Showing posts with label Case against Miracles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Case against Miracles. Show all posts

Miracle Claims Asserted Without Relevant Objective Evidence Can Be Dismissed!


I recorded a video talk for two virtual conferences this past Labor Day weekend, for the International eConference on Atheism, put on by the Global Center for Religious Research, and for the Dragon Con Skeptic Track. I'm very grateful for these two opportunities. That video will be released sometime soon. In what follows is the text of my talk. Please share if you want others to discuss it with you. Enjoy the discussion!

Today I’m arguing, along the same lines as Christopher Hitchens did, that “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.” [God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York, Twelve. 2007), p.150.] Specifically I’m arguing that “Miracle Claims Asserted Without Relevant Objective Evidence Can Be Dismissed. Period!”

I think all reasonable people would agree. Without any relevant objective evidence miracle claims shouldn’t be entertained, considered, believed, or even debunked. I intend to go further to argue that as far as we can tell, all, or almost all miracle assertions, lack any relevant objective evidence, and as such, can be dismissed out of hand, per Hitchens.

Dr. Randall Heskett Interviews John Loftus On His Book, "The Case Against Miracles"

Dr. Randall Heskett interviews John Loftus on his book, The Case Against Miracles. Loftus speaks about David Hume's critique on miracles and turns the interview on Heskett about his chapter in the book. The two come to a consensus that apologetics is not a field, nor is it honest, nor fair but damaging to both Christianity and intellectual discourse. Loftus speaks about the dangers of faith and the "deplorables" who are bringing down American Society.

Perhaps Now Is The Time To Read My New Anthology!

If you're reading more books due to spending more time at home, perhaps now is the time to read my latest anthology, The Case against Miracles. It just may be the crowning work of my publishing career. It should be interesting to watch apologists deal with it. Here are links to the paperback edition, and the Kindle edition. Some recommendations of it are below:

My Interview with Seth Andrews, Host of The Thinking Atheist, On "The Case against Miracles"

I just realized I hadn't posted this before. Enjoy.

Gary Habermas Recommends My Anthology On Miracles!

This is pretty significant as Gary Habermas is probably the reigning evangelical apologist focusing on the resurrection, next to William Lane Craig and Mike Licona. If there is anyone who still fails to appreciate this anthology maybe Habermas might change their minds:
Christians need be aware of what non-Christian scholars are saying. In this thoughtful and stimulating volume, editor John Loftus brings together a number of the most accomplished atheists and other skeptics to deal with the crucial topic of miracles, an issue that is important on all sides. --Gary R. Habermas, Distinguished Research Scholar & Chair, Dept. of Philosophy, Liberty University.
Gary tells me he's recommending this book to his students. My hat goes off to all the authors that helped make it such an excellent book!

Are Miracles Proof of God? Don’t. Go. There.


Yet more theological incoherence

The religious bureaucrats who hovered around Jesus—and conspired against him—suspected that he performed miracles because he had help from demonic powers (Matthew 12:24): “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” Supposedly they knew a thing or two about the hierarchy in the spiritual realm, and they assumed that anyone who could kick out demons had been deputized by Satan. Of course, Jesus didn’t see it that way at all, and got the better of demons whenever he had the chance. He ordered them about, as we find in the dramatic story in Mark 5: he transferred the demons into a herd of swine.

How Does One Avoid Bias? What If it's Impossible to Corroborate the Resurrection?

From time to time I'll add some discussion about my anthology The Case against Miracles. Click on the Tag Case against Miracles below for more entries.

This comes from a discussion on Bart Ehrman's blog, which I've been made a temporary moderator.

How does one deal with and avoid a specific bias towards secularism in one’s intellectual work? I ask because there is no doubt such a bias exists, and there is no doubt that it debilitates rational thought just as readily as any other bias. The question is this: how do those of us who experience such a bias make sure our conclusions are not affected by a prejudiced reading of the evidence?

Loftus: The bias in deference to sufficient objective evidence is far superior to the bias in deference to what one was raised to believe, or in deference to mere 2nd 3rd 4th handed TESTIMONIAL evidence in the ancient pre-scientific superstitious world, which cannot be cross-examined for truth or consistency. Yes?


Question: What if it's impossible to corroborate the resurrection of Jesus with objective evidence as you require?

Loftus: When it comes to believing in a resurrection from the dead in the distant superstitious past it requires strong and/or numerous pieces of corroborating objective evidence, unlike ordinary events. We don’t have it for the resurrection so there’s no reason to believe it.

It may even be impossible to corroborate a resurrection in the distant past, but that doesn’t change our need for sufficient objective evidence. Such a god should have waited until modern science had arrived for the ability to confirm it.

Reason itself demands this. If your god is a reasonable deity who desires us to be reasonable with the evidence, then when I say reason itself demands this, your god demands it. Or, your god created us to be reasonable people yet desires us to be unreasonable.

When Miracles Don’t MEASURE Up


God can’t quite manage to SHOW up

It’s pretty easy to spot how religion works: it usually stresses the importance of faith, urging people to skip the crucial step of asking for evidence. The author of John’s gospel is explicit about this approach. The apostle Thomas happened to be out when Jesus made a post-resurrection visit to the group, and was skeptical of their story. A week later, Thomas was present when Jesus showed up again, and the latter said to him (20:27-28): “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” And then he got a bit of a scolding from Jesus: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Miracles and Hume's Reasoning about Testimonial Evidence

On his blog Dr. Bart D. Ehrman posted Michael Shermer's Foreword to my new anthology The Case Against Miracles. You can see teasers on his Facebook page (Dec. 22nd and 23rd). He has made contributor Darren Slade and myself temporary administrators, which is cool. Ehrman has three more selections to post about the book.

In the first one on his blog (not the one on Facebook) I got into a discussion with a believer, brenmcg. I think it went rather well, and helps clarify and expand on why we need objective evidence before we should believe any miracle tales. Enjoy.

"Send a copy of 'The Case Against Miracles' to your favorite Christian apologist!!!"

"Send a copy of 'The Case Against Miracles' to your favorite Christian apologist!!!" So challenges Gary M, a former conservative Lutheran, who is now a counter-apologist. He writes for his blog Escaping Christian Fundamentalism, which I highly recommend everyone visit.

On Amazon Gary wrote a 5-Star review of my anthology The Case Against Miracles (CaM), saying:
I am a counter-apologist and have read a long list of books by Christian scholars, apologists, and fellow skeptic counter-apologists. This book, The Case Against Miracles, is absolutely devastating to the theistic belief in miracles, and more specifically, absolutely devastating for the greatest alleged miracle of all, the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The convoluted arguments made by Christian apologists for their belief in the supernatural are disassembled. Order this book for yourself and send a second copy to a Christian friend or family member! Help to facilitate the demise of fear-based, superstitious thinking.
To see the books he's read, just check out his current top post! It's pretty impressive. He likes CaM so much he sent copies to several top Christian apologists whom he names:

There Aren’t Any Winners in the Miracle Contest


The on-going erosion of Christianity

“When was the last time you offered your condolences to a neighbor whose son is demon-possessed? Demons are just not encountered in everyday life, contrary to what one would expect if the New Testament worldview still held good.” So says Robert M. Price in his new book, Jesus Christ Superstition (p. 123).

Hold that thought: “…if the New Testament worldview still held good.” We know that many Christians have moved on, and not reading the Bible has probably helped with that. In the fifth chapter of Mark’s gospel, Jesus transferred demons from a man into a herd of pigs. How many Christians would admit that this story doesn’t reflect how they view the world, much less enhance their faith? But demons transporting into pigs reflects the New Testament worldview. Again, Robert Price:

My Interview With Freethought Radio About "The Case Against Miracles"

Here's the LINK to my Freethought Radio interview with hosts Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. I talk about my new book being released tomorrow, The Case Against Miracles.

Was David Hume's Argument "Of Miracles" Original? The Role of Ridicule.

If you're here from following a link in my anthology, "The Case against Miracles", thanks so much! You now have an edition of the book that's been thoroughly checked for typographical errors. As of 6/1/20 the book is probably 99% error free. To read updates and further discussions about the book click on the following tag: Case against Miracles.


Previously I have justified compiling an anthology on miracles, and Hume's towering influence over us right here. Some would say there's nothing let to say after David Hume's chapter "Of Miracles". If so, we might as well just throw up our hands and complain that the ancients have stolen all of our ideas since new arguments are hard to come by too. ;-) There hasn't been a book length treatment of miracles like this written by atheists in forever, so it's long overdue. It's also a major defense of David Hume.

In my dedication to the book The Case against Miracles I wrote: "This volume is dedicated to the legacy of David Hume, considered to be the greatest English-speaking philosopher who ever lived." Then readers will find this quote from Hume:
I flatter myself, that I have discovered an argument...which, if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion, and consequently, will be useful as long as the world endures. – “Of Miracles” by David Hume (1711-1776).
No one likes an arrogant person. No one likes to be ridiculed for what they think either. What if Hume didn't say this? What if he played nice with believers? What if he had toned down his rhetoric? What we know is that no one likes to be taunted, belittled, or called ignorant, or delusional. Yet this is what Hume did. Doing so brings people out to debate, and debate Hume they did, and still do. It's as if what Hume said had a self-fulfilling effect to it.

John Earman has viciously criticized Hume in his essay, "Hume's Abject Failure, The Argument Against Miracles". One of his claims is that "Hume's famous essay on miracles is set in the context of the larger debate that was taking place in the eighteenth century about the nature of miracles and the ability of eyewitness testimony to establish the credibility of such events. Hume's argument against miracles is largely unoriginal..." He says, "'Of Miracles' is often treated as if it were a genuinely original piece of philosophy. But although it does contain some original insights and is cast in Hume's characteristically forceful prose, it is in fact a largely derivative work." [Chapter 1, Section 7].

While some of the arguments Hume made were, loosely speaking, floating around in his day, it hardly goes to say that his particular argument in "Of Miracles" was made by anyone else. That's the point. Earman finds that John Locke had his influence on Hume, but only suggests that some others may also have had an influence on Hume, without providing any direct evidence. Hume doesn't really say he came up with his argument. He merely says he "discovered" it, although it's clear he's taking ownership of it. Sometimes the way an argument is expressed makes it more powerful. Other times it matters who makes the argument. People were eventually forced to pay attention to Hume, known to "the wise and learned" as a great philosopher and a great historian. For he became widely known for his massive 6 volumes series on The History of England, published from 1754 to 1762. When readers of Hume's history learned he ridiculed believers for believing in the impossible, it's his arrogance and ridicule that most likely thrust what he argued into the spotlight like nothing else, and it still does for anyone who wishes to believe.

Hume knew the effect of taunting believers who disagreed. At the end of his chapter on miracles he wrote:
So our over-all conclusion should be that the Christian religion not only was at first accompanied by miracles, but even now cannot be believed by any reasonable person without a miracle. Mere reason is insufficient to convince us of its truth; and anyone who is moved by faith to assent to it is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person—one that subverts all the principles of his understanding and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience.
Then at the end of Hume's Enquiry itself, he concluded:
If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.
Whew. Them's fighting words! And believers have been fighting with Hume ever since. Now I've written a lot to justify the use of ridicule. Hume used it. He was also being arrogant. But he knew the effect that inflammatory rhetoric and ridicule would have on believers, when most everyone else thought it was better to engage them with nothing but respect.

Dialoguing with Catholic Apologist Trent Horn On Miracles

Trent Horn earned three master’s degrees in the fields of theology, philosophy, and bioethics. He runs the apologetic podcast "The Counsel of Trent." He's also the author of nine books, including Answering Atheism. We recently dialogued on the rationality of miracles based on my upcoming anthology, The Case against Miracles. It's only $20.99 and contains 644 pages, so I'm told --a whopper of a deal if I've ever seen it! Trent wrote this blurb for it:

"While some entries are stronger than others, The Case against Miracles represents a powerful critique of the miraculous. Its central arguments demand the attention of any serious defender of the Christian faith."

Parts 1 & 2 of our dialogue can be found right here. It's really good I think.

Introducing My Next Anthology "The Case against Miracles"

[Update on 11/18/19: This Introduction has been significantly lengthened].

I finally submitted the digital book files to my publisher Hypatia Press, an imprint of Ockham Publishing out of the UK.
David G. McAffe is the editor. It has been seven months since I started working on it. Getting authors, working with them, and writing my own chapters while on the road for the last two months has wore me out. I'm glad that hard phase is over. I'm told it should be published by September or October, just in time for year end holiday shopping. How good is it? Well, I consider it the best anthology yet, and they've all been good! You can see the chapter contents right here. To whet your appetites my Introduction is below:

In Defense of David Hume Part 6, William L. Vanderburgh On "Hume’s 'Abject Failure' Vindicated"

William L. Vanderburgh defended Hume against John Earman in a very thorough article published in 2005 in Hume Studies, titled, Of Miracles and Evidential Probability: Hume’s “Abject Failure” Vindicated [You can read the PDF right here.]. In it Vanderburgh shows David Hume probably knew of Bayes Theorem and never mentioned it for good reasons. I'm including a few of the important highlights below. I consider it an important contribution on Hume and Earman and even Bayes.

In Defense of David Hume, Part 4: Hume's Arguments are Not "Mathematically Fallacious" Nor An "Abject Failure"

Critics are saying Hume's arguments against miracles are "mathematically fallacious" per William Lane Craig, Timothy McGrew, Lydia McGrew, John Earman and some others. The point of their criticism is that Hume didn't factor God's existence into the evidence for or against miracles. But when apologists do so the low probabilities of miracles (by definition) can be brought up to being probable after all, because with God all things are possible. Okay. But this isn't a fair criticism. At all!

Let's back up. What is mathematically fallacious about saying we must proportion our beliefs according to the strength of the evidence? Hume said that. Where the evidence isn't decisive we must suspend judgment. Hume said that too. In other words, we should think exclusively according to the probabilities. How can that be fallacious, mathematically or otherwise? It's just good sound sense. The reason apologists attack Hume is because he was right and they are wrong, and that's it. For if there was good strong objective evidence that supported their miracle beliefs they would tout Hume's praises. You know it. I know it. They should know it.

Now let's go deeper. Whatever inconsistencies you might think are in Hume's essay on miracles, his main contention is this concluding maxim: "Therefore we may establish it as a maxim, that no human testimony can have such force as to prove a miracle, and make it a just foundation for any such system of religion." (#98)

What Hume is aiming at throughout chapter 10 of his Enquiries is his twofold contention, not only that testimonial evidence for miracles is never sufficient enough to accept a miracle claim, but also that miracles cannot be the foundation of a religion. [Hume's targeted religion is Christianity, which requires a creator, revealer and sustainer god.] In other words, the testimonial evidence for miracles cannot show that this god exists and his religion is the true one, and by extension, other religions as well.

So Christian, just tell us where you start, other than from birth and childhood inside a largely Christian culture. If you want us to believe in your specific god and his religion then you have to present us with sufficient objective evidence for it. Where is that evidence? If you start by arguing the case for your god's existence first, then that's one thing, and Hume debunked this in his Dialogues. But if you start by arguing the case for miracles first, then that's another thing, and Hume debunked that in chapter 10 of his Enquiries. In this later case:

If you use Bayesian math to assess biblical miracles apart from god's existence, then you must do what you say you'll do by excluding god's existence from your calculations. But if you did what you say you do, god cannot factor in them to bring the low probability of a miracle up to a probability.
If your claim is that miracles provide sufficient objective evidence that your god exists and his religion is true, you cannot use your god in calculating the probability of any miracle. Furthermore, and this is very important, you cannot subsequently call Hume's arguments "mathematically fallacious" or an "Abject Failure." For if your claim is that the evidence for miracles provides sufficient objective evidence that your god exists and his religion is true, then your Bayesian calculations cannot allow god or his religion into any calculations of whether one should believe in his miracles. For the evidence on behalf of miracles is supposed to show your god exists and his religion is the true in the first place.

Please, at this season, if what I do here is important or helpful consider donating, as it really does help, every little bit.

In Defense of David Hume On Miracles

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 four atheist philosophers think Hume's argument in Part I succeeds, Antony Flew, Evan Fales, William L. Vanderburgh (forthcoming book in 2019) 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”?

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).

My Inaugural Speech, On the State of the Case for Christianity

Ladies and gentlemen, dignitaries and non-dignitaries, believers and nonbelievers, I am honored to briefly speak to you tonight on the inaugural of my next year's term as president and owner of this blog. About seven years ago, almost to the day, I started this Blog. Each year you have reelected me to another term. I have posted something about 1.5 times a day ever since. I have fought many battles with both believers and nonbelievers in order to stay on track with my goal of debunking Christianity in all of its forms. It's been very time consuming but very rewarding work. You already know my goals and what I have to offer, and you also know I have critics on both sides of these debates, but you still reelected me for yet another term here at DC, for which I am very grateful.

So my heartfelt thanks goes out to the various writers who have been team members at DC over the years, most notably Hector Avalos, Harry McCall, and more recently Jonathan Pearce. Thanks also to my readers for seven years of comments and debate, especially my peeps, including the amazing and indefatigable articulett, also a team member. You have helped to make this blog one of the top places to discuss the best arguments for and against Christianity. This means a great deal to me personally. Without you I would've thrown in the towel a long time ago out of fatigue, discouragement and/or financial ruin.