Phil Bair On Extraordinary Evidence For Miracles

Phil Bair was suggested by James K. Walker to debate me. Walker is a Christian apologist and former Mormon who is President at Watchman Fellowship. I hadn't heard of Phil before. But he seems smart enough. Anyone who has read my anthology on miracles and still disagrees gets my attention. 

Phil offered two objections to my defense of the aphorism, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." 

ONE) Phil Bair: “You have no criteria for identifying what qualifies as extraordinary evidence for an extraordinary claim.” My response:

I know what does not count as extraordinary evidence. Second- third- fourth-hand hearsay testimonial evidence doesn’t count, nor circumstantial evidence, nor anecdotal evidence as reported in documents that are centuries later than the supposed events, which were copied by scribes and theologians who had no qualms about including forgeries. I also know that subjective feelings or experiences or inner voices don’t count as extraordinary evidence, nor someone who tells others his writings are inspired, nor divine communication through dreams, or visions.  

The intractable difficultly is that there is no miracle claim in the Bible that has any--and I mean any--objective evidence for it at all! None! At all! Much less sufficient objective evidence. LINK. So I find it strange that anyone--and I mean anyone--takes the miracle claims in the Bible seriously, like apologists who defend them despite not having any--and I mean any--objective evidence for them.

I was talking with a friend named Tod who believes various governments conspired to produce the Covid-19 virus to kill off massive numbers of people on the planet, and that vaccines are not designed to help us. They’re doing this because in eighty years this planet cannot sustain 10-15 billion people. 

My first question was why didn't they just conspire to produce a virus that would make women infertile? But he ignored it.

Nonetheless, Tod started citing how governments have done bad things, and they have. But I said he should treat his beliefs as if they are being tried in court. A judge would dismiss all the bad deeds done by governments in the past as irrelevant to whether they are doing this one particular evil deed. Tod objected of course, but I said "doing so is the best and only way to find out if we are misinformed and misled." So I asked him, "What objective evidence is there that governments are conspiring to kill us off with the Covid-19 virus and its variants?" His silence was my answer. Without objective evidence he should reject conspiracy theories like these.

TWO) Phil Bair: “The other objection I have is that your rejection for miracles does not rest on the principles endemic in the discipline of historiography. They rely on philosophical presuppositions rather than historiographical principles.”

Firstly, the only presupposition needed is the presupposition that science discovers that which is true and false about the world. Any belief that has sufficient objective evidence on its behalf is true, and any belief that has sufficient objective evidence against it is false. This so-called presupposition has been very well-established. 

The only other option is to believe what is not based on sufficient objective evidence, which concedes my point. Grant it, then demand preachers to be honest by telling people that what they preach is not based on sufficient objective evidence!

If a scientist cannot establish biblical miracles with the scientist's 

set of tools based on sufficient objective evidence, then 

faith cannot do so times a hundred thousand.

Secondly, you are incorrect. I use the standards of historiography not philosophy to test for extraordinary evidence. Bart Erhman, an agnostic historian of Christianity said, “From a purely historical point of view, a highly unlikely event is far more probable than a virtually impossible one [like a miracle]." [Jesus Interrupted, pp. 171-179].

James McGrath, a liberal historian of Christianity, said that “all sorts of fairly improbable scenarios are inevitably going to be more likely than an extremely improbable one. That doesn't necessarily mean miracles never happened then or don't happen now - it just means that historical tools are not the way to answer that question.” Source: Debunking Christianity: Bart D. Ehrman on the Historian and the Resurrection of Jesus (

If a historian cannot establish biblical miracles with the historian's 

set of tools based sufficient objective evidence, then 

faith cannot do so times a hundred thousand.

So what you have left is no objective way to determine whether any miracles occurred in the distant past as told in the Bible. You cannot do so based on a scientist's requirement for sufficient objective evidence. Nor can you do so based on a historian’s requirement for sufficient objective evidence. You can believe a virgin gave birth to a son of god twenty centuries ago without any objective evidence if you wish, but that's irrational.    


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