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The Case Against Miracles Review

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  • The Case Against Miracles Review

    Chapter One

    Link

    ------

    What do I think of David Corner’s chapter? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

    David Corner has the first chapter in John Loftus’s book on Miracles and the challenge of the apologist. Why is it that an apologist would have a hard time with miracles? Reading through, I didn’t really find anything that I found remotely convincing in Corner. It looked like more just pointing back to Hume over and over.

    Also noteworthy is I remember no mention of Keener’s work in the chapter. If a miracle has taken place, then the challenge of Corner is taken care of. Corner could try to just say “Well, it’s some natural thing we don’t understand yet.” Feel free to think that, but most of us will be unconvinced.

    Early on, Corner starts with defining a miracle. He cites both Augustine and Aquinas, but then goes to Hume. This to me sounds like going to Ken Ham when you want to learn about evolution. Even if you disagree with Augustine and Aquinas, why not go with them because then you know you’re going with someone who represents your opponents’ side? I think we know why. Still, let’s see what he says about Hume.

    In his Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding,[ 30] David Hume offered two definitions of “miracle;” first, as a violation of natural law;[ 31] shortly afterward he offers a more complex definition when he says a miracle is “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent.”[ 32] This second definition offers two important criteria that an event must satisfy in order to qualify as a miracle: It must be a violation of natural law, but this by itself is not enough; a miracle must also be an expression of the divine will. This means that a miracle must express divine agency; if we have no reason to think that an event is something done by God, we will have no reason to call it a miracle.
    I do think the idea of being connected to God at the end a good point to have. Suppose we have a case where someone is in a state such as a comatose state and has no response whatsoever and there are people gathered in prayer. Just as they are done praying, the person wakes up. Are they justified in believing in a miracle? Yes.

    The problem also is Corner spends a lot of time addressing supernaturalism, but he never talks about what it is really. He says this about the idea of nature:

    Those who would defend supernaturalism sometimes do this through a commitment to an ontology of entities that exist in some sense outside of nature, where by “nature” is meant the totality of things that can be known by means of observation and experiment, or more generally, through the methods proper to the natural sciences.

    But what is meant by observation and experiment? I know 2 + 2 = 4 by observation. I don’t have to do experiments to find that out. At times throughout the day, I can look out my office window here and see cats. There are many different cats, but I get the idea of cat out of all of them and learn what a cat is despite differences in size, color, etc. The same could be said for dogs.

    I can reason to other things like triangularity or goodness from there. I can also reason to God. I don’t do an experiment. I just follow rules of deductive reasoning to get to my conclusion. What I wonder though is by Corner’s definition if the nature of cats, triangularity, goodness, etc. would be part of nature or not. Evolution might explain how cats came about. It doesn’t explain how the universal nature of cats exists.

    He also contends methodological naturalism tells us that observation and experiment can tell us all that we need to know. I disagree with this definition of it. What I see it as being is that when a scientist does his work in the lab, he assumes that there are no external agents interfering without cause.

    The first hurdle Corner deals with is testimony. Can testimony evidence a miracle? The problem is Corner presents a number of ways testimony can go wrong, and it can. He never says how it can go right. What are the grounds by which a miracle could be said to have a reliable source? If he cannot give any, then is he not begging the question to say it can never overcome?

    That would make sense since that is what Hume said. The best Corner can say is it will give us the suspension of judgment, but if you approach every testimony to a miracle with “Either false or suspend judgment” then you will never conclude a miracle has happened. Why? Because you know a miracle has never happened. This gets us into begging the question. More will be said on that later.

    He also does cite Earman, but there’s not much engagement. Earman points out that Hume’s argument would work against marvels being believed and would thus be a science stopper if followed through. Earman says this as an agnostic. One point made is that Earman says we could have a large number of witnesses. Corner replies that we have no way of accessing their credibility as witnesses so we shouldn’t trust them.

    But again, this just gets us to begging the question. The account cannot possibly be accepted as true. Corner gives us no grounds and even if true, it is insisted that it would have to have a natural cause. Corner has things stacked in his favor here. No matter what, it has to be a natural event because, well, reasons.

    When asked about begging the question, Corner says we can’t assume the “supernatural” worldview is correct and says an apologist arguing for a miracle is. Yet at the same time, Corner thinks it’s just fine to assume the naturalistic worldview is correct. An apologist arguing for a miracle does not have to assume a supernatural worldview. He can present this as evidence for God and the person responding can decide if the evidence is reliable or not. You don’t have to accept God’s existence to think there could be good evidence for a miracle.

    Corner later goes so far as to say that we usually say that either an event has a natural cause or a supernatural cause. He argues maybe it had no cause at all. He would have someone who would challenge that. Namely, David Hume, or is this the point where we drop Hume?

    “But allow me to tell you that I never asserted so absurd a Proposition as that that anything might arise without a cause: I only maintain’d, that our Certainty of the Falsehood of that Proposition proceeded neither from Intuition nor Demonstration; but from another Source.” (David Hume to John Stewart, February 1754, in The Letters of David Hume, 2 vols, ed. J. Y. T Greig[Oxford:Clarendon Press, 1932], I:187)

    And once again I am reminded how far skeptics like Corner will go to to defend their position. It strikes me as a position of believing anything else before believing a miracle. Nature can just go through spontaneous lapses sometimes in uniformity, but yet this would destroy science itself. Would Corner sacrifice science to avoid a miracle? Possibly.

    Corner also asks how a God could do a miracle. He says:

    All of the cases of causal interaction of which we are aware occur between physical entities that are fundamentally similar to one another in terms of possessing physical properties such as mass, electrical charge, location in space, etc. Thus, we know for example how one billiard ball may move another by virtue of the transfer of momentum. But God, as normally conceived by theistic religion, possesses none of these qualities, and cannot therefore interact with physical objects in any way that we can understand. God cannot, for example, transfer momentum to a physical object if God does not possess mass.
    Yet this is again begging the question. What if I believe that I have an immaterial aspect to me and that that aspect of me interacts with my body? Then I have firsthand evidence in my case that immaterial forces can do that. Do I know how? No. Not at all. I don’t know how I fall asleep at night either, but I seem to do it every night.

    Even if all that we had indicated physical changes are caused by physical objects, that does not demonstrate immaterial objects can’t do the same thing. Corner needs to demonstrate this and he hasn’t done so. Furthermore, if I have theistic arguments and I am convinced they work, then I have a priori evidence that this does happen.

    He also says the problem of miracles is they lack predictive power, but why should this be a problem? If I am dealing with a free-will agent, why should I think they will always follow rules like that? My wife will appreciate something from me at one time and the next time not appreciate it. Some days I might enjoy a game and some days I might not. Free-will agents don’t act according to natural laws like that.

    He also asks about miracles that do have natural causes, but this is not a problem. Suppose the Israelites cross the Jordan and we are told that regularly the waters stop so people can walk through. The miracle is not that they stopped, but when they stopped, in direct response to prayer.

    In conclusion, I really don’t see anything convincing in Corner’s argument, at least for his position. If anything, it makes me more aware of the hurdles skeptics go to to avoid miracles. It’s easier to believe in things even Hume called absurd apparently than to be open to a miracle at all.

    In Christ,
    Nick Peters

  • #2
    Chapter Two

    Link

    -----

    What do I think of Matthew McCormick’s article? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

    The only work of Matthew McCormick I had ever previously reviewed here was his work “Atheism and the Case Against Christ.” The great delight of that was getting to catch him in a major gaffe. This one was about the fake god Jar’Edo Wens.

    Now after reading this chapter, I am even more sure of the kind of researcher McCormick is. His whole chapter is about God would not perform miracles. Nowhere in this chapter did I see interaction with people like Alvin Plantinga or Craig Keener or anyone like that. Plantinga would have been an important one since McCormick’s whole article is really the problem from evil and saying “Well, if God wanted to do a miracle of healing, He would heal everyone wouldn’t He?”

    It’s really amazing that McCormick’s whole argument is all about what an omniscient and omnipotent and omnibenevolent being would do, because, you know, McCormick certainly has a lot of experience with beings like that to make proper judgments. I went through this whole chapter wondering “How do you know that?” It certainly doesn’t make any sense to me to say, “If I was this being, I would do that.” It’s like it’s never considered that maybe if you were omniscient you would know some things that you don’t know now.

    McCormick says

    Even if a full-blown violation of the laws of nature occurs, we have compelling reasons to reject the hypothesis that the all-powerful, omniscient creator of the universe was responsible for it. A being of infinite power and knowledge wouldn’t act by means of miracles.
    Well, this is quite a claim. Let’s see how good he does at backing it. At least on one level, McCormick puts forward the appearance of being open. As he says later in his essay:

    It would be a mistake, I believe, to rule such a claim out a priori or virtually so with Hume’s global standards. Surely the all-powerful creator of all of reality would have sufficient power at its disposal to generate evidence that would be compelling; and I’d rather be prepared to revise all of my beliefs and the convictions I attach to them proportionally to the evidence.
    As we go through, McCormick says

    The Christian God is, by all accounts, an omni-god. He is the all-powerful, all-knowing, singular, personal and infinitely good creator of the universe. Jesus is alleged to have been his son, who was divine, but he was also a man, by Christian doctrine. The extent to which he was a man and lacked the status of a fully omni-being is a point of some controversy, even between believers.
    Not among believers. Maybe between believers and heretics, but believers have always included in our creedal statements that Jesus is fully God and fully man. This is yet another point that makes me doubt McCormick really understands the Christianity he criticizes.

    He also says that walking on water would require less power than stopping fusion reactions in stars. Sure, but also pointless. After all, God has infinite power so it’s not like He has a storehouse He has to reach into and then recharge. I wonder why McCormick keeps bringing up things like this.

    He also says some statements about what a being who is omnipotent could do. One is reverse time, but even this one is debated. Aquinas said that God could not change the past and yet Aquinas never once questioned that God is omnipotent.

    McCormick argues that for some miracles, a being would not have to be omnipotent. This is true, but I don’t know of academic philosophers arguing that God is omnipotent on purely miraculous grounds alone. There is always some metaphysics involved.

    This is part of the problem for McCormick. He never looks at arguments for theism. If theism is true, and this can be demonstrated by the Thomistic arguments I believe that are inductive, and then we have evidence of miracles taking place, such as from Keener, then it’s reasonable to conclude miracles are the work of the omnibeing that has been shown to exist. McCormick wants to go after miracles still more so he says later that

    The problem is that at any given moment on the planet, now and when these miracles are alleged to have happened, there are millions or even billions of other people who are not being cured, healed, or benefitted by a miracle. A miracle that we attribute to an infinitely good God is problematic because of what it omits; it is alleged that it indicates that God is there, and under some circumstances, he will intervene in the course of nature to achieve some good end. But there are all of these other cases, many of which appear to be perfectly parallel, or even more desperately in need of divine intervention, yet none occurs. While Jesus turns water into wine at one party, thousands or millions of other parties go dry. Even worse, millions of people suffer horribly from disease, famine, cruelty, torture, genocide, and death. The occurrence of a finite miracle, in the midst of so many instances of unabated suffering, suggests that the being who is responsible doesn’t know about, doesn’t care about, or doesn’t have the power to address the others. If a doctor travels to a village with enough polio vaccine to inoculate 1,000 children, but only gives it to ten of them, and withholds it from the rest, and then watches the rest get sick, be crippled, or die, we would conclude that doctor was a monster, not a saint. That doctor had the power, the knowledge, the wherewithal to alleviate more suffering, but did not. That doctor must be lacking in some regard.
    The problem is McCormick is making this argument so he has to back it. His argument is there is no good reason for God to not heal everyone else if He heals one. Okay. Maybe there isn’t, but He needs to convince me of it. It’s not just enough to assert it.

    Let’s go with the doctor example he gives of the doctor with a polio vaccine. Let’s suppose he knew that one child he would give the vaccine to somehow would grow up and become a dictator in that country and murder most of the population. He chooses to withhold the vaccine. We could debate if that was right or wrong, but we can all understand why he did it.

    He goes on to cite Christine Overall asking why Jesus is turning water into wine at a party when He could have been healing lepers. McCormick also says if God can heal everyone, why hasn’t He done so already? Why not yesterday?

    The water into wine was done because Jesus was invited to the party and He wasn’t trying to make the party go longer, but rather to help the host of the party avoid shame. It was a good act to do to help out. As for why not heal, McCormick wants God to be a Johnny on the Spot fixing all of our problems. Is that really God’s goal? What if God has something far greater and nobler in mind than making sure we all have perfect lives here on Earth?

    McCormick also cites William Rowe about situations in the inductive problem of evil. Note that I am sure Rowe would reject the argument McCormick puts forward as McCormick seems to be going with just the logical problem of evil. Now saying evil exists is no longer enough to refute theism as the majority of atheist philosophers on the subject concede. So what does Rowe say about certain instances of evil?

    William Rowe has called these, “instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.”
    So again I have the same question. How does he know? How does he know that this evil could have been stopped without losing a greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse? How could this possibly be established? Note that the atheist has the burden of proof. They are making the claim that needs to be backed.

    McCormick later says:

    If God has the goal of instilling belief, inspiring faith, fortifying resolve, discouraging misbehavior, or enforcing commandments, it takes very little imagination to conceive of more direct, effective, and sustained means of achieving those ends.
    Notice it’s “If God has the goal.” We wait to hear how McCormick has discovered the goals of the Almighty, but that is not coming. He goes on to cite Ted Drange saying:

    if these were God’s goals, then it would have been a simple matter to directly implant belief into all people’s minds, or perform more spectacular miracles that would convince more people. What would be more personal than if Jesus had reappeared to everyone, not just a handful of easily discredited zealots? Millions of angels, disguised as humans, could have spread out and preach the word behind the scenes. Or God could have protected the Bible from defects in writing, copying, and translation.
    If those were the goals. What if they’re not? After all, Biblically, it’s been when miracles have been at a high that faith has often been at a low. Jesus was doing miracles and got crucified. The Israelites in the wilderness got several miracles and still rebelled. Maybe God’s goal is not just getting people to know He exists. Maybe He wants people to really seek Him on their own and want Him on their own. Maybe He doesn’t want to compel, but simply to woo. Of course, McCormick’s essay would not be complete without a version of Ancient People Were Stupid:

    Consider the problem this way. For all of the alleged miracles in history, facsimiles that are undetectable to anyone but an expert can be performed naturally by even mediocre magicians and illusionists. David Copperfield makes the Statue of Liberty disappear on television. Penn and Teller catch bullets in their teeth. A Las Vegas magician appears to walk on water in a swimming pool and float in the air over the Luxor hotel. Imagine the social and religious impact these ingenious illusionists could have had amongst the superstitious, poor, and uneducated masses of New Testament Palestine. Religious leaders such as Billy Graham, Peter Popoff, Robert Tilton, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell use cruder and more transparent trickery and deception to win the hearts of millions of people and acquire vast wealth from more educated, modern people.
    To begin with, I don’t know anyone who would think that Billy Graham was out there trying to get vast wealth from people. However, does McCormick not realize ancient people knew some basic facts? They built ships because they knew people don’t walk on water. They made wine because they knew it didn’t just happen. They grew food because they knew food doesn’t multiply. They knew blind eyes don’t suddenly open and paralytics don’t get up and walk and dead people stay dead. This was not news to them. If we want to talk about things modern people fall for that is unbelievable, it’s that they still fall for this line of reasoning McCormick gives.

    In conclusion, I am once again seeing why it is that McCormick could fall for something like Jar’Edo Wens. He really just thinks he’s asking astute questions, but he’s not. There is no interaction with any number of Christian experts on the problem of evil whatsoever. There are just blanket assertions. Anyone can raise questions. It’s a shame he doesn’t try to find answers.

    In Christ,
    Nick Peters

    Comment


    • #3
      Now John Loftus himself has something to say

      Link

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      What do I think of John Loftus’s chapter? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

      Well, I was wrong. I thought I had got to the chapter last time that was the worst. I thought nothing could top Matthew McCormick’s chapter. Sadly, I spoke too soon. John Loftus had a chapter next on defending ECREE.

      If you don’t know, that means Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence. The problem with this is first off, what is an extraordinary claim varies from person to person. I consider it an extraordinary claim that God doesn’t exist. Someone might consider macroevolution an extraordinary claim. Another would consider Intelligent Design an extraordinary claim. Some might consider Muhammad being a false prophet an extraordinary claim. Some might consider reincarnation being false an extraordinary claim.

      Who decides the standard?

      Second, how do you recognize extraordinary evidence? Does it glow in the dark? What does it really look like? The terms are way too vague.

      Also, this whole chapter seems at times loaded with any atheist canard that Loftus can put in there. This especially goes after New Testament ideas. It would have been better for Loftus to just stick to his argument, which is essentially just repeating Hume ad nauseum.

      In defining his terms, Loftus says that

      Third, a miraculous claim is one made about miraculous events that are unexplainable and even impossible by natural processes alone, which requires miraculous levels of testimonial evidence.
      Is this not begging the question? It requires miraculous evidence? Who says? Suppose I pray for someone blind to have their eyes opened and as I pray in Jesus’s name for their healing, their eyes open and they see. Am I justified in believing in a miracle? Why not?

      He also talks about the way believers treat Hume.

      They continue to believe in their sect-specific miracles despite his standards. But they duplicitously use his standards when assessing the miracles of the religions they reject.
      Well, no. Not all of us. I have no problem with miracles occurring in other religions. I am fine with Muslims having prayers answered or anything like that. Maybe God is giving them a dose of grace to lead them to Him. Maybe some miracles are demonic in nature. If you talk about visions of Mary appearing, I am open, and even if I don’t know what is going on, I do not rule it out. I also do investigate those in my own tradition, much like I investigate political claims in my own political walk. Many of you know my father-in-law is a New Testament scholar and when possible, I try to verify him as well.

      Now some claims I do think are quite false for evidential reasons. I don’t think many of the claims of Mormonism are likely to be true, but could miracles happen there, if perhaps even by demonic powers? Why not? I don’t rule it out.

      Loftus interacts with a critic who argues it is self-defeating to use ECREE since the principle itself doesn’t have extraordinary evidence. Loftus has a threefold response. I will deal with what I deem relevant. First

      My response is threefold. First, since all claims about the objective world require sufficient corroborating objective evidence commensurate with the nature of the claim, it’s clear that extraordinary types of extraordinary claims require more than mere ordinary testimonial evidence.
      But this is just him stating his principle again to which one just has to ask, “Why?” All he has done is taken ECREE and restated it as if that counts as a response. Why should it?

      Second, such an objection entails there must be exceptions to the ECREE principle.
      Or it could just entail that ECREE is false.

      And then we get into the usual arguments.

      But what we find exclusively on behalf of miracles in the Bible is human testimony, ancient pre-scientific superstitious human testimony, second- third- fourth-handed human testimony, conflicting human testimony filtered by editors, redactors, and shaped by early Christian debates for decades and/ or centuries in the ancient pre-scientific world, where miracle claims were abundant without the means to discredit them.
      Where does someone begin with a train wreck like this? First off, pre-scientific? Granted they didn’t do science like we do, but they had rudimentary knowledge. They knew dead people stay dead. They knew people don’t walk on water. They knew virgins don’t give birth. They knew paralysis and blindness don’t just get healed without a reason. They are called miracles for a reason.

      Also, not all of this testimony is second or thirdhand. Consider 2 Corinthians 12:12.

      I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles.
      Here Paul is saying that he did miracles in the midst of a testimony to a church that is questioning Paul’s apostleship. Note that also no one disputes that Paul wrote this. If Paul is making a claim like this, he’d better be sure that even his opponents know it.

      Finally, miracles back then could be evaluated and they were often scoffed at. Lucian is a prime example. If people just believed miracle claims blindly, then why did the whole world not immediate turn to Christianity? Loftus himself will have something in his book about most Jews rejecting Jesus at His time. Why, if miracles were blindly believed?

      Next he looks at the virgin birth, which I do affirm.

      Let’s take at face value the extraordinary miraculous tale that a virgin named Mary gave birth to the god/ baby Jesus. There’s no objective evidence to corroborate her story. None. We hear nothing about her wearing a misogynistic chastity belt to prove her virginity. No one checked for an intact hymen before she gave birth. Nor did she provide her bloodstained wedding garment from the night of her wedding that supposedly “proved” she was a virgin before giving birth (Deuteronomy 22: 15– 21). After Jesus was born Maury Povich wasn’t there with a DNA test to verify Joseph was not the baby daddy. We don’t even have first-hand testimonial evidence for it, since the story is related to us by others, not Mary, or Joseph. At best, all we have is the second-hand testimony of one person, Mary, or two if we include Joseph who was incredulously convinced Mary was a virgin because of a dream, yes, a dream (see Matthew 1: 19– 24), one that solved his dilemma of whether to “dismiss her quietly” or “disgrace” her publicly, which would have led her to be executed for dishonoring him.[ 97] We never get to independently cross-examine them, along with the people who knew them, which we would want to do, since they may have a very good reason for lying (pregnancy out of wedlock?).
      The reason why we believe the stories here is because we believe in the resurrection of Jesus and believe He’s fully God and fully man and lo and behold, a miraculous birth seems consistent. Some other points to consider are Mary would hardly be able to implicate YHWH immediately. A story of rape or just a one-night stand would be shameful but more readily believed. Second, the writers would not want something that could seem remotely close to paganism, and yet critics would use this. Third, it would confess that Jesus was not the biological son of Joseph which would bring shame to Him. Fourth, while Loftus dismisses a dream, we do not know all the content of this dream. We just know it was convincing and why couldn’t God speak in a dream?

      He also says the Gospels were anonymous, which simply means the names weren’t included in the manuscript itself, much like the majority of other ancient works from that time. It’s not the case that no one knew who wrote it. A Gospel did not just show up at the door of a church one day and no one knew who wrote it. A person delivering it would know or somewhere on there it could say who wrote it. Any New Testament survey could give you reasons why a traditional authorship can be believed.

      No reasonable investigation could take Mary and/ or Joseph’s word for it.
      Because? I mean, if Luke or Matthew is already convinced of the deity of Christ and His being the Messiah and His rising from the dead and doing other miracles, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to believe in these miracles. Perhaps they also spoke to the wise men and/or shepherds. We don’t know. We know Luke was a thorough researcher though, particularly in Acts.

      For if this is the kind of research that went into writing the gospels, we shouldn’t believe anything else they say without requiring corroborating objective evidence. But if research was unnecessary for writing their gospels— because they were divinely inspired—why do gospel writers give us the pretense of having researched into it (see Luke 1: 1– 4)? Why not simply say their stories are true due to divine inspiration and be done with the pretense? Then the gospel authors would be admitting their tales lack the required corroborating objective evidence, which in turn means there isn’t a good reason to believe them.
      So Loftus says “They did research that ends in miracles and we know that didn’t happen.” How? This is begging the question. Then because these are divinely inspired, then why do research? Loftus brought up inspiration. Not I. Inspiration is a detail that doesn’t really matter. If it’s true, it’s true whether inspired or not. Even if God is inspiring the work, why can it not be done through the means of research? Thus, Loftus has it that if they go and do their research, we can’t believe them because research would never admit a miracle. If they don’t do research, we still can’t believe them.

      He then goes on to quote Robert Fogelin.

      Hume nowhere argues, either explicitly or implicitly, that we know that all reports of miracles are false because we know that all reports of miracles are false… Hume begins with a claim about testimony. On the one side we have wide and unproblematic testimony to the effect that when people step into the water they do not remain on its surface. On the other side we have isolated reports of people walking across the surface of the water. Given the testimony of the first kind, how are we to evaluate the testimony or of the second sort? The testimony of the first sort does not show that the testimony of the second sort is false; it does, however, create a strong presumption— unless countered, a decisively strong presumption— in favor of its falsehood. That is Hume’s argument, and there is nothing circular or question begging about it.
      So it is. How do we evaluate it? Well, off the top of my head I would say we examine the claimants and see what evidence they give and see what the environment is and what the claim entails and then decide if it happened or not. It’s noteworthy in all of this chapter I didn’t see Keener referenced once. You know, the guy who went out and did just that with the evidence. I also don’t see Candy Gunther Brown referenced. Not a shock.

      In my previous anthology, Christianity is the Light of Science,
      I have to say I was delirious with laughter when I read this. Now, I know we could say it’s just a typo, of which is the first chapter I read with such typos, but I don’t know if we can. I mean, this is the great John Loftus we’re talking about. He studied under William Lane Craig. Surely he would not make a mistake like this. Well, I guess he wants us to know that Christianity is the light of modern science. Excellent!

      One idea he says about archaeology disconfirming the Bible is first off, the Exodus. The problem here is that there are some who have questioned this, such as Hoffmeier in his books. Second, such used to be said about David as well. Used to be. Now we have found David in archaeology.

      The next is Nazareth being a town during the life of Jesus. Bart Ehrman doesn’t even think this one has validity. See here for details.

      Loftus then goes on to mention atheists who have argued against Hume’s argument.

      Graham Oppy, who has been every fundamentalist apologist’s friend for taking their beliefs seriously, strangely says “Hume’s argument against belief in miracle reports fails no less surely than do the various arguments from miracle reports to the existence of an orthodoxy conceived monotheistic god.” Surely he doesn’t really mean that? Does he?
      Oh please say it isn’t so! Say that Oppy really doesn’t mean it! Surely he would know better! If Loftus’s argument is reduced to “Surely he doesn’t really mean that does he?”, then we have the case of a child just crying wanting it to be otherwise. This does not count as an argument against Oppy. Perhaps we could say it’s “cognitive dissonance.”

      He also argues against Mike Licona who says that much of what we know about the past comes from one source and rarely beyond all suspicion. Loftus says

      So if historical evidence about ordinary claims in the past has such a poor quality to it, as Licona admits, then how much more does historical evidence of extraordinary miracle claims in the past? If the first is the case, then the second is magnified by thousands.
      But Licona didn’t say they have poor quality. He said there’s sometimes one source and just because it is disputed doesn’t mean the evidence is poor. That vaccines don’t cause autism is disputed. That 9/11 wasn’t an inside job is disputed. That heliocentrism is true or the Earth is round is disputed.

      Loftus also begs the question again about his standard for miracles. If I question his standard before, why should I accept it now?

      Finally, Hume argues that competing religions support their beliefs by claims of miracles; thus, these claims and their religious systems cancel each other out.
      I can only surmise that Hume didn’t know much about miracles and religions. Let’s consider Judaism first. The grand miracle of that would be the Exodus. Christians have no problem with that and I doubt Muslims would as well. Jews would reject Christianity’s grand claim of the resurrection as does Islam. Islam itself has no founding miracle except the Qur’an itself. Hinduism and Buddhism have no founding miracles.

      If we go further, Mormonism depends on Christian truth to some extent such that if there was no resurrection, Mormonism would likely fall as well. I can also question Mormonism on other grounds, like the Book of Abraham. So I have to ask what Hume was getting at.

      Furthermore, all this proves is not all religions would be true, which we would accept. Some would be false. Would it work to say some theories on the origin of life contradict, so they all must be false? Of course not.

      If miracles are the foundation for a religion, then an apologist for that religion cannot bring up a miracle working god to establish his supposed miracles. For miracles are supposed to be the basis for the religion and its miracle working god.
      And later

      Apologists might start by first arguing for their god’s existence, but very few of them say, “Here is the objective evidence that our god exists.” They always seem to talk in terms of “presenting an argument” rather than “presenting the evidence,” which is very telling. So, an unevidenced god will not help an unevidenced miracle, just as an unevidenced miracle will not help an unevidenced god. The only thing apologists can do is special plead to their god and his religion by assuming what needs to be proved.
      Loftus doesn’t realize apparently that an argument is evidence, which he should since all he has been giving in this chapter is an argument. I find that very telling. Second, there is nothing inconsistent. This is the classical approach. One uses arguments, like the Thomistic ones, to show that there is a God and some qualities He must have. At this point, belief systems like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are still in the running. Then one looks at the different religious claims to see how that God might have revealed Himself.

      One could also start the other way though. One could look at the evidence for the resurrection and be convinced it happened and say “There must be a God then!” That’s not inconsistent at all. Loftus knows if Jesus rose, it would be the Christian God. As he says,

      At this point they’re already assuming their Christian god exists and is the one who raised Jesus from the dead, for if the hypothesis was that “Allah raised Jesus from the dead,” we already know the answer— of course not! Nor would it be the Hindu god, any of the pantheistic gods and/ or goddesses, a deistic god, or even the Jewish god, since overwhelming numbers of Jews don’t believe in the Christian god.
      But it’s not being assumed. A case is made that a God exists that is consistent with the Christian God, but it does not necessitate the Christian God. That is an important fact to remember.

      Finally, he gets to what he calls private miracles

      There are two of them. One) Christians claim the gospel writers received private subjective messages from the spirit world who subsequently wrote down these messages known as the divinely inspired Scriptures. On this see David Madison’s excellent chapter for a refutation. Two) Apologists also argue that Christians receive their own private subjective messages that lead them to trust the private subjective messages of the gospel writers.
      I’ll be fair and say I agree with some criticisms here. I tire of people constantly thinking God is talking to them or the Holy Spirit is giving them a secret message. Why do I trust the Scriptures? Not because of anything I feel. I trust them because the evidence for them is strong.

      So I conclude once again that if this is the best kind of argumentation Loftus has, our Christianity is in really good shape.

      In Christ,
      Nick Peters

      Comment


      • #4
        Chapter 4

        Link

        -----

        How do we access miracle claims? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

        This chapter is by someone named Darren Slade and involves asking how we access miracle claims. I found this chapter really to be a slow chapter. There was little if anything said about miracle claims themselves and much more said about how to access people for credibility.

        That’s fine, but at the end of the day, it made it look like someone has to jump through 1,000 hoops before we will take them seriously on a miracle claim. At the same time, it is claimed that it is not hyperskepticism. Excuse me if I’m skeptical of the idea that this is not hyperskepticism.

        Keener was treated as someone who is naive and believes too easily. I saw nothing like that in my reading of Keener. Nothing was also said of the times that Keener provided medical documentation of some miracles in his book. To be fair, the next chapter deals with this more, but it would have been good to have seen something.

        There is material on how eyewitness testimonies are routinely inaccurate. This is something that really boggles my mind when I see it. When we are told about the New Testament, we are told that it is late and thus not by eyewitnesses. When we can show it was by eyewitnesses, then the claim becomes you can’t trust eyewitness testimony anyway. Heads, I lose. Tails, you Win.

        Slade also says that a theistic worldview should not play a determining role in evaluating the evidence. If you want to do that, then neither should an atheist or agnostic worldview. Making claims of miracles jump through 1,000 hoops is doing just that.

        He also says because someone has a history of truth telling. For some reason, he leaps into straight the opposite and uses Joseph Smith as an example. Joseph Smith is certainly a candidate for being a witness that is not credible. I still do not understand the sudden shift, however.

        Slade also says something about the Innocence Project has exonerated 361 people and 2/3 were convicted on faulty eyewitness testimony. That sounds impressive, but I want to know the other side. How many people have had the eyewitness testimony stand up? How many times has it been accurate?

        The problem with many of these tests for memory and credibility is that they are often designed to make the person slip up in their memory and use tests to bring out fallibility. It’s a way of stacking the deck. People are often looking for the way memory errors instead of the ways it is reliable.

        In the end, I remain unconvinced. I just saw someone being forced to jump through 1,000 hoops as I have said. While several things could be said about Keener, it’s hard to say he’s not thorough. This guy writes and researches so much he probably wrote another book while I wrote this blog.

        We will continue later.

        In Christ,
        Nick Peters

        Comment

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