Answers to Todd Pitner’s “Questions to Atheists”

Todd Pitner is a Christian who has posted his questions to atheists over at his website.

I answer those questions now.

Questions For Atheists (*) REGARDING:

*…and seekers, agnostics, fence-sitters, non-Christians and lapsed Christians

TRUTH
1. What or whom do you consider to be YOUR chosen intellectual starting point, your supreme authority for knowledge, your final standard for truth? Why?

I accept empiricism. The idea that knowledge only comes to us through one or more of our five physical senses makes perfect sense. The only way to show empiricism faulty is to provide empirical evidence of such, and as soon as you do that, you are biting the hand that feeds you. If empirical evidence is not the best way to discover truth, then how do you know empirical evidence of empiricism’s limitations is reliable?

2. Would you consider turning skepticism on itself and examine your own assumptions?

Yes.

3. If God exists, could Christianity be exclusively true?

no, because without further definition, “Christianity” constitutes nothing but a mess of conflicting groups and splintered denominations all pointing the finger at each other and crying “heretic”, often using the same bible to do so. Apparently then, the meaning of biblical words is no more definite than the words of the 2nd Amendement, upon which higher courts disagree. In 2002 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Silveira v. Lockyer, 312 F.3d 1052 (9th Cir.2002) conducted a scholarly examination of the second amendment and concluded that individuals do not have the right to keep and bear arms. In 2008 the US Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) conducted its own scholarly examination of the Second Amendment and concluded that individuals do have the right to keep and bear arms. The idea that words can always successfully convey their true meaning, is false. Hence, just because something is written in the bible does not mean it is possible to recover the original meaning intended by the author.

MATTER IN MOTION
1. Is the material reality the only reality (are we just material creatures in a material world and nothing more)?

It would appear so, but even if non-material reality existed, all that would matter is how convincing the evidence for it was. When carefully read, all scientific discussion about non-material reality is highly theoretical, nobody pretends they can demonstrate any such thing.

2. Is reductive materialism synonymous with reason and science? Why?

Yes, because science by definition requires repeated experimentation, tabulation of repeated results, and then hypothesis based on the pattern of repeated results. So by definition, science cannot pretend to prove anything that is non-material. How indeed would you investigate a non-material thing? As far as “reason”, this is more ambiguous, since a case could be made that belief in non-material things is rationally justified even if false. For example, the only thing holding a family together is Christian faith.

AFTERLIFE
1. What happens after we die?

The same thing we see happening to other people after they die.

2. Do you KNOW there is nothing more beyond death? How?

Yes, because there is good evidence that human beings are solely physical, brain damage causing mind–malfunction destroys mind/body dualism, and in that case, there is no more reason to believe there life after death for humans, than there is life after death for bugs. If mind/body dualist arguments are convincing regarding humans, why don’t these also prove that bugs have a spiritual side?

3. Isn’t the Christian’s hope for heaven a better bet than the atheist’s hope there is no hell?

“better” is a subjective value judgment, and in my judgment, the question is loaded since it assumes atheists “hope” there is no hell, when in fact we regard the teaching of a literal hell to be akin to fairy tales. We no more “hope” hell isn’t real, than we “hope” that Cinderella never divorced.

4. If God does exist as Biblically revealed, would hindsight on Judgment Day render Christians inappropriately prejudiced or gullible?

yes. If the bible god is real, it certainly isn’t because of the evidence. You might as well ask whether the guy who won a single hand of blackjack, was stupid to have bet the family farm on that one hand, seeing now that he ended up winning. Yes, he was stupid in spite of getting lucky.

SUPERNATURAL
1. Is there a supernatural realm, a reality that lies outside sense perception and outside the reach of modern science? If not, how do you know?

Yes, a reality that is not subject to human sense perception could exist, but there’s no reason to worry about it if the arguments in favor of it are plagued by unsupported assumptions and hasty generalizations.

2. Is God a byproduct of wishful thinking? Why?

Yes, because the evidence indicates that god’s utility does not lie in what he can demonstrably do, but in the comfort the idea of god gives to people.

MIRACLES
1. Can bona fide miracles happen? If not, why not?

The word “miracles” is left undefined, when in fact that is a major problem for Christians. If by “miracle” you mean some unexplained thing, then yes, because unexplained things happen all the time. If by “miracle” you mean “act of god”, now the question is requiring the atheist to presume the existence of god. That’s the dilemma for miracles. If you define it without mentioning god, you get nowhere in your apologetics. If you define it to include or imply god, then it is a loaded question requiring the atheist to part with her denial of god, in which case the parties cannot agree on how to define a term critical to their disagreement.

2. If a Supernatural Transcendent Causal Agent does exist, with or without our acknowledgment, and if He (let’s say) was so powerful that He could think all Universal matter, space, time and energy into existence from nothing, wouldn’t creating life, parting the Red Sea, turning water into wine, healing the sick, revealing His nature through Divinely inspired Biblical authors and raising a Loved One from the dead be child’s play? (Yes or No)

Yes.

SCIENCE
1. Is science the only means of gaining reliable knowledge? Why?

Yes. Nobody has demonstrated that they can discover truth without using some sort of scientific method, and those who claim non-scientific access to knowledge either end up giving the world information already known, or information that turns out to be false.

2. Is belief in God a byproduct of ignoring science? Why?

No, because belief in God brings a comfort to a person regarding things that science cannot answer, such as whether there is ultimate purpose to life. The fact that many scientists believe in god means not much more than that many Catholic priests have sexually molested children.

3. Does faith in God mean one has to relinquish science and reason?

No, Christianity comes in various shapes and sizes, and if you still respect science and logic, you can be a liberal Christian who affirms faith in Christ without bible inerrancy.

4. Can scientific claims be faith-based?

Yes. Faith inheres in all scientific claims since all theories of knowledge (epistemologies) ultimately start from axioms. But the common denominator of faith doesn’t constitute an admission that the faith required to believe in the existence of trees is just as blind as the faith required to believe Jesus rose from the dead. There is no such thing as absolute proof, but there is such a thing as people believing things that are most likely nonsense.

ORIGINS 1. Do you believe that the Universe expanded from a primordial hot and dense initial condition at some finite time in the past and continues to expand to this day?

No, and neither did the author of Genesis. God’s work of creation in that book would never have been understood by its originally intended recipients as god causing a massive explosion.
2. Rewinding back to the origin of the Universe, how much matter can be put into zero spatial volume?
Irrelevant.
3. If a Supernatural Transcendent Causal Agent does NOT exist, what brought the Universe into existence?
Nothing, the universe has always existed as a place where stars are born and die. its size is infinite, thus, infinite matter for creating stars and planets.
4. Can you provide EMPIRICAL evidence for ANYTHING spontaneously appearing out of nowhere?
No, and neither can the creationists, who believe god creating everything “from nothing”.
5. What is your best explanation for the origins of intelligent life? Why?
Strata never deviate from the pattern of the simpler creatures at bottom, and man at the top, so it appears intelligence in life grows stronger as time wears on.
DESIGN & ORDER
1. If there is no God, how do you explain the high degree of design and order in the Universe?
The same way I explain why several pennies tossed onto the floor land in the precise way and relation to each other that they do, in a pattern not likely to be achieved again in millions of years…physical laws.
EVOLUTION
1. Is the theory of evolution THE refutation to divine creation? Why?
Not necessarily, some Christians are theistic evolutionists and see no problem inserting evolution into Genesis 1 and 2.
2. Is the theory of macro-evolution a scientific fact? How do you know?
Yes, because I have studied it and found it true.
3. Aren’t our genetic components exactly the same as mice, not apes?
No.
Wouldn’t that make our common ancestor more likely to be a mouse based on evolutionary theory?
No.
4. In relation to all other ‘descendents’, why are the following ‘Cultural Big Bangs’ unique only to the human species?
a. Creating and wearing clothing
b. Creating and wearing jewelery
c. Creating and using advanced tools
d. Creating and dancing to music
e. Creating and cherishing art
f. Linguistic evolution
g. Creating symbols and writing languages
h. Writing about the future
i. Succeeding agriculturally
j. Celebrating birth
k. Burying the dead
l. Worshiping God(s)
Because humans have a higher developed emotional and intelligence capacity.
FOSSIL RECORD
1. How do you account for the Cambrian Explosion? What is your evidence?
Too speculative to say, but millions of years of “explosion” cannot be reconciled with the bible.
2. Can you provide specific evidence for species-to-species transitional forms in the fossil record?
Yes. Google “tiktaalik”
ARCHAEOLOGY
1. How do you account for the vast archaeological documentation of Biblical stories, places, and people?
The bible authors inserted true history into their mythical tales and fables.
INFORMATION
1. Regarding the information encoded in DNA, if a supernatural transcendent Almighty God did not author it, what did? How do you know?
I’m not a scientist, I cannot say, but if human dna complexity requires intelligent designer, well, experience also teaches us that the designer must be at least as complex if not more so than the designed object, in which case god has complexity that, under your logic, requires a design inference. If you arbitrarily stop inferring higher intelligence from complexity merely because you arrive back at god, you aren’t a true believer in the theory that design always requires a higher intelligent designer.
2. Do you object to the notion of Intelligent Design because of your lack of religious values?
No, I object to the creationist theory of ID because creationists themselves don’t go where it logically leads, to their god’s complexity necessarily implying a higher intelligent designer.
THE IMMATERIAL
1. Are there subjective or immaterial experiences and entities? How do you know?
No, because “immaterial” appears to be incoherent given that what you want to say can only be couched in the negative.
2. In an all-material Universe, how do YOU account for the immaterial Laws of Logic, Science, Math, Morality and Uniformity of Nature?
That’s sort of like asking “If god doesn’t exist, why is water wet?”
3. What or whom is your final reference point required to make facts and laws intelligible?
education and empiricism
4. Is love material?
Yes, it is emotion and concern arising from physical brain reactions.
Beauty? Consciousness? Logic? Reason? How are they empirically measured? How much does the number nine weigh?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, consciousness only occurs when there is a functioning physical brain, logic would mean nothing if there was no material, and reason only occurs due to a functioning brain. Numbers are theoretical postulations created by material minds to aid in quantifying our surroundings.
5. Where does thought come from?
From the brain. Take away the brain, take away thought, injure the brain, injure the thought process.
Is there a non-material mind that transcends the physical brain? How do you empirically know?
Anything “could” be, but the evidence is very clear that the mind is nothing but a function of the brain, and if mind-body dualism logic be properly adhered to, you’d have to posit that bugs have a non-material side of life that survives death.
6. Can you empirically observe your mind (not your brain)? If not, does it exist?
Yes, just like you observe power generated from a functioning muscle.
EVIL
1. Do you acknowledge the existence of evil (at least in your practice if not in your beliefs)?
Yes, because I make value judgments in life.
2. When you complain about the problem of evil, aren’t you presupposing God?
No, I am presupposing the validity of my own value judgments.
3. If God does NOT exist, can ‘good’ and ‘evil’ exist? If yes, by whose ultimate authority and how is each empirically measured?
As long and good and evil are not defined as absolutes, no more authority for defining them need be given than the subjective judgment of the individual.
MORALITY
1. What is the basis for the common moral values Christians and non-Christians, as a whole, seem to share?
The desire of most humans to avoid unnecessary suffering.
2. Per the atheist worldview, is society ‘really’ evolving for the better? Why?
Atheism says nothing about society’s evolution toward anything ‘better’. The atheist who would answer directly, must draw not on atheism, but her subjective morals.
3. Would you agree with this statement: “Child pornography is immoral even though morality cannot be proven scientifically in a laboratory experiment?”
Yes, but why are you asking me? How is your case strengthened if one individual agrees with you that child pornography is immoral?
If so, what is the genetic source of morality if humans have descended from apes?
We did not descend from apes, apes and humans branched from a common ancestor. Common outrage against child pornography is sourced in the common desire to avoid unnecessary suffering.
4. HYPOTHETICAL SCENARIO: Immediately after marrying, you and your wife attempted pregnancy. You tried conceiving for two years with no success. Requiring surgery, your wife was put under anesthesia nine months before your first child was born. While unconscious, the doctor decided to have his way with your wife. His male staff assistant watched, waiting his turn. Each unleashed their gift of procreation in her prior to completing the minor surgical procedure. That night, the two of you took full advantage of the fact she was ovulating. Unbeknownst to either of you, the doctor’s sperm out swam yours. Your wife never knew she was raped while unconscious, nor did you, and no other human being ever found out – there were no consequences to this act except the celebrated arrival of a beautiful, baby boy named after his Father. QUESTION: Was it absolutely wrong for the doctor and his assistant to gang-rape your wife? Why?
Those who would say it is absolutely wrong, are only using “absolute” non-literally, since there is no absolute set of rules that gang-rape violates. They more correctly mean the gang rape violates their personal morality.
5. Where does the non-believer’s conscience get its authority from?
That is a confusing question. Conscience arises from a functioning brain, but “authority” usually means allowance by an official.
6. In an all-natural, all-material world, how did ‘oughts’ evolve from physical matter? When, and how do you know?
Oughts arose from intelligence. The more intelligence, the more likely the organism will make subject calls. When I say a man ought not to rape a woman, I am only speaking my mind, while knowing there is no absolute set or morals somewhere that rape violates.
GOD
1. If you ARE God’s creation, isn’t it true your present attitude is unfair to Him?
Yes, and he has only himself to blame for creating creatures that cause him unfairness. If welfare mothers are not wise to just keep having kids, god was not wise to bring into being problematic people that he could just as easily have left without existence.
Insulting, actually? And you thus have very good reason to deny His existence because you deserve punishment for your utter disregard?
You leap from “god” to “atheists deserve punishment”. That doesn’t follow logically. First show that the god who exists, if any, wants to punish atheists.
2. Are you willing to follow the evidence where it leads, and consider the “cumulative case” for God’s existence? If not, why?
Yes.
3. Are you right about God? How do you know?
The same way I know I’m right to deny the existence of the tooth fairy.
4. If you are not right about God, do you know how to GET right with God?
why should the mere existence of a god that I deny, automatically imply that I am in trouble for so denying?
DISBELIEF IN GOD
1. What do you consider to be the single most compelling reason to believe God does NOT exist? Why?
the same reason to believe the loch ness monster doesn’t exist. The arguments in favor are inconsistent, unsound, and testify more to humanity’s love of mystery and their general dislike of critical thinking. Belief in god removes a shitload of undesirable complexity.
2. If God does exist, do you have a subjective desire that He not exist? Why?
No, no more than a subjective desire that space aliens not exist.
3. Are there any practical benefits to atheism? If so, what are they and why?
Yes, under atheism, life is far more rare than under theism, so an atheist can attribute more value to life as a rarity, than a theist can.
4. What would it take for you to believe in God’s existence?
Couldn’t say, since “god” is an incoherent concept.
5. If you found the Biblical God does indeed exist, would your life change for the better or worse? Why?
I deny the validity of the question, the “biblical god” possesses mutually contradictory properties.
BIBLE
1. Have you ever actually read the Bible?
Yes.
2. If the Biblical God DOES exist, could a lack of Biblical knowledge explain good atheism?
I deny the validity of the question, the “biblical god” possesses mutually contradictory properties.
3. Would you be willing to read the Gospel of John, just once, as if it were true and Jesus was smart?
Would you be willing to read the book of Mormon, just once, as if it were true and Moroni was smart?
PROPHESY
1. Since absolutely no Bible prophecy has ever failed (and there are hundreds), how can one realistically remain unconvinced that the Bible is of Divine origin?
You deliberately tried to create animosity there, since you know perfectly well that atheists can rebut, and as a result are not impressed in the slightest with, the apologetics tool called “biblical prophecy”
2. How do you explain David’s graphic portrayal of Jesus’ death by crucifixion (Psalm 22) 1000 years before Christ lived?
I see nothing unnerving about a religious dying Jesus repeating words he knows from his holy book, still less gospel authors telling the crucifixion story in a way that makes it line up with certain statements in that Psalm.
3. How do you explain that the prophet Daniel prophesied the exact YEAR when the Christ would be presented as Messiah and also prophesied that the temple would be destroyed afterwards over 500 years in advance (Daniel 9:24-27)?
I deny the legitimacy of the question since the prophecy is ambiguous and even Christian scholars disagree that it was a literal prediction. Which decree?
4. How could any mere human pinpoint the precise birth town of the Messiah seven full centuries before the fact, as did the prophet Micah?
How could a mere man like Joseph Smith restore the gospel without help from god?
CHRISTIANITY
1. Are there any practical benefits to Christianity? If so, what are they and why? If not, why?
Yes, it makes life easier to understand and accept.
2. Is there a difference between “Christianity” and “Religion”? If so, what is it? If not, why?
None, Christians who distinguish belief in Jesus from “religious” are just parroting talk-points used by pastors to make Christianity look innovating.
3. Do you fully understand WHAT Christians believe?
Yes.
4. Do you know what the Gospel is?
Yes, it is whatever Jesus said must be done to get saved: legalism. Matthew 5:20, Matthew 19:17.
JESUS CHRIST
1. Who do YOU say Jesus Christ is? Why?
Nothing but a religious nut. Is this the point where you start sounding like a Jack Chick tract?
2. If you do not believe in Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, why?
Because aside from Paul, all NT evidence to Jesus rising from the dead is hearsay, and although historians normally don’t automatically exclude hearsay, they do when the hearsay is testifying to things that defy common experience. At least I do. And Paul said his experience with Christ was a vision. Visions don’t count.
3. What are the implications for YOU if Jesus Christ was raised from the dead?
What are the implications for YOU if the Muslim version of hell is true?
4. Are you fully familiar with the body of historical evidence relating to the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ?
no, because the NT data, from which it ultimately derives, is contradictory, hearsay, and confused.
JUST CURIOUS
1. If caterpillars could talk, would they argue against the cocoon-of-the-gaps with their butterfly friends?
Depends on whether they could remember coming out of their cocoons.
2. If there was a Big Bang, where did the bullets come from? Who pulled the trigger and who manufactured the gun?
n/a. I don’t believe in the big bang.
3. How does science weigh morality?
Probably by repeating an experiment.
Does ‘goodness’ expand when frozen or rise when heated?
No, as would be the case for any subjective value-judgment.
4. If man is just an evolved animal, why have we never observed another species thrilling in the beauty of a sunset or a picturesque mountain view?
Maybe because you don’t have a cat.
5. While you’ve most likely heard, “Forever’s a long time to be wrong,” have you ever considered it’s also a “long time to be right?”
No, “forever” is just fantasy lyrics from some bad pop music of the 80’s
Do you know The Gospel (Good News)?
Yes. It is “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat 5:20 NAU)
As reflected in the questions above, non-believers are not immune from accountability.
Shouldn’t you wait for the answers?
We invite you to, at minimum, read through these challenges and think, “What is The Gospel According to Me?” Can you answer all these questions and maintain your disbelief with full intellectual integrity?
Can you deny the legalistic version of the gospel preached by Jesus, and continue avoiding it as you evangelize?
We pray that many of these inquiries might nag at your atheism. If you feel so bold, we invite you to submit a full answer-set to todd(at)iLoveAtheists.com. Please note, if in your response you deem it necessary to swear or be verbally offensive, all your submission will be deleted and access to site content denied thereafter. Thank you for respecting this request.
Jesus and Paul used cuss words of their day, what’s the matter?
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Craig Keener’s Miracles: nothing but hot air

An author named Craig Keener put out a two volume work entitled “Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts” (Baker Academic, 2011).

I perused both volumes, read the sections on references for modern miracles, and was fascinated to discover that Keener did not intend to establish any particular miracle claim as true, but rather, to show that miracle claims are made more frequently than most people think they do.

 !?

 Ok.

What is the point of telling the miracle-denier that miracle claims are made more often than he or she thinks? Is it not to open them up to the possibility that some modern miracle claims are true?  If so, then how can Keener think his work is respectable, when he never tries to establish as true any of the modern day miracles that he provides myriad references for?  Does he seriously expect skeptics to follow up those leads and research them?

I have an argument rationally justifying miracle-skeptics to just dismiss all miracle claims that originate outside their city of residence. Namely, that the kind of thorough miracle-investigation that would guard as much as possible against fraud or mistake, would consume so much time, money and resources, that such investigator would not have any time left to conduct his or her own life. They would have to be super rich super lonely people not wishing to do more in life than travel the world to meet and interview miracle-claimants and their allegedly baffled doctors, etc.

I posted such argument to my own blog, and posted similar material at Christian apologetics blog Triablogue in response to their discussion about no medical proof of missing limbs being restored.  Steve Hays responded to me, and I replied to him.

I looked up Keener on the internet and found the part of his website devoted to discussion of miracles. That is a blog space that allows comments, but when I clicked on “leave a comment”, I got “comments are closed”, for each miracle discussion that I tried to comment on.

I would like Keener to personally respond to my argument that says atheists and skeptics are rationally justified to arbitrarily dismiss all claims of medical miracles that originate outside their own cities of residence, on the grounds that miracle-investigation sufficiently comprehensive to guard as much as possible against fraud or mistake, would be so expensive and time consuming that the investigators would have no time left to conduct their own private lives.  I would also like to invite Mr. Keener to provide me with the one miracle claim from the modern world whose evidence he thinks is the most compelling.

Reply to Melissa Cain Travis: scholars less confident than she is about Luke’s reliability

This is a reply to an article by Melissa Cain Travis called “Unjustified Skepticism: The Reliability of Luke’s Testimony” which can be found here.

The New Testament contains the most well-attested ancient texts in existence, yet its factual reliability is a matter of high controversy.

reliability of the text during copying and transmission doesn’t relate to whether the facts asserted in such text are true.  You cannot make the story of Cinderalla true by simply copying it accurately a few thousand times.

The predominant reason? The books record supernatural happenings.

It doesn’t matter if what the NT says is true, as an account being “true” does not mean it will satisfy all standard tests of investigation.

Skeptics with a pre-commitment to materialism are philosophically compelled to reject any and all testimonies that allege divine activity– miraculous healings, resurrections, and the like.

We all have presuppositions, and nobody can escape axioms.  But on the more objective side, Paul is the only first-hand account of the resurrection of Jesus in the NT, the rest of hearsay, and you violated normal rules of historiography if you ignore the distinction between first-hand and second hand, and simply lump it all together.  Unless you show other testimony in the NT beyond Paul is first-hand, you will have to admit that the best evidence for your resurrection hypothesis is the testimony of one man whose Jesus-experience involved no association with the earthly human Jesus, but was mostly if not entirely visionary and revelatory.  You may wish to state that the hearsay is just as reliable as the first-hand eyewitness accounts, but that is quite another question, and attempting to distinguish NT testimony that is first-hand, from NT testimony that is second-hand or hearsay, is exactly what any professional historian would start out doing. 

In other words, since the New Testament records such things, the entire collection is suspect and shouldn’t be taken seriously as a compilation of historical documents.

How many modern day compositions that testify to just as many miracles as the NT, do you take seriously?

But is this justified? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? If an ancient document withstands the pressures of scholarly scrutiny when it comes to historical details, if there are many early manuscripts still in existence that can be compared with one another and with our modern translations to demonstrate faithful transmission, and if independent facts can place the original writing of the document very close to the events it records, it seems only reasonable that we should at least carefully consider any supernatural happenings described in the text.

Sure, but like an y good historian, you must first identify and separate the NT miracle testimony that is first-hand, from that which is hearsay.  If you cannot do that with any decisiveness, there is little point to arguing how persuasive those accounts should be.  Apologists may lump it all together, but historians do not.  There is a very good reason why they treat ancient hearsay as less probative of facts than ancient first-hand testimony.  But that’s the problems you create for yourself if you agree with Josh McDowell and other apologists that we should apply to the bible the same tests of historicity that historians apply to equally ancient secular works.

The typical rebuttal to this is that our everyday experience doesn’t include supernatural phenomenon and such happenings would violate the laws and regularities of nature. Therefore, supernaturalism is false and the New Testament isn’t reliable. This is a textbook example of begging the question. By definition, a supernatural occurrence is an anomaly; it stands out because it isn’t what we would predict based upon current scientific knowledge.

Which is precisely why supernatural anomolies can never be proven to the point that it renders continued unbelief irrational.

If somebody told you they recently fell out of a sky scraper, and with nothing to soften their landing, hit the pavement doing about 100 mph, but simply bounced, stood upright and walked away without any injury, your presupposition of naturalism would rear its ugly head, and you would have grave initial suspicions that this story is false, and you would most likely demand some type of corroborating evidence, and if he had a friend testify to having seen this, you still wouldn’t be convinced and you know it.

However, that says nothing about whether or not a supernatural event is possible or could have happened in the past. I see no difficulty in the idea that God can work in the natural world either through the laws and regularities He has ordained or by their temporary suspension. To say that our cosmos is a self-contained, closed causal system that is never acted upon from “outside” is to make a philosophical statement, since science cannot, by definition, prove that immaterial, transcendent intervention in the world has never occurred or doesn’t continue to occur, detected or undetected.

What is possible can only be known through the evidence, so the question comes down to how good your evidence for miracles occuring really is.

My central argument here is that rejecting Scripture based on the fact that it testifies to events inexplicable by the natural sciences isn’t justified. It is reasonable to be open-minded about supernatural content, based on the demonstrable integrity of the remainder of the book.

But you assert that it is unreasonable to reject the bible on anti-supernatural bias alone.  But it is only your own pool of experience in the world that enables you to become justifiably suspicious when somebody is lying.  So when yo condemn skeptics for relying on their past experience to deny miracles, you condemn your own common sense that is usually responsible for causing you to be suspicious of modern claims similar to biblical claims.

With all that said, we can consider test cases from the New Testament. I am particularly fascinated by the writings of Luke, which include the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, so I’ll use those for this discussion. (Click here for a bit of background on Dr. Luke.)
Historical Veracity of Luke and Acts
When an ancient historical document is evaluated for accuracy, it is compared with other surviving historical records to check for potential corroboration of the alleged facts. The books of the New Testament are subjected to this scholarly scrutiny and fare quite beautifully. Using Luke’s writings a test case, here are some of the pertinent facts:

1. We know that Acts was written as a sequel to the Gospel of Luke. Therefore, if we can give Acts an early date, it’s reasonable to assign the Gospel of Luke a slightly earlier date.

But you must first nail down when Luke was written to know when the Acts sequel was written, and gospel dating is the last place to be dogmatic, scholars don’t manifest any more disagreement than on how to date gospels.

2. The oldest surviving fragments and manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke and Acts (dating to about 200-250 A.D.) as well as the large numbers of somewhat later manuscripts translated into many languages, give New Testament scholars a high degree of confidence that our best modern translations are faithful to the original autographs (originally penned documents). Don’t let anyone fool you with that ridiculous telephone game argument, which shows complete ignorance of the dynamics of textual transmission and textual criticism.

Don’t let anybody fool you with that textual reliability stuff.  Read Metzger’s Textual commentary on Acts and discover how many text variants are given the rating of “C”.

3. Acts, being a record of the birth of the Church and its early history, is conspicuously silent on major (even earth-shattering) historical events that we have extra-biblical records of. These include: 1) The severe persecution of Christians by the emperor Nero, which began around 64 A.D. This was a gruesome, horrific episode in early Church history, yet Acts doesn’t mention it at all.

But given that Acts proves itself to be little more than an apologetic to justify Paul’s ministry, there is no reason to think the author would likely have referred to the Neronic persecution.

2) The Roman-Jewish War, which began in 66 A.D. 3) The fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. It’s absurd to think that the fall of a central city for Christendom would not make it into the first historical account of the Church.

It would make sense if a forger wrote it with the intent that the readers believe it was composed before a.d. 70.  Did Luke fabricate?  His one-sided description of the arguments for and against the Judaizers in Acts 15 argues against any notion that he was concerned about fair and balanced reporting.

4) The martyrdoms of James (61 A.D.), Paul (64 A.D.), and Peter (66 A.D.) Surely Luke would mention the execution of early Christianity’s key leaders.

Why?  Acts is concerned with little else than justifying Paul’s ministry.  And when you make these arguments from silence, you must allow skeptics to argue that the great darkness at the crucifixion would have been reported by Pliny or other contemporary historians, it wasn’t.  You must allow that if Matthew’s story of resurrected zombies in Matthew 27:52 were true, the other gospel authors would have had no rational reason to choose to exclude this powerful apologetic from their own compositions.  You must allow that if Jesus had the level of fame during his earthly ministry that the gospels accord to him, it is highly unlikely that there would be no secular historians providing first-hand testimony to such.  And you must allow the argument from silence that the reason the gospels do not report crowds thronging to Jesus’ grave is most likely because whatever fame he had, he got doing parlor tricks instead of genuinely supernatural acts.  Benny Hinn would not have room to breath anywhere he went, if his claims of holy ghost healing were true.  People buy tickets and patiently wait in line because his miracle assurances are less than convincing.

 

The best explanation for why Acts of the Apostles is silent on all of these crucial events is that it was written before they occurred, which places the writing of Acts (and by default, Luke) in the mid-first century, A.D. at the latest. This means, of course, that the Gospel of Luke and Acts were written very close to the time of the events they describe.

As I have shown, your reason for why Acts doesn’t mention those first-century events, is nowhere near conclusive.

4. The Gospel of Luke is accurate on fine historical details. For example, Luke 3:1-2 says, “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene”. Now, back in the 19th century, this passage caused scholars to doubt the accuracy of Luke’s gospel, because although there was a ruler in history named Lysanias, he was killed by Mark Antony in 36 B.C., a half-century before the events Luke is referring to. But later, in the very same province near Damascus (in today’s modern Syria), an inscription was discovered that spoke of a tetrarch named Lysanias who was ruling during the time frame precisely consistent with Luke’s account. It is significant that, in addition to the time frame, Luke got both the title and the name of the individual correct.

5. Acts is accurate on fine historical details. For example, Acts 18:11-2 says, “But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat.” Note that our best estimate for when Paul arrived in Corinth is based upon the expulsion of the Jews by Claudius in the year 49 A.D. This puts Paul arriving in Corinth sometime around 50 A.D., and then Achaia in 51 A.D. So, what we need to corroborate the veracity of this passage is evidence that Achaia had a proconsul named Gallio in the year of Paul’s trial.

The title of the leader of a province in Rome depended upon whether the province was senatorial or imperial. If it was senatorial, the leader was called a proconsul, but if it was imperial, the leader was called a legate. Achaia went through three different phases. From 27 B.C. to 15 A.D. it was a senatorial province, from 16 A.D. to 44 A.D. it was an imperial province, and then from 44 A.D. onward, it was a senatorial province again. This means that a leader in 51 A.D would indeed have been called a proconsul. What about the name of this proconsul?
gallio

Gallio Inscription at Delphi

Well, in the early 20th century, a limestone inscription (thought to have been attached to the outer wall of the Temple of Apollo) was uncovered in Delphi, Greece. It is a letter from Claudius to the city of Delphi, naming Gallio as the friend of Claudius and proconsul of Achaia. The dating of the inscription (between April and July of 52 A.D.) places the beginning of Gallio’s tenure as proconsul in July of 51 A.D. Luke got it all correct.

Luke describes a census that taxed the world (Luke 2:1-2), and no such census can be documented from secular records for that date, something secular records likely wouldn’t be missing if it had truly happened.  And apologist explanations for the conundrum of Luke 2:1 only make the historical error all the more certain:

It must be confessed that there is no easy explanation at the present time for this historical problem of the census date, but some new evidence might in the future vindicate the historical accuracy of Luke on this point.93

93 For further discussion see G. Ogg, “The Quirinius Question Today,” ExpTim 79 (1968): 231–36; H. W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977), 11–27; Nolland, Luke 1–9:20 , 99–102.

Stein, R. H. (2001, c1992). Vol. 24: Luke (electronic ed.). Logos Library System;

The New American Commentary (Page 106). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

 

Conclusion
The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are accurate on fine historical details,

If I say “Jesus was not God, and the capital city of California is Sacramento”, does the accuracy of the parts of the testimony that can be checked, argue that the theological statements are accurate?  No.

they were written very soon after the events they describe, and we have a high degree of certainty that the content of the original texts has been reliably transmitted throughout history. At the least, this means that we can trust these books as historical records.

You ignore matters of apologetic tone and other historical difficulties that take the wind out of your certitude-sails.

As such, it is entirely reasonable to take the supernatural content into serious consideration.

The most important such testimony would be to the resurrection of Jesus, and no such testimony in Acts is first-hand, its all hearsay.  Whether the hearsay is “good enough” is a separate question.  Yes, historians often accept hearsay as evidence supporting some ancient fact, but that does not mean they regard the matter as settled.  So you gain nothing by noting that hearsay is important to historians.

In fact, dismissing the books because of their supernatural content isn’t justified. Rejecting the books or just particular portions because of supernatural content shows a philosophical pre-commitment to materialism rather than an objective weighing of the historical evidence.

But materialism is a justified philosophical point of view, so conclusions that side with it cannot be said to arise from lack of objectivity in weighing historical evidence.  If somebody tells me they were once decapitated, and I see no evidence on their body that their head was ever removed from their body, my pre-commitment to materialism will convince me to call them liars or deluded.  You Christians consistently fail to provide convincing evidence that existence involves more than just matter and energy.

 

 

reply to steve hays on miracle investigation being too expensive to do right

Steve Hays replied to my post at his blog.  I respond as follows:

You say God never promised to heal amputees and for this reason lack of documentation of amputee healings is not suspicious.  But suspicion remains because it is upon the credibility of those who make those claims. I don’t have to falsify something in the bible in order to justify suspicion toward those who claim monster-type miracles.

You say that although I admit that it’s unwise for atheists to pursue this particular argument, I persist in doing so anyway, as if that was some sort of inconsistency.  It is not.  First,  I was talking about discussing alleged miracles of regrown limbs with apologists.  As you yourself appear to admit, you don’t know of any verified cases of healed amputees, so there is no sense in Christians and atheists speculating whether God would or wouldn’t heal an amputee.   And I did not press that specific point except to ask for evidence of such which you refused to provide.  Second, it was general advice.  I’m guessing you don’t absolutely cease forever all communication with anybody you deem a heretic after you give them a second warning, but if you are one of those people who trifle over non-essentials, as you routinely do in nearly every comment you post, then your readers have a right to expect you to consistently obey Titus 3:9-11.  You don’t.  Hence, you likely understand what it meant when advice is “general”.

You say my evidence that miracle investigation is too cost-and-time prohibitive, to be a strawman since you never required me to reinterview witnesses.  Your claim of straw man is false:  If you are going to saddle me with the task of investigating miracle claims, then I will decide on my own how thorough of an investigation I will do.  To criticize me further is to say that my demand to do a thorough investigation is irrational.  What’s next?  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain?

You say it is irrational for an atheist to “refuse[s] to believe testimonial evidence unless he personally conducts the interview”, and for that reason you call irrational everybody who chooses to reevaluate testimony.  My standards of truth-gathering being too high to permit me to investigate miracle claims properly does not land the problem in my lap, the problem is yours:  YOU are irrational to cite references to miracle claims and then expect atheists to go check them out, and further irrational if you expect them to just “believe testimonial evidence”.

ii) I’d add that his complaint is very quaint, as if he were living in the 18C, and had to interview witnesses face-to-face.  Has he never heard of email or telephones?
———-Please provide a hypothetical example of evidence that you could obtain through email or phone, that would have serious potential to cause you to change your worldview.  When is the last time you changed your world view due to evidence you unearthed through email and telephone interviews?  I suggest you give up the pathetic attempt to lower the burden of proof so as to defeat my cost-prohibition argument. You get so much more from a face-to-face interview: body language, previously undisclosed witnesses who accompany the interviewee, etc..  For one, you help further eliminate fraud by asking for an identification card and verifying that the person on it is the person to be interviewed.  You cannot do that over phone and email, and pictures of somebody’s id card can be photoshopped.  The face to face interview need not provide absolute proof of identity to achieve the goal of guarding a bit more against fraud than an email of phone interview would.  So your attempt to lower the burden of proof cannot be justified simply by nothing that attempts to guard against fraud can never be perfect so we may as well just settle for email and phone interview.  Email and phone interview do not absolutely protect against fraud either, so under your own logic, maybe you should lower the standard even more?  Or maybe you feel embarassed at being the one in this debate asking for a lower standard of proof, when it is clear that doing so would conveniently make things easier for you, when in fact you never argued that some specific evidentiary standard was proper to begin with?  You will excuse me for taking the reigns and applying my own standard of evidence, and thus doing exactly what YOU do with claims YOU investigate.

There’s no parity between these two positions. Atheism posits a universal negative with respect to miracles.
———-False, we deny miracles for the same reason protestants deny that Mary appeared in Fatima, the evidence does not support the conclusion.  Our ultimate view of the possibilities no more prevents us from objectively examining miracle-claims, than your ultimate denial of Roman Catholicism prevents you from assessing RC miracles objectively.

An atheist must reject every single reported miracle.
———given how cost-prohibitive it would be to properly investigate every miracle, consigning miracles to the same bin as “does the government breed space aliens underground?” seems appropriate.  How are we supposed to worry about it, if there are  blocks to thorough investigation of it?  If somebody told you their now-dead sister reported being abducted by space-aliens at a time when nobody else was around, well, there’s not too much point to engaging that subject given the limitations preventing any seriously thorough investigation, amen?

By contrast, it only takes one miracle to falsify atheism. Therefore, the atheist and the Christian apologist do not share the same burden of proof. Not even close.
———Straw man, it only takes one correct anti-supernaturalist argument to falsify Christianity, yet you do not spend your life savings trying to track down every anti-supernaturalist argument ever made.  Take the log out of your own eye first.

Would it be too much to ask apologists to do something more with their claim of miracle healing, than simply provide references?
You replied:  i) Actually, that would be asking too much. Just as we accept documentation for other historical events, we ought to accept documentation for miracles.
——–What do you mean by “accept”?  Do you believe “believe”?  or do you mean “agree that it provides a starting point for investigation”?  The only reason you think my argument is unpersuasive is because you argue for lowering the standard of proof, so that there’s no more overly burdensome cost in money or time.  But since it is absurd to expect paradigm shifting evidence to come by way of email and telephone interviews, my higher standard requiring interview of claimant and his/her physician and other witnesses bearing on their credibility is no more irraitonal than courts of law that require the same standard of evidence in civil cases.

ii) His complaint only makes sense if there’s a standing presumption against the occurrence of miracles, so that miracles must meet a higher standard of evidence. But as I’ve often argued, that begs the question.
———-Strawman, you never argued in favor of whatever standard of evidence you think should apply to modern-day miracle claims, so it was rational for me to apply the same standards that historians apply to any historical claim.  Who are the claimants, what are they claiming, where is the medical file, how to authenticate it, do we need a second opinion, does it make sense to interview the diagnosing physician, who can testify to the claimant’s credibility, etc, etc.

iii) I’d also note in passing that if God exists, then it would be extraordinary if miracles didn’t happen. If God exists, then miracles are to be expected.
——–Only under theism, not deism.  You insure wreckage if you expect an atheist to agree with you on your presuppositions about God.  best to leave God totally out of the picture and simply concentrate on normal procedures of investigation, and leave God for the time when and if you get to the point of noting a healing after throrough investigation that baffles properly qualified doctors.

iv) I’d add that belief in miracles doesn’t require prior belief in God. Evidence for miracles is, itself, evidence for God.
——-But you don’t think nearly anybody who claimed healing at a Benny Hinn crusade actually got healed do you?  And in that case, you are your own best evidence that it is perfectly rational to disbelieve personal testimony and demand a higher standard of proof be met, amen?  Otherwise, the fact that somebody seriously testifies over phone or email to miraculous healing settles the matter in your mind.

If you seriously believe you have evidence of a modern day healing that cannot be explained by current medical science, set forth your case.
You said:  Testimonial evidence is setting forth a case.
————–Then you appear to care nothing for the rules of historiography.  Half the books on the subject would not have been written if the production of testimonial evidence constituted fulfillment of the claimant’s burden.  If I testify seriously to you that I saw a real live bigfoot, would that production of testimony cause you to draw a conclusion about bigfoot, or would you demand that i do something more than simply tell you my story?  If you think testimonial evidence constitutes seting forth a ‘case’ (!? you certainly aren’t a lawyer!), then how do you justify denying most of the healings claimed by followers of Benny Hinn?  Apparently the mere existence of testimonial evidence means nothing, the testimony must pass certain criteria, right?

    …God having the sovereign right to avoid doing monster miracles, accomplishes nothing more than helping distract the less educated Christian readers from the simple fact that you have ZERO medically documented medically inexplicable healings.
You said: That’s just an empty denial in the face of explicit documentation to the contrary.
——–Ok, then please describe the one modern-day miracle healing account that you think is the most convincing and I’ll look into it.  Is that fair?  

Does Steve know of anybody who has attempted to obtain the medical documentation and/or witness statements that Keener has cited?
You say:  Do atheists make the same demand for cures in general?
——-What is the point of Keener’s compiling of miracle-reports, if atheists asking for medical documentation for same is analogous to paranoid cancer patients demanding every last little medical detail be authenticated?

If a patient recovers from stage-1 cancer, do they refuse to believe it unless they can read the medical records for themselves and interview the patient? Notice the unexamined bias.  
——–How else would the patient know they were cured of that unless they did indeed read the medical records for themselves and interview the doctor?

It would be helpful for apologists to provide the one case of body part regeneration they feel is the most compelling, and lets get the ball rolling on the subject of just how good the medical documentation, diagnosis and witness statements really are.
You said:  Demanding evidence of body-part regeneration is an artificial litmus test for miracles.
——–Pure distraction technique necessarily implying you don’t believe any of the few reported case of body-part regeneration, yet you refuse to bluntly admit this evidentiary failure.

I never took that demand seriously in the first place. I’m just calling their bluff.
——-Do you believe that God in the last 50 years has restored any amputee’s missing limb, yes or no?

Atheists who refuse to consider evidence for miracles in general, and instead resort to this decoy, betray their insincerity.
——-You have the distinction of being the first apologist in my more than 10 years of debating, to say that requesting evidence in support of your best case constitutes insincerety. Congratulations.  Now I have a better idea what prompted the reasoning processes in “Joyful Eastertide”.

Logically, the case for miracles is hardly confined to one artificial class of miracles.
——-Do you believe that God in the last 50 years has restored any amputee’s missing limb, yes or no?

I said:     Apologists think they score big on the objectivity scale by insisting that skeptics and atheists do their own research into the claims for miracles that appear in Christian books.  A large list of miracle-claim references may be found in Craig Keener’s two volume set “Miracles (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011)”.  But if we are realistic about the time and money required to be expended in the effort to properly investigate a single modern-day miracle claim, it becomes immediately clear that the apologist advice that skeptics should check out those claims, is irrational for all except super-wealthy super-single super-unemployed super-bored skeptics.
You reply:  That’s ironic, considering the obvious fact that Keener isn’t “super-wealthy, super-single, or super-unemployed.”
———–Strawman, No irony whatsoever, Keener wasn’t investigating those miracles, and the cost-prohibition argument justifies only avoidance of investigation, not avoidance of collecting references.  But since the investigtations are so cost-prohibitive, there is little point to collecting cases, except maybe in the hopes that some miracle assertion will be found in one’s own city and thus the investigation could be done without breaking one’s finances or family.

Indeed, as Keener said in the introduction, “I have no research team, no research assistants, and no research funds; nor have I had sabbaticals to pursue this research” (1:12). What hinders an atheist from doing what Keener did?  
—————-Nothing at all, what is your point?  What would be the point of an atheist collecting various testimonies in favor of modern-day miracle healings, in light of the fact that it would be too time and cost prohibitive to properly and thoroughly investigate them?  Most of us aren’t so bored that we collect stories that we know we’ll never have time to do serious inquiry into, except for those of us who occupy our time with fiction novels, of which group I am no part.

Apologists, desperate to cut the skeptic’s costs as much as possible so as to leave them “without excuse”, will suggest ways to cut the costs as described above…
You say:  Another strawman. Atheists are already without excuse.
——First, you are taking Romans 1:20 out of context, and in the effort to keep the discussion on track, I offer to debate you on the proper meaning of that verse, sound fair?  Second, biblical authors saying unbeleivers are without excuse, no more proves they are without excuse, then Benny Hinn causing people to fall down on stage by hitting them with his coat proves movement of the Holy Ghost.  Yes, the analogy is proper, since Paul was a heretic just as much as Hinn.  I’ll debate you anytime you wish on the subject of Paul’s gospel contradicting the gospel of Jesus.  Do you accept this debate invitation, yes or no?

What bright ideas do you have for the married miracle skeptic whose wife homeschools their children, who has only one job?
You say:  Since when did atheists join the Christian homeschooling movement?
——Since when does homeschooling require assent to Christianity?  And you didn’t answer the question of how you can rationally impose obligation on such married and busy atheist to properly investigation miracle claims.  If you simply fall back on “email and phone interviews!” then your standard of evidence is more allowing for possible fraud than mine.  The convenience to your apologetics in lowering the standard of evidence is noted.

I said: If skeptics need to stay open to the possibility of miracles merely because they cannot rationally go around investigating each and every miracle claim, then must you, the Christian apologist, stay open to the possibility that miracles don’t happen, on the grounds that you don’t have the time or money to investigate every single naturalistic argument skeptics have ever come up with?
You reply:  Once again, these are asymmetrical positions. It only takes on miracle to exclude atheism, whereas atheism must exclude every miracle.
——–Well given that you failed to show that the standard of evidence that would increase the likelihood of exposing fraud more so than email or phone interview, was too high of a standard, we have justified the failure to seriously investigate miracle claims.  It is truly laughable that my argument forced you into a position where you had to lower the standard of evidence to phone and email interviews, just to get around the time and money problem.  Well I’m sorry, but since you failed to show that the standard of evidence applicable to a cost-prohibitive miracle investigation was “too high”, you lose.  Your miracle stories do not meet the justified standard of evidence common to any legal or historical investigation.  Historians do not just “accept” testimonial evidence, and neither do you.  Unless you are willing to “accept” the testimony in favor of a miracle-working Apollonius of Tyana?  Isn’t this the part where you say that it was further investigation that convinced you that this testimony was suspect and likely fabricated?

ii) Atheists are like paranoid cancer patients who refuse treatment until they can verify the treatment for themselves.
———False analogy, the great amount of miracle claims doesn’t suggest we are in trouble, the way a normal medical diagnosis of cancer would.  You are in deep trouble if you think you can argue from the sheer numbers of miracle claims, that atheists have an obligation to investigate, we don’t.

They make irrational, time-consuming demands on the oncologist to prove the efficacy of cancer therapy.
——-But it is not irrational to demand medically documented evidence and authenticated medical reports.  That is precisely what is lacking in your best cases for miracles.  I don’t care if you can show me a medical report containing admissions of a baffled physician, that means nothing unless I can authenticate it…unless you insist that I just believe whatever I find on the internet?  And if I am going to authenticate something, that requires me to interview the healed person and their doctor, and apparently you think that is an irrational demand.  No, I will not do as you say and “accept testimonial evidence”, until I can probe the medical documentation and interview claimant, witnesses and character witnesses.  Your desire that I leave that stuff alone and just “accept testimonial evidence” is itself rational justification to prioritize miracle-investigation very low.

But the oncologist is under no obligation to accede to their unreasonable demands. He’s not the one with the life-threatening disease. He has nothing to prove to the paranoid patient. It’s the patient whose life is on the line. It’s the patient who has everything to lose. If the patient is diagnosed with stage-1 cancer, but refuses treatment for 8 months while he conducts his own “independent” investigation–by interviewing other patients–then even if he succeeds in satisfying his personal curiosity, and is now amendable to therapy, by that time he will have stage-4 cancer–at which point therapy is futile.
——–the analogy was unfitting anyway, so no dice.

I said:    If the apologists here saw video footage of a dog flying around a room using biological wings sprouting out of its back, would they insist on making sure all other alternative explanations were definitively refuted before they would be open to considering that this was a real dog with real natural flying ability? Then skeptics, likewise, when confronted with evidence for a miracle healing, would insist on making sure all other alternative possible explanations were definitively refuted before they would start considering that the claimed miracle was genuinely supernatural in origin.
You say:  i) That’s an argument from analogy minus the argument. Where’s the supporting argument to show that miracles are analogous to flying dogs?
——–Oh, I’m sorry I forgot to remind you of equally silly stuff in the bible such as the talking serpent in Genesis 3 and Balaam’s talking donkey in Numbers 22.  I also forgot to tell you about alleged boy-spider taking to the trees as documented in “Like a Mighty Wind”, and I have recordings of Walter Martin commenting back when the book was first published that he was unable to render an opinion on whether any miracle reported in “like a mighty wind” was likely true or likely false.

ii) Instead of dealing with the actual evidence for actual miracles, atheists deflect attention away from the evidence by floating hypothetical examples. But that’s a diversionary tactic.
——–Its also a diversionary tactic to avoid directly answering the analogy and associated question.  The fact that you think flying dogs are far sillier than any biblical miracle claim is entirely irrelvant.  Had you answered the flying dog analogy directly, I might have uncovered evidence that you are just as skeptical of things you currently think impossible, as atheists are of things they think are impossible, but you do not dare directly answer when it might show you demand higher standards of atheists than you demand for yourself.  It is truly ironic that your “diversionary tactic” comment was itself a diversionary tactic.  If somebody showed you a video of a flying dog that appeared to be realistic, would you demand evidence and interviews with the video production team and inspection of the dog?  Or would you “accept testimonial evidence”, and agree with the video producers that those who go around demanding more than testimonial evidence are just setting the bar too high?

iii) Moreover, it’s self-defeating. If an atheist concocts the most ridiculous hypothetical he can think of, then, yes, the example strains credulity.
———-Welcome, fellow Hume disciple.  You could not know that a flying dog is ‘ridiculous’ unless you blindly presuppose ON THE BASIS OF YOUR PRIOR EXPERIENCE they don’t exist, and you cannot scour every inch of the universe to justify your universal negative belief that flying dogs don’t exist. So under your own disastrous logic which attempts to refute Hume, you leave yourself no rational basis to view flying dogs as “most ridiculous”.  Otherwise talking donkeys and talking snakes and mental telepathy are “most ridiculous”.  What happened, o ye of little faith?  Aren’t all things possible with God?  Must God be limited to doing miracles within a Christian context?  What prevents God from manifesting himself by getting creative in the hybrid animal department?  Do you subvert your witness for Christ when you communicate with other people without mentioning Jesus?  If not, then God too is not limited to doing miracles within religious contexts, he can do a miracle for reasons that you cannot explain.

But that’s because he went out of his way to concoct an artificially ridiculous example. That’s a circular exercise. Unbelievable because he made it unbelievable.
———Flying dogs are no more unbelievable than a talking donkey or people who float from the ground into the clouds, or mental telepathy, or other biblical nonsense, or spider-boys climbing trees in “like a mighty wind”.  Do the statues showing winged cheribum supposedly covering the ark with their wings, in Exodus, depict real creatures that are in heaven?  When Isaiah sees a vision of God and notes creatures with wings that are unknown or normally don’t have wings, is he seeing heaven as it really is, or are all these creatures nothing more than literary symbolism?  Please stop choking yourself to death with your ridiculous attempt to distinguish the ridiculousness of flying dogs and the ridiculousness of talking donkeys.  it is difficult to be serious with somebody who trifles like that.

Jesus requested things outside the will of God

 39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” (Mat 26:39 NAS)

If Jesus’ will was perfectly aligned with the Father’s will, then we should be able to put the words of Jesus into the Father’s mouth and not detect any difference of will.  How likely is it that the Father would say “if it be possible, let this cup pass”, in reference to the sufferings of Christ?  Not likely at all, if one assumes the Father is omni-everything and intended from all eternity for Jesus to suffer.  In that case, why is Jesus asking for relief from a purpose that he cannot be relieved of? 

Some apologists will say that the last few words of Jesus “yet not as I will, but as you will” show the conformity of his will to the Father, but there are two problems:  First, if Jesus’ will was perfectly aligned with the Father’s will, then for this Jesus to say “not my will” is logically the same as saying “not the Father’s will”.  The only time it makes sense to say “not my will but yours be done” is if your own will does indeed differ from the will of another person that you are subjecting yourself to.  Second, even if this ending phrase showed Jesus conforming to the Father’s purpose, that does nothing to change the difference of will expressed by the prior words “if it be possible let this cup pass”.   Why did Jesus utter that particular phrase, if he wasn’t seriously requesting relief from the inevitable?

Suppose you hear a fellow employee say to the boss: Boss, if it be possible, let me go home early, yet not as I will, but as you will.”  Wouldn’t you detect that this employee, although respectfully allowing for the boss’s own will, was nevertheless seeking something that might have been outside the will of the boss?

 

the presumptive superiority of empiricism

Empiricism is a philosophy predicated on the view that knowledge cannot come to us unless it does so through one of the five physical senses.  If you know any fact, it is because you detected with nothing more than one or more of the 5 physical senses.

The reason this philosophy is likely true or else the best one within the competing marketplace of ideas is that those who attack it, cannot do so unless data comes to them via one of their 5 physical senses, and they send out data intending to stimulate one of the 5 physical senses.

If you are using empirical data to disprove empiricism, that is sort of like biting the hand that feeds you, isn’t it?

deathblow to biblical inerrancy

Most conservative Christians who hold to bible inerrancy, qualify that inerrancy only extends to the originals of scripture, not the copies.

Where does the bible make that qualification?  It doesn’t.  In fact it extends inspiration to copies:

 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; (2Ti 3:15-16 NAS)

In context, the inspired scripture mentioned in v. 16, is identical with the “sacred writings” Timothy knew since childhood.

Timothy, alive in the first century, did not know the originals, he only knew copies.  Moses wrote 1,300 years before the first century, Isaiah wrote his original 700 years before the first century.  Nobody says the originals of Moses, Isaiah, etc, continued to exist into the first century.  Nevertheless, Paul says the writings Timothy knew since childhood, were “inspired”. 

So he can only have meant that the copies Timothy knew since childhood, were inspired.  If Paul was ascribing inspiration to copies, then we have choice. 

1 – the copies of the OT Timothy knew since childhood were inerrant (because in Christian thinking, inspiration equals inerrancy), or

2 – Paul called the copies “inspired” while knowing that they contained various errors.

If # 1 is true, it is more than a little suspicious that OT originals that survived into the first century, didn’t continue being publicly available into this century.

If # 1 is true, then why can’t Christians locate a copy of the scriptures that are just as inspired as the originals?  KJV Onlyists think they have found this in the KJV, but they don’t count.  Did God only wish to extend inerrancy to just the first century copies?

If # 2 is true, then according to Paul, a scripture can be inspired by God despite it containing error, in which case millions of conservatives who think inspiration logically necessitates inerrancy (Geisler, Archer), are wrong.

 

 

 

 

Optics on the Synoptics: eywitnesses do not speak through non-eyewitnesses

This post is for Christians who think Mark wrote first, Matthew wrote later, and that Mark’s text was used by Matthew to help compose his own gospel.

Do you believe Matthew was an eyewitness to the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus?  Yes.

Do you believe Matthew copied some text from Mark?  Yes.

Can you think of any situation outside the bible in which the eyewitness to an event, chose to testify about the event by limiting themselves to reports about the event that were authored by a non-eyewitness? 

One apologist tried in vain to say that it is normal for an eyewitness to include in his account the perspective of those who didn’t see the event.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yX3MsbBIOAU

But this raises creates a problem for apologists that will never go away:  Namely, Matthew’s contentment to use hearsay.      If we should view eyewitness Matthew’s choice to use non-eyewitness Mark’s text as normal, then how do we distinguish Matthian material that draws on Matthew’s own memories, from Matthian material sourced in hearsay? 

How can we confidently conclude that the testimony to the risen Jesus provided in Matthew 28 draws solely from Matthew’s own memories of those events, if other data indicate he had no problems incorporating hearsay into his gospel?

If Matthew was inspired by God, why would “other perspectives” interest him in the least?  If you are “inspired by God” to write inerrantly about Lincoln’s assassination, what is the likelihood you’d care about what non-inspired or non-eyewitness accounts of it have to say?  Why would God give you the ability to write on that subject inerrantly, if he wants you to consult other material?  If God can give you the ability to inerrantly decide which accounts are true and which are false, can’t he just simplify matters by inspiring you to write inerrantly with NO source material?

it seems clear that a divinely inspired eyewitness, which is what apologists say Matthew was, would have no rational reason to give a shit about what non-eyewitnesses had to say.  For all these reasons, the mere possibility that Matthew could have had reason to care for such about the content of hearsay material, is trumped by the argument showing how unlikely such a person would be to use such material.  Thus when Christians agree that Matthew used much of Mark’s text, they are putting Matthew in a position that a truly divinely inspired person would not likely occupy.

God committed adultery

Mary was engaged (KJV: “betrothed”) to Joseph at the time she conceived Jesus:

 26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee, called Nazareth,
 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
 29 But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be.
 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.
 31 “And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.
 32 “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David;
 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end.”
 34 And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
 35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God. (Luk 1:26-35 NAS)

In other words, God got Mary pregnant while she was engaged to Joseph.

The bible is clear that even if the virgin is only “engaged” to the man, she can commit adultery if she has sex with somebody other than her fiance.  The technical distinction between engagement and marriage disappears in practical life, sexual infidelity in either context is considered adultery:

 23 “If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged (Hebrew: arah, betrothed) to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her,
 24 then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor’s wife. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you.
 (Deu 22:23-24 NAS)

It doesn’t matter whether God got Mary pregnant by a sex act (as Mormons believe) or without a sex act, the fact remains that He chose to get Mary pregnant while she was engaged to somebody else.

You will say that God is not bound by his own Law, but the Law is supposed to be a manifestation of God’s own righteousness and perfection, so that where God himself violates it, this is just as significant as the human being who violates their own moral code.  In both cases, hypocrisy is a manifestation of imperfection.

And if the idea of God being free to violate his own law be pushed to its logical conclusion, we would have to allow that God is free to assume the form of a man, then rape a little child to death in front of us and then seriously expect us to do nothing since he is not bound by his own law.  No Christian would just sit and watch, frozen up solely because “God is sovereign”, so it would appear that binding God to his own law is best since it creates less trouble than saying he is free to violate it. 
(I argue elsewhere that the bible approves of sex within adult-child marriages).

And in that case, God’s making Mary pregnant constitutes “adultery”, and God cannot escape the charge since he is not free to violate his own law.  Somebody may say that God’s violating his own law is pointless since we cannot do anything about it, but on the contrary, we can note the hypocrisy, correctly classify it as a sign of imperfection, and thus dispense with the “classical theism” view that God is omni-everything.  This would handicap the average apologist who uses classical theism presuppositions to argue her points.

Christian theology says abortion is a blessing

Most Christians say God does not approve of abortion.

But they also say that the children who are aborted, go directly to heaven.

But what could be a greater blessing, than protecting a child from the eternal dangers lurking in “freewill” that arise around the time of the age of accountability?  You will say it is God’s purpose that we allow pregnancies to come full term and that the born child grow up.  But that is highly debatable, as God takes personal responsibility for all cases of murder: ” It is I who put to death and give life.” Deu 32:39 NAS.  So it is certain that when a child is aborted, this was the will of God.  God could not take responsibility for all murder, if he did not will all murder.  Why is God taking responsibility for a murder, if he did not will for that murder to happen?  Doesn’t that put God on the level of a lonely psycho who falsely confesses to a crime he didn’t do?

For those reasons, you cannot condemn abortion on the ground that God wills for all pregnancies to come to full term.  God is sovereign, you actually have no idea what his purpose might be for any certain baby.  God himself directly killed the baby born to David and Bathsheba:

 15 So Nathan went to his house. Then the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s widow bore to David, so that he was very sick.
 16 David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground.
 17 And the elders of his household stood beside him in order to raise him up from the ground, but he was unwilling and would not eat food with them.
 18 Then it happened on the seventh day that the child died. (2Sa 12:15-18 NAS)

God ordered his followers to slay babies and children:

 2 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt.
 3 ‘Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'” (1Sa 15:2-3 NAS)

Slaying children among war captives was normal:

 15 And Moses said to them, “Have you spared all the women?
 16 “Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the LORD.
 17 “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. (Num 31:15-17 NAS)

God causes misccariages, and wills that some babies lose access to breastmilk:

 14 Give them, O LORD– what wilt Thou give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. (Hos 9:14 NAS)

God wills for pregnant women living among people who have disobyed God, to be “ripped up”:

 16 Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.

(Hos 13:16 KJV)

If the Psalms are inspired, then God approves of his followers taking the children of their captors and beating them against rocks:

 8 O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, How blessed will be the one who repays you With the recompense with which you have repaid us.
 9 How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones Against the rock. (Psa 137:8-9 NAS)

You will say God alone has the right to decide when to take a life, but that is unbiblical:  The bible does not often portray God directly causing human death.  It usually has God using other human beings to cause human death.   Therefore just because somebody is murdering another person does not automatically prove the act was against God’s will.

So when you see a pregnant woman going to an abortion clinic, you cannot exclude the possibility that God has willed for that particular “child” to die that way.  For these reasons, it is unforgivably naive for you to say that abortion is against God’s will merely because it counts as murder.  You have to show that God does not will for any child to be murdered, and in light of passages that say it was God’s will that babies and children be murdered (1st Samuel 15:2-3) and God’s own acceptance of responsibility for all murders that ever happen (Deuteronomy 32:39), you won’t be showing that anytime soon.

Since the “murder!” objection has been shot out of the sky, you have no more basis to condemn abortion, and your belief that aborted babies go directly to heaven insures that abortion is the greatest gift any sinner could give a child.  If God wants the child to grow up and thus take the huge risk of going to hell that freewill entails, when in fact there is a way that he can make sure kids go to heaven and completely bypass the dangers of freewill, then God is sort of like an asshole friend, who is willing to take extreme chances as long as it only puts other people at risk and not himself.

My advice is that you sacrifice your “God wuvs me” garbage and take a more biblically justified view, namely, that the salvation of the sinner should be humanity’s highest goal.