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David Hume, Miracles, and the Resurrection

Resurrection2

Most Catholics and atheists agree that if God does not exist, then the material world must be a closed system. If there is no God, the world is self-creating and self-reliant. If there is no God, then there cannot be interruptions in nature. The material world works according to the laws of physics, and even if there are mysteries that cannot presently be explained, they will be one day. In fact, if there is no God, then the physical world must work according to the laws of nature and nothing else.

If however, it can be shown that there is a force which interrupts and alters the ordinary working of nature, and if that force operates in an intelligible and rational way, then there must be an intelligent being that religious people have always identified as God.

This intelligible and rational interruption in the laws of nature is what we call a “miracle.”

The interruption is intelligible and rational if it has a reason and an understandable purpose. An interruption which is purely random or arbitrary would not indicate a super-physical intelligence.

All that to say this: if there are miracles, then there is a God. The problem with many miracles is that they might be attributed to natural causes or to natural causes which we do not yet understand. This is where the Easter miracles comes in. Firstly, if one miracle can be shown to have happened, then the case is proven. One miracle breaks the whole idea that the world is self-contained, self-creating, and self-reliant, and the one miracle which atheists should most seriously consider is the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The eighteenth century skeptic David Hume argued that when weighing up the evidence for a miracle one had to consider which was more probable–that a person would lie or that a given miracle would take place. So he writes in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding:

"The plain consequence is (and it is a general maxim worthy of our attention), 'That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavors to establish….’

When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion."

In other words, if someone believes a miracle has taken place he is either lying himself or has been lied to. If the claimed miracle is greater than the possibility of a person being deceived or deceiving, then that claimed miracle must be rejected. Hume’s argument seems watertight because it is based on the assumption that the physical world is watertight. His conclusion rests on his first premise that the physical world is a closed system. What Hume is really saying is that miracles are impossible because miracles are impossible.

But the definition of a miracle is that it is an interruption in what was expected to be a closed system. That’s why it’s a miracle.

By its very definition a miracle breaks into the closed system, and to deny a miracle by simply presuming it can’t happen is to skirt the argument. Hume uses the example of a dead man rising again because he knows this is the central miracle. If this miracle, then any miracle. And if any miracle, then the system is not closed. And if the system is not closed, then there is a being greater than the system and that being we recognize as God.

Hume’s argument against miracles has been a cornerstone of the atheist position on miracles but it is rarely examined closely. Hume does not discuss evidence for such a miracle. He simply places the possible miracle over against the testimony of a person who claims the miracle. What he avoids in the Easter miracle is that it is not one man claiming a miracle, but many, and that their testimony is backed up by evidence that cannot be plausibly interpreted in any other way.

When the evidence is examined, Hume’s reductionist argument—that we must believe the theory that is most likely to be true—actually helps prove the resurrection. This is because all the alternatives to the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead are more incredible than the miracle.

It therefore all stands or falls on the miracle of the resurrection. St. Paul, a skeptic turned believer, addresses this very question his first letter to the Corinthians.

"Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved…Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.

 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also…

And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised…and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile." 

Put very simply, if Christ is not raised from the dead, then the whole Christian religion is vain. It’s all or nothing, and the all or nothing depends on the evidence for Easter.

Did the first century Jewish preacher Jesus of Nazareth rise from the dead or not? If he did, then miracles are possible and God exists.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker

Written by

Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England. He was brought up in an Evangelical home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the fundamentalist Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and then in 1995, he and his family were received into the Catholic Church. For the next ten years he worked as a freelance writer, contributing to more than fifty magazines, papers and journals in Britain, Ireland and the USA. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He now serves as parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina. Fr. Dwight is the author of many books including The Quest for the Creed (Crossroads, 2012); More Christianity: Finding the Fullness of the Faith (Ignatius, 2010); and Catholicism Pure and Simple (Stauffer Books, 2012). Connect with his website DwightLongenecker.com, or his Patheos blog, Standing On My Heard.

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  • David

    "Put very simply, if Christ is not raised from the dead, then the whole Christian religion is vain. It’s all or nothing, and the all or nothing depends on the evidence for Easter."

    Well, that's a wrap, then. There is no evidence for Easter and there is really no reason to believe such a wild claim without massive evidence let alone the zero we have now. So, I guess that means Christian religion is in vain.

    • Tpr1976

      Just because no one has found evidence that satisfies your quest for knowledge does not make it false.

      • David

        It is false because there is no evidence. And, enough time has passed that we can assume there will never be any evidence. If any evidence does emerge, I'll be willing to admit I was wrong. But, in the meantime, I'll carry on.

        • Tpr1976

          As will those of us who believe.
          Some of us consider the large volume of those who believed Jesus rose from the dead to be a type of evidence. WHY would they all be so eager to die for a lie?

          • mriehm

            Well, Tpr1976, what say you of the Muslims who give their life for Allah and Mohammed? And who believe that Jesus was no more than a prophet?

          • Tpr1976

            I would say that the early Christian martyrs were not attempting to kill multitudes of people through their deaths. Calling suicide bombers "martyrs" to me is insulting to Islam and to other martyrs.

          • mriehm

            I never said anything about suicide bombers.

          • Guest

            Many Mormons heroically sacrificed their lives as witnesses to Joseph Smith's obvious fraud. Never underestimate the human capacity for credulity, violence and the power of denial when it comes to things people want to be believe are true.

          • Doug Shaver

            WHY would they all be so eager to die for a lie?

            I don't believe it was a lie, but even if it originated as a lie, the reason people tell lies is that other people often believe them. All that is necessary for an idea to motivate martyrdom is that people think it is true.

        • Tpr1976

          If there was literally "NO evidence" for something, then how would anyone know about it? There is no scientific evidence because modern scientific investigation did not really exist at the time. There is evidence of the resurrection in the multitude of written testimony of the early Church.
          If more evidence is required before someone believes then they would probably be very unlikely to ever believe.

          • mriehm

            So... Do you believe that the Flood actually occurred? Do you believe that the events recounted in the Odyssey happened?

          • Maxximiliann

            Just about all ancient peoples possess lore telling how their forebears made it through a global deluge . African Pygmies , European Celts , South American Incas—all have very similar legends , as do peoples of Alaska , Australia , China , India , Lithuania , Mexico , Micronesia , New Zealand , as well as regions of The North American Continent , to point out just a few .

            Through the years the legends were , needless to say , adorned nevertheless they all incorporate a number of specific details thus revealing the existence of a well-known source narrative. Specifically : God was angered by mankind’s evil . He caused a great inundation . Humanity on the whole was wiped out . A handful of righteous ones , nonetheless , were protected . These constructed a vessel wherein individuals as well as wildlife were protected . In time , birds were sent off to seek out dry terrain . At long last , the vessel came to rest on a mountain . Upon disembarking , the survivors presented a sacrifice .

            Precisely what does this establish ? This likeness simply cannot be coincidental . The collective evidence of these particular legends corroborates the Bible’s ancient testimony that all people descend from the survivors of a flood that eradicated a world of humankind . For that reason , we need not rely upon legends or myths to learn what occurred . We have the carefully preserved history in the Hebrew scriptures of the Holy Bible .—Genesis , chapters 6-8 .

          • mriehm

            You've been a busy boy today, Maxxie, posting to this website the exact same words that you've posted dozens of times elsewhere, over recent years.

            How's that trolling working out for you?

          • Maxximiliann

            A troll is a commentator with a stand-point you discover is compelling but nevertheless detest. So when silence falls on my challengers - or, on the other end of the spectrum, they degenerate into hate-spewing harridans or simply gibberish-spurting idiots - I recognize I've obliged these to tackle important and unnerving truths they’re too overweening to admit to.

            IOW , thanks and you’re welcome! : )

    • Fr.Sean

      Hi David,
      I think it might be important to remember that the rejection of a miracle is based on faulty, or circular reasoning, not because of a lack of evidence. there's always going to be a little bit of a mystery of a miracle, a little bit that can't be explained scientifically. if it could be explained scientifically it most likely wouldn't be considered a miracle any more. If the Resurrection occured what evidence would there be? Well, there certainly wouldn't be any pictures, there also wouldn't be newspaper articles written about it since papyrus was very expensive. the only evidence would be the effect it had on people. The effect it had on people was in fact there. Furthermore as Fr.Lonegnecker mentioned one other way to examine whether or not the resurrection occurred is to examine if other miracles have occurred or some other evident that reveals the system is not closed. if they have occurred than you have 1. the effect the resurrection had on the people + 2.evidence of present day miracles = a very high probability of the actual event.

    • CoF89

      No evidence ? I you should rethink that, read more about the historical Jesus, even atheists historian agrees that Jesus was crucified, buried by Joseph Arimatea, and Jesus body was gone. Even non- christian literature agrees with that. Even the jews, they made up excuses telling that the apostles had stolen the body, this means that the body actually was missing. But, what is your explanation then? Did the apostles still the body? Did the Jews still it? The romans? Or the best explanation is the ressurection.? The gospels are very trustworthy, the letters of Paul to Corintian church are very old, 5-10 years after crucifixion. The historical documents of the bible passes in all historical analises, they were written in a very short time after Jesus death. Paul the apostle and James (Jesus brother) they were non-belivers, Paul was a well educaded jew, that persecuted Jesus friends, Paul and James only believed in Jesus after seeing Him ressurected. If the apostles had stolen the body, why would they died in terrible ways for this lie? Peter was crucified upside down, John beheaded, James stoned and so on. There are others evidences, but you should clean up your mind and open it to the true.

      • Michael Murray

        Bart Ehrman regards the burial in a tomb by Joseph Arimatiea as implausible. Have a look at his recent book "How Jesus became God". So not all atheist historians.

        • CoF89

          Bart Ehrman is a lonely historian in this case, the vast majority of scholars doens't agree with him, and to be honest, Bart Ehrman is just a sensacionalist skeptic. He was refuted severals times..

  • Mike O’Leary

    When the evidence is examined, Hume’s reductionist argument—that we must
    believe the theory that is most likely to be true—actually helps prove
    the resurrection. This is because all the alternatives to the fact of
    the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead are more incredible than
    the miracle.

    This seems like it's trying to invoke C.S. Lewis's trilemma without going into specifics. Christians are correctly incredulous when they hear stories like Muhammad riding a buraq (winged donkey). Even in a non-religious setting there are people who have claimed to have witnessed the "Indian rope trick" and other supernatural feats, yet the evidence is simply not there. Add to the fact that the stories that claim the resurrection of Jesus are highly contradictory and it only makes sense to be skeptical of them.

  • David Nickol

    The material world works according to the laws of physics, and even if there are mysteries that cannot presently be explained, they will be one day.

    This is just a quibble (I think), but many people, including atheists, allow for the possibility that there are some current "mysteries" that will never be explained. There may be limits to human intelligence.

    • Michael Murray

      As per that quote of Richard Feynman's:

      People say to me, “Are you looking for the ultimate laws of physics?” No I am not. I am just looking to find out more about the world. And if it turns out there is a simple ultimate law that explains everything so be it. That would be very nice discovery. If it turns out it’s like an onion with millions of layers and we just sick and tired of looking at the layers then that’s the way it is! But whatever way it comes out it’s nature, it’s there, and she’s going to come out the way she is.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      In that case I would say that those atheists believe in supernatural events. We could find more common ground if instead of "natural law" we used the expression "that part of the order of things that is accessible to human reason" and instead of "the supernatural", we used the term "that part of the order of things that is (and always will be) inaccessible to human reason". To my mind, that substitution could be made without any loss of the Catholic meaning.

  • David Nickol

    This is because all the alternatives to the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead are more incredible than the miracle.

    It certainly does not seem "incredible" to me that the earliest followers of Jesus believed that he had in some way reestablished his presence among them shortly after the crucifixion, and that this belief in his continued existence and presence, in being passed along orally, evolved into a story about his literal resurrection from the grave. No one needed to tell "lies" for such a thing to happen.

    I can remember discussing business meetings with co-workers shortly after the meetings were over and thinking that some people's perceptions of what had taken place were so different from mine that it was hard to believe we had all been in the same meeting. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable, as is human memory. I do not hold that miracles (including the Resurrection of Jesus) are beyond the realm of possibility. But I certainly don't think that two-thousand-year-old anonymous written accounts can be compelling proof for a miracle of the magnitude of the Resurrection. Obviously, if a person accepts the Bible as the inspired word of God, he or she will give biblical accounts much more weight than purely historical ones, but that is a matter of faith, not history.

    • I was hoping he would actually argue why the alternative theories are more incredible rather than just assert it. I believe it is true but I don't think many atheists would even think that much before rejecting such an assertion without an argument.

      It certainly does not seem "incredible" to me that the earliest followers of Jesus believed that he had in some way reestablished his presence among them shortly after the crucifixion, and that this belief in his continued existence and presence, in being passed along orally, evolved into a story about his literal resurrection from the grave. No one needed to tell "lies" for such a thing to happen.

      You prove my main reason for saying that the atheist account of the data does not add up. Any attempt to defend or add details to their version of events makes it sound silly. Yours is no exception.

      What does "re-established his presence" mean? Does it simply mean Jesus is present like Christians believe He is present today? How does that evolve into a story about an empty tomb? When you get specific about when, where and who it get less believable yet. Did it happen right after the resurrection or a few decades later? Did Peter and Paul believe it or did they know it was just a story?

      No one needs to tell "lies?" You prefer to call it an untruth or an exaggeration? Whatever. The life and death of Jesus is the most sacred truth of Christianity. To play fast and loose with such a truth is to behave in a way Christians would see as deeply immoral. Really the worst lie you could ever tell. Now you might say the ones telling this story were not Christians, at least not in that way. Then you have to explain why Christians accepted the word of someone outside their faith and let them change the central story of their faith.

      If you want an example of such an interaction look at Marcion and Polycarp. Marcion wanted to change the Christian faith. Polycarp rejected him and his ideas in the strongest possible terms. That was typical for the early church. They had no notion of importing fancy stories. They hungered for more truth but looked for it in scripture and apostolic tradition rather than in non-Christian sources.

      • David Nickol

        What you seem to want from atheists (and not merely atheists, but adherents of any non-Christian religion who do not believe what you believe about the resurrection) is an account of what "actually happened," a purely factual account of it, and an analysis of successive accounts over the next forty to seventy years showing how the story morphed into the version you believe. But of course that is impossible, since there exist no contemporaneous reports of the resurrection or anything else about Jesus. (Also, we get from Paul himself no account of the resurrection and no mention of the empty tomb. So our earliest witness with the most direct connection to those who actually knew Jesus gives us no account.)

        Consequently, since no one can demonstrate to you how the story of the resurrection developed over time, you conclude that accounts of it from decades after it allegedly happened must be factually accurate. That is fine if it's what you want to believe, but basically you are saying you will believe the Gospel accounts (which, incidentally, are far from identical) unless someone can prove they are not true. And yet there is nothing you would accept as proof.

        • I don't want what actually happened. I want at least one plausible story. Something that fits with what we know about the early church fathers and the apostles.

          You say St Paul gives no account of the resurrection. I Cor 15 comes to mind. Rom 10:9. That is without looking. Even then, what does "gives us no account" mean? Can you make sense of St Paul if the resurrection was not true? You just end up with this whole series of stories in Acts that you need to call something other than lies. Every answer other than the obvious answer seems to create many more problems than you had before.

          • Bob

            What if Paul actually believed in a spiritual resurrection and not a physical resurrection?

            I think that is a fairly plausible possibility considering the writings of Paul alone.

          • That seems to assume a big doctrinal rift between what Peter and the twelve taught and what Paul taught. It could be. Yet how do they get together? There is no real evidence of a debate. There is debate about circumcision. There is no debate about bodily vs spiritual resurrection. The gospel of Luke was associated with Paul most closely. It records Jesus explicitly denying He is a ghost. It seems this "spiritual resurrection only" doctrine dies without a whimper despite the most significant evangelist adhering to it.

            Even reading Paul more closely this does not seem to hold up. For example, he uses the resurrection as a reason to avoid sexual immorality. You have this body forever so be careful what you do with it.

          • Bob

            Paul also compares the body to the husk of a seed, so ymmv...

            You are bringing in a whole lot of assumptions (Peter, et. al.) that seem, at least to me, to go far beyond anything that Paul, himself wrote.

          • Paul does talk in Galatians 1 about seeing Peter for 15 days. He mentions no big disagreement over the nature of the resurrection. In fact he quotes Jewish Christians as saying "He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy."

            Notice he says it is the same faith. He does not think it is a new faith that Jesus has revealed to him in this vision. So you are left with the same questions. Did the 12 apostles claim to have seen Jesus risen from the dead? If not, then you have now 3 Christian religions.

            1. No resurrection Christianity taught by Peter and the 12. Jesus is dead but is a really nice guy.

            2. Spiritual resurrection Christianity taught by Paul. I met Jesus on the road to Damascus and He changed my life.

            3. Physical resurrection Christianity. Still no idea where this came from.

          • Bob

            Again, this really depends on your assumptions when reading Paul.

            Either reading (and of course not limited to one or the other) is, in my opinion, consistent with the surviving evidence from this time period.

          • David Nickol

            That seems to assume a big doctrinal rift between what Peter and the twelve taught and what Paul taught. It could be. Yet how do they get together? There is no real evidence of a debate.

            Perhaps there is no "doctrinal rift" because Paul and Peter are in accord on the nature of the "resurrection." Paul never claims to have seen Jesus "in the flesh." He does not describe seeing the physical body of Jesus, with the wounds from crucifixion still visible.

            Paul's mentions of the resurrected Jesus are the earliest we have. Perhaps there was no conflict between what Paul and Peter believed, and the emphasis on the post-resurrection appearances of a very physical, flesh-and-blood Jesus are later developments in oral tradition. The scholarly consensus is that the Gospels were written later than the letters of Paul, and the Gospel of John (in which Thomas insists on seeing the wounds of Jesus) is the latest of the four Gospels, written some sixty to seventy years after the crucifixion.

            Based on centuries of speculation about bodily resurrection, it does not seem to me that today we would expect a resurrected (and "glorified") body to bear scars (not to mention open wounds) from whatever caused death.

            I am not claiming to know what happened regarding the resurrection, but it does seem perfectly possible to me that early belief that Jesus survived death in some unexplained way was expressed with more and more physical detail the farther removed in time and space the early Christians were from the event itself.

          • Mark Shea has an article on this topic if you are interested. http://www.ncregister.com/blog/mark-shea/between-the-skeptic-and-the-fundamentalist1/

            He knows a lot more than I do.

            So you think Peter and the 12 believed in a spiritual resurrection? That is based on what? Did they see a vision? All 12 of them or just Peter? That seems nice but it would motivate nobody. Jesus is still dead. They would just go back to fishing.

            Even Paul after he saw his vision of Jesus was not really that motivated. He went to Arabia for 3 years. Then he went back to Tarsus and was ready to go on with his life when Barnabas came and got him.

          • David Nickol

            The point is that we have from Paul himself a testament that he firmly believed in the resurrection, but we have no details at all about exactly what he saw (if anything) in his encounter with the risen Jesus. Does Paul believe that the others whom he says encountered the risen Jesus had the same kind of encounter he (Paul) had? We just don't know.

            We have nothing at all from Peter—only accounts about Peter. (1 and 2 Peter were not written by the Apostle Peter.)

            So the earliest written records about the resurrection are from Paul, who is not at all specific in the way later accounts are specific. Why does Paul, decades closer to the event, not speak more specifically, while John (perhaps sixty years later) gives specific details?

            One reason that has to be considered is that the stories about the resurrection became more detailed in the telling and retelling over the years. But of course that is only one possible reason.

          • Paul never really gives an historical account. He assumes the basic history of Jesus is known. He drops a few details here and there but does not try and tell a story. If this material was new to him or his audience he would have to do so. The reason is obvious. The people who were there have told the story.

            You can call it Q if you want. Basically the testimony of the apostles incorporated into the liturgy meant the whole community knew the Jesus Story. Try this

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/inebriateme/2014/09/book-review-richard-bauckham-jesus-and-the-eyewitnesses/

            John gives details that that are not just fun facts. They have sacramental significance. The blood and water from the side of Jesus. The timing of the crucifixion in relation to the passover.

          • David Nickol

            Paul never really gives an historical account. He assumes the basic history of Jesus is known.

            You assume Paul assumes. Does Paul in any of his letters indicate that he is not giving details because his intended audience already knows them?

            I don't see how there is any way to prove that Paul knew things he didn't talk about. He obviously knew about the Eucharist and about Jesus's prohibition against divorce and remarriage (to which Paul makes exceptions).

            If Paul, or the Christian communities to which he wrote, could have somehow been given all the material we know from reading the Gospels, how much would have been known to them and how much would have been new? I don't know. How much could or should Paul have known? I don't know.

  • Longinecker's article opens:

    Most Catholics and atheists agree that if God does not exist, then the material world must be a closed system.

    Today I learned that I don't agree with most Catholics or atheists. It seems possible that God does not exist and that the material world is not a closed system.

    For the rest of the article, people here already know what I think of miracles and the resurrection. Anyone who doesn't and is curious can read my blog post on the subject: https://boltzmannbraindotorg.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/probability-of-the-resurrection/

    • The trouble with the calculation is you assume it is not a miracle. Essentially you prove that the resurrection must be a supernatural event. I am not aware of anyone who denies this.

      • A thermodynamic miracle seems to be the most likely mechanism for the resurrection. Any other explanation, given my current understanding of the universe, seems even less likely. But this could of course change. For example:

        IF

        there were sufficient evidence of a supernatural being capable of performing miracles

        OR

        the evidence of the resurrection overcame the low probability of the thermodynamic miracle

        THEN

        I'd believe that Jesus resurrected.

        • OK, what is sufficient evidence of a supernatural being capable of performing miracles? That is the issue. A thermodynamic miracle seems like no miracle at all. It is just a funky natural explanation.

          • One way would be if he'd come forth and demonstrate his miracles. Or if time machines are invented and I go back in time and find the resurrected Jesus. Several other possibilities.

          • Michael Murray

            Or even a device for viewing past times. No need for the whole Tardis.

          • That's right. Someone on the blog comments makes this point. Maybe there's an alien about 2000 light years away with a very good telescope. If it were looking in the right direction, it might have good reason to believe that Jesus's body came back from the dead.

          • Michael Murray

            OK, what is sufficient evidence of a supernatural being capable of performing miracles?

            Something like what the Bible describes that a certain group of people can regularly and reliably cure disease in a totally unexplained manner. They say that it is Jesus doing it through them and science cannot explain it. I guess it could be aliens but it would be hard to refute their own explanation. But we don't see this. We just see reports that it was like this 2000 years ago.

          • What is the placebo effect? How is that different from people being healed through faith in a manner that science cannot explain? Would not any such phenomenon simply be named and described by science and declared to be one thing science does not fully understand yet?

          • Michael Murray

            Sure. But I'm thinking of a situation where only those baptised in Jesus could do the cures and only by saying the correct prayer mentioning Jesus' name.

          • That seems like a very limited view of God. He has to jump through you silly hoops or you won't believe? God is love. Love is not about pass my test or I won't love you. God has created a world full of wonders. If you are unwilling to see them then He won't force you.

          • Michael Murray

            That seems like a very limited view of God. He has to jump through you silly hoops or you won't believe?

            You asked

            OK, what is sufficient evidence of a supernatural being capable of performing miracles?

            I fail to see how asserting that sufficient of evidence of X happening would be to see X happening is being too demanding ? Is it to demanding of the police to ask that when they try someone for a crime they show evidence of a crime happening ?

            Do you really think having a loved one cured of a terminal illness or raised from the dead is a "silly hoop" ? The Bible in Acts tells us that during that time lots of miracles of exactly the kind you are dismissing as silly hoop jumping were performed. I guess God didn't mind all the demands back then.

          • "I fail to see how asserting that sufficient evidence of X happening would be to see X happening is being too demanding ?"
            That is not what you said. You said in order to believe God does miracles He has to do them in a certain way that you specify. That is like the police saying they will believe Col Mustard is a murderer if he killed in the library with the wrench. If he killed in another way then they won't believe it because any true murderer would kill in the library with the wrench.

            "I guess God didn't mind all the demands back then."

            God does miracles when and how He pleases. He chose to do many right around the time of Jesus and the apostles. This is to show that they were legit. It is not because He has more compassion on them than he does on others who suffer.

            "And a world full of suffering apparently."

            Sort of. He allowed our choices to produce a fallen world. Then He redeems that world. So what? Suffering can do great good. Jesus showed that.

            It seems like all the objections reduce to the two basics. Why suffering? Why faith? The answer to both is love. Faith leaves the choice to love God or not love God. Suffering makes the choice to love meaningful.

            Miracles are never going to remove faith. Miracles are never going to remove suffering. They can help in a limited but important way. Yet we still need love. Love in the face of doubt. Love in the face of pain. If you can't accept that then you can't accept God because God is love.

          • Michael Murray

            "I fail to see how asserting that sufficient evidence of X happening would be to see X happening is being too demanding ?"

            That is not what you said. You said in order to believe God does miracles He has to do them in a certain way that you specify.

            No you asked me what we be sufficient evidence and I gave you an example. I didn't say the only possible evidence. I didn't way that had to be done in a certain way. I didn't actually say that something less wouldn't be convincing. You asked

            OK, what is sufficient evidence of a supernatural being capable of performing miracles?

            I replied basically a supernatural being performing miracles. I am not sure quite where the surprise comes into this. You ask me what would it take to convince me you can leap tall buildings at a single bound and I'm sorry but I'm really likely ask you to leap a tall building at a single bound. Silly old me.

          • Doug Shaver

            He has to jump through you silly hoops or you won't believe?

            Nope. Whoever tells me I should believe something is the one who has to jump through the hoops before I'll believe. Since God isn't talking to me, I'm not asking him to do anything.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Why no amputees?

          • There are animals that can grow back limbs. You think if humans could do this you would believe? You would just ask for more.

          • David Nickol

            But you haven't answered the question.

            Why don't amputees miraculously grow back arms or legs? Why do there seem to be "possible miracles" and "impossible miracles"? Do Catholics ever pray that an amputee will grow back a missing limb? Suppose a soldier from a Catholic parish in the United States returned from Afghanistan because he lost his arm. Would the parish raise money to send him to Lourdes in the hope that he would miraculously grow back an arm?

            By the way, my understanding of miraculous cures (that is, cures that are affirmed as miracles for the purpose of canonizing someone who has died) is that they must be instantaneous. Certain animals do grow back lost limbs, but not instantaneously.

          • Well, there have been cases of people claiming that amputees have been healed (e.g., the miracle of Caldana). I’m not aware of anything occurring within the past few centuries, but that begs the question why there is this value on a miracle that can be physically seen. I believe this stems from a society and culture that increasingly wants before and after pictures and evidence that can scientifically prove that miracles have occurred.

            I would argue that God is more concerned with the condition of one’s spiritual body (that which cannot be seen with the naked eye) than he is with the physical body (that which can be seen with the naked eye) and the main purpose of miraculous cures is not curing the physical body but assisting the individual and potentially those around the individual in further developing their relationship with God. While one can see the effects of disease on a body, one cannot see a disease with the naked eye (generally speaking, I’m sure there are exceptions to this). Likewise, while one can sometimes see how a person’s spirituality or lack there of effects their life, we can’t see the spirit with the naked eye.

            If you’re going to go to “Why won’t God cure amputees” you should be really asking “Why won’t God give us scientific evidence that there are indeed miracles” or “Why won’t God just show himself to us?” The only skeptic whoever got physical scientific evidence of a miracle was St. Thomas (look at the above picture), and considering Jesus’ response to his doubts, I find it doubtful that such physical evidence will ever be given again.

            Concerning your comment on Lourdes:
            My assumption would be that most people are more concerned about a disease that can kill the body than amputations that deform/hinder the body. This would explain why more people would be concerned about sending someone to Lourdes who had a disease than an amputee.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I’m not aware of anything occurring within the past few centuries, but that begs the question why there is this value on a miracle that can be physically seen. I believe this stems from a society and culture that increasingly wants before and after pictures and evidence that can scientifically prove that miracles have occurred.

            I think this comes from a society that has made advancements in various sciences (including psychology), and we now see other more rational explanations for miracles. Furthermore, if we are not rationally looking at miracles, apparitions, etc, what is to stop me from claiming that Lourdes was actually the Devil trying to trick Catholics from the one true protestant faith?

            and the main purpose of miraculous cures is not curing the physical body but assisting the individual and potentially those around the individual in further developing their relationship with God.

            What do we say when a miracle that could have happened but does not, and as a result people lose their faith?

            Furthermore, if miracles are simply done for individuals, does it not follow that miracles are not an argument for the truth of Christianity?

          • "I think this comes from a society that has made advancements in various sciences (including psychology), and we now see other more rational explanations for miracles. Furthermore, if we are not rationally looking at miracles, apparitions, etc, what is to stop me from claiming that Lourdes was actually the Devil trying to trick Catholics from the one true protestant faith"

            Yes, we do want to have a degree of skepticism with miracles. The Vatican does often employ individuals who look for scientific and medical explanations to miracles.

            "What do we say when a miracle that could have happened but does not, and as a result people lose their faith?"

            A miracle is a grace from God. Generally speaking, my guess would be that the majority of individuals who witness miracles are people who if the miracle were not to happen, it would not change their faith status (i.e., whether or not the miracle happened, they would still believe in God). The miracle in other words increases the faith of the individual. It is not a crux for the faith. While this might sound harsh, I believe individuals who leave the faith because a miracle was not granted to them do not have a very solid underlying faith. Trials and tribulations come across all people, both believers and non-believers. Some people end up leaving the faith because of those trials. This is illustrated in the parable of the sower and the seeds. I would say I definitively witnessed one miracle in my life, but even if I never witnessed that miracle, I would still believe in God.

            "Furthermore, if miracles are simply done for individuals, does it not follow that miracles are not an argument for the truth of Christianity?"

            Some miracles are done for individuals and some are done for all people. The miracle of the resurrection was done for all people. I believe that the resurrection is an argument for the truth of Christianity, but the whole topic of the resurrection is probably for another thread.

          • David Nickol

            But what about this from Mark 16?

            [But] later, as the eleven were at table, he appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised. He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages.They will pick up serpents [with their hands], and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

            Catholics believe various powers were handed from Jesus to the Apostles and from the Apostles to their successors. What has happened to the powers named by Mark?

          • These things still happen.

            In my name they will drive out demons: an example would be exorcism

            They will speak new languages: Speaking in tongues is still considered a gift of the holy spirit and it continues today

            They will pick up serpents [with their hands], and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them: I honestly can't think of examples of this occurring, but on that note I'm not too sure how often people have lived a poisoning attempt and then found out later that there was in fact poison in their food/drink, but God prevented them from suffering the effects of the poison. If you survived poisoning without having any of the effects, how would you know you had been poisoned in the first place? Isn't poisoning generally something that is done in secret?

            They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover: This does happen at times (e.g., miracle with Padre Pio)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Humans have never grown back limbs. So, if there was somebody that I knew for a long time, who was missing an arm or a leg, who spontaneously grew that arm back while he was being prayed over, I'd definitely reconsider my position.

            The problem with miracles is that most of them have taken place a very long time ago, and because of that, we cannot judge them like we could a modern miracle. However, we can note that the amount of miracles has significantly dropped off, and it is fair to ask why.

            Furthermore, it seems to me that every present day miracle is either psychological or fraudulent. For instance, every so often there is usually a claim that Jesus' face is in the Eucharist. Whenever this happens, a great many Catholics will proclaim that this is a miracle, and if anyone rebuts that they do not see the face of Jesus in the bread they are told that God did not give them that grace. Is it more likely that this is a miracle, or that one person "saw" the face told others and they then looked for the face and saw something that they were looking for but was not actually there?

            Another example is prayer. Say a student is studying for an important exam and prays that they will get a good grade on the test. They receive a good grade, but chalk it up to divine providence, when the more likely explanation is that they studied. There is a confirmation bias that clouds our judgment. If someone believes that prayer is effective, they are all to willing to blame the good things that happen in their life on God. The most amazing part about this is that everyone seems to think their most trivial prayers are answered, while God seems to ignore the prayers of those suffering in the third world. Moreover, we also ignore every time God answers our prayers in the negative.

            Of course, there are still miraculous cures, which are not addressed by the above examples. Usually, whenever there is a "miraculous" cure, the person receiving the cure is also receiving modern medicine. Say there is a form of cancer that 99 out of 100 people will die from in five years, but one person out of that 100 will go into complete remission. A subset of the 1% who are cured then go on to claim that this is a miracle, while ignoring that they received medical attention and that God did not intervene for the other 99.

            Any modern miracle that is examined closely can be explained as psychological, fraudulent, or by medical science. Another good recent example is the miracle that beatified Mother Teresa. From Wikipedia:

            In 2002, the Vatican recognised as a miracle the healing of a tumor in the abdomen of an Indian woman, Monica Besra, after the application of a locket containing Mother Teresa's picture. Besra said that a beam of light emanated from the picture, curing the cancerous tumor. Critics—including some of Besra's medical staff and, initially, Besra's husband—said that conventional medical treatment had eradicated the tumor.[115] Dr. Ranjan Mustafi, who told The New York Times he had treated Besra, said that the cyst was not cancer at all but a cyst caused by tuberculosis. He said, "It was not a miracle.... She took medicines for nine months to one year."[116] According to Besra's husband, "My wife was cured by the doctors and not by any miracle."

            What do you think are the three miracles (that happened in the last 30 yrs or so) that have the most evidence for them being truly miraculous?

          • I don't agree that we can't judge miracles that took place a long time ago. Fatima and Guadeloupe both have supernatural elements that are hard to dismiss.

            The other assertions amount to proof by example. If this is true in one case it must be true for them all.

            I don't have a list of 3 killer miracles stories. This site has looked into this one

            https://strangenotions.com/the-rational-judgment-of-a-miraculous-cure/

            The truth is miracle accounts happen all the time. People seeing dead loved ones. People getting specific answers to prayer. Most people are skeptical as they should be. Yet you ask the question in a room with more than 10 people in it you will get stories. I am not talking about a student praying for an exam. I am talking about things the people involved thought were impossible and they never forgot them.

            You can simply assert all these incidents are hog wash. You need to question the credibility of some otherwise pretty credible people. It is possible but it does not seem like the theory is matching the data very well.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The other assertions amount to proof by example. If this is true in one case it must be true for them all.

            I disagree. The examples were meant to aid in the explanation. The point is that there are many supposed miracles that can be explained by psychology, confirmation bias, a medical cure, or fraud. Granted, this does not deductive imply that every miracle claim is fictitious, but if miracles are real, shouldn't it be rather easy to point to a few that would give us skeptics pause?

            Moreover, it is more reasonable to suspect that miracle claims are fictitious for the following reasons.

            Firstly, as David pointed out, there seem to be types of miracles that do not happen. Amputees, the blind, and the mentally handicapped have no recently recorded miracles.

            Secondly, the largest group of miracles (personal intercessions) can easily be explained by confirmation bias. I know many religious Catholics - I cannot count how many times someone has chalked up something to God that I would have chalked up to coincidence or given a purely materialistic explanation.

            Thirdly, we have seen multiple miracles that have resulted in the beatification or canonization of a person, which have natural explanations. Indeed, the doctors themselves thought the miracle was the result of medical care and not God. Mother Teresa is a prime example. With regard to Escriva, not a single doctor confirmed his diagnosis but himself, and he is a member of Opus Dei, which suggests he has ample reason to lie. Furthermore, the JPII abolished the devil's advocate, so these miracles that result in sainthood are not properly vetted. According to the Vatican there was supposedly 48 medical miracles that are credit to Escriva and 100,000 ordinary favors. Why weren't any of the 48 used to advance his cause, if the one that was investigated fails on multiple levels?

            Fourthly, why are there instances when a miracle would fortify someone's faith, but it does not happen?
            Fifthly, why is God so concerned with such trivial first world things, while the third world suffers?

            Yet you ask the question in a room with more than 10 people in it you will get stories. I am not talking about a student praying for an exam. I am talking about things the people involved thought were impossible and they never forgot them.

            Certainly. Some people think that a devil sat on them, but then we learned of a phenomenon called sleep paralysis. Again, all of those stories are personal and their explanations most likely resulted from confirmation bias or unknown naturalistic explanations. I'd like to hear the stories themselves though, before I make judgment on them.

            You can simply assert all these incidents are hog wash. You need to question the credibility of some otherwise pretty credible people. It is possible but it does not seem like the theory is matching the data very well.

            I find that most people who tell me miracle stories seem to be rather gullible. Especially the ones who deny naturalistic explanations.

          • "Firstly, as David pointed out, there seem to be types of miracles that do not happen. "
            So we don't just need miracles. We need every possible kind of miracle?

            "Secondly, the largest group of miracles (personal intercessions) can easily be explained by confirmation bias."

            So any time someone asks for something and it happens that does not count as a miracle? Just say the words "confirmation bias" and you can ignore the data?

            Confirmation bias is real. It just is not a license to ignore data you don't like.

            "Thirdly, we have seen multiple miracles that have resulted in the beatification or canonization of a person, which have natural explanations."

            Some atheist website says they have natural explanations. I tend to be more skeptical than you. For example, assuming someone is lying because he is a member of Opus Dei. I know many member of Opus Dei. They are very honest people.

            "Fourthly, why are there instances when a miracle would fortify someone's faith, but it does not happen?"

            Now we need every possible miracle that you think might be nice should happen.

            "Fifthly, why is God so concerned with such trivial first world things, while the third world suffers?"

            God does miracles everywhere. We do tend to need them more. People who are suffering tend to have stronger faith. Still it seems like God can't win. He does miracles and they are not frequent enough or not involving needy enough people. Or maybe they were answers to prayer do they don't count.

            Miracles don't really tell us that much about God. They tell us more about atheist materialism. That is that it is false. God could heal a Muslim person and it does not prove Catholicism wrong. It does prove materialism wrong. It means there is something out there. Now if a cluster of miracles happens around a person such as Jesus or Mary then maybe we can say something more. That really means looking at hundreds of miracles and finding patterns. Even then it is weaker.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            So we don't just need miracles. We need every possible kind of miracle?

            No, but it is interesting to note that there aren't any miracles that are truly impossible without divine intervention, and that most miracles are what could be described as day-to-day favors from God, which is very subjective.

            So any time someone asks for something and it happens that does not count as a miracle? Just say the words "confirmation bias" and you can ignore the data?

            Yes, because there are just as many times (probably more) that what somebody asks for does not happen. Furthermore, I prayed for X and X happened does not count as a miracle.

            Some atheist website says they have natural explanations. I tend to be more skeptical than you. For example, assuming someone is lying because he is a member of Opus Dei. I know many member of Opus Dei. They are very honest people.</blockquote.

            I'm confused how you get to claim to be the more skeptical one. The Catholic Church abolished the office of devil's advocate in the canonization process. In the case of Mother Teresa, the person's doctors all claimed that her healing was the result of the medicine. In the case of Escriva, there is not a single outside medical source confirming the diagnosis or confirming the cure. I did not assume that someone was lying because they were a member of Opus Dei; I assumed Dr. Nevado was lying, because he has not corroborating evidence for his story and he has reason to lie because he is a member of Opus Dei.

            Now we need every possible miracle that you think might be nice should happen.

            That's a straw man. My point is that why doesn't God, who is all powerful and all-loving and all-good, fail to act to help the spiritual well-being of people who have a crisis of faith? This isn't a "Oh God, I would really like a raise, so I can afford a new house." I do think if an all-everything God exists, he would necessarily comfort people in their darkest times. However, the fact that he does not is only more evidence that he does not exist.

            God does miracles everywhere. We do tend to need them more. People who are suffering tend to have stronger faith. Still it seems like God can't win. He does miracles and they are not frequent enough or not involving needy enough people. Or maybe they were answers to prayer do they don't count.

            We need trivial miracles like getting a better job? Meanwhile God does nothing to help the mentally ill, the mentally handicapped, or the starving? No manna from heaven for starving children? It is part of the problem of evil.

            Miracles don't really tell us that much about God. They tell us more about atheist materialism. That is that it is false.

            First you would have to demonstrate that a miracle actually occurred. Naturalistic explanations explain quite well every miracle that we have come across.

          • Doug Shaver

            You need to question the credibility of some otherwise pretty credible people.

            So far, I have never needed to question the credibility of any purported witness to a miracle. I've only needed to question the judgment of people who say those witnesses are credible.

          • So what is the difference? You say those who judge the witnesses credible are making a mistake. How is that different from saying the witnesses lack credibility? What about this guy?

            http://www.scifiwright.com/2011/09/a-question-i-never-tire-of-answering/

            Do you question his credibility?

          • Doug Shaver

            You say those who judge the witnesses credible are making a mistake.

            That is not what I said.

            How is that different from saying the witnesses lack credibility?

            I cannot judge any person's credibility without some reliable knowledge about that person. If Bob tells me that John testified to such-and-such, and if I know nothing about John except what Bob tells me, then I cannot assign any greater credibility to John's testimony than I can assign to what Bob tells me about John, and how much I trust Bob's testimony will depend on what I know about Bob.

            What about this guy?

            http://www.scifiwright.com/201...

            Do you question his credibility?

            Why shouldn't I? He was converted by a near-death experience. No one has ever explained to me why I should believe that our brains function better when they are dying than they do at any other time.

          • "That is not what I said."

            Word games. Questioning their judgement is not another way of saying they are wrong in the way they are judging the evidence? If fact, it is not the process you dislike at all. It is the conclusion. If they were accepting the testimony of a victim of priestly sexual abuse would you demand they be just as skeptical?

            "I cannot judge any person's credibility without some reliable knowledge about that person."

            Your opinion of Bob matters. Still what would your opinion of Bob be without this? Is he like one of those sailors who was deemed crazy simply because they claimed to see Iceland and giant squids and the like?

            "Why shouldn't I? He was converted by a near-death experience."

            Is he lying? Is he telling the truth and drawing bad conclusions from the data? Is it all a coincidence? You have to do something with his story.

            "No one has ever explained to me why I should believe that our brains function better when they are dying than they do at any other time."

            Deadlines make deals. There is no rational reason why people sign deals just before a deadline when the same deal was available months earlier. Yet it is common. When this might be the last day you get to respond to God then you have to decide if this is your final answer.

            Yet in John's case it was not just being near death. It was a series of events he could only understand as supernatural right after he had prayed in a way that would explain these events.

          • Doug Shaver

            Questioning their judgement is not another way of saying they are wrong in the way they are judging the evidence?

            No, it's not. When I ask "Why should I believe that person?" I am not assuming that I know the answer.

            If they were accepting the testimony of a victim of priestly sexual abuse would you demand they be just as skeptical?

            I most certainly would. I have never for a moment thought that all those stories about pedophiliac priests were true. I believe in the presumption of innocence no matter who is being accused.

            Your opinion of Bob matters.

            That was my point. If I know nothing about John, then my opinion of Bob is all that can matter, because I cannot have any opinion about John.

            Is he like one of those sailors who was deemed crazy simply because they claimed to see Iceland and giant squids and the like?

            I don't call a person crazy just because they say they saw something that I don't think really exists.

            It was a series of events he could only understand as supernatural right after he had prayed in a way that would explain these events.

            I have no obligation to understand anything the same way John Wright understands it.

            Deadlines make deals.

            Nobody makes deals when they're unconscious. If he says he was conscious at a time when doctors said he wasn't, I'm going with the doctors.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            Correct. Many amphibians can regrow lost limbs. God unaccountably chose to withhold this ability from his highest and best creation.

  • David Nickol

    Suppose Yahoo News publishes a story about a religious leader (but not a Christian one) who was executed a year ago, and now a band of his followers claim he rose from the dead, stayed with them for a number of weeks, and then arose into heaven. They agree answer any questions the media has and provide any evidence they are asked for. What should the media demand? What would constitute proof positive that a year ago, someone died, remained dead for three days, and rose from the dead?

    • I'd want them to simply interview the religious leader, to start.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I would first discern who the true leaders of the sect were (not necessarily those with the official titles, but it could be). I would then ask those leaders about the nature of truth and beauty and human flourishing. If they had a bizarre unparalleled capacity to say things that I perceived to be true, and were even able to conform their lives to that truth, I would be willing to believe that the group was in some way in continuity with the truth itself. If they told me they came into contact with the truth via a miracle, I would believe in the miracle.

      If, on the other hand, I did not meet any saints from this group and did not perceive any wisdom to be coming from the group, I would conclude that the miracle was bogus. For this reason, I completely understand when sincere people who have never been touched by the saints of the Church conclude that the miracle claim is bogus.

      Saint Paul saw this. He never said things like "... oh, and don't forget to tell them about the empty tomb! ". He said, basically: "I have learned to be a saint. I have learned to let Christ live in me. So imitate me and you will be imitating Christ. Be saints." That is how the teaching is passed on, not by proving miracles via historical analysis.

      • mriehm

        Every religion claims miraculous intervention in its adherents' lives by its own particular brand of supernaturalism. Generally, every religion rejects the supernaturalism of all other religions, while vigourously defending its own.

        As an outsider to all religions, I see no reason to prefer the superstitions of one over the others. All tell me to open up my heart, and then I will perceive the truth.

        I have never had a religious or supernatural experience, despite having at times yearned for one. I do not accept the premise that I must first believe, in order that I can then experience. I interpret that as, "Drop your rational defenses and learn to believe, and then you will see the truth in your belief". I believe that I could become a believer in any religion through this process. Therefore I conclude that they all must be equally baseless.

        I will believe only after I rationally experience the supernatural. Not before.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          I do not reject, at least not out of hand, miraculous occurrences that other traditions maintain have occurred. The RCC does not reject them either. Miracles are not the unique province of the RCC.

          You can find saints in a lot of traditions. I'm not telling you where to find them. Just, when you find them, ask about the stories that shaped them, that is all.

  • mriehm

    The choice is not one between a miracle and a lie. Imagine this scenario: a charismatic, influential man is killed and buried. A day or two later, those who loved him visit his grave, and find it open, and the body is gone. Unable to accept his death, they reach an explanation of resurrection to explain the circumstances.

    To paint it as a black-and-white choice between a miracle and a lie is facile, and doing so renders this argument baseless.

    • Michael Murray

      Having been here for a year I have learnt that the "false dichotomy" is many apologists first weapon of choice !

      • David Nickol

        Having been here for a year I have learnt that the "false dichotomy" is many apologists first weapon of choice !

        I think it includes but goes beyond "false dichotomy." I think it is something like, "I dare you to smear Christianity by disagreeing with me and saying it was started by a pack of liars!"

    • Maxximiliann

      Your analogy is incomplete for accepting the resurrection of Jesus supposed a belief in something radically contrary to their Jewish beliefs, namely, that the Messiah had been executed by his enemies and raised by God from the dead.

  • Jeff Weber

    To me the definition of miracle is you just don't understand all of what is happening. Most Christians look at the resurrection as the greatest of miracles but let's look at it from a modern perspective. In the late 1800s and early 1900s there were many patents issued for coffins a person could escape from. Why would such a thing be necessary? Because sometimes people would be very close to death but still alive. Even today will all our advanced technology, at least once a year a story comes out about someone one being declared dead and start moving in the morgue. No one starts worshiping these people as gods or thinks it was a miracle.
    People in the Bible (and the ancient world as well) were in awe with flying. People were picked up by flying chariots and Christ ascended into the sky ect. Today millions fly and even travel into space and no one thinks twice about it.
    We also heal the sick, stop plagues open people up to repair damage (sometimes even if they are still in the womb) replace missing body parts, make the blind see, the deaf hear and those in wheelchairs walk.
    In the end, I think the folks in the Bible (and other religious books) were stretching their imaginations for things man couldn't do and saying their gods could. We just live in a era where man can do those things.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    The word "interruption" connotes a sort of confrontational and almost violent contrast to what is otherwise going on.

    I think that connotation is unbiblical, at least with respect to the resurrection. The resurrection is completely surprising and disorienting, but it is SOOO subtle. By the gospels' own accounts, some of those who witnessed the resurrection still did not believe. On the road to Emmaus, the two disciples didn't even recognize Jesus. Even the eating of the fish is absent of any pyrotechnic language - it is the most hum-drum affair, with no angels singing. This is so beautifully illustrated in the Caravaggio that accompanies the post : it is simple, innocent, quiet, but still wondrous, like a kid showing his friends his boo-boo, and the friends are saying, "WOW ...". Wondrous, yet so familiar.

    I believe so firmly that we need a different way of talking about miracles. Not only would it be more biblical (in my opinion), it would also be more accessible to people who quite rightly have a natural reverence for the natural order.

  • IGWT

    The martyring of early believers, and the rapid rise and spread of early Christianity would not have happened if based on lies or false pretenses. If fabricated or if not a miracle, the belief in the resurrection would have been snuffed out shortly after the moment of its conception. I don't think 1st century souls were as credulous as modern enlightened minds would like to believe. The evidence is abound in Christianity's manifestation & propagation throughout history.

    • Doug Shaver

      The martyring of early believers, and the rapid rise and spread of early Christianity would not have happened if based on lies or false pretenses.

      I have no better reason to think early Christians were martyred, or that Christianity originally rose and spread rapidly, than I have for believing in an actual resurrection. The only evidence I have for any of it is orthodox Christian dogma.

  • Doug Shaver

    In other words, if someone believes a miracle has taken place he is either lying himself or has been lied to.

    I don't believe Hume meant to say that, and if he did mean it, then I disagree with him. People routinely believe that things have happened when they didn't actually happen. In this respect, there is nothing unique about miracles. I see no need to assume that every false belief that people hold originated as a lie. I think ordinary human error is quite sufficient to explain most of them, not excepting stories about miracles.

    • a_theist

      People routinely believe that things have happened when they didn't actually happen True, but would it have been any less of a 'miracle' if all those who were "witnesses" to, for example, the resurrection had, at each reported event, shared the same neurological delusion?

      • Doug Shaver

        I assume you had a reason for putting those scare quotes around witnesses?

        When you show me some actual witnesses, then we can discuss the credibility of any explanation I might offer to justify my belief that they were mistaken about what they claim to have seen. At this point, I have no good reason to believe that we have any actual testimony from any actual witnesses to any resurrection.

        • a_theist

          "I assume you had a reason for putting those scare quotes around witnesses?" yes, and I did so for the obvious reason.
          However, within the context of my original comment, we have the evidence of two claims to test, yours being, I assume, that the original claim was faslified. Is there evidence of this conspiracy?

          • Doug Shaver

            However, within the context of my original comment, we have the evidence of two claims to test, yours being, I assume, that the original claim was faslified.

            Why do you assume that? I certainly didn't say it, and I don't believe I've said anything to imply it.

  • In my reading of it, Fr. Dwight’s argument identifies human historical testimony as the foundation for faith in Jesus Christ. The argument of St. Thomas, the apostle, is that the foundation of faith cannot be human testimony, but must be an immediate encounter with the person of Jesus. It is then faith in Jesus, which truly authenticates the pertinent human historical testimony.

    My immediate encounter with the Catholic Church is my immediate encounter with the person of Jesus. His divine personhood is evident, among other ways, in the intellectual brilliance of Catholic teaching, including the Trinity, the Incarnation, the sacrifice of the Mass for the forgiveness of sin, transubstantiation and the resurrection of Jesus. I am particularly astounded with the brilliance of the Church’s identification of the essence of God: ‘Before Abraham came to be, I Am’.

  • David Nickol

    Here's a question. If the truth of the resurrection was so evident in the decades after the crucifixion, why did it take a miracle on the road to Damascus to convert Paul from an opponent of Christianity to one of its most enthusiastic promoters? Paul, as a persecutor of Christianity, presumably knew their reasons for believing. Why didn't they convince him?

    • a_theist

      Good question.
      He had the same information and perspective as the Sanhedrin and Herod's court that convicted Jesus.
      So the question becomes why did they (and Paul) not reverse their views after the crucifixion? Perhaps like Hume they wanted proof absolute that they had got it wrong ... personal accounts were not enough. There is no record of them presenting any evidience (e.g. the body or the guards at the tomb or the rest of the family of the road to Emmaus pair etc ..).

      Paul however did get, what was to him, proof absolute.

    • Faith in Jesus Christ cannot be based on the testimony of others, but must be based on an immediate encounter with him. Saul knew he was persecuting ‘The Way’, i.e. the Church. Jesus identified himself as the Church. After replying, “Who are you, sir?” to the query, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul heard, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Unlike Saul, most of us are spared a dramatic encounter with Jesus. Fortunately for us, our immediate encounter with Jesus, The Way, is so subtle as to appear to be mundane. Blaise Pascal noted, “Just as Jesus Christ went unrecognized among men, so does his truth appear without external difference among common modes of thought. So too the Eucharist remains among common bread.”

      • David Nickol

        Fortunately for us, our immediate encounter with Jesus, The Way, is so subtle as to appear to be mundane.

        Your response is so "mystical" that I am afraid I am not sure it actually means anything. Perhaps it makes sense to you, but it doesn't make sense to me.

        Unlike Saul, most of us are spared a dramatic encounter with Jesus.

        Why do you say "spared"? If Jesus is ultimate truth, and some of us need sense knocked into our heads, then I don't see why we would want to be "spared" a dramatic encounter. Is the suggestion that Paul was somehow unfortunate?

        Faith in Jesus Christ cannot be based on the testimony of others, but must be based on an immediate encounter with him.

        I don't understand this at all. A great deal of the message of Strange Notions is that we should rely on "the testimony of others." The very article we are discussing is urging atheists to believe in the resurrection based on the testimony of others. The whole idea of spreading the "good news" (Gospel) is to give witness (or testimony) to events that, according to the scholarly consensus, none of the evangelists ever witnessed in person.

        Finally, it seems to me that when Paul had his experience on the road to Damascus, the (Christian) Church did not yet exist. The followers of Jesus were Jews who still practiced Judaism. The struggle to create "Christianity" as a Gentile "church" was only just beginning, and the Jewish people, whom Jesus had come to call, were eventually excluded from Christianity.

        • Thank you for your excellent and knowledgeable reply. In my judgment, for a miracle to be the foundation of an individual’s faith, it must be experienced by that individual. In assenting to the faith, one concomitantly assents to certain historical miracles without those historical miracles being the foundation of his faith. Just like you, it is my interpretation that Fr. Dwight is arguing that the resurrection can be recognized as a miracle in the context of history, thereby eliciting faith in those who did not witness the resurrection. I am not convinced.

          Apparently, Saul had to have sense knocked into his head with a mystical experience. I consider myself fortunate never to have had any experience even remotely like that. Just as it is natural for us not to want to die, it is natural for us not to desire a mystical experience. Wouldn’t the desire for mystical experience be a tendency toward Gnosticism, an early heresy that there was an elite inner circle, really in the know?

          The miracle, which is the foundation of my faith, is the Catholic Church, most particularly in the intellectual brilliance of its teaching. Of course, the faith must be communicated to me in my initial ignorance of it by the testimony of its members. No human could construct such a self-consistent faith, which is consistent with what we know without faith. Astonishingly, and I say pleasantly as well, the Catholic Faith is ‘without external difference among common modes of thought’ even to those who recognize it as the revelation of God.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Hi Bob,

            Your comments in this thread are so insightful, and a delight to read, but I do not think you are reading mystical experiences the right way if you think they are a thing to be shunned. The desire to "own" mystical experiences, to say, "I understand what just happened, and that puts me in charge" (that is how I read the heresy of Gnosticism), that is a thing to be shunned. But there is nothing wrong with seeking those moments, as long as you let the moment own you.

            I think maybe what you are getting in with Saul is that you are relieved not to receive the same calling from God. It is the natural apprehension that we would associate with any great calling. If my team elects me captain, I do not want it. It seems like too great a responsibility. It is very hard work. It is not a thing to be shunned, but it is something one is naturally anxious about.

            --Jim

          • Mary J. Nelson

            Might also mention that the consequences of rejecting an unambiguous non-subtle manifestation of God would be greater than rejecting a the subtle workings of intellect and spirit. (For example, look at the stories of the fall of the angels and of Adam....). Repentance would be harder (if not impossible).

      • Doug Shaver

        Fortunately for us, our immediate encounter with Jesus, The Way, is so subtle as to appear to be mundane.

        How is that fortunate? If I've had an encounter with Jesus, it was so subtle that it appears nonexistent, not mundane.

        • The immediate and direct object of human experience and
          knowledge is material reality. I don’t want it to be otherwise. I hope that is natural and not cowardly.

          In their natures, material things are fully explicable, except for their existence. There must be a being whose nature is its existence, thereby explaining existence.

          I am extremely pleased that the Eucharist appears to be so mundane as to be indistinguishable from common bread. However, if I were unaware that material things do not explain their existence, I would fully agree with you. There can be no overt or subtle encounter with the non-existent.

  • a_theist

    I have a problem with this post in so much as it takes too narrow a view of what Hume is doing and falls into the very trap Hume constructed.

    The comment often attributed to Carl Sagan that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence is in effect a restatement of Hume’s argument. Both argue that the claim cannot be believed on the basis of evidence that would otherwise be accepted.

    Consider the resurrection. Either it happened or not.
    If it happened either there is sufficient evidence or there is not. The existence of the evidence does not contribute to the claim being true; if it happened, it just can’t be proven. So as intended by Hume and Sagan, Christians are trapped into an argument on the merits of the evidence and having to meet an insurmountable but arbitrary standard for that evidence. The result, if they stays within Hume's rules, is the Christian loses; not due to a lack of evidence, but because they chose to play in a game structured for them to lose.

    However, in reality Sagan and Hume are not actually arguing about the evidence. Rather using their ruling of the evidence as being inadequate as evidence for their primary argument that the claimed event did not occur. Sceptics should have spotted this already.

    The counter claim is that the event did not happen. If it did not happen, but the claim has been made that it did then either the claimants believe it happened or they know it did not and have made it all up. The atheist argument is that the event did not occur – not that it did occur but there is insufficient evidence rather that it did not occur, period – so the claimants must have fabricated their claim.

    If the claim is false then, in the example of the resurrection, a fairly large group of people acted in unison, in full view of the public to falsely proclaim (1) that the tomb was empty; (2) that the risen Christ appeared to them.

    In support of the claim of a conspiracy we need to see evidence. Realistically we would expect there to be at least as much evidence for the conspiracy as for the original claim.

    Should sceptics expect that evidence to be extraordinary, what would we accept? But we see no actual evidence for the conspiracy claim. Josephus for example did not record a controversy over the tomb being empty or suggest that the followers of Jesus falsely and contrary to evidence proclaimed a risen Lord.

    As with many atheist arguments, Sagan, Hume et al create a proposition and then use it confine the argument to one they can win. Sceptics see the sleight of hand.

    This is a contest between the evidence for conflicting claims. Only the myopic see it as an analysis of the evidence of one side of the argument.

    • Doug Shaver

      So as intended by Hume and Sagan, Christians are trapped into an argument on the merits of the evidence and having to meet an insurmountable but arbitrary standard for that evidence.

      I don't agree that the standard is arbitrary. For all of us, there are some things we will not believe just on someone's say-so, no matter who that someone is. We may differ on which sorts of things we put into that category, but every one of us has such a category.

  • Peter

    "In fact, if there is no God, then the physical world must work according to the laws of nature and nothing else."

    Even if miracles did not exist, the workings of the law of nature themselves point inexorably towards God. This is Church doctrine, where God as Creator is known with certainty through his works by human reason. There is and can never be any such thing as a self-reliant universe.

    Even if the universe self-creates, as some models suggest, this is just physical self-creation which relies on some blueprint to determine how it does so. An agency external to the universe must be responsible for this blueprint and that agency is God the Creator.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      If God can be known through the universe, I am not sure if that paints a very nice picture of God. I am unconvinced that the universe possesses more order than chaos or good than evil.

  • "Make no mistake: if he rose at all
    It was as His body;
    If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
    The amino acids rekindle,
    The Church will fall...

    ...Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
    For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
    Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
    By the miracle,
    And crushed by remonstrance."

    From "Seven Stanzas at Easter," by John Updike

  • If there is a force outside the system that interrupts the ordinary working of nature, yes, it would not be a closed system. But this in no way defeats naturalism. It just shows that what you thought was a closed system was not. It calls into question whether what you previously thought were immutable laws of nature really are immutable. Or whether there are "laws" at all.

    To me the cosmos is. Nature is all existence and phenomena no matter how defined. Material is what we observe directly and indirectly.

    This immaterial realm or mind that affects this world is never observed or demonstrated to exist. But if it did, I certainly would not deny it. But I am sorry a two thousand year old account of someone's vision is not evidence of a miracle.

  • Jesus' resurrection after his death is the ultimate and defining proof of Jesus' divinity. Just about everyone knows the story, which is summarized in the Apostles' Creed. Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

    There is only one way for Jesus to prove that he rose from the dead. He had to appear to people. Therefore, several different places in the Bible describe Jesus' appearances after his death:

    •Matthew chapter 28
    •Mark chapter 16
    •Luke chapter 24
    •John Chapter 20 and 21

    1 Corinthians 15:3-6 provides a nice summary of those passages, as written by Paul:

    For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. As you can see in this passage, Jesus appeared to hundreds of people a number of different times.

    Being like Paul: When we look at these Bible passages, there is a question that comes to mind -- why did Jesus stop making these appearances? Why isn't Jesus appearing today? It really is odd. Obviously Paul benefitted from a personal meeting with the resurrected Christ. Because of the personal visit, Paul could see for himself the truth of the resurrection, and he could ask Jesus questions. So... Why doesn't Jesus appear to everyone and prove that he is resurrected, just like he appeared to Paul? There is nothing to stop Jesus from materializing in your kitchen tonight to have a personal chat with you. And if you think about it, Jesus really does need to appear to each of us. If Paul needed a personal visit from Jesus to know that Jesus was resurrected, then why wouldn't you? It is an important question for the following reasons:

    •We are told by the Bible that Jesus appeared to hundreds of people.

    •We therefore know that it is OK for Jesus to appear to people -- it does not take away their free will, for example.

    •We know that it would be easy for Jesus to appear to everyone all through history, since Jesus is all-powerful and timeless.

    •We know that, if Jesus did reappear to everyone, it would be incredibly helpful. We could all know, personally, that Jesus is resurrected and that Jesus is God. If Paul (and all the other people in the Bible) needed a personal visit to know that Jesus was resurrected, then why not you and me?

    •Yet, we all know that Jesus has not appeared to anyone in 2,000 years.

    THINK folks! Which is more likely: A dead man walked out of his grave 2,000 years ago, ate a broiled fish lunch with his fishing buddies and then 40 days later levitated into outer space, or, this entire story of a Resurrection is a legend: a legend based on false sightings and/or visions and hallucinations, of well-intentioned but uneducated, illiterate, hope-shattered, superstitious Galilean peasants, desperately trying to keep alive their only source of hope in their miserable, first century existence?

    • Doug Shaver

      THINK folks!

      I have issues with the way believers think, but I never accuse them of just not thinking.

  • "In other words, if someone believes a miracle has taken place he is either lying himself or has been lied to. If the claimed miracle is greater than the possibility of a person being deceived or deceiving, then that claimed miracle must be rejected. Hume’s argument seems watertight because it is based on the assumption that the physical world is watertight. His conclusion rests on his first premise that the physical world is a closed system. What Hume is really saying is that miracles are impossible because miracles are impossible."

    This is a flagrant misrepresentation. Hume didn't say "lied" but deceived, which is far more broad-it could mean an honest mistake, or hallucination. Plus, not that it's certain, just more probable. Where exactly does Hume ever say that the world is "watertight"? Hume didn't even believe that causation can be proven. That doesn't really scream "watertight". To me this seems like he's arguing from something that both believers and skeptics agree with-that miracles are unusual at best. As for your proof of the resurrection, it's really a perfect example-there is only Paul's word to go by. We don't actually have the testimony of the other eyewitnesses he claims. Thus it's actually just his word you have to weigh.

  • Doug Shaver

    Who of the eyewitnesses to the death of Jesus and the alleged events after his death were still alive in 70 AD?

    There could have been quite a few, for all I know. I have no problem with the mere possibility of the gospels' containing some eyewitness testimony. The bigger question for me is: Why (aside from the church's say-so) should I believe that any of the gospel authors actually talked with anybody who could have been an eyewitness?