Wednesday, January 18, 2006

It is a Miracle

Can theists be as skeptical of their own religion’s miracles as they are of their own?
Mention a Catholic miracle to a Protestant, and most times the Protestant need not hear any more on the tale. They already know it is not a “true” miracle. Say ("Medjogorje" ) to most Protestants, and they would not have a clue what you are talking about. Start to explain it is a sighting of the Virgin Mary, and you might as well save your breath.

They won’t research it. They won’t attempt to refute it; they won’t even bother reading the entire story. It has been labeled, “false miracle,” and immediately placed into the wastebasket as a fruitless endeavor to gain any more knowledge of the affair.

But if I was to do the same with a talking donkey, I am considered “close-minded, pre-disposed to not believing in miracles, too skeptical.” What is the difference?

“The Muslims recount a (miracle) of……” Stop right there. Don’t bother completing the sentence. The Christian, at best desires to hear the rest only anticipating to be reduced to guffaws of laughter. But question how one can walk on water, the Christian obtains a somber tone.

“The Mormons tell of how the angle Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith….” And the Christian is prepared to smile in pity at the credulity of certain people. But talk of an Angel who will tell a female she will never been injected with sperm yet produce a child, and it becomes a serious contention of a doctrinal issue.

(And, of course, this goes both ways in various religions. It is certainly not exclusive to Christians.)

Miracles are always proven through testimonial evidence. How can I, as an outside observer, make the determination that the testimony of dead being raised back to life is a “true” miracle, and Mary’s face appearing in a grilled cheese sandwich, based on testimony, is not? (Yes, we have the actual sandwich, I know. But who says that is Mary’s face? THAT is the testimony part.)

Unverified, biased testimony is, frankly, some of the worst evidence there is.

Defendant’s Mom: My son couldn’t have committed the crime. He was home, with me, watching T.V. all night. He has an alibi—me.
Prosecutor: Did you two see anyone else that night?
Mom: No.
Pros: Did anyone call you and talk to your son on the phone?
Mom: No.
Pros: What did you watch?
Mom: I always watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.
Pros: Would your son say you watched the same shows?
Mom: He has a bad memory. He may not remember which shows we watched.
Pros: Does you son normally watch TV with you?
Mom: No.
Pros: How many times, in the past year, has he?
Mom: Well, this is the first time he ever has.
Pros: This has never happened before, has never happened again, is unique, and it happens at a convenient time, in favor of your proposition, and is unverified by any other person?
Mom: Yep.

Not surprisingly, most jurors show sympathy towards the Defendant’s mother, but reject her story outright.

Look at the time when Christianity recorded its miracles. It was times when miracles were considered to happen often. Appollonius of Tyana resurrected the dead, performed miracles and ascended to heaven. Even Eusebius did not question the reality of many of these miracles, but attributed them to demons. Peregrinus’ statute healed the sick and gave oracles. Josephus recounts miracles as historical events. Papias does as well.

“Jesus cured a friend of a guy I know from blindness!”
“Really? I know a guy that saw Simon fly about the city!”

All of this is pure testimonial evidence with no verification whatsoever. Over the years, societies have become more skeptical, and no longer do we simply accept testimonies. We don’t accept, “Believe it because I said so,” we want proof. In this day and age of newspapers, internet reporting, blogs, information-sharing, investigation, and scientific knowledge, simply hearing about it from a “friend of a friend” is not enough. (Yet there are exceptions to even that. Urban myths abound!)

And, not surprisingly, the incidents of “miracles” have decreased upon this skepticism. Now miracles are reduced to:

“Aunt Bessie was cured of cancer by a Miracle.”
“How?”
“In an examination it was discovered, surgery was performed, radical chemotherapy administered, and she is now cancer-free! They say only 20% survive this type of cancer.”
“So an event that happens 1 out of 5 times is considered a miracle? If I play slots, and win 1 out of 5 times, is that a miracle?”

Bottom line. Can we establish a methodology by which we can determine an event recounted by an individual is an actual miracle, as compared to other accounts which are not? If we can, how does the sole testimonial evidence of Christian miracles survive this methodology, whereas other miracles do not? If not, why should I believe testimony of one set of miracles over any other?

Without skeptical verification of a miracle, it should be ruled out.

(Thanks to http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/kooks.html for information.)

4 comments:

  1. Good points. Sam (ephthatha) wrote a series of blog entries last fall about miracles. You are right that people misuse the term 'miracle' and it should not apply to events that are extremely rare statistically. It must be reserved for an occurrence that is the result of supernatural intervention.

    Most Christians are and should be skeptical of modern day claims of miracles. A careful cataloguing of miracles documented in the Bible will show you that miracles are very rare (assuming a large majority, if not all, of them are documented there).
    So the careful Bible scholar agrees they are rare. Add to that the fact that most Christian theologians are cessationists and it only makes sense that we are skeptical of modern-day claims. You wouldn't say that's bad would you?

    As for the skepticism of the miracles of other religions...you've got a great point there. I need to be careful not to scoff at these other religions based on these types of claims...but rather apply logical and evidential reasoning to their claims before discounting them...Thanks for that admonition.

    So now we see that your argument proceeds like this:

    P1: everything not proven is false
    P2: miracles are not proven
    C: therefore all claims of miracles are false.

    Fallacious argumentation. However, if you'd like to change your argument to be like this:

    P1: everything not proven could be false
    P2: miracles are not proven
    C: therefore all claims of miracles might be false.

    Then I'd say you understand logical argumentation.

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  2. Most Christians are and should be skeptical of modern day claims of miracles. I agree. A careful cataloguing of miracles documented in the Bible… Whoa. Shouldn’t Christians be just as skeptical of the miracles catalogued in the Bible? What makes modern day miracles different than Historical ones? Why do those recorded in the Bible get special consideration?

    Jeff. I would probably say:

    P1: Everything not proven, at the moment must be considered as unproven and suspect, but in the future, upon new information, may become proven. Some things can never be proven. Some things are definitely proven as non-existent. Some things, while not proven, are very very possible as existent. Some things are so poorly proven, and so implausible, that we can safely say they do not exist.

    Simply put, your P1 was not complete enough for me. If I thought more, I would add more.

    What “proof” would you require to assert that a miracle happened? What, to you, is enough? Is just testimonial enough? Do you require exterior verification? Do you require skeptical verification?

    Jeff, never fear, I do not “understand” logical argumentation. I understand what sells and what does not. I understand what disinterested people buy and what they don’t. And what they DON’T buy is that Christian testimonials (the Bible) of miracles are true, but other’s testimonials are false.

    Jesus didn’t use logical argumentation (Mark 4:11-12). If he didn’t feel limited by it, why should you?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Dagoods, I don't have time to respond fully. I will give you credit for asking an important and valid question. ("Shouldn’t Christians be just as skeptical of the miracles catalogued in the Bible? What makes modern day miracles different than Historical ones? Why do those recorded in the Bible get special consideration?")

    As for your Biblical reference I don't see how it applies. You could have just as easily pulled out Mk 5:1 and said "Look, no logical argumentation!"
    I could pull out many versus that show logical argumentation in action.
    However, that being said you are free to present arguments that are persuasive even though not logically sound. sophistry

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