Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

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This is the title to a chapter I'm writing for my next anthology to be called, "The Case Against Miracles." William Lane Craig asserts that the "seemingly commonsensical slogan" above, as popularized by Carl Sagan and "beloved in the free thought subculture", is "false". [Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (p. 273)]. In online videos Craig says this slogan is "demonstrably false." When it comes to accepting a highly improbable event he argues we don't need "miraculous evidence" or "lots of evidence" or even "an enormous amount of evidence."

Craig offers an often repeated nauseating analogy based in winning the lottery. He says that by showing us the winning lottery ticket a friend can convince us she overcame the staggering odds by winning it. Hence, "the evidence for the winning pick is, indeed, extraordinary", says he, even though it's not a lot of evidence, or enormous amount of evidence or miraculous evidence. [Ibid.]


But wait just a minute! Craig's analogy is plainly false on three counts. Firstly, the odds that someone will eventually win a lottery over several drawings can be calculated, and eventually someone will win it. Given that so many people have won so many lotteries it's a somewhat ordinary claim about a somewhat ordinary experience requiring only somewhat ordinary evidence. How this is analogous to an extraordinary miraculous claim about an extraordinary miraculous experience requiring an extraordinary quality of evidence for it escapes me. Odds like winning the lottery are overcome every day. To see this just read David Hand's excellent book, The Improbability Principle, with a subtitle that says it all: "Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day."

Jesus the Magician Does it Again

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…and the disciples still don’t catch on


“Professor McGonagall raised her wand again and pointed it at Snape’s desk. A large plate of sandwiches, two silver goblets, and a jug of iced pumpkin juice appeared with a pop…when Harry and Ron had eaten as many sandwiches as they could (the plate kept refilling itself) they rose and left the office, treading the familiar path to Gryffindor Tower.” J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

“Then Jesus ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full… Now there were about four thousand people.” The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 8

In Defense of David Hume On Miracles, Part 2

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J.L. Mackie’s argument against miracles in defense of David Hume, to be found in the first chapter of his classic book The Miracle of Theism, is stated very well:

Dr. Gary Habermas Has "Highly Recommended" My Counter-Apologetics Book to His PhD Students

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Gary Habermas is an evidentialist, one who believes the evidence shows both that Jesus arose from the dead and that God exists. He's presently working on 5000 pages of text for his magnum opus containing "almost all new material on the resurrection". He also teaches at Liberty University in the School of Divinity. This semester he's teaching the PhD class APOL 910—Apologetic Methodology and he told me he has "highly recommended" my book, How to Defend the Christian Faith: Advice from an Atheist to his students. He requires his students to read 1000 pages for this class and my book is on the list of recommended books. Just saying!

Seven Problems With Biblical Miracles

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I can think of at least seven problems with believing in the biblical claims of miracles.

1) We live in a scientific era whereas the claims of biblical miracles come from a prescientific era. New Testament scholar Rudolph Bultmann just calls them “myths” and says:
“The cosmology of the N.T. is essentially mythical in character. The world is viewed as a three-storied structure, with the earth in the center, the heaven above, and the underworld beneath. Heaven is the abode of God and of celestial beings—angels. The underworld is hell, the place of torment. Man is not in control of his life. Evil spirits may take possession of him. Satan may inspire him with evil thoughts. It is simply the cosmology of a pre-scientific age. To modern man . . . the mythical view of the world is obsolete. It is no longer possible for anyone seriously to hold the N.T. view of the world. We no longer believe in the three-storied universe. No one who is old enough to think for himself supposes that God lives in a local heaven. There is no longer any heaven in the traditional sense. The same applies to hell in the sense of a mythical underworld beneath our feet. And if this is so . . . we can no longer look for the return of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven. It is impossible to use the electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the N.T. world of spirits and miracles. The same objections apply to the doctrine of the atonement. How can the guilt of one man be expiated by the death of another who is sinless?” [R. Bultmann, in Kerygma & Myth: A Theological Debate, ed. Hans Werner Bartsch (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), pp. 1–7.]
My claim is that in our world miracles like a virgin birth, resurrection, and an ascension into the sky do not happen. What world are YOU living in? If these type of miracles do not happen in our day then they never happened in first century Palestine either. And that's the end of it.

Jason Pratt made fun of me by saying this is a "category error":
Remember folks, if televisions and electric light switches didn't happen in first century Palestine, they couldn't happen in our day either. And that's the end of it.
But it's a category mistake to equate ordinary events with extraordinary ones. It's a category mistake to equate ontology (i.e., what actually happened) with epistemology (i.e., what we have reason to believe). And it's a category mistake to equate the results of science with the results of god-explanations which, to date so far, have always been wrong so the theist must continually move the goals posts as science solves the gaps of the past and uncovers new ones.

The Lack of Faith of the Average Christian

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Roger Olson, one of the theologians Lee Strobel interviewed in The Case for Miracles, laments the lack of faith he finds among the majority of his fellow believers. He correctly observes that in their everyday lives, they for the most part live as if God isn’t really there. Only when faced with something like a terminal illness do they turn to God. Even churches function much as secular institutions do: “Years ago, I noticed that churches were tending not to think biblically or theologically about the way they ran their operations…They’d ask, ‘Will this fit into our budget?’ regardless of any faith that more funding could come in.”

That average Christians don’t usually expect miracles, and that churches run their business based on realistic expectations rather than counting on supernatural intervention, is disturbing to Dr. Olson. Nevertheless, he believes he knows the reason why: “You see, there’s a certain unpredictability with the Holy Spirit, and we mainstream evangelicals have come to love predictability. We don’t want big surprises. We don’t want to open the door to something that will really shock us, because we can’t control it.” In other words, according to Olson, people behave as if God isn’t there because they don’t like the idea of something that is out of their control.

Is it any wonder why we think apologists are nuts!

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J.A. Cover, who teaches at Purdue University, provides yet another example where I say, "If he doesn't think so, why should I?" One would think God's own apologists would agree the evidence is there to believe. But he says otherwise:
The divine authority of Scripture seems to me not something that one could really establish at all. Some of us came to believe it at our parents’ knee. (But then, how’d they come to know it?) To accept the authority of Scripture on the authority of my parents will work all right as an explanation of why I do believe it, but hardly works as a justification of the belief itself (why I should believe it). My own view is that no amount of historical scholarship can establish the inspiration and authority of scripture.
He asks,
what sort of evidence could there be about God inspiring the Gospel writers (say) or the selection of the Canon that would underwrite belief in those?...My suspicion is that Plantinga is right: our warrant in believing the Bible to be the authoritative Word of God owes to the work of the Holy Spirit. Full stop, pretty much. [Note 15, page 370, in Reason for the Hope Within, ed. Michael J. Murray.]
Later Cover admits the evidence can't even convince a non-Christian theist, saying: “We oughtn’t expect too much from an apologetic of miracles: there’s no forcing a theist to be a Christian.” [Ibid., Note 16, page 374].

Cover's views agree with what Christian apologist Vincent Torley recently said:
I believed that a Christian could make a strong case for Jesus’ having been raised from the dead, on purely historical grounds...I would no longer espouse this view....Whether one chooses to continue believing it (as I do) or not, one is forced to accept... that belief in the Resurrection cannot be built on the foundation of historical data, for it is a foundation of sand. LINK
Is it any wonder why the rest of us think these people are nuts! [Sorry, no I'm not!]

Quote of the Day By Aron Lucas On Faith

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Aron Lucas commented on something in the Keith Parsons vs William Lane Craig Debate. David Marshall and other apologists tell us faith is trust based on evidence. But we know differently.
Around 2 hours a Christian questioner defines faith as belief without evidence. Craig is very frustrated in his response. He defines faith as trust based on evidence. This shows a real disconnect between how academic Christians define faith and how common people define faith. In his debate with Peter Boghossian, Timothy McGrew speculated that the overwhelming majority of Christians would reject the idea that faith is defined as belief without evidence. I think this shows that he’s out of touch with regular Christian folk. The questioner in this video and many regular Christians have no idea that apologetics is even a thing and are happy to base their belief on “blind faith.”

Keith Parsons vs William Lane Craig On "Why I Am Or Am Not a Christian"

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I just realized I had only linked to an audio version of this debate earlier. Enjoy.

Why Don't YOU worship Durga, the goddess of valor, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge?

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If you were born into a different culture you would. And guess what? They're just as sure of their gods as you are your god. More religion photos of the week here.



Why I Write and Write and Write About the Religious Right

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I had a fairly close friend ask me the other day why I'm so preoccupied with the religious right. 

"Can't you write about something else?" 

Yes, dear friend, and I do. I write about long-term travel, philosophy, living debt free and alternative lifestyles, overcoming the restrictive limitations of cultural expectations, minimalism and more. I've even written two psychological murder mysteries and at least thirty plays, many of which have been performed on stage in front of  live audiences.

But, here's the deal. 

While everyone else gets sidetracked by all the other political issues, I've decided to keep my eye on the religious right. I know that's hard for most to understand either because they're religious and thus rarely speak out against religion on principle or they've completely forgotten how things used to be. 

Aron Lucas On "Hume's Maxim: How a 'Trivial Truth' is Too Strong for Christian Apologetics"

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Aron Lucas earned a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in 2016, and is using his sharp legal mind to defend Hume's Maxim against apologists Michael Licona, Stephen Davis, J.P. Moreland, William Lane Craig and Timothy & Lydia McGrew. It's an excellent piece of counter-apologetics! David Hume's maxim is this: "That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish." John Earman faults Hume for basically stating the obvious, but Lucas shows that "if Hume is to be faulted for stating the obvious, many of today's leading Christian thinkers should be faulted all the more for failing to see the obvious." Excerpt below:

Christianity Is Beyond Redemption

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Apologists can’t help themselves…or the faith
When I look back, through a fog of nostalgia, at my own religious upbringing, it all seems like a harmless adventure. In rural Indiana in the 1950s we knew that religion was a great benefit to mankind; worshipping God was the decent thing to do, as was telling the world the good news about Jesus. It was a sheltered perspective.

My mother was a voracious reader, and everyone loved the local librarian, but had there been a conspiracy? Or was it just negligence: No one bothered to tell me about Thomas Paine, Robert Ingersoll, H. L. Mencken—or even Bertrand Russell, who, fifteen years before I was born, had delivered his famous Why I Am Not a Christian lecture. Criticism of Christianity was nothing new, but we were in a little cocoon. The 1950s are so long ago and far away: withering criticism of Christianity is now mainstream and in-your-face.

An Interview With Dr. Ralph Lewis On His Excellent Book, "Finding Purpose in a Godless World."

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Earlier I had written a blurb for Ralph Lewis's excellent book, LINK: Finding Purpose in a Godless World: Why We Care Even If the Universe Doesn't. I wrote:
The question of life's purpose is probably the main reason believers cannot bring themselves to reevaluate and reject the antiquated religions they've been indoctrinated to believe. Prompted by a personal crisis, Dr. Lewis has written a definitive answer to this question, one which I hope gains a substantial audience.
Below is an interview and an excerpt from his book. Enjoy. Then. Get. His. Book. Now!

In Defense of David Hume On Miracles

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I'm researching Hume's arguments against miracles in chapter ten of his Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, to be read here.

Christian apologists unanimously think Hume's argument in Part I fails. See Richard Swinburne in his books, The Existence of God, and The Concept of Miracle, along with other apologetical works by C.S. Lewis, William Lane Craig, Norman Geisler, and others too many to name.


What surprised me is that some significant atheist philosophers also think Hume's argument fails, like Michael Martin (Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, pp. 194-196), Michael Levine (The Cambridge Companion to Miracles, pp. 291-308), and Graham Oppy (Arguing About Gods, pp. 376-382), who 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" (p. 381). Agnostic/atheist John Earman thinks Hume's argument is an Abject Failure (as seen in his book by that title). And while J.L. Mackie defends Hume against some objections, even he thinks Hume's argument needs "improvement" (p. 25) by being "tidied up and restated" (p. 17) due to "inaccuracies" (p. 27), with one part he calls "very unsatisfactory" (p. 23).

I'm finding that only three atheist philosophers think Hume's argument in Part I succeeds, Antony Flew, Evan Fales and Nicholas Everitt (see his chapter 6 in The Non-Existence of God). As I study this issue out, I agree with them.

What is Hume Doing In His Essay “Of Miracles”?

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Much of the scholarship having to do with Hume’s argument against miracles has to do with trying to understand it. Philosopher Michael Levine claims Part I of Hume’s essay is an "a priori" case against miracles (The Cambridge Companion to Miracles, p. 302) based on considerations of natural law before there's a miracle claim--that the evidence of natural law outweighs any testimony to a miracle--whereas Part II is an a posteriori case against miracles, “even if miracles have occurred.” (p. 293).
About Hume’s principal argument in Part I, Levine says “it fails” (p. 296) as an “unsuccessful” (p. 292) “superfluous” (p. 302) “misadventure” (p. 292). “It is a gloss for understanding the underlying supposition that one cannot have an ‘impression’ of a supernatural event” (p. 302). This underlying empiricist supposition is a theme of Hume’s, in which he argues we don’t have empirical sense impressions of ‘cause and effect’ or any divine activity, or the self for that matter, which is nothing but a bundle of sensations. So “Given his view that divine activity is impossible to know, Hume’s argument in Part I is in a sense superfluous” (p. 302).
Part I presupposes naturalism, Levine says. Philosophers like him, who rule out the possibility of miracles “are in effect presupposing or else arguing for a thoroughgoing naturalism. Hence, Hume’s empiricism commits him to naturalism, and if that goes unrecognized, his a priori argument in Part I of his essay against the possibility of justified belief in miracles is impossible to follow.” (p. 292). All one has to admit is that “naturalism is possibly false.” Once this is admitted “miracles are possible.” (p. 292).
Hume is thus constrained by his empiricism in such a way that had he been on the shore of the Red Sea with Moses, and had the Red Sea crashed to a close the moment the last Israelite was safe, Hume would still be constrained by his principles to deny that what was witnessing was a miracle (p. 298).

Deconstructing the Walls of Jericho

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What follows is a short account of the brief history of archaeology, with the emphasis on the crises and the big bang, so to speak, of the past decade. The critical question of this archaeological revolution has not yet trickled down into public consciousness, but it cannot be ignored. By Ze'ev Herzog.

Religion Photos of the Week

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You too could have been a Buddhist monk, and other recent religion photos of the week.

When Will the Next President Be an Atheist?

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Did you know that John Adams once called Thomas Jefferson an ATHEIST as part of his negative campaigning efforts? All these years later, that label still horrifies the good citizens of America and has the potential to ruin a politicians chances of becoming President.

Philosopher Michael Levine On Miracles

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There are basically three philosophical questions of interest about miracles. The first is whether miracles are possible. The second is whether anyone can ever be justified, epistemologically speaking, in believing that a miracle has occurred. With regard to this question it is important to note that the fact one can imagine conditions in which belief in a miracle would would be justified does absolutely nothing to show that anyone has been so justified. The third question is whether anyone is or has been so justified.[1] These questions can be answered in short order. The first two questions have sheltered philosophers from dealing with the only philosophically significant question about miracles per se -- the third question.

The first two questions lead to various questions concerning the laws of nature, and naturalism versus supernaturalism. These issues may be worth pursuing in their own right, but they are of little consequence when it comes to the important third question about miracles. Is anyone epistemologically justified in believing in a miracle--for example, on the basis of Scripture and historical evidence? The question is not the modal one of whether one could be justified, but whether anyone is (or has been) so justified. It is this third question that Hume addresses in Part II of his essay, and it is this question that was of primary concern to him...In Part II he argues straightforwardly and on the basis of ordinary reasons--the kind used all of the time to dismiss such reports--that no one is justified in believing in miracles.

Philosophical discussion about miracles frequently ignores the question (Hume's central concern) of whether there exists historical evidence, testimony--including testimony in the form of Scripture--or first-hand experience, that justifies belief in the miraculous. Those who wish to champion miracles either argue that such evidence exists or else they merely assume it. But the question of whether such evidence does exist, by itself, is the crucial question about justified belief in miracles."

[1] A fourth question might be 'what is a miracle?' I do not, however, think that there is much of philosophical interest attached to this question. Aquinas' definition suffices: "Those things are properly called miracles which are done by divine agency beyond the order commonly observed in nature" (Summa Contra Gentiles, III). Following Hume, a miracle is frequently defined as a violation of a law of nature, but technically speaking this is a mistake. Laws of nature are meant to account for or describe natural events, not supernaturally caused events. Miracles, being outside the scope of laws of nature, cannot properly be seen as violations of them.

From The Cambridge Companion to Miracles, pp. 291-294.

What Is It with Christians and Violence?

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Christian soldiers, please give it a rest

A few days ago a Christian posted this comment on my book’s Facebook page: “I don't care if you're an atheist. Why should you care if I'm a Christian?‬‬” I responded, “Is it REALLY that hard to figure out?” and I provided the link to Richard Carrier’s recent article, “What’s the Harm? Why Religious Belief Is Always Bad.”

Within seconds—there had not been enough time for him to read the article—he responded, with no interest whatever in discussing the issue he had raised: “What a small and narrow-minded person you must be. You think you can paint millions of people with one tiny brush.‪ But you've got your own little cult, right here. And you're raking in the profits. Good for you!‬‬”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

A Miracle Is A Supernaturally Caused Extraordinary Event

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There have been a lot of definitions of the word "Miracle." In the pre-scientific biblical past the term "signs and wonders" sufficed. This term referred to the extraordinary actions of their God. But in the Bible everything that happened was due to God's working. The only difference that mattered was whether events were ordinary (that is, occurred frequently, or frequently enough) or extraordinary (that is, didn't happen much, or not at all). For people living in this era anything was possible, so they could even pray for a mountain to be uprooted and cast into the sea (Mark 11:23; Matt. 21:21; Luke 17:6).

[As an aside: What is considered possible has changed with the advance of science. God is doing less and less as science progresses. And so too, believers are asking for less and less. Let that sink in. Rather than making excuses for your deity try reasonably explaining why this trend is the case.]

Based on the above considerations, my definition of miracle is not intended to apply to the period before the rise of modern science, since trying to do so creates many of the definitional problems. I think a good definition of a miracle is that it's a supernaturally caused extraordinary event, one that's scientifically unexplainable by natural processes alone. Any claim that an extraordinary event occurred requires more than just ordinary evidence before reasonable people should accept it. For the evidence required should be commensurate with the type of claim being made. So the more extraordinary the claim is then the more extraordinary the evidence required to accept it.

Ordinary testimony is sufficient to accept many claims of our experience. But when an extraordinary--out of the ordinary--claim is made, it demands stronger testimony, more evidence, and/or stronger evidence for it. Discuss.

So You Think You're Being Persecuted?

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I keep hearing a lot of talk these days about religious freedom. Apparently, many American Christians, even though they are in the majority, believe that they're being persecuted. I can't remember a time when atheists made these same claims. Atheists, in America at least, depend upon the separation of church and state to offer them protection. Yet, living as a minority in the Bible belt, I often feel that I'm expected to conform or shut up. And, while I wouldn't go so far as to say that I'm being persecuted, I think that if most Christians were in my shoes, they'd feel deeply offended. 

The Latest from Ray Comfort

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In a recent YouTube interview, evangelist Ray Comfort somewhat surprisingly admitted that certain things in the Bible — things like the talking snake and Jonah and the whale — are “crazy,” and even “intellectually offensive.” This doesn’t mean he’s becoming more enlightened: Comfort fully believes that the stories involved are veridical. However, he has an explanation for why these things happened.

Am I "Totally Wrong" About Faith? *Sheesh*

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I wish atheists would do their research before claiming I'm "totally wrong" about something. This stuff is quite disconcerting.

The Need to Require Sufficient Objective Evidence

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This excellent essay is based on the facts of human nature. It explains why we need an FBI investigation into Brett Kavanaugh. It can also explain why religious hucksters have it easy on gullible people who don't require sufficient objective evidence before believing them. Don't trust your feelings. Don't trust subjective states of affairs. Seek sufficient objective evidence or you'll believe lies, many of which your parents and culture indoctrinated you to believe. LINK.

Made-to-Order Stories for the Jesus Cult

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But consistency was not a virtue
Every missionary who has ever lived has been inspired by the famous ‘Great Commission,’ spoken by the resurrected Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Of course, we have a right to be skeptical that a dead man came back to life to give orders, but there are other reasons as well for suspecting that Jesus—even while he was alive—didn’t say this.

Christian Apologist Vincent J. Torley Now Argues Michael Alter’s Bombshell Book Demolishes Christian Apologists’ Case for the Resurrection

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Dr. Vincent J. Torley is no stranger to us at DC. We've dealt with him plenty of times before. To his credit he engages us in an intelligent and civil manner.

Not too long ago I challenged him to read Michael J. Alter's book Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry as the best book on the resurrection, by far. He read it. Alter's book changed his mind. Torley offered three reasons why he changed his mind about the resurrection and credited me with the first one! He now says:
It is not often that I encounter a book which forces me to undergo a fundamental rethink on a vital issue. Michael Alter’s The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry is one such book. The issue it addresses is whether the New Testament provides good evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead. Prior to reading Michael Alter’s book, I believed that a Christian could make a strong case for Jesus’ having been raised from the dead, on purely historical grounds. After reading the book, I would no longer espouse this view. Alter has convincingly demolished Christian apologists’ case for the Resurrection – and he’s got another book coming out soon, which is even more hard-hitting than his first one, judging from the excerpts which I’ve read.

Diehard skeptics will of course dismiss the Resurrection as fiction because they reject the very idea of the supernatural, but Michael Alter, a Jewish author who has spent more than a decade researching the Resurrection, isn’t one of these skeptics. Alter willingly grants for the sake of argument the existence of a personal God Who works miracles and Who has revealed Himself in the Hebrew Bible. Despite these generous concessions to his Christian opponents, I have to say that Alter’s book is the most devastating critique of the case for the Resurrection that I have ever read....reading Alter’s book will make you realize that what historians know about Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and post-mortem appearances to his disciples is very little: far too little for a Christian to base their belief in the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection on the historical evidence alone. I now believe that only the grace of God could possibly justify making such an intellectual commitment.
If you think that's stunning you won't believe what Torley says next, about the minimal facts and the maximal data approaches to defending the resurrection:

Religion Photos of the Week.

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These photos remind us again that the religion we adopt is the one we were raised with, and the need for the Outsider Test for Faith. See here for more.

God’s Big Screw-up of Intelligent Design

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He isn’t in the details after all

“This is the day that the Lord has made,” so said the ancient psalmist (118:24), “let us rejoice and be glad in it.” The certainty that God makes things is firmly imbedded in the religious psyche. The apostle Paul was sure he knew what God was like, and the beginning of this wisdom could be found by observing the world: “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” (Romans 1:20). If you push most people of faith to explain why they believe in God, sooner or later you’ll hear, “Well, this world didn’t just happen. Someone had to make it!” And, of course, Genesis 1 tells how it all happened.

Sometimes we’ll even be reminded of William Paley’s famous 1802 analogy of a watch found on the ground, “while crossing a heath.” Of course the complicated timepiece had a maker, so how can we not see that nature itself—so much more intricate—must have had a maker as well? These days, of course, Intelligent Design crowd is in our face to push the fine-turning argument.