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The Case Against Miracles

I recently learned of a new book that has come out arguing *against* the idea that miracles happen.  It is a collection of essays edited by John Loftus, an interesting who in some has had a similar faith trajectory as I: started as a very conservative evangelical, studied at evangelical schools, and ended up leaving the faith and becoming an atheist.  Among other things, for one of his master’s degree he studied with the evangelical philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig, whom some of you have heard of.

The book is called The Case Against Miracles, and I thought it would be interesting to see some bits of it here on the blog.  As you know, I like to have a variety of points of view represented here, most recently Mike Licona, whose views of miracles, I think it is safe to say, is almost precisely the *opposite* of John’s.  You can find the book here:  https://www.amazon.com/Case-Against-Miracles-John-Loftus/dp/1839190086/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=The+Case+Against+Miracles&qid=1577002938&sr=8-1

The next two posts will be the Foreword of the book written by Michael Shermer, who is an expert on the history of science, a long-time contributing writer for the magazine Scientific American, the of The Skeptics Society, and editor-in-chief of its magazine Skeptic.

Both John and Michael are on the blog, and they will be able to respond to your comments and questions.  Here is part 1 of Michael’s Foreword to the book.  I think it’s safe to say they will clearly be dealing with the problem of miracle head-on!

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

Foreword for The Case Against Miracles, edited John Loftus, loftusjohnw@gmail.com

On Miracles and Truth

By Michael Shermer

 

Have you ever gone to the phone to call a friend, only to have the phone ring first and find your friend on the line? What are the odds of that? Not high, to be sure, but the sum of all probabilities equals one. How many times did you phone your friend and he or she didn’t call? How many times did your friend phone and you weren’t thinking of him or her? Multiply that by a couple hundred million people in the U.S. alone making dozens of calls a day, and it becomes almost inevitable that this seemingly miraculous connection—which many people attribute to synchronicity or Karma or a supernatural force or God or whatever—is fully explained by probabilities. Given enough opportunities, outlier anomalies—even apparent miracles—will happen. And thanks to the confirmation bias in which we look for and find confirming evidence for what we already believe and ignore or rationalize away disconfirming evidence, we will remember the hits and forget the misses.

A miracle may be defined in many ways, so let’s start with this colloquial meaning of a highly unusual event, as when someone exclaims “it’s a miracle!” when winning the lottery, or “it was miraculous” when recovering from a serious illness, or most famously at the end of the 1980 Olympic hockey game when the underdog U.S. team defeated the might Russian juggernaut and the ABC TV sports commentator Al Michaels exclaimed “Do you believe in miracles?!” Let us quantify this intuitive sense of a highly unlikely event as one with million-to-one odds of occurring. Now let’s apply some back-of-the-envelope calculations along the lines of the apparently miraculous phone call above. Assuming we’re awake and alert for 12 hours a day and that, say, one bit of information flows into our brains through our senses per second, that generates 43,200 bits of data per day, or 1,296,000 per month. Even assuming that 99.999 percent of these bits are totally meaningless (and so we filter them out or forget them entirely), that still leaves 1.3 “miracles” per month, or 15.5 miracles per year. That is, with enough data accumulating from the world there’s bound to be highly unusual occurrences that we notice. How unusual? One in a million.

I once employed a similar back-of-the-envelope calculation to explain death premonition dreams, you know, the type where someone has a dream about a loved one dying and the next day they find out that a grandparent or parent or close family member or friend passed away in the middle of the night, maybe even around the time of the dream. How unusual is that? Well, the average person has about five dreams per night, or 1,825 dreams per year. If we remember only a tenth of our dreams, then we recall 182.5 dreams per year. Let’s say that there are 300 million adult dreaming Americans who thus produce 54.7 billion remembered dreams per year. Sociologists tell us that each of us knows about 150 people fairly well (the so-called Dunbar number named after Robin Dunbar who discovered this in his research on human social networking), thus producing a network social grid of 45 billion personal relationship connections. With an average annual death rate of 2.4 million Americans per year (all causes, all ages), it is inevitable that some of those 54.7 billion remembered dreams will be about some of these 2.4 million deaths among the 300 million Americans and their 45 billion relationship connections. In fact, it would be a miracle if some death premonition dreams did not come true! Here’s an announcement you’ll never hear on television:

Next on Oprah: a woman who has had numerous death premonition dreams not one of which has come true yet, but stay tuned because you won’t want to miss her incredible story.

            But this is not what most Christians, theologians, and religious apologists mean by the word miracle. They mean something more than a highly improbable event within the natural laws of nature. They mean something divine has happened, and to make this case Christian apologists go deep into the weeds of philosophy and theology (and sometimes even science) to make their case, for example Lee Strobel’s 2018 book The Case for Miracles, which includes a chapter on my own journey from religious belief accepting miracles to scientific skepticism rejecting miracles.

It is vital that we have a viable response to the claims of Christians and others that miracles are real, and John Loftus has done just that in this, the most comprehensive work ever compiled for, as it is aptly titled, The Case Against Miracles. The chapters span the range of miracle claims, including the philosophical arguments of Christian apologists, biblical miracles from the Old Testament to the New, the miracle of creation, the miracle of life, the miracle of Noah’s Flood, the miracle of the virgin birth of Jesus, the miracles Jesus’ allegedly performed such as turning water into wine (I’ve seen Penn & Teller perform this one!) and raising the dead, and of course the biggest miracle of them all (for Christians anyway), Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and ascendency into heaven. I thought I knew a lot on these topics—inasmuch as I was once a born-again Christian myself and made these arguments, then became a born-again Skeptic debating believers—but I learned more from reading this one book than all other works combined. The Case Against Miracles belongs in every library and personal bookcase of both believers and skeptics.

Let’s start with how the word “miracle” is defined. In John Loftus’s introduction to The Case Against Miracles he notes that the pre-scientific biblical “signs and wonders” definition applied to just about everything that happened in the world, from the ordinary to the extraordinary—from normal births to virgin births, from rain to deluges, and from famines to feasts. Clearly this will not suffice. If everything is a miracle then nothing is a miracle. And as Loftus notes, as science developed over the centuries more and more of these signs and wonders were explained by natural law, leaving fewer and fewer divine miracles.

Enter the Enlightenment philosopher David Hume, who, in his 1758 An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding famously defined a miracle as “a violation of a law of nature,” and less famously as “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity or…some invisible agent.” In fact, his Section X, “Of Miracles,” provides a generalized, when-all-else-fails analysis of miraculous claims. That is, when one is confronted by a true believer whose apparently supernatural or paranormal claim has no immediately apparent natural explanation, Hume gives us an argument that even he thought was so important (and Hume was not a modest man) that he placed his own words in quotes and called it a maxim. I think it is so useful an argument that I have called it (in my 1997 book Why People Believe Weird Things) Hume’s Maxim:

The plain consequence is (and it is a general maxim worthy of our attention), “That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish.” When anyone tells me that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.

            In the two and a half centuries since Hume wrote this passage we have learned much about deception and self-deception from the study of human perception, memory, and cognition, especially the plethora of cognitive biases that distort our picture of reality, so Hume’s Maxim is even more supported today than it was in his time. People are routinely deceived by others, self-deceived by themselves, and misperceive how the world works. When someone tells us of a miracle they witnessed, or of a miracle someone told them about, it is far more likely that they “either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened.”

 

THE FOREWORD WILL CONTINUE IN THE NEXT POST.   This first half is free and open to the public.  Most posts on the blog are for members — but the good news is that it is very easy to join.  So why not do so?  It costs very little and you get a boatload for your money.  It’s about 50 cents a week for five lengthy posts on matters of interest.  And every cent goes to charity.

 


More on the Case Against Miracles: Michael Shermer Guest Post
Guided Tours of Heaven and Hell in a Christian Mode

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 22, 2019

    The “telephone call” and “dream” events are quite persuasive. I have read John Loftus (both his books and his website) for years and have also been a reader of “Skeptic” magazine. I highly recommend both Loftus and “Skeptic.”

    With regard to Hume’s maxim, I would add that if one is going to play the odds, then most “miracles” are much more likely to be legendary than to be actual, historical events.

    • Avatar
      godspell  December 24, 2019

      Is this the same John Loftus who says ‘Arimathea’ means ‘Best Disciple Town’?

      Pseudoscholarship is Pseudoscholarship is Pseudoscholarship. Whether you like what it’s saying or not. I suppose he might get something right now and again. (It would be a miracle.)

      • johnwloftus
        johnwloftus  December 24, 2019

        That was Richard Carrier who said that.

      • darrenmslade
        darrenmslade  December 24, 2019

        Really quick to pass (an incorrect) judgment, don’t ya think? The book is an anthology of 15 different scholars and experts in the field. Are they all engaging in pseudoscholarship? (That word doesn’t need to be capitalized, by the way.) I would encourage you to read the book before making such uncivil comments.

  2. Avatar
    Hngerhman  December 22, 2019

    Hi John & Michael –

    I’ve just purchased The Case Against Miracles. Any book recommendation by Bart Ehrman in itself justifies running to the bookstore, and with a foreword like this from Michael Schermer, it cements the urgency. I enjoyed MS’s The Believing Brain, and I am looking forward to digging into TCAM.

    Thank you both for participating on the blog!

    Dr Licona was recently on the blog, discussing his views on inerrancy and miracles. In his book on the resurrection, he attempts to give treatment to Hume’s maxim (and Hume’s other buttressing arguments). Further, leveled at Dr Ehrman’s “by definition, a miracle is the least likely occurrence” objection as well as at Hume, Dr Licona makes ample use of William Lane Craig’s argument for the “inscrutability” of evaluating the resurrection under a Bayesian framework. Namely (as I understand how Licona positions WLC’s argument), that a Bayesian framework breaks down due to base rate issues because (a) on the one hand, a resurrection miracle is a low ex ante probability in a presumed naturalistic-only frame, but (b) on the other hand, it’s a high ex ante probability if there’s a God who wants to resurrect Jesus. With some additional bulwarking moves, the conclusion is supposed to be that one cannot make such an assessment since a Bayesian analysis collapses in on itself due to the inability to judge how to weigh (a) vs (b).

    Question: John and Michael – how do you each view WLC’s ‘argument from inscrutability’ that anyone who makes the claim that miracles are (necessarily) very low likelihood is making an unfounded (and unfoundable…) assertion?

    Thanks much! Happy holidays!

    • johnwloftus
      johnwloftus  December 26, 2019

      I thought Michael would respond to your question so I didn’t do so here. I basically wrote a whole chapter answering it, #3. If you have any questions after reading it let me know. Cheers.

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  December 27, 2019

        Hi John –

        Thanks so much! I have now read (and re-read) your chapter 3, and enjoyed it thoroughly – tightly argued, vividly presented and well researched. Incidentally I had the distinct pleasure of studying (briefly) with Dr Fogelin, so your incorporation of him into the Humean defense added a little bit of nostalgia for me to the hard-hitting argumentation.

        If I understood it correctly, the section of chapter 3 that discusses WLC’s Bayesian argument is one that gives (deft) treatment to the apologetic’s positive argument that the purported antecedent probability of miracles is high given (a presumed) body of theistic background “knowledge”. You swiftly and decisively dismantle that version of WLC’s position.

        I’m curious how you think about a subtler version of this theistic-friendly position, the purported argument from inscrutability. It’s basically an argument from (epistemological) skepticism -which purports to argue that when one attempts to employ Hume’s maxim (or Ehrman’s aphorism) alone (without other arguments), one cannot rule out a supernatural frame, or, even further, that one cannot adjudicate between the naturalistic frame (miracle = exceedingly low probability) and a supernatural one (miracle = presumably high probability under certain cases), without helping oneself to an pro/anti-supernatural bias from the outset. Basically, without helping oneself to a frame or in the absence of further arguments, one cannot say whether a natural or supernatural frame is more probable, and that therefore any attempt to select a base rate (antecedent probability) with respect to miracles is ‘inscrutable’. He then turns this objection of inscrutability into a cudgel to say that Ehrman’s position (and Hume’s) is essentially question-begging.

        FWIW, I think this version of WLC’s argument (or Licona’s presentation of it) runs aground in several different directions (baby with the bathwater fallacy, base rate availability, absolute vs relative category error, smuggled question begging, super-selective framing, etc.).

        I’m quite curious as to your view on it, as a (seemingly) fellow Humean. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is what originally led me down the primrose path to agnosticism…

        Thanks a ton!

        • johnwloftus
          johnwloftus  December 28, 2019

          Hngerhman, thanks for appreciating what I wrote in my chapter. Authors love that kind of criticism!

          In that chapter of mine, just before dealing with John Earman I think, I share some quotes by JL Mackie. He talks about two different contexts. See if that doesn’t address your devil’s advocated scenario. Other than that your thoughts on it are shared by me. I think that version of WLC’s argument (or Licona’s presentation of it) runs aground in several different directions (baby with the bathwater fallacy, base rate availability, absolute vs relative category error, smuggled question begging, super-selective framing, etc.). Cheers!

          • Avatar
            Hngerhman  December 31, 2019

            Thanks so much. Am loving the book!

  3. Avatar
    Matt2239  December 22, 2019

    Miracles by definition can’t be explained by science. And Shermer’s logic is faulty. He fails to establish that any person has death premonition dreams that do not come true. It’s just idiotic speculation. Likewise, his quote of Hume is silly. Hume boldly claims who can and cannot command his beliefs and opinions. Miracles aren’t about science or what someone else believes. Miracles are about what a particular person believes, and neither Hume nor science nor Shermer has any place to tell you what is not a miracle. Moses parted the Red Sea? Yep. Jesus turned water into wine? Yep. Jimmy Swaggart healed a person of back pain? If you say so.

  4. Avatar
    fishician  December 22, 2019

    I must get this book! As a doctor I have too many times internally rolled my eyes when someone praised God for their “miraculous” healing when I knew full well that they had enjoyed the benefit of modern medical care. Or in one case, the woman who was cured of a (fortunately) very treatable cancer but then credited God with directing her to the right doctor who could make the right diagnosis and give her the right treatment. But there is a dangerous side to belief in miracles: people sometimes refuse good medical treatment, or worse yet refuse it for their children because they trust God will provide a miraculous cure if they simply have enough faith. Incredibly, at least one state I know of, Idaho, specifically protects parents who let their child die in such a situation. I had a woman almost refuse treatment for biopsy-proven lymphoma because her spiritual advisor told her it was just allergies. Fortunately she changed her mind and accepted treatment, but I wonder how many others do not.

    • darrenmslade
      darrenmslade  December 22, 2019

      Thank you for your post, doctor. Sadly, the refusal to give proper credit or to accept medical treatment is far too common among the faithful. You will find that the book explicitly addresses what you wrote in a number of different places.

  5. Avatar
    rivercrowman  December 22, 2019

    Thanks for bringing this book to my attention! Just another benefit of my membership to your blog.

  6. Avatar
    Matt7  December 22, 2019

    Oh good! John Loftus, Michael Shermer and Bart Ehrman are three of my favorite thinkers. And now they’re all here in one place. It’s a miracle! Glad to see the focus on human psychology and probability. I don’t know of any miracles that can’t be explained in terms of these two subjects. Thanks for writing the book and making it available for Kindle!

    • darrenmslade
      darrenmslade  December 22, 2019

      If you like the psychological aspect of miracle claims, you’ll love Chapter 4, “Properly Investigating Miracle Claims.” ; )

  7. Avatar
    leobillings@cox.net  December 22, 2019

    Help me understand. In many of your posts and other guest posts, I seem to sense a bridge from: I don’t believe christ rose from the dead or the virgin birth” therefore “I am an Atheist”. Is it so illogical to not believe in ‘miracles’ but still believe in a God and not lose your faith?
    .

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2019

      I’ll take this one as directed to me instead of to Michael. No, definitely, I do NOT see a necessary bridge there, at all. For many years I was a Christian who did not believe in a literal virgin birth or that Jesus was actually raising people from the dead. For me, being an atheist had little to do with which stories about Jesus were historically accurate. It was instead the bigger question of whether it made sense — to me — to believe that there was/is a God who is active in the world at *all*. Because of the immense suffering so many billions of people suffer around the world, I decided I simply didn’t believe it any more.

    • Avatar
      rdrstarbase@gmail.com  December 23, 2019

      Of course you are right. Good point.

  8. Avatar
    Gary  December 22, 2019

    I read the book. It is a devastating deconstruction not only of the belief in miracles but Christian apologetics as a whole. I would strongly encourage everyone to purchase and read it. You can order it as a gift through Amazon. Amazon will send the book directly to the person. And here is a challenge to every skeptic/athiest reader of Bart’s blog: Send a copy of “The Case Against Miracles” to a Christian apologist, your former Christian pastor, family member, friend, or neighbor for Christmas. Debunking the belief in miracles and the supernatural is the best gift they will receive this holiday season!

    I sent a copy to Michael Licona (among others). I hope he reads it.

    • darrenmslade
      darrenmslade  December 22, 2019

      I love it! Thank you for your support and for your “holiday spirit.” : )

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  December 23, 2019

      “I read the book. It is a devastating deconstruction not only of the belief in miracles but Christian apologetics as a whole. I would strongly encourage everyone to purchase and read it. You can order it as a gift through Amazon. Amazon will send the book directly to the person. And here is a challenge to every skeptic/athiest reader of Bart’s blog: Send a copy of “The Case Against Miracles” to a Christian apologist, your former Christian pastor, family member, friend, or neighbor for Christmas. Debunking the belief in miracles and the supernatural is the best gift they will receive this holiday season!

      I sent a copy to Michael Licona (among others). I hope he reads it.”

      Beautiful and heart-warming as always Gary.

    • Avatar
      mannix  December 23, 2019

      I don’t know about it being a good Christmas (or Easter) gift…if you know what I mean… but it sounds like something I’d like!

  9. epicurus
    epicurus  December 22, 2019

    I’ve read many of John’s other books. They are very good I think, and I would highly recommend them. Just make sure to search for John W Loftus, as without the W you often get results from the wrong author.

  10. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  December 22, 2019

    Another way you might define a miracle might be an event that only a divine or otherwise supernatural entity could perform. But this brings a number of immediate problems: what sort of supernatural entity or we talking about? A demon? An angel? A ghost? A demigod? The Christian God? Or one member of the Trinity that is said to compose that God? And how is any mortal supposed to recognize a supernatural being of any sort? Or know in any way what a supernatural being can or can’t do? Distinguish a demon from a god or an angel or a ghost, or person of the trinity, or even a skilled magician or for that matter, an alien with advanced technology? Seems pretty hopeless to me.

    • darrenmslade
      darrenmslade  December 22, 2019

      Your post reminds me of the stories in Exodus when Moses would perform a “miraculous sign” (say, turning a rod into a snake) only to have the Egyptian magicians perform the very same “miracle.” Indeed, there are a number of episodes from scripture where demonic supernatural agents are performing miracles (properly defined). There’s no reason to think that a “miracle” has always to be beneficial or to come from a benevolent being.

  11. Avatar
    doug  December 22, 2019

    When I believed in God, it was *comforting* to believe that God could do a miracle to help me. I didn’t dare think of all those poor babies born with severe birth defects who were left to suffer horribly. If there were such a thing as miracles, they needed them more than I did. But, sadly, we have no shortage of suffering babies who humans cannot cure.

    • darrenmslade
      darrenmslade  December 22, 2019

      I love what Edward Babinski says in Chapter 5 that miracle claims look awfully credible when all you do is count the hits and ignore the innumerable misses.

  12. Avatar
    Pattylt  December 22, 2019

    I just finished reading this book. thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m active on a Catholic forum where there is currently a thread discussing miracles. While some Catholics ARE skeptical of miracle claims, I’m amazed at the number of Catholics that are adamant that certain miracle claims are true…and proven! The two biggest are probably Fatima and an Eucharist miracle from centuries ago. It’s amazing how faith verifies Catholic miracles yet denies other faiths claims.
    While some authors in this book make their cases a bit better than others, every one of them had me thinking and agreeing that miracles just don’t happen. Coincidences and unlikely events, sure. Miracles against nature and physics….nope. They just promote hope and faith for those that already believe. Good read!

    • darrenmslade
      darrenmslade  December 22, 2019

      The confirmation bias will always creep its ugly head to corroborate all manner of beliefs. But I’m glad to hear you enjoyed reading the book. Thank you! : )

    • Avatar
      Hormiga  December 23, 2019

      Doesn’t the Catholic procedure for canonization include a verified miracle performed by/through the candidate? If so, does the Church have a set of criteria for determining what constitutes a miracle?

  13. Avatar
    forthfading  December 22, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Is “The Case Against Miracles ” a scholarly work or more on the lines of Lee Strobel’s books?

    Thanks, Jay

    • darrenmslade
      darrenmslade  December 22, 2019

      Hi, Jay! I’m Dr. Darren Slade; I wrote Chapter 4, “Properly Investigating Miracle Claims.” Thank you so much for your post, and I think you have a valid concern. To answer your question: yes, the book is of an academic, scholarly quality. You will find that of the 15 contributors to this anthology, the vast majority have doctorates in relevant fields of study and teach (at the college/university level) or publish extensively on religion. But more than that, each contributor interacts (both scholastically and philosophically) with many of the best apologetic works and arguments in favor of miracles. For instance, in my chapter, I present the most current research pertaining to the psychology of judicial-criminal investigations, as well as other psychological variables that can discredit a miracle claimant’s credibility, suitability, and accuracy. In fact, if you check out the preview of my chapter here (https://darrenmslade.academia.edu/research), you will see that Chapter 4 cites more than 65 peer-reviewed academic publications to make its argument. The point is that the book’s contributors are scholars who address the subject of miracles as experts in their particular fields of training and experience.

    • Avatar
      Dnations  January 1, 2020

      I think it would be more accurate to call it “a trade book” as Dr. Erhman uses the phrase. It seems to me the book was obviously written for a general audience rather than a scholarly one. That doesn’t necessarily exclude the possibility that some scholars might read it but I would be very surprised if it was actually written for a scholarly audience. darrenmslade answer that “the book is of an academic, scholarly quality”, which may very well be correct, sidesteps the question of the attended audience of the book.

      • johnwloftus
        johnwloftus  January 1, 2020

        The book is written by experts and scholars. Its target audience is university students, Pastors, and educated people in the pew. While it’s not aimed at other scholars we know they will read it, so the material is scholarly.

        • Avatar
          Dnations  January 2, 2020

          Thanks for your reply. I think it’s clear from, “Its target audience is university students, Pastors, and educated people in the pew.”, that it’s a “trade book” as Dr. Erhman uses the phrase, and which members of this blog are familiar with.

  14. Avatar
    Charlesintexas  December 22, 2019

    A book recommendation by Bart always leads me straight to my Amazon account and “poof”, I’m reading it. Thanks, Bart.

    • darrenmslade
      darrenmslade  December 22, 2019

      Great to hear! And thank you for your support. Let us know what you think when you finish the book : )

  15. Avatar
    tmcalhoon  December 23, 2019

    A couple of incredibly important points people usually don’t consider when discussing miracles:
    1. Since miracles are by definition finite occurrences, we cannot infer an infinite/omnipotent power from them. They would only indicate that some sort of supernatural entity or entities with some degree of power exist and intervene in human affairs. It could be lowercase g god(s), ancestor spirits, vague higher power(s), of course God, etc. Throughout the ages men have dreamed up all sorts of supernatural beings to explain strange occurrences in nature.
    2. If the harmony of nature’s laws counts as evidence for the existence of God, then miracles, or the occasional disharmony of nature’s laws, count as evidence against the existence of God. Those who hold both that the harmony of nature’s laws proves God and that the disharmony of nature’s laws proves God are trying to have their cake and eat it. They are forced to abandon at least one of those arguments to remain logically consistent.

  16. Avatar
    mgagnon  December 23, 2019

    Hi,

    Thanks for the post. Informative as always.

    The examples given are good, but would the average Christian consider death premonition as a miracle or my mother calling me just when I was about to call her? Not certain. I agree that what many people call miracles are simply coincidences. There are others that are more difficult to explain away and many of these are likely the result of some phenomena we are not yet able to understand. Will we ever reach a state where everything will be understood? I’m not certain about that either. So there could possibly be some non-zero percentage of events that can never be explained and some people will choose to see those as miracles. I respect that and I cannot really say they are wrong in thinking that as although the calculations given in this post seem to stack the odds against them, they are also not irrefutable proof against miracles either.
    In the end if the belief in miracles brings you joy, then so be it. It was weird that my mother called just when I was thinking about her. I’m glad she did, however. Merry Christmas mom. Miss you.

  17. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  December 23, 2019

    “I recently learned of a new book that has come out arguing *against* the idea that miracles happen.”

    I hope everyone on the blog has a Merry Christmas, and may your holiday season be filled with facts and evidence along with a heavy dose of reality.

  18. Avatar
    veritas  December 23, 2019

    I have not read the book or heard of John Loftus. There is so much literature out there to please or comfort whatever answers you are searching that align with your beliefs/thoughts. I recently stumbled upon Bart Ehrman and Michael Shermer. There is compelling academic work and research done by both. The truth is, we can reason and philosophize, but the fact remains that we do not know for sure, both scientifically and religiously . I love reading books from both sides of the spectrum, taking into consideration the writers research and dedicated work. It somehow develops in me a bit more understanding on how we act, behave and evolved in our history. I would not want to read a book to discredit another, because I realize how powerful personal convictions are. Whenever I am confronted in a religious conversation, I simply state the possibilities from both sides and let the individual decide for themselves. Sometimes, I feel, we use references, such as books, as absolute truths to disprove/deconvert others who think different from us and not read as unbiased reasoning. Religious people very rarely read books outside their beliefs and vice versa. The only exceptions are academic scholars who want to know other’s point of view. I struggle with a belief in a God when there is so much pain/suffering occurring in our planet, hence finding it hard to accept. I concur with Bart when he considers still living a Christian lifestyle while rejecting a belief in a God/supernatural. The people we become, our character, has everything to do on how we live and think about one another. Legendary NCAA coach, John Wooden, would tell his players, ” I am not interested in your reputation, what people think of you, rather your character, its who you are”. If at the least, despite my unbelief, the life and teaching of the historical Jesus has transformed and renewed profoundly, life/hope in many who had lost all hope, that in itself should be considered. I look forward to reading this book.

  19. Avatar
    Boltonian  December 24, 2019

    I don’t know if you remember an author called Erich von Daniken, who sold a lot of books using a particular conceit. He would look for something unusual that had not been properly investigated and say, ‘Look, nobody can explain this so it must have been extra terrestrials.’ Of course, as soon as the thing was looked at and analysed properly it ceased to be a mystery but by then he had moved on to other examples. I put miracles in the same bracket: ‘How else can you explain X, except divine providence etc?’ Absence of evidence is not, of course, evidence of absence.

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    Hngerhman  December 26, 2019

    Hi John & Darren –

    On Dec 22 I posted a comment asking about miracle claims wrt Hume/WLC/Bayes, which remains pending moderation. If it is too involved to address, please ignore. I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t just lost in the holiday shuffle.

    Happy Holidays and many thanks!

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