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The Bible and the Question of Miracles: Towards a Christian Response

Ehrman

My previous post at Strange Notions underscored the often-unacknowledged philosophical premises at work when believers and non-believers sit down to debate about things biblical. In the course of my argument, I pointed to a possible area of common ground for Catholics and agnostics/atheists. A survey of statements by thinkers as different as Benedict XVI and Bart Ehrman reveals an important agreement upon the reality that everyone carries their own philosophical presuppositions and that a purely objective consideration of Jesus’ miracles is therefore impossible. Today I would like to carry forward this discussion. By way of doing this, I will first briefly summarize Bart Ehrman’s position on Jesus’ divinity and resurrection. Then I will critique what I consider to be an insufficient (but very common) Christian response to the skeptic’s position. Finally, I will dwell upon a couple keys given by C.S. Lewis and Pope Benedict XVI which point out from a Christian perspective the direction a philosophical dialogue about miracles needs to head.

Ehrman on Jesus’ Divinity and the Failure of the “Trilemma” Argument

Ehrman’s position concerning the divinity of Christ can be quickly grasped from his evaluation of C.S. Lewis’ famous “trilemma” argument. According to Lewis, Jesus’ lordship can be shown by reducing to the absurd the possibility that he was either a liar or a lunatic. But in Jesus Interrupted, Ehrman reveals a problem with Lewis’ logic:

"I had come to see that the very premise of Lewis’s argument was flawed. The argument based on Jesus as liar, lunatic, or Lord was predicated on the assumption that Jesus had called himself God…I had come to realize that none of our earliest traditions indicates that Jesus said any such thing about himself…not three options but four: liar, lunatic, Lord, or legend."

At the risk of oversimplifying Ehrman’s more lengthy narrative, his position is that Jesus’ disciples began to profess his divinity only after they experienced him as risen from the dead. According to Ehrman’s analysis of the data in How Jesus Became God, the earliest Christian sources (Paul and Mark) do not portray Jesus as divine but rather as an exalted human or an angel. While Jesus certainly existed as a historical person, for Ehrman he is nevertheless a “legend” in that he was not divine as Christians subsequently came to believe.

Ehrman on Jesus’ Resurrection

One of the interesting features of Ehrman’s work is that he affirms at least some direct followers of Jesus sincerely believed their master had been raised from the dead. He suggests that “three or four people—though possibly more—had visions of Jesus sometime after he died.” Ehrman states that the question of whether these putative experiences were veridical (i.e. whether Jesus was really there or whether they were hallucinatory bereavement visions) is beside his point. Rather, the claim he puts forth is the following:

"[A]nyone who was an apocalyptic Jew like Jesus’s closest follower Peter, or Jesus’s own brother James, or his later apostle Paul, who thought that Jesus had come back to life, would naturally interpret it in light of his particular apocalyptic worldview— a worldview that informed everything that he thought about God, humans, the world, the future, and the afterlife. In that view, a person who was alive after having died would have been bodily raised from the dead, by God himself, so as to enter into the coming kingdom."

In Ehrman’s view, then, it was the disciples’ own apocalyptic worldview (informed by Jesus’ teachings while he was alive) that led them to think of their visions of the crucified Jesus in terms of resurrection.

An Insufficient Christian Response

While the constraints of this post do not permit me to elaborate further on Ehrman’s arguments, it should be noted that they are formidable and cannot simply be written off without a robust response. For instance, I do not find satisfactory the response to this “quadrilemma” (Jesus is either a liar, lunatic, lord, or legend) in Kreeft and Tacelli’s Handbook of Christian Apologetics. With due respect to these thinkers whom I deeply admire (and who have likely provided more solid arguments in other texts outside of the present one), I think their response to the “legend” issue unfortunately evinces a rather common but simplistic understanding of the biblical evidence. The authors state that our extant biblical manuscripts contain “very few discrepancies and no really important ones,” but I think Ehrman’s books Misquoting Jesus, How Jesus Became God, and Jesus, Interrupted sufficiently disabuse one of the notion that the Gospels only differ in accidentals such as order and number. And Ehrman is by no means the only author who writes about this sort of thing; he is popularizing information that biblical scholars already know.

Moreover,Kreeft and Tacelli argue, “If a mythic ‘layer’ had been added later to an originally merely human Jesus, we should find some evidence, at least indirectly and secondhand, of this earlier layer.” Here I think the authors have an unduly narrow view of “myth,” and moreover I think they fail to anticipate the obvious response of a bible scholar like Ehrman. What might he say? The evidence for this earlier, non-mythical layer is right there in front of us: it is the Gospel of Mark, whom scholars by and large recognize to be the first gospel composed.

Finally, the authors of the Handbook ask who possibly could have invented such a myth about Jesus. I think they are on to something in remarking, “No one invents an elaborate practical joke in order to be crucified, stoned, or beheaded.” Ehrman agrees to some extent with this insofar as he does not seem to think that the disciples maliciously invented the myth of a divine Jesus. (Remember, in Ehrman’s view at least some of the disciples really thought they saw Jesus alive after his death, and it is this that eventually led them to conclude he was divine). The authors fail to envision this sort of counter-argument when they claim, “Whether it was his first disciples or some later generation, no possible motive can account for this invention.” It is indeed difficult for a Christian to imagine someone inventing the notion that Jesus was divine, but is it fair to say that “no possible motive” could account for this? Couldn’t the disciples themselves have been delusional, as Ehrman seems to suggest? Or couldn’t they have been using the “risen” Jesus as a power play for their own (ultimately unsuccessful) personal ambitions? Now as a believer I am certainly not saying that this is what actually happened, but one cannot properly call it an impossible scenario.

Where the Discussion Ought to Head: C.S. Lewis on Miracles

While C.S. Lewis may not have hit a home run with his “trilemma” argument in defense of Christ’s divinity, I think that his book Miracles is invaluable for those who wish to profess the divinity of Jesus in the face of modern biblical criticism. Lewis begins by arguing along the same lines of Benedict XVI and Ehrman as discussed in my previous post. He correctly observes that the real issue at hand is a philosophical one: “The difficulties of the unbeliever do not begin with questions about this or that particular miracle; they begin much further back.” For Lewis the miracles question boils down to whether or not the natural world we know is the only reality that exists. Looked at from another angle, this is the same as asking whether or not the supernatural or divine exists. A negative answer to the question of the divine’s existence necessarily entails the conclusion that purported miracles such as Christ’s resurrection cannot be true.

A positive answer, on the other hand, means the following for Lewis: “If we decide that Nature is not the only thing that is, then we cannot say in advance whether she is safe from miracles or not.” In other words, if there exists a Being which/who is not limited by the confines of the natural world but is rather the very ground of this world, then we can never conclusively deny that this Being sometimes acts in a way other than that which we tend to expect based on our observations of nature. Lewis thus proposes that within the universe “there are rules behind the rules, and a unity which is deeper than uniformity.” While Christians often speak of miracles as divine “interventions,” this unfortunately appears to presuppose that God is somehow “absent” from his creation and then “intrudes” upon it to perform a miracle. But in truth, if God exists he is always present to his creation. For Lewis, then, the miracles we take to be “interruptions” of nature’s history are in reality “expressions of the truest and deepest unity in [God’s] total work.”

Even if we personally are not conscious of having experienced the miraculous, Lewis reminds us not to discount the fact that our world is full of stories of people who claim to have experienced miracles. Moreover, even if we were to live an entire millennium our experience would not necessarily inform us whether a given miracle happened. Indeed, Lewis and Ehrman both acknowledge that miracles are by definition improbable. It is always more likely that the witnesses to the alleged miracle are lying or deluded than that the miracle actually occurred. And yet, even as we know fraudulent cases exist, these by no means discredit all such claims regarding the miraculous. On this score I myself tend to be very skeptical when people talk of miraculous healings on the one hand or demonic possessions on the other. But then every once in a while I hear an account of some such phenomenon directly experienced by someone I trust and know not to be psychologically imbalanced. These are the moments that make me reconsider the possibility that maybe such things happen after all even if I (thankfully, in the case of possessions) have never directly experienced them.

At the end of the day, Lewis is right: I would be arguing in a circle if I were to conclude that miracles have not occurred merely because I have not experienced them. The bottom line for Lewis is that our experience cannot prove nature is closed, i.e. that it never admits of what from our point of view might look like “interruptions.” To be sure, living sanely in the world requires that we assume the laws of nature continue operating as we have always experienced them (We should not jump out of a boat expecting the gravity to be suspended before we sink into the sea). In fact, Lewis argues that the existence of miracles presupposes that nature is governed by laws. But this does not mean that walking on water is per se impossible. The impossibility of miracles is not something that can be proved, only assumed.

Benedict XVI and the Question of an “Open Philosophy”

I would like to conclude this post by returning to my point of departure in the previous one. In his 1988 Erasmus Lecture, the future Pope Benedict XVI poignantly wrote that “the debate about modern exegesis is not a dispute among historians: it is rather a philosophical debate.” In the course of his lecture, Benedict called for a “criticism of the criticism,” a self-critique of the modern, historical-critical method of biblical interpretation. In the course of these two posts I have attempted to carry forward this critique in one small way, identifying the presence of philosophical presuppositions we bring to our reading of the biblical text and underscoring that believing miracles to be impossible is something people can only assume, not prove.

As one who daily engages in the craft of historical-critical exegesis, I find Benedict’s comments on this subject refreshing and liberating. In contrast with a naturalist, “ready-made philosophy” that precludes the possibility of miracles, the Christian approaches the Bible with an “open philosophy” that refuses to exclude the possibility that God himself “could enter into and work in human history, however improbable such a thing might at first appear.” This posture, deeply rooted in the Catholic tradition with its conviction that the boundary of time and eternity is permeable, allows for the Bible to be what the Church has always claimed it to be: the word of God in human words.

And yet when all is said and done, Christians should beware of thinking we have definitively proven that which we hold by faith. On the basis of reason alone we cannot conclude whether the Bible is the word of God, whether a given miracle has occurred, or whether Jesus rose from the dead. The real question undergirding all these has been given to us by Lewis. It is the question of whether or not God exists, whether we have independent reasons to believe that there exists a supernatural Being beyond the natural order, a Being to whom nature owes its existence and who may act within that order in ways we do not typically expect.

Read Lewis’ Miracles attentively, and there you will find well-argued reasons to believe that the answer to the above questions is “yes.” Moreover, even if you do not agree with him, I think you will find that he provides serious arguments which call into question whether a non-theistic worldview offers an intelligible account of the world in which we live. But this post’s aim remains much more modest in focusing on just one key thought from Lewis’ book: If we admit that nature is not the only thing that is—if we come to the conclusion that theism is true—then we are not “safe” from miracles. This by no means disproves atheism or agnosticism, but at least it points out one direction our dialogue needs to go.
 
 
(Image credit: Real Clear Religion)

Dr. Matthew Ramage

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Dr. Matthew Ramage is Assistant Professor of Theology at Benedictine College. Before coming to Benedictine, he studied at the Pontifical Lateran University, worked in campus ministry, and taught Religious Studies at the University of Illinois. He is a language buff and has competence in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, and German. Follow his writings at TruthInCharity.com.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • Doug Shaver

    But this post’s aim remains much more modest in focusing on just one key thought from Lewis’ book: If we admit that nature is not the only thing that is—if we come to the conclusion that theism is true—then we are not “safe” from miracles.

    I'll admit that nature might not be the only thing there is. And with that admission, I also admit that somebody's religion might be the true religion. Now, you're assuming that it's your religion. So, who is being more modest?

    • Raymond

      A very good point. If the current debate should be whether "God" exists, it would be a secondary debate as to whether that god is the Judeo-Christian god.

      • Matthew Ramage

        That's right: all that Lewis' argument achieves is the defense of theism. It is indeed a secondary question whether that God is the one Christians claim him to be.

    • Matthew Ramage

      I certainly come to the debate believing Christianity to be true, but it's not necessary for Lewis' argument to hold (see comment below). Also, you're very much misreading the modesty point from the last paragraph, which doesn't imply anything about whether Christianity in particular is any more true than Judaism, Islam, or any other tradition claiming miracles.

      • Doug Shaver

        Also, you're very much misreading the modesty point from the last paragraph, which doesn't imply anything about whether Christianity in particular is any more true than Judaism, Islam, or any other tradition claiming miracles.

        I stand corrected. Thank you for clarifying.

  • Great. I'm open to the possibility of miracles, in principle. But how can I tell whether a miracle has ever happened? How can I distinguish inscrutable divine activity from unexplained natural activity?

    Once this question is answered, we can set out to find some evidence!

    • We can't set out to find some evidence. The only possible evidence of a miracle is personal experience of it. That keeps us at square one, which is the philosophical judgment, not any evidence, that miracles are possible. Evidence of an historical miracle is an oxymoron. Lack of evidence is not of itself a lack of rationale.

      • If miracles don't leave behind traces of their having happened, then this opens up a more disturbing possibility:

        How do I know that I actually experienced a miracle, and didn't simply delude myself?

      • David Nickol

        I am not quite sure what you mean by "personal experience." Do you mean that I can have no evidence of a miracle unless it happens to me personally? This doesn't make sense to me. I may be skeptical of the miracles documented at Lourdes, but certainly the documentation is evidence.

        For the sake of argument, let's say the miraculous healings in the Gospels are true. Would you say only the people healed had evidence of the miracles, but witnesses did not?

        Evidence of an historical miracle is an oxymoron.

        While I may personally conclude that nothing truly miraculous happened at Fatima or Lourdes, it seems to me there is evidence that miraculous things occurred there.

        • I would like to distinguish between the immediate experience of an eye-witness and his testimony. The experience of the eye-witness is evidence to him, but his testimony is not evidence to us. I would classify the medical records, including such things as x-rays from Lourdes as testimony and not evidence. From my perspective, only the experience of a miracle first hand is evidence. St. Thomas took the proper approach, he did not accept the testimony of his closest friends. He required immediate experience to convince him of the miracle of the resurrection.

          For us, the rationale for acknowledging the miracles of the
          New Testament as such, is that the coherence and subject matter of the Catholic Faith are beyond human ingenuity. For example, none of the miracles of the New Testament are frivolous. Jesus does not take the advice of Satan to demonstrate his divinity by jumping off the Temple and coming to a swishing stop without going splat. Because he is God and not a human invention, Jesus is not the action-hero of Satan’s proposal.

          • David Nickol

            For example, none of the miracles of the New Testament are frivolous.

            What about Jesus cursing the fig three in Mark 11? Jesus curses the tree for having no fruit when it is not the right season. It is a very strange and disturbing story.

          • Joe Ser

            Haydock Commentary:

            Ver. 18. In the morning, returning into the city, he was hungry. This
            hunger, though real and pressing, was mysterious, and affords an
            opportunity of giving instruction both to the Jews and to all his
            disciples. By the fig-tree, was represented the Jewish synagogue; the
            hunger of Christ was a figure of his extreme desire of finding it
            productive of good works, (and there is no time nor season when the
            servants of God can be excused from bringing forth good works)
            answerable to the pains of cultivation he had taken for more than three
            years. The leaves were their pompous shew of exterior service, the
            barren foliage of legal rites, void of the internal spirit and good
            works, the only valuable produce of the tree. By the withering of the
            tree subsequent to Christ's imprecation, the reprobation and utter
            barrenness of the synagogue are represented. St. Mark observes, (xi.
            13,) that it was not the season for figs; nor are we to suppose that our
            Saviour went up to the tree expecting to find fruit; but if some of the
            evangelists mention this circumstance, they only relate the surmises of
            the disciples. Though he had before shewn his power by innumerable
            miracles, Christ still thought this necessary to excite the hearts of
            his disciples to greater confidence. He had often exercised his power to
            do good, but now for the first time shews himself able to punish. Thus
            he testifies to the apostles and to the Jews themselves, that he could
            with a word have made his crucifiers wither away, and therefore that he
            willingly bore the extremity of the sufferings he should in a few days
            have to undergo. (St. Chrysostom, hom. lxviii.)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Jesus's ministry in Mark was only 1 year - not three.

            Chrysostom always did have an obsession with God, the punisher.

          • Joe Ser

            Mark states he began His public ministry at 30. He died at 33.

            7 clues tell us *precisely* when Jesus died (the year, month, day, and hour revealed)

            Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/when-precisely-did-jesus-die-the-year-month-day-and-hour-revealed#ixzz3U2Rz56Xn

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It is less than a year. Mark only has one Passover.

            Edit: All of the Synoptic gospels agree with this time frame. John has a longer ministry.

          • Joe Ser

            The public life of Jesus: its duration

            "The chronology of the public life offers a number of problems to the interpreter; we shall touch upon only two, the duration of the public life, and the successive journeys it contains.

            There are two extreme views as to the length of the ministry of Jesus: St. Irenæus (Against Heresies II.22.3-6) appears to suggest a period of fifteen years; the prophetic phrases, "the year of recompenses", "the year of my redemption" (Isaiah 34:8; 63:4), appear to have induced Clement of Alexandria, Julius Africanus, Philastrius, Hilarion, and two or three other patristic writers to allow only one year for the public life. This latter opinion has found advocates among certain recent students: von Soden, for instance, defends it in Cheyne's "Encyclopaedia Biblica". But the text of the Gospels demands a more extensive duration. St. John's Gospel distinctly mentions three distinct paschs in the history of Christ's ministry (2:13; 6:4; 11:55). The first of the three occurs shortly after the baptism of Jesus, the last coincides with His Passion, so that at least two years must have intervened between the two events to give us the necessary room for the passover mentioned in 6:4. Westcott and Hort omit the expression "the pasch" in 6:4 to compress the ministry of Jesus within the space of one year; but all the manuscripts, the versions, and nearly all the Fathers testify for the reading "En de eggysto pascha heeorteton Ioudaion": "Now the pasch, the festival day of the Jews, was near at hand". Thus far then everything tends to favour the view of those writers and more recent commentators who extend the period of Christ's ministry a little over two years.

            But a comparison of St. John's Gospel with the Synoptic Evangelists seems to introduce another pasch, indicated in the Fourth Gospel, into Christ's public life. John 4:45, relates the return of Jesus into Galilee after the first pasch of His public life in Jerusalem, and the same event is told by Mark 1:14, and Luke 4:14. Again the pasch mentioned in John 6:4 has its parallel in the "green grass" of Mark 6:39, and in the multiplication of loaves as told in Luke 9:12 sqq. But the plucking of ears mentioned in Mark 2:23, and Luke 6:1, implies another paschal season intervening between those expressly mentioned in John 2:13 and 6:4. This shows that the public life of Jesus must have extended over four paschs, so that it must have lasted three years and a few months. Though the Fourth Gospel does not indicate this fourth pasch as clearly as the other three, it is not wholly silent on the question. The "festival day of the Jews" mentioned in John 5:1, has been identified with the Feast of Pentecost, the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Expiation, the Feast of the New Moon, the Feast of Purim, the Feast of Dedication, by various commentators; others openly confess that they cannot determine to which of the Jewish feasts this festival day refers. Nearly all difficulties will disappear if the festival day be regarded as the pasch, as both the text (heorte) and John 4:35 seem to demand (cf. Dublin Review, XXIII, 351 sqq.)." http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08377a.htm

          • Ignatius Reilly

            New Advent isn't exactly the pinnacle of scholarship.

            How do we get three years out of John's Gospel? We count three Passovers.

            How do we get one year out of the synoptic gospels?
            We count one Passover.

            That is what is in the text. The quote from New Advent is text torturing to get a desired outcome.

          • Joe Ser
          • David Nickol

            Pope Benedict XVI would disagree. About a year ago I wrote the following:

            Benedict, in the volume of Jesus of Nazareth that deals with Holy Week, concludes (based on the work of John P. Meier) that John is right—the Last Supper was not a Passover meal—and the Synoptics are wrong. Benedict says:

            . . . Meier is right to point out that in the description of the meal itself, the Synoptics recount as little of the Passover ritual as John. Thus with certain reservations, one can agree with his conclusion: "The entire Johannine tradition, from early to late, agrees perfectly with the primitive Synoptic tradition on the non-Passover character of the meal."

            My understanding of this passage is that the early ("primitive") tradition the Synoptics are based on did not depict the Last Supper as a Passover meal. That tradition (the non-Passover nature of the last supper) survived in the Synoptics' account of the meal itself, even though the Synoptics say that the Last Supper was a Passover meal.

          • Joe Ser

            I thought this covered it from the article:

            "According to The Navarre Study Bible, in Mark’s Gospel the Pharisees and Sadducees had a different way of celebrating feast days (51-52). The Pharisees were strict in their observance. If the fifteenth of Nisan fell on Friday, then that would be the day they celebrated the Passover. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were more liberal and had no problem with moving a feast day in certain situations. This practice is analogous to our modern practice of moving some feast days to Sunday when they actually occur during the week (as is commonly practiced with the feast of the Epiphany). It could also be likened to the bishops declaring a holy day not obligatory because of the day upon which it happens to fall. For example, if a holy day falls on a Friday, the bishops will sometimes dispense Catholics from the obligation of attending Mass on that particular holy day for that year.
            What does all of this mean? When Jesus actually celebrated the Passover, he did it in the traditional way of the Pharisees. That is what we see in the synoptic Gospels. With the Pharisees, Jesus kept the Passover
            strictly in accord with what Moses said in Ex. 12. However, when John wrote about Christ’s passion, he does not put the emphasis on the Lord’s Supper that the synoptic Gospel writers do. In fact, he does not mention the Lord’s Supper at all. He emphasizes the crucifixion. Only in passing, as he describes the activity of the day, does John mention that it was "the day of preparation." John was not speaking of the practice of Jesus and the apostles; he was speaking of the practice of the Sadducees, who had a large number of priests in their camp and great influence in the culture at the time. This fact explains why John calls
            Friday the "day of preparation" instead of Thursday. The Sadducees, who moved the Passover to Saturday, celebrated the day of preparation on Friday, rather than on Thursday as Jesus and the apostles did."

          • David Nickol

            But as I pointed out, Pope Benedict XVI believes that the Last Supper was not a Passover meal, and even in the Synoptics, which assert that it is a Passover meal, the description itself has none of the elements of a Passover meal.

            There are many, many theories that try to reconcile John with the Synoptics on the matter of the Last Supper. If you want to believe the Navarre Study Bible, that's fine with me, but it is far from the last word on the subject. In reality, there are bad theories and good theories, but nobody really knows, and it is doubtful that anybody ever will know.

          • James M

            "Benedict, in the volume of Jesus of Nazareth that deals with Holy Week, concludes (based on the work of John P. Meier) that John is right—the Last Supper was not a Passover meal—and the Synoptics are wrong."

            ## That is not easily reconciled with the statement in the 1998 Ratzinger "Note" that the Bible is totally inerrant:

            5. The first paragraph states: "With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed." The object taught in this paragraph is constituted by all those doctrines of divine and catholic faith which the Church proposes as divinely and formally revealed and, as such, as irreformable.11

            8. With regard to the nature of the assent owed to the truths set forth by the Church as divinely revealed (those of the first paragraph) or to be held definitively (those of the second paragraph), it is important to emphasize that there is no difference with respect to the full and irrevocable character of the assent which is owed to these teachings. The difference concerns the supernatural virtue of faith: in the case of truths of the first paragraph, the assent is based directly on faith in the authority of the Word of God (doctrines de fide credenda);...

            11. Examples. Without any intention of completeness or exhaustiveness, some examples of doctrines relative to the three paragraphs described above can be recalled.

            To the truths of the first paragraph belong the articles of faith of the Creed, the various Christological dogmas21 and Marian dogmas;22 the doctrine of the institution of the sacraments by Christ and their efficacy with regard to grace;23 the doctrine of the real and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist24 and the sacrificial nature of the eucharistic celebration;25 the foundation of the Church by the will of Christ;26 the doctrine on the primacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff;27 the doctrine on the existence of original sin;28 the doctrine on the immortality of the spiritual soul and on the immediate recompense after death;29 the absence of error in the inspired sacred texts;30 the doctrine on the grave immorality of direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being.31...

            https://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/CDFADTU.HTM

            ## If it is heretical to say there is "error in the inspired writings", & Ratzinger is imputing error to them, it seems that Ratzinger is suspect of heresy.

          • David Nickol

            Note the statement

            The object taught in this paragraph is constituted by all those doctrines of divine and catholic faith which the Church proposes as divinely and formally revealed and, as such, as irreformable.

            It is not a matter of Catholic doctrine what day of the week Jesus was crucified on. You are misreading this document as if it advocated biblical literalism. That has never been the position of the Catholic Church, going back to the earliest days. Catholic biblical scholars are perfectly free to note the discrepancies between the Synoptics and John and to either side with the Synoptics, side with John, or invent endless theories as to why the are actually in agreement.

          • James M

            But it is a matter of Catholic doctrine whether or not Ratzinger is imputing error to the texts. That is all I am interested in. For if he is, I would like to know how that can be squared with the text of his own 1998 "Note". I am not interested in literalism, but in the seeming contradiction.

            There is the further and not unimportant question of where exactly the alleged freedom from all error is to be located: what is the *locus* of this alleged total inerrancy:

            1. The "original" (whatever that may mean) autographs of the sundry texts ?

            2. The books in their canonical forms - and if so, which one(s) ? The LXX 1 Samuel 17 & Jeremiah differ from the Masoretic text of the TaNaKh. Are both inspired & inerrant ?

            3. The graphic marks that constitute the texts ?

            4. The interpretationof the texts in the life of the Church ?

            5. The interptetation of the texts by the episcopal or Papal Magisterium ?

            6. (For the OT:) the unvocalised consonantal text of the TaNaKh ?

            7 The Vocalised text of the TaNaKh ?

            8. Is the TI located in something else ? If so - what ?

            It is useless to speak of an totally inerrant Bible, if the alleged inerrancy is not a quality of something.

            But I don't want to stray from the point... Thanks for replying, by the way. It's much appreciated.

          • David Nickol

            You might want to follow this link and read what Jimmy Akin has to say about inerrancy and the Vatican II document (Dei Verbum) that discusses it. Here is the key passage from that document:

            Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.

            "Liberals" would ask, based on that document, whether the day of the week on which Jesus was crucified is a "truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation." On the other hand, "conservatives" would accuse "liberals" of falsely interpreting Dei Verbum and would claim the compromise language doesn't actually leave the loophole the "liberals" claim it does.

            My personal opinion is that Dei Verbum is not the only official Church document that interpreted "liberally" (or, for that matter, simply ignored) in actual practice. Mainstream scholars (including the ones who produced the New American Bible) would, I think, be aghast if the Vatican required them teach and interpret the Bible in such a way as to deny any error of fact in it.

            The question I would ask is whether it is reasonable to consider the vast majority of Catholic biblical scholars, the American bishops, and Pope Benedict XVI's writings (while he was the reigning pope!) to be contrary to Catholic teaching. Everybody knows there are errors and contradictions in both the Old and the New Testaments. There are people who claim that Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI was not merely a heretic but not the real pope. I think they can only be regarded as belonging to the lunatic fringe.

            It is useless to speak of an totally inerrant Bible, if the alleged inerrancy is not a quality of something.

            I couldn't agree more. And it seems to me Vatican II deliberately left the matter open to a more liberal interpretation without exactly endorsing one. But the old interpretation of inerrancy is fading, and I would say in practice, the more "liberal" interpretation has already won.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            That article has nothing to do with my objection. It talks about the dates of Jesus's Crucifixion. I am talking about the number of Passovers recorded in the Gospels.

          • Joe Ser

            Read the entire article.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Why don't you just quote me the relevant part?

          • James M

            The solution is probably absurdly simple, if we could only see it.

          • Damon

            the coherence and subject matter of the Catholic Faith are beyond human ingenuity.

            I think you greatly underestimate the ingenuity of human beings.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I think he greatly overestimates the coherency as well.

          • How about the coin in the mouth of the fish?

          • There is room for disagreement here:
            frivolous/non-frivolous, miraculous/non-miraculous. I would judge
            non-frivolous, while suspending judgment on miraculous/non-miraculous.

          • There is a lot of room for disagreement which I think makes the whole idea of comparing the frivolity of miracles rather frivolous.

          • James M

            Appropriate, because folklore-like.

        • James M

          Evidence =////= irrefragable proof.

      • James M

        There is a parallel here with mystical experience. Such knowledge is real, but incommunicable - it has authority to convince only for the person immediately involved. Yet it is undeniably & irreducibly real for the recipient.

        Precisely because there can be no such thing as historical evidence of a miracle, miracles are irrelevant to the historical-critical method. So it does not appeal to them. To say that this means the HCM is anti-miraculous/sceptical/unbelieving is unfounded & false. The Resurrection was not an event in history - there is no

        historical evidence or analogy for it - but it is a real event. It is an unmediated Act of God, comparable only to non-historical events like the Incarnation & the creation. To call it historical is to demean it - it is far too huge and heavy for a gossamer thing like history to contain. One could more easily hold the Himalayas in a tissue than contain the Resurrection in a ridiculously frail thing like history.

    • Mike

      Interesting: Like what if something is "natural" but the odds of it happening at exactly such and such a place and time are unbelievably low and yet it happens; could that be considered a miraculous event?

      • Yes, something like this. The question is how to distinguish between unknown laws (which will change the probability of an event happening at a certain time and place) and the activity of an inscrutable will (which will also change the probabilities.

        If you think that may be aliens playing with the laws of gravity because they enjoy watching people trip, but enjoy especially tripping tall people, then you can look for correlations in the data, beyond the amount of falling down you expect from tall people.

        If you know the motivations and the methods of an intelligence, then it becomes much easier to test for that intelligence. If results work out one way, you can say that's evidence for this intelligent activity, and if they work out another, it's evidence against.

        But if you don't know the motivations, how do you test? If you hypothesize that aliens are playing with gravity from time to time, but for unknown reasons and in unknown ways, how does anything count as evidence for or against this alien activity? How do you distinguish the aliens from a new and yet unknown theory of gravity?

        If God miraculously regrows the limb of Alice but doesn't regrow Bob's limb, then how do I rule out that Alice's limb regrew spontaneously, unless I can say something about why God chose to regrow Alice's limb but not Bob's.

        • Mike

          Statistical analysis of miracles, interesting; i wonder if anyone's ever done that on the miracles approved by the Vatican.

          • There have been some statistical studies of prayer, but none of miracles (not that I know of).

          • Luke Cooper

            IIRC, the last major meta-analysis on the efficacy of intercessory prayer in controlled studies stated that over half of the studies found no sig. effect and just under half of the studies found sig. but very weak (i.e., small effect sizes) effects. I'm wondering if believers interpret those weak but significant effects as miraculous.

            Here's the one I was thinking of: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000368.pub3/abstract It's the most cited for given its date, but I don't know too much about Cochrane and I know that citations alone do not imply reputability.

          • "IIRC, the last major meta-analysis on the efficacy of intercessory prayer in controlled studies stated that over half of the studies found no sig. effect and just under half of the studies found sig. but very weak."

            Trent Horn wrote an article some months back exposing the deficiencies of some of these studies You can read it here:

            https://strangenotions.com/prayer-science-and-the-existence-of-god/

          • Luke Cooper

            Your linked article only mentioned one of the many studies and conflated the issues of intercessory prayer efficacy with the existence of God.

          • "Your linked article only mentioned one of the many studies.."

            The same analysis holds across all similar studies. Any study seeking to prove/disprove the efficacy or prayer, or the existence of God, by measuring the healing rate of patients who are prayed for is inherently flawed.

            "Your linked article ...conflated the issues of intercessory prayer efficacy with the existence of God."

            It didn't conflate them. But regardless, as noted above, these sorts of studies simply have nothing to say about either the efficacy of prayer or the existence of God.

          • Luke Cooper

            Any study seeking to prove/disprove the efficacy or prayer, or the existence of God, by measuring the healing rate of patients who are prayed for is inherently flawed.

            No, they're not inherently flawed. Similar outcome measures are used to determine the effects of other medical interventions. They're often well-designed experiments that follow protocols of other medical outcome studies. Patients are informed that they may or may not be receiving an intervention; this is standard for blind or double-blind experiments, and since the same thing is said to both groups, this is not a problem. It's like adding the same variable to both sides of an equation--they cancel each other out.

            As a result, the author's "control group problem" is moot, because those praying general prayers for the healing of all people will apply to both groups equally. The studies don't need to isolate the control group from any intercessory prayer, the studies only need to verify that one group is getting controllably more intercessory prayer than the other. Unless there are random people who pray only for healing for those in intercessory study control groups, there is no "control group problem."

            The author tried to wiggle around the negative results by saying that we can't fool an omniscient God and suggesting that God purposefully ignores prayer requests when they're part of studies, just so that God can prove to us that it's in control--not us. Then the author makes an inequivalent analogy to a non-omniscient President reading petitions. The omniscience of God would only matter if the God people pray to would rather hide than reveal itself when sought using reliable methodology. That's not the kind of God I'd want to believe in anyway.

            these sorts of studies simply have nothing to say about either the efficacy of prayer or the existence of God.

            The actually do say something about the efficacy of intercessory prayer: There's little to evidence that intercessory prayer is effective once we apply the same protocols that would be used in other blind or double-blind medical outcome studies, which are designed to remove all potential confounds so that any measured effect can be best attributable to the independent variable manipulation. I agree that these studies do not disprove God's existence, but they do suggest that God does not answer prayers as scripture suggests.

          • No, they're not inherently flawed...

            Indeed they are *if*, as you and others have suggested, the studies aim to determine the efficacy of prayer, in general. If instead, the experiments merely aim to show whether a person receives *exactly* what they ask for in prayer, when they pray for it, in precisely the way they ask, then the studies may have merit. But otherwise they say nothing about the general efficacy of prayer for at least two reasons:

            First, petitionary and intercessory prayer (i.e., asking for things and praying for others) are merely two types of prayer. These studies say nothing about the efficacy about other forms of prayer such as thanksgiving, worship, praise, contemplative prayer, etc. (and, by their nature, cannot.)

            Second, the efficacy of prayer is not constrained to whether the pray-er receives something he or she asks for in prayer, such as a divine healing. As mentioned several times above, the full efficacy of prayer takes into account the effects it has on the world--not just the potential physical healing of one person. In my own experience, praying for others has had a noticeable effect on me. It's made me more compassionate for the needs and pains of others. I also know that people I've prayed for have generally felt uplifted and sense renewed hope. In many cases, they consider their spiritual improvement a far better result than any physical healing. But those are things a tightly constrained experiment like the ones you alluded to is incapable of measuring.

            "I agree that these studies do not disprove God's existence, but they do suggest that God does not answer prayers as scripture suggests."

            It's not clear to me you understand what Scripture says about prayer, especially since your above comments seem to presume that God simply grants whatever people ask for, unconditionally, like a divine vending machine. But that's not what the Bible teaches about prayer at all, nor is it how the large majority of Christians understand prayer.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            But that's not what the Bible teaches about prayer at all, nor is it how the large majority of Christians understand prayer.

            I agree with the latter part of that sentence, but i think it takes some creative interpretation to get around some of the Bible verses that say things like:

            "And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith." Matt 21:22

            "...if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven." Matt 18:19

            "Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it." John 14:13-14

            "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" Matt 7:11

            There's no fine print, no mention of "some restrictions apply." Kinda sounds like a divine vending machine...

          • James M

            No vending machine, if Christian prayer is eschatological & ordered to the presence of the Reign of God. The "Our Father" is how to pray, and is eschatological (St Matthew 6.9.-13), so these other prayers are presumably eschatological too.

          • Luke Cooper

            Indeed they are *if*, as you and others have suggested, the studies aim to determine the efficacy of prayer, in general.

            Maybe some authors have incorrectly made that generalization (I haven't read all of the studies), but I did not mean to imply that these studies "prove" that prayer, in general is ineffective. And you're right that these studies shouldn't overgeneralize to all prayer types in all conditions. However, they do seem quite clear about the efficacy of intercessory prayer for healing in controlled conditions. I think you'd argue that the potentially confounding factors that surround prayer are important and perhaps shouldn't be controlled for, but controlling potential confounds is just good science, as it allows researchers to infer causal relationships.

            Second, the efficacy of prayer is not constrained to whether the pray-er receives something he or she asks for in prayer, such as a divine healing.

            I think that all would agree that praying works for the pray-er. No scientist I know ever stated otherwise. But we can convince ourselves that lots of things work if we believe that they do, as placebo effects so clearly reveals. Behavioral psychology shows us just how effective (and refractory) positive intermittent reinforcement schedules can be. Every once in a while, the rain dance, sacrificial offering, or prayer works, which reinforces the belief and behavior. It matters much less how many times a behavior doesn't work, as long as the behavior has the payoff sometimes. These spurious causal connections are the same things that produce and maintain superstitious beliefs and behaviors, as well as keep people going back to the slot machines against all odds.

            It's not clear to me you understand what Scripture says about prayer

            I think I'm pretty clear on what scripture says. OverlappingMagisteria answered this part pretty well, so I'll defer to her/his comment.

          • Mike

            I am thinking more about those that the vatican approves; they'd be an interesting study as i know the vatican requires copious amounts of medical/specialist review/evidence before it approves them.

          • I'd agree. Would falsifying one of these miracles be evidence against God? If not, it's hard to see whether the Vatican miracles provide any real evidence for God at all. Maybe it's evidence of alien interference or of natural principles of which we are presently unaware.

            How can we tell the difference?

          • Mike

            I think the vatican says up front that if there are no currently known and no in principle natural explanations then it's a miracle so i think they're quite up front about what they mean and don't mean, but i see what you're saying.

            To me all it would take would be 1 instance of something being supernatural to dismantle naturalism but that's another topic - unless there are always just more natural laws we can discover - sort of the "science of the gaps" argument but i digress.

          • Do we know enough to think that anything we could possibly experience would have no natural explanation in principle? I'm not so sure.

            To me all it would take would be 1 instance of something being supernatural to dismantle naturalism

            Me too. My worry is I might be seeing supernatural events all the time and missing them because I can't tell them apart from the natural ones.

          • Mike

            I think i agree but at some point you get into the absurd, like maybe JC's resurrection was some extremely rare but still natural event but course to me and to many ppl the very existence of "laws" "rules" etc. points to law giver rule maker...or at the very least a very tidy mathematically intricate universe with all sorts of mathematical beauty and precision etc... that just spit us out and with us Mozart and Da Vinci and me/you for no definitive reason at all just a big cosmic accident? That's SOME accident!

          • Not in principle. That would be too strong a claim.

            I think of GK Chesterton who said something along the lines that it's not so much that anything in particular seems extraordinary to him. Everything, in general, seems extraordinary.

            I think of Wittgenstein who said that it's not HOW things are but THAT things are, which is the mystical.

            I think of John Haldane who said that reality is not only stranger than we imagine but stranger than we CAN imagine.

            Some theologians suggest, similarly, that nothing in particular but everything in general is supernatural.

            None of this is to suggest that divine interactivity might not present in degrees, but I resist the temptation to overexplain how or why God might be intervening here vs there, now vs then, because it raises the same theodicy issues as the realities of suffering and evil.

            Consistent with the thrust of the OP, then, one brings an interpretive stance to reality writ large regarding the plausibility of the supernatural, in general. Regarding any putative exceptional degree of divine interactivity, in particular, a certain agnosticism seems appropriate, although the closer one is in relationship to the putative miracle or its recipient(s), the greater the epistemic force of the explanation, I reckon.

          • That's a very helpful answer. Thank you. It unfortunately doesn't help much for my proposed project of determining which events are miracles and which are not. Rather, your answer seems to be that even the most mundane events are extraordinary, and the intelligibility of the universe itself is miraculous. I would agree; to me it seems like Nature's miracle. Adding an outside intelligence doesn't further enrich my own wonder, nor does it improve my understanding. But it would seem that your milage may vary.

          • Assuming that anything declared a miracle has dutifully and diligently been declared a statistical outlier, that, after earnest probabilistic inquiry, investigators are at the end of their epistemic rope ...

            It's no longer an evidential project, or it gets way backburnered, waiting for methodological improvements ...

            Which is why, when the church approves a miracle, all it's claiming is that it's not unreasonable to infer an extraordinary manifestation of divine interactivity or NOT.

            The "explanations" of faith (like a tautology) do not add new information to our probabilistic systems, which does not make them untrue only uninformative, not ampliative, scientifically.

            From a faith-based interpretive stance, one's mileage might vary--- not descriptively, but --- evaluatively, not just in terms of awe and wonder, cognitively, but relationally, going beyond love of self, other and cosmos, proximately, to various ways of being-in-love with ultimate reality, as celebrated by the different sophiological trajectories (orientations toward different divine aspects or attributes) of our great traditions.

          • Joe Ser

            An interesting question results: Is a miracle of the past still a miracle if later a natural cause can be found, in other words are natural causes static?

          • Mike

            very interesting i agree!

          • Joe Ser

            Miracles are by definition outside of what science by its own definition can investigate. Ruling out natural causes seems to be the only way to approach it.

          • How is it possible to rule out all natural causes? I can understand ruling out all known natural causes. But how would you rule out the unknown ones? If I work on an experiment watching protons, and one decays, do I say "This proton just decayed! The current laws of physics say this shouldn't happen, so there must be some unknown principles at work." or do I say "This proton just decayed! There is no known natural cause for proton decay. This is a miracle!"?

          • It's not possible. The reasonableness of declaring something conceivably, not definitively, miraculous, likely involves a set of circumstances or combination of inexplicable phenomena that tend to be rather hypercomplex, a convergence of incidents, each with implausible odds.

          • Joe Ser

            The sticky wicket is God can use both natural and supernatural means.

            The Church has set the bar pretty high in declaring public miracles. (for every public there are many many more private ones)

            "Nearly all, or "99.9 percent of these are medical miracles," O'Neill said. "They need to be spontaneous, instantaneous and complete healing. Doctors have to say, 'We don't have any natural explanation of what happened,'" O'Neill said.

            A woman whose breast cancer was cured wouldn't qualify, for instance, if she was given a 10 percent chance of survival — she would need to be told there was no chance of
            survival before any divine intervention, said the Rev. Stephan Bevans, a theology professor at the Catholic Theological Union." http://www.livescience.com/38033-how-vatican-identifies-miracles.html

            Now say 10 of us witnessed Jesus return the sight of a blind man. Miracle or non miracle? Being sick and praying for healing and being spontaneously healed. Miracle or non miracle? What if the prayer is answered in a way that switches on a particular DNA sequence and cancer is eradicated? Miracle or non miracle?

            Moving on to decay. Perhaps prayer is efficacious at the quantum level since the observer effects the outcome.

            One thing that always struck me was when Moses had his arms outstretched and the battle was influenced positively. When he could no longer hold them up it went the other way. Finally, Aaron helped hold them up. Could this have been an early introduction to quantum mechanics?

            Paul Davies thinks the universe is porous and where God operates.

          • James M

            Protons do not need God to account for them. Nothing in particle physics needs God to account for them. Difficulties have to be accounted for using the same epistemological principles as are used for the bits that are - on the face of it at least - not difficult. To do otherwise is to destroy the unity of particle physics as a unified, coherent & internally self-consistent discipline.

            The Standard Model in particle physics has not yet found a place for gravity - that is not a reason to discard the SM or to invoke the miraculous: it is a reason to develop & deepen the SM & one's understanding of & insight into the environing disciplines. If something is intelligible without invoking the miraculous, the miraculous should be ignored throughout the study of that something. It is conceivable that WW2 was caused by a miracle - but its causation is sufficiently accounted for by supposing that it was caused by the purely natural factors mentioned in the history books.

            It is conceivable that the Book of Revelation is based on the Harry Potter books, and theories can be invented to support the idea - but there is no serious reason to suppose this, and many solid reasons not to.

            If something is miraculous, natural causes will play no part in its character as miracle. The water at Cana was natural - but the wine was not, and its being wine is not explicable by its having been water.

          • George

            The Vatican relies on Argument from Ignorance in that area. All they look for is scientists and doctors admitting they don't have an answer to the question at hand.

          • That's my impression.

          • Mike

            Atheists are just "non-theists" no agenda, no bashing of christians, no ideological axes to grind, just no god in their lives - that's all, quite innocent really...George you should have a convo with Luke Cooper.

          • Mike

            Didn't read your comment correctly and wrote the wrong response.

            I don't think it's as simple as "don't know" but if there is no scientific explanation it by definition means something could have happened that was not necessarily the direct "hand of god" but God perfecting nature in some strange way to accomplish a goal - don't forget that praying is also involved in the matter as not just any miracle cure is investigated - oh and not just prayer but prayer to a specific person!

          • "There have been some statistical studies of prayer, but none of miracles (not that I know of)."

            There have been several. I would suggest looking at various attempts to use Bayesian probability theory in reference to the resurrection of Jesus (the greatest miracle of all.) You'll find more statistical analysis in Craig Keener's masterful two-volume work on miracles.

          • I've applied my own Bayesian approach to the resurrection. Unfortunately, given available data, I conclude that virtually no amount of historical evidence would be sufficient on its own to substantiate such an event.

            https://boltzmannbraindotorg.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/probability-of-the-resurrection/

            Of course, Bayesian analysis rests on priors, and that gets back to my original question. How can we differentiate between inscrutable intelligence and unexplained natural principle?

            The sort of statistical analysis I would be interested in would be not of a single purported miracle 2000 years ago (one with no known present comparison), but of a great number of more recent miracles. At the same time, such a study would only be useful once my original question is satisfactorily answered.

          • Oh, and I forgot in my reply, thanks for the reading suggestion! I've read McGraw's work, not Craig Keener's. Maybe he can set me straight.

          • James M

            A frivolous undertaking - about as sensible as trying to estimate the physics of the Ascension.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Well said, Paul, well said.

    • Generally, phenomena that we interpret as miraculous are, by definition, improbable, so probabilistic methods wouldn't provide the distinction. A descriptive set of unexplained empirical facts remains open to interpretation. We cannot a priori know whether the lack of explanation will be temporary, i.e. until methodological constraints are overcome, or permanent, i.e. due to some, in principle, ontological occulting (which might, of course, arise merely physically).

  • I think that Lewis is wrong as to where the problem begins. It is not because the unbeliever decides a priori that miracles are not possible based on philosophical reasons. It is because the unbeliever observes reality and considers particular miracle claims that he concludes that the supernatural has no real explanatory power. Attributing an event to a supernatural actor has no predictive value and provides no testable hypothesis. Why not humbly say "I don't know" and stop there?

    • Damon

      I was typing out a response quite similar to this, but you summed it up far better than I.

      My problem with the supernatural is this: what would the universe look like if reductionism were false? What experimental observations would you expect to make, could you expect to make, if you found yourself in such a universe?

      • Thanks. It is not my first time advancing the argument.

        I don't think that you could expect anything. If you allow for a supernatural being that can suspend the observable natural law for reasons that are beyond man's capacity to understand, how can you ever say what is likely or unlikely?

      • You have successfully argued for methodological, not philosophic, naturalism.

      • James M

        How about: much as it looks now ? Suppose that miracles are real, but, are not intended to have explanatory value such as a scientifically-trained commentator might want ? No one faults horses for not being cheeses or unicorns or the solution to Fermat's theorem - maybe miracles should be as little faulted as horses. Maybe trying to fit them into the known natural word is a category error, like trying to fit Harry Potter into what is known of late 20th-century Britain.

    • "It is because the unbeliever observes reality and considers particular miracle claims that he concludes that the supernatural has no real explanatory power. Attributing an event to a supernatural actor has no predictive value and provides no testable hypothesis."

      Your second sentence does not follow from the first. Something can have enormous explanatory power but still lack predictive value or testability.

      This also betrays a basic confusion about historical analysis. By they're nature (i.e., of being in the past), ALL historical claims lack predictive value or testability. That doesn't mean they are false, however, or that certain hypotheses lack explanatory power. The task of the historian, or the researcher investigating miracles, is simply to determine which hypothesis has the greatest explanatory power--which one best explains all of the given data.

      In the case of many miracles, such as Jesus' resurrection for the dead, I think a supernatural explanation has far more explanatory power than any of the naturalistic explanations that have been proposed and widely dismissed.

      "Why not humbly say "I don't know" and stop there?"

      Because people genuinely curious about the truth never "stop" searching and give up. I assume you would agree that scientists should never say, "I don't know" and just stop there. In fact, it's their "I don't know" that pushes them forward, instead of ceasing their research.

      However, if you're equating "know" with certainty, then of course we could never say we "know" that a particular event is miraculous. We don't have certainty about historical events. But we can know something is miraculous with a high level of confidence if that miraculous explanation best fits the data and all naturalistic alternatives are exposed as deficient.

      • William Davis

        I agree that historical claims are not testable, this is why I brought up something that is testable. I don't believe any claim from anyone that is not testable, unless nothing important hinges on it or it simply cannot be tested. I'm not being cynical, but this healthy skepticism serves me extremely well in everything in life, especially my job. People make false claims to me all the time, claims they believe are true, but when tested turn out false. I don't blame them for it, people are just very fallible, especially when doing something as meticulous as software engineering. Software is extremely unforgiving and precise.

      • Damon

        Something can have enormous explanatory power but still lack predictive value or testability.

        True, but if your explanation lacks predicative value or testability, it isn't very useful in the long run. It's like the difference between saying that a stream flows downhill because water wants to be lower, and actually setting up equations to explain and predict the motion of water.

        Because people genuinely curious about the truth never "stop" searching and give up. I assume you would agree that scientists should never say, "I don't know" and just stop there. In fact, it's their "I don't know" that pushes them forward, instead of ceasing their research.

        This is precisely why attributing supernatural causes to currently inexplicable phenomena is unhelpful. We never learn anything about how the mysterious event occurred, it is simply attributed to a supernatural causal agent. When asked how exactly this supernatural agent caused the event in question, we are supposed to be satisfied with an "I don't know."

      • I'm not sure how miracles ever really fit the evidence.

        Evidence is the effect from which we infer a cause. If we come across a body with a knife protruding from its back and that knife is covered with little swirly patterns that match the swirly patterns on a particular person's fingers, we say we have "evidence" of who put the knife in the back. We can say this because we understand the natural processes of cause and effect that lead to people's fingerprints appearing on other surfaces. If we did not understand these processes of cause and effect--i.e., if we thought that these patterns appeared randomly or by divine fiat--fingerprints wouldn't be evidence of anything. It is only because we understand these processes to act consistently, if not invariably, that we can say "It was Professor Plum in the Library with the Knife!"

        The problem with miracles is that they don't follow normally observed processes of cause and effect by definition. We can have no reasonable expectations about the kind of effects that a supernatural event will produce nor can we know what effects point to a supernatural cause. For example, the Shroud of Turin may be at most a baffling ancient artifact, but we have no grounds to say that it is "evidence" of the resurrection because we have no basis to believe that it is the kind of effect that a resurrection would produce.

        Historians reason by analogy. If they have no analogies with which to work, they should acknowledge that the evidence is insufficient to reach a conclusion.

        • "The problem with miracles is that they don't follow normally observed processes of cause and effect by definition."

          Of course. I agree they don't follow normally observed processes, but I fail to see how this poses a problem for those open to miracles. Merely stating the definition of miracles does not preclude them.

          "For example, the Shroud of Turin may be at most a baffling ancient artifact, but we have no grounds to say that it is "evidence" of the resurrection because we have no basis to believe that it is the kind of effect that a resurrection would produce."

          We should first note that few Christians point to the Shroud of Turin as evidence of the resurrection (or at least as primary evidence.)

          Second, in the particular case of what explains the Shroud's existence, all known natural explanations have been shown to fail. But since the Shroud's image, shape, and form all seem aligned to the historical testimony surrounding Jesus' resurrection, it seems highly plausible--at least more plausible than alternative, naturalistic theories--that the Shroud is the authentic burial cloth of Jesus.

          "We can have no reasonable expectations about the kind of effects that a supernatural event will produce nor can we know what effects point to a supernatural cause."

          I disagree and you have provided no reasons to think this assertion true. Besides, it's independent of the question, are miracles possible?

          "Historians reason by analogy. If they have no analogies with which to work, they should acknowledge that the evidence is insufficient to reach a conclusion."

          The problem with this view is that it assumes historians can only reach a historical conclusion if there is some prior, analogous event. But why should we believe that? It seems to buck our common sense, which understands that history is rich with unique and surprising events for which no prior analogy exists.

          • Damon

            it seems highly plausible--at least more plausible than alternative, naturalistic theories--that the Shroud is the authentic burial cloth of Jesus.

            Any one existing naturalistic theories for how the Shroud came to be may have a low probability of being true, just as any one existing naturalistic theory for how Jesus' disciples came to believe he rose from the dead may have a low probability of being true as well. However, the naturalistic theories have an advantage over the supernatural theory in that, although all of them may be individually unlikely, none of them violate the laws of physics.

          • "However, the naturalistic theories have an advantage over the supernatural theory in that, although all of them may be individually unlikely, none of them violate the laws of physics."

            Indeed, *all things being equal*, this would sway the probability calculus in favor of the naturalistic hypotheses. But in the case of the Shroud (and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead), all things are not equal. We have a tremendous amount of other background information to consider, evidence that is far better explained by a supernatural hypothesis than a natural one.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The natural hypothesis could just be that we do not know what happened to form the Shroud. This is equally descriptive of the formation of the Shroud as any supernatural hypothesis, so the supernatural hypothesis is not preferable by that measure.

            It makes for bad epistemology to ascribe to God that which we do not have a natural explanation for. It is a variation of "God of the Gaps."

          • Which laws of physics? thermodynamics? gravity? quantum mechanics? near or even pre- T=0 at the Big Bang? pre-quantum vacuum fluctuation? All which, taken together, remain unreconciled, non-normalizable?

            In our emergent cosmos, laws have, themselves, evolved. The regularities we observe may be very local, indeed. Cosmically, they may be as local, spatially and temporally, as the by-laws of your neighborhood fantasy football league.

            That's why, in fact, so many humeans resist extrapolating the methodological stipulations of the principle of sufficient reason into metaphysical conclusions about the principles of causation. I have no problem with the reasonableness of competing interpretations regarding causations, Aristotelian vs Humean, but one might best be consistent when characterizing laws as real vs apparent, as static vs dynamic, as meaningful inductive inferences or not.

            While methodological naturalism remains an indispensable epistemic stipulation, it has no advantage, interpretively, in explaining empirical facts that elude probabilistic methods, because one cannot a priori know when one has been epistemically thwarted by methodological constraints, which might be temporary, or metaphysically halted by an, in-principle ontological occulting, which would be permanent (due to some event horizon).

          • Damon

            Which laws of physics? thermodynamics? gravity? quantum mechanics? near or even pre- T=0 at the Big Bang? pre-quantum vacuum fluctuation? All which, taken together, remain unreconciled, non-normalizable?

            In our emergent cosmos, laws have, themselves, evolved. The regularities we observe may be very local, indeed. Cosmically, they may be as local, spatially and temporally, as the by-laws of your neighborhood fantasy football league.

            I think you are confusing the map for the territory. Yes, we have different descriptions, different models that we use, at different levels in our study of physics. Presently these different descriptions are unreconciled. But this is a fact about our "maps", not a fact about the territory itself. It's not that the laws of physics themselves operate differently at different levels. Rather we, for our convenience, use different simplified models at different levels.

            Standard physics uses the same fundamental theory to describe the orbit of Saturn, the flight of an airplane, and a nuclei collision in the RHIC. Planets, airplanes, and nuclei are all obeying special relativity, quantum mechanics, and quantum chromodynamics. But we use different models to understand the orbit of a planet, the aerodynamics of an airplane, and a collision between gold nuclei.

            Modeling the trajectory of an airplane would not require knowing a single thing about quarks, but does that mean the airplane is made of something other than quarks? No, you are simply modeling it with representational elements that do not correspond one-to-one with the quarks of the airplane. In other words the map is not the territory.

          • No. My point remains that we cannot a priori know when our modeling power's limits are methodological (mapping errors) or metaphysical (territorial inaccessibility).

            And, no, there is no grand unified (fundamental) theory. A theory of everything, in principle, faces the godelian implications of choosing between consistency or completeness. Axiomatic questions will always beg, in principle, when formulated in formal, closed symbol systems (e.g. mathematics).

          • Damon

            No. My point remains that we cannot a priori know when our modeling power's limits are methodological (mapping errors) or metaphysical (territorial inaccessibility).

            For the sake of argument, let's assume that Jesus' resurrection actually happened. If true, it seems apparent to me that our "maps" are wrong, because our current scientific understanding does not allow for the possibility of this event occurring. So clearly our maps need to updated to account for the fact that bodily resurrections are, in fact, possible, and then we ought to begin investigating what biochemical processes are necessary for bodily resurrection to take place, where the energy for such processes come from, etc. etc. The answers to these questions will help us to form more accurate maps going forward.

            However, (correct me if I'm wrong here) it seems you are arguing that updating our maps may be impossible due to metaphysical limits, or territorial inaccessibility. That the reason our maps don't account for the possibility of bodily resurrection is not because they are wrong, but because the laws which govern bodily resurrections are inaccessible to us, and therefore cannot be mapped. We would never be able to know if this is the case, of course, but it could be.

            My response is, so what? If we know that bodily resurrections are possible, that they exist there out in the territory, then let's do all that we can to map out this new, unknown territory. Maybe that's an impossible task, maybe it's not. There would only be one way to find out.

            And, no, there is no grand unified (fundamental) theory.

            Translation: there is no grand unified (fundamental) map. Which, yes, there isn't, and perhaps there will never be, as suggested by Gödel's incompleteness theorem. But reality operates independent of our multi-level models. The way the universe works, as far as we can tell, is that there is only the most basic level—the elementary particle fields and fundamental forces. We have no reason to believe that the higher levels of our simplified multi-level models are out there in the territory.

            Which I suppose ties back to your previous point that we have no way of knowing whether our inability to develop a unified single-level model, or map, is due to methodological or metaphysical limitations. Again, so what? Let's keep trying to develop the grand unified model anyway. Maybe it's futile, but at least we'll continue to push our methodological capabilities toward their metaphysical limits and keep learning new things about the territory in the process.

          • Of course we stipulate to methodological naturalism. I absolutely agree that inquiry should proceed, never presupposing metaphysical inaccessibility. My point was that methodological naturalism doesn't entail philosophical naturalism.

            The suggestion THAT something probabilistically inexplicable may have taken place interprets empirical facts, that interpretation not aspiring to describe HOW. It involves abductive inference regarding effects that appear proper to no known causes. Without additional information, abductive and deductive inference can cycle only in a plausibilistic manner without the benefit of inductive testing, probabilistically (with triadic inference). The interpretive stance relies, therefore, on possibly successful references to unknown causes but not to successful descriptions. We would need a LOT more info than appears available, presently, to begin hypothetical mapping. Not to suggest it might never become accessible. Descriptive modeling power failures lead to interpretive heuristic impasses precisely because competing plausibilistic inferences, like those surrounding the resurrection event, are incredibly weak compared to probabilistic inferences.

          • Damon, perhaps you are familiar with Ehrman's work:

            http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-there-historical-evidence-for-the-resurrection-of-jesus-the-craig-ehrman

            While I am sympathetic to Swinburne's account insofar as it seems eminently reasonable, plausible, I otherwise defer to Ehrman's observation that competing interpretations of the Resurrection Event can not be decisively adjudicated probabilistically, evidentially, historically. Foremost, it requires a leap of faith. This is to observe that,
            unless new evidence turns up, your proposed mapping exercise remains untenable, in practice, although I endorse your pursuit, in theory, to get at the bottom of any event.

          • Damon

            Yes, I do realize that if bodily resurrections are possible, it would be presently impossible to map out how one would occur. I also agree that making a decisive judgement on how Jesus' disciples came to believe he rose from the dead is simply not possible given the evidence at our disposal. My point, however, is that even if we cannot determine what exactly happened surrounding Jesus' purported resurrection, we can at least rule out the supernatural explanation (that God raised him from the dead) because there is not anywhere near enough evidence to support such a complex proposition.

            If you are going to add something with such a high degree of complexity as bodily resurrection to your standard model, you'd better have a really good reason for doing so.

          • If you are going to add something with such a high degree of complexity as bodily resurrection to your standard model, you'd better have a really good reason for doing so. <<<

            The normative impetus for any given interpretive stance will indeed vary based on what one
            aspires to do with it.

            For example, most seem to apply, consistent with our axiological evolutionary epistemology, an equiprobability principle, which prescribes the most life-giving and relationship-enhancing response, performatively, whenever epistemically thwarted, informatively. For another example, while we all use the same rules of evidence, juridically, we have established different burdens of proof, again, based on what one aspires to do with that evidence.

            The rules of evidence function like our "standard model," descriptively and probabilistically.
            Our interpretive stances regarding putative ultimate realities are then justified normatively, like the burdens of proof and equiprobability principles.

            Our interpretive stances regarding ultimate realities go beyond our standard models but not without them, are suggestive not decisive. Those who affirm an interpretation of the Resurrection Event through the eyes of faith have already, whether implicitly or explicitly, justified the reasonableness of their belief via the philosophical preambles of faith. The Resurrection Event belief per se, then, becomes part and parcel of their interpretive stance toward ultimate reality, affirming THAT it happened, but not part of our standard model vis a vis HOW.

            What anyone aspires to do with this or any other interpretive stance, I'll grant, may or may not be justifiable. But it's not prima facie unjustifiable.

          • Damon

            I think I see your point. If someone believes they have sufficient reason to add something as complex as irreducible, non-physical minds to their ontology (such as God, souls, angels, etc.), it would not be unreasonable to infer that certain inexplicable events are the result of those minds interacting with the world in unknown ways. No matter how inconceivably complex the process of bodily resurrection would have to be, its complexity pales in comparison with how complex an irreducible mental entity would have to be. So if you already believe those exist, then I suppose anything goes...

          • Actually, you're getting close.

            While from my own emergentist stance, I remain metaphysically agnostic regarding proximate realities, such as philosophy of mind, and wouldn't lose any sleep over cartesian vs physicalist accounts (leaning toward a nonreductive physicalism but not heavily invested) ---

            When I refer to ultimate reality, I'm talking about reality's initial, boundary and limit conditions and the epistemic open space that gifts us ontological undecidability regarding primal realities.

            So, while I eschew a metaphysics of the gaps or god of the gaps, opting for a methodological naturalism, neither would I countenance Nietzsche, Sarte or Camus standing guard at reality's perimeters, issuing epistemic promissory notes, the value of which remains hard to cash-out.

            The fact that certain methodological stipulations like methodological naturalism, principles of causation and sufficient reason remain indispensable for inquiry does not mean that they must necessarily universally obtain but, rather that, if they do not, we shall in one way or another, epistemically, be unfortunate.

            The Resurrection Event does not refer only to Jesus' body but to a huge cluster of realities begging questions, which Luke Timothy Johnson best addresses, in my view, for any interested.

            Because primal realities invite competing plausible interpretations, requiring a leap of faith, yes, for one who's thus leapt, not unreasonably, the Resurrection Event enjoys more plausibility. Again, though, it involves a vague reference THAT something (a whole series of somethings) happened, plausibly, and not a robust description of HOW something happened, probabilistically. In that sense, the inference is more closely related to putative atemporal realities like a quantum vacuum fluctuation and not so much emergent proximate realities like life or consciousness. So, not anything goes but some things justifiably do.

          • There was another point, more salient, perhaps --- that a given interpretive stance gets normatively justified relative to what one proposes to do with same. Not anything goes performatively. Not by a long shot.

          • William Davis

            You are correct, I'd guess we know much less than we think we know. Every generation throughout history has thought they had it worked out and were the pinnacle of knowledge and existence. All they have in common is that they were wrong.
            One problem with methodological naturalism is that it doesn't work well with things that are inherently unpredictable. My problem is in knowing how to make an exception for something, and on what basis to make that exception. Extreme care must be taken to avoid being deceived. One of my core problem revolves around this: "If God wanted us to know he existed, why would he be so good at hiding (in my world he seems to be hiding). If God cared about humans, why does he allow so much senseless suffering to occur? Why would the biological world be set up like a hunger games experiment? If the Jews were really God's chosen, why didn't he do something about the Holocaust?" I'm sure you are aware that the goto answer of "You can't question God" doesn't work for me, because I don't think I'm questioning God, I'm questioning someone's opinion of God. The questions are really at the root of why I'm an atheist. Just my thoughts :)

          • Those questions perdure for people of faith, too.

            The best arguments of philosophical theology, in my view, demonstrate the reasonableness of belief in a type of deistic deity. Of course they don't provide empirical-rational philosophic conclusions. Neither does philosophical or natural theology provide putative divine attributes beyond those cosmological, ontological and teleological conceptions. Reality remains way too ambiguous for us and way too ambivalent toward us for anyone to imagine that it could rationally coerce one interpretive stance vs another toward ultimate reality.

            The "problem of evil" presents from within the faith as we wrestle with such putative attributes as omniscience, omnibenevolence, omnipotence, omnipathy and omnipresence, so to speak, musing beyond the bare-boned deism, adding attributes like the aforementioned as they correspond to truth, beauty, goodness, freedom and love. That's more of a theology of nature, which begins within the faith, as opposed to natural theology, which begins in philosophy.

            In either case, you are right that our god-conceptions beg for coherence. Those of natural theology don't seem as problematic. The problem of evil that arises
            when we propose additional attributes has logical and evidential forms, the latter much more problematic. I don't have the interest to relitigate my prior assertions in this forum and elsewhere that the logical problem can be and has been avoided by several successful "defenses," taken alone or even in combination. My disqus profile-history is public though.

            That still leaves the evidential problem of evil, for beyond the mere logical possibilities, which basically affirm THAT "all may, can, will and shall be well" as an essential interpretive stance, questions beg regarding HOW this could plausibly be so. The questions that beg include many of the ones you raised. The logical answer entails a certain theological skepticism, not aspiring to demonstrate how. It grounds itself in relational realities like trust, fidelity, love, hope and faith, giving the God of revelation(s) the benefit of the doubt, just like anyone else presumed innocent even though, until they respond, one cannot fully imagine how.

            As you are aware, though, many attempt solutions to the evidential problem of evil. Beyond a logical defense, they aspire to what we call an evidential "theodicy." They variously predicate attributes between proximate and ultimate realities, univocally, analogically, equivocally, kataphatically, apophatically and on and on. I've discussed this ad nauseam, too.
            Because the back and forths regarding theodicy issues basically argue from incredulity and implausibllity, which, however suggestive, are not going to be decisive, because so very weakly inferential, I find such discussions less interesting.
            Some theodicy attempts, in fact, I find rather off-putting, approaching blasphemy in their arrogance regarding God's ways and means, risking a callousness towards and a trivialization of the enormity of human pain and immensity of human suffering.

            Jesus didn't provide a theodicy, didn't answer Job, didn't explain suffering. In Him and many sages and prophets and mystics throughout history and across the great traditions, I've witnessed great beauty, goodness, freedom and love, so much so that my sneaking suspicions have been raised that the truth, itself, cannot be far away. I trust them and love them but have no answers to provide you that they didn't provide me, for whatever reason.

            As far as celebrities go, Jesus is a favorite of most people, but, sometimes, His fan club drives me nuts!

            Be well, William. I understand your concerns. Sometimes, I experience them acutely myself. But my heart has its reasons.

          • William Davis

            For the record, I hold out that God may exist (though I do not believe he does) but his motives are so strange we cannot map them into human concepts.

          • I suspected, all along, you were a radically apophatic mystic! Belief and doubt belong to the same polar reality called faith. Many of the faith-ful spend more time on the doubt end throughout their lives, e.g. Mother Teresa for 50 years. Therese, the Little Flower, was deeply afflicted at times. There's a lot more existential "living as if" in a performative mode than evidential certainty in an informative mode involved in faith, which Tillich defined as the state of being ultimately concerned. Earlier in life, when deeply conflicted, I was greatly consoled by this insofar as I was profoundly and deeply concerned with reality's ultimate questions of meaning and very much given over to love and mercy as values. Love counts for more than all the certainly in the world, makes up for all the doubt. There's something poignantly beautiful in that so many persist in a life of love even without the promise of future reward.

            I'm sufficiently apophatic, I think, regarding God's ways and means. I balance this with a kataphasis regarding what She may be like. Even if our positive knowledge of God is incredibly small, because the reality of a putative deity would be so very giganormously LARGE, that tidbit of knowledge could have profound existential import for us in our seeming cosmic insignificance. In plain words, a little info about a large reality may be quite significant. Just a tidbit like "God is love."

          • Ignatius Reilly

            This is an interesting article on the shroud.

            http://www.historytoday.com/charles-freeman/origins-shroud-turin

          • Damon

            Fascinating article, thanks for sharing.

          • If you agree that miracles don't follow normally observed processes, how can you disagree that we can have no reasonable expectations about the kind of effects that a supernatural event will produce? Where do our expectations about cause and effect come from other than what we observe happening normally?

          • "Where do our expectations about cause and effect come from other than what we observe happening normally?"

            Are you suggesting that the only effects we can experience are those which have been experienced before? If so, what should we believe that?

          • Where did you get the idea that I was suggesting anything like that?

            I'm not saying anything about what experiences we can have. I am talking about how we use our knowledge and experience to infer causes from evidence and to predict the effects of events.

          • Doug Shaver

            We should first note that few Christians point to the Shroud of Turin as evidence of the resurrection (or at least as primary evidence.)

            So, if I have no antecedent reason to believe that the resurrection really happened, then I'm justified in thinking that the prior probability of the Shroud's authenticity is very low, if I'm doing a Bayesian analysis?

    • Doug Shaver

      I think that Lewis is wrong as to where the problem begins. It is not because the unbeliever decides a priori that miracles are not possible based on philosophical reasons.

      When I was a believer, I thought miracles happened all the time. I didn't change my mind by picking up any new philosophy. I just went looking for confirmations of miracle stories and couldn't find any.

      • Joe Ser

        How many interviews did you personally conduct? How did you decide between one miracle claim and another?

      • Joe Ser

        How many did you investigate? How many interviews were conducted? How did you decide which ones to check out?

        • Doug Shaver

          There was nothing systematic about it. I just started noticing that all the ones I'd heard about were not well attested, but they were the ones that ought to have been best attested. These were the ones that all Bible-believing Christians believed really happened. It wasn't like Catholics believed they happened but Protestants said they didn't, or some oddball Protestants said they happened and other Christians didn't. Then I noticed that in the disputed cases, although the attestation was usually better, it was never sufficient to eliminate reasonable doubt, i.e. that show that either error or fraud was too unlikely to merit serious consideration.

          I was seeing a pattern, and I drew what seemed to me like the reasonable inference. This was about 50 years ago. I've heard lots more new stories about miracles ever since then, and the pattern has persisted without exception.

          • Joe Ser
          • Ignatius Reilly

            So the Church will let me scientifically examine the Tilma?

          • Joe Ser

            Call them and ask. But before you do, study what has already been done. The eyes and the reflection of the scene only recently found with microscope. The constellations that have been found to be the date of the event. Then there is the photograph that shows additional images such as Our Lady of Lourdes, two hearts, kneeling, unborn babies, the holy spirit. The image that hovers over the cloth.

            They let scientists study the shroud. Recently they discovered that the carbon dating was done on a patch. Now they have identified pollens unique to the Middle East and a weaving pattern of that area 1st century. Also, when superimposing the painting St Faustina commissioned, the Holy Face of Manoppello and the shroud, they are all the same face. The 3d imagery embedded in the cloth. The backside image. Check it all out.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I have checked it out and I find little evidence for a miracle.

          • Doug Shaver

            These two you could go see yourself.

            What I mean by a well attested miracle is not "some people say that no man could have done this."

          • Joe Ser

            Seems like you are setting an impossible standard. Does this same standard apply equally to scientific pronouncements?

          • Doug Shaver

            Does this same standard apply equally to scientific pronouncements?

            Yes.

          • Joe Ser

            Even evolution which you have not observed, repeated or can predict?

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't agree that evolution has not been observed or repeated and cannot be predicted.

          • Joe Ser
          • Doug Shaver

            Are Miracles “Unscientific”?

            Do you want my answer, or a comment on Sullivan's answer?

          • Joe Ser

            Both.

          • Doug Shaver

            A miracle is a kind of occurrence. It's an event. I've never seen an event referred to as scientific except in the sense of something that scientists have achieved, such as their discovery that the earth is not at the center of the universe.

            In most contexts, "scientific" describes a method of inquiry, a way of getting answers to questions. Or, as Sullivan apparently is using the word, a belief is scientific if it is consistent with scientific inquiry and unscientific if not. As to his formulation of the two specific questions . . . .

            1. Can science (i.e. a scientific inquiry) tell us that miracles happen? I don't agree with his examples of things we know that science cannot confirm. His denial, I think, depends on too narrow a construal of science. Science is not just about what happens in laboratories. In particular, I think he is mistaken in saying that science cannot tell us about the reality of the past. I know how popular it is to say that history cannot be a science, but I strenuously disagree. Of course, a great deal of unscientific history has been written, but when history is done right, it is done scientifically. And when it is done scientifically, it can tell us whether we're justified in believing that an alleged miracle has occurred.

            Please understand, I do not equate "justified in believing" with "being absolutely certain" or "knowing infallibly." A major reason for the success of modern science is the allowance it makes for human fallibility and the techniques it employs to compensate for it insofar as compensation is possible.

            2. Does science tell us that miracles are impossible? No, it doesn't. I agree with him on this point.

          • Joe Ser

            I agree with the distinction between historical science and empirical science. Science in the broad sense is the accumulation of knowledge. We can get that various ways.

            The science of history has to include the most original material, not exclude it and just use a modern approach as in the historical critical method. The problem is science (as we use the term today) is provisional. The recording of someone's testimony is not. It stands on its own as either true or false. The science of history really can't add too much to why my deceased grandmother baked those cookies. She told me and I tell you.

          • Doug Shaver

            Science in the broad sense is the accumulation of knowledge.

            Sometimes it means that. I'm using it to refer to a method, not to the result.

            The science of history has to include the most original material, not exclude it and just use a modern approach as in the historical critical method.

            It has to use the available evidence regardless of its originality.

            The problem is science (as we use the term today) is provisional.

            All of our knowledge is provisional.

            The recording of someone's testimony is not [provisional].

            Our judgment as to whether we have a person's testimony, when that person is no longer alive, must be provisional.

            It stands on its own as either true or false.

            Our decision as to whether it is true or false must be subject to revision.

            The science of history really can't add too much to why my deceased grandmother baked those cookies. She told me and I tell you.

            If she had told me, I would most likely take her word for it, although in some rare situations I might have reason to be skeptical. But if you're telling me what she told you, whether I take your word for that depends on what I know about you.

          • Joe Ser

            We can meet and me, my family, and neighbors can all tell you why she baked the cookies. We might even pull out a few of her written sayings about it.

            The scientific method cannot shed much light on the above.

            I do not agree all our knowledge is provisional.

            Right, you have to trust me. In the case of Jesus He is respected as a good man. Yet, He told us He is the Son. I trust Him, you do not.

          • Doug Shaver

            We can meet and me, my family, and neighbors can all tell you why she baked the cookies. We might even pull out a few of her written sayings about it.

            The scientific method cannot shed much light on the above.

            We're examining the available evidence and reaching a reasoned conclusion about a probable explanation for that evidence. That is the scientific method.

            Yet, He told us He is the Son. I trust Him, you do not.

            You are not trusting him. Some men wrote some books about him, and you are trusting some other men who told you who those authors were and how they got their information.

          • Joe Ser

            These men were witnesses. I trust what they wrote to be true.

          • Doug Shaver

            These men were witnesses.

            You say so.

    • Ed Hamilton

      As a believer a miracle for me tells me what "I don't know" and is an experience of how little my mind really grasps. At that point an infinite amount of unknowns seem quite possible. Humility is saying I don't know as you say. The ultimate humility however, is to embrace that infinite amount of unknowns which we usually ultimately attribute to God. God has sometimes been described as an "unknowing" or something infinitely beyond our experience so any given experience is a further description of what God "is not". This is one reason why analogy is used in theology since God is so above our reason. So in this manner I believe it is more humble to believe in God as beyond of an admission of various occurrences of not knowing, but embracing all of them, even including the ones that you will never encounter.

  • GCBill

    I agree that there is no way to prove that miracles are impossible. I also don't think the Bible's miracle claims are convincing. It should be obvious that an "open philosophy" is compatible with many theological positions, as well as atheism.

  • William Davis

    There is one type of miracle we can test, and that is the efficacy of prayer. The results are one strong reason why I reject historical miracles. It turns out that well controlled studies of prayer find there is either no effect, or in the case of the largest study ever done STEP, if someone knows people are praying for them, it has a NEGATIVE effect. One study that showed prayer improved IVF rates by 50% was a complete hoax. I suppose Catholics would expect that God wouldn't intervene and improve IVF outcomes anyway. I think it is very important to deal with the scientific evidence that prayer does not work. If God exists, why would prayer not work? This is a very serious question that cannot be ignored.

    Mayo clinic[edit]

    A 2001 double-blind study at the Mayo Clinic randomized 799 discharged coronary surgery patients into a control group and an intercessory prayer group, which received prayers at least once a week from 5 intercessors per patient. Analyzing "primary end points" (death, cardiac arrest, rehospitalization, etc.) after 26 weeks, the researchers concluded "intercessory prayer had no significant effect on medical outcomes after hospitalization in a coronary care unit."[17]

    The IVF-ET prayer scandal[edit]

    In 2001 the Journal of Reproductive Medicine published an experimental study by three Columbia University researchers indicating that prayer for women undergoing in vitro fertilization-embryo transfer (IVF-ET) resulted in a double success rate (50%) of pregnancycompared to that of women who did not receive prayer.[18] Columbia University issued a news release saying that the study had been carefully designed to eliminate bias.[19] The most important skeptic was Bruce Flamm, a clinical professor of gynecology and obstetrics at the University of California at Irvine, who not only found the experimental procedures flawed,[20] but also discovered that some of the authors were frauds.[21] The first-named author, Kwang Y. Cha, never responded to any inquiries. Daniel Wirth, a.k.a. John Wayne Truelove, is not an M.D. but an M.S. in parapsychology and was subsequently indicted on felony charges for mail fraud and theft, committed apparently during the time the study was said to have been conducted, and he pleaded guilty. On November 22, 2004, Wirth was sentenced to five years in prison followed by three years of supervised release (parole). In December 2001 an investigation of Columbia University by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) revealed that the study’s lead author, Dr. Rogerio Lobo, first learned of the study six to twelve months after the study was completed, and he subsequently denied having anything to do with the study’s design or conduct and indicated that he had only provided editorial assistance. The name ofColumbia University and Lobo were retracted.[22]

    Retroactive intercessory prayer[edit]

    A 2001 study by Leonard Leibovici used records of 3,393 patients who had developed blood infections at the Rabin Medical Center between 1990 and 1996 to study retroactive intercessory prayer.[23] To compound the alleged miraculous power of prayer itself, the prayers were performed after the patients had already left the hospital. All 3,393 patients were those in the hospital between 1990 and 1996, and the prayers were conducted in 2000. Two of the outcomes, length of stay in the hospital and duration of fever, were found to be significantly improved in the intervention group, implying that prayer can even change events in the past. However, the "mortality rate was lower in the intervention group, but the difference between the groups was not significant." Leibovici concluded that "Remote, retroactive intercessory prayer was associated with a shorter stay in hospital and a shorter duration of fever in patients with a bloodstream infection." Leibovici goes on to note that in the past, people knew the way to prevent diseases (he cites scurvy) without understanding why it worked. In saying so, he suggests that if prayer truly does have a positive effect on patients in hospital, then there may be a naturalist explanation for it that we do not yet understand. After many scientists and scholars criticized this retroactive study,[24] Leibovici later stated that it was "intended lightheartedly to illustrate the importance of asking research questions that fit with scientific models."[25]

    The MANTRA study[edit]

    A 2005 MANTRA (Monitoring and Actualisation of Noetic Trainings) II study conducted a three-year clinical trial led by Duke University comparing intercessory prayer and MIT (Music, Imagery, and Touch) therapies for 748 cardiology patients. The study is regarded as the first time rigorous scientific protocols were applied on a large scale to assess the feasibility of intercessory prayer and other healing practices. The study produced null results and the authors concluded, "Neither masked prayer nor MIT therapy significantly improved clinical outcome after elective catheterization or percutaneous coronary intervention."[26] Neither study specified whether photographs were used or whether belief levels were measured in the agents or those performing the prayers.

    The STEP project[edit]

    Harvard professor Herbert Benson performed a "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP)" in 2006.[27] The STEP, commonly called the "Templeton Foundation prayer study" or "Great Prayer Experiment", used 1,802 coronary artery bypass surgery patients at six hospitals. Using double-blind protocols, patients were randomized into three groups, individual prayer receptiveness was not measured. The members of the experimental and control Groups 1 and 2 were informed they might or might not receive prayers, and only Group 1 received prayers. Group 3, which served as a test for possible psychosomatic effects, was informed they would receive prayers and subsequently did. Unlike some other studies, STEP attempted to standardize the prayer method. Only first names and last initial for patients were provided and no photographs were supplied. The congregations of three Christian churches who prayed for the patients "were allowed to pray in their own manner, but they were instructed to include the following phrase in their prayers: 'for a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications'.[28] Some participants complained that this mechanical way they were told to pray as part of the experiment was unusual for them. Major complications and thirty-day mortality occurred in 52 percent of those who received prayer (Group 1), 51 percent of those who did not receive it (Group 2), and 59 percent of patients who knew they would receive prayers (Group 3). Some prayed-for patients fared worse than those who did not receive prayers. In The God Delusion, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins wrote, "It seems more probable that those patients who knew they were being prayed for suffered additional stress in consequence: 'performance anxiety', as the experimenters put it. Dr Charles Bethea, one of the researchers, said, 'It may have made them uncertain, wondering am I so sick they had to call in their prayer team?'"[29] Study co-author Jeffery Dusek stated that: "Each study builds on others, and STEP advanced the design beyond what had been previously done. The findings, however, could well be due to the study limitations."[30] Team leader Benson stated that STEP was not the last word on the effects of intercessory prayer and that questions raised by the study will require additional answers.[31]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Studies_on_intercessory_prayer

    • "If God exists, why would prayer not work? This is a very serious question that cannot be ignored."

      The question is not ignored. In fact, we've dealt with it extensively here at Strange Notions.

      I'm curious how you determine whether prayer "works"? If you simply envision God as a divine vending machine who automatically dispenses precisely what anyone asks him for, even if it stands against his will and is not offered in his name, then you don't have the same understanding of prayer as most serious Christians do.

      Two more things. First, per our commenting rules, please refrain from copy-and-pasting large chunks of text in the combox (especially from Wikipedia.) Next time, please simply link to the relevant article. We can all click over if interested.

      Second, Trent Horn wrote an article some months back exposing the deficiencies of the very studies you cited. You can read it here:

      https://strangenotions.com/prayer-science-and-the-existence-of-god/

      • Papalinton
      • William Davis

        If God answered prayer, there would be a positive outcome when people are prayed for. I don't expect God to be a vending machine, but if prayer matters, than I expect prayer to affect outcomes. It doesn't.

        Thank you for linking the post, it was before my time. I'll respond to it.

        But if God is omniscient, then he always knows when he’s being tested. Any experiment involving him can’t be blind and so it probably can’t be scientific.

        If God wanted us to know he existed, wouldn't he make it a point to make the studies show positive? If God exists, it would appear he does not want us to think he exists.

        Sure, but we are now dealing with a God who does not answer prayer. Not surprising, I linked a passage where Jesus said it was all about believing you received an answer anyway. I hold out the possibility of a deistic god, though that is not what I currently believe in. When we look at all of the studies, we are talking thousands of prayer request, and we are only looking for a small improvement. You can't dismiss this as "certain" requests.

        Sorry for the length, but I thought it was relevant to the topic. Is there specific line limit for pastes? I'll try to look it up on the commenting rules.

        • "But if prayer matters, than I expect prayer to affect outcomes. It doesn't."

          I'm curious how you know this. The studies you cited don't answer this question. If someone prays that his mother be miraculously healed of cancer and yet the mother's cancer remains, that doesn't mean *no* outcome was affected. It doesn't mean God didn't act to change the hearts of the man (or his mother.)

          The experiments you referred to above are simply incapable of determining the full and actual effects of prayer, which is precisely what Trent Horn argues in the article I linked to. I highly recommend it to you.

          • George

            It does mean "no, the cancer was not healed". And what would be considered a divine change to their hearts? How do we account for subjective bias there?

          • William Davis

            I read the article, and just responded to it, (the items in block quote were from the article you linked, if you did not realize that, perhaps you are unfamiliar with the content of the article) but I reject the idea that an experiment is incapable of determining the effect of prayer. This is the same claim psychics and other forms of pseudo-science making, and reject their claims as well. Even the anti-vaccine crowd uses this form of special pleading.

            I use epidemiology a great deal, and it's results have greatly improved all of our lives. These methods are used to test all types of medicine and health claims, the only difference between a real medicine and a fake is that a real medicine generates positive outcomes when tested, a fake does not. Epidemiology has even demonstrated that green tea isn't as good for many health items as we once thought it was. I love green tea, and have a "desire" to want to think they were not testing it right, but there have been multiple studies that confirm green tea isn't good for weight loss and/or sugar control. I resist my presupposition and accept these studies. It would be very fair to say that I have faith in epidemiology, but epidemiology has proven itself to me. It don't think it is unfair to have more faith epidemiology than in the testimony of uneducated aramaic peasants from the 1 st century, but I think one of the oldest saying of Jesus actually backs up this position.

            These are not random prayers we are talking about. These are prayers about life and death, the most important prayers a person can possibly make. I don't doubt that praying can help the person who is praying feel better about the situation, but that isn't what we are talking about there.

            In the oldest Gospel we have Jesus says Mark 11

            23 Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. 24 So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received[c] it, and it will be yours.

            Jesus says the power of prayer is simply in believing you have received an answer, I think later scripture twist this around, but this most ancient copy is pretty clear to me, there was never any effect on objective reality, the effect was always supposed to be subjective. Like all thinks subjective, they have no effect if you do not believe they have an effect. Do not think I reject the power of prayer by some arbitrary choice, it is through highly methodical and evidence based decision making that I reject the power of pray and with it the idea that the supernatural can affect the natural world.

            If you want to argue that God made the universe so that his plan would unfold because of the way he set the universe in motion, this is a very different kind of claim, and something I am open to. If you suggest from the beginning of time, God ordained that one person would get cancer and then spontaneously regress with no explanation (we are studying spontaneous tumor regression, we think there is an unknown immune component to this, notice how a "miracle" for you is an opportunity for medical science to advance and potential cure cancer for me) I can accept that as possible. I just cannot accept that God interferes with nature. You can refuse to accept the findings of epidemiology, but I look to epidemiology for how to live, what to eat, and how to take care of myself. I therefore find dismal of epidemiology out of hand slightly offense (nothing major). You look to God, and therefore consider it's dismissal of pray slightly offensive. Please note that most of these studies were conducted by, and funded by scientists who believed in the power of prayer. They were disappointed by the results, I can honestly say i am too.

      • William Davis

        I did not see a line limit, perhaps I missed it. I've found most people do not click on links, but they do read quotes. For better or for worse, I've always been longwinded, and "short" is a bit arbitrary :)

    • David Nickol

      There is one type of miracle we can test, and that is the efficacy of prayer.

      It seems to me that the question of miracles and the question of the efficacy of prayer are two different questions. God could work miracles even if he didn't answer prayers. Also, I don't think most people pray for miracles, and it would be very difficult to prove that the average person who believes his or her prayers have been answered was the beneficiary of a miracle.

      I think it is possible that "scientific" experiments could demonstrate the efficacy of some prayers, but even if all the "scientific" experiments showed nothing, that wouldn't mean prayers are never answered. Not everything can be tested using an experimental group and a control group.

      • William Davis

        Understandable. For me, it is about looking for evidence that the supernatural is possible. Eye witness testimony has a ton of problems, and almost all miracles are based on eye witness testimony. I strongly embrace philosophical naturalism, but we almost never see supernatural anomalies. Most anomalies end up being problems with the theory itself. The software engineering and work I do rely on the idea that the universe is stable and deterministic, and I have yet to encounter any solid evidence to the contrary. I rely highly on evidence and numbers.
        There is a part of me that would like to believe in Heaven and God, but I need something tangible to help me alter my philosophy. Without contrary evidence, I can't honestly alter my philosophy. Perhaps I have myself in a philosophical trap, but I don't think it is an unreasonable trap. The studies on prayer are actually a big deal to me, but they may not be to someone else. I hope my comment did not come across as antagonistic, I was trying to demonstrate the amount of weight these studies have in my mind. I've based many decisions in my life off the methods employed by epidemiology. I understand and trust it's methods, and we have enough studies to demonstrate a clear pattern. If God did affect reality, why is there no way we can tell?

      • Great comment, David. I completely agree.

      • Doug Shaver

        even if all the "scientific" experiments showed nothing, that wouldn't mean prayers are never answered.

        So I should believe it just because lots of people say so?

        • David Nickol

          So I should believe it just because lots of people say so?

          What in my comment provoked that?

          It was not my intention to recommend what anyone should or should not believe about the efficacy of prayer. I am basically agnostic on the issue myself, so I am not about to tell anyone else what he or she "should" believe.

          I don't think it is necessarily futile to look for empirical evidence of the efficacy of prayer. However, I don't think it is something that can be the subject of an experiment. Or rather, I don't think experiments that showed no evidence that prayer was efficacious would prove that it never was.

          • Doug Shaver

            What in my comment provoked that?

            My inability to think of a reason for you to say what you did except to suggest a reason for believing in the efficacy of prayer.

      • William Davis

        After sleeping on it, I agree that these studied have not proven prayer never works. They have simply proven that if God answers prayer, it is an extremely rare event, much like the resurrection of Jesus. I'm very much used to dismissing things altogether when experiments demonstrate something doesn't work, but there is some grounds for making an exception here. I suppose the Bible never says how often God will answer prayer, now we have an answer to that question.
        Does that seem reasonable?

        • Ignatius Reilly

          The Bible says God will always answer prayer. If two or more are gathered....

          • "The Bible says God will always answer prayer. If two or more are gathered...."

            That's not exactly what it says. Yet even after quoting the relevant verse accurately, we still must ask what it means.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            19 Again I say to you, that if two of you shall consent upon earth, concerning any thing whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done to them by my Father who is in heaven.

            20 For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them

            Seems pretty clear to me. Whatever two people ask for - will be done. What do you think it means?

          • William Davis

            I guess the results of the answer happen to be the same as chance ;)

  • William Davis

    Most scholars agree that Mark is the oldest gospel and our closest link to the historical Jesus. In it we find some interesting passages with regard to miracles that I haven't really seen discussed. I'll start with Mark 6

    6 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary[a] and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense[b] at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.

    So Jesus's miracles seem to be dependent upon the belief of those witnessing the miracles. This is how a magician's trick's work, and how psychic's operate. The power of belief is quite real, and there is a large body of scientific literature dedicated to the subject.

    Let's jump to Mark 11
    23 Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. 24 So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received[c] it, and it will be yours.

    Jesus straight out says that the key to receiving your answer in prayer is just believing you received. One of the most effective medicines is placebo, we always have to test against the placebo effect. Part of the power of prayer is confirmation bias, where you attribute the cases where people get better to God, and just ignore the cases where people die. I have already demonstrated that prayer doesn't work when studied. Last is a very specific miracle in Mark 9

    17 Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; 18 and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.” 19 He answered them, “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy[e] to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy,[f] and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus[g] asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” 23 Jesus said to him, “If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.”24 Immediately the father of the child cried out,[h] “I believe; help my unbelief!”25 When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!” 26 After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. 28 When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer.”[i]
    This is a textbook case of epilepsy. The foaming at the mouth and acting dead are all symptoms of a grand mal seizure. It appears only God himself could heal this one as it is an actual neurological condition, not a psychosomatic disorder (perhaps the demons the disciples could deal with were purely pscychosomatic, belief would surely work there). There is no follow up with the boy, so we do not even know he did not have a seizure the next day. Jesus and his followers had already moved on, confident he had been healed.

    My view is that all miracles are subjective, and that nature never actually goes off course. This is consistent with Mark's gospel, actually.

  • Luke Cooper

    But then every once in a while I hear an account of some such phenomenon directly experienced by someone I trust and know not to be psychologically imbalanced.

    Psychological balance in no way precludes people falling for synchronicity, in which we derive meaning or causality from acausal occurrences, or prevents the implantation of false memories. In fact, a recent study based on principles first used by Elizabeth Loftus found that forensic psychologists were able to convince many participants that they had committed a crime (see http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/false-memory-crime ). We're confabulating, meaning-making machines.

    Edit: Fixed formatting.

    • William Davis

      Human memory and perception is much worse than most people realize. It is no accident over half of all psychology professors are atheist, far more than any other profession (I'm an engineer, but not sure why mechanical engineers were next. I didn't see other engineers, perhaps that didn't survey electrical engineers like me)

      "How do these numbers break down by discipline? Gross and Simmons explore how belief in God is distributed among the 20 largest disciplinary fields. In terms of atheists, professors of psychology and mechanical engineering lead the pack with 50 percent and 44.1 percent respectively. Amongst biologists, 33.3 percent were agnostic and 27.5 percent were atheist. Interestingly, 21.6 percent of biologists say that they have no doubt that God exists. In contrast, 63 percent of accounting professors, 56.8 percent of elementary education professors, 48.6 percent of finance professors, 46.5 percent of marketing professors, 45 percent of art professors, and 44.4 percent of both nursing professors and criminal justice professors stated that they know God exists."

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amarnath-amarasingam/how-religious-are-america_b_749630.html

      Hopefully this post was sufficiently short Brandon, again I ask for a specific guideline. I do want to follow your rules the best I can.

  • Michael Murray

    But this post’s aim remains much more modest in focusing on just one key thought from Lewis’ book: If we admit that nature is not the only thing that is—if we come to the conclusion that theism is true—then we are not “safe” from miracles. This by no means disproves atheism or agnosticism, but at least it points out one direction our dialogue needs to go.

    Surely if we come to the conclusion that theism is true then atheism is false and there is no need for dialogue.

    • "Surely if we come to the conclusion that theism is true then atheism is false and there is no need for dialogue."

      I don't see any reason to think this is true, nor do half the commenters on this site.

      • Michael Murray

        It's not the truth or falsity of the individual statements I am concerned about but the logic of:

        if we come to the conclusion that theism is true

        This by no means disproves atheism

        As atheism is either a lack of belief in gods or a disbelief in gods and theism is a belief in at least one god, it seems to me that if theism is true then atheism is false.

        • Peter

          It's not just theism. If deism which requires far less proof is true, then atheism is false. A site dedicated to the dismantling of atheism would need only to promote deism, while a site which promotes theism would be aimed at both atheists and deists. If theism is true, then both atheism and deism are false.

          • William Davis

            I'm much more open to deism than to the Christian God. There is just much more to chew on when discussing the
            Christian God. The problem with the term "God" is that it implies a man-like mind. If the deist God exists, I think he is so far beyond us that we can say almost nothing about him. We are like an bacteria contemplating a human being.

          • Peter

            One argument against deism, an utterly and permanently aloof God, is that bacteria cannot contemplate while humans can. We can know of the existence of God through his creation which makes one wonder whether we were designed as such. If so, God is not so aloof but has intended us to get to know that he exists.

          • William Davis

            Or, more simply, contemplating God is a by-product of the way the human brain evolved to detect agency. I think people are naturally biased to believe in God. This does not mean God exists, but it does invalidate the "proof" you just gave, at least for me. External evidence is required for me. If you are unfamiliar, check out hyperactive agency detection:

            http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/hyperactive-agency-detection/

          • Peter

            I've already commented on HADD once or twice on this site. As a believer, I'm inclined to think that HADD is an inbuilt design feature for humans which motivates us to seek out our Creator. Far from invalidating my proof, I believe it strengthens it.

          • William Davis

            Sure, you are entitled to that interpretation. The key for me is that HADD has clear survival benefit. A human who does not think a noise in the bushes is an agent is much more likely to be killed by a predator than one who assumes anything could be a thinking threat. I have very strong pattern recognize and am very vulnerable to HADD, which is why I have embraced critical thinking methods so strongly, I used to be readily drawn into conspiracy thinking. I don't see how a survival bias is evidence for an active God, but again that is just me :)
            I noticed what you did there, however. First you claimed it doesn't make sense for an atheist to not believe in a deist god. When I admitted the plausibility of a deist god, you proceeded to demonstrate how a deist god doesn't make sense, only your god does. This is sort of a hybrid between "bait and switch" and moving the goal post. As you can see, my HADD is useful, especially when filtered through critical thinking. I'm one of the rare people that is almost immune to marketing techniques that exploit cognitive flaws, this is related to my tendency to believe conspiracy theories. You can probably tell that I engage in meta-cognition on a regular bases and the most important part of critical thinking is to be critical of one's self and my own motivations. Being aware of cognitive biases is incredibly useful. I concede the fact you may not be aware of what you just did, but you did it nonetheless.

          • Peter

            The fact that HADD has a survival benefit only goes to strengthen the notion that it is an inbuilt design feature.
            It ensures that humans survive long enough to be able to seek out their Creator. It would sort of defeat the object if they were all dead.

      • Doug Shaver

        I don't see the problem. Just because I affirm "If A then B" doesn't mean I am affirming A. I don't see anyone in this forum denying that if God exists, then it can't be true that God doesn't exist.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          He is basically saying If A then ~A. That is not a true conditional.

          • Doug Shaver

            He is basically saying If A then ~A.

            To me, his statement looks like "If A is true, then ~A is false."

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Fair enough. Now that I read it again, I see that you are right. He is saying if theism then perhaps miracles. But not affirming that the antecedent is true.

  • Papalinton

    I am pretty certain had Fatima or Lourdes been put forward as miracles today, they would most likely have been scotched by a more skeptical and reason-based catholic Magisterium. Million upon millions believe in the Medjugore apparitions despite the Magisterium categorically denouncing them as fictitious. And it isn't in the church's interest today to consider Medjugorje as anything other than a phantasma given the social reality of the moderns.

  • Michael Murray

    Damn. For one exciting moment I thought we had a guest post from Bart Ehrman. That would be a miracle.

    • Papalinton

      That's a miracle I could anticipate.

    • William Davis

      Lol, that would be great. I think this is a good post. Ehrman's view of "how Jesus became God" is extremely plausible.

  • My friend, Amos Yong, has a take on miracles, grounded in the Peircean perspective (pragmatic semiotic realism) that I employ:

    http://renewaldynamics.com/2011/09/28/the-spirit-of-creation-modern-science-and-divine-action-in-the-pentecostal-charismatic-imagination/

  • Mila

    I see miracles all the time. Maybe I just contemplate nature too much.
    I see a pregnant woman and I see a miracle.
    I see the ocean and I see a miracle.
    I see someone laughing and I see a miracle.
    Nature is full of miracles.
    I also experienced something supernatural. I was 9 years old and was choking. I was alone and nobody noticed. I froze and panicked. I fell into despair. The only thing I did was to call to God with all my will. The next seconds I saw my body suffocating from the lack of air and I felt no pain as I was not inside it. I saw my body but I was not in it. I did feel however that I was suffocating on a multiverse of purity that was hard to endure while simultaneously impossible to resist. Words can't describe. I then was in my body again and the piece of food fell out. I was spared physical pain and saw the spiritual world. If only humanity knew what awaits us all.

    • Doug Shaver

      If you define miracle to mean anything that's just awesome, then I agree that miracles happen. I just don't see the point of miracle that way. And it doesn't seem to be what most apologists mean when they say that miracles happen.

      • Mila

        Yes, I understand what you mean. I just can't separate the two. But miracles, according to apologists, do happen as well. They are just not that obvious to blurry eyes. I believe many don't even notice them.
        What would you or the other apologists consider a miracle then? A prayer answered? A healing of the body? I'm just curious because I don't know what you mean by miracles then.

        • Damon

          Just speaking for myself personally, if God performed any of the large-scale miracles that the Old Testament claims he did fairly routinely back in the day, that would be more than enough to convince me. Something on the same scale as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the parting the Red Sea, stopping the Earth's orbit around the Sun for an entire day, that sort of thing.

          Preferably though, if just one holy person with the gift of healing went room to room in a hospital and a number of patients were healed as a result, that would be enough to convince me. I'd be even more convinced if at least one of the cured patients was an amputee.

          • Doug Shaver

            Any faith healer who cured an amputee would definitely get my complete attention.

          • Peter

            If I were an atheist, i.e. a believer in no God, I am unsure whether I would spend my time trying to disprove miracles because, even if they are disproved, this does not preclude the existence of a God. In fact, it may do the opposite.

            What is ironic is that, if miracles were proved to be impossible, it would mean that the entire universe operates in permanent and unswerving accordance with a pre-determined blueprint. In my view, this would strengthen and not weaken the idea of a powerful cosmic designer who has laid down hard and fast rules never to be broken.

            Atheism seems to be wasting its time trying to disprove a theistic God while leaving its back door wide open for a deistic God to enter.

          • Doug Shaver

            If I were an atheist, i.e. a believer in no God, I am unsure whether I would spend my time trying to disprove miracles

            I don't think I spend any more time on them than I have to. I address miracles when believers offer miracles to prove a point they're trying to make. If apologists never brought them up, I probably would never talk about them.

          • Peter

            I'm just making the point that in opposing miracles, even religion in general, atheists are fighting a battle for deism just as much as for atheism.

          • Doug Shaver

            Some of us aren't fighting for atheism per se. We're fighting for the kind of scientifically rational thinking that happened to lead us to atheism. If that sort of thinking leads some people away from religion's more toxic varieties, we're making progress.

          • Peter

            If by toxic varieties you mean claims which are blatantly falsifiable by science such as the claims of young earth creationists which bring into ridicule the faith of the claimants, then I would agree.

            However, if you mean claims such as miracles or life after death, you may have no reason to believe them and no one is forcing you, but I cannot see how science can falsify them.

            Scientifically rational thinking ought to distinguish between what is scientifically faslifiable and what is not.. The tendency of atheists is to apply the same amount of improbability to both.

          • Doug Shaver

            By toxic I mean harmful. Some unfalsifiable beliefs may be harmless in themselves, but they may be attached to the belief that there is something wrong with people who don't accept them. That belief is harmful.

          • Peter

            I've never come across this in Catholic circles. Belief in something which is unfalsifiable yet lacks evidence requires faith. Catholcism expressly does not condemn anyone who lacks faith, especially if their position is sincere. Indeed , as you may remember, Pope Francis suggested that even atheism could not be maligned if it arose from a genuine conviction.

          • Michael Murray

            Rubbish. My mother who was Anglican so lacked faith in Catholicism wasn't allowed to marry my father in the main part of the Catholic Church or to raise her children Anglican. She is now past four score years and still going to her church. Sounds like a genuine conviction to me.

          • Peter

            She was neither condemned nor maligned by the Church.

          • Michael Murray

            She was told how to raise her children and where she could get married as a condition of her husband being allowed a Catholic marriage. Sounds like condemned and maligned to me. Presumably not for you because the good old Catholic Church does no wrong. How could it. It's was founded by God himself and every persecution must be good.

            Excuse me I feel a little nauseous.

          • Doug Shaver

            I am aware that the Catholic Church, in its official pronouncements, cuts us skeptics a lot more slack than some Protestants do. I was not referring, however, just to those of your co-religionists who think we are all going to burn in hell. Even among secularists, there are many people who declare it positively virtuous to believe some things without any rational justification or even despite rational justifications to the contrary.

        • Doug Shaver

          What would you or the other apologists consider a miracle then?

          If someone tells me a miracle happened, I leave it to them to explain exactly what they mean. Most of the time, it seems to me, those who make such claims are referring to an event that is (a) inconsistent with natural law and (b) caused directly by God, often but not necessarily in response to someone's petitionary prayer.

    • Michael Murray

      Out of the body and near death experiences are fascinating. But as far as I know there is no reliable evidence yet that they are the result of anything but brain activity. The brain can do some amazing things as demonstrated for example in Oliver Sacks book Hallucinations.

      • Mila

        There are just theories about brain activity but no proof.
        There is, however, personal accounts of people who never knew each other that had similar experiences. I highly recommend Dr. Moody's book on NDE's if you haven't read it yet.

        • Michael Murray

          But they all have the same brain structure. So it's not a surprise that they have similar experiences. Just as they would give similar descriptions of a migraine.

          • Mila

            That's a theory, but not all of them have similar experiences at all.
            And if we are to believe in just theories then, I prefer to believe my theory over the theories of those who didn't have the experience but only try to theorize about it. In other words, my theory trumps those who didn't have the experience to accompany their theories.
            I recommend you the book by Dr. Eben Alexander. He is a leading neurosurgeon who had an experience during a 10 day comma.

          • Michael Murray

            You should read the expose of Dr Alexander in Esquire. He is not a good person to use to support this case.

            http://www.esquire.com/entertainment/interviews/a23248/the-prophet/

          • Mila

            He is just one out of thousands.
            I also have my experience which is really the only one I need really.
            But that aside, I can't even believe someone would rely on Esquire, that after reading the article, it only seeks to slander.

          • Mila

            Wow I just re-read it and it tries to discredit him by saying he changed his name when it was his adoptive family that did it.
            It also tries to say that his experience is invalid because as a child he read science fiction books.
            Complete garbage! Almost a desperate attempt.
            I bit vicious too. If someone has to be that vicious to try and convince anyone then that means they have no real point.

          • Damon

            Wow I just re-read it and it tries to discredit him by saying he changed his name when it was his adoptive family that did it.
            It also tries to say that his experience is invalid because as a child he read science fiction books.
            Complete garbage! Almost a desperate attempt.

            Actually, the article does none of those things. If anything here reeks of a desperate attempt at discreditation, it's your comment.

            Personally I don't like Esquire's brand of journalism, but in this particular piece the author presents enough evidence to cast Alexander's claims into serious doubt. The doctor that cared for him attests that his coma was medically induced, that he was both conscious and delirious. Couple this with Alexander's history of rewriting events after the fact to suit his purposes (such as falsifying medical records), and its tough to lend credibility to his version of events.

        • Doug Shaver

          There are just theories

          So is science in general. Gravity is just a theory.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    Even if we allow for miracles that does not mean that the bible records miraculous events or is the inspired word of God. I believed in the possibility of miraculous intervention, when I came to believe that the bible is the work of man.

    • Lamont

      There are those skeptics and modernists like Ehrman who claim that the resurrection is a story told by the early Christians to communicate the way in which they experienced Jesus as alive in their hearts and still present in the community of believers after the crucifixion. Despite the fact that many highly educated people think that this is what really happened, there is one
      thing that simply does not fit. That is the ascension.

      If the disciples were so caught up in their emotions and imagination that
      they experienced Jesus as still being present with them, where does
      this story about Jesus being taken up into heaven only 40 days after
      the resurrection come from? Psychologically it makes no sense. If the
      memory of Jesus was so strong that it empowered the apostles to go
      out and preach the gospel to the whole world, that memory would have
      lasted far longer than 40 days. In fact the New Testament should be
      full of stories reporting how Jesus appeared wherever the apostles
      went. But that is not what we find.

      What we do find is that the resurrection was followed by the ascension which itself was a bridge to the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. As fantastic as that may seem to some, it makes perfect sense if that is what
      actually happened. To interpret the resurrection and the ascension as
      stories that are supposed to tells us about what the disciples were
      feeling rather than as an account of the actual historical events
      makes no sense at all.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Why didn't the first Gospel, Mark, record the ascension?

        I think you miss the point of my objection. I do not find the Bible, taken as a whole, consistent with it being inspired by a all-Omni deity.

        • Lamont

          Mark is the shortest Gospel. He left all kinds of things out. That is why we have 4 separate accounts - so that nothing that was really important was left out. God did not force any of the evangelists to write the one perfect and complete account of what Jesus said and did. God is able to communicate the whole truth through ordinary men who just wrote what they thought was important for their intended audience.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Or, perhaps, the later Gospels embellished on Mark as the story of Jesus was embellished. Similar to a game of telephone.

          • "Or, perhaps, the later Gospels embellished on Mark as the story of Jesus was embellished. Similar to a game of telephone"

            Perhaps, but there's little evidence for this. Moreso, the other Gospels were written while eyewitnesses to the life, death, and appearances of Jesus were still alive. If a game of "telephone" developed and proclaimed Jesus' ascension even if never happened, these eyewitnesses (foremost among them, the enemies of Christianity) would have been quick to point it out. This is why very few serious NT scholars (either Christian or non-Christian) hold to the "telephone" hypothesis.

            I suggest you read Richard Bauckham's "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony" for more detail:

            http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Eyewitnesses-Gospels-Eyewitness-Testimony/dp/0802863906/?tag=stno-20

          • William Davis

            The do not hold to the telephone hypothesis, but they do hold to Markan priority and source Q. There is NO WAY the synoptics are independent accounts, they were copied from Mark or the same source. I'll quote Bible.org

            "It is quite impossible to hold that the three synoptic gospels were completely independent from each other. In the least, they had to have shared a common oral tradition. But the vast bulk of NT scholars today would argue for much more than that.3 There are four crucial arguments which virtually prove literary interdependence."

            We can PROVE the are not independent accounts, so please do not prevent that as fact, the idea that they are independent accounts is quite false. It's difficult to have a conversation when known falsehoods are presented as fact.

            I've read the gospels recently and you can see it right in the texts. I'll also quote a catholic source.

            "They are facts which no one can refer either to mere chance, or to the direct influence of inspiration. On the one hand, the resemblances are too numerous and too striking to be regarded as explicable on the hypothesis that the first three Evangelists wrote independently of one another."

            http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14389b.htm

            None of this implies the miracles didn't happen, or Jesus did not rise from the grave, but any theory about what happen must understand this fact of interdependence.

          • William Davis

            P.S. I don't blame them for embellishing the story. The message of Jesus's compassion and love is an extremely powerful, valuable message. Mark's gospel seems to represent a Jewish understanding of the son of God who was to be a human figure but something more than human. David and Solomon were sons of God. I've talked to Jews, and they say this is absolutely correct. The Jews rejected Christianity, however, so the early Christians had to "sell" Christianity to the pagans. When Greeks thought "son of God" they were thinking someone literally born of the seed of a god, like Hercules. Therefore the Greeks needed the virgin birth to believe Jesus the son of God. To the Jews, however, this invalidated Jesus as the messiah, the messiah was always supposed to born of the MALE line of David, so if Joseph wasn't the father, Jesus could not have been the messiah.
            I think the world needed Christianity, and early Christians did what they needed to do to get the beautiful message to "stick". I'll stick with Mark's gospel, I'm not a pagan and I don't need the son of God to be born of a virgin. I'm willing to follow Jesus's message because it is right, but I have trouble with miracles and people rising from the dead. Mark's gospel does not require anyone to believe in the resurrection to enter the kingdom of God, only to do the right thing. The ended that was added later injected the requirement to believe in the resurrection that was not in our two oldest sources and were clearly not written by the author of Mark. I've tried to be diligent in studying the evidence for Jesus and the resurrection, but there is clearly room for disagreement, and it does ride on background philosophy. I really like this article btw, sorry, I got people off on the prayer tangent, but it is part of the reason I fail to embrace a philosophy that grants the possibility of "miracles."

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Who were these enemies of Christianity? Mark was written shortly after Rome laid siege to Jerusalem. I don't think the "enemies of Christianity" were very worried about debating theological points with a sect within Judaism.
            I think you are overestimating how quickly and accurately knowledge was disseminated in ancient times. Even if there were eyewitnesses that pointed out that the Gospels were fabrications or embellishments, what makes you think there voice was heard?
            Religious sects can be very insular. Early Christians would not necessarily believe evidence that the texts were a fabrication.
            Christianity just happened to be the religion of a few Roman Emperors, which accounts for its growth in late Rome and the dark ages.

          • "Even if there were eyewitnesses that pointed out that the Gospels were fabrications or embellishments, what makes you think their voice was heard?"

            Because the majority of the known world did *not* accept the Christian narrative, and the majority of those in Israel wanted to suppress it. It boggles the mind to think we would have *zero* example of people challenging the disciples accounts of Jesus from the first century, unless they were accurate.

            "Religious sects can be very insular. Early Christians would not necessarily believe evidence that the texts were a fabrication."

            Perhaps, but there's no evidence of such charges *outside* the Christian community either. If the Christians simply made this up, we would expect Jewish sources to at least report such charges, if not prove them. But history has provided zero examples of this.

            In other words, there's absolutely no evidence to support your "what if?" scenario--it's pure, ungrounded speculation.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Because the majority of the known world did *not* accept the Christian
            narrative, and the majority of those in Israel wanted to suppress it.

            I would assume that the majority of the world did not even know of the Christian narrative. What evidence do you have that the majority in Israel wanted to suppress it?

            It boggles the mind to think we would have *zero* example of people challenging the disciples accounts of Jesus from the first century, unless they were accurate

            Probably, because it was a very small group of people who were Christians. It wouldn't necessarily be on the radar of ancient authors.

            Furthermore, if I was to write a history of America, I would perhaps leave out Mormonism or Scientology, because at the time I am writing (right now), neither of those religions are particularly important. I would probably mention Mormonism in a passing paragraph or two, when I talk about Romney. This is similar to the Josephus passage, which may have been a partial interpolation.

            How many writings from that time period that also originates in Israel do we even have? If there were writings critical of the Christian narrative, would medieval monks have bothered to copy then down? Or would they have used that paper to make another copy of the New Testament.

            The monks weren't always very judicious about what they copied over. Personally, there are a couple of works by Cicero and a work of Petronius that I would like to be able to read.

            You are vastly overestimating the importance of early Christianity.

            Once Christianity became more popular, we began to see some writings against the sect.

            Perhaps, but there's no evidence of such charges *outside* the Christian community either. If the Christians simply made this up, we would expect Jewish sources to at least report such charges, if not prove them. But history has provided zero examples of this.

            What Jewish sources would report these charges?

            There are multiple ways that we can imagine a small religious community coming out of obscurity to become dominant religion. All religions have started small anyway. There are also many plausible scenarios about how Jesus became deified without him actually being God. Because we have little good evidence from that time period, we cannot know what explanation is correct. That does not make your explanation correct.

            In other words, there's absolutely no evidence to support your "what if?" scenario--it's pure, ungrounded speculation.

            I have the general history of religions. You only have the evidence of Christian texts for your claims. This would be like arguing against Scientology, when the only texts available on the subject are Scientology texts.

          • Doug Shaver

            Moreso, the other Gospels were written while eyewitnesses to the life, death, and appearances of Jesus were still alive.

            So says church tradition. We have no other evidence for such an early date of their composition.

          • "So says church tradition. We have no other evidence for such an early date of their composition."

            This is simply a reflection of your ignorance on the issue. It's not just "church tradition" that claims this. The overwhelming scholarly consensus is that at least three of the gospels (and probably the fourth) were written within the lifetime of the apostles. Moreso, all of the letters of Paul were certainly written in this period and the teachings and creeds found within the Gospels and Paul's letter date back even closer to the time of Christ.

          • Doug Shaver

            the other Gospels were written while eyewitnesses to the life, death, and appearances of Jesus were still alive.

            So says church tradition. We have no other evidence for such an early date of their composition.

            It's not just "church tradition" that claims this. The overwhelming scholarly consensus is that at least three of the gospels (and probably the fourth) were written within the lifetime of the apostles.

            I was referring to primary evidence. A consensus of scholars is not primary evidence.

            You may wish to claim that the scholars are using primary evidence to justify their consensus, but I will then ask you to point me to that primary evidence.

            This is simply a reflection of your ignorance on the issue.

            I stand ready to be educated.

          • Doug Shaver

            If a game of "telephone" developed and proclaimed Jesus' ascension even if never happened, these eyewitnesses (foremost among them, the enemies of Christianity) would have been quick to point it out.

            If some disciples were saying that Jesus appeared to them after he died, who could have witnessed the fact that those appearances didn't actually happen?

          • "If some disciples were saying that Jesus appeared to them after he died, who could have witnessed the fact that those appearances didn't actually happen?"

            This isn't what Ignatius was asking about, nor what supporters of the "telephone" hypothesis claim. The latter suggest that the "appearance" narratives were *later* interpolations to the biblical text that arose over centuries as the original narratives were passed along.

            But as I noted, the earliest sources we have independently attest to these post-mortem appearance, and if they were invented whole-cloth by later writers via the "telephone" scenario, such a claim would have quickly been challenged by living witnesses and friends of the disciples.

            Now if what you're suggesting is that disciples *themselves* made up the appearance narratives, then that's a whole different theory (and one significantly weaker than the already-weak telephone narrative.) We simply have no reasons or evidence to believe they would make up such a startling claim, and plenty of reasons to doubt it (the empty tomb, the predictable backlash among the enemies of the early Christian movement, the lack of motivation for such a lie, etc.)

          • Doug Shaver

            The latter suggest that the "appearance" narratives were *later* interpolations to the biblical text that arose over centuries as the original narratives were passed along.

            But as I noted, the earliest sources we have independently attest to these post-mortem appearances, and if they were invented whole-cloth by later writers via the "telephone" scenario, such a claim would have quickly been challenged by living witnesses and the disciples themselves, who stood at the center of the purported stories.

            OK, my mistake. I'm sorry not to have paid better attention to what I was reading.

            Now if what you're suggesting is that disciples *themselves* made up the appearance narratives, then that's a whole different theory

            I don't think there were any disciples because I don't think there was any real Jesus of Nazareth.

            But I used to believe he was a real person, and I believed that the stories of his post-mortem appearances most likely originated with his disciples. I never thought, though, they just made up those narratives. I believed that something must have happened to a few of them that somehow caused those few to honestly believe that they had seen the risen Christ. I have never in my life harbored a suspicion that anybody who could be counted among the founders of Christianity ever lied about anything. Not that I would rule it out, but I'm not believing it without good evidence, and I have never seen any evidence, good or bad.

          • Joe Ser

            The telephone game was much better back then. Oral transmission was very accurate.

          • Doug Shaver

            To hear an oral report about an event is not to witness the event.

          • Lamont

            Your theory of how the Gospels were written suggests that they started out as simple stories about a beloved teacher that were later embellished with a bunch of miracle stories. The evidence indicates that Mark was the first Gospel written and it just is one miracle after another. It is from Matthew that we get the teachings of Jesus. Luke reports that he is drawing on earlier accounts and eye witness testimony but he does not add any new miracle stories. My conclusion is that your theory does not fit the evidence.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Mark's gospel fits into the genre of apocalyptic literature.

            What makes you think that Mark didn't do a little embellishing himself?

          • William Davis

            It really isn't that simple. At this point no credible bible scholar believes they were independent accounts, I'm dead serious. Most scholars think Matthew and Luke copied Mark, and John was written by the "Johannine community". These mostly Christians who believe this, it is not some atheist conspiracy.

            "It is quite impossible to hold that the three synoptic gospels were completely independent from each other. In the least, they had to have shared a common oral tradition. But the vast bulk of NT scholars today would argue for much more than that.3 There are four crucial arguments which virtually prove literary interdependence."

            https://bible.org/article/synoptic-problem

            "The theory most in favor in recent decades has been that of Markan priority. It holds that Mark wrote first and that Matthew and Luke borrowed from him and from a collection of the "sayings of the Lord" known as Q (from the German Quelle, "source"). Mark is not only the shortest of the synoptic Gospels, it is the most simply written. Advocates of Markan priority say it makes more sense to think that Matthew and Luke expanded on Mark rather than that Mark reduced either Matthew or Luke."

            http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/a-question-of-priority

          • Roman

            no credible bible scholar believes they were independent accounts

            Depends what you mean by "independent". I think it makes sense that the synoptic gospels had one or more common sources since they share some stories. However, it clear that they each had other sources which were not shared among the synoptic gospel authors. The argument that Mark came first because it was the shortest is rather simple-minded. Couldn't it be that it was simply Mark's writing style and his audience (The Romans) that determined the abbreviated length of his gospel? In fact there is historical evidence that Matthew was the first gospel. In the early church documents, that was clearly the consensus (read for example Eusebius "History of the Church"). We also have evidence that Matthew was the only gospel that was originally written in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. This would have made sense if Matthew was the first Gospel which was addressed to the Jews in Jerusalem.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            So the Romans would appreciate a work written in the Jewish tradition of apocalyptic literature?

          • Roman

            You mean ROMAN CHRISTIANS and JEWS. Or didn't you know that there were Jews in the Roman empire? Historians estimate 4 to 6 million in the 1st century, approximately 50,000 in the city of Rome. There is plenty of historical evidence that Mark lived with Peter in Rome for approximately 20 years. Who else would he be writing his Gospel to???

            Jewish tradition of apocalyptic literature

            All four Gospels were primarily written in the literary genre of historical narrative along with parables, not apocalyptic literature.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            You mean ROMAN CHRISTIANS and JEWS. Or didn't you know that there were Jews in the Roman empire? Historians estimate 4 to 6 million in the 1st century, approximately 50,000 in the city of Rome.

            And how many of those Jews were Christian?

            There is plenty of historical evidence that Mark lived with Peter in Rome for approximately 20 years. Who else would he be writing his Gospel to???

            What evidence?

            If you are talking about tradition, tradition says all sorts of things, some of them are probably wrong. Tradition is akin to folk tales like Paul Bunyan.

            All four Gospels were primarily written in the literary genre of historical narrative along with parables, not apocalyptic literature

            What are the markers of historical narrative? What ancient books are the Gospels most similar to?

            So there isn't any apocalyptic writings in the gospel of Mark?

          • William Davis

            The fact that the aramaic saying of Jesus were not preserved is evidence that God had no interest in preserving the real saying of Jesus, this is a real problem for me. For you to say most Bible scholars are "simple minded" (the vast majority of scholars agree that Mark was first) is a bit ridiculous. You know better than Bible scholars?
            If you read Mark first, then Matthew, then Luke, you can see what was happening. Mark pretty much precludes a virgin birth where he mentions Jesus's family (including his mother) think Jesus is out of his mind. Mark has no problem with Jesus being baptized by John, and only coming on the seen when John is taken off, Jesus is thus a disciple of John. Matthew twists it around and has John asking Jesus to Baptize him. I can see why Matthew would make up his version, but not Mark. If the author of Mark was there, why would he not mention this important conversation. Mark also has Jesus's "divinity" beginning at his baptism after his sins are washed away (that is what baptism is about isn't it). Mark also has no account of Jesus after his death. Many, many specific elements indicate Mark is no summary, it is a primitive account. A summary would not leave out these important details. Just read the books yourselves.

          • Roman

            I didn't say most biblical scholars are simple-minded. You did. I said that its simple minded to assume Mark's gospel was first because its the shortest. That's not the same as saying that the biblical scholars who take this view are simple-minded. I think you know that but you chose not to make that distinction. It may be true that many scholars today believe Mark was first, but there are many scholars who don't. Fact is that Markan priority is a relatively new theory, late 18th century. So, the majority of scholars during the 2000 year history of the church have believed that Matthew's gospel was written first and many still do.

            Mark pretty much precludes a virgin birth where he mentions Jesus's family (including his mother) think Jesus is out of his mind.

            aha...I see now where you get some of these strange ideas from....you're obviously a Bart Erhman fan. That's unfortunate...for you. You might want to read "How God Became Jesus" written by 5 world class biblical scholars that totally trash Erhman's "How Jesus became God". As pointed out in the book, Erhman is known among his colleague as having a poor grasp of ancient Greek, something he relies upon in his interpretation of Mark 3:21. The proper interpretation of the Greek is "people were saying, he is out of his mind". Not "his famlly were saying", as Erhman claims based on a bad interpretation of the original Greek. The rest of his argument regarding the virgin birth consequently falls apart.

            Mark also has Jesus's "divinity" beginning at his baptism after his sins are washed away (that is what baptism is about isn't it)

            ah...no...not exactly. To an ancient Jew, anointing with water in that context would have had multiple meanings and symbolism including:
            1. When someone was appointed King, they were annointed, (e.g., David, Saul, etc.). The annointing also formally inaugurates his mission as the Messiah
            2. The baptism of Jesus symbolized his total solidarity with sinful humanity, something that would lead him to the cross
            3. Immersion in water is a symbol of death (see Ps 69:2-3) and Jesus later speaks of this death as a "baptism" (Mark 10:38)
            4. Jesus through his divinity was sanctifying the waters with the Holy Spirit, symbolized by the Spirit coming down from above in the form of a dove.
            5. The annointing is the fullfillment of a prophesy from Isaiah 42:1, "Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him".

          • William Davis

            That's unfortunate...for you. You might want to read "How God Became Jesus" written by 5 world class biblical scholars that totally trash Erhman's "How Jesus became God".

            I've seen a TON of christians give this book a bad review, even on Amazon. It got such bad reviews I didn't bother reading it, that is a good criteria I usually go by. Most reviews say Simon Gathercole was the only reasonable person in the book, and I accept the possibility Jesus was buried in a tomb. I like Simon Gathercole, he's a reasonable and intelligent man, I do not always agree with Erhman. I listened to a debate between Gathercole and Ehrman, and they were friendly. I found myself sometimes agreeing with Gathercole, just like I found myself sometimes agreeing with White in the debate I linked. Christians tend to underestimate the variations in the text and Bart seems to overestimate them, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Bart forces James to admit one critical point, the older the text, the more variations there are. If you extrapolate back into the texts we do not possess any reasonable person would expect a MUCH higher level of variation.

            You see I was raised Christian, went to Christian schools, ect. I've heard all about Christian "evidences" my entire life. The fact that you think they "trash" Ehrman shows how emotional you are over the issue. Emotion always gets in the way of finding truth, I have to deal with this in my own mind. I'm not here to convince you your religion is false, I'm here to convince you my position is quite reasonable and valid. Ehrman really is a world class scholar, look up his qualifications. Every time Christians "trash" Ehrman, it just makes them look that much more dishonest. No wonder people are leaving Christianity in droves. The main problem with Christianity is Christians who behave like you do. I'd agree that atheists have behavior problems too (people do in general) but are Christians "supposed" to be better? I don't see how being a Christian helps anything at all, and this is a huge evidence against Christianity. This isn't to say there are not good Christians, there are plenty, but Jesus told us to judge the tree by the fruit it bears, and that is exactly what I'm doing. Besides, a difference that makes no difference is no difference at all.

            ah...no...not exactly. To an ancient Jew, anointing with water in that context would have had multiple meanings and symbolism including:

            The kings were anointed with oil my friend, this has nothing to do with baptism. In fact both Messiah, and Cristos mean "anointed one". The history behind anointing kings is incredibly ancient. I've read Hindu, Sumerian and Egyptian texts that speak of anointing kings. The fact is the Messiah was supposed to be a great king or prophet of the line of David. The Jews still await their messiah (many think there may have been and will be more than one). Note that all the anointed kings of the line of David were sons of God, it says this many places in the Hebrew Bible. Mark presents Jesus as the son of God with a Jewish understanding. Matthew presents Jesus as the son of God with a Greek understanding (like Hercules and Romulus). The Jewish messiah had to be born of the male line of David, if Jesus was born of a virgin, he was NOT the messiah of the Hebrew Bible.

            Please take the time to review the history of both anointing and baptism. You are confusing anointing with mikveh. Notice that mikveh was usually done upon conversion. Jesus's baptism represented his conversion to Jewish Apocalyptic views held by John the Baptist. Why do you think John made the point that Jesus was greater than he is, sometimes disciples do surpass their mentors, and Jesus definitely surpassed John.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anointing

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baptism#History

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritual_washing_in_Judaism#Full-body_immersion

            One major difference between you and I is that I'm looking at this as a historian. I find myself constantly agreeing with the Jews on interpretations of Isaiah (most Christian interpretations are taken completely out of context). If I had been a Jew during the time of Christ, I would have considered Christianity a heresy like Paul did before his vision. The servant in Isaiah is Israel, not Jesus or the messiah.

            Psalm 69

            Save me, O God,
            for the waters have come up to my neck.
            2 I sink in deep mire,
            where there is no foothold;
            I have come into deep waters,
            and the flood sweeps over me.
            3 I am weary with my crying;
            my throat is parched.
            My eyes grow dim
            with waiting for my God.

            I'd argue that this about drowning in sorry, and growing weary waiting for God to relieve the sorry. Read the entire psalm, this is not talking about death.

            Great art has a lot of room for interpretation, but I tend to go with the oldest interpretation consistent with the historical context. I typically defer to Jewish interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. When it comes to the New Testament, I prefer Christian interpretations as opposed to Mormon or some other new comer, I think I'm being fair. When it comes to Mark 10:38, yours is a possible interpretation, but I don't think anyone is quite sure what this passage means. Just look at the commentaries

            http://biblehub.com/commentaries/mark/10-38.htm

          • Roman

            <blockquoteI've seen a TON of christians give this book a bad review, even on Amazon I take the Amazon reviews with a grain of salt. Its become politicized. If there are "Christians" giving the book by Bird et. al. a bad review, its more likely because they are Erhman fans, and certainly not scholars. I've read both books and Bird and company identify so many problems with Erhman's theory that they thoroughly destroyed its credibility. Erhman uses speculation on top of speculation. One of the problems, for example, is that he identifies what he calls incarnational Christology and exaltation Christology and he claims that the exaltation Christology came first in time. Problem is he never proves it.....its his presupposition and his conclusion.

            The kings were anointed with oil my friend, this has nothing to do with baptism

            Interesting discussion, but I already know about anointing with oil. You forget, I'm Catholic. One of our sacraments is the anointing of the sick (i.e.,with oil). But as I said in my original post, context is important and so is typology. The latter is the use of objects, places, events in the Old Testament that foreshadow something in the New Testament. As it says in Hebrews 10:1

            "Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come"

            The problem with your interpretation of the passage in Mark regarding Jesus's baptism is that it doesn't take context or typology into account. Jesus is simultaneously undergoing a ritual washing and an anointing by the Holy Spirit. This is confirmed in the book of Acts 10:38

            " what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the holy Spirit and power"

            One major difference between you and I is that I'm looking at this as a historian. I find myself constantly agreeing with the Jews on interpretations of Isaiah (most Christian interpretations are taken completely out of context).

            If you are, then you've failed as a historian. I've spent a considerably amount of time myself studying the messianic prophesies and the historical tradition of the Jews regarding these prophesies. What you find quite clearly, is that the earliest Christians (who were Jews) for the most part were repeating the scriptural interpretation and oral tradition of the ancient Jews as shown in the ancient Targums, and the Mishna. The midrash came later. It wasn't until many years after the destruction of the temple and the success of the Christian movement that you can find Jewish rabbis re-writing their interpretation of some of the messianic prophesies in order to counter Christianity. Here are just a few examples of ancient Jewish commentary on Isaiah 53:

            The Babylonian Talmud says: "The Messiah, what is his name? The Rabbis say, The Leper Scholar, as it is
            said, ‘surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God
            and afflicted...'" (Sanhedrin 98b).

            Midrash Ruth Rabbah says (of the Messiah): " this refers to his chastisements, as it is said, `But he was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.'"

            (Targum Rambam) Rabbi Moses Maimonides says: "What is the manner of Messiah's advent....there shall rise up one of whom none have known before, and signs and wonders which they shall see performed by him will be the proofs of his true origin; .....And Isaiah speaks similarly of the time when he shall appear, without father or mother or family being known, He came up as a sucker before him, and as a root out of dry earth, etc

          • William Davis

            I've read both books and Bird and company identify so many problems with Erhman's theory that they thoroughly destroyed its credibility. Erhman uses speculation on top of speculation. One of the problems, for example, is that he identifies what he calls incarnational Christology and exaltation Christology and he claims that the exaltation Christology came first in time. Problem is he never proves it.....its his presupposition and his conclusion.

            http://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2014-04/bart-ehrman-part-legitimate-ongoing-conversation

            http://www.reddit.com/r/AcademicBiblical/comments/2eot6q/does_the_biblical_scholar_community_take_bart/

            Not only does the author of the article we are commenting under take Ehrman seriously, so do these people.

            If you actually listened to Ehrman's recent debates, he admits that different Christologies likely developed concurrently, they were not necessarily in chronological order. He and Simon Gathercole got into this in their debate.

            Jesus is simultaneously undergoing a ritual washing and an anointing by the Holy Spirit.

            It wasn't simultaneous, it was sequential. The baptism happened first, to wash away sins and purify. The anointing with the Holy Spirit was AFTER the baptism, right after, but after. This signifies that Jesus was someone more divine after the baptism than he was before.

            If you are, then you've failed as a historian.

            Lol, I'm taking the historical perspective, but I'm actually an engineer. I'm not saying you have "failed" because have a different point of view. Your dogma is showing again.

            I've seen some back and forth about the suffering messiah. One big problem is that the Talmud was written much after the time of Christ, 200 C.E for the earliest part. If there was an anti-Christian conspiracy as you seem to indicate, why would it be in a text this late? I looked into this, and I don't see any mention of Isaiah 53. Saying the Leper Messiah is about Isaiah 53 seems to be a real stretch. I'm using this copy of the Talmud:

            http://www.come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_98.html

            Notice Isaiah 53 is never referenced, even in the footnotes. I think most people agree that the "gate" it was referring to is the gate of Rome, there is even a wikipedia article on it.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Messiah_at_the_Gates_of_Rome

            I won't say your history has "failed" but you're not doing a good job of showing where mine has failed, lol. Again, if you can show me something written BEFORE the time of Christ it will be different. I found this article presenting the EXACT arguments that you are:

            http://www.chosenpeople.com/main/index.php/holidays-and-festivals/878-the-servant-messiah-and-the-feast-of-dedication

            The core problem with all of this is that when I read Isaiah, I interpret it like the Jews who rejected Jesus. The fact you can find some Jewish interpretations that match after Christ is a testament to how we can see different faces in the "cloud" that is scripture.

          • Roman

            Not only does the author of the article we are commenting under take Ehrman seriously, so do these people.

            The criticism I have of Erhman is the same as that from many biblical scholars, i.e., his popular books claim too much. His academic work is quite different and far more respectable.

            If you actually listened to Ehrman's recent debates, he admits that different Christologies likely developed concurrently,

            I read Ehrman's book. He is backing away from the claims in his book if what you say is true.

            The baptism happened first, to wash away sins and purify. The anointing with the Holy Spirit was AFTER the baptism

            We're definitely beating this one to death. I think at least part of the reason for our difference is that you come to the table with a Fundamentalist Christian perspective on biblical exegesis, i.e., more literal, less symbolic. This is quite different than the Catholic method of biblical exegesis. The following is a quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part 1, Section 2, Chapter 2, Article 2, SubSection 2 :

            "His eternal messianic consecration was revealed during the time of his earthly life AT THE MOMENT OF his baptism by John, when "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit"

            To a Catholic, this makes perfect sense. We believe that baptism infuses the recipient with the Holy Spirit. The fusing of water and the holy spirit in this passage is a way of showing us that. Most Protestants, especially Fundamentalist Baptists, believe that baptism does absolutely nothing.

            I'm actually an engineer.

            I knew there was something I like about you. Only two engineers could argue like this. LOL

            One big problem is that the Talmud was written much after the time of Christ, 200 C.E for the earliest part.

            The Talmud is comprised of many parts. The Jews started writing down the Mishnah, (the oral tradition handed down over 100's of years) around 70 AD after the destruction of Jerusalem, and that part of the Talmud was completed around 200 AD. The rest of the Talmud got written down over the next couple hundred years and includes mainly Rabbinical commentary. The oral tradition goes back way beyond the time of Christ. The Rabbinical commentary comes a considerable time after the death of Jesus. There are also two versions of the Talmud. What I cited for you was just a sampling of sources that attest to the ancient Jewish interpretation of Isaiah as being about the Messiah. I gave you a quote from the Targums ( the oldest, most ancient commentary on the Old Testament ), the midrash, and then the Talmud. The reference you cited actually corroborates my reference. The rabbi says that the Messiah's name is the "Leper Scholar" and then he goes on to quote a fragment from Isaiah 53. Leper Scholar is an expression that means "sick teacher, or rabbi".

            Notice Isaiah 53 is never referenced, even in the footnotes

            Did you not notice that the rabbis often quote Old Testatment scriptures without referencing the book or chapter? There is so much more evidence for Isaiah 53 being a Messianic prophesy in ancient Israel but I just don't have the time to dig all that up.

            Again, if you can show me something written BEFORE the time of Christ it will be different.

            I did. The Targums are primarily BC era.But just as importantly, I'm not aware of anything in the Talmud that says Isaiah 53 refers to Israel. Are you? I remember reading somewhere the name of the rabbi that first suggested this view of Israel and that he lived sometime in the last 500 years in Europe

          • William Davis

            Ehrman admits he is backing off what he said in his book. In general, I think Ehrman is doing what he is doing to fight fundamentalism, something I'm quite on board with. You have no idea how much I've seen the Bible used to justify racism, bigotry, and cruelty. Most of the fundamentalists I've been exposed to completely ignore the teachings of Jesus in favor of a little bit of Pauline theology and a whole lot of Old Testament law. The result is something bazaar and barbaric. I've confronted my Dad about this, and had him pacing the floor with a loss for words. How can someone call themselves a Christian and ignore Jesus? It is Christianity not Biblianity or Paulianity isn't it? The symbolic interpretations make much more sense.
            You've made a pretty good case for Isaiah 53, I won't argue it anymore, it's nice to see the counter arguments better explained. At this point you can probably tell I'm very much a Jewish sympathizer, and I'm not quite sure why. As far as I can tell most of my ancestors are English with a little Native American mixed in, but I sure seem to think like a Jew. Baruch Spinoza was a Jewish heretic, lol.
            Ehrman does make a valid point that presuppositions matter a great deal when interpreting historical facts. I began to like Ehrman after reading "God's Problem." This book on theodicy got a lot of good reviews from Christians. The idea of God playing favorites has always been a problem for me, and is at the heart of the problem of evil.
            Things are starting to get busier at work, so I'm having less free time to write novels (you're right about that, lol) on here, but if you'd care to back up and discuss theological problems in Christianity, we would be getting more to the heart of why I'm not a Christian. In a recent article on talking snakes, the entire SN community basically trashed original sin. That doctrine seems to be a clear loser. Of course, Johnboy Sylvest accurately argues there could be other reasons for the incarnation of Jesus, making disbelief in original sin technically non-heretical (not sure if many Catholics would agree with that, but still).

          • Ignatius Reilly

            One of the problems, for example, is that he identifies what he calls incarnational Christology and exaltation Christology and he claims that the exaltation Christology came first in time. Problem is he never proves it.....its his presupposition and his conclusion.

            Can you disprove it, or show that it is unlikely? In order to reject the tri-lemma, all that is necessary is to show that it is possible and within the realm of plausibility to consider Jesus to be legendary. I think Christianity is false for reasons unrelated to the historicity of the gospels. As long as it is plausibly possible that Jesus was not God, I won't worry about whether or not Erhman can prove his theory.

          • William Davis

            I agree completely. The entire point is that it is impossible to "prove" the resurrection. It was always supposed to be about faith anyway. I agree with Ehrman in one thing, the Christians who think they can prove the resurrection are truly creatures of the enlightenment without realizing it. I have no problem with someone who has faith in the resurrection. I DO have a problem with someone who presents their faith as historical fact.

          • Roman

            I think I can show rather easily that it is highly unlikely that there were multiple concepts of Jesus already in the 20 year period between his death and when Paul wrote his first letters in the late 40's to early 50's AD. Think about this....how do we know about all the heresies of the early church? I'm speaking of Gnosticism, Adoptionism, Apollinarism, Docetism, Arianism, Monophyticism, Nestorianism, etc. Because they left behind evidence of their beliefs and their existence. Most of these don't exist anymore. These heresies were all based on some variation in the concept of Jesus... the same as what Erhman suggests existed immediately after the death of Jesus. But where is the evidence of these people? Erhman claims that there were people that believed Jesus was just a man, other people who thought he was some kind of angelic-like being, and others that thought he was "exalted" from man to God. But there is no evidence of these people or their beliefs. No writings, no mention of these people by any historians, nothing. What you see instead is a belief that Jesus was God from the very beginning of the ancient church as evidenced by the Gospels, Pauls letters, and the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. Then starting in the late 2nd century, you see the emergence of gnosticism followed by other heresies. The historical evidence is clear.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The New Testament gives evidence that there was disagreement among the Christians about all sorts of things.

          • Joe Ser

            The Catholic Advantage: Why Health, Happiness, and Heaven Await the Faithful -
            Religious Americans are by far the healthiest and happiest of any segment of the population—this is true across religions according to recent Gallup polls. Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League, goes a step further to show that Catholicism will not only make you
            healthy and happy, but it will ultimately lead you to heaven too. - http://www.amazon.com/The-Catholic-Advantage-Happiness-Faithful/dp/0804185824

            America's Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists - In America’s Blessings, distinguished researcher Rodney Stark seeks to clear the air of this hostility and debunk many of the debate’s most widely perpetuated misconceptions by drawing from an expansive
            pool of sociological findings. Looking at the measurable effects of religious faith and practice on American society, Stark rises above the fray and focuses exclusively on facts. His findings may surprise many, atheists and believers alike. - http://www.amazon.com/Americas-Blessings-Religion-Benefits-Including/dp/159947445X

          • William Davis

            I'm quite familiar with all that, there was a recent article about the "Catholic Advantage" here on SN, I participated in the discussion. Here is me :)

            https://strangenotions.com/the-catholic-advantage/#comment-1884043445

          • Joe Ser

            I missed that entire post... Thanks.

          • William Davis

            Sure, it was a good discussion :)

          • Doug Shaver

            God is able to communicate the whole truth through ordinary men who just wrote what they thought was important for their intended audience.

            Mark did not think that an actual resurrection was important? He thought it was important that the women did not at first tell the other disciples what they had seen, but not important that they changed their minds sometime after and did tell the other disciples?

      • Michael Murray

        If the appearances of Jesus were hallucinations induced by the grief resulting from His sudden and traumatic death I would have thought you would expect them to stop after awhile as the grief eases. Such hallucinations are known to the psychiatric community:

        http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/05/13/hallucinations-of-loss-visions-of-grief/

        I haven't researched the literature to see if there is a consistent period after which these hallucinations usually cease and to see how it compares to the 40 days in the bible but that would be an interesting question I think.

        • Lamont

          There are 2 things you can do if you think you are experiencing an hallucination. First, you can use your other senses and particular your sense of touch to determine if what you are seeing is real or not. Secondly, you can ask other people if they are having the same experience as you are. The Gospels report that the disciples did both on several occasions. There are many people throughout the history of Christianity how have reported visions of Jesus or one of the saints but they did not sit down and have a meal with Jesus nor did other people who were present report having the same vision.

          You can believe what you want but I find it incredible that you and so many others choose believe that the apostles were either liars or fools who were willing to die for a story they knew was not true.

          • William Davis

            The problem is that the gospels were written at least 30 years after Jesus's death, and we do not have the originals. The oldest copy of Mark is from the mid second century. What we have is the result of over 100 years of the "telephone game" An early copy of Mark would be very helpful. I'm familiar with New Testament criticism. Submitting it as evidence in court would get a laugh as it was rejected. The legal system is now highly critical of direct eye witness testimony, so many people convicted from eye witness testimony have been exonerated with dna evidence.

            Marketers exploit testimonials all the time, because we seem to be hard wired to believe people who believe what they are saying. The fact that someone believes something has no real relationship as to whether it is true. We call this anecdotal evidence.

            "The expression anecdotal evidence refers to evidence from anecdotes. Because of the small sample, there is a larger chance that it may be unreliable due to cherry-picked or otherwise non-representative samples of typical cases.[1][2] Anecdotal evidence is considered dubious support of a generalized claim; it is, however, perfectly acceptable for claims regarding a particular instance. Anecdotal evidence is no more than a type description (i.e., short narrative), and is often confused in discussions with its weight, or other considerations, as to the purpose(s) for which it is used. This is true regardless of the veracity of individual claims.[3][4][5]"

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anecdotal_evidence

            This is become a big deal in the legal world recently, here is pretty good article from newsweek

            http://www.newsweek.com/2014/11/28/end-eyewitness-testimonies-285414.html

          • Roman

            What we have is the result of over 100 years of the "telephone game"

            There is a hidden assumption in your statement which is unproven, in fact factually untrue. You're assuming that because we don't have the original manuscripts, the church in the 2nd century didn't have access to the originals either? Where is your proof? You have none. How could they have made copies if they didn't have the original manuscripts to copy from? But wait...it gets worse. You actually used the telephone game analogy? I'm sorry but I gotta be honest with you. That's a really really poor analogy. Why? I'll give you four good reasons: 1) The telephone game is a child's game. The whole point of the telephone game is to see how much the original message can change with help from the participants and then everyone has a laugh at the end. Seriously William, do you think the ancients were idiots? c'mon They weren't playing "the telephone game". They were seriously motivated to preserve the words of a man they believed to be God. 2) During the time of Jesus and for hundreds of years afterwards, the Jewish and Christian society was mostly illiterate and relied almost entirely on oral tradition. They were very good at memorizing and preserving stories, teachings, facts, etc. The concept of apprenticeship (similar in some ways to discipleship) was in use during this time where a Master took on a student apprentice and passed on to him orally what had previously been passed on to him. No books, no Community College. In fact the Jews were well known for having the Old Testament memorized. Not like today where people can't even remember their own cell phone number. 3) Historians have some serious manuscript evidence that demonstrates that the bible content did not change in any meaningful way from the originals. Here's why, if your assertion were true and the content of the new testament books changed significantly over the first 100 years, there is no reason why they wouldn't keep on changing after that point in time. Scribes could make copying errors, they could add or delete words/phrases that they personally believed should be edited in the text, forgeries could have been substituted for the originals, (we know there are more than 50 fake gospels), Christianity could have borrowed from the Pagan religions of Rome, etc. But that's not what happened How do we know? Historians have more that 25,000 ancient manuscripts in many different languages (e.g., Greek, Latin, Ethiopian, Slavic, Armenian, Aramaic, etc.) that are dated from the 2nd century to the 16th century and all the manuscripts are essentially the same - less than 0.5% variation and none of the changes are relevant or material. This is proof that the Christians took the responsibility of preserving the Word of God seriously. and that today's bible is very close to the original. No other ancient text comes close to having so many ancient manuscripts. 4) You can recreate most of the New Testament bible simply by reading the Church Fathers and compiling their many quotations from the bible.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            There is a hidden assumption in your statement which is unproven, in fact factually untrue. You're assuming that because we don't have the original manuscripts, the church in the 2nd century didn't have access to the originals either? Where is your proof? You have none.

            You just shifted the burden of proof. That is a fallacy. If you want myself and other atheists to believe that the bible is historical and the word of God, then you have to demonstrate it.

            You actually used the telephone game analogy? I'm sorry but I gotta be honest with you. That's a really really poor analogy. Why? I'll give you four good reasons: 1) The telephone game is a child's game. The whole point of the telephone game is to see how much the original message can change with help from the participants and then everyone has a laugh at the end. Seriously William, do you think the ancients were idiots? c'mon They weren't playing "the telephone game". They were seriously motivated to preserve the words of a man they believed to be God.

            Our memories are not as static as you would seem to suggest. The phenomena that William Davis is referring to is well known in psychology.

            http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2012/09/your-memory-is-like-the-telephone-game.html

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reconstructive_memory

            During the time of Jesus and for hundreds of years afterwards, the Jewish and Christian society was mostly illiterate and relied almost entirely on oral tradition. They were very good at memorizing and preserving stories, teachings, facts, etc. The concept of apprenticeship (similar in some ways to discipleship) was in use during this time where a Master took on a student apprentice and passed on to him orally what had previously been passed on to him. No books, no Community College. No problem passing on information accurately generation to generation. In fact the Jews were well known for having the Old Testament memorized. Not like today where people can't even remember their own cell phone number.

            Do you have any evidence for this? It flies in the face of current science.

            Historians have some serious manuscript evidence that demonstrates that the bible content did not change in any meaningful way from the originals. Here's why, if your assertion were true and the content of the new testament books changed significantly over the first 100 years, there is no reason why they wouldn't keep on changing after that point in time. Scribes could make copying errors, they could add or delete words/phrases that they personally believed should be edited in the text, forgeries could have been substituted for the originals, (we know there are more than 50 fake gospels), Christianity could have borrowed from the Pagan religions of Rome, etc. But that's not what happened How do we know? Historians have more that 25,000 ancient manuscripts in many different languages (e.g., Greek, Latin, Ethiopian, Slavic, Armenian, Aramaic, etc.) that are dated from the 2nd century to the 16th century and all the manuscripts are essentially the same - less than 0.5% variation and none of the changes are relevant or material. This is proof that the Christians took the responsibility of preserving the Word of God seriously. and that today's bible is very close to the original. No other ancient text comes close to having so many ancient manuscripts.

            So what? The gospels are similar to the original embellishments. This doesn't prove anything.

            I am not a scripture scholar, but I strongly suspect that what you are saying is not completely accurate. I notice you do not source it.

            You can recreate most of the New Testament bible simply by reading the Church Fathers and compiling their many quotations from the bible.

            These Church Fathers were writing after the Gospels were written. I would imagine they also said things that were not in the New Testament.

          • Roman

            You just shifted the burden of proof. That is a fallacy.

            I didn't shift the burden of proof...William did. When he claimed that Mark's Gospel changed over a hundred year period ending in the mid 2nd century through the telephone game phenomenum, he is making a positive assertion, thereby shifting the burden of proof on himself.

            If you want myself and other atheists to believe that the bible is historical and the word of God, then you have to demonstrate it.

            I'm not here to convert anyone....just dialoging. Everyone chooses their own path. BTW, I thought you said before that you were agnostic not atheist. Did I misunderstand or did something change?

            So what? The gospels are similar to the original embellishments. This doesn't prove anything.
            I am not a scripture scholar, but I strongly suspect that what you are saying is not completely accurate. I notice you do not source it.

            Dan Wallace has written a nice detailed summary of the breakdown of copy errors among the various (~25000) manuscripts (see link below). He shows that just 31 of the 396,000 textual variants are significant. More than 200,000 are due to spelling errors. Other variants are inconsequential errors such as skipped lines or inconsequential word order. See the following links..... (http://www.cbn.com/special/apo...Koukl_misquoting_jesus_bart_ehrman.aspx or see bible.org). ALso wikipedia has an article under Gospel or Bible historicity that also mentions the 25000 manuscripts.

            You ask "so what". So you're missing something because this is significant. If you have 1000's of copies of an original book found in many different geographical areas, written in a half a dozen or more different languages over a 1000 year period and when you compare them you find that there are virtually no significant changes in meaningful content; that's obvious proof that the book's contents have been carefully preserved and you can extrapolate back to the original book. In fact I'm aware that this is a common class taught at seminaries. The students are given samples of various manuscript copies of some gospel or Paul's letter and their job is to project back to the 1st century what the original text looked like. They are apparently able to do that consistently and show that what we have today is very representative of the original.

            Do you have any evidence for this? It flies in the face of current science

            You'll have to explain what science has to do with my comment. I'm talking about something that we know based on historical evidence

            These Church Fathers were writing after the Gospels were written.

            The first Church Fathers, knew some of the apostles. For example, St. Ignatius knew Peter, and Paul. St Polycarp knew St. Ignatius. St. Clement (4th Pope) lived in the late first century and knew St John.

            I would imagine they also said things that were not in the New Testament

            Wow ...you have a tainted view of Christians. The common theme I see throughout your comments is that Christians are basically liars, and they can't remember anything....LOL

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I didn't shift the burden of proof...William did. When he claimed that Mark's Gospel changed over a hundred year period ending in the mid 2nd century through the telephone game phenomenum, he is making a positive assertion, thereby shifting the burden of proof on himself.

            He is offering other plausible explanations. The burden is still with those claiming that Jesus is God.

            I'm not here to convert anyone....just dialoging. Everyone chooses their own path. BTW, I thought you said before that you were agnostic not atheist. Did I misunderstand or did something change?

            I am a positive atheist on the tri-Omni Abrahamic God. An agnostic atheist on all others.

            You'll have to explain what science has to do with my comment. I'm talking about something that we know based on historical evidence

            You seem to think that the Ancients had infallible memories when it came to science.

            The first Church Fathers, knew some of the apostles. For example, St. Ignatius knew Peter, and Paul. St Polycarp knew St. Ignatius. St. Clement (4th Pope) lived in the late first century and knew St John. Also, they quote the scriptures extensively. So, if everyone is quoting Mark 3:20, or John 3.3, or Corinthians 5:21, etc. the same way back in the 2nd century, then we can assume they the copies of the manuscripts they have are consistent with one another and we can compare those quotes to later manuscripts

            I see what you are getting at here. I would offer two possibilities.

            1)Perhaps most of the embellishing happened in the first century, but once the Gospels were written down and passed about written tradition stabilized. I'm sure there was still oral embellishments, but they were nor recorded in the canon.

            2) The Gospels stabilized after the bible was put together. The likelihood of this would probably be dependent on the number of quotes the early church fathers made.

            It wouldn't seem like the Church Fathers could offer much evidence for anything though. Polycarp has one extant letter, Ignatius has 7 letters and some of them have interpolations, Clement has 1.

            It appears Clement has his own mythology:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clementine_literature

            Wow ...you have a tainted view of Christians. The common theme I see throughout your comments is that Christians are basically liars, and they can't remember anything....LOL

            You can thank the many Catholic apologists that I have read for that view. Catholic apologists tend to be more concerned with keeping doubters in the faith than actually exploring the truth. Some may earnestly believe what they are saying, but they have not done their due diligence and pass questionable knowledge off as fact. The really sad thing is that these apologists also (perhaps unknowingly) deceive trusting children, who haven't yet developed their critical reasoning. So yes, I will be distrustful of most Catholic sources like new advent or whatever some Catholic scripture "scholar" says. Granted, this is my experience, but it is also why these sorts of arguments don't convince me. If I don't have an explanation for something, the very last thing I am going to do is then adopt the Catholic explanation. I tried that and it was found wanting.

            I suppose I don't find it difficult to believe that if some Christians are willing to burn heretics to preserve the faith that some Christians are also willing to forge or lie.

            I don't think human in general have very good memories. This is not a Christian phenomenon.

            The above is not solely a Christian phenomenon either, but I have experienced it most acutely in Christianity.

            I do not consider you or any of the theists on this website to be liars; I just think you put too much trust in bad sources.

          • Roman

            I would offer two possibilities.

            Neither one of your suggestions works. If you read some of the studies that have been done on legendary development, its clear that it takes many years before legends start to develop...what I recall is historians use an average number of 150 years. That's consistent with the appearance of the Gnostic Gospels approximately 120 to 150 years after the death of Jesus. What you don't find in history is legends developing during the lifetime of a person or during a time period where people are still living that knew the historical figure.....for obvious reasons. They could contest/refute falsehoods. Even after the death of people who knew Jesus, legends would have developed very gradually for a variety of reasons, e.g., people don't readily change their minds about their religious beliefs, the communication back then was slow and inefficient (no phones, tv, radio, internet), and probably most importantly the Church's hierarchical structure was in place very early in the history of the Church (see my comments to William). Christians placed a great deal of importance on whether someone that was preaching to them was a legitimate member of the clergy, i.e., came from the line of Apostolic succession.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            This guy gives an example of a legend that develops within 30 years:

            http://formerfundy.blogspot.com/2010/02/how-long-does-it-take-legend-to-develop.html
            Suppose Jesus was not God, but was instead a historical figure who was deified in the century after he died. How would you expect the historical evidence to be different?

          • Roman

            Apples and oranges.....This is just a bad analogy. We're talking about how legends develop around real people, not some inanimate object that can't speak for itself. Look at the recent case of Malaysia Airlines flight 370. There were conspiracy stories circulating within weeks of the crash. Why? NO INFORMATION. The plane just disappeared. In the absence of information and witnesses, anything goes. No one is going to create a legend around a living person because people can still see and hear that person. Also, in the case of Roswell, there were no known witnesses to counter the Legends and conspiracy stories. The government was simply silent. The latter did a lot to cause legends to develop. In addition, you're comparing an event in 20th century America where we had radio, tv and newspapers. versus 1st century Jerusalem?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I would think the 1st century Jerusalem would be more susceptible to the creation of legends.

            Again I ask: if Jesus was a man, who was deified in the century after he died, how would you expect the facts to be different?

          • Roman

            Not clear on why you think 1st century Jerusalem would be more susceptible to the creation of legends. The development of a legend is very dependent on the mode and the speed of communication. We obviously communicate at speeds that are an order of magnitude faster than in the 1st century. We also rely on forms of communication where we don't know the sources. How many people rely on websites for information when in fact they don't personally know the authors of the site or their source of information. In the ancient church, the rigid clerical structure and the condition that clergy be appointed by a bishop with apostolic succession both served as detriments to the spread of false information, That is why the most successful heresies were those that were adopted for periods of time by certain bishops, such as Arianism. As I already mentioned in an earlier post, you also typically don't get legendary development about a historical figure while people are still alive who knew him for the obvious reason...they can refute the lies.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I think inhabitants of 1st century Jerusalem had less fact checking abilities. It's not like we need a bunch of people to believe the Jesus legend in the beginning. I small insular sect that grows is enough to insure the development of legend.

            You could compare what Scientologists believe about the life of L. Ron Hubbard and what the general population believes. In the case of Christianity, those who professed themselves Christians believed in a legendary Jesus that did not comport with the historical record, but because Christianity became the dominant religion, we only have Christian records of the events. We only have the records of those who believed Jesus was God. This sort of legend building can happen very quickly, especially if we only need a small number of people to believe it.

            Besides, many of the Christian congregations were not in Jerusalem. The ancients were rather superstitious and the converts were the type that believed in resurrected gods without evidence, so I don't see why we should believe that they fact checked. Just as their are gullible people not, there were gullible people back then.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I think you should probably examine your source on time it take for legends to form, lest you are simply using one of the many distortions of certain Christian apologists.

            http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/2007/11/apologists-abuse-of-sherwin-white.html

          • Roman

            I got a good laugh out of the article you referenced. The idea that Christians or Christian historian are relying on William Lane Craig or Lee Strobel on this subject is pretty funny. I'll recommend two good books written by world class scholars that cover this subject with lots of references:

            "The Historial Reliability of the Gospels" by Craig Blomberg
            "The Historical Jesus of the Gospels" by Craig Keener"

            There is also some work done outside Christian scholarly circles that I've come across in the past. I just can't recall them now.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I'm glad my article amused you. The point of the article was that Craig and Strobel are the ones claiming that it takes 150 years or so for legends to develop. That is your claim as well. You have yet to evidence it.

            Those two books seem rather biased, but do they give evidence for your claim that legends take 150 years or more to form?

          • William Davis

            This time I take your side against my usual ally, Ignatius :) I think these are apples and oranges.

          • William Davis

            I don't think Jesus was a legend, I think he was a great leader who generated a loyal following. I think Mark's Gospel is very moving. I would like to bring in an related example from my favorite religion, a religion nearly 1000 years older than Christianity.

            "It would be historically incorrect to say that Siddhartha Gautama saw himself as a religious leader or that he consciously set out to start a new religious movement. He considered himself a teacher who rejected the ways of traditional Hindu religious orthodoxy and offered his followers a different path. He considered the many Vedic rites and ceremonies to be pointless and abusive and he was also against the caste system, stressing the equality among all people.

            It seems ironic that a man whose career was largely based on believing and teaching the oneness of mankind and the equality among people, ended up being worshipped and elevated to the status of a god by some of his followers. As strange as this may sound, this is what happened in some Buddhist circles, particularly in India. The Buddha, originally considered a human being (wise and extraordinary, but only a man), gradually entered into thepantheon of the Hindu gods and came to be regarded as one of the many manifestations of the god Vishnu. A man of tolerance, intelligence, compassion, peace, what harm could it do to worship him as a deity? His followers perhaps thought that by making him a god the Buddha would become more special, his image more powerful and unique. However, in a tradition like in India, filled with endless gods and goddesses everywhere, to make him a god was also to make him ordinary, just one more god among thousands. Moreover, his image became to coexist with myth, ritual and superstition that corrupted his original message. Eventually, the Buddha was swallowed up by the realm of Hindu gods, his importance diminished and Buddhism finally died out in the land where it was born.

            So complete was the destruction of Buddhism in India during ancient times, that when western scholars rediscovered Buddhism, the records they relied on came from countries near and around India: no valuable records were kept in the home of Buddhism. The message of the Buddha vanished from its homeland, just as JesusChrist failed to perform his miracles in his own home town, but it remained alive in almost every other part of Asia and from Asia it spread to the rest of the world."

            http://www.ancient.eu/Siddhartha_Gautama/

            I think Jesus has a lot in common with Siddhartha_Gautama

          • Roman

            I agree with most of this and yes they did have some things in common. I do think there is an important distinction to be made, however, that relates to the historical reliability of information we have for Buddha versus Jesus. Most historians generally agree that the books of the New Testament were written during a time period from 20 to 70 years after Jesus's death. In the case of Buddha, we have no written records of him until 300 years after his death. Plenty of time for legends about Buddha to develop. Not so for Jesus. As I mention in another post, I've read studies that show that the average time for Legends to develop about a historical person is about 150 years. I listed some of the reasons why. That's one reason why Bart Erhman's "How Jesus Became God" lacks credibility. There are other reasons as well.

          • William Davis

            I think you have a point here. Sure, Buddha had some disadvantages. It was 1000 years before, and Buddha did not have Paul of Tarsus. Paul had the Roman mail system at his disposal, and the citizens of the Roman empire tended to be much more prone to record keeping than the Indians. I think Jim Carrier's comparison to Roswell is a terrible example. Overall I think mythicists are destructive to the conversation and find them to be quite annoying and loose with the truth.
            The formation is Christianity is a fairly unique historical event (though I clearly do not think it was supernatural), that is why I find it so interesting. In this, you and I clearly have something in common :)

          • William Davis

            The 0.5% is incredibly low from everything I've seen, I'll link a good debate between Bart Ehrman and a smart Calvinist at the end of this post. I've been following Bart for a while and and much more familiar with the topic than you probably realize. I don't just take his word for it, his views really are in line with facts of New Testament scholarship, though his interpretation of those facts varies because if his current philosophical presuppositions. If you read the article we are commenting under, you'll see the author takes Bart Ehrman very seriously. Those who do not take Ehrman seriously demonstrate their lack of knowledge. This does not mean Ehrman is absolutely correct on everything, but the dishonest way most apologists dismiss him is a clear evidence for me about how much dishonesty is in Christianity. This does not mean all Christians behave this way. I think Dan Wallace (evangelical) does a good job sticking with the truth, so does N.T. Wright. I greatly value truth, and anyone who values truth must be diligent in his study and honest in his conclusions.

            I would say most of the telephone game occurred before Mark's gospel, at least when it comes to the synoptics, the virgin birth is likely a product of moving Jesus's divinity from his Baptism to his birth. John, the completely divergent gospel, moved it to the beginning of time. While it was at least 30 years after Jesus's death before Mark was written (we don't know who wrote the gospel, Justin Martyr did not call them Memoirs of the Apostles instead of naming them for no reason at all), I suspect there were early gospels. I also suspect they were destroyed intentionally, just like the aramaic sayings of Jesus. If they were so great at preserving "God's word" Why on earth did they not preserve the oldest copies? Why did thy not copy the aramaic texts.?

            "Most scholars, following the approach of the textual critic Bruce Metzger, believe that verses 9-20 were not part of the original text.[1] Textual critics have identified two distinct endings—the "Longer Ending" (vv. 9-20) and the "Shorter Ending," which appear together in six Greek manuscripts, and in dozens of Ethiopic copies. The "Shorter Ending," with slight variations, runs as follows: "But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this, Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation."

            In one Latin manuscript from c. 430, the "Shorter Ending" appears without the "Longer Ending." In this Latin copy (Codex Bobbiensis, "k"), the text of Mark 16 is anomalous: it contains an interpolation between 16:3 and 16:4 which appears to present Christ's ascension occurring at that point; it omits the last part of 16:8, and it contains some strange errors in its presentation of the "Shorter Ending." Other irregularities in Codex Bobbiensis lead to the conclusion that it was produced by a copyist (probably in Egypt) who was unfamiliar with the material he was copying.

            Because of patristic evidence from the late 2nd century for the existence of copies of Mark with the "Longer Ending," it is contended by a majority of scholars that the "Longer Ending" must have been written and attached no later than the early 2nd century.[2] Scholars are divided on the question of whether the "Longer Ending" was created deliberately to finish the Gospel of Mark (as contended by James Kelhoffer) or if it began its existence as a freestanding text which was used to "patch" the otherwise abruptly ending text of Mark. Its failure to smoothly pick up the narrative from the scene at the end of 16:8 is a point in favor of the latter option. There is disagreement among scholars as to whether Mark originally stopped writing at 16:8—and if he did so, if it was deliberate or not—or if he continued writing an ending which is now lost. Allusions to a future meeting in Galilee between Jesus and the disciples (in Mark 14:28 and 16:7) seem to suggest that Mark intended to write beyond 16:8.[2]"

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_16

            They FORGED an ending to "fix" Mark because it wasn't a summary, it was the oldest gospel THAT DID NOT CONTAIN THE REQUIRE TO BELIEVE IN THE RESURRECTION. The ONLY place Mark requires belief as opposed to right action (in Mark, belief "powers" Jesus's miracles) is in the forged ending. Personally, i think Papias's followers added it. He is quoted talking about handling snakes, and he is quoted as making up a crazy story where Judas blows up. Papias is the first person to say Mark wrote this gospel anyway, Justin Martin seems to view them as anonymous. I'm all about right action, but belief only matters if it helps achieve right action. Like James says (I'll assume it was actually James), faith without works it useless. The church played with the texts for theological reasons, this is essentially a fact. To distrust the early church is a completely reasonable position, they even added the parable of the adulteress woman to John much later.

            Consider this:

            "
            The six “Disputed Letters” (a.k.a. the “Deutero-Pauline Epistles”).
            For two of these, the scholarly divide is about 50/50 (that is, about 50% of scholars think they were written by Paul himself, while the other 50% think they are “pseudepigraphic” or written later by a follower of Paul):
            If 2 Thessalonians is authentic, Paul probably wrote it soon after 1 Thess (in order to correct some misunderstandings caused by 1 Thess itself), since it is so similar in form and content to 1 Thess.

            If Colossians is authentic, Paul probably wrote it near the end of his life (after spending several years in prison), since the theology expressed in it is rather different from Paul's earlier letters.

            If either or both of these letters are pseudepigraphic, then they were probably written in the last few decades of the first Christian century.

            For the other four letters, about 80% of scholars think they were not written by Paul himself, but by one of his followers after his death:

            Ephesians is almost definitely a later expansion of Colossians, since they are so similar in structure and theology, but quite different from Paul's earlier letters; Ephesians was probably written to serve as a “cover letter” for an early collection of Pauline letters.

            The Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus) were most likely written late in the first century by some member(s) of the “Pauline School” who wanted to adapt his teachings to changing circumstances.

            Note: Judging a particular letter to be pseudepigraphic does not mean that it is any less valuable than the other letters, but only that it was written later by someone other than Paul.

            All thirteen of the letters attributed to Paul are still considered “canonical”; all of them are still part of the Holy Bible and foundational for the Christian Church.

            Distinguishing the letters based on actual authorship, however, allows scholars to see more clearly the development of early Christian theology and practice. "

            The so-called Epistle to the Hebrews is definitely not written by Paul, and is not even explicitly attributed to him.

            For centuries, many Christians counted it as the fourteenth work in the Pauline corpus, mainly because the epistolary ending mentions Timothy, Paul's closest associate (see Heb 13:23).

            However, contrary to all other letters and epistles, the opening of Hebrews does not name its author at all.

            In literary genre, therefore, Hebrews is not really a “letter”; rather, it is a “homily” (a scripture-based sermon).

            http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/Paul-Disputed.htm

            There are other likely forged letters, like Second Peter. Before you continue to call these people "simple-minded" we're talking almost all Christians here. I'm not quoting from anyone but Christians and the gospels

            Also check this out

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Bible_verses_not_included_in_modern_translations

            I hope you can tell that not trusting the early Christians to be truthful is a perfectly reasonable and even a Christian position.

            Here's the good debate I was talking about. This is an interesting subject, it is a mix of forensics and history :)

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moHInA9fAsI

          • Roman

            The 0.5% is incredibly low from everything I've seen,

            I think you need to seriously consider changing your source material. Dan Wallace has written a nice detailed summary of the breakdown (see link below). He shows that just 31 of the 396,000 textual variants are significant. More than 200,000 are due to spelling errors or other inconsequential errors such as skipped lines or inconsequential word order. (http://www.cbn.com/special/apologetics/articles/ Koukl_misquoting_jesus_bart_ehrman.aspx or see bible.org)

            I would say most of the telephone game occurred before Mark's gospel, at least when it comes to the synoptics,

            Your telephone game explanation just doesn't fit the context (see Brandon's post). The fact that there were many people living during this period that were witnesses to the events meant that it was impossible for someone to come along and try to contradict what people had seen with their own eyes or heard from respected witnesses. It would be analogous to me trying to author a book now claiming that President Carter in 1973 successfully rescued the American hostages being held by Iran. I couldn't get away with that because there are still many people living today that remember what really happened 40 years ago - a disaster for us and the troops that died in the desert. This is why I've read that historian believe that on average it takes about 150 years for a legend to develop. You have to figure eye witness are still living up to 60 - 80 years after the death of the historical figure. Then even if someone starts a false story after that, it take years for the story to spread and many more years for the story to gain acceptance, if it every does.

            I also suspect they were destroyed intentionally, just like the aramaic sayings of Jesus. If they were so great at preserving "God's word" Why on earth did they not preserve the oldest copies? Why did thy not copy the aramaic texts.?

            Sounds like the stuff of conspiracy. Actually if you know the history of Jerusalem, the city was completed wiped out, burned to the ground in 70 AD by the Romans. 2 million Jews lost their lives. Not much would have survived.

            I'm not responding to the bulk of your post because you are just rambling.....going far from the original thread and you provide little to no justification for all these claims you make. Can I make a suggestion, please try to shorten your remarks and make them more concise. I enjoy dialoguing with you but you make it difficult when you introduce a dozen or more different concepts in one Post and you make a claim without offering your evidence or justification. I still am trying to find time to answer a comment from you to my post from 3 months ago. You literally wrote a novel and there are some important points you raise but its like I don't know where to start. I don't have 4 hours to sit and answer such a lengthy reply. Hope you take this constructively and respectfully as it was intended.

          • William Davis

            I'm not responding to the bulk of your post because you are just rambling....

            That's unfortunate...for you.

            These kinds of comments aren't very constructive. I do write novels because the topic is worthy of my time and effort. I've spent a great deal of time studying this and ancient history in general. You are entitled to your interpretation, I'm entitled to mine. What my "rambling" was doing was showing all of the KNOWN cases where scripture has been meddled with. These meddlings are not insignificant at all, they have significant implications for the credibility of the early church for me. It may not matter to you, but I invoke an incredibly high standard when someone claims to speak for God. I do not think this is unreasonable.

            Sounds like the stuff of conspiracy. Actually if you know the history of Jerusalem, the city was completed wiped out, burned to the ground in 70 AD by the Romans. 2 million Jews lost their lives. Not much would have survived.

            If God had inspired the original words, he would have guaranteed they were preserved. It would have been a much smaller miracle to preserve them than to inspire them in the first place. Again, I apply a very high standard when it comes to God. Everything about religion looks like the work of men to me

            Your telephone game explanation just doesn't fit the context (see Brandon's post). The fact that there were many people living during this period that were witnesses to the events meant that it was impossible for someone to come along and try to contradict what people had seen with their own eyes or heard from respected witnesses. It would be analogous to me trying to author a book now claiming that President Carter in 1973 successfully rescued the American hostages being held by Iran.

            You can't compare now to 2000 years ago. You do realize that news almost never carried more than 20 or more miles right? Do you realize how long it would take to cross the Roman empire on foot? Months. Paul was a tough man to do what he did. There is evidence in his writings that people were going around contradicting Paul, that is the main reason he was writing his letters. If someone showed up in Corinth claiming to be James, the brother of Jesus, how on earth would they know if it was really him? There were no phones, no facebook, most people didn't even have a horse. Your premise that someone would have corrected them does not hold up if you know much about that time period. I'm aware Jerusalem was burnt, but by the time that happened, the Jews had already kicked the Christians out. Paul was already dead at the hands of Nero (we think). Your defense is not a defense. We have Paul's letters, we have the gospels, we do not have the aramaic sayings of Jesus that the gospels were supposed to be based on. Isn't that an important piece of evidence?

            I'll try to make my post shorter, but if often takes a lot of info to demonstrate a point. Perhaps we are demonstrating the problems with trying to do this type of thing in an online forum.
            Take my criticisms with a grain of salt, you and I have a radically different world view that can clearly be difficult to reconcile ;)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            You can't compare now to 2000 years ago. You do realize that news almost never carried more than 20 or more miles right? Do you realize how long it would take to cross the Roman empire on foot? Months. Paul was a tough man to do what he did. There is evidence in his writings that people were going around contradicting Paul, that is the main reason he was writing his letters. If someone showed up in Corinth claiming to be James, the brother of Jesus, how on earth would they know if it was really him? There were no phones, no facebook, most people didn't even have a horse. Your premise that someone would have corrected them does not hold up if you know much about that time period

            This 1000x. Everyone seems to assume the ancients had 24/7 news coverage.

          • Roman

            Sorry..wasn't trying to offend you, just being my blunt self. I honestly was trying to bring something to your attention I thought you might not be aware of. But thanks for the clarification....couldn't figure out the overall theme behind your many claims

            If God had inspired the original words, he would have guaranteed they were preserved.

            I guess I could come up with a large list of similar claims, e.g., if God really loved us, he'd reveal himself to us now, etc. The problem is that this is an oversimplification (sorry...there's that word again) of God's nature and his purpose in creating mankind. It ignores the complex interaction between grace, and free will; and what it means to freely love someone. God has provided just enough evidence for us to believe but not too much that he would interfere with our free will.

            You can't compare now to 2000 years ago

            I'm not. I'm making a general point about how long people remember important events, even if they don't remember the details. I used a more recent event to make my point just because it might be more familiar than if I related a news event from the 1st century AD.

            If someone showed up in Corinth claiming to be James, the brother of Jesus, how on earth would they know if it was really him?............ Your premise that someone would have corrected them does not hold up if you know much about that time period.

            . I talked about this in my earlier post but its worth repeating. The early Christians had a way to determine who was a legitimate representative of the Church and who wasn't. Its called Apostolic Succession. If you were new in town claiming to speak for the Church, the first thing you would be asked is to prove you that someone with apostolic succession had laid hands on you, i.e., appointed you. To be a clergy of the Church, you had to be appointed by a bishop, who in turn had to be appointed by another bishop, etc. etc. all the way back to the first bishops, the 12 apostles. If someone showed up claiming to be the brother of Jesus, and he couldn't find someone with apostolic succession to vouch for him, he was out of luck.

            Isn't that an important piece of evidence?

            I addressed this in my earlier post re: grace vs. free will.

          • William Davis

            God has provided just enough evidence for us to believe but not too much that he would interfere with our free will.

            How on earth can evidence interfere with free will???
            I'll take your advice about short posts. Are you saying that if I warn someone about a scam that I'm interfering with their free will?? Are you saying that if we prove smoking causes cancer we are interfering with free will? I'd like to see you make sense of that claim, because it makes absolutely no sense at all to me.

          • Roman

            How on earth can evidence interfere with free will???

            Perhaps a better way of putting it is that knowledge affects free will. Are you telling me you can't think of a single example where this is true? Lets say you have a friend who is dating someone he likes. He finds out from a friend of a friend that his girlfriend is going to dump him if he doesn't ask her to marry him. He's not ready to get married but he doesn't want to lose her. So, he asks her to marry him. This was not a free will choice. He did not ask her to marry him of his own free will.

          • William Davis

            I think it was a free will choice (assuming free will exists). He could have chosen to lose her instead of marrying her. The information affects the decision, but it does not hinder the decision. Better informed decisions are better decisions, but they are still "free" decisions.
            Free will itself has big problem, especially when trying to couple it with omniscience. I think the problems are summed up in "we are free to do what we want, but we are not free to want what we want." Think of the smoker who wants to want to quit, but just can't. It is a real challenge for a smoker to develop the "will" to quit. I'll avoid drifting into those philosophical waters, of course.
            If God appeared to me today and told me to make a choice, I'd choose to serve God. Even if I were crazy that would prove it to me. It would still be a free choice, I could choose to reject the apparition. One interesting thing I've found I and other atheists have in common is that prayer always felt like we were talking to ourselves. I'm not sure if this is a symptom of disbelief, or if this actually causes the disbelief. Either way there is a relation.

          • William Davis

            I will say I'll avoid using the telephone game analogy in the future if it is offensive. The telephone game is a part of everyday life for me. I don't know how often I've received third hand information that is incorrect. People don't mean to change the story but they do, I always go back to the source whenever possible. In my mind, the telephone game has no negative connotation, it is just a part of everyday reality. People are not nearly as good at remembering things as they usually think they are, and the situation is far worse in poorly educated people, like the aramaic peasants who followed Jesus. Again, I'm not trying to negative or insulting, it is just what I think happened. It is a struggle when my honest opinion offends someone, I'm not a bad guy but I'm brutally honest. Once we are closer to the same page it (at least in understanding each others motives and point of view) it's not so bad. I honestly have spent time trying to debunk Ehrman's points, but they hold up remarkably well. I think Ehrman is a good and very intelligent man (many Christian scholars) and I do find it offensive when Christians defame him. If he was an aramaic peasant, I would not be offended if you called him what he was.

          • Roman

            The issue isn't that using the telephone game analogy is offensive. The issue is that it is an unrealistic model of the 1st century Jewish oral culture. The way in which the telephone game is played is the opposite of how Jews and other in 1st century Palestine actually communicated. The following are some fundamental differences between the two:
            1. People living in an oral culture are a lot more proficient at remembering and passing on oral material. They have no choice. No other options. Its ridiculous to argue against this fact.
            2. The telephone game works because information is passed around secretly by whispering in another person's ear. Do you really believe that people back then communicated this way, i.e., whispering in each other's ear, strictly one-on-one, no communications within gatherings of people? Early Christian tradition, on the contrary, was almost always passed on in corporate settings where accountability was provided and corrections could be made. How many times in the New Testament do we find Jesus or one of his apostles preaching to a large group of people? If someone subsequently spoke to another gathering after word had gotten out about what Jesus said, he would be heckled or worse if he contradicted the words of Jesus. But there is an even stronger reasons why this would never have happened in the first place (more on this below).
            3. The telephone game works because the message is unimportant, even absurd. To the 1st century Christian community, what could be more important than the words of God himself.
            4. In scenarios where the telephone game is an apt analogy, the people are not strongly motivated to preserve the truth of what is being passed on. Again very different than an ancient Jewish sect that were highly motivated to preserve Jesus's teachings because they believed they had witnessed God in the flesh.
            I promised another reason related to point #2. Its this...In the early Christian church, not just anyone good preach the gospel. You had to be a Bishop, Presbyter (elder), or a deacon. In addition, a Bishop had to be appointed by another Bishop and Presbyters and deacons had to be appointed by a bishop. This hierarchical structure was designed to preserve tradition handed down by Jesus and the apostles. This is why to a large degree, what was taught in one part of the world was also taught in all other parts of the world. I know this is unfamiliar to someone brought up in the Protestant tradition. But it is attested to in some of Paul's letters, the book of Acts, and in the writing of the early church Fathers. Read the first letter of Clement (late 1st century) for example. He talks about how Bishops could only be appointed by other Bishops who found them to be qualified. You're looking for signs of Divine plan, here it is. A hierarchical structure put in place from day one to preserve the truth. Compare in contrast what has happened to the Protestant denominations who have virtually no structure in place and believe that anyone can interpret the bible on their own. First there was Luther in the 16th century. Now 500 years later in the US alone, there are more than 30,000 independent denominations each with their only set of beliefs.

          • William Davis

            I appreciate your defense of Jewish oral tradition. Midrash was originally completely oral, but they started writing it down after the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. Have you ever read much out of Midrash? It contains some extremely bazaar views. Consider this, however from a Catholic historian:

            " Its Jewish membership probably never exceeded 1 000 at any point in the first century, and by the 50s the Jewish members were quite likely exceeded in number by their Gentile counterparts."

            If Jesus, a Jew, had performed all of these miracles, had caused all of the disturbances in Jerusalem, why did so few Jews convert? Satan, hard hearts, none of that is an answer. If the miracles described in the Gospels were true, these people would not have reacted this way. The Jews were there, they didn't believe. The Gentiles were NOT there, they were the ones who believed. Jew and gentile didn't mix that much in those days. Paul was a notable exception.

            I agree with you that protestant interpretations of the Bible have often turned out to be very bad, Westboro Baptist Church is a great example. There are also very good protestant Churches. The Catholic Church needed the reformation, however, as the Church was clearly abusing it monopoly on religion in Europe. After the reformation, the Church itself reformed and got better. We need competition in religion to keep each other honest, competition seems to be some fundamental reality in the universe (think natural selection).

            My bone to pick with Christianity is the exclusivity (of which Hell is a big part of). The idea that Christianity is the only religion with the "truth" is a big problem for me. I think there is good and important truth in Christianity, but Christianity isn't the Truth. Religion is a naturally diverse phenomena and it always will be. This web site proves it, I've met Catholics with a massive variety of opinions on here. This is a very good web site that evokes some good discussion :)

          • Roman

            If Jesus, a Jew, had performed all of these miracles, had caused all of the disturbances in Jerusalem, why did so few Jews convert?

            That's a good question and a very important one. There are multiple factors I've come across in my readings, many of these supported by passages in the Bible and the Jewish Talmud.
            1) Expectation: Jews during the time of Jesus understood that there were biblical references to the Messiah both as a future King and as a suffering servant. Some Jews reconciled this apparent contradiction by assuming that there were two Messiahs. This is a theme that was taken up in the Talmud. But the Jews in the first century were clearly expecting (hoping for) the Kingly Messiah to rescue them from Roman captivity. So, when Jesus came along, he didn't really fit the expectation of a King that was going to rescue the Jews from the Romans. This had more to do with the particular concept they had of King as a ruler and warrior. Jesus was a different kind of a King.
            2) Influence of the Ruling Class: There was a lot of corruption among the ruling class e.g., Herod, chief priests, the Jewish council, the Sanhedrin, and leaders within some sects in 1st century Israel. They wanted to keep the status quo which they profited from. Jesus challenged the status quo which is partly why they wanted him killed. Despite the miracles of Jesus, the ruling class had great influence, e.g., 100's of years of Mosaic law, and they were very active in slandering Jesus. For example, the cover story for Jesus's miracles (which you can find in both the gospels and in the Talmud) is that Jesus obtained his power to do miracles from Satan. He is referred to in the Talmud as an evil sorcerer. That's noteworthy for another reason, The best thing for these ruling Jews would have been to deny Jesus's miracles all together. ....far easier to discount his divinity. But they didn't.....why? Because the Jews themselves witnessed the miracles. The rulers couldn't deny the miracles. Instead, they had to make-up an alternative explanation for the source of the miracles.

          • William Davis

            Now that we're past our rough start, this is turning out to be a pretty good conversation :) I do find this topic interesting, and it looks like we're operating off mostly the same facts which is helpful, this way we can focus on the interpretation of those facts. Sorry this post ended up getting a little longer than I wanted, but it isn't as bad as some.

            Expectation: Jews during the time of Jesus understood that there were biblical references to the Messiah both as a future King and as a suffering servant.

            I've seen no historical evidence that the Jews ever thought the Messiah was to suffer. As I've said, Isaiah explicitly states the servant is Israel. Again I find myself agreeing with the Jews. Isaiah says who the servant is many, many times. Isaiah 53 never uses the word messiah. These two links demonstrate how big a problem that view is:

            https://outreachjudaism.org/gods-suffering-servant-isaiah-53/

            http://jewsforjudaism.org/knowledge/articles/answers/jewish-polemics/suffering-servant/did-jews-believe-the-suffering-servant-was-the-messiah/

            Even the disciples seem to have the understanding that Jesus was not supposed to suffer, but be the king of the Jews. I believe they really put the king of the Jews on his cross. I believe there is a lot of historical fact in the Marks gospel. (Jesus mythicism seems irrational to me). Is it possible that the messianic prophecies were wrong? Yes, but what good is a prophecy if it's wrong. The messiah was never supposed to be God anyway, but a great King of prophet of the line of David. Many Jews believe there have been multiple messiah's, defining a messiah as one who God uses in history.

            To me, this view is plausible. Rather than violate the laws of physics, it makes sense that God could influence or simply use men to achieve his goals, assuming he has goals.

            For example, the cover story for Jesus's miracles (which you can find in both the gospels and in the Talmud) is that Jesus obtained his power to do miracles from Satan.

            I think Mark's gospel takes this charge seriously and defends against it. Think about all the witches Christianity has burned. Is it any surprise that those in power would react this way to an upstart performing miracles?

            I've seen no evidence the talmud mentions Satan (Satan simply means "adversary" in Hebrew, the philistines refer to David as satan), but is accused of sorcery, and idolatry (Jewish heresy). The Christian view of Satan did not develop until very near to the time of Christ. Most of the Hebrew Bible has no understanding of Satan as an evil angelic being. I think we are better off denying the existence of Satan. Believing in Satan has led to a great deal of evil in this world. Like belief in God, belief in Satan gives him power (even though I'm confident Satan doesn't exist, an imaginary being can have power if we believe it does, look at the power of non-existent ghosts to scare people). Christianity is correct about the power of belief. We don't know how old these talmud references are, and most scholars think they only showed up after Christianity was an established religion. I tend to trust the gospels here more than the talmud, I'm sure you do too :) Let's see what Mark says about it, Mark 3:

            20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family[b] heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
            22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
            23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables:“How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”
            30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”
            31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

            The defense in Mark isn't very strong (though I'm confident Jesus wasn't demon possessed :), but it has some side effects. If the narratives of Matthew and Luke are both true, why does Jesus's family, including his mother, think he's out of his mind? One major problem I have with the virgin birth narratives is the murder of the children by Herod. This is impossible. The Maccabean revolt was over something as seemingly trivial as circumcision, and that was only 150 years before this. The Jews revolted again in 70 A.D. This was a very stubborn and defiant people. They would NOT let their children be massacred like this. I emphatically declare this part of the gospels to be completely impossible, Herod did not have the children killed. There is also absolutely no mention of this in any external record. Josephus's silence is incredibly damning. Just because Jesus wasn't born of a virgin doesn't mean he wasn't the messiah or the Son of God, just for the record.
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massacre_of_the_Innocents

            I believe Herod had John the Baptist executed because Josephus backs up the story. I don't think any of the Jews were a fan of Herod, but that is no excuse for making up the Massacre of the Innocents.

            That's noteworthy for another reason, The best thing for these ruling Jews would have been to deny Jesus's miracles all together. ....far easier to discount his divinity. But they didn't.....why? Because the Jews themselves witnessed the miracles. The rulers couldn't deny the miracles. Instead, they had to make-up an alternative explanation for the source of the miracles.

            I'm ambivalent on Jesus's "miracles. Paul doesn't mention them, Josephus doesn't mention them. It is possible that Jesus was a faith healer, we know this works. Tons of churches to this day believe faith healers can heal and drive out demons. I've met some on the net, they really believe this stuff. I think Mark makes it pretty clear Jesus's miracles were powered by belief, just like prayer, Mark 6

            1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples.2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

            “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,[a] Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

            4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

            Mark 11

            22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly[f] I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

            We have scientifically demonstrated that there is nothing supernatural about prayer, the benefits of prayer come from belief, just like Jesus said. The fact that Jesus COULD NOT do any miracles in his home town because people knew him not only contradicts the virgin birth again (imagine the stories Joseph and Mary would have told) but demonstrates they were not supernatural miracles, but faith miracles like those we see in evangelical circles today. This is how psychics and all kinds of "supernatural" things work, it is a psychological thing, nothing that violates the laws of nature. If these passages are untrue, why on earth would they be in oldest (in my and most scholars opinion) gospel? It's like the author is letting us in on a little secret.
            With this view of Jesus's "miracles", it is no surprise that the Jews were unimpressed. If earthquakes and the rending of the curtain in the temple had occurred, I think the situation would have been different, these would have been real miracles. I don't think they happened. Most of Jesus's miracles are casting out demons. If someone believes they are possessed of a demon, and I "cast it out", then they believe they no longer are possessed, they really will be healed. It does actually work like that, but there is nothing supernatural.

          • Roman

            One more point regarding the lack of conversion of the Jews. This phenomena was only true in Jerusalem where the Jewish ruling class had a strong influence on the Jews (as I discuss below). Its was a far different situation in the Jewish diaspora. In the Roman empire where there were 4 - 5 million Jews, historians have estimated that the majority of those Jews converted to Christianity. In the Roman Empire, they were much freer to choose without fearing the consequences. I have a reference somewhere if you want it

          • William Davis

            I can take you at your word on that. You are correct about the influence of Jewish authorities, but these Jews were also far removed from eyewitnesses of Jesus's miracles. There was also persecution of Christians outside of Jewish circles, but that likely came about later. As you can see, my problem is with the historical nature of the miracles. "Miracles" were a lot easier to pull of then than now.
            One huge advantage Christianity had over pagan religions is the structure and Apostolic tradition you keep referring two. Pagan religions were poorly organized and lacked a moral code. It is no surprised to me that a superior religion like Christianity overtook pagans. For me this is a function of idea selection (better ideas select out worse ideas). Christianity created some very important and great men. They could see the truth behind the message of love and altruism in the gospels. Justin Martyr is an excellent example, and I think he and his follower's self sacrifice sent a powerful message throughout the Roman empire.
            I am not trying to trivialize their sacrifice, but other religions have generated a tremendous amount of self sacrifice. Think of Buddhist monks who burn themselves in protest, or the Japanese pilots who readily committed suicide for the emperor (that was a long running theme in ancient Japan). I think what Justin did is more admirable than any of these examples, but I'm making the point that belief is all that is required for self-sacrifice.

          • Roman

            The idea that Christianity is the only religion with the "truth" is a big problem for me

            Just a little clarification....from the Catholic standpoint, Catholicism doesn't say it is the only religion with the truth. It says that it is THE religion with ALL of the truth. The catechism of the catholic church clearly says that other religions possess some parts of the total truth. This is an important distinction because when you have a bunch of world religions that all conflict with one another in very fundamental ways, its clear they can't all be right. In fact there are only two logical possibilities: 1) All religions are man-made (probably your view), or 2) There is one particular religion that comes from God.

          • William Davis

            What does it mean to have "ALL" the truth? Look at all the failure of the Catholic Church, if it had "ALL" the truth, how could it have made so many mistakes and reversals? I'm not claiming I have all the truth, I'm just pointing out the fact that you don't either.

            There is also 3) All religions have small glimpses of the truth, some glimpses are a bit bigger than the other. You cannot deny the possibility of option 3. I'm open minded about that option. I'd like to quote a parable from my personal favorite religion again (an inherently open minded religion):

            A number of disciples went to the Buddha and said, "Sir, there are living here in Savatthi many wandering hermits and scholars who indulge in constant dispute, some saying that the world is infinite and eternal and others that it is finite and not eternal, some saying that the soul dies with the body and others that it lives on forever, and so forth. What, Sir, would you say concerning them?"

            The Buddha answered, "Once upon a time there was a certain raja who called to his servant and said, 'Come, good fellow, go and gather together in one place all the men of Savatthi who were born blind... and show them an elephant.' 'Very good, sire,' replied the servant, and he did as he was told. He said to the blind men assembled there, 'Here is an elephant,' and to one man he presented the head of the elephant, to another its ears, to another a tusk, to another the trunk, the foot, back, tail, and tuft of the tail, saying to each one that that was the elephant.

            "When the blind men had felt the elephant, the raja went to each of them and said to each, 'Well, blind man, have you seen the elephant? Tell me, what sort of thing is an elephant?'

            "Thereupon the men who were presented with the head answered, 'Sire, an elephant is like a pot.' And the men who had observed the ear replied, 'An elephant is like a winnowing basket.' Those who had been presented with a tusk said it was a ploughshare. Those who knew only the trunk said it was a plough; others said the body was a grainery; the foot, a pillar; the back, a mortar; the tail, a pestle, the tuft of the tail, a brush.

            "Then they began to quarrel, shouting, 'Yes it is!' 'No, it is not!' 'An elephant is not that!' 'Yes, it's like that!' and so on, till they came to blows over the matter.

            "Brethren, the raja was delighted with the scene.

            "Just so are these preachers and scholars holding various views blind and unseeing.... In their ignorance they are by nature quarrelsome, wrangling, and disputatious, each maintaining reality is thus and thus."

            Then the Exalted One rendered this meaning by uttering this verse of uplift,

            O how they cling and wrangle, some who claimFor preacher and monk the honored name!For, quarreling, each to his view they cling.Such folk see only one side of a thing.

            Jainism and Buddhism. Udana 68-69:Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant

            http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~rywang/berkeley/258/parable.html

          • Roman

            Look at all the failure of the Catholic Church, if it had "ALL" the truth, how could it have made so many mistakes and reversals?

            You'll have to explain what you mean by "so many mistakes and reversals?"

            There is also 3) All religions have small glimpses of the truth, some glimpses are a bit bigger than the other. You cannot deny the possibility of option 3

            Yes I can. Whether or not you believe in option 3 really depends on your concept of God and whether or not you believe in absolute truth. You are at least consistent. Your favorite religion is a relativistic philosophy. Every path is equal. No rules, no moral laws. Quite different than the Christian God who's nature is to be perfectly logical and the source of absolute laws of morality. When I look at the world, I see a something that is characterized by science and complex mathematics, a prime example of absolute truth. That's why in my opinion, option 3 is no option at all.

          • William Davis

            The burning of heretics and witches is a clear reversal. Intolerance of the Jews was a major problem:

            http://www.zionism-israel.com/hdoc/Papal_Bulls_Jews.htm

            I credit the Catholic church for leading the way in the fight against slavery, but this did not start to happen until the Protestant reformation. The reformation really helped make the Catholic Church better (we can get into all kinds of problem that the protestants were right to point out).
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_slavery

            Has Christianity been a source for good in the world? Absolutely, but it surely hasn't been perfect. I know Christians usually blame man for Christianity's failings, but they are entering into "No True Scotsman" territory.

            Buddhism doesn't really believe in moral relativism:

            "Buddhist ethics finds its foundation not on the changing social customs but rather on the unchanging laws of nature. Buddhist ethical values are intrinsically a part of nature, and the unchanging law of cause and effect (kamma). The simple fact that Buddhist ethics are rooted in natural law makes its principles both useful and acceptable to the modern world. The fact that the Buddhist ethical code was formulated over 2,500 years ago does not detract from its timeless character."
            http://www.budsas.org/ebud/whatbudbeliev/145.htm

            Sound familiar? I think there are objective things we can say about morality, but there is clearly a subjective component to it as well. I think God exist, but he left morality for us to figure out. Here is a post I made recently on SN on that very subject. Notice Brandon Vogt's criticism and my response, even David Nickol agreed with me. This site generates some good discussions. There is a ton more I could say about morality if you are interested, I've thought a lot about it :)

            https://strangenotions.com/dressgate-is-perception-reality/#comment-1901449012

          • William Davis

            I decided to separate this. I call myself an atheist for simplicity, but I not only believe there is an objective fact about the universe, there is an objective fact about God, but that is much harder if not impossible to access. I have also been a strong rationalist and have had a strong belief in determinism. This is one of the problems I have with miracles, it seems to be an injustice for God to break his own laws. Favoritism of a specific people (like the Jews) also seems very unlike the God of this universe. If God is the engineer of this beautiful universe, it seems to be an admission of error to intervene, it's like he's fixing a bug. To me, the universe seems to be designed to find possibilities within a given set of complex rules. I grant the fact that determinism may not exist at all levels, but the more we learn, the more deterministic the universe appears. You may also find this discussion interesting, what if Pi were a different number? Could God even do that?

            https://strangenotions.com/can-we-make-sense-of-the-world/#comment-1906701848

            For the record, I'm a Spinozist (for the most part) when it comes to God. So far everyone avoids discussing Spinoza, even Ye Olde Stat, I suppose this means they think the view is valid, or are unaware of real objections to monism. One of the core difference between the Church's view of God and mine, is that I believe there is only one substance, God, and this substance has infinite properties. This article goes into detail quite well:

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/spinoza/

            If you think about it, the parable about the blind men and the elephant isn't around relativism. There is a fact of the matter, the men are talking about an elephant. The problem comes from our limited perceptions and limited minds. Just because there is a fact about God, does not mean that we can even come close to comprehending God. I think most Catholics agree with this idea.

          • William Davis

            This is a good passage too, 1 Corinthians 13

            8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

            Also look at the Socratic paradox

            "I know that I know nothing"

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_know_that_I_know_nothing

          • Michael Murray

            who were willing to die for a story they knew was not true.

            What makes you think that we believe this ? The whole point of a hallucination is that they would think it was true.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Like Joseph Smith?

      • William Davis

        The gospel of Mark was much earlier than the other gospels. It ended with 16:8. The was not even a resurrected Jesus, just a man in the tomb saying there was a resurrected Jesus. The gospel even says the women (the only ones who were told) did not tell anyway.
        This gospel is clear evidence they were making stuff up as time when on. People make up stories all the time, you should read Bart Ehrman's books, he deals with this. His version of what happened is far more plausible than anything I've ever heard. I accept Jesus's birth in Nazareth, his Baptism by John the Baptist, and his death by crucifixion at the hands of Pilate as historical fact, that's about it.

      • Ezra Casa

        There are those skeptics and modernists like Ehrman who claim...

        Excuse me sir, one cannot simply dismiss Ehrman as a modernist in any pejorative sense as being somehow outside the consensus of his peers. He is a leading scholar in his field.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bart_D._Ehrman

      • Doug Shaver

        To interpret the resurrection and the ascension as
        stories that are supposed to tells us about what the disciples were
        feeling rather than as an account of the actual historical events
        makes no sense at all.

        I don't think the people who wrote the stories meant to tell us anything about the disciples' feelings. I think the authors were expressing some beliefs and feelings of their own. And why not? It's what all other authors have always done.

  • Joe Ser

    St. Gennaro’s Blood Relic Miraculously Liquefies In The Presence Of Pope Francis In Naples -

    The first time the miracle has occurred in the presence of a pope since Pius IX

    http://www.aleteia.org/en/religion/article/st-gennaros-blood-relic-miraculously-liquifies-in-the-presence-of-pope-francis-in-naples-5869691155251200?utm_campaign=NL_en&utm_source=daily_newsletter&utm_medium=mail&utm_content=NL_en-23/03/2015

  • James M

    "The authors state that our extant biblical manuscripts contain “very few discrepancies and no really important ones,”"

    ## What is wrong with that ? Well, change the example: "our extant [editions of The Lord of the Rings] contain "very few discrepancies and no really important ones"." Therefore, Sauron the Great was in fact overthrown exactly as TLOTR states he was.

    But:

    1. the perfection of a text about Sauron is no evidence of his real existence. It can of course be argued what is said about StG in TLOTR is congruent with the statements about him in The Hobbit & The Silmarillion; and that the hydrographic evidence favours the real historicity of the Downfall of the island kingdom of Numenor, which is attributed to his deceit.

    2. But there is a problem: StG is not an historical person. There is no evidence for his existence, nor can there be. The perfection of the texts about him is that which belings to a well-told story that has been well-printed, so:

    3. The textual excellence of a text about a character, is no evidence of the truth of statements about the character. Two entirely different issues are being confused, and it is somewhat shocking that the confusion was not noticed by those made the statement. This article ignores that confusion.

    "It is indeed difficult for a Christian to imagine someone inventing the notion that Jesus was divine"

    ## It's easy to imagine. Alexander the Great was thought divine. So were many Roman & Greek rulers. So were many Mesopotamian kings. Why not Jesus as well ? (I have no doubt He is God Incarnate, but that does not mean one cannot see that other views might commend themselves).

    Miracles are not improbable - they are impossible. That is why they are so striking when they do happen. They are totally super-natural - there is nothing within nature that can cause or explain a miracle. They are impossible w/in nature - but not w/in God, Who is Alone The Super-natural One. Miracles are essentially eschatological - they are signs of the Presence of the Reign of God's Messiah. Walking on water is impossible - if it were not, scientific knowledge of what happens when hydrogen atoms bomnd with carbon atoms would be thrown into confusion. If nature were not closed - except to God, the One Who is not related to the natural order at all - the miraculous would be no more than the improbable. But if somethimg is mere improbable, it remains possible, and cannot be said to be possible only to God the Super-natural. Lewis's view assimilates the natural & Super-natural to each other, which ends - if taken far enough - in mixing the two together inextricably. Instead, they must be kept apart. Miracles are impossible: so far one can strongly agree with atheists - nonetheless, they do happen.

    "As one who daily engages in the craft of historical-critical exegesis, I find Benedict’s comments on this subject refreshing and liberating. In contrast with a naturalist, “ready-made philosophy” that precludes the possibility of miracles, "

    ## But the HCM does not preclude that. They are methodologically irrelevant, which is why they are not appealed to. Ratzinger seems to have a very strange idea of what the HCM is for.

  • ijstaartindeoven

    Jezus says for he who believes nothing is impossible, but proof in this life I have not seen it yet. Maybe Jezus is a lyer or there are no believers, or the bible is just made up by man...