sightings of the Loch Ness monster can likewise circulate without any veridical event being behind such claims. I am also not impressed by a multitude of miracle claims, but am interested in quality rather than quantity. We live in a world of over 7 billion people, most of whom hold some version of belief in the supernatural. A large number of miracle claims is therefore not surprising, and atheistic naturalism only predicts that none of these claims will be veridical or backed up by empirical evidence.
It’s the strength of the evidence that matters, therefore, and not the multitude of the miraculous reports. With these considerations in mind, I will now lay out some criteria below of what kinds of evidence I am searching for.
Defining a “Miracle” Event:
First things first, we need to define what a miraculous event would be and look like. Sometimes miracles are described as “impossible events,” but I think that this definition begs the question, since the possibility of miracles occurring is the very thing that we are searching for. Other times, miracles are defined as “the most improbable event possible,” but I also think that this definition is not very good. Hypothetically, we could be living in a fantasy universe in which miracles were occurring all the time, as part of everyday life, and such events would hardly be improbable if they were part of ordinary experience.
Instead, I am looking for a definition that ontologically distinguishes miraculous events from non-miraculous events. The Cambridge Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (pg. 208) defines a “miracle” as follows:
“An event (ultimately) caused by God that cannot be accounted for by the natural powers of natural substances alone. Conceived of this way, miracles don’t violate the laws of nature but rather involve the occurrence of events which cannot be explained by the powers of nature alone. When dead bodies come back to life it is a miracle because the molecules that make up the corpse lack the powers necessary to generate life.”
I would add that miracles could hypothetically be caused by other supernatural agencies besides God, but I think that this definition works well as a starting point. Miracles involve agencies, wills, or intentions, causally working from outside of the physical order, intervening in the physical order to cause events that cannot be explained by physical causes alone. There are also occurrences that result from causes solely within the physical order (in fact, they are the normal state of affairs, and thus non-miraculous); hence why the ocean can cause events like tidal waves, and I can catch an apple from a tree. But these causes within the physical order are incapable of producing the effect of a miracle. Hence why the molecules of Jesus’ corpse cannot cause him to immortally rise from death. Hence why the water molecules in a jar cannot explain sudden transformation into wine. Instead, an agency, will, or intention working from outside of the physical order is intervening to cause an occurrence that would otherwise not be possible within the physical order.
In order to identify a miraculous event, therefore, I am looking for two primary criteria:
- The event defies ordinary physical causality
- The event was caused by an agency acting from outside of physical causality
I will also add a couple of clarifications about these criteria. First, when I say that an agency is acting “from outside of physical causality,” I do not mean that a miraculous agent cannot be located within the physical universe. Orthodox Christians, for example, argue that Jesus was a flesh and blood human being who performed miracles. Even though Jesus was within the physical universe, however, his miracles such as transforming water into wine cannot be explained through solely physical causes. Likewise, when I use the term “agency,” I am referring to any volitional, intentional force causing the miracles. Miracles are not generally understood as unconscious accidents, but happen for intentional reasons. Answers to prayers, healing bodies in very specific ways, and producing very specific effects, such as parting the Red Sea specifically in front of the Judeans, all imply intelligent design.
In order to identify agency-driven behavior, I think that a definition provided by philosopher André Ariew (“Platonic and Aristotelian Roots of Teleological Arguments”), distinguishing between Aristotelian and Platonic teleology, will be useful. Ariew (pg. 8) explains:
“Insofar as Aristotle’s teleology pertains to explanations of natural items, it is misleading to cast off Aristotle’s teleology as reading purposive behavior into natural events. This perception of Aristotle’s teleology is the result of conflating Aristotle’s naturalistic teleology with Plato’s … Plato’s natural teleology is and Aristotle’s is not creationist, anthropomorphic, and externally evaluative … Aristotle’s natural teleology is and Plato’s is not naturalistic, immanent, and functional.”
Ariew (pp. 8-9) goes on to identify two distinct types of teleology in Aristotle’s writings:
“Teleological explanation in Aristotle pertains broadly to goal-directed actions or behavior. Aristotle invokes teleology when an event or action pertains to goals … [W]e can distinguish two distinct conceptions of teleology in Aristotle’s writings and at least two sub-categories:
- Agency-centered teleology:
i. Behavioral. Activities undertaken for the sake of something, which may be either a state or further action.
ii. Artifactual. Activities undertaken for the sake of producing an object of a certain sort (artificial).
- Teleology pertaining to natural organisms:
i. Formal. Biological developmental processes that occur for the sake of self-preservation or preservation of the species (form).
ii. Functional. Parts of organisms that are present for the sake of the organism possessing them.
1 and 2 are distinct notions of teleology … Agent-specific teleology (1) is purposive, rational, and intentional, and represents external evaluation. The goal is the object of an agent’s desire or choice … Teleology pertaining to natural organisms is distinct: non-purposive (though seemingly so), non-rational, non-intentional, and immanent–that is, an inner principle of change. The goal is not an object of any agent’s desire.”
When it comes to seeking out the intelligence behind miracles, I am looking for agent-specific (1) teleology. The evidence of miracles that I am searching for will thus demonstrate an apparent violation or departure from ordinary physical causality that appears to be the result of purposive, rational, and intentional external evaluation.
Types of Miracles:
I have defined what I consider to be a miraculous event above, but now I will also need to elaborate on the types of miracles that can fit this definition. Perhaps surprisingly, this definition is actually very broad, and can describe a very wide range of hypothetical miracles. Here are five kinds of miracles that I think can fit this definition:
A. Miracles of Probability:
Many events that people describe as “miracles” simply involve extraordinarily improbable events occurring. For example, when I debated Christian apologist Don Johnson a couple years ago, Don brought up (part 2, 40:40) a girl that lost her pet parakeet, prayed for a new parakeet, and then had another parakeet fly into her yard the next day. Don also brought up a couple that had prayed for a very specific amount of money, and then received that exact sum of money. Don argued that these events were so improbable, some sort of miraculous intervention must have been at work.
While a girl and her pet parakeet may have been enough to convince Don Johnson of miracles, however, I am fairly skeptical of miracles of this kind. The reason why is that these events can still be plausibly explained as coincidences. We live in a world of more than 7 billion people, where extraordinarily rare events are happening everyday. Say that there is a one in a million chance of winning a lottery, for example, and ten million people were to enter this lottery. If nobody won, this would actually be more a more improbable event than a winning lottery ticket itself.
As Richard Carrier recently explained in “Everything You Need to Know about Coincidences”:
“This is the Law of Large Numbers that Christian apologist David Marshall once tried to claim didn’t exist. In order to ignore the fact that: the universe is so big and old, the extreme improbability of random biogenesis on a per-reaction basis actually becomes virtually 100% on cosmic sum. It is more formally referred to as the Infinite Monkey Theorem, as the Law of Large Numbers is also used to refer to what causes the Infinite Monkey Theorem to be true … The point is the same: the more occasions for a coincidence to occur, the more such coincidences will occur. And without a mathematical check, we cannot know from our isolated POV whether we are one of those coincidences or not.”
Carrier’s last point is highly relevant to verifying miracles of probability. We need a “mathematical check” to know whether these events are anything more than coincidences. There is a natural probability, after all, that I girl will lose a pet parakeet and then have another one fly into her yard the next day, or a couple will receive the exact sum of money that they have prayed for. In order to demonstrate that these events are true miracles, therefore, there needs to be a mathematical check to demonstrate that these events are occurring at a greater frequency than would naturally occur. A greater frequency than the natural probability could then suggest that some sort of agency is intervening to cause the elevated occurrences. But without such a mathematical check, miracles of probability are essentially unprovable.
B. Miracles of Prophecy:
Another common type of miracle, similar to miracles of probability, is prophecy. Like the miracles described above, true prophecies are hard to determine, due to the fact that people can coincidentally predict the future. For example, there were several Judeans in antiquity who predicted that the Jewish Temple would be destroyed, which eventually took place during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. But since such apocalyptic predictions were commonly made, some people were eventually bound to get such a prediction right, especially since this prediction was not really a true guess, but more of an educated guess influenced by surrounding circumstances, such as political tensions with Rome.
Recently, philosopher Evan Fales sent me a useful handout that he uses in his philosophy of religion courses, which provides a set of criteria for identifying a true prophecy:
- It must be possible to establish that the prophecy was in fact made prior to the time of the fulfilling event.
- The event must be one that is not likely relative to (ordinary) background information.
- The event must be one whose occurrence could not have been humanly known, or reasonably guessed at, by the prophet.
- The event must be one that is beyond the powers of the prophet or the prophet’s followers or others with an interest in the matter to bring about; and it must not be “self-fulfilling.”
- The prophetic description of the event must be specific and unambiguous.
- The fulfilling event must be a public event, widely attested by independent sources – i.e., there must be good certainty that it did occur.
- The prophecy must not be one of a large number of prophecies offered by the prophet or by a tradition, only a very select few of which prove successful.
I agree that, if these conditions can be met, then there would be good evidence of a genuine prophecy occurring, which could then be used as evidence of a miracle.
C. Miracles Involving Ordinary Restoration of Human Health:
Many miracles that are reported involve restoration to ordinary human health, but not necessarily super-human abilities or conditions. For example, a person dies at age 50, and is then resuscitated from the dead, only to die again at age 70. Such *resuscitations* are not the same things as *resurrections*. Someone who resuscitates in this way is only being restored to ordinary human health, and only prolonging death. In discussing the nature of Jesus’ resurrection, however, theologian William Craig (Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection, pg. 15) explains:
“Resurrection is not resuscitation. The mere restoration of life to a corpse is not a resurrection. A person who has resuscitated returns only to this earthly life and will die again.”
And (pg. 127):
“Jesus rose to eternal life in a radically transformed body that can be described as immortal, glorious, powerful, and supernatural. In this new mode of existence, he was not bound by the physical limitations of the universe, but possessed superhuman powers.”
Simply showing examples of humans resuscitating, therefore, does not necessarily prove that someone could *resurrect* from the dead. Bayesian expert Robert Cavin likewise discusses many other metaphysically remarkable aspects of Jesus’ resurrection in “Is There Sufficient Historical Evidence to Establish the Resurrection of Jesus,” which is chapter 1 of The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.
Someone does not need to be immortally resurrected from the dead, however, for a genuine miracle to occur. A person’s head being cut off at age 5o, who then has it regrow, is restored to life, and then dies at age 70, has certainly experienced a miracle, even if this miracle is not the same as Jesus’ resurrection. I only raise this point to distinguish the nature of Jesus’ resurrection from resuscitations, since the resurrection of Jesus is one of the miracles in the New Testament that Christian apologists are most interested in proving. Even if miracles of resuscitation could be proven, therefore, that does not mean that miracles like Jesus’ resurrection have been demonstrated in modern times.
Nevertheless, I am still interested in miracles of this kind. An amputated limb that regrows, or a person with leprosy who suddenly gains perfectly healthy skin, or a person who is confirmed dead with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or electroencephalogram (EEG) scans, who later resuscitates back to life, could all provide evidence of miracles. The main evidence that I am looking for, therefore, is sufficient documentation of the medical condition, medical research about what kinds of cures are physically possible, and sufficient documentation of a medical cure that defies anything known in medical research, particularly if there is suggestion of an outside agency intervening, such as the cure taking place right after a prayer. What kind of medical documentation is “sufficient” is a matter that I will discuss below.
D. Miracles Involving Super-Human Abilities:
Turning water into wine, walking on water, or resurrecting from brain death into an immortal and imperishable body do not just involve healing miracles that restore people to ordinary human health. They involve super-human abilities that supersede ordinary physical laws. If Keener wants to argue for “the credibility of the New Testament accounts,” he really needs to provide modern examples of these kinds of miracles.
Furthermore, I also think that these kinds of miracles are among the easiest to provide prima facie evidence of their occurrence. Miracles that involve restoration to ordinary human health are tricky, since people are restored to health all the time. In order to demonstrate that such a restoration is miraculous, therefore, evidence must be provided that the restoration is outside of what is otherwise medically possible. But the extraordinary nature of super-human miracles are more obvious. Flying in the air, teleportation, spontaneous creation of heat and cold, and many other hypothetical miracles could all provide excellent proof.
Of course, checks would need to be in place to establish that none of these alleged miracles are magical parlor tricks, or even the use of super advanced technology. But I also don’t want to be a stickler. All I need is prima facie evidence of such a miracle. If a man can walk on water, therefore, sure, there might be some super advanced technology at work that I don’t know about. But, I would still describe this event as prima facie evidence of a miracle. That kind of evidence alone would be enough for me to start seriously considering the real world occurrence of miracles, and I think that strong enough evidence of this kind could be enough to establish reasonable belief in miracles, even if complete certainty is not possible.
E. Miracles Involving Direct Miracle Workers:
Note that Jesus performs many of his miracles in the New Testament in person. He is a clear miracle worker who is present performing the miraculous event, such as when he walks on water, or uses his fingers and saliva to cure a man of deafness and muteness. Contrast this with miracles that do not have direct miracle workers acting on the scene. Say that someone is declared dead, for example, shows no signs of a beating pulse for a prolonged period, and then resuscitates back to life. We might call this a miracle, but did any miracles worker perform it? Could we connect the alleged miracle with a specific agent performing the miracle, such as we could with Jesus?
What is also worth noting is that miracles caused by agents could be repeatable and demonstrable with scientific instruments. Jesus’ miracles in the New Testament are likewise depicted as repeatable events, which is why crowds gather after him and people bring more sick to be healed, after learning of his previous miracles. If a miracle worker could perform miracles on demand in modern times, then he could do it when doctors and scientists are present. This would provide perhaps the strongest evidence there is of a miracle.
Note also, however, that many miracle workers are charlatans. For example, in modern times there are individuals like Sathya Sai Baba, and in ancient times individuals like Alexander of Abonoteichus, who are and have been reputed to be miracle workers, even though their “miracles” can be shown to be the result of parlor tricks and fraud. Nevertheless, a genuine miracle worker, who could repeat miracles, could provide empirical evidence of miracles to scientists and doctors in a controlled setting. Examples of such tests and criteria include the “One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge” offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation, which, after decades of testing thousands of supernatural and psychic claims, still never had a single successful applicant.
Can Science Investigate Miracles?
When asked to give empirical evidence of miracles, many apologists try to get around this challenge by claiming that miracles are purely a “philosophical” or “metaphysical” question that science cannot answer. But nothing could be further from the truth. Science is an epistemology that is empirical. Miracles such as raising the dead, walking on water, or turning water into wine likewise would involve demonstrable, empirical change. If such miracles existed, science could find them.
Furthermore, science also establishes the background conditions of what is ordinarily physically possible. As theologian William Craig (The Case for Faith, pg. 63) explains:
“Natural laws have implicit ceteris paribus conditions … In other words, natural laws assume that no other natural or supernatural factors are interfering with the operation that the law describes.”
Ceteris paribus is a Latin term meaning “all other things being equal.” Science can tell us, for example, that a human being’s weight placed on the surface of liquid water will be too great for the surface friction on top of the water to support, causing the person to sink. This pattern can be demonstrated again and again through empirical testing. We know from science, therefore, that a human being walking on water would defy ordinary physical causality. If such an action were performed, therefore, especially by someone reputed to be a miracle worker, this would provide prima facie evidence of a miraculous event.
As I have stated above, I have two criteria for identifying a miracle:
- The event defies ordinary physical causality
- The event was caused by an agency acting from outside of physical causality
Science can answer both of these questions. Science is the epistemology that we use to study the physical world and the ordinary patterns of cause and effect that take place within it. Furthermore, science can also distinguish intelligently-driven behavior from natural occurrences, due to the goal orientation, design, and intentionality reflected in intelligent behavior. Empirical science, therefore, provides us with all of the tools that we need to study the existence of miracles.
The only qualification I that might add is what constitutes a genuine “miracle” may involve philosophical and theological definitions. That’s fine. I am not concerned with what we theologically declare a “miracle,” but rather the prima facie evidence of the empirical phenomena that is associated with miracle claims. Whether we define the Red Sea spontaneously parting as a “miracle” performed by God is beyond the fact that, if the Red Sea were to spontaneously part, we could empirically observe this phenomenon. All science needs to study therefore, is the empirical evidence of events that appear to defy ordinary physical causality–such as walking on water, raising the dead, or turning water into wine.
You also cannot get around this empirical evidence. Whether or not we choose to call these kinds of events “miracles” does not change the fact that they are tied to claims about empirical, physical reality. Science must always come first, therefore, in demonstrating the phenomena in question, even if how we define “miracles” might be a secondary concern that involves philosophy or theology.
Is Skepticism towards Miracles Due to A Priori Commitments?
Another common claim that apologists will make is that skeptics only doubt the existence of miracles due to the “a priori” assumption of naturalism. This, however, is nothing more than a straw man. I have already discussed in my essay “Defining the ‘Natural’ in Metaphysical Naturalism” how naturalism does not need to be taken as an a priori view, assumed before investigation, but can also be an a posteriori view reached after empirically observing a world in which there are only natural forces, entities, and causes. But, likewise, the existence of miracles and the supernatural also does not have to be assumed a priori, but could also be reached a posteriori, if empirical evidence were provided of such phenomena.
If we lived in a world like Harry Potter, where magical events were taking place all the time, in plain view, as part of ordinary physical reality, it would indeed be not be an a priori assumption, but an a posteriori conclusion that magical powers are real. The question hangs solely on the empirical evidence that we gather.
I should also qualify, however, that miracles do not need to take place everyday to be part of our empirical reality. Miracles may be very, very rare events, indeed. What naturalists maintain, however, is that, no miracle events will be able to be supported by verifiable empirical evidence. Only a single example of such verifiable evidence, even if no others occurred for all of history, would be enough to disprove this view. I will discuss such evidence further below.
Another point that needs to be raised, however, is that prior probability is a relevant factor in assessing reports of miracles. As I explain in my essay “History, Probability, and Miracles,” both scientists and historians take into consideration previous data and experience as background knowledge when assessing individual claims. If we live in a world where miracle claims are being falsified all the time, and no evidence of a verifiable miracle event has ever been discovered, then the prior probability of a miracle will gradually decrease, until only extraordinary evidence can rule out the possibility of a false miracle. In a world such as Harry Potter, where magical events are more common, however, less extraordinary evidence is needed.
Something should also be said at this point about what is meant by the term “extraordinary.” As forensic expert Richard Packham (“The Man with No Heart: Miracles and Evidence”) explains, the term “extraordinary” does not mean that the type of evidence itself has to be remarkable. Video tapes, x-rays, medical records, and so on are all part of ordinary life experience. What is meant by “extraordinary” in this case is that the evidence in question cannot be equally explained by a wide range of causes, but is only rendered probable under a very specific hypothesis. The problem with miracle reports is that they can be explained by a wide range of non-miraculous causes–such as misinterpretations of one’s senses, misdiagnosed medical conditions, remarkable coincidences, constructed memories, hearsay, and plain old lies. Extraordinary evidence is the kind that can eliminate these other possible explanations, in order to narrow down the range of causes. I will discuss this process further below.
Does the Existence of God Increase the Probability of Miracles?
Another argument that apologists will frequently raise is that miracles are not so improbable, if we start from the assumption that God exists. If God exists and wants to perform a miracle, such as raising Jesus from the dead, then the prior probability of such a miracle is not low at all. But, once more, this mischaracterizes the nature of the prior probability. As Bayesian expert Robert Cavin explains (slides 80-83):
“If God wills that I turn into a gigantic green cucumber, then I’ll turn into a gigantic green cucumber. But it’s hardly probable that God would will this! The fact that God can supernaturally intervene doesn’t make it in the least likely that He does.”
Whether God (or any other agents operating from outside the physical order) perform miracles in the physical world is once more a question of ordinary physical reality. We can assess the likelihood of such events based on empirical evidence and simple statistics. As Cavin explains, a low prior probability for miracles can be shown by a simple statistical syllogism (slide 110):
99%+ of Xs are Ys
A is an X
Therefore, A is probably a Y
In the case of a miracle such as Jesus rising from the dead, the question is not whether God wants to raise Jesus from the dead, but simply the question of how often these kinds of events empirically take place in the world. Cavin argues, therefore, that even assuming the existence of God, does not change the fact that Jesus rising from the dead is initially improbable with the following statistical syllogism (slide 108):
- 99.999…999% of the dead are not supernaturally interfered with by God, and, thus, not raised by Him.
- Jesus was dead.
- Jesus was [probably] not supernaturally interfered with by God, and, thus, not raised by Him.
So simply assuming that God exists does not increase the probability of miracles. Instead, empirical evidence needs to be shown that God does, indeed, cause these kinds of events in the world. This brings us straight back to what kind of empirical evidence can be provided.
Naturalism and Belief in Miracles:
Does metaphysical naturalism predict that no reports of miracles will take place in the world? Not at all. In fact, naturalism predicts quite the opposite. A multitude of miracle reports is, in fact, very likely even if we live in a purely natural world. This is true for a variety of reasons.
First, miracles are events that people look and hope for. People pray everyday for miracles to occur, and they look for their prayers to be answered. This will not only cause people to see miracles in places where they may very well have not occurred, but it will also cause people to believe in miracles when they are told about them by others. Second, as discussed above, we also live in a world where, by sheer large numbers, extraordinarily improbable events will frequently take place. Some of these events are so rare that people will deem them to be miracles, even when they are purely coincidences.
Human psychology is likewise wired to often see agencies in places where there are none. Early humans lived on a planet teeming with life, much of which was hostile and dangerous. Accordingly, early humans had to compete with other animals (and sometimes other humans) to survive, which selected our minds to detect agency and to seek out intelligence that threatened us. An accidental side effect of this, however, was that our minds became programmed for agency over-detection (discussed further by Stewart Guthrie in Faces in the Clouds). Humans personified many things that are actually purely mechanical–harvest cycles, lighting, natural disasters, etc.–and we connected such phenomena with divine beings and other supernatural concepts.
Because of our tendency towards agency over-detection, when improbable or hoped for events occur, humans have a tendency to impute agencies and wills behind them. But unless mathematical or physical checks can be established to rule out mere coincidences and rare events, then we cannot call them either intentional or miraculous. Learning to be skeptical and gather evidence for miracles is part of ruling out our false intuitions. But many, if not most, people who believe in and spread reports about miracles simply do not engage in such skepticism, which is why reports of miracles can easily flourish, even in a world where no miracles actually take place.
Finally, medical conditions can often be misdiagnosed. A resuscitation from apparent death, or the sudden disappearance of diagnosed cancer, for example, does not necessarily mean that a miraculous event has occurred. Unless we have reliable medical documentation of the conditions and the nature of the cure, we cannot rule out misdiagnosis. I will now turn to the types of evidence and documentation that would be compelling in the subsequent section.
Miracle Reports vs. Evidence of Miracles:
We have established that miracle reports will be common occurrences even in a world where none actually exist. Simply documenting a multitude of such reports, therefore, does not mean that one has provided a compelling case for their actual occurrence. Instead, whether or not one can show that miracles take place in the world hinges on the kinds of empirical evidence that can be provided. I will now discuss two primary kinds of compelling evidence that could be provided.
1) Evidence from Scale:
I think it is a fair to say that the larger and more remarkable a miracle is, the easier that it is to prove, or to at least provide prima facie evidence of a miraculous occurrence. If the Red Sea were to part tomorrow, for example, this would be much easier to show as miracle, than a person who has been declared dead, shows no sign of a beating pulse, and then resuscitates from the dead, or a couple praying for a sum of money and then receiving it. The reason why is that there is a wider range of causes that can explain the latter two examples–such as medical misdiagnosis and coincidences–than there is that could explain an event as remarkable as the Red Sea parting.
Let me also clarify, however, that simply because large-scale miracles would be the easiest to confirm does not mean either that we should expect such miracles or that large-scale miracles alone are the only types of miracles that I would believe in. This is how Christian apologist Don Johnson once misinterpreted my views in my recorded debate with him, as well as another blogger in a post titled “Yellow Dog Naturalism.” We don’t know what kind of miracles God would perform in the world, if any, or when, where, and how they would occur. All we can go off of is the empirical evidence. But since reports of miracles can easily circulate without an actual miraculous cause, we need empirical evidence that can rule out false reports.
The reason why miracles of large-scale or highly remarkable change are easier to prove is because far few causes could explain such phenomena, besides a genuine intervention in ordinary physical causality. We need less mathematical and physical checks to know that a person who has had their head decapitated, and then suddenly regrows it, has more likely experienced a miracle, than a person who appears to have no pulse, but then resuscitates. I am not saying that we should expect such extraordinary miracles, or that these are the only types of miracles that I would believe in; I am simply laying out a certain type of evidence that would more easily persuade me of a miracle.
2) Evidence from Precision:
In the absence of large-scale or remarkable change, however, the next best thing is precision. Even a paper cut healing unnaturally fast, for example, (possibly even connected with a sign of agency, such as a miracle worker healing the paper cut), would technically be a miracle, but how can we show that such an event defies ordinary physical causality, without very precise evidence and documentation? The best place to go for this evidence is medical records, as well as the tests used by psychologists and forensic scientists. Since I think that this kind of evidence can involve a broad range of methods, instruments, and data, however, I will focus on a single example: resuscitation from the dead.
What would it take for me to believe that a person had died and then resuscitated from the dead? As discussed above, an extraordinarily remarkable miracle, such as a person being decapitated and then regrowing their head could more easily do it, but let’s say that we are working with less obvious examples. What if a person has simply been diagnosed as dead, or shown signs of being dead, such as having no pulse and not breathing. What could convince me that they had died and resusciated from the dead?
Here, precision is the key, since it is often quite easy to misdiagnose death. First, I will lay out some tests that would probably not be precise enough in the absence of remarkable scale:
[I should also note that I am not a doctor, so I am simply relying on authorities and my own limited research for this section, and welcome any corrections, suggestions, or feedback in the comments below. My interest in this section, however, is to identify certain kinds of tests that are susceptible to misdiagnosis, and what evidence can overcome such misdiagnoses, in order to provide a prima facie example of someone genuinely resuscitating from the dead. This section may be revised, if I have erred in my description of existing medical research, but that still does not change the fact that these kinds of evidential criteria can be applied, in principle, when investigating apparent miracles.]
- Blood Pulse: While it is true that dead people will have their hearts stop beating and lose their blood pulse, this is not sure proof that a person who appears to have these symptoms is actually dead. It is not unprecedented that death can be misdiagnosed from a lack of palpable pulse, no observable respiratory activity, and even low oxygen in the blood. These kinds of misdiagnoses were also more common in the 1800’s and in antiquity when instruments were less available. Even skilled doctors can make misdiagnoses using such tests. That said, the longer a person goes without a palpable pulse, the more likely it is that they are dead. If a person has shown these symptoms for considerably longer than all known examples of recovery, then this could provide evidence of a miracle. But we need both precise instruments and a remarkable length of time to show this. So, this is a relevant test, but not always a reliable one.
- Change in Pallor: In about 15-25 minutes after death pallor mortis occurs, which is a kind of post-mortem paleness caused by a lack of capillary circulation throughout the body. The living can change pallor too, however, from shock, low blood pressure, various illnesses, and healing bruises (relevant to someone like Jesus who has been scourged). Green pallor takes longer to develop, and is less common in living persons. This test is thus not terribly reliable.
- Rigor Mortis: In about 3-4 hours after death rigor mortis occurs, which causes the limbs of a corpse to stiffen, due to chemical changes in the muscles after death. These symptoms also come and go, so you have to constantly monitor the body, and the symptoms also don’t take place until after the most deaths are diagnosed anyway. Furthermore, the same symptoms have also been shown to occur in living persons (see here and here). So this test, again, is not terribly reliable.
- Stinking Corpse: After 2-3 days at room temperature, a body will start to smell of decay (though, animals such as dogs, for example, can recognize these symptoms sooner). Unwashed bodies and untreated wounds, however, can also cause similar symptoms (untreated wounds can even notoriously smell like death). Such a test cannot be applied until after the time in which a person is diagnosed dead, anyway. So, generally not an applicable test.
Lacking a very precise measure of no palpable pulse and decreasing oxygen in the blood for a very remarkable length of time, none of the tests above can likely provide certain enough evidence of death for a remarkable recovery to be truly miraculous. We live in a world of more than 7 billion people, and extraordinary recoveries will thus not only be possible, but even likely. The only tests beyond these that would likely be foolproof would be a skillfully conducted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or electroencephalogram (EEG).
Take note also that, if people are declared dead in places where these tests cannot be adequately performed, that does not mean that we get a free pass for declaring their recovery a miracle. Excluding examples of remarkable scale, therefore, such miracles are not likely to be discovered outside of hospitals. But, we live in an age where we have hospitals and instruments in place to perform these tests all over the planet. All we need is one good example to provide persuasive evidence of a miracle.
Persuasive Research and Publishing:
Any researcher who seeks to make a persuasive case for the existence of miracles in modern times will need to research and publish their work in a responsible way. Finding and verifying persuasive evidence of miraculous phenomena could likely require traveling with a team of experts and rigorously documenting the evidence with tests and instruments. If you can’t get a funding grant, then that simply means that you can’t perform adequate research. Merely documenting anecdotal evidence and miraculous reports is not enough.
Furthermore, any researcher who seeks to make a persuasive case for the existence of miracles will need to publish their evidence through a reputable publisher in a relevant field. In particular, such evidence should be published in a peer reviewed medical, scientific, or parapsychological source. Publishers who have a bias towards belief in miracles, such as a Christian publishing house, are not adequate for this kind of study.
Finally, any researcher who seeks to make a persuasive case for the existence of miracles will need to research miracles in every possible context that they can. This means looking for evidence of miracles occurring in a Hindu context, a Muslim context, a Catholic context, a Native American context, a Pagan context, and others, besides a solely a Protestant and Pentecostal context, for example. Only investigating contexts specific to one particular religious group or tradition is a sign of bias from the start.
Modern Miracles’ Implications for the Christian Faith:
Would demonstrating a modern miracle, such as a man showing no cardio/respiratory activity under precise instruments for three days, and/or being declared dead after an MRI or EEG, then resuscitating from the dead at age 50, only to die again at age 70, provide evidence that events such as Jesus’ resurrection in the New Testament actually occur? Not really. As discussed above, the miracles of Jesus described in the New Testament involve super-human abilities and conditions, and not just restoration to ordinary human health. If all we have is evidence of miracles involving restoration to ordinary human health, that does not entail that super-human abilities and conditions ever actually occur. It is important not to conflate this evidence. Then again, if empirical evidence of such super-human abilities and conditions can be demonstrated, then perhaps that may, indeed, increase the plausibility of Jesus’ miracles.
Another measure that I think could be relevant, however, is if modern miracles, even those only involving restoration to ordinary human health, were occurring solely in a Christian context. To show this, a researcher would need to investigate miracle reports across cultures and religions, including Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Paganism, etc., to show that genuine miracles were only occurring in one religious context (or perhaps more frequently in one religious context). It should also be noted that miracle reports will be more numerous in cultures and religions where belief in miracles is more common. This is why showing a multitude of miraculous reports, without verifiable evidence, is not enough to provide persuasive evidence for the existence of miracles. Furthermore, if such reports are less numerous in cultures and religions where such beliefs are not common, then I think that such trends should fairly be regarded as evidence against miracles, since such trends would demonstrate that miraculous reports are demonstrably increased by prior expectations.
Modern Miracles’ Implications for Naturalism:
Even if modern miracles, which involve only restoration to ordinary human health but no super-human abilities or conditions, and occur outside of no unique religious context, may not lend support to the specific claims of any particular religion, that still does not mean that they provide no evidence of a minimally supernatural world. Perhaps such miracles will occur, but never support the truth of any particular religion more than another. But, even evidence for such kinds of ambiguous miraculous occurrences would still lead me away from belief in metaphysical naturalism. What I need, though, are not mere reports of miracles, but strong empirical evidence of miraculous phenomena, researched and published in a responsible way. Naturalism predicts that tons of miraculous reports will occur in the world, but that none will be backed up by strong empirical evidence. Just one example with strong empirical evidence, therefore, would be enough to disprove this prediction, rather than a multitude of unverified claims.
With these considerations in mind, I will turn to reviewing Keener’s evidence in the subsequent parts of this review. Perhaps Keener can provide the evidence that I have outlined above, or perhaps he will make a stronger case for another set of evidential criteria. I will be evaluating what kinds of evidence and arguments he has to offer, in the posts ahead.
Isn’t this the book that Don Johnson ambushed you with back on his radio show? It’s like he just dropped this garbage on the desk and said “see? Why haven’t you refuted this yet?” Typical dishonest tactic among all apologists. Leave someone else’s trash in lieu of your own arguments and expect your opponent to do all the heavy lifting.
At least you’ve cleared the air about this “miracle” nonsense. I’ve seen them reference Keener’s book in the popular apologetics that Steve Shives refutes on his YouTube channel. They put out all these miracle claims without any evidence and then pretend that the existence of these claims ARE evidence. It’s just an attempt to overwhelm and dazzle the uncritical reader with volume.
Yeah, what is worse is that I asked Don Johnson in advance of my appearance on his radio show what issues he wanted to talk about. You would think that mentioning a 1200+ page, 2 volume work would be something to bring up. Instead, this is what Don answered with in our email exchange:
“Some data” is a 1200+ page work that I am then accused of not looking at, and we’ll see “where the conversation leads us from there,” eh? Why not just say: I want to discuss this new 2 volume set with you. I would have read it before the show and come ready to discuss it. But, then Don wouldn’t have been able to ambush me. As one commenter observed on my blog:
But, now with this review, I will be critically assessing all of the data Don asked me to look at 🙂
All of Jesus’ cures are known to be psychosomatic. They are all in the psychological manual.
Can you elaborate? Or give a link that does so.
They’re also literary inventions.
Very interesting writeup – thanks. I especially like the parts where you discuss a priori commitments vs. a posteriori conclusions, what naturalism predicts about miracle reports, and requirements for miracle researcher fairness (searching in multiple religious contracts).
Quibbles, corrections, questions…
Personally, I’m by default dismissive of events that would qualify as likely magician / parlor tricks from consideration as possible miracles, e.g. water to wine, and walking on water. Thoughts?
I think you mean “could be used”. Or do you mean to say that there is currently evidence available that can be used to perform this demonstration?
“Miracles” x2 at end of sentence.
Again, I think the latter “can” is too forgiving without demonstration. I’d think “such as we could”, or “alleged miracle”. But perhaps I’m being too pedantic.
I think you mean “note also”.
If you agree with my preceding pedantry, then I’d also suggest “would involve” here.
I think you’re referring to resuscitation here, not resurrection, but I’m not 100% sure. Recall that Jesus’s alleged resurrection is often referred to as rising from the dead. Consider clarifying.
Oops, I didn’t close my last blockquote properly.
Thanks for these spelling and grammar notes! I’ve fixed all the examples you gave. Being a pedantic grammar Nazi is a good thing when it constructively helps in the revision of essays 😉
I agree that apparent examples of walking on water or turning water into wine could easily be performed by a magician as a parlor trick, though I wouldn’t automatically be dismissive. Hypothetically, if the person in question could repeat this effect, we could study it under controlled conditions, such as those applied by James Randi. So, I think with the right kinds of conditions in place, we could probably rule out parlor tricks.
You are to be commended for taking this on. While I’ve seen Keener’s work trotted out as evidence of miracles at nearly every opportunity, I had never yet seen a thorough, critical response by somebody who actually looked at the text. Even now upon running a deliberate search, the only critical review I found was Chris Hallquist’s. This will be a valuable addition to the internet. The foundation you’ve laid here looks solid and already reveals much about the nature of the data that Keener offers.
Matthew Ferguson: “In order to demonstrate that these events are true miracles, therefore, there needs to be a mathematical check to demonstrate that these events are occurring at a greater frequency than would naturally occur. A greater frequency than the natural probability could then suggest that some sort of agency is intervening to cause the elevated occurrences. But without such a mathematical check, miracles of probability are essentially unprovable.”
You are right that such miracles are essentially unprovable. However, I think one doesn’t have to be an expert in Mathematics to see that receiving specific sum of money after having prayed for it is an exceedingly improbable event, especially if such events happen regularly. In the following book the philanthropist George Müller (1805-1898) points to such events that he experienced:
Dear Patrick Sele,
As a matter of courtesy, I usually ask that commenters only post a couple comments at a time, and wait to be answered before posting as many as 6 comments. [Note: I have made an exception of this rule below for Ed Babinski, since he is primarily responding to Patrick’s comments.]
I have also seen you commenting on other blogs before in ways that people have found irritating, including criticisms of your understanding of probability:
On the issue of miracle reports, such as what you are discussing in these comments, I also have seen the following thread where multiple other commenters have answered your arguments in detail:
I will be looking at examples, such as you have listed, in Keener and possibly other sources as I move forward with the review. I won’t have a chance to answer all these links you have posted today, since I am busy at the moment, but I have approved them in case other commenters are interested in answering them.
Since you have posted 6 comments already, I also will be a bit slower to approve future comments from you, until other commenters have had a say.
Miracle? George Muller sent out word that he was starting an Orphan House, and people started to help him in various ways, some sent money, some donated time, effort and sundries. Nor does the story say he received only 1000 pounds. He was also a white western European whose contacts lay among fellow Christians living in the wealthiest continent in the world. You might as well cite the fact that terrorists like Bin Laden received enough money and followers to bring down the Twin Towers.
Matthew Ferguson: “Nevertheless, I am still interested in miracles of this kind. An amputated limb that regrows, or a person with leprosy who suddenly gains perfectly healthy skin, or a person who is confirmed dead with magnetic resonance imagining (MRI) or electroencephalogram scans, who later resuscitates back to life, could all provide evidence of miracles. The main evidence that I am looking for, therefore, is sufficient documentation of the medical condition, medical research about what kinds of cures are physically possible, and sufficient documentation of a medical cure that defies anything known in medical research, particularly if there is suggestion of an outside agency intervening, such as the cure taking place right after a prayer.”
The book presented in the following link is about a medically well-documented healing of a fatal disease following prayer:
Miracle? Nothing about regrown limbs in the link you shared. It appears to be a case of brain lesions that healed and the lesions were diagnosed as possible of mad cow disease, but there are plenty of hard to diagnose diseases that cause brain lesions, and it is far from easy to definitively diagnose them. For instance, someone I know personally has suffered brain lesions, and the doctors didn’t know from what. The lesions were increasing and then diminishing (when we were dating) and then increasing over time. It took specialists in the Mayo Clinic to determine she was suffering from a very rare and hard to diagnose illness, a type of virus that attacked her nervous system. And they finally were able to treat it. But it took nearly two years to get a clear diagnosis since only two previously known cases of that particular lesion-causing illness were previously cataloged in the U.S. So again,miracle?
That someone gets better from a disease is really never going to be very persuasive as a miracle, since people have often ‘recovered’ from any number of diagnoses, for any number of natural reasons (mis-diagnosis is a perfectly natural occurrence). If miracles are supposed to persuade, God would be better advised to do something that has never been observed naturally, such as re-attaching someone’s head after decapitation (as Matthew mentions).
Any books on that? ‘Heads I Win: My Journey From Headlessness’?
Matthew Ferguson: “Note that Jesus performs many of his miracles in the New Testament in person. He is a clear miracle worker who is present performing the miraculous event, such as when he walks on water, or uses his fingers and saliva to cure a man of deafness and muteness. Contrast this with miracles that do not have direct miracle workers acting on the scene. Say that someone is declared dead, for example, shows no signs of a beating pulse for a prolonged period, and then resuscitates back to life. We might call this a miracle, but did any miracles worker perform it? Can we connect the miracle with a specific agent performing the miracle, such as we can with Jesus?
Note also, however, that many miracle workers are charlatans. For example, in modern times there are individuals Sathya Sai Baba, and in ancient times individuals like Alexander of Abonoteichus, who are and have been reputed to be miracle workers, even though their “miracles” can be shown to be the result of parlor tricks and fraud.”
The miracle worker who in my view comes closest to the miracle workers described in the New Testament is the Lutheran pastor and theologian Johann Christoph Blumhardt (1805-1880). Accounts about miraculous events accompanying the work of Blumhardt can be found in the following biography of him:
Dieter Ising, Johann Christoph Blumhardt, Life and Work: A New Biography, Translated by Monty Ledford, Eugene 2009.
Blumhardt was a highly respected theologian and as far as I can see was not regarded as a charlatan. As the following quote from Keener’s work shows, there is an example of a person who rejected the possibilities of miracles but who nevertheless didn’t regard Blumhardt as a charlatan:
“… David Friedrich Strauss (1808-74) explained early Christian miracle stories as myths depicted as history. Strauss developed the eighteenthcentury emphasis on naturalistic historical explanation, using literary-psychological categories to preserve the value of the text while stripping it of any “unhistorical” supernaturalist elements. …
Interestingly, Strauss did hear of contemporary miracle claims involving Lutheran pastor Johann Christoph Blumhardt (see ch. 10), and a friend of his found himself cured of inability to walk after visiting Blumhardt. Consistent with his worldview, however, Strauss apparently dismissed the friend’s cure as psychosomatic. Likewise he regarded Blumhardt as a sincere pastor who was simply limited mentally. For his part, Blumhardt, who also had theological training that included exposure to rationalism, did not have a high view of Strauss either.”
Miracle? The mass revival (or religious hysteria) that struck Johann Christoph Blumhardt’s church began with an exorcism. Reminds me of the Satanic Panic in 1980s U.S. and all the lies Christians began spreading at that time. Please read the accumulated info on so-called Exorcisms in this post:
Heading in the above lengthy post including the following:
DEMON BLASTING (SHOUT IT OUT?)
While exorcisms would seem to be, at worst, a harmless fad, on occasion they have had disastrous consequences.
UNREPENTANT PENTECOSTAL PASTOR KILLS WOMAN DURING EXORCISM AND GETS OUT OF JAIL
UNREPENTANT ORTHODOX MONK KILLS WOMAN DURING EXORCISM
Walter Zepeda, 19, died of dehydration after a 7-day “exorcism” in his basement apartment in London, Ontario, at the hands of his father and a fellow church member.
An autistic eight-year-old boy has died during a prayer service held to supposedly cure him of the evil spirits blamed for causing his condition.
A 32-year-old Catholic woman was beaten to death after she refused to enter an Evangelical church in northeastern Brazil. She was passing by the Church of the Kingdom of God when two pastors ordered their followers to bring her inside to attend a ceremony. When she refused, the group held her ten-year-old daughter while the pastors dragged her by the hair and beat her in order to “exorcise the devil from her.”
On July 4, 1996, in Los Angeles, a 53 year old Korean woman (formerly a missionary to China) died from “blunt force trauma,” the result of an exorcism. Her husband (a minister) and two other males, one a Deacon at Glendale Korean Methodist Church were to blame.
Questioning THE EXORCISM OF ANNELIESE MICHEL(SEPT. 21, 1952 – June 30, 1976)
More “Exorcism Related Deaths”
ANGOLA WITCHCRAFT’S VICTIMS
EXCERPTS FROM AMERICAN EXORCISM BY MICHAEL W. CUNEO
So exorcism, let’s say, may sometimes work, though not most likely (or not very often) in precisely the way it’s advertised. This is the positive side. But there’s also a negative side. It doesn’t always work, and in some cases it’s downright detrimental. Some people, as we’ve seen, are bullied or badgered into undergoing exorcism. For others it’s simply a cop-out or a means of self-glamorization. They want to avoid responsibility for their own shortcomings by blaming them on demons. Or they derive some perverse thrill from casting themselves in the role of demoniac. It’s difficult to imagine anything good coming from exorcisms carried out under circumstances such as these. Emotional extortion, moral evasion, vainglory–this is what exorcism can sometimes amount to. There are other true stores of exorcisms gone horribly wrong.
BOB LARSON: BANKING ON PEOPLE’S FEAR OF DEMONS
Heather Nauert, “Exorcism: Ancient Art or Hocus Pocus?” ABC News, USA, May 16, 2006 http://www.abcnews.go.com
Investigative news programs like Inside Edition and Fox News6 have had programs on Bob Larson Ministries. To view such programs online go to the Wittenburg Door Insider for “June 1, 2006.”
Jackie Alnor, “Spiritual Malpractice,” “Bob Larson is of the Devil,” May 21, 2006
“Meeting the Exorcist” Mark Bunker at Fox News6
Info on the Satanic Panic of both Martin Luther’s day and 1980s U.S. and the lies Christians spread: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2010/06/satan.html
Miracle? The best case of a miracle worker you can give us is Blumhardt?
So you agree there have been no major miracle-working prophets of the stature of Moses, Elijah, Elisha, or Jesus? And you agree it’s been two thousand years since the last one (Jesus)? Two thousand years. And you agree that the time was far shorter from Moses to Elijah/Elisha, as well from Elijah/Elisha to Jesus, when compared with the long length of time from Jesus until today? And still no major miracle-working prophet of their stature has arrived to further expound or clarify God’s words for us with authority and power?
Nor does it increase my confidence that the time between the writing of the last book of the Old Testament and the first book of the New Testament was merely a century or two while it’s been almost two thousand years since the last book of the New Testament was written with no additional canonical words of God, no definitive words clarifying the older words either, just endless rival interpretations lying along a spectrum of conservative-moderate-liberal.
You also agree that only “brethren” saw the risen Jesus instead of everyone?
After Jesus “appeared” to his apostles he didn’t show himself to Pilate, the soldiers who crucified him, the crowds who cried for him to be crucified, etc.? But you believe he could have appeared to them and spoken some words of forgiveness and hope. And let’s say they tried to crucify him again, then he could demonstrate that that was impossible now. He could even transfigure in front of them. Or rise up into the air in full view of a city full of people. Or even descend from the sky above Rome and be seen by many who would probably rush to see where he’d landed, and then he could preach there.
Instead, God concentrated his mightiest prophets and miracle workers in a small circle of the ancient Near East–such that it took 1400 years before Christians reached the New World and began preaching the Gospel there, and longer still to reach Japan, Australia, the far northern and southern hemispheres. Speaking of waiting…
Acts says the apostles waited seven weeks before preaching that Jesus was raised. Why wait seven weeks if “many risen saints” had climbed out of their opened graves (per Matt) right after Jesus’s resurrection and “showed themselves to many in the holy city” (presumably Jerusalem)?
Why did the resurrected Jesus have to leave the earth? Couldn’t he remain on earth, traveling, preaching, teaching, or return from time to time to correct misinterpretations of his words or prevent schisms? Or prevent the founding of rival religions like Islam? After all, in the fourth Gospel it was Jesus’s fervent prayer that his followers would remain as one in perfect unity as evidence of the truth, the implication being that without perfect unity the truth comes into question, just as it has. Even with the Holy Spirit allegedly leading Christians into truth as promised in a NT letter the history of Christianity consists of disagreements, heresy-hunts, and schisms too numerous to mention.
(Some apologists reply that Jesus had to leave the earth before the Holy Spirit could be sent, but according to the earliest two Gospels the Holy Spirit could descend like a dove to earth even when Jesus was still there. Also after the Holy Spirit was sent, Jesus could still pop down and appear to Paul. So why has Jesus popped down so infrequently since then?)
excellent questions from babinski.
Superstitious demon-fearing Lutherans (like the devil-obsessed Martin Luther before them) jump-started Blumhardt’s career after he exorcized Gottliebin Dittus in 1842/43.
Ms. Dittus was a young woman of 28, who had lost both of her parents, who lived in an isolated and remote section of the Black Forest in which superstition and the belief in witchcraft abounded, the village of Mottlingen. Blumhardt was sent to that region to take over for a highly pious Lutheran priest who had tried preaching revival with little success, and it is noteworthy that the very woman involved in the exorcism incident, Ms. Dittus was said to be the former priest’s favorite parishioner. As a result of Blumhardt’s “victory” against the devil, which took two years of exorcism and prayers by more and more Lutherans in that small village who became involved, the religious revival that the previous priest had vainly attempted was becoming a reality–which may have been something that Ms. Dittus herself had been praying for during the previous priest’s tenure. So maybe that was always at the back of Ms. Dittus’ mind, and when people started growing concerned for her she went “full possessed,” and stayed that way for two years until more and more people were praying together.
Ms. Dittus grew up in a deeply religious family that was at the same time very superstitious. She told Blumhardt that shortly after her birth, she had been stolen twice by an invisible spirit who had dropped her by the door when her frightened mother invoked the name of Jesus. This seems rather extraordinary, but at that time the belief that newborn infants could be stolen and exchanged by fairies, goblins, or devils was widespread in many areas of rural Europe. She also told him of an aunt, who, she said, was a witch and who tried to entice her to follow in her footsteps. Ms. Mittus’s possession and cure might thus be considered as an expression of the cultural conflict between the Church and superstition. Blumhardt himself came from an exceedingly pious home. Blumhardt had always been convinced that the devil was a dreadful reality that played a major role in human affairs. He thought for instance that the mortar used in the construction of the pyramids had been mixed by wizards who were helped by the devil. He was also convinced that sin was the root of most diseases, and he reproved the use of drugs extracted from venomous plants. He also thought that the use of sedative medications was dangerous to the spirit. Ideas of that nature, however, were not uncommon among Romantic physicians and philosophers.
Meanwhile, outside of isolated superstitious villages in remote sections of the Black Forest, few exorcisms were occurring. In fact in 1890-91 in a mental hospital in Paris a so-called possessed patient was cured without resorting to exorcism, but by unraveling the “fixed subconscious idea” that was the root of the disturbance and by bringing it to the patient’s awareness. (See chapter 6 of The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry by Henri F. Ellenberger)
OVERVIEW OF THE EXORCISM of Gottliebin Dittus–Neighbors of the Dittus family had lately been reporting eerie noises emanating from within the home during the night, which prompted a local doctor and several other villagers to stay there over the course of an evening. All came away from the experience claiming that the home was “haunted” after reportedly witnessing strange phenomena there. Around the same time Gottliebin began reporting visions of a woman holding a baby in her arms, and later fell into an inexplicable coma for an entire day, prompting Reverend Blumhardt to visit the home. After observing the now-conscious young woman he suggested she be taken to stay at the nearby home of a cousin, as it appeared the bizarre happenings were affecting her worse than the other siblings. As soon as she left, the “hauntings” at the Dittus home allegedly ceased, but Gottliebin continued to be plagued by strange phenomena. It was then determined that she was possessed by a demon.
Blumhardt began visiting Gottliebin on a regular basis, with Gottliebin claiming that shortly after her birth, evil spirits had tried to steal her away before her mother invoked the name of Jesus. In addition, she claimed that her aunt was a witch who had tried to indoctrinate her when she was a child. Blumhardt also witnessed in Gottliebin what he claimed were clear symptoms of possession: speaking in different voices; suffering from violent convulsions; hurling blasphemies; and violently attacking her siblings, among other things. At one point she began speaking in the voice of the dead woman she’d earlier claimed to have visions of, telling the pastor that during her lifetime she had murdered two children and was now in the grip of the devil himself.
Blumhardt soon began the process of carrying out the exorcism, praying over the young woman and fasting in an attempt to cast the evil spirit out. Soon Gottliebin was claiming possession by several demons, and the number continued to grow through the following weeks and months – first three, then seven, then fourteen, and soon enough numbering into the hundreds and later thousands. The once-pious woman became increasingly violent and blasphemous, and she began vomiting up objects such as sand, glass, and nails and losing large amounts of blood. Several of the spirits who had allegedly taken control of her body spoke through the young woman, some of whom reported that they were in fact victims of the possessing demons. In a moment of lucidity Gottliebin reported that she’d recently had a vision in which her soul flew around the earth and witnessed these demons causing a catastrophic earthquake someplace far away. Only a few days later, news of a terrible earthquake in the West Indies reached the village of Mottlingen, seemingly validating the young woman’s possession. Through it all the entire village paid close attention to developments in the case and became deeply invested in the young woman’s deliverance.
The exorcism continued for nearly two years, at which point the hold of the demons over Gottliebin finally seemed to be loosening. On Christmas 1843, the possessing spirits – as if sensing their imminent eradication – made one last attempt at maintaining their control in the earthly sphere when they allegedly made a spiritual attack on Gottliebin’s brother and sister. While the brother recovered quickly, the sister Katharina soon began exhibiting many of the same symptoms as Gottliebin, and Blumhardt proceeded to turn his attentions on her, as this occurrence seemed to lessen Gottliebin’s own torment. Three days of exorcisms later, Katharina let out one final, terrible scream before proclaiming, “Jesus is victor!” and coming to rest. It was then that both Katharina and Gottliebin were announced to be cleared of demonic influence. Following the ordeal, Blumhardt become something of a celebrity in Mottlingen and nearby communities, with hundreds of parishioners from all around flocking to him in the hopes of being cured of their myriad afflictions. In fact, Gottliebin herself soon moved into the Reverend’s home to assist him in “curing” others long-term.
Miracle? “A friend of D. F. Strauss [author of The Life of Jesus Critically Examined] found himself cured of inability to walk after visiting Blumhardt.” But have you read more than Keener’s inept summation of that tall tail? Here’s the detailed info…
The friend of D. F. Strauss who allegedly received a healing was Eduard Morike who visited Blumhardt. Morike was not lame. His rhematic pain allowed him to walk but with difficulty. Morike was planning on a treatment by “magnetizing”–that is, the stroking of hands on the head with inducement to hypnotic sleep, otherwise known as “mesmerizing,” a form of hypnotism to help relieve pain. Blumhardt told Morike that magnetizing was harmful. Later that evening, when Blumhardt accompanies Morike to his lodging Morike says that he senses more strength in his body than usual. Blumhardt smiles. “There is something special in the Mottlingen air; he should remain with Blumhardt here; no where else will he find it better.” The weakness in his backbone that is seen as the cause of his walking difficulties disappears. Morike leaves Mottlingen and Blumhardt to visit hot springs in Bad Teinach for his rhematic pain but returns once again to see Blumhardt, and reports to Wilhelm Hartlaub that now he is able to go on mountain hikes in burning heat. BUT HIS IMPROVEMENT DOES NOT LAST. In Feb. 1850 rhematic complaints reappear; in June 1850 he tries a Mergentheim water cure to relieve arthritic pains in his feet and legs. What a miracle!
Strauss apparently heard about Morike’s “cure” about a year afterwards from Vischer (all three knew Morike from their school days). But it is not apparent that Vischer or Strauss heard about Morike’s relapse. Vischer, wrote in 1851 to Strauss that “Blumhardt has cured him [Morike], that is, superstition with some few blows [to increase circulation] has brought the blood into those feet dreamed to be lame.” Morike at the time of his “cure” was also just engaged to a lady he was excited about marrying, and so Strauss replies to Vischer that it was probably not Blumhardt who cured Morike but “the god of love [Cupid], who alone clearly delivered [Morike] from his hypochondria.”
SOURCE: Johann Christoph Blumhardt, Life and Work: A New Biography by Dieter Ising and Monty Ledford OR CLICK HERE: https://books.google.com/books?id=dxJMAwAAQBAJ&lpg=PR4&ots=nJdWGfrAgs&dq=Dieter%20Ising%2C%20Johann%20Christoph%20Blumhardt%2C%20Life%20and%20Work&pg=PA222#v=onepage&q&f=false
Strauss was not a Rationalist. He was a vocal critic of them and regarded the Gospels as mostly fiction.
Matthew Ferguson: “A multitude of miracle reports is, in fact, very likely even if we live in a purely natural world.”
I really wonder if that is true. My impression is that miracle claims are rather rare, and that there have been hardly any alleged or actual miracle workers such as Blumhardt, and not only in modern times but, at least in Europe, since Antiquity. And, according to the following quote, even in Antiquity claims that certain people worked miracles were rather rare:
“It is in this light that we must judge the accounts we possess of other miracle-workers in Jesus’ period and culture. We have already observed that the list of such occurrences is very much shorter than is often supposed. If we take the period of four hundred years stretching from two hundred years before to two hundred years after the birth of Christ, the number of miracles recorded which are remotely comparable with those of Jesus is astonishingly small. On the pagan side, there is little to report apart from the records of cures at healing shrines, which were certainly quite frequent, but are a rather different phenomenon from cures performed by an individual healer. Indeed it is significant that later Christian fathers, when seeking miracle workers with whom to compare or contrast Jesus, had to have recourse to remote and by now almost legendary figures of the past such as Pythagoras or Empedocles.”
A. E. Harvey, Jesus and the Constraints of History, Philadelphia 1982, p. 103.
First off, human psychology and sociology alone predict not only that there will be abundant reports of miracles, but also other kinds of paranormal phenomena, such as UFO abductions, psychic predictions, and bogus medical cures, in addition to conspiracy theories, hoaxes, etc.. For a discussion of the psychology behind a lot of these claims circulate, I recommend the following book by philosopher Stephen Law:
The quote you have provided from A.E. Harvey seems vague and does not come from a very reliable source.
But it’s pretty ridiculous to argue that Jesus’ miracles were unique, when many of them were copied from already existing claims about miracles before Jesus’ time. For example, several of Jesus’ miracles are lifted straight out of the Septuagint, such as has feeding miracles being copied from Moses:
Likewise, Jesus’ miracles were also probably adapted from Pagan examples, including even historical persons reputed to work miracles. For example, scholar Eric Eve has argued that Jesus’ curing of the blind man in Mark 8:22-25 by spitting in his eyes was copied by the author of Mark, from a similar miracle reputed to have been performed by the Roman emperor Vespasian:
Not to mention that Richard Miller has recently published a book about how Jesus’ resurrection is modeled off of the translation fables of other resurrected figures in antiquity:
And there are both Pagan and Jewish miracle workers who parallels the miracles of Jesus, such as Apollonius of Tyana, as well as Baal Shem Tov, some of whose miracles Bart Ehrman wrote about recently, which are even attested by eyewitness sources as “early” as Jesus’:
As for the claim that the miracles reported in healing shrines, take a look at the dozens of examples of such miracles that are attested from ancient inscriptions. These inscriptions not only document that conditions of the individuals better than the NT accounts, but they also were recorded at the location of the miracles, close to the alleged healing event:
Click to access asklepios_miracles.pdf
Regarding Blumhardt, it looks like Ed Babinski has already addressed him in pretty good detail.
Matthew Ferguson: “Another measure that I think could be relevant, however, is if modern miracles, even those only involving restoration to ordinary human health, were occurring solely in a Christian context. To show this, a researcher would need to investigate miracle reports across cultures and religions, including Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Paganism, etc., to show that genuine miracles were only occurring in one religious context (or perhaps more frequently in one religious context).”
As for miracle claims in the Islamic culture, I’m not an expert of Islam, but as according to the Quran Muhammad didn’t work miracles like those the Gospels attribute to Jesus, I can’t imagine that there have been many Muslims who have claimed to be able to work miracles. As for the view that Muhammad worked no miracles the following quote is very informative:
“It is the rather explicit teaching of the Quran that Muhammad performed no supernatural, verifiable miracles apart from the inspiration that he received. The Quran in several places emphatically negates the idea of Muhammad performing physical feats such as raising the dead, healing the sick, opening physically blind eyes etc.”
You misunderstand Islam so badly that even the folks who wrote the Wiki entry on “Qur’an and Miracles” understand Islam better than you when it comes to miraculous claims. Muslims view the production of the Qur’an as the greatest miracle of their religion. Muhammad was supposedly an unlearned man whom Allah used to write the world’s foremost revelation to humanity, taking it down word for word. This is a stricter and more miraculous view of inspiration than even fundamentalist Christians adhere to when they claim the Bible is inerrant.
Several verses that appear in the Qur’an suggest that certain miracles occurred just in relation to Muhammad: the splitting of the moon (Qur’an 54:2-1), assistance given to Muslims at the Battle of Badr (Qur’an – Although these events occurred during their respective times, Muslims believe their effect cannot be perceived as they were witnessed by a particular people at the time and are therefore only miracles for those who witnessed it at the time. This is why Muslims do not rely on these miracles when attempting to convert others to Islam, but instead rely on the miraculous nature of the text of the Quran.
Throughout the Qur’an, claims or predictions are made concerning future events. Some of the predictions may seem vague and easily fulfilled by a wide variety of events, causing debate and analysis, but, regardless, many Muslims believe that the Qur’an prophesies at least some future events. One of the more general prophecies is that the Qur’an predicts its own preservation and endurance. The Qur’an states that the book itself will survive as a valid source and that the religion of Islam will last, even dominate, because of this. PLEASE NOTE THAT ACCORDING TO CURRENT ESTIMATES THE NUMBER OF MUSLIMS WILL EQUAL THE NUMBER OF CHRISTIANS ON EARTH BY THE YEAR 2050.
More Islamic miracle tales…
I read an ad in The Fortean Times about two years ago for a video that included the testimony of a Muslim on pilgrimage who says in dead seriousness that he “saw Mohammed” standing at a particular holy site.
As pointed out by professor W. Andrew Terrill (professor at the Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, and the top expert on Iraq there), “If you are a Muslim and the community is under occupation by a non-Islamic power it becomes a religious requirement to resist that occupation. Most Iraqis consider us occupiers, not liberators. There’s talk of angels and the Prophet Mohammed coming down from heaven to lead the fighting, talk of martyrs whose bodies are glowing and emanating wonderful scents.” — W. Andrew Terrill, [Cited by Sidney Blumenthal, firstname.lastname@example.org, “Far graver than Vietnam,” The Guardian, Thursday September 16, 2004
Muslim Near Death Experiences
See also the “turning point” in the life of this Islamic apologist: The Chairman of the International Islamic Propagation Center http://www.iipc.tv/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=13&Itemid=42
TURNING POINT IN LIFE — An event that had a profound effect on Mohammad Shaikh occurred on 15th December, 1986, when some armed criminals broke into his office in Karachi. Soon a struggle ensued and one of the men pulled the trigger, but miraculously Brother Shaikh was not hit. It was at this point in time, he recalls, that he closed his eyes and prayed to Allah deep in his heart, that if his life were spared, he would dedicate it to His cause – it was as if his prayer was heard, that the armed men all of a sudden broke loose and fled, leaving him physically and psychologically drained at the ordeal. After this experience he would decide to study and teach the Qur’an fearlessly and take a firm stand on what was stated within its pages irrespective of the status quo opinions. This experience, along with spiritual experiences gained during the Hajj, and dialogues with Christian missionaries would motivate him to defend his faith and learn the Qur’an in more detail so as to answer allegations. All of this would eventually pave the way for an organized mission to promote the Qur’an.
The same fellow, above, was voted 4th most influential Muslim in the world per a Reuters poll http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2009/11/17/poll-the-worlds-top-500-muslims-read-and-vote/
according to paul jesus emptied himself of his powers . so logically ,for paul, jesus was not a miracle worker.
according to muslim apologists the recitation of the koran was enough to make christians leave trinity,jesus, crucifixion, original sin…
also muhammads armies must have consisted of jews and christians who had apostated from judaism and christianity. the question is, why would the arabic and hebrew and aramaic speaking jews and christians die for the claims in the quran?
definitely the recitation of the text must have been a miracle?
just using william lane craig style apologetics here
in the hadeeth narrations muhammad is able to split moon and able to give life to a dead stalk.
muhammad is also able to create water miraculously for ablution.
Thanks for adding some fine comments!
Matthew Ferguson: “It should also be noted that miracle reports will be more numerous in cultures and religions where belief in miracles is more common. This is why showing a multitude of miraculous reports, without verifiable evidence, is not enough to provide persuasive evidence for the existence of miracles. Furthermore, if such reports are less numerous in cultures and religions where such beliefs are not common, then I think that such trends should fairly be regarded as evidence against miracles, since such trends would demonstrate that miraculous reports are demonstrably increased by prior expectations.”
As according to the New Testament the occurrence of miracles depends among other things on people’s faith one should expect that miracles happen mainly among people who believe that they can happen. Actually, I think that on the contrary if seemingly miraculous events happen no matter whether or not the people involved believe in them, this indicates that the respective events are not miracles. That’s why I personally don’t believe that spontaneous remissions are miracles, because they seem to fall into this category.
“Actually, I think that on the contrary if seemingly miraculous events happen no matter whether or not the people involved believe in them, this indicates that the respective events are not miracles.”
That doesn’t seem like a very sound ontology of miracles to me. You are saying that, even if agencies operating from outside the physical order perform super-physical events, such as parting the Red Sea, that wouldn’t be a miracle unless people believed in it? What I am concerned with is the empirical phenomena associated with miracles, not whether people believe in them.
While the Gospels sometimes suggest that Jesus cannot perform miracles without faith (Mark 6:1-6), that would only be a condition of performing a miracle, and should not be confused with the ontology of what defines a miracle.
Matthew Ferguson: “That doesn’t seem like a very sound ontology of miracles to me. You are saying that, even if agencies operating from outside the physical order perform super-physical events, such as parting the Red Sea, that wouldn’t be a miracle unless people believed in it? What I am concerned with is the empirical phenomena associated with miracles, not whether people believe in them.”
My point is that from a Biblical point of view the probability of the occurrence of a miracle depends (among other things) on whether or not people believe in miracles, whereas the status of such events as miracles doesn’t. But if it is true that the more people believe in miracles the more likely is it that such events occur it follows that the more likely it is also that there are reports about miracles. Your point that if it’s the case that if people believe in miracles there are more miracle claims constitutes evidence against miracles begs the question against belief in miracles, as you already assume that there are no miracles. Of course, if you are right and there are no miracles the number of miracle reports can only depend on people’s expectations concerning them and not on their actual occurrence. However, whether or not there are miracles is what is at issue here.
“My point is that from a Biblical point of view the probability of the occurrence of a miracle depends (among other things) on whether or not people believe in miracles, whereas the status of such events as miracles doesn’t.”
While there may be some passages in the Bible that suggest what you are saying, it isn’t really relevant to the kind of investigation I am engaged in. I want to see any evidence of miracles that exists, including those outside of any biblical context. Those could include evidence of miracles occurring outside of contexts in which people believe them.
“Your point that if it’s the case that if people believe in miracles there are more miracle claims constitutes evidence against miracles begs the question against belief in miracles, as you already assume that there are no miracles. Of course, if you are right and there are no miracles the number of miracle reports can only depend on people’s expectations concerning them and not on their actual occurrence. However, whether or not there are miracles is what is at issue here.”
First off, I never said that I “assume” that there are no miracles. I am critically assessing the evidence that apologist Don Johnson asked me to look at regarding the existence of miracles. Whether or not there are miracles, as I have said, depends on the empirical evidence.
If miracles are only occurring in places where people already believe in miracles it could be because:
1) Their belief in miracles is causing genuine miracles.
2) Their belief in miracles is causing an increased report of miracles.
I’m not sure that thinking the latter explanation is more probable necessarily requires begging the question. But I will point out that there are several good analogies that can suggest the second causal explanation occurs in other situations. For example, claims of UFO abductions increased in the 20th century, when their was an interest in science fiction and space, which caused people to look for aliens. This increase in reported UFO abductions could have been caused because 1) more UFO abductions actually started to occur in the 20th century, but I think the more likely explanation is that 2) the increased prior expectation of UFO abductions caused an increase in such reports of UFO abductions.
Special Comment Policy for Subsequent Comments on this Post:
Please refrain from posting examples of reported miracles on this post (such as here), besides discussing those which have already been discussed above, until I have written more of the review. In the subsequent portions of this review, I will discuss particular examples of miracle claims in more detail.
This post is primarily concerned with defining miracle events and the types of evidential criteria that we could use to hypothetically confirm a miracle.
On this first post, therefore, keep comments focused on the issues and methodology described above.
[This comment has been edited in this section due to a special comment policy. -MWF]
First of all, looking at your essay it seems to me that your view of Naturalism is incoherent, as you seem to reject and endorse Aristotelian teleology at the same time.
[This comments has been edited in this section due to a special comment policy. -MWF]
Coming back to Aristotelian teleology, those Naturalists that embrace it have to be able to refute Thomas Aquinas’ version of the teleological argument that is based on it. Otherwise their Naturalism has no sound philosophical foundation.
I ask that, when people have already posted 6 comments in a row, and then thoroughly been answered on each of them, that they respond to what people have said in their answers to them, before posting comments on new issues.
In this latest comment of yours, you have simply raised new issues, without answering the comments that Ed Babinski responded to you with above, for example. Because of this, I have edited out a lot of your comment, and ask that you go back and respond to the previous comments before raising new issues.
To provide an example of how you are repeatedly changing the subject, here is one of the issues that you raise in your new comment, which I have kept:
“First of all, looking at your essay it seems to me that your view of Naturalism is incoherent, as you seem to reject and endorse Aristotelian teleology at the same time.”
And yet you don’t even interact with the arguments that I have provided from philosopher André Ariew, which explain the relationship between Aristotelian teleology and naturalism, and Platonic teleology and supernaturalism. As Ariew in “Platonic and Aristotelian Roots of Teleological Arguments” explains (pg. 8):
You also state:
“Coming back to Aristotelian teleology, those Naturalists that embrace it have to be able to refute Thomas Aquinas’ version of the teleological argument that is based on it. Otherwise their Naturalism has no sound philosophical foundation.”
Ariew also states in the same article (pg. 17):
So this article and the ones I have linked to already anticipate the objections you have raised. I have likewise written at length about why I don’t think that Aquinas’ teleological arguments make a persuasive case against naturalism, here:
But you have changed the topic several times now. Before I approve further comments from you, therefore, I ask that you do the following:
1. Respond to Ed Babinski’s comment to you above regarding miracles and Islam.
2. Respond to Ed Babinski’s comment to you about Johann Christoph Blumhardt.
3. Respond to Ed Babinski’s comment about whether Don and Jill Vanderhoof’s book about healings and prayers constitutes a miracle.
I ask that you keep the conversation going on these issues that you have already raised, before posting comments about new issues. Thank you.
Matthew Ferguson: “In this latest comment of yours, which exceeds my 750 word recommendation I might add, you have simply raised new issues, without answering the comments that Ed Babinski responded to you with above, for example.”
Your comment from December, 2015 at 9:16 am I interpreted as you wishing the commenters not to go into the details of specific miracle claims anymore, but to focus on theoretical issues concerning miracles. That’s what I have done in my previous post that you blocked. However I try to do what you ask of me.
Matthew Ferguson: “1. Respond to Ed Babinski’s comment to you above regarding miracles and Islam.”
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that from a quantitative as well as from a qualitative point of view Islamic miracle claims are equal to Christian ones. Looking at passages such as Exodus 7:10-13 or 2 Thessalonians 2:9 a Christian can accept the idea that there can be genuine miracles outside Christianity.
Matthew Ferguson: “2. Respond to Ed Babinski’s comment to you about Johann Christoph Blumhardt.”
What Ed says about exorcisms and belief in Satan is in my view completely irrelevant here. As for the alleged or actual healing of Eduard Mörike (who by the way was a famous poet), the excerpt from Ising’s book Ed points to seems to indicate that about one and a half year after his healing Mörike was quite well and afterwards there was a relapse, but that Mörike’s health condition still was better than before he met Blumhardt.
Matthew Ferguson: “3. Respond to Ed Babinski’s comment about whether Don and Jill Vanderhoof’s book about healings and prayers constitutes a miracle.”
Who is more likely to make a correct diagnosis concerning Mr Vanderhoof’s state of health, Prof. Dr. med. Dr. rer. nat. Harald Hefter, Assistant Medical Director of the Neurological Teaching Hospital in Düsseldorf (Germany) who has examined Mr Vanderhoof or Ed Babinski who hasn’t?
I am not “blocking” you. I approved all of your comments prior to this one (despite your posting 6 comments in a row of mostly links to other websites), and I will even approve all of the content above, if your repost it in a suitable manner. But, I ask that you to do the following:
1. Slow down the rate in which you post comments. Please keep it to one or two comments at a time, and wait until I have replied to post more.
2. Please avoid posting nothing more than block quotes and links.
3. Please keep posts restricted to only a couple subjects. I am fine discussing Aquinas, teleology, naturalism, miracles in Islam, etc. However, if you bombard the website with 6 comments at a time, mostly with just links to other websites, on different subjects, I am not going to approve them all at once.
The comments section is for discussion, not for just posting a ton of links, and then changing the topic when people answer them.
Now, I will let Ed Babinski know about this comment, and see if he would like to continue the discussion on the issues raised.
I also see that you have posted another comment on the second part of this review. I will answer that one tomorrow. Until then, please wait to have your comments answered before posting multiple or lengthy comments. I have limited time to answer them, and I ask that you respect that.
Happy New Year,
P.S. I also added a note to the special policy above stating that it is acceptable to discuss the miracle examples “which have already been discussed above,” since they are in the comments that you have already posted. The special policy was to discourage people from posting additional miracle reports, until the later parts of this review.
Actually, I’ll get to your comments tomorrow. Busy day today, but I’ll be in touch soon.
Patrick wrote: “Mörike’s health condition still was better than before he met Blumhardt.”
Wrong, I found several sources that agreed Blumhardt’s ailments followed him the rest of his life, except for less than a year of his so-called “miracle cure,” which also happened to be the time when he was engaged to a young woman he was excited about marrying soon. And Keener enhances Morike’s original ailment by writing of his “inability to walk,” which is false, Morike had the ability to walk, but with pain. Keener is misleading his readers, enhancing the sound of miracle tales. And does not mention how short Morike’s “cure” lasted, nor Morike’s continued pain and ailments till the day he died. Keener is an apologist, interested in collected a wide amount of information, but none to any great depth. But a wider sieve is still a sieve through which claim after claim falls through or remains a mere claim with no deep investigation behind it. http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2016/01/miracles-by-craig-s-keener-book-review.html
Concerning Strauss’s letter written a year and a half after Morike’s claim of healing, news traveled much slower back then, so Strauss probably heard about Morike’s “healing” months afterwards. Also, by the time of Morike’s “relapse” which took place less than a year after his original “healing,” Strauss probably had not even heard of the relapse yet. It is the biographer’s fault for not recognizing that fact.
I meant to type MORIKE’S ailments above, not “Blumhardt’s.”
Patrick, You not only misunderstand Islam but misunderstood my point entirely. You were the one who claimed Islam didn’t have a miracle working prophet like Christianity, and you claimed religious one-up-manship based on that distinction. But all religions have distinctions. My counter point was that you didn’t seem to have the slightest idea what distinctions Muslims focused up in their religion. Muslims don’t focus on miracle workers, since the miracle Islam focuses on most intently is the miraculous production of its holy book and that book’s endurance. I added as an aside that Islam also had miracles of its own that suggested themselves to its followers even today, along with various prophecies found in their holy writings, and a few miraculous events related to Mohammed’s life. As for your completely irrelevant reply that the biblical authors accepted miracles outside their particular Judeo-Christian religions so what? Every religion accepts that miracle tales and wonder workers and prophets are found elsewhere. Hindus believe miracle working incarnations of God are many, as do Buddhists. And Jews and Muslim’s claim Jesus as one of their own prophets. So you are coming up with complete irrelevancies, and haven’t learned anything about Islam apparently or other religions.
In addition to the points that Ed has made, I would add the following to your statement:
“Who is more likely to make a correct diagnosis concerning Mr Vanderhoof’s state of health, Prof. Dr. med. Dr. rer. nat. Harald Hefter, Assistant Medical Director of the Neurological Teaching Hospital in Düsseldorf (Germany) who has examined Mr Vanderhoof or Ed Babinski who hasn’t?”
I would suggest that, rather than rely on the testimony of a given individual, it would be more useful if his example was submitted to a medical journal for peer review.
There are multiple studies that have studied the efficacy of prayer under controlled, scientific conditions:
However, none of these studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between prayer and recoveries. If such a study could be conducted successfully, however, I would find that evidence far more compelling than an anecdotal incident.
By the way, I just received a message from Ed Babinski saying that he has contacted and heard back from the doctor who treated Mr. Vanderhoof and will be writing more about it, in the near future.
P.S. I am going to be traveling out of town to an academic conference next week, so I may be slow in responding to you, if you choose to reply (especially if your comments are long), but that will also be the case with anyone else who comments during that period.
Did Edward ever get back to you regarding the doctor in question?
No, he’s been busy these days.
Hi Patrick, I emailed Dr. Hefter who admitted the diagnosis was inconclusive, especially without a biopsy. (I also looked at disease control data for the country in which Vanderhoof was living at that time and found out that at the time when Vanderhoof was diagnosed there were no proven cases of mad cow in that country and extremely few in any of the surrounding countries. Judging from the disease control data and news reports, there were one or two premature diagnoses due to the panic spreading through mainland Europe over cases in Britain. In fact the earliest diagnoses in Vanderhoof’s country turned out to be premature and not mad cow which makes Vanderhoof’s diagnosis appear that much more questionable for it would have apparently been the first genuine case in the country where Vanderhoof was living.) Also, many afflictions of the brain can cause symptoms similar to Vanderhoff’s. A friend of mine suffered them recently, which I got to see up close due to her rare case of autoimmune encephalitis. But I will let Dr. Hefter speak for himself:
Dear Mr. Babinski,
At the time, Mr. Vanderhoof was treated in our hospital, we all were convinced that he suffered from the new variant of JCD. We had an intensive discussion whether a brain biopsy should be performed. In case of a confirmation, transport back into the US would have become more difficult. Therefore brain biopsy was not performed and the diagnosis remained unproven. Our colleagues in the US shared our opinion on JCD, at least in the beginning.
Later on, I intended to write an article “Can virus meningitis mimick JCD ?”, but unfortunately all MRI-scans and EEGs got lost, when the room, where all the material for the publication was collected, was suddenly redecorated, when I was on holiday.
Meanwhile I believe, that Mr. Vanderhoof, may also have suffered from an antibody induced disease. At that time, determination of specific Abs (as NMDA receptor Abs) was not possible. We have done our best to confirm herpes encephalitis without any success.
As you can see, there is enough uncertainty, to continue with speculations. God knows which disease Don Vanderhoof was suffering from.
Harald Hefter, MD, PhD
Department of Neurology
University of Düsseldorf, Germany
1. 99.999…999% of the dead are not supernaturally interfered with by God, and, thus, not raised by Him.
2. Jesus was dead.
3. Jesus was [probably] not supernaturally interfered with by God, and, thus, not raised by Him.
but using the same logic couldn’t one posit the argument:
1. Nearly 100% of cities having been bombed were not done so with A-bombs.
2. Hiroshima was bombed.
3. Therefore, it is nearly 100% probable that Hiroshima was not A-bombed.
Obviously that’s false though…
The issue that you raise is similar to the lottery problem in Bayes’ theorem (i.e. it is extraordinarily improbable that a given person will win the lottery, but the evidence of a winning ticket alone is enough to establish such an extraordinary claim), and there are a lot of answers and methodological issues relevant to it. I plan to engage Keener in more detail about this later in the review.
Let me answer you now though by pointing out a number of problems with the comparison you have made:
First off, when I quoted Robert Cavin about the prior probability of Jesus’ resurrection, I was referring to just that: the prior probability. Given billions of people it is extraordinarily unlikely, a priori, that a specific person will rise immortally from the dead. The same applies to the example you gave of an atomic bomb. Given thousands upon thousand of cities, it is extraordinarily unlikely, a priori, that a specific city will be nuked by an atomic bomb. However, this only takes into account the prior probability.
To calculate the actual Bayesian probability that a city has been nuked, you also have to take into consideration the consequent probability. If a city shows signs of a mushroom cloud, the remains of a massive explosion, and radiation, it would be extraordinarily unlikely that such evidence would exist, unless a city was actually hit by an atomic bomb. So, let’s say that there is a 1/1,000,000 chance that a given city will be nuked. If, however, there is a 999,999,999/1,000,000,000 probability that a city that shows all of those symptoms of an atomic bomb has been hit by one, then the probability that this city has been nuked by an atomic bomb is 99.9%.
In the case of Jesus, as Cavin has pointed out, the prior probability of him resurrecting would be very low. We could then factor in the consequent probability to calculate the Bayesian probability that he actually was. In that case, what we would have as evidence are a few letters of a man from Tarsus, and four biographical accounts written 40-60 years after his death. Such literature, however, can be produced from a wider range of causes then just a resurrection, such as literary inventions and embellishments, legendary development, ect. The consequent evidence of the nuclear explosion, in contrast, cannot be explained by as wide a range of causes. So, when you take into consideration the consequent evidence, the two situations are quite different.
There are other factors that could influence the prior probability too, beyond the basic description that I have just given:
For example, if you know the surrounding context of WWII, the prior probability of a Japenese city like Hiroshima being bombed by an A-bomb during that war would increase substantially. Some apologists argue that if you take into account the surrounding context of Jesus rising from the dead, such as prophecy and God wanting to raise Jesus from the dead, then the prior probability of his resurrection increases too. My response to this is that it is not a “minimal fact” that God wants to raise Jesus from the dead, or that it has been prophesized. Apologists often use “minimal facts” arguments to establish Jesus’ resurrection, such as Paul’s conversion, which is accepted by a large majority of scholars. Even if you grant such a premise as this, however, it is not a “minimal fact” agreed upon by a large majority of scholars that God wants to raise Jesus from the dead. Surrounding religious contexts like God’s will, therefore, I argue, cannot legitimately be used in minimal facts arguments.
Those are just some of the issues, and I’ll be addressing this problem in more detail later in the review.
Matthew Ferguson: “And yet you don’t even interact with the arguments that I have provided from philosopher André Ariew, which explain the relationship between Aristotelian teleology and naturalism, and Platonic teleology and supernaturalism.”
First, Happy New Year too!
You seem to suggest that most naturalists embrace Aristotelian teleology. However, as far as I can see most naturalists not only reject Platonic teleology, but also Aristotelian teleology. One of the exceptions is the philosopher Thomas Nagel, who in his book “Mind and Cosmos” endorses the latter. In the following I present excerpts concerning Aristotelian teleology from two reviews of Nagel’s book written by naturalists:
“Nagel … advocates the reintroduction of teleological reasoning into science. (Teleology—the idea that natural phenomena have built-in purposes or ends—was central to Aristotelian science, and it remained very influential until the scientific revolution.) In his discussion of the origin of life, Nagel says that natural teleology would mean that, “in addition to physical law of the familiar kind, there are other laws of nature that are ‘biased toward the marvelous.’”
This is an astonishing though certainly evocative phrase (Nagel adapts it from another writer), yet Nagel offers no further explication of it. He does admit that this proposal “flies in the teeth of the authoritative form of explanation that has defined science since the revolution of the seventeenth century.” Unfortunately, he is also extremely unclear about what he means by “natural teleology,” other than assuring the reader that it is neither part of standard physical laws nor the introduction of theology. One might think that “principles of self-organization or of the development of complexity over time,” which Nagel gives as examples of natural teleology, are the sort of things studied by mainstream protein chemists, developmental biologists and condensed-matter physicists. But apparently these sciences, which study how complex order can be built up from simple physical processes, are not on the right track. Nagel never explains why.”
“Nagel does not want to appeal to God and finds current evolutionary thinking in principle inadequate to account for central features of human existence. Yet he is committed to the intelligibility of the world we find ourselves in. So where can we go to provide more satisfactory explanations? The only positive suggestion that Nagel offers to solve the pseudo-problems he has devised is that there may be teleological laws, laws that ‘bias towards the marvelous’. What is the evidence for these strange bits of legislation? Only that they would make the appearance of complex creatures such as ourselves, marvels that we are, more likely. I have never felt more proud to be an empiricist.”
So from these reviews one can see that there are naturalists who are not comfortable with the view that there are in the words of the second reviewer “teleological laws”. Now in what respect is this relevant with respect to the issue of miracles? Well, concerning naturalism you write that it “does not need to be taken as a priori view, assumed before investigation, but can also be an a posteriori view reached after empirically observing a world in which there are only natural forces, entities, and causes.” From this view you draw the conclusion that it is legitimate to be biased against miracles. But is it really true that naturalism is a justified a posteriori view? If a naturalist takes the view that there is Aristotelian teleology in the natural order, as you obviously do, then he can’t point to the supposed confirmation of naturalism by means of scientific investigation as a legitimate reason to be biased against miracles. It’s because NATURALISM TRADITIONALLY HAS BEEN ANTI-ARISTOTELIAN OR AT LEAST NON-ARISTOTELIAN! Consequently, this anti- or non-Aristotelian naturalism, which as far as I can see is the kind of naturalism that most naturalists hold, has been refuted. Moreover, Aristotelianism is a theistic philosophical system. After all, Aristotle argued for an “unmoved mover”! If one holds a non-theistic Aristotelianism, one has to show that such a philosophical view is coherent. As far as I can see so far no one has presented such a philosophical system. Nagel himself seems not to have done so, as the first reviewer writes “Unfortunately, he is also extremely unclear about what he means by “natural teleology,” other than assuring the reader that it is neither part of standard physical laws nor the introduction of theology”. But if this is true and if there is Aristotelian teleology in the natural order there is no sound philosophical foundation for naturalism.
“You seem to suggest that most naturalists embrace Aristotelian teleology. However, as far as I can see most naturalists not only reject Platonic teleology, but also Aristotelian teleology.”
I am not making a survey of naturalist views on Aristotelian teleology, either historically or in the present. I am referring to the arguments of André Ariew, who argues that there is no conflict between Aristotelian teleology and naturalism (at least inherently, even if some or most naturalists have rejected Aristotelian teleology), but only Platonic teleology and naturalism. I agree with Ariew. Under my definition of naturalism, the only thing that is excluded is Platonic teleology suggesting cosmic design or intervention.
There could be multiple kinds of evidence that I think would establish Platonic teleology:
1. Irreducible complexity in biological organisms.
2. Cosmic fine-tuning.
3. Empirical evidence of miraculous intervention by supernatural agents.
In the essay that I sent you about my critique of Aquinas, I argued that these pieces of evidence would be stronger evidence of the supernatural, because they would reflect the design, intentionality, and external evaluation of rational agency. In contrast, I don’t see the following pieces of evidence as signs of such rational agency:
1. The universe having a beginning or first mover. (Just because the universe had a beginning, or because there was a first mover to put the universe in motion does not mean that such a thing is a rational agency.)
2. The universe having Aristotelian teleology. (Just because glass has a tendency to break, or the moon has a tendency to circle around the Earth, does not mean that a rational agent has designed it that way. In the essay, I quote Thomas Aquinas describing these patterns as “an arrow shot at a target.” I think that this is an incorrect analogy: an arrow shot at a target reflects the design and external evaluation of a rational agency.)
Regarding Thomas Nagel, he is a minority in the atheistic philosophical community. I’m not saying that makes him wrong or anything, but I don’t agree with a lot of his characterizations of naturalism. I haven’t had a time to write an extensive review of him, however, but I did link to another review the other day:
I am planning to write more on Aristotle, Aquinas, and teleology as part of a metaphysics series that I am doing on my other blog, and I might interact with Nagel more there too. But, until then, I agree right now with the arguments of André Ariew that only Platonic teleology conflicts with naturalism.
Another observation that I would make is that a lot of the people you have been quoting for “anti-Aristotelian” trends are very old and outdated. You brought up René Descartes (1596-1650), for example. I am not basing my definitions of naturalism off old philosophers, but mostly modern philosophers, such as Jack Ritchie, Paul Draper, Keith Augustine, etc. For a survey of more modern naturalist views, I would recommend a modern a book like Contemporary Materialism. A lot of naturalist philosophy has moved on from some of the issues that you have raised, and a critique of Keener that I will make too is that he tends to set up opposing arguments by using outdated examples, such as Hume’s argument against miracles, whereas in contemporary naturalist philosophical circles the discussion has advanced considerably.
“So from these reviews one can see that there are naturalists who are not comfortable with the view that there are in the words of the second reviewer “teleological laws”.”
Ariew (pg. 18) actually deals with this in his article, and he argues that Aristotle may not imply “teleological laws” at all that are irreducible to mechanistic causation. But even if he did, Ariew argues that such teleological causes would not suggest the sort of “lawmaker” intentionality that some theists have used to explain them:
Ariew argues that is debatable whether Aristotle contradicted mechanistic causation to begin with, since his teleology was employed as a useful paradigm to describe regular and functional features of the natural world, such as eyelids protecting the eye. However, this does not mean that Aristotle necessarily argued that there are “teleological laws.” His teleology is based on reasons or explanations, not reading irreducible ontological properties into the world that are intentional, especially of the sort that would be made by a creator, which would conflate his teleology with Plato’s. Even if one were to grant his teleology is ontologically irreducible to mechanistic causation, however, it does not imply the purposive and forward looking character that would imply rational design. My naturalism solely denies teleology characteristic of rational design, such as God, not the kind that Aristotle is describing.
“Now in what respect is this relevant with respect to the issue of miracles? Well, concerning naturalism you write that it “does not need to be taken as a priori view, assumed before investigation, but can also be an a posteriori view reached after empirically observing a world in which there are only natural forces, entities, and causes.” From this view you draw the conclusion that it is legitimate to be biased against miracles. But is it really true that naturalism is a justified a posteriori view? If a naturalist takes the view that there is Aristotelian teleology in the natural order, as you obviously do, then he can’t point to the supposed confirmation of naturalism by means of scientific investigation as a legitimate reason to be biased against miracles.”
Wow, a lot needs to be said in response to this! First off, my arguments against miracles are not even based on the assumption of naturalism. As I explain above, miracles could be extremely unlikely events, even in a universe where God exists. The question of whether miracles exist is solely a matter of studying the empirical world, and whether there is empirical evidence of violations of ordinary physical patterns, in circumstances that suggest the intervention of a rational agency. Whether there is empirical evidence of such miraculous events could be used as posterior evidence against the hypothesis of naturalism, but none of my arguments against miracles depend on a naturalistic worldview.
Secondly, even if we grant that naturalism is anti-Aristotelian, and that there is evidence of Aristotelian teleology that falsifies naturalism, that still would not affect my position on miracles. As I explain in the essay that I sent you critiquing Aquinas, I do not think that Aristotelian teleology would suggest at all that miracles occur. Even if there are inherent teleologies in natural laws, such as gravity, how does that have any implication for the idea that supernatural agents, reflecting the Platonic teleology and external evaluation behind miracles, would exist? We could live in a world with ample evidence of Aristotelian teleology, where miracle events still never occur.
I think you are conflating a lot issues here and also assigning positions to me that I don’t take. As I have said, I agree with philosopher André Ariew on this one, who does not see a conflict between Aristotelian teleology and naturalism. Though, I will add that I am not even necessarily accepting Aristotelian teleology at this point (contrary to your assertion), since I plan to write on this issue in more detail down the road. Even granting Aristotelian teleology, however, I agree with Ariew that it would not necessarily conflict with naturalism.
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Glad to see this series of blog posts… One grammar nitpick…
Section E: Miracles Involving Direct Miracle Workers
“… in modern times there are individuals Sathya Sai Baba, and in ancient times …”
should be “…like Sathya Sai Baba…”
Keep up the good work. You can delete this reply if you’d like… 🙂
Matthew Ferguson: “However, none of these studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between prayer and recoveries. If such a study could be conducted successfully, however, I would find that evidence far more compelling than an anecdotal incident.”
I think there are methodological problems with such studies. First, those conducting such studies would have to make sure that only those patients who are supposed to be prayed for are really those who are prayed for. However, I don’t think that those conducting such studies ask friends and relatives of those patients to refrain from praying for the respective person and even if they did they would not be in a position to make sure that these people behave accordingly. Moreover, they cannot prevent patients to pray for themselves, either and, again, I don’t think that they would ask patients to refrain from praying for themselves.
Second, according to the Bible for a prayer to be answered certain conditions must be met. These include at least the following ones:
1) Close spiritual relationship with Jesus (John 15:7).
2) Obedience towards God’s commandments, righteousness (Psalm 66:18-19, Isaiah 1:15, 59:1-2, James 4:2-3, 5:14-18, 1 Peter 3:7).
3) Faith (Matthew 22:18-22, James 1:6-7).
4) Perseverance (Luke 18:1-8).
5) Accordance of what is asked with God’s will (1 John 5:14-15).
It’s extremely difficult if not impossible to conduct a scientific study about the efficacy of prayer that takes into account these conditions.
I think the only thing one can do is to look for persons who might fulfill the conditions mentioned before and see whether or not their prayers are efficacious. Johann Christoph Blumhardt and George Müller may have been such persons.
Matthew Ferguson: “And there are both Pagan and Jewish miracle workers who parallels the miracles of Jesus, such as Apollonius of Tyana, as well as Baal Shem Tov, some of whose miracles Bart Ehrman wrote about recently, which are even attested by eyewitness sources as “early” as Jesus’:”
As for Apollonius of Tyana according to the Wikipedia article concerning him Bart Ehrman wrote that Apollonius’s followers believed Jesus to be a fraud. From this one can draw the conclusion that Apollonius’s followers had good reasons to attribute Jesus’s miracles as described in the Gospels to their own hero. New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg arrives at the same conclusion:
“In fact, the closest parallels to Jesus’ miracle-working activity in the ancient Mediterranean world all come from a little after the time during which he lived. Apollonius of Tyana, who lived in the late first century, was said to have worked two or three miracles very similar to Jesus’ healings and resurrections. The charismatic Jewish wonder-worker Hanina ben Dosa, whose stories appear in the later rabbinic literature, likewise reportedly worked a couple of miraculous healings similar to Christ’s. The second-century Gnostic myth of an ascending and descending redeemer sometimes explicitly inserted Jesus instead of (or as) Sophia or “Wisdom” as its hero. Mithraism began to resemble Christianity only in the late second and early third centuries. But all of these developments are too late to have influence the first Christian writers; if anything, they may have been born out of a desire to make their heroes look more like Jesus and therefore more credible in a world in which Christianity was coming to have ever greater influence.”
As for Baal Shem Tov, according to the following quote from the Wikipedia article about him not even those who accepted him as a religious authority believed all miracles attributed to him:
“The little biographical information that is known about Besht is so interwoven with legends of miracles that in many cases it is hard to arrive at the historical facts. The attitude of the Chassidim themselves towards these legends is an unusual blend of suspicion on one hand, and belief on the other. The Rebbe Shlomo of Rodomsk pithily declared, “Whoever believes all the miracle stories about the Baal Shem Tov in Shivhei HaBaal Shem Tov is a fool, but whoever denies that he could have done them is an apikoros [a heretic].” Similarly, the Rebbe Mordechai of Neshkiz explains, “Even if a story about him never actually occurred, and there was no such miracle, it was in the power of the Baal Shem Tov, may his memory be a blessing for the life of the World-to-Come, to perform everything.”“
Matthew Ferguson: “As for the claim that the miracles reported in healing shrines, take a look at the dozens of examples of such miracles that are attested from ancient inscriptions.”
I don’t deny that there are such reports. However, as A. E. Harvey points out in the quote mentioned above, they are quite different from cures performed by individual healers. I think in the former case natural explanations such as the view that the results came about due to coincidences or to the placebo effect are more likely to be true than in the latter case. If at a healing shrine in let’s say one in a thousand cases a supplication for a healing was or appeard to be successful, the place nevertheless might have a reputation of being a place where healings happen, however if a supposed miracle worker only in one in a thousand cases appears to be successful, it may be difficult for him to gain or to keep the reputation of being a miracle worker, especially if he is a sincere person and not a charlatan.
In the New Testament we have not only accounts of miracles, but even first hand testimonies containing the claim to have worked miracles, namely those made by Paul in Romans 15:18-19 and 2 Corinthians 12:12. I could imagine that these are the only first hand testimonies of that kind we know from Antiquity. Now, how could Paul gain or keep the reputation of being a miracle worker, unless one assumes that he was a charlatan. However, there is strong evidence that he was not a charlatan, for it is difficult to see what advantage he would have had from being a charlatan. His Christian activities were the cause of much hardship (see 1 Corinthians 4:9-13, 15:30-32, 2 Corinthians 11:16-33). In addition he had to fear that they, if they were not according to God’s will, would make him a false witness about God (1 Corinthians 15:15). According to Philippians 3:3-10, before his conversion Paul was a well-respected member of the Jewish community, so he didn’t have to become a Christian to win fame. From 1 Corinthians 9:3-18, 2 Corinthians 2:17 and 1 Thessalonians 2:9 one can see that Paul was not looking for financial advantage.
Apologies for the late response, but these last weeks have been very hectic. I am also very busy with dissertation work right now, so I don’t have time at the moment to address the points in this comment.
However, I am catching up on approving pending comments today, and I get the impression that you very much want your comments to be read. So I have approved them for now, even though I don’t have time to respond.
One thing that I will say is that I have been in contact with Classicist Trevor Luke (whom I met at the SCS/AIA conference a couple weeks back), and he is currently doing research on how the inscriptions at healing sanctuaries were sometimes connected with miracle working individuals, particularly the Roman emperors. The inscriptions are dedicated to the gods of the sanctuaries, but there was also the statue of the emperor there, with whom many of the miracles were associated. I’ll be blogging more about this at some point in the future, but overall, when I discussed Keener with Trevor Luke, he was pretty surprised and disagreed with Keener’s assertion that there were few Pagan miracle workers before Jesus.
Likewise, if you are going to say that even those who followed Baal Shem Tov did not accept all of his miracles, it is important to remember that there are also verses about Jesus’ disciples doubting his miracles in the Gospels, such as Matthew 28:17, which states that some doubted the resurrection. I have also been talking about Apollonius of Tyana with Trevor Luke, and he argues that the idea that Jesus’ miracles were imputed onto Apollonius is an old one that has become outdated. More recent scholars see a greater independence between Jesus and the Apollonius tradition than what you suggest. Craig Blomberg is a Christian apologist who works at a seminary with an overt doctrinal statement affirming the truth of Christianity (see here). As such, I take his opinion with a grain of salt.
I will be taking a break from writing this review over the next several months, to focus on graduate work. I’ll return to my review of Keener after that (at the latest during this Summer, since I need to focus on dissertation work for a while, but it might be earlier), and we can pick up the discussion then.
apologists say that jesus was testing the faith of the non-jewish woman in :
In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
i have a few questions
1. i don’t see in mark 7 that the woman has rejected her gentile way of life for jewish life
2. jesus does not think that the gentiles are capable of faith, he says that one should not give that which is holy to the dogs.
3. he confirms that gentiles are not capable of faith when he says ” it is not right to take the children’s bread and cast it to….”
4. when the woman makes him realise that children make a mess and crumbs naturally fall, jesus replies “for SUCH a reply…”
my question is, what does “logon” mean in greek?
is it wisdom or an argument / intelligent response?
i just can’t see the woman having any faith as defined by jesus in the gospel of mark.
Great essay. Should be placed in every library in the country. Thanks for your work and for shining light on the truth.
Recently the Christian apologetics website Triablogue posted a critique of this essay about epistemic criteria for evaluating miracle claims:
Below is my response to their points:
First, they state:
“Ferguson says he’s interested quality rather than quantity. However, we’re often warranted in believing something happened or something exists due to the sheer number of independent reports. So why should we have a different standard for miracles?”
First off, this isn’t really true. There are numerous reports around the world about alien abductions and Sasquatch sightings, and yet we don’t believe them just based on quantity. Given billions of human beings who live on the planet, a large number of false reports for a given phenomenon can be quite expected. When numerous false reports for that kind of phenomenon (such as alien abductions or miracles) are the case, quality of evidence is in fact the exact standard that we demand. This is because the prior probability for a genuine occurrence of that phenomenon decreases with each false report, raising the bar for the expected evidence needed to render a probable posterior.
Next, they discuss how I dismiss Don Johnson’s miracle of the girl and her pet parakeet above as a coincidence. They offer the following definition of a coincidence:
I am fine with that definition. But next they ask the following questions:
“But in that event, can he justifiably dismiss these examples as merely coincidental unless he can establish that the relation is in fact random?”
“What’s his practical criterion to distinguish a coincidence from an orchestrated event?”
“How often must a certain kind of event occur before we recognize a pattern rather than a coincidence? What’s his threshold?”
I actually address these questions in the essay:
I will elaborate further:
For some kinds of events we have an established reference class with a known frequency that we can test a given event against. For example, the odds of drawing a Royal Flush is 0.000154%. If one was drawing a Royal Flush at a frequency considerably higher than this, therefore, then one might suspect that there was some kind of intelligent interference taking place, possibly a miracle.
For events like Don’s parakeet, however, we don’t have an established reference class for knowing how often it is that people lose a parakeet, pray, and then have another parakeet coincidentally fly into their yard the next day. The probability of discerning whether this event is random, or an act of intelligent interference, is thus largely inscrutable. But we don’t just jump from this to assuming that it was a miracle. Given billions of people on the planet, strange things will naturally happen.
Since the event with the parakeet could have easily occurred without a miracle, the burden of proof is on the one asserting a miracle to show that its occurrence was statistically improbable. They are the one arguing for something additional to known forms of causation. With a miracle involving a super-human or overtly supernatural occurrence (e.g., walking on water), the situation might be different, because the phenomenon itself defies natural causality. But since coincidences can be equally produced by natural causes, to demonstrate something supernatural, a deviation from natural frequency is the primary standard of evidence. If this standard can’t be met, because no mathematical frequency can be established, than whether or not the event is a miracle is largely inscrutable. At the very least, we cannot prove that it is one.
Next they raise two issues regarding Fales’ evidential criteria for prophecies:
“A prophecy might be ambiguous in advance respecting the process by which it will be fulfilled, yet unambiguous after the fact.”
I am fine with this so long as the prophecy is not being applied ex eventu to random events. Fales’ criteria are designed to weed out genuine prophecies from false ones. In order for this consideration to be valid, the prophecy would have to be unambiguous after the event, in such a manner so that, after its fulfillment, it would be clear that the ambiguous prophecy before the event could not have been known in advance, and would still be specific in some way so as to refer to the eventual outcome. Needless to say, I don’t think any biblical prophecies meet this criterion. They are either ambiguous prophecies that are applied to random events (e.g., the Great Commission referring to Christianity’s spread to the Americas), or they are unambiguous prophecies that are fulfilled ex eventu by authors inventing their fulfillment (e.g., having Jesus born in Bethlehem).
The second issue they raise is:
“The argument from prophecy doesn’t turn on the probability of prophetic fulfillment considered in isolation, but the combined probability of many convergent prophecies.”
This seems to be the inverse of Fales’ seventh criterion. If only a few prophecies out of many succeed, then that undermines the validity of those few prophecies being genuine, since it suggests that they only succeeded by chance. If so, the inverse is probably also true. If many prophecies succeed together, then they reinforce the truth of each other, since it is unlikely that so many fulfilled predictions would converge on each other. Fair enough. But I do not think that this corresponds with the prophecies in the Bible or Christianity, so the point is moot in that regard.
Next they respond to my point that miracle workers could provide verifiable evidence of miracles, since they are usually thought to have the ability to perform multiple miracles, and not to be involved in just singular events. In response they say:
“But that’s an artificial bar because it assumes a miracle worker has the ability to perform miracles at will. While that was true of Jesus, given his divinity, that’s not a given with respect to miracle workers in general.”
Perhaps so, since if a miracle worker is empowered by God (as they are often depicted in the Old Testament), then yes, they won’t be able to just walk around doing miracles wherever they wish. Nevertheless, this doesn’t negate the fact that if they can’t perform miracles with some kind of means of verifying those miracles, then skeptics do have reason for doubting them. If all of their miracles happen behind closed doors with only gullible followers believing them, then that looks quite suspicious. In contrast, if they could perform miracles with verifiable conditions in place, then that would be very good evidence for their validity.
One should note that, in a world that has no genuine miracles, we would expect to only have the former kind of miracle workers, and none of the latter. In a world with genuine miracles, it could be the case that (for whatever bizarre reason) God never gives us the latter kind of miracle worker. But, even in this bizarre scenario, the evidence would look the same as in the world with no miracles. In that case, the null hypothesis of a world with no miracles would still carry, and we would have no reason to believe in miracles on the criterion of miracle workers who perform genuine miracles. The only thing that could break from that null hypothesis is a miracle worker who could perform miracles under verifiable conditions, whether God would choose to send her or not.
Following from these points, they state:
“[U]nless there’s a presumption that God wants to prove his existence to everyone, there’s no reason to think miracles will routinely occur in a controlled setting.”
Well, the point of this essay is to examine whether there is proof of miracles, which should convince a skeptic who has never experienced one to believe in their existence, on the basis of evidence, not whether miracles happen that are unprovable.
With regard to my point that it only takes good, verifiable evidence of a single miracle event to falsify metaphysical naturalism, they state:
“Therefore, the Christian has a trivially low burden of proof while the atheist has an insurmountably high burden of proof. An atheist must be able to discount every reported miracle.”
This gets the burden of proof backwards. A naturalist does not need to falsify every miracle report. A supernaturalist needs to provide good evidence of one miracle. This is like saying that an alien abduction skeptic has to disprove every abduction report to show that they don’t take place. In many instances, the circumstances can no longer be investigated. But the burden is on the one claiming that alien abductions happen to provide solid evidence of a single occurrence of the phenomenon. The onus probandi lies with the one asserting a positive claim.
With regard to my statement:
“While I appreciate the definition, his escape clauses amount to special pleading.”
I don’t see how I am special pleading here and they do not elaborate. It seems clear that false reports of anything can be caused by the factors that I list above. I would give the same list for alien abductions, Sasquatch sightings, and other paranormal claims. I am hardly singling out miracles here.
Next they discuss Greg Cavin’s prior probability syllogism for the resurrection of Jesus. As with other commenters in this thread, they fail to understand how Cavin’s argument works. The syllogism goes:
99%+ of Xs are Ys
A is an X
Therefore, A is probably a Y
1. 99.999…999% of the dead are not supernaturally interfered with by God, and, thus, not raised by Him.
2. Jesus was dead.
3. Jesus was [probably] not supernaturally interfered with by God, and, thus, not raised by Him.
Here are the points they raise:
“Suppose I drive my friend to the airport. My car is just one of a thousand other cars in the parking garage. Does this mean there’s only a one in a thousand chance that I will drive my own car home?”
In this scenario, we already know as part of the background evidence that your car is the one you are seeking to drive. But as part of the background evidence for the origins of the resurrection belief, we do not know that God wants to raise Jesus from the dead. That is not established by a consensus of NT scholarship and is not a “minimal fact.” The analogy is not the same.
“What are the odds that I will be dealt a royal flush? Depends. Is the deck fair or stacked. If the deck is stacked, then it may be inevitable that I will be dealt a royal flush.”
This raises the same point discussed in the thread below about whether the odds for the prior of Jesus’ resurrection are low, only assuming that he is an ordinary individual. But if he is an exceptional individual, perhaps the odds are not so low. I deal with addressing this issue at length there.
“What are the odds that the deck will be stacked? I don’t think that’s quantifiable. Rather, it’s a question of whether the dealer and I are in cahoots. The probability that he and I conspired isn’t a question of mathematical odds.”
This seems like an odd objection. Whether we can assign a precise number certainly doesn’t mean that we can’t factor in probability. For example, can we investigate whether you have met the dealer before? Were you talking to the dealer before the deck we sorted? Are there any financial transactions that can be traced between you and the dealer? These are all factors that would certainly increase the odds of you and the dealer being in cahoots. It’s not wholly inscrutable.
When I note that miracles are often reported by people that are looking for them and hoping that they will take place, they respond:
“Although that’s sometimes true, it’s an overgeneralization. Reported miracles also happen to people who weren’t looking for them. Some Christian miracles that happen to atheists, Jews, and Muslims, despite their predisposition to reject Christian miracles due to the social cost of conversion.”
While that’s true, I also note in the essay that false miracles reports can happen for other reasons, such as misinterpreting one’s senses or subjective experiences, or believing the stories of others, as well as getting caught up in group ecstasy. Given billions of people on the planet, there are going to be a diverse range of causes and stories. But unless miracle reports are backed up with some kind of verifiable evidence, then we don’t have a way of discerning whether they are genuine.
In response to my statement:
“That fails to distinguish between a multiple derivative reports of the same event, multiple independent reports of the same event, and multiple independent reports of different events.”
While this nuance can be added, I don’t see how it makes much of a difference. The Synoptic Gospels redact the same story of Jesus’ resurrection via the empty tomb, there are multiple independent reports of the same solar miracle, and multiple independent reports of different sightings of the Virgin Mary. But I don’t believe any of these stories.
Next, they argue that anecdotal evidence is sufficient to overturn the “universal negative” that metaphysical naturalism predicts, about there being no miracles. But as I have previously explained, the burden of proof is on the supernaturalist to provide solid evidence for one genuine miracle, not on the naturalist to refute every miracle report. They claim:
“The weakness of anecdotal evidence is when one attempts generalize from a few examples, since that may not be a representative sample. But disproving a universal negative doesn’t require extrapolation.”
This isn’t the correct logic. The problem with anecdotal evidence, as I explain in the essay, is that false miracle reports are still expected in a world that has no genuine miracles take place. Simply cataloguing a multitude of miracle reports, therefore, in a world that has billions of people, doesn’t show that you have presented any evidence unexpected on naturalism. But, a miracle that has been backed up with verifiable forms of evidence is unexpected on naturalism. This is the very thing that Keener fails to do in his volumes, however, since he merely catalogues miracle reports, without subjecting them to medical and forensic investigation and peer review.
Next, they misconstrue my criticism of the fact that Keener only focused on Christian miracles in his volumes. I state:
In response to this remark, they state:
“[H]e seems to think the occurrence of non-Christian miracles poses a problem for Christianity, although he fails to explain why.”
This isn’t true. I explain later in my review series that I think it reflects bias in Keener’s apologetics. If Keener was actually interested in being objective about investigating miracles, he wouldn’t just investigate miracles that provide rationalization for his religion. He would investigate miracles in other contexts, as well. This especially reflects badly on him when he complains about the “bias” of non-Christian scholars, since his book is nothing but a Christian apologetic enterprise, dressed up as objective investigation.
Missing my point in this regard, they state:
“Perhaps his unstated objection is that if the argument from miracles is used to prove Christianity, then non-Christian miracles cancel out that line of evidence.”
This wasn’t the point I was making, but I will say this: If genuine miracles happen equally in both Christian and non-Christian contexts, then that may point toward pantheism more so than exclusive Christian theism. One would expect Christianity alone to be true, to the falsehood of other religions, if miracles happened solely in its faith contexts. But if miracles are equally happening in all religious contexts, that may suggest that all religions have a core of truth, along pantheistic lines of theology.
Next they state:
“Even if the argument from miracles is insufficient to prove Christianity, it can be sufficient to disprove naturalism.”
Fair enough, if pantheism is true, then naturalism is false. I will grant that. But then they state:
“If miracles cluster around Christianity, then they point to Christianity.”
Right, but if miracles are happening equally in other contexts, then they don’t cluster around Christianity. And that is the problem with Keener’s volumes. Since he doesn’t adequately investigate miracles in other contexts, he hasn’t shown that they are a special Christian phenomenon. The confirmation bias behind his volumes undermines their use for demonstrating that there is such a cluster. There is only one main data point for one religion, not multiple data points for multiple religions that could show a special Christian phenomenon.
They do argue that perhaps other arguments could be offered for Christianity, beyond miracles, to make it stand out from other religions:
“Likewise, even if the argument from miracles is insufficient to single out Christianity, it can figure in a cumulative case argument for Christianity. The case for Christianity doesn’t hinge on a crucial piece of evidence, but multiple lines of evidence.”
And that is why I also respond to historical apologetics on this website, and critique arguments for the resurrection, the reliability of the New Testament, and the origins of Christianity, as well, to argue that Christianity is not special in these regards, either.
Lastly, a commenter under the Triablogue essay posted links to some other articles in which certain paranormal phenomena are discussed:
The paranormal phenomena include telepathy, psi, and poltergeist activity. None of these phenomena are terribly similar to the nature miracles, healing miracles, or Jesus’ resurrection in the New Testament, so they don’t make much stride toward supporting Christian miracle claims. The articles call for more research into paranormal investigation. I have no problem with that.
Johnson parroted a story about a parrot that was lost, but another parrot found? Amazing Grouse, How Sweet the Sound!
Where did Johnson read this story? It hangs in mid-air without details. And there are loads of cases of feral parrots flying and breeding around the U.S. Just google this search string: “wild parrots” U.S. He doesn’t even tell us whether the second parrot became the girl’s pet or simply flew off.
Note: Triablogue blocked my ability to comment on their posts years ago. And judging by their negative reception of my chapter in The Christian Delusion on “The Cosmology of the Bible,” they continue to use purely imaginatve and ill-informed arguments to deny that the cosmos of the Bible is a mere offshoot of the “storied [flat] cosmos” of the ancients, even though Evangelicals from John Walton to Michael Heiser along with mainstream scholars before them have come to the same obvious conclusion. In fact the Triabloguers got their asses handed to them by Ben at War on Error, who replied to every query they raised: http://war-on-error.xanga.com/2010/11/09/book-review-the-christian-delusion-ch-5-the-cosmology-of-the-bible-part-5/
Regarding prophecy, don’t you find the Book of Daniel compelling in light of it’s detailed descriptions about the rise and fall of Babylon, the Medo-Persian empire and Greece, as well as the detailed foretelling of the career of Alexander the Great?
No, Daniel is regarded by scholars to be written after those events, hence it only constitutes an ex eventu prophecy.
I’m aware that this is the view among several scholars, but how good are actually the arguments for accepting that it was in fact written ex eventu? Many other scholars argue that the arguments are fairly weak and that it is more likely that the work was written before the events.
I’m not going to invest my time in writing a detailed explanation of the dating, sorry. I have other things that I want to work on right now. (Simply because I allow you to comment doesn’t mean that I am going to write an essay for you, whenever you ask for it.)
I answered your original question: I stand with the several scholars who date Daniel after the events depicted, and hence do not view it as a genuine fulfillment of prophecy. That is my conclusion on the matter.
I was not asking you to write an essay, sorry if it came across that way. Thanks for your response.
I just don’t want to get drawn off on a tangent about this. It takes time to invest energy on discussion threads (particularly when they pop up whenever someone posts a comment like this), and I have other things that I want to work on right now than discussing the dating of Daniel. Cheers.
The arguments are good enough to convince even Christian scholars who specialize in OT like Peter Enns and Kenton L. Sparks. Look up their books at amazon. Also look up the scholar J.J. Collins who is a major authority on inter-testamental writings and has written much on Daniel.
There are difficulties trying to find even one convincing prophecy in the Bible. The Gospel of Matthew, the one that cites prophecy after prophecy, makes more sense when its author is viewed as employing a Targum technique when interpreting and using Scripture, and composing Midrash tales about Jesus, rather than demonstrating a convincing means of proving prophetic fulfillment. Lastly, some of Paul’s (and other NT writers’) prophecies of the soon coming Lord or Son of Man in final judgment stick out quite prominently as being false. See some of my posts that mention such difficulties https://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/search/label/prophecy
“In the case of a miracle such as Jesus rising from the dead, the question is not whether God wants to raise Jesus from the dead, but simply the question of how often these kinds of events empirically take place in the world. Cavin argues, therefore, that even assuming the existence of God, does not change the fact that Jesus rising from the dead is initially improbable with the following statistical syllogism (slide 108):
99.999…999% of the dead are not supernaturally interfered with by God, and, thus, not raised by Him.
Jesus was dead.
Jesus was [probably] not supernaturally interfered with by God, and, thus, not raised by Him.”
I specifically address that argument here:
I’d be interested to learn your response.
Well, to answer the points raised in your blog post:
“Why should we assume that Jesus was a random human being to God?”
First off, Cavin’s prior probability syllogism is first used to calculate the prior for God raising any human being from the dead, and then it is applied to Jesus. What Cavin hasn’t done is *make the assumption* that Jesus is more than random. The burden lies with those that claim Jesus is somehow not random to demonstrate so, not the other way around, so you kind of have it backwards.
But there is more to it than that. Cavin’s syllogism is applied to minimal facts arguments for the resurrection. Those arguments rely only on premises agreed upon by a consensus of scholars. It is not a “minimal fact” that Jesus has some kind of special ontological relation to God, anymore than another person. Strictly speaking, it’s also not a “minimal fact” that God even exists, and Cavin is only granted that assumption for the sake of argument. So he is already conceding more than is necessary, to begin with.
“Because this is the only way we can approximately calculate the prior probability of his resurrection.”
No, we would start with the assumption that Jesus was a historical human being, just like other historical figures. That *is actually* a “minimal fact” agreed upon by a consensus of scholars. And, this assumption wouldn’t make it any more likely that Jesus would be raised from the dead the dead, in terms of prior probability, than another historical figure.
“And why should we assume that this value approximates anything if we don’t know whether or not he was just an ordinary man to God?”
If we don’t know we start out with the prior probability. The prior calculates how often God raises people from the dead, whether they are special or not. The allowance for some being special is already factored into it. It could be that God only raises those that are special, but the same syllogism would apply so that it would be astronomically low, in terms of prior probability, that a given individual was special.
What we don’t do is start out from the assumption that Jesus was special. That is not a premise granted in Cavin’s background data. We also don’t start from the assumption that he isn’t special. The background data is neutral on the question. But it wouldn’t effect the syllogism, because God doesn’t intervene to raise the same number of people from the dead, regardless, so not knowing whether Jesus is special, the same empirical pool would apply to him.
As to your conclusion at the end:
“So I think that unbelievers cannot argue from ignorance here. They should instead give us positive grounds for thinking that Jesus wasn’t special to God.”
You have it backwards. If you want to change the prior for Jesus, so that it is different from an ordinary person (and goes beyond the minimal facts), then the burden lies with you to give positive grounds for thinking that Jesus *was special to God*.
Suppose you have a group A and a group B which is a subset of A with very specific characteristics that set them apart from other members of A.
All members of group A *you know of* have the property x but none of them belongs to B.
Can you know A-PRIORI that f(x in A) is a perfect approximation to p(x in B)?
Or could there be important discrepancies between both quantities?
What “very specific characteristics” are you referring to? It’s not clear.
To give you an example,
A = animals
B = humans
x = cancer due to the expose to a chemical
Your experimental sample of A not developing x is limited to birds and lizards.
Can we assume that f(x in A) is a very good approximation to p(x in B)?
(sorry for my bad English)
*exposURE to a chemical
I’m not sure that this is a helpful example. Are you trying to argue?
A = Ordinary humans
B = Jesus’ reference class
If so, I think it would be more helpful to explain what is distinguishing A and B here.
At the very least, do you agree that in general , we cannot automatically assume that f(x in A) is a very good approximation to p(x in B)?
Perhaps, but if we are talking about historical figures and the assumptions behind the “minimal facts” apologetic, there would be no bona fide data that would make Jesus a B and not an A, when it came to assessing the prior probability for resurrection.
Knowing that a coin is NOT biased
not knowing whether a coin is biased or not
is certainly not the same thing.
In the first case, we know that the physical probability is 50%.
In the second case, it could be anywhere in the interval ]0;1[
Cavin’s prior probability syllogism is meant for the second description. Presumably far more coins are not biased than are biased, however. So, if you record the results of billions upon billions of coins being tossed, they would still average toward 50%. When you next take a coin (which has never been tossed), and don’t know if it is biased or not, it’s prior probability for a given toss would still then roughly be 50%.
I personally wouldn’t make that assumption in a casino.
I would rather suspend judgement until the coin has been tossed a sufficient number of times.
I fail to see why attributing to the unknown coin a physical probability of 50% is rationally obligatory instead of remaining agnostic before seeing data.
Well, for a number of reasons: For one, we can’t directly see what happened to Jesus, nor can we repeat his particular death. We have to make a probabilistic assessment, as in all cases of ancient history. That requires assessing the prior probability first. Using the principle of exchangeability, we can exchange observed deaths in the present to calculate the prior for a death in the past. No modern example of a resurrection has been observed. Hence, we go with Cavin’s prior probability syllogism.
We aren’t in a casino, though, according to the “minimal facts.” We’re working from ordinary historical assumptions, which means that Jesus is being treated as a historical figure just like any other. This would be like a coin you find on the street.
Your points do have some merit, Celsus.
1) I agree with you that if I were to find a coin in the street, I would assign it a probability of 50% to land odds.
However,this wouldn’t stem from my ignorance but from my knowledge that almost all coins are equally poised through their fabrication, so that 50% is a good approximation.
Nevertheless, in a casino, I would be completely agnostic if I have no way to foretell the owners’ behaviour.
2) Let’s consider the situation from a purely theoretical standpoint.
Let’s suppose (as a pure thought experiment ) that we knew that Jesus was a pre-existent divine being who became human (a view that the first Christians adopted only ten years after his death).
Can we automatically assume that f(resurrected | dead human) is a very good approximation to p(resurrected | dead divine human)?
Well, *believing* that Jesus was a pre-existent being is very different from *knowing* and *demonstrating* that he is so. And, having a *false belief* that he is one (or other combinations of false beliefs/expectations) could also give rise to
a false belief in the resurrection.
But, if Jesus actually were a pre-existent being, then yes, this would be a good reason for differentiating the prior probability for his resurrection, as something different, from the pool of background data collected for other humans. But the burden doesn’t rest on secular historians to demonstrate that Jesus was not a pre-existent being. The burden of proof lies with the one going beyond the standard assumptions, and so they would need to present arguments that Jesus was in fact a pre-existent divine being.
Since resurrection apologetics is often designed to convince atheists, too, and no just other theists (particularly those who believe in pre-existent divine beings), this line of reasoning is not likely to convince many atheists, by the way.
Thanks for interacting with me.
We are making progress.
We now agree that we cannot automatically equate probabilities to frequencies in a large and inhomogeneous group.
Now consider the following thought experience.
In a sample of 100 balls, 50 are white and 50 are black.
Now you face four different situations:
1) You must draw a ball after they have been randomly mixed
2) You are given a ball by John who has a strong preference for white.
3) You are given a ball by Jean who has a strong preference for black
4) You are given a ball by James and you don’t know whether or not he has any preference.
I believe that situation 1) and 4) are fundamentally different.
While the physical probability equals 50% in the first case, it could be anywhere in the interval [0;1] in the second case.
I think this is where our disagreement lies.
Well, the only thing that we agree on is that, in principle, you can’t equate the frequencies if it is bona fide established that there is a categorical difference. But that hasn’t been demonstrated in the case of Jesus, so the point is kind of moot.
I think this is a better analogy for the resurrection: You have drawn billions upon billions of balls from a massive urn. Every single ball that you have drawn is white. The probability that you will draw a black ball next, therefore, is well below 0.001% (as Cavin’s syllogism calculates is the prior for Jesus’ resurrection).
It’s been proposed that this is only the case, if the next ball is of the same category as the previous balls. But, if the next ball is of a different category than the previous balls, then perhaps not. But, arguments need to presented for *why* the next ball is of a different category. It can’t just be assumed so, and the burden rests on the one making this claim to demonstrate that this is the case.
Consider the three situations:
1) We know that Jesus was only a random human being to God.
2) We know that Jesus was a very special human being for God.
3) We don’t know whether Jesus was special for God.
You are basically saying that situation 1) is entirely identical to situation 3).
Actually, you even say we are RATIONALLY COMPELLED to see them as identical.
That appears nonsensical to me.
Ignorance is not knowledge.
If we are ignorant about Jesus’ special status, we cannot act as if we knew he wasn’t special.
To use again my example, if you are in a casino, there is difference between knowing that a coin is not biased and not knowing anything about the coin.
I fail to see how any such connection is being made. The data that is being collected regarding billions upon billions of human deaths is making no claim as to whether they have any special relation to God or not. Hypothetically some could have had a special relationship to God, and yet no resurrection event has still been observed.
What is irrational to me, is to argue that the burden of proof rests on someone to demonstrate that a given person is not special to God, before they can apply the background data collected for people in a category that is neutral on the claim. Hypothetically, you could apply this standard to every individual. And so, I would have to somehow demonstrate that any given individual is not special to God (meaning everyone else besides Jesus), before arguing that their probability of not resurrecting is improbable.
I would say with the coin example that we don’t know the location that we are at. We could be at a casino or any other location. But, when you are talking about a hypothetical coin, the odds are that most coins in the world are not at casinos versus other locations.
Cavin’s background data is not “billions upon billions of *random* people have died, and none have resurrected.” It’s just billions of people, regardless of their ontological relation to God. It allows that some may have had a special relation to God, but even if so, none of them have been observed to resurrect from the dead.
What you could do is argue that the priors could be refined, if the background data could be split into:
1) The deaths of people who do not have a special relation to God.
2) The deaths of people who do have a special relation to God.
But right now, the background data consists of:
3) The deaths of 1 and 2 combined.
But 1 and 3 are not being conflated here, because 3 includes the deaths of 2.
Likewise, I don’t think there exists any reliable epistemology for identifying 2, using secular historical methods.
I think that ontologically speaking, we can think of the probability of God raising Jesus as the hypothetical frequency with which God would raise people having exactly Jesus’ features (birth, death, moral character, life, work, preaching etc…).
Of course, we cannot measure that frequency since we only know one Jesus.
Cavin and you are saying that this frequency is approximated perfectly well by the frequency with which God raises human beings in general.
As I told you earlier, that identification isn’t mathematically or logically necessary.
It’s a theological decision.
Well, for one, calculating the probability of what God would want to do is questionable, because we can’t make theological assumptions about God. We can’t assume Christian monotheism, for example. Starting from minimal theism (on Cavin’s approach), we would only be granting a deity metaphysically capable of raising Jesus from the dead, not necessarily one with the character inclined to raise Jesus from the dead. The theistic assumptions in this case would, again, be neutral.
Second, granting the minimal consensus of biblical scholarship, only so much about Jesus’ life would be known. His immaculate conception, for example, wouldn’t be part of his birth, just that it happened sometime c. 4BCE – 7CE. Nor would Jesus’ moral character really be something that we could assess. Some of his teachings would, including a few of his teachings on ethics, but not necessarily whether Jesus followed through on keeping them himself.
I think theological decisions are best kept out of this, since we aren’t making any theological assumptions about a specific form of theism. On minimal theism, God may be inclined to raise any individual of any background from the dead, hypothetically. That brings us back to the pool of everyone who has died. And, observing those billions of deaths, we’ve never observed one resurrect. That would be where I’d start with the prior.
There are lots of reference group containing Jesus:
1) All human having died (Cavin’s reference group).
2) All hominidae having died.
3) All mammals having died
4) All animals having died
5) All great moral men having died
6) All Jewish prophets having died
7) All Jewish prophets who were unjustly killed
8) All Jewish prophets and miracle workers who were unjustly killed.
From a strict mathematical standpoint, any of these reference groups could be drawn upon to compute a prior probability.
Mathematically and logically, none is more justified than another.
Our choice has to come elsewhere, i.e. from theological and philosophical considerations.
Well, the number of medically confirmed resurrections from all of those categories is still zero. So we still have a low prior for all of them, in that respect.
Some of those categories are also dubious (e.g. what qualifies as a “great man”). And it also becomes problematic to argue, on theologically neutral grounds, why Jewish prophets, for example, should be grouped together for any reasons relating to probability.
Medically, we have justification for linking all human beings together. That would give us billions of deaths with no resurrections. You could make the case for mammals and animals, too. Then we have trillions of deaths and no resurrections. The other categories have no medical/scientific basis.
Death is a medical/scientific condition, and as such, I think we should use a medical/scientific reference class. The other references classes relate to social constructions, but since on theologically neutral grounds we can’t assume God would favor one any more than the other, I don’t think they any should be favored in this case. That brings us back into all humans who have died, or perhaps all animals who have died.
I really appreciate all the time you put in to answering me and I hope you don’t mind discussing with me.
I also hope my English isn’t too rubbish 🙂
Whilst all these quantities might be small, they are certainly not equal.
4) (animals) might be smaller than 1) (humans) by a factor of hundred billions.
Yet which is the correct one?
Can you answer that question objectively without making any theological assumptions?
I think not.
Regardless of which you choose, you are inevitably assuming things about God’s personality and preferences .
We could, for example, conceive of a God who is as interested in the afterlife of bacteria as in that of humans.
Alternatively, we could equally think of a God who is much more interested in the afterlife of righteous humans who died after having led a moral life.
Or we can conceive of a God who is fond of decadent artists such as Elvis Presley.
We can conceive of a chauvinist God who is much more interested in male, female, white-skinned or black-skinned humans.
And we can conceive of a God who doesn’t make any distinction between humans.
Cavin’s and your position is that we don’t know anything about God, we are rationally compelled to act and think as if the latter were true rather than the others.
I, on the other hand, think there is a fundamental difference between
1) our knowing that God is equally interested in all human beings (p0 = 1/N_humans).
2) our not knowing anything about God (p0 # [0;1] ).
Strictly speaking, all Cavin is granting is a God who is metaphysically capable of raising Jesus from the dead. His starting background allows for a God of any of those theological predispositions, but does not assume any is more likely than another. But, since the goal of his approach is to analyze the *historical* probability of God raising Jesus from the dead, any further theological assumptions would have to be kept out of his approach, at least a priori.
I think it is important to distinguish between a priori theological assumptions and a posteriori ones. If we observed that a specific group of humans was being resurrected (e.g. Jewish prophets), and not other groups, then we could argue a posteriori that this reference class has a higher probability of resurrection. But if no resurrections (or similar miracles) have bona fide been demonstrated, then arguments for why a certain type of human would be more likely to resurrect would not be based on historical induction, so much as a priori theological and philosophical analysis. And the purpose of Cavin’s argument is to focus on historical probability, not philosophy.
As a note, while Cavin grants minimal theism as part of his epistemic framework, for the sake of argument, it’s not really necessary for what I do here. Rather, the goal of my essay is to focus on what kinds of empirical evidence could lead one to believe that miracles take place in the world. From that approach, one wouldn’t grant minimal theism, as a beginning framework. Rather, one would start with a metaphysically neutral framework, and then begin taking in inductive data from there.
My framework wouldn’t really have the same issue, then, with theological assumptions. Without granting minimal theism, what we would mostly be doing is studying the phenomenon of death in the empirical world, and taking in data for events that can be categorized as death. That data would then be updating our prior, as part of the rule of succession. Without any resurrections (and with the phenomena associated with Jesus’ resurrection largely unattested), the prior for Jesus’ resurrection would become very small after billions of deaths in which no resurrections were recorded.
Since God hasn’t even entered the equation, no a priori metaphysical assumptions are even implicitly being made here. We are simply studying the empirical world and finding that something like Jesus’ resurrection would be very unlikely, based on what we have observed of what takes place in it.
Speaking of miracles, perhaps paragraph #60 of Seutonius’ biog. of Tiberius
may be a possible miracle scenerio. This fisherman spoken of, who appeared and startled the emperor, may have been a Jew. Wouldn’t it be interesting to think that Jesus or one of the other Jewish holy men at the time, went to visit him on Capri. If they knew he was living in seclusion, one may have tried to talk with him about a subject which touched their lives at home. m.a.p.
See my previous comment about the fisherman. I don’t think we can assume the historicity of this episode, and if it is historical, the most likely ethnic/religious background of this fisherman is probably a Pagan Italian:
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You mentioned several Judeans predicting the destruction of the Jewish Temple. Can you comment more on this?
They were discussed by Craig Evans in our debate about the dating of the Gospels. That’s one place you can start:
I know Evans has also written more on the matter.