15 votes, average: 4.00 out of 515 votes, average: 4.00 out of 515 votes, average: 4.00 out of 515 votes, average: 4.00 out of 515 votes, average: 4.00 out of 5 (15 votes, average: 4.00 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this post.
Loading...

Once More on the Credibility of Miracles: Guest post by Darren Slade

This will be my final post dealing with the recent book, The Case Against Miracles, edited by John Loftus.  As you know, here on the blog we have guest posts from scholars with a wide range of views on the blog, so long as they relate to the issues we are concerned about here, the history and literature of early Christianity, starting with the New Testament.  Our guest contributor now is Darren Slade, author of chapter 4 of the book.   He supports the same basic view we have seen by the other two contributors, that there is not and cannot be sufficient proof of miracles, in either the ancient or the modern worlds.  What do you think?

One of the values of the blog is that we can see different views from ours, on topics we are all interested in.  In your comments with Dr. Slade, please be respectful, even if you disagree.  Dr. Slade here summarizes his views in the third person, and he will be willing to respond to comments and questions you have.

****************************************************************

            In Chapter 4 of The Case Against Miracles, Dr. Darren M. Slade explores how critical thinkers should approach miraculous claims by exposing would-be paranormal investigators to the psychological variables that often discredit or distort a claimant’s eyewitness testimony. The chapter identifies some of the investigative practices needed to substantiate or falsify a miracle claim, as well as what to look for in terms of a claimant’s credibility, suitability, and accuracy. Dr. Slade argues that stories of a fantastic nature, such as witnessing or experiencing a bona fide miracle (properly defined), ought to be thoroughly investigated according to the rigors implemented in judicial interviewing and interrogation tactics with an awareness of and attention to the possibility of deception, as well as the cognitive distortions known to affect eyewitness accounts. The big takeaway from Dr. Slade’s chapter is that …

To see how Darren Slade develops his ideas, keep reading!  If you’re not a blog member, join!  It is inexpensive and it will give you access to all blog posts going back since 2012!  And everything you pay goes to charity.

The big takeaway from Dr. Slade’s chapter is that  apologetic claims of divine miracles, whether from the ancient world or modern-day assertions, often lack the thorough fact-finding investigation needed to make an informed judgment about their validity. Indeed, as the chapter evidences, merely claiming to have experienced a miracle, even by sincere eyewitnesses, is insufficient to believe that a miracle has actually occurred. Though claims of the miraculous are extraordinarily common, Dr. Slade reveals that they are also notoriously and perpetually problematic. What’s worse, miracle stories often lack the kind of corroborating evidence necessary to believe that supernatural, invisible entities have abrogated or manipulated the physical universe’s natural regularities.

Dr. Slade research was inspired by the most recent (and arguably best) apologetic attempt to establish the “credibility” of New Testament miracle claims: Craig Keener’s two-volume book, Miracles. Dr. Slade’s chapter systematically approaches the subject by first giving a helpful definition of what constitutes a bona fide miracle before exposing the failure of Keener’s catalogue of miracles where (as Keener himself admits in the book) he simply took modern-day miracle stories at “face value” with no fact-finding investigation whatsoever. The problem, of course, is that Keener then proceeds to pronounce New Testament miracle stories as “credible” simply because the same kind of fantastical tales are reported today. Expectedly, Keener focuses only on contemporary Christian miracle claims while conveniently refusing to catalogue the myriad of outlandish claims from other folk healers, charlatan faith healers, gurus, shamans, and witch doctors who offer the same types of miracle stories as the New Testament. Keener does not believe in the credibility of these other miracle stories, yet he somehow concludes that Christianity’s stories are historically true based on the same insufficient data as found in other religions. Dr. Slade’s criminal and psychological research into miracle claims demonstrates precisely why critical thinkers should not accept the New Testament at “face value” any more than they should accept the miracle claims of yogis and mystics.

Chapter 4 proceeds to discuss how to investigate a miracle claimant’s credibility, as well as their propensity for overactive imaginations and fantasies. Dr. Slade then exposes the habitual problems with eyewitness testimony in terms of memory falsifications and “suitability” (i.e. whether the eyewitness was even in an unobstructed position or sober state of mind to view the event accurately). He traces may of the psychological variables that distort a person’s recollection of an event (e.g. source-confusion, postevent misinformation, retrospective biases), including memory alterations caused by apologetic interviewers like Keener (e.g. suggestion, interviewer bias, confirming feedback effect, or other system variables that implant false memories). The final section about “undue hyperskepticism” reiterates that being a critical thinker does not require dismissing miracle claims a priori. Rather, because of the known criminal elements and psychological distortions in supposed miracle eyewitness claims today, critical thinkers ought to reserve judgment (at the very least) until a proper and thorough fact-finding investigation has been completed. In the absence of sufficient data necessary to rule out fraud, cognitive bias, or mistaken observations, it would be irrational to presume that something fantastically implausible has actually occurred. Until qualified investigators (preferably those with criminal and psychological training) have publicly and independently authenticated these miracle stories, it is simply credulous to believe they are true.

Contra Keener’s premature assessment, Dr. Slade’s chapter implicitly reveals just how little information is available for critical thinkers to believe in Christianity’s foundational claim that Jesus rose bodily from the dead and ascended into heaven. Indeed, from Dr. Slade’s incredible assemblage of the latest research, readers are able to apply proper investigative practices to any and all miracle claims, especially those from the New Testament and modern-day faith healers. His chapter makes clear that like Keener, apologists often catalogue miracle stories because they desperately want to believe in them. Hence, like Keener, they avoid conducting a proper and thorough investigation that could possibly identify natural causes for these supposed “miracles.” Foundational miracle claims within Christianity or any other religion, when considered from a criminological and psychological perspective, do not warrant belief precisely because they parallel the fraudulent, discredited, and distorted claims of modern-day miracle workers. Moreover, Dr. Slade’s research suggests that ancient, pre-scientific miracle stories from the first century by religious zealots are completely devoid of the corroborating evidence necessary for properly-trained investigators to accept as historically true. As the chapter’s conclusion states, there are simply “far too many miracle claims [that] have been falsified, far too many claimants discredited, and far too many naturalistic explanations [that] prove just as satisfying (if not more so) than appeals to invisible, spiritual entities….Accepting people’s claims simply because they are otherwise good, honest, and sincere people ultimately borders on pure naiveté.” In fact, Dr. Slade’s chapter reveals that people’s penchant for distorting reality and misinterpreting personal experiences, however unintentional, suggests critical thinkers need to be cautious about accepting miracle stories at face value, particularly when they come from the pre-scientific, uneducated, and superstitious world of the New Testament.


Does the Author of Acts Identify Himself?
Did “Luke” Really Write Luke? And the book of Acts?

82

Comments

  1. Avatar
    flshrP  January 6, 2020

    A Catholic friend of late 19th century poet and playwright Oscar Wilde were on a tour of France and visited the shrine at Lourdes. His friend told Wilde of the numerous miraculous healings that he said occurred there and showed him what he considered to be undeniable proof: the leg braces, back braces, neck braces, crutches, wheelchairs, canes. Wilde said “Fine. Now show me the glass eyeballs, the wooden legs, the prosthetic arms.”

  2. tompicard
    tompicard  January 6, 2020

    Thanks for the post
    do you have any comment on this story, specifically do you think it is credible

    Now as soon as they had come out of the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick with a fever, and they told him about her at once. So he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and immediately the fever left her. And she served them.

    • Darren Slade
      Darren Slade  January 6, 2020

      Hi, Tom –

      The term “credible” is often misused by the general public and by non-investigators (as is the case in Keener’s book, Miracles). From an investigative perspective, being “credible” does not mean the same thing as “it could have happened.” All sorts of things “could have happened,” including all of the stories in the Bible. Rather, when investigators ask whether a report is “credible,” they are asking whether the eyewitness testimony is deliberately attempting to promote a belief or perception in others that the claimant considers to be inaccurate, insincere, false, untrue, or unfounded. In other words, an eyewitness is “credible” if he or she is not lying. For investigators, credibility gauges a claimant’s history of and proclivity for telling the truth about the subject under discussion (in this case, miraculous healings) and, thus, assesses whether the claimant is engaging in deliberate falsifications, exaggerations, or minimizations that intentionally distort a testimony’s correspondence to reality.

      With that said, is the New Testament story of a woman recovering from a fever “credible” in the sense of whether it happened or not? There is simply not enough corroborating evidence to pass judgment. Of course, we should note that the New Testament writers do have some general credibility issues. For instance, the NT writers are known to fabricate or embellish stories, and they are known to have a conflict of interest in how those stories are presented. After all, there is a theological agenda behind these stories. Both of these facts should caution us from taking everything they say at face value. However, if asking could the story have happened? Sure. Fevers spontaneously break all the time, especially in circumstances where a person’s adrenaline is stimulated (this is often the case with so-called faith healings today where people report a decrease in chronic pain at healing events). What we don’t have (like with most NT stories) is any investigative follow-up of the story. What if we were to learn that the woman’s fever broke “immediately” when she was touched by Simon, but the fever returned just an hour later? The story wouldn’t be much of a miracle at that point. Indeed, the sudden diminishment and then return of fevers is quite common, especially in circumstances that distract people from their illness. (I can recall a time when I had to give a speech at a conference but had gotten food poisoning from eating eggs early that morning. I had a fever, diarrhea, and was vomiting all day. However, when the time came, I mustered all my strength and delivered an impeccable speech without any problems … only to have my food poisoning symptoms return when I got back home.)

      It is interesting to note the brevity of the story, which suggests that the evangelist likely trimmed down or cut out portions of a longer narrative. This requires us to ask: what was left out of the original story and why? Are there details to the longer version (if one existed) that would make a “miracle healing” unlikely? Moreover, we have a suitability issue, as well. The story you cite comes from the Gospel of Mark. Both critical scholars and church history acknowledge that Mark was not an eyewitness to the events he wrote about. Thus, as I detail in my chapter of The Case Against Miracles, non-eyewitnesses are also non-suitable witnesses. Their testimonies would not be admissible in a court of law and investigators cannot rely on them for the facts of what happened. Part of being a suitable witness is also being familiar with the details of a story. In this case, even if Mark were a direct eyewitness, he still displays a lack of medical knowledge or basic human physiology to rely on his interpretation of the event. For example, the Gospel of Mark states, “And the fever left her” (καὶ ἀφῆκεν αὐτὴν ὁ πυρετός), which was a common way for ancients to describe demon possession and exorcisms. Like most other superstitious people from the first century, Mark likely believed the fever was a demonic presence inhabiting the woman’s body. We now know (medically speaking) that this is not the case. Mark does not have basic knowledge about what causes diseases and illnesses, so why should I trust his interpretation of this episode here? Indeed, why should I trust he knows for sure that the woman’s fever broke? Did he use a thermometer to assess her temperature? Did he keep the woman under medical observation for several hours? Does he have enough training and experience with fevers to pass an accurate, medical judgment? What is important to realize is that describing a fever leaving the woman like a demon has a theological intention behind it: the story is meant to show that Simon (and other apostles) have the same healing-exorcist powers as Jesus, thereby giving them authority over the nascent church community. This is potentially a conflict of interest in how the details of the event are being presented (if an event happened at all).

      The point is that we don’t have the kinds of corroborating evidence needed to make a pronouncement on the historicity of this story, but we do have details that call the credibility and suitability of the testimony into question. Hope this helps!

      • tompicard
        tompicard  January 7, 2020

        thanks for the extensive, well thought out explanation

        just one remark if you care to respond

        I wonder if at the time these passages were written was there or not a clear delineation between medicine, magic and miracle?

        everything you say is very reasonable for you and I in 21st century to discuss debate, but isn’t it expecting too much to expect gospel writer Mark to write in that manner. ( maybe this is not your point tho)

        • Darren Slade
          Darren Slade  January 7, 2020

          These are great questions. I am of the opinion that objective reason transcends time and place. While I had the luxury of having studied science and logic in the twentieth/twenty-first century, my species has been applying reasonable thought to everyday life for tens of thousands of years. Of course, some people have been better at it than others, but I personally have no qualms with requiring empirical evidence, logical scrutiny, or a thorough fact-finding investigation to metaphysical or philosophical matters (especially when it is expected that I base my life on those matters). Am I expecting too much of the Gospel of Mark? Sure. Probably. The author of Mark doesn’t strike me as a reasonable or highly-educated person to begin with; thus, I do not base my life on his work. The real question isn’t whether this is expecting too much of Mark (or any other ancient writer). The real question is whether it is asking too much of myself, of which I can confidently answer with a resounding ‘no.’ I don’t buy into this idea that I cannot use my higher sense of morality or logical thinking to critique the beliefs of ancient people. It is not arrogant for me to say that slavery, rape, and indiscriminate murder is morally wrong or that the Earth does not sit on the back of a turtle shell. While it is understandable that ancient people once thought that slavery, rape, and murder were morally permissible at times (or that a giant turtle exists in space), they were wrong. We know better now and should act on the knowledge that we have today instead of rely on the unreasonable assumptions and superstitions of pre-scientific men.

          To answer your other question, yes there were differentiations between medicine, magic, and miracles in the ancient world. Many reasonable men before and after first century CE scrutinized the miraculous claims of faith healers. There was also widespread distrust of magicians and folk healers, particularly from the more educated parts of society. Of course, while people could delineate between the three categories, there was substantial overlap, as well. For instance, bodily fluids like sweat and saliva were thought to possess magical healing powers. This is why we often read of Jesus and Paul using their bodily fluids to heal the sick. It was a common practice among magicians to spit on people and do other nonsensical rituals (like witch doctors and shamans today). This is also why we see Matthew and Luke eliminate these kinds of stories about Jesus from their Gospels; they knew it looked an awful lot like the suspicious trickery of magician conmen of the era. But because it was such a widely held belief that saliva had healing powers, some doctors of the time would recommend spitting on epileptics during a seizure. As such, in this example, we see folk magic influencing the domain of medicine.

          • tompicard
            tompicard  January 7, 2020

            thanks for your time in putting together the post and competent well thought out answers

          • Darren Slade
            Darren Slade  January 7, 2020

            You’re very welcome : ) Happy to do it!

  3. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 6, 2020

    Dr. Slade: Your last sentence is your most important one. I look forward to reading your chapter. Who really knows what happened 2,000 years ago. I think the more difficult “miracles” to judge are those more recent ones, such as the appearance of the virgin Mary, reported by people in large group settings. Thanks.

  4. Avatar
    Matt2239  January 6, 2020

    There are about 7 billion books that all say Jesus rose from the dead. There billions of Christians, alive and dead, who have said for thousands of years that Jesus rose from the dead. That’s a lot of objective proof. Now of course some hostile debunkers will demand that a scientific explanation be provided. They want their belief system — the scientific method — to pass judgment on religion, but they squeal like stuck pigs when religion seeks to tread on their turf in evolution science class. Miracles are a matter of faith, not science.

    • Darren Slade
      Darren Slade  January 6, 2020

      Word-of-mouth claims that a miracle occurred 2,000 years ago, even by a large number of people, do not constitute “objective proof” of anything. If that were the case, then every miracle claim by Sai Baba (who has millions upon millions of devout followers who claim to have witnessed him perform miracles, including raising people from the dead) would have “objective proof.” That would be naive.

      • Avatar
        Matt2239  January 7, 2020

        7 billion books is not “word of mouth” and neither is billions of Christians for thousands of years. That’s a lot of objective proof. Even today, if 10 people said you were dead, you would be obliged to at least lie down.

        • Darren Slade
          Darren Slade  January 7, 2020

          Huh? I’m currently alive and well. It doesn’t matter if billions of people say otherwise. They would be wrong. Objective facts don’t change because of wishful thinking or popular vote.

        • Rick
          Rick  January 9, 2020

          Objective proof, you keep using that word.
          I don’t think it means what you think it means….

    • Avatar
      Gary  January 6, 2020

      Prior to Copernicus, billions of human beings believed that the sun rotated around the earth each and every day. They were ALL wrong.

      Just because a lot of people believe something to be true, does not make it true. Trust the scientific method, my friends, not holy books or the superstitions of scientifically ignorant people.

    • Avatar
      RICHWEN90  January 7, 2020

      Billions of books don’t constitute objective proof of anything but the existence of billions of books. Billions of people insisting that the earth is flat won’t make the earth flat. Billions of people insisting that some event took place in the past don’t verify that the event took place, or took place in the manner described, or that the event was miraculous. Belief isn’t evidence. Faith in a proposition has nothing to do with the truth value of a proposition. Billions of people believe in reincarnation. Billions of people believe in the bodily assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven. Billions of people believe in Islam. By your criteria, it seems that they all must be right. All these people have faith in these things!

    • Avatar
      Brian  January 7, 2020

      Claims, no matter how widely accepted and repeated, are not any kind of ‘objective proof.’

  5. Avatar
    doug  January 6, 2020

    When I was a conservative Christian, it seemed to me that miracles were logical:

    An all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God exists.

    Therefore, he can and does do miracles.

    Those miracles are supernatural and beyond human knowledge.

    Therefore, miracles cannot be supported or refuted by human knowledge – they can only be known thru “faith”.

    I don’t believe any of that now.

  6. Avatar
    Pegill7  January 6, 2020

    In Matthew 17:20-21 Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed (erroneously said to be the smallest of seeds), you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from there to here, and it will move.’ Nothing will be impossible for you.” In the past 2000 years has there never been someone who had this kind of faith? I don’t know of any mountains being moved so abruptly. Apologists will say this was just hyperbole but would the uneducated among Jesus’ followers have even known what hyperbole means?

    • Darren Slade
      Darren Slade  January 6, 2020

      I don’t know of anyone with the correct amount of faith necessary to walk on water, either. Funny how that works out, huh?

    • Telling
      Telling  January 6, 2020

      Pegill7,

      I work in the engineering profession, and can attest that if a person having the wherewithal says he can move a mountain from here over to there, and he truly believes it, that mountain will move. The US Interstate highway system was built on the fundamental knowledge (and faith).

      • Darren Slade
        Darren Slade  January 7, 2020

        This is a bit of a stretch, even for a believer. Taking years to construct an asphalt highway with human ingenuity and modern technology hardly constitutes a miracle (and it could hardly be what Jesus thought of when he said your faith could move mountains).

        • Telling
          Telling  January 7, 2020

          Hi Darren,

          I was speaking a bit tongue in cheek. But consider, the amount of faith needed to build the first interstate roads or to go to the moon, etc, would be great, and without such faith it could not happen. Something is called a miracle when it is seen for the very first time or rarely. But after a time the “miracle” becomes no big deal. This is true regardless of the where-with-all that.brings the miracle to fruition. For example, when we cut a finger it will heal up in about a week. But what if it healed in a couple of minutes; that would be a miracle. Or what if the body were such that a cut would never heal. In this case it would be a miracle if it healed in a week.

          In a dream that finger could heal right before your very eyes, but it would be no miracle because the “rules” in dreaming are fluidic, of a different nature. The discipline of metaphysics has the physical world made from the same stuff as dreams (consciousness). So what we call a miracle is merely events that we together have decided cannot happen in our cozy little world. When they go outside the accepted marked boundary, they are miracles.

          In another post mentioned, one such miracle (something that cannot happen but did happen) did intrude into my world some years back. The discipline of metaphysics is the landing zone for people witnessing such. It answers what the physical world cannot answer.

          I appreciate your time and thoughtfulness. We all come in from slightly different angles.

          • Avatar
            flshrP  January 8, 2020

            I’m also an engineer (32 years in the aerospace industry). There’s a difference between religious faith and credence. Faith is belief without evidence. Credence is provisional acceptance of some proposition or observation that is proportioned to the strength of the evidence presented in support.

            This is basic to all scientific endeavors and to engineering (since physics underlies engineering). In physics credence is given to a discovery if it meets or exceeds the 5-sigma criterion (the chance that the discovery is NOT real (the null hypothesis) is less than 1 in 3.5 million). But that doesn’t mean that the discovery is taken gospel truth. Additional evidence could arise that disqualifies it as a discovery.

            It’s religion that has rigidized beliefs (faith) that are formalized into creeds that have to believed in order to belong to that faith. Science does not operate that way. That’s why science is the path to knowledge while religious belief is fantasy. Science is productive. Religious belief is destructive.

          • Telling
            Telling  January 8, 2020

            flshP,

            Synonyms to faith: trust, belief, confidence, conviction, credence.

            The engineering field is not so unlike religion. If there is a mountain over here and I want to move it over to there, faith is needed and without faith it will be impossible to do it, because without faith the effort will not be made. If I have only a shovel it will be impossible, but if I can dream of obtaining earthmovers of the variety that can do it, that is, when, having faith and following up on that faith, I will obtain the wherewithal to do it and that mountain will one day move from here over to there.

            If you have faith you can or may accomplish the seeming impossible, but without faith it will remain the impossible.

            It’s the same in regard to religious beliefs. Having faith that a particular thing can happen is the first step toward that particular thing happening, just as the above engineering example.

            The word of any master is you can do anything if you have faith. This is typically wrongly interpreted to having faith IN the master. The underlying truth is: You create your own reality with your thoughts, individually and en masse. Change your thoughts and you change your world.

          • Darren Slade
            Darren Slade  January 8, 2020

            I have faith that I can breathe in outer space. I have such a strong confidence and conviction of this, that I believe I will be the first human to space walk without an oxygen tank. What do you think? Can I create my own reality to make this belief ontologically true?

            My point is that repeating something over and over again (like how you redefine “faith” to suite your own arguments) does not make something true. Having “faith” or “belief” in something, just like wishful thinking, does not change reality. If it did, then why are you not creating a reality that saves all the malnourished children of the world with your “thoughts” and “beliefs”? Or do you just not have enough faith to accomplish this?

          • Telling
            Telling  January 9, 2020

            Darren,

            Robert Lanza is a respected biochemist,advancing a theory in the sciences called “Biocentralism”, consciousness as the root source of everything. He explains it in a lively speech on video at “The Science and Nonduality Conference 2010”, in two parts. Part one link is below; part 2 should come up automatically on Youtube. It is a science that perfectly connects religion and metaphysics with science. Everything is made from living cells. It’s not a stretch to consider that living cells have consciousness, thus all is consciousness. I think you might find it useful:

            https://youtu.be/zI_F4nOKDSM

          • Darren Slade
            Darren Slade  January 12, 2020

            I think you might find falsifying and thinking critically about your beliefs just as useful instead of only seeking out supposed “confirming” evidence. Try it sometime.
            Thank you for the link.

          • Pattycake1974
            Pattycake1974  January 11, 2020

            “The underlying truth is: You create your own reality with your thoughts, individually and en masse. Change your thoughts and you change your world.”

            I discovered this truth quite some time ago. Science and technology can manifest faith-based statements. Faith and science complement each other.

          • Darren Slade
            Darren Slade  January 12, 2020

            And you know this how??? Asserting something as a fact without any evidence does not, therefore, make it a fact. It is wishful thinking.

  7. Telling
    Telling  January 6, 2020

    Darren,
    In 1975 I experienced something that can only be called a miracle, and a bit of a strange one at that. There would be no way to verify if, that could only happen in real time at the time it happened. But regarding miracles, there is no real gain in in doing that anyway. One person (two actually) was a firsthand witness, and the miracle was for that one person (me). It was a game-changer, but it could be that for me only. It was my personal message from a higher source. It brought me to begin searching for the answers, because I knew then that answers will not be found in “the world”.

    I found those answers in the metaphysical section of a major bookstore, in information conveyed to people in this world from other-world sources. The answer is: our thoughts create our reality, literally. “You must believe.” If you truly believe it will happen. The Church has it as we must believe in Jesus, but the true Master’s message is we must believe something will happen and then it will happen. This is how the Master clearly stated that thoughts are deeds. Thoughts are deeds. Things fall into place when we come to understand that consciousness is the foundation of everything — all is “mind.” just as Buddhists and Hindus know from very ancient days. This is the game-changer: “All is mind.”. Having this understanding, miracle are not miracles at all, they are simply an event that occurs outside of the boundaries constructed by a group mind, the community of “physically” directed consciousness creating the dream that we call “the world”.

    This is not science, of course, and historians are not allowed to explore this area of thought. But ultimately it is the way, the resolution to our unanswered questions. Although I can say that with every resolution more questions do arise.

    • Darren Slade
      Darren Slade  January 6, 2020

      I, too, have “miracle” stories of my own. But the hallmark of a true critical thinker is someone who also attempts to falsify and discredit their own beliefs. Otherwise, our brains simply default into a confirmation bias where we see and hear only what we want to see and hear.

      • Avatar
        RICHWEN90  January 7, 2020

        Miracles are slippery things to define. For me it always boils down to someone encountering something they don’t understand that astonishes them. They decide “that’s a miracle!”. Do they know what they are talking about? Are they in any position to say anything at all about a mysterious event, except “gee, that was a mysterious event.” ?? I don’t think so. Quite a leap. If something occurs, and you don’t understand it at all, you’re in no position to say anything apart from “I don’t understand it.” That seems to me to be very logical. If you want to throw logic out the window, well, you can have as many “miracles” as you like! In that case, the “miraculous” becomes trivial. In fact, miracles are just a fancy word for something not understood. Period.

      • Telling
        Telling  January 7, 2020

        Darren,

        I agree completely.

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  January 7, 2020

      I hear you Telling. I have experienced a miracle as well. Cheers!

      • Telling
        Telling  January 8, 2020

        It’s difficult to take seriously those who say miracles cannot happen after we ourselves have clearly witnessed such happen.

        • Darren Slade
          Darren Slade  January 8, 2020

          I don’t know too many people who say miracles cannot happen. That’s definitely not what I’m saying. But are you sure you have actually witnessed a miracle? Did you do a proper investigation to assess the validity of what you thought you saw or how you interpreted what you experienced? Until that happens, it seems premature and naive to just assume a supernatural being intervened directly in (conveniently) your life while, expectedly, that same supernatural being repeatedly fails to intervene on behalf of people who need him the most (like the 20,000 children who die every day from malnutrition and preventable diseases). How great it must be to know you are a chosen vessel for God to reveal himself to through miracles. It certainly must give your life a sense of meaning and purpose. Hence, why question your experiences or scrutinize your beliefs with a thorough, fact-finding investigation? You know what you know and no manner of science, logic, or truth can contradict what your 3-pound brain tells you. After all, you’ve never been wrong or misinterpreted things before, right? So, what use would a proper investigation be?

          What’s interesting to note is that every instance of actual investigators looking into miracle claims (that I know of) has revealed either haoxes or a total misinterpretation of natural occurrences. For evidence of what I’m talking about, see the article, “Claimed Contemporary Miracles” by Dr. Peter May in the Medico-Legal Journal (vol. 71, no. 4).

          • Telling
            Telling  January 9, 2020

            Hi Darren,

            I was actually addressing Pattycake in that post. She mentioned she too has experienced miracles.

            I earlier attempted to point out that what we know as miracles are personal to the person or people experiencing the miracle. In some cases it my be useful to investigate miracles for authenticity, but the real impact will not come from proving the miracle is true, it will come to the ones who experienced it and know beyond any doubt that it happened. As I mentioned I experienced a life-changing miracle 45 years ago and it brought me to look for answers in places other than this world, and I did find those answers. The real value of this particular miracle is in the form of the knowledge that I gained from it, when I changed my focus to things of greater importance than the average life dictates. There would be no reason why I would want this particular event authenticated, although in some cases, particularly with in a group of people, that might be useful.

            It is the unordinary events that really impact our lives, and they typically come in the form of a miracle or tragedy. People who experience the latter often say that the bad event was actually a blessing in disguise because it woke them up that they had been ignoring the really important things in their life. This will be true of a genuine miracle also, and it, the miracle, represents a far better way of getting that bucket of cold water splashed on you than the tragic event. But both can offer a same net result.

          • Darren Slade
            Darren Slade  January 12, 2020

            I get what you’re saying, but simply repeating over and over again that some experience is a miracle and meaningful does not, therefore, make the experience a “miracle.” This kind of confirmation bias, repeated moving of the goal posts, and a refusal to falsify your beliefs is nothing to boast about. Critical thinkers require more from themselves. You are not espousing knowledge or wisdom with this kind of thought process. It is just wishful thinking.

          • Pattycake1974
            Pattycake1974  January 9, 2020

            I believe Telling was replying to my comment because I said that I have also experienced a miracle. Based on what he’s said on this page, we share a lot of the same views when it comes to miracles and how the impossible can be achieved.

            On one hand, you state that you don’t know many people who say a miracle can’t happen. On the other hand, it seems that you’re *asking* him if he has truly critically evaluated his claim while at the same time telling him that he didn’t. You’re also guilt-tripping him by saying,

            “it seems premature and naive to just assume a supernatural being intervened directly in (conveniently) your life while, expectedly, that same supernatural being repeatedly fails to intervene on behalf of people who need him the most (like the 20,000 children who die every day from malnutrition and preventable diseases). How great it must be to know you are a chosen vessel for God to reveal himself to through miracles. It certainly must give your life a sense of meaning and purpose. Hence, why question your experiences or scrutinize your beliefs with a thorough, fact-finding investigation? You know what you know and no manner of science, logic, or truth can contradict what your 3-pound brain tells you. After all, you’ve never been wrong or misinterpreted things before, right?“

            He didn’t say that a deity or supernatural being intervened. Although, if he had, I see nothing wrong with that. He may have experienced a miracle, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t suffered in his life. As for myself, I had a very difficult upbringing. I was homeless more times than I can count, inconsistently in school, (I have no idea how many schools I attended between all the moves) and food wasn’t always available. There were times I wasn’t sure if I’d see another day. It was a nightmare of a childhood, so if experiencing a miracle is a matter of “worthiness” then I’d say it’s subjective. I wasn’t starving to death, but I was as far away from zip code envy as one could get.

          • Darren Slade
            Darren Slade  January 12, 2020

            I in no way “guilt tripped” someone. That’s a bit of an extreme response to a fairly basic (and reasonable) request. If you claim to have experienced a miracle, then I can ask if you have tried to investigate or falsify that belief. What you are seeing me do in that quoted paragraph is reducing Telling’s argument to its absurd consequences. It’s meant to show just how arrogant it is to claim definitive knowledge of something without ever having actually investigated it. When you assert a belief with no evidence and no critical investigation, and then assert that belief as a fact, don’t be surprised if people question your motives or your intellectual prowess. This kind of wishful thinking and confirmation bias is no different than what Trump-supporting evangelicals do to rationalize their beliefs. That’s not a good thing.

            ps: I’m sorry you had a hard upbringing. Join the club! But those personal experiences have no bearing on the discussion here.

          • Pattycake1974
            Pattycake1974  January 9, 2020

            Following up on my last comment—

            I need to correct what I said before. Telling does mention the “Master” but I’m not sure what he means by that. I am what might be considered a pantheist. That’s the closest definition for what I believe.

          • Telling
            Telling  January 12, 2020

            Honestly Darren, I hadn’t expected to be talking about this unspecified miracle more than once. It keeps coming up when I’m challenged about it, and so I answer, as is happening now.

        • Pattycake1974
          Pattycake1974  January 9, 2020

          Yes, exactly.

          • Darren Slade
            Darren Slade  January 12, 2020

            By your definition, the Holocaust was a genuine “miracle” for white supremacists. By your definition, anything can be construed as a “miracle.” That’s not a good thing.

        • Avatar
          RICHWEN90  January 9, 2020

          You avoid the simple question of whether you have enough knowledge of what is possible. Something amazing happens to you, but is it evidence of “new physics”, some new property of the natural world? If you insist that it is supernatural, then is it the product of God? Which one? Allah, Krishna, some pagan deity, a demon, an angel? And
          so on. Have you encountered an advanced technology? You should seriously consider hallucination or delusion as well. The point I make over and over, which seems not to be understood: if you can’t explain an event all, you are in a position of ignorance regarding the event. How do you logically leap from ignorance to “It’s a miracle!”– to be able to judge an event you must understand it. That requires knowledge. Miracle claims just seem empty– a place holder for mystery. It would be more modest to simply say that some event that seems miraculous to you is simply an event
          you can’t explain. A mystery. With more data, that mystery might vanish.

          • Telling
            Telling  January 11, 2020

            Hi RICHWEN,

            This response is for Pattycake too,

            I earlier said that a “miracle” is something (expectedly good) that happens that is not ever expected or seldom happens. And I said the rules of this world dictate what is a miracle and what is not, offering an example of a cut finger healing in a week (not a miracle because it expectedly happens in that timeframe). Thus when I say I experienced one such miracle I’m saying I experienced something that doesn’t expectedly happen but did.

            I also said there was no need to prove this miracle. Whatever it was it changed my life dramatically, bringing me to better see what is of importance and what is not. And I said the same can happen with a tragic experience, waking the sleeping person from his slumber.

            The miracle is thus not something that needs to be proven any more than does the tragic event need be proved. A miracle is of little use except when it succeeds in delivering a needed message to the recipient of the message. A fraudulent miracle will not bring such result; it will not be felt inwardly, it will be superficial, although the perpetrator of the fraud may temporarily gain from it in stature or finances.

            When you ask which god created the miracle? I don’t usually disclose this, but at the time of the miracle I had gotten myself into a little trouble, and I had been studying the Christian Bible intensely, and I remembered not Jesus, I remembered the words of Jesus, and this was: “Don’t resist evil”. Thus, in my case no god or master came to my rescue. The miracle was a result of the teachings of the Master, and was a lesson in not getting oneself entangled in the worries of the world. The “Master” only delivers the message. The message brings salvation. Buddhism and other Eastern religions teach this also.

            The “dharma”, the “source”, is not a man, not a god, it is the teachings. The source, in this example is: “Your thoughts create your reality, there is no other rule.” -Jane Roberts/Seth. Whether it happened or was a hallucination, both are the same, just as a mere thought is the same thing as doing it. This is the “teachings”.

          • Darren Slade
            Darren Slade  January 12, 2020

            By this definition, the Holocaust would rightly be considered a “miracle” by white supremacists. By this definition, anything could be considered a “miracle.” That’s not a good thing.

  8. Avatar
    roy  January 6, 2020

    Dr Slade, I think I can point out a true miracle or two for you from the bible.just debunk this! how about when jesus fed the multitudes with only a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread, AND ABSOLUTELY NO ONE OUTSIDE THE BIBLE MENTIONED IT IN ANY WRITINGS(I’M FULLY AWARE OF THE LACK OF EDUCATION LEVEL) BUT DON’T YOU THINK SOMEONE SOMEWHERE WOULD MENTION THIS “GREAT THING”. KIND OF MISSED THE MIRACLE DIDN’T THEY? OR HOW ABOUT THOSE 603,000 ISRAELITE MEN(FORMER SLAVES) WHO BECAME MIGHTY WARRIORS, PRESUMABLY “ARMED” WHERE O WHERE DID THEY GET ALL THOSE SWORDS AND SPEARS, MAYBE THEY FELL WITH THE MANNA FROM HEAVEN SO THAT THEY HAD SOMETHING TO SLICE THE MANNA WITH.THE MIRACLE TO ME IS THAT THE MILLIONS OF BELIEVERS IN TODAY’S WORLD STILL BELIEVE, I FULLY UNDERSTAND THEIR UNSCIENTIFIC, SUPERSTITIOUS, IGNORANT BELIEFS THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO. NO NEED TO REPLY, JUST CHUCKLING TO MYSELF

    • Darren Slade
      Darren Slade  January 7, 2020

      I think you’re writing sarcastically, but it’s hard to tell. No need to scream in all CAPS, though : )

    • Avatar
      ecafischer  January 7, 2020

      I hate all those caps. It’s too hard to read. Please don’t do that.

  9. Avatar
    Hormiga  January 7, 2020

    It’s an interesting exercise to ask just who was the witness/primary source of the information that has come down in Bible stories? Who provided the information about what happened at the Last Supper? The Annunciation? The Transfiguration? Jesus’ praying in the garden?

    Although many of these stories appear to have been made up out of whole cloth subsequent to the Crucifixion, others, like the Last Supper, appear to originate in real events. So who reported those?

  10. Avatar
    Kirktrumb59  January 7, 2020

    Dr. S: excellent responses. Thanks. As for another member’s reference to Oscar Wilde: https://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

  11. Avatar
    fishician  January 7, 2020

    I would include near-death-experiences (NDE) in the discussion of miracles. Christians see Jesus, Muslims see Mohammed, Buddhists see Buddha, etc. Some people have had multiple NDEs, sometimes experiencing bliss and other times horror. All this in a brain that is muddled by disease and/or drugs. Yet people want to claim it as evidence of an afterlife (including a neurosurgeon who has made more than a few bucks off of his story). Sorry, give me some actual evidence rather than stories.

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  January 7, 2020

      I am a member an NDE group on FB. Their experiences are much more complex than what you describe. They don’t just talk about NDEs but other types of spiritual experiences as well. It’s been very enlightening for me since I joined. They’re not all based on culture and/or religion. Although, some are.

      • Avatar
        Gary  January 7, 2020

        Subjective personal experiences are not reliable sources of information for universal truth claims.

        Why is it that there are thousands of alleged supernatural events occurring every year to millions of Christians, Muslims, and Hindus but no one yet has captured one on their cell phone’s camera??

        • Pattycake1974
          Pattycake1974  January 7, 2020

          An NDE can’t be captured on a cell phone camera. Most spiritual experiences are personal, and without knowing the particular circumstance of the situation, a camera may not be sufficient.

          If you’re talking about seeing a ghost or something along those lines, then there’s plenty of pictures for that. The problem is, there’s too many people who manipulate photographs, so it would be difficult to verify its authenticity.

          • Avatar
            Gary  January 7, 2020

            If by “spiritual experiences” you are referring to internal feelings and dreams (visions), then you are correct. A camera cannot capture these events. But if you are referring to spiritual experiences involving something occurring in the external environment, then it is odd that these “spiritual” events are never captured on camera.

            Show me a video of Jesus reassembling a body that has just been blown to pieces—and I’ll be a believer. But alas,Jesus doesn’t do the hard miracles, does he?

  12. Avatar
    Hngerhman  January 7, 2020

    Hi Dr Slade –

    Thanks again so much for all your participation with the blog community (and for the ontology of dreams reading list)!

    In your chapter in the book (which I very much enjoyed) and the above, you talk compellingly about the investigative standards appropriate to verify extraordinary historic claims. Completely agree that the rigor of the investigation of the claim should be proportionate with how extraordinary the claim is. There are, however, many well-known apologists that would disagree and who would put forward various critiques (at varying degrees of cogency).

    Question 1: How do you typically respond when an interlocutor puts forward the “baby with the bathwater” objection (that at the same level of epistemic standards, one would also have to reject many uncontroversial non-miraculous historical events)?

    Question 2: How do you typically respond when an interlocutor objects that you are just making a (diluted) version of the argument from skepticism – that you are just picking an arbitrary point on the slippery slope and inevitable descent towards “brain in vats” scenarios?

    Thanks much!

    • Darren Slade
      Darren Slade  January 7, 2020

      Thank you for reading the chapter and responding favorably. To answer your questions:

      1) If someone were to argue that a thorough fact-finding investigation needs to be conducted with non-miraculous historical events, I would completely agree with them! lol This shouldn’t be controversial, and we shouldn’t expect anything less from scholars. Nor should we allow such blanket dismissals to abound when it comes to historical events. Critical thinkers should insist on taking each event (miraculous or not) on a case-by-case basis. All academics, historians, philosophers, and people of a reasonable mind should thoroughly investigate (to the extent possible) events that they claim really occurred in the past. That, to me, is a given.

      However, there is a major difference between investigating ancient or modern-day miracles versus investigating everyday, natural occurrences. The difference is an issue of probability. Historians and investigators do not have direct access to the past, even in criminal investigations today but especially when it comes to the ancient world. Thus, they must rely on probabilities (this is why law enforcement can only charge a crime if they have “probable cause”). In the case of a murder investigation (for example), there is nothing extraordinarily fantastical about a jealous spouse stabbing their wife to death. (Interesting side note: my very, very first call right out of the police academy was to this very scenario. I just got into my patrol car when I had to fly lights and sirens to a bedroom covered in blood where I caught a murderer just after he had stabbed his girlfriend to death.) Nor is there anything fantastically improbable about Socrates drinking poison or Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon (though many historians, after a thorough consideration of the available facts, doubt these events actually occurred). Much of what historians reconstruct is within the realm of conventional probability and human experience. This is not the case with miracles. While I do not think miracles are impossible, there had better be more compelling evidence than simply saying some uneducated, pre-scientific, generally superstitious, illiterate peasants from the first century claimed a miracle occurred (especially if I am expected to base my entire life’s philosophy and ethics on those claims). Just like any run-of-the-mill death investigation, so-called eyewitnesses need to be thoroughly vetted to rule out the possibility of deception, suboptimal conditions, or inaccuracies. I would expect nothing less of regular, everyday occurrences; and I certainly expect no less with claims of a fantastically improbable nature.

      2) I can’t imagine anyone saying that I am just making an “argument from skepticism” (I don’t quite know what that refers to) from what I wrote about properly investigating miracle claims. Nor did I even come close to a “slippery slope” argument that could could reasonably suggest we are all living in the Matrix. My argument is quite simple, and I would insist that people address the precise content and structure of my argument:

      A. There exists three known potential problem areas with eyewitness testimony: credibility, suitability, and accuracy.
      B. It is established fact that eyewitness claimants are routinely incredible, unsuitable, and inaccurate.
      C. Therefore, a thorough fact-finding investigation ought first to determine whether the claimant is credible, suitabile, and accurate in their testimony.
      D. This should be the case regardless of whether the event in question is “miraculous” in nature or not.
      E. To pronounce judgment on the historicity of an event without a thorough fact-finding investigation would be premature, naive, and (because of what we know about eyewitness testimonies) unreasonable.
      F. If a thorough fact-finding investigation is not possible, then judgment ought to be reserved until enough data can be obtained to inquire further.
      G. If enough data is available and the eyewitness testimony turns out to be incredible (i.e. dishonest, fraudulent), unsuitable (i.e. they really weren’t eyewitnesses to begin with), or inaccurate (i.e. their perception and interpretation of the details was incorrect), then investigators should not take the testimony at face value or accept the testimony as corresponding to what really happened in the past.

      Hope this helps!

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  January 8, 2020

        Thanks a ton for such a generous and thorough response! Well said, and crystal clear. I think the way you have argued the epistemic standards issue is spot on.

        Re: 1)

        I completely agree – both in specific points and general upshot.

        Appropriate epistemic standards for evaluating a given claim of X are a positive function of (not exhaustive):
        – X’s (ex ante) complementary probability (1 – p(X));
        – X’s extraordinariness;
        – “stakes” involved in believing X.

        The “baby with the bathwater” objection is mistaken on several levels, but at the most fundamental, it is not well-formed. At any given point along the epistemic standards continuum, there are things that will and won’t count as epistemologically justified. As (1- p(x)) increases, more naturalistic claims – and so be it. Further, we could choose a naturalistic X, with sufficiently low probability (high complementary probability) that it asymptotically approaches the improbability of miracle, and the epistemic standards would be high enough that belief in X would not be justified.

        You aren’t just picking on miracles – and I think that is something *very* important about your argument.

        Re: 2)

        Sorry, I’m my haste the question wasn’t sufficiently clear. What I meant was:

        Despite the cogent argument that you make (esp. A-G), an apologist could make the meta-objection:

        – arguments from (epistemological) skepticism (a la Descartes), that one cannot justify belief in X because one cannot distinguish it from Y, trade on increasingly raising the epistemic standards to such a height that that belief in X could never be unjustified.

        – the crude version: this argument arbitrarily raises the epistemic standards in order to squelch out otherwise justified belief in miracles

        – a subtler version: this argument trades on an arbitrary equivalence of standards between murder claims and historic miracle claims, in order to squelch out the miracle claims. Buttressing arguments: Murder claims result in the convicted losing their freedom (and possibly their life), so the stakes are very high. Miracles (qua miracle, not as part of a broader belief system) don’t have the same immediate impact – thus the murder standard is too high. Especially since we are relying on ancient history, the standard has been purposefully chosen to disadvantage miracles.

        Clearly this critique misses the mark, for various reasons – many of which you have already unpacked in your responses above. I’m curious if, now that I’ve done hopefully a better job in articulating the question, you might have additional reactions.

        • Darren Slade
          Darren Slade  January 8, 2020

          I only have one more reaction to add: please, no more math equations in your replies to me. ; ) lol

          I think you are spot on and a skilled epistemologist. Well done! My original rebuttal to the notion that my argument merely trades on equivalence standards still stands true. Simply replace “murder investigation” with any mundane occurrence from the past in which the burden of proof still needs to be met, and my argument applies equally well. Just like any run-of-the-mill investigation, so-called eyewitnesses need to be thoroughly vetted to rule out the possibility of deception, suboptimal conditions, or inaccuracies. I would expect nothing less of regular, everyday occurrences; and I certainly expect no less with claims of a fantastically improbable nature.

          • Avatar
            Hngerhman  January 8, 2020

            Ha touché!

            I agree – your argument still works if you were to ratchet the standards *downwards* quite a good ways, down to those of a run-of-the-mill claim investigation, which would still require sufficient evidence and/or eyewitness accounts.

            Thanks so much for contributing your insights and energies to the book and to the blog!

  13. Avatar
    wje  January 7, 2020

    Good evening, doc. Have you ever investigated a claim of a miracle personally? If so, did you ever come across something that truly baffled you? Something that actually happened, where the supernatural could be ruled out, but there was no really good natural cause explanation at the time?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 8, 2020

      Just anecdotally, the miracles I thought I myself saw or heard about when I was in my early 20s. None of them panned out.

    • Darren Slade
      Darren Slade  January 8, 2020

      What’s interesting to note is that every instance of actual investigators looking into miracle claims (that I’m aware of) has revealed either haoxes or a total misinterpretation of natural occurrences. For one example of what I’m talking about, see the article, “Claimed Contemporary Miracles” by Dr. Peter May in the Medico-Legal Journal (vol. 71, no. 4).

      Also, I have personally investigated the widely reported miracle healing of a “paralyzed” woman (Delia Knox) that was caught on camera. You can see a little about my findings here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=921RjNrRR4g

  14. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  January 8, 2020

    With reference to the bread and fishes, there are actually three “miracles”: the first time Jesus did it, the fact that his disciples completely forgot about this astounding event, and the second time he did it. I would say that the “forgetting” is at least as incredible as the “doing”. If you can witness a miracle, and forget all about it in a rather short period of time, you are certainly not going to be a very credible witness to anything. Maybe Jesus moved a mountain! Created legions of people from pebbles! Flew through the air like Superman! And his disciples forgot. Duh.

  15. Avatar
    dankoh  January 8, 2020

    Dear Dr. Slade,

    I just read over your chapter in John Loftus’s book, and it seems to me your focus on the use of scientific skepticism to discount the evidence of Christian miracles. I suggest there is an additional argument. Christianity is not the only religion to make a claim to being true on the basis of miracles (though it could be argued that it only demands acceptance of one specific miracle, the resurrection). Islam, Judaism, and Mormonism (and Hinduism, I think) also stake their claim to truth on the basis of miracles. So I would ask each of them, much as Carl Sagan did, why should I believe your miracles and not all the others’?

    • Darren Slade
      Darren Slade  January 8, 2020

      Thank you for reading the chapter and for your feedback. I would first like to say that I do not believe my chapter qualifies as “scientific skepticism” (I’m not exactly sure what that refers to, but I presume you mean a form of hyperskepticism brought on by an ideological devotion to naturalism). My argument is not founded on skepticism (as a philosophy or methodology) nor does my argument require rejection from anyone inside or outside of faith communities. My argument is simple:

      A. There exists three known potential problem areas with eyewitness testimony: credibility, suitability, and accuracy.
      B. It is established fact that eyewitness claimants are routinely incredible, unsuitable, and inaccurate.
      C. Therefore, a thorough fact-finding investigation ought first to determine whether the claimant is credible, suitabile, and accurate in their testimony.
      D. This should be the case regardless of whether the event in question is “miraculous” in nature or not.
      E. To pronounce judgment on the historicity of an event without a thorough fact-finding investigation would be premature, naive, and (because of what we know about eyewitness testimonies) unreasonable.
      F. If a thorough fact-finding investigation is not possible, then judgment ought to be reserved until enough data can be obtained to inquire further.
      G. If enough data is available and the eyewitness testimony turns out to be incredible (i.e. dishonest, fraudulent), unsuitable (i.e. they really weren’t eyewitnesses to begin with), or inaccurate (i.e. their perception and interpretation of the details was incorrect), then investigators should not take the testimony at face value or accept the testimony as corresponding to what really happened in the past.
      I don’t think this qualifies as “scientific skepticism.”

      Now to your larger point, the argument that Christian miracle claims are neither unique nor the best that religion can come up with is a powerful point. To accept most of the miracle claims in Keener’s two-volume Miracles book also means we should accept most of the miracle claims by people like Sai Baba (who has millions of followers, all claiming to have witnessed him raise people from the dead). Without a proper investigation, miracle stories can become quite farcical!

      Thanks, again, for your comment. : )

      • Avatar
        dankoh  January 8, 2020

        Thank you for your quick and detailed reply. Since I have only limited space, let me just respond to your question on “scientific skepticism.” It’s not a formal description; what I meant by it is simply the approach that science takes, and must take, to any hypothesis – to try to falsify it. If the hypothesis survives that test, then we can consider using that hypothesis further. It is from the perspective of falsifiability that I use the word “skepticism.” I also use “science” in the broadest sense, meaning an inquiry to discover what are the knowable or probable facts, and what can those facts tell us. (One must also be careful to acknowledge that “fact” for a soft science such as history will almost certainly not be as definitive as one for a hard science like physics.)

        With that understanding, I would say that your A-G argument qualifies for what I am calling scientific skepticism, particularly step E.

        Additional thought: It’s not just Christianity competing with other religions’ miracles. Diametrically opposed branches of Christianity each make claim to miracles. How are we supposed to know which one to believe – especially since we’ve been told that picking the wrong one will send us to hell?

  16. Avatar
    fishician  January 10, 2020

    I’ve always thought it odd that Abraham is called the “father of faith” since he requested and received proof from Yahweh of His existence and power; that’s not faith. In fact, virtually all the significant figures of the Bible required demonstration of God’s power: Jacob, Moses, Gideon, Elijah, Elisha, etc., and of course Jesus’ disciples were (supposedly) given multiple proofs of Jesus’ miraculous powers, and Paul required a personal visit from Jesus. Yet when skeptics today ask for proof from God we are rebuked and told we have to come to God on the basis of faith. None of the heroes of the Bible had to rely on faith! Why do we poor schmucks today have to rely on faith, i.e., belief without proof, which we know from experience fails us in every other area of life? Not fair!

    • Bart
      Bart  January 11, 2020

      I guess people are thinking about the sacrifice of Isaac? Or, more likely, God’s promise that he would have descendants, even though it looked increasingly unlikely? (Not clear how much he actually believed it, though, I suppose….)

    • Avatar
      RICHWEN90  January 11, 2020

      Nice! A point I have not heard before, and a good one!

  17. galah
    galah  January 10, 2020

    History lies in the miracles.

  18. Avatar
    joemccarron  January 11, 2020

    “Our guest contributor now is Darren Slade, author of chapter 4 of the book. He supports the same basic view we have seen by the other two contributors, that there is not and cannot be sufficient proof of miracles, in either the ancient or the modern worlds.”

    I would certainly agree that all three agree on the conclusion that miracles are impossible. But that three outspoken atheists think that shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. But I don’t know that they all agree “there cannot be sufficient proof of miracles.” At least if you mean they are say that no matter what they would never be convinced of a miracle. I thought I read they did not think that- but I may have misread that.

    So I wonder are they saying that they are of the mind that it is impossible that they could ever be convinced a miracle occured?

    But whether they believe other basic reasoning that underpins that conclusion I am not so sure. And of course if they disagree about the reasons then the agreement about the conclusion is somewhat illusory.

    For example:

    Do all three think written accounts such as scripture are “no evidence” of a miracle or just “insufficient evidence” of a miracle?

    Do all three think that even if God exists it is somehow very unlikely that he would act in this world? And if they do, do they do it for the same reasons whatever they are? This seems to more of an assumption they make based on a faulty understanding of what a miracle is, rather than anything anyone argued for.

    Do they all agree with Shermers view that a claim is not true until it is proven? Or do any of them hold to hold to a more objective view of truth/reality?

    I would certainly be interested in knowing if they all agree on these fundamental underpinnings.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 12, 2020

      I don’t know the answers — I’d have to analyze all three pieces carefully. My sense is that by saying miracles are not possible they are saying that nothing could convince them otherwise, but I may be wrong about that. I think it is safe to say that they agree that nothing *reported* about miracles could ever convince them. Whether they would believe if they personally experienced an amputated regenerating on their own shoulder after someone prayed for them — I could say. My guess is they would say they believe it will never happen. And I have to admit, I’d agree!

      • Avatar
        joemccarron  January 23, 2020

        I suggest you can’t explain what they are arguing for, because their thinking as written is far from clear. If they had a clear argument they would easily be able to tell us basic information about what they think their argument proves. Such as:

        Do you think your argument proves scripture is “no evidence” of miracles? Or do you think your argument proves scripture is “some evidence” of miracles but the evidence is insufficient?

        These are very different views and depending on the answer to this will change the direction of a possible discussion. But they don’t want to discuss anything. I think they want to publicize their books that will sound good to their atheist choir but are so imprecise that even basic questions will remain.

        Does their argument that it is unlikely that a miracle occurred, hinge on their belief that God is fictional? Or do they have reason to think even if God existed it would be unlikely that he would act in the world? Again these are very different views, and any discussion should quickly clarify what they are trying to say. I mean if their argument is that miracles are unlikely because they think it is unlikely God exists, fine. Then their argument would be the same as one for my belief that it is unlikely that you played cards with Ebeneezer Scrooge last night. Why? Well because I think Ebeneezer Scrooge is fictional, and fictional entities don’t act in the world. So surprise surprise, people who do not believe in God also don’t believe he did miracles. You won’t be able to convince me you played cards with Ebeneezer Scrooge as long as I believe he is fictional.

        On the other hand if they are arguing: Even if God exists they have reason to think it is unlikely he would ever act in the world then great. What is your reason for thinking that? God has the ability to act in the world and the Christian God cares about us so why would it be so unlikely he acted in the world? Was the act of creation itself not a miracle?

        Once you start to think through Hume’s argument you begin to understand why philosophers find it muddled and weak.

    • Darren Slade
      Darren Slade  January 12, 2020

      Nope. Try again. I never once said “there is not and cannot be sufficient proof of miracles” nor do I believe miracles are “impossible.” Nor is there any mention of my religious or spiritual beliefs. Thank you for assuming and creating a straw man to attack, though. My argument is quite simple and rational if you would bother to read the chapter before putting words in my mouth or misrepresenting the argument. Here it is in simplified terms:

      A. There exists three known potential problem areas with eyewitness testimony: credibility, suitability, and accuracy.
      B. It is established fact that eyewitness claimants are routinely incredible, unsuitable, and inaccurate.
      C. Therefore, a thorough fact-finding investigation ought first to determine whether the claimant is credible, suitabile, and accurate in their testimony.
      D. This should be the case regardless of whether the event in question is “miraculous” in nature or not.
      E. To pronounce judgment on the historicity of an event without a thorough fact-finding investigation would be premature, naive, and (because of what we know about eyewitness testimonies) unreasonable.
      F. If a thorough fact-finding investigation is not possible, then judgment ought to be reserved until enough data can be obtained to inquire further.
      G. If enough data is available and the eyewitness testimony turns out to be incredible (i.e. dishonest, fraudulent), unsuitable (i.e. they really weren’t eyewitnesses to begin with), or inaccurate (i.e. their perception and interpretation of the details was incorrect), then investigators should not take the testimony at face value or accept the testimony as corresponding to what really happened in the past.

      And lastly, to answer your question: yes, I can and would be convinced of a “miracle” if a proper and thorough fact-finding investigation were done. Until then, it would be naive, premature, and unreasonable to conclude a miracle has occurred.

      I can’t answer your other questions since they are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what I believe and what I said.

      • Avatar
        joemccarron  January 12, 2020

        Darren Slade
        “I never once said “there is not and cannot be sufficient proof of miracles” nor do I believe miracles are “impossible.””

        I think then you are agreeing with me. I think Bart Ehrman wrote the introduction and my opening paragraph was quoting him. It seems you disagree with his characterization of your views and so I am glad I asked. I am simply trying to figure out what exactly you believe on these issues because as you say your article does not really address many of the underlying assumptions or arguments of Hume in a more general sense.

        As far as you being an atheist – yes that was me based on your comments. Certainly an atheist would think a miracle is impossible just like I believe Ebeneezer Scrooge is a fictional person and therefore believe that it is impossible that someone was playing cards with him last night.

        My disagreements with what you wrote in your article are not as interesting as knowing how you and other people who put stock in Hume’s “argument” would answer the questions I set forth.

        Based on your comment it is clear you do not agree with Bart Ehrman’s Characterization of your view. You also said you could and would be convinced if a proper and thorough fact finding was done. But you don’t say what that would entail. And in particular it is unclear whether you think testimony on its own could be enough or if testimony alone would even be evidence. I still am not sure if you consider the accounts in scripture are “no evidence” or whether they are “some evidence” but just insufficient to convince you. And I would still be interested in answers to the other questions I asked.

        Of course, you don’t have to answer these questions. But, without a willingness to ask and answer questions it is unlikely you can have any sort of reasonable discussion. I mainly frequent blogs with a comment section because I rarely interested in someone just talking at me, I prefer to ask and answer questions. I am not trying to trap you with my questions. I am honestly just trying to understand what you and others who find Hume’s views on miracles valuable think on these issues.

      • galah
        galah  January 13, 2020

        “C. Therefore, a thorough fact-finding investigation ought first to determine whether the claimant is credible, suitabile, and accurate in their testimony.”

        Dr. Slade, would you expound a little more on C? How is a determination made?

        Thank you!

  19. Avatar
    jlantz974  January 12, 2020

    From my uneducated perspective, we need to address the New Testament miracle stories at one level deeper. That is, are the accounts, per se, credible, or do the gospel stories show too many signs of alteration, forgery, and perhaps outright fabrications?

    Thank you!

    • Darren Slade
      Darren Slade  January 12, 2020

      I agree, but this kind of inquiry is not any “deeper” than routine criminal investigations.

      • Avatar
        jlantz974  January 13, 2020

        Let me try to better articulate my point. If the NT (or any other holy compilation) miracle “stories” themselves are not credible, then serious doubts exist whether miracles are worth our time to even consider. Miracles – as defined in our day – simply do not exist. Perhaps that is your point.

        I apologize for my inability to adequately describe my premise. Fortunately, your cogent discussions on this topic are very appreciated!

You must be logged in to post a comment.