Showing posts with label miracles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label miracles. Show all posts

Human Testimony to Miracles Is Insufficient to Believe

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A potential natural explanation for a given miracle tale in the Bible, even if below the threshold of probabilities, is still preferable to a miraculous explanation since it's a nearly impossible one given the nature of nature and the physics built on it. What we know is that the miraculous events in the Bible did not take place, per David Hume, since all we have is human testimony without sufficient objective corroboration, and human testimony alone is not enough for reasonable people to believe nature was violated. Even the very best quality of human testimony can only call for a suspension of judgment, should it ever be actually found. But what we find exclusively in the Bible is human testimony alone, 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.

It's not that I need to claim Balaam's ass didn't talk. It's that someone believed his story. Did an axe head float on water? A wise person, a reasonable person, should not believe nature was violated without sufficient objective corroborating evidence, and there is basically no good corroborating evidence for any miracle in the Bible. Now, true, there is evidence consistent with a biblical miracle, such as the archaeological finding of the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem where Jesus told a blind man to go and be healed. But that's not considered corroborating evidence. At best what Christians have are archaeological findings that are consistent with what they believe, in the same way as the city of Roswell confirms the existence of aliens, or as the city of Bethlehem confirms that Jesus was born of a virgin there. But this kind of evidence is negligible at best.

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

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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.

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Apologetics Based On Coincidental "Miracles" Is Dead

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How many times have you heard a believer say God did a miracle, or answered a prayer, based on a very unlikely set of circumstances? All the time, right!! Christian apologists will even argue there are coincidental miracles in the Bible, called "timing" miracles, events that took place naturally at the right time. Not so fast! Become informed. Read the following books. See why they don't count as miracles, or answered prayers.

I've previously highly recommended the book The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day, by David J. Hand, who is an emeritus professor of mathematics, a senior research investigator at Imperial College London, and former president of the Royal Statistical Society. Book description is as follows:
In The Improbability Principle, the renowned statistician David J. Hand argues that extraordinarily rare events are anything but. In fact, they’re commonplace. Not only that, we should all expect to experience a miracle roughly once every month. But Hand is no believer in superstitions, prophecies, or the paranormal. His definition of “miracle” is thoroughly rational. No mystical or supernatural explanation is necessary to understand why someone is lucky enough to win the lottery twice, or is destined to be hit by lightning three times and still survive. All we need, Hand argues, is a firm grounding in a powerful set of laws: the laws of inevitability, of truly large numbers, of selection, of the probability lever, and of near enough.
Other important books by people who know say the same thing, such as: Knock on Wood: Luck, Chance, and the Meaning of Everything, by Jeffrey S. Rosenthal, who also wrote the book, Struck by Lightning: The Curious World of Probabilities. Rosenthal is a professor of statistics at the University of Toronto, having received his PhD in mathematics from Harvard. Fluke: The Math and Myth of Coincidence, by Joseph Mazur, who is an emeritus professor of mathematics at Marlboro College in Vermont. The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, by Leonard Mlodinow, who co-wrote with Stephen Hawking "The Grand Design", and had previously earned his PhD in theoretical physics from the University of California at Berkeley. What the Luck?: The Surprising Role of Chance in Our Everyday Lives, by Gary Smith, who is the Fletcher Jones Professor of Economics at Pomona College in Claremont, California. Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and It's Consequences, by John Allen Paulos who is a professor of mathematics at Temple University.

You see evidence of miracles and answered prayers in coincidences not because there's a god doing them, but because you look for them. They are not evidence of anything but your own subjective awareness placing a grid upon these events where you see your god acting on your behalf. They are also evidence that you are ignorant of math and statistics and the probabilities built on them. Q.E.D.

In Defense of Hume, Part 3: Hume's Maxim On Human Testimony to Miracles as a Foundation for Religion

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David Hume's Maxim and its defense comes from chapter 10 of his Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding. It's stated in these words:
"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; and even in that case there is a mutual destruction of arguments, and the superior only gives us an assurance suitable to that degree of force, which remains, after deducting the inferior." When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion. #91
Later Hume tells us the only reasonable conclusion one can draw from his 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). The fact that a miracle requires extraordinary evidence over and above the fallibilites of ordinary human testimony is not an unreasonable demand on Hume's part. It's the nature of the beast. The consistent workings of the natural world preclude miracles from happening. This natural world order is known with as much assurance as anything that can be known. It's so well established that natural laws have been derived from it's regularity and used daily in our laboratories and factories. That human testimony is fallible is also known with a great deal of assurance, especially with the discovery of a great many cognitive biases. So we need more than just human testimony to accept that a miracle happened. Human testimony alone isn't enough to overcome what is known about how the world works. Given the nature of the world and the fallible nature of ordinary human testimony, we need sufficient objective evidence over and above human testimony (hence, called extraordinary evidence) to corroborate that a miracle occurred.

All you need to consider is what you'd think if someone testified that his amputated limb regenerated itself, or if a woman testified she gave birth to a baby deity as a virgin! Would you believe their testimony? What if a few others said the same thing? Here's the kicker: Human testimony, second- third- and fourth handed human testimony in the ancient pre-scientific world, where miracle claims were abundant without the means to discredit them, is all we have when it comes to the miracles we find in the Bible and the religions founded on it.

You can read Hume's Maxim in context below (#99-100). Upon doing so let's be done with the claim that Hume's argument is an a priori one that admits of no possibility of a miracle. It's one of probabilities all the way down. It's about human testimony to miracles in a world that precludes them as the foundation of a religion. And the kind of human testimony considered to be extraordinary in nature just does not exist! It could exist. That it doesn't is not Hume's fault.

The problem with Hume's argument therefore, is that miracles just don't happen. For if they did believers wouldn't object to it. It's precisely because believers want to believe that they try to find a way around it, even if it requires an intellectual sacrifice. Say it isn't so! Otherwise they would agree with Hume's reasonable demand then go on to present sufficient corroborating objective evidence showing the miracles of their religion really did take place. The fact that corroborating evidence does not exist is why believers must object to Hume's rock solid maxim. So Christians have a choice to make. Either 1) biblical miracles did not take place, so there's no reason to believe them, or 2) miracles did take place, but there's still no reason to believe them. Given that Christians only have the evidence of human testimony in the Bible, this is the choice forced upon them. So choose. In doing so, don't go nutty on us as some others do.

An Investigation Into the Alleged Miracles at Lourdes, France

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Professor Kenesi, who investigates alleged miracles of healing at Lourdes wrote about them. Here's one of the money quotes [Full Text below]:
Lourdes is famous for its miracles though despite the millions that go there, and the countless miracle claims, only 69 (up to the year 2015) have been declared officially to be sound examples of possible miracles. The miracle reports were more common in decades gone by. The reason for that is that improvements in medical science are refuting miraculous explanations. The miraculous is heading towards redundancy.

Miracles are currently unknowable

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Traditionally, miracles are defined or understood as naturally impossible events, which are events inconsistent with the physical laws understood by any possible future state of science (e.g. science 800,000 + years from now). This raises an intriguing question: can we currently know if some event is probably naturally impossible? If so, then perhaps we have good grounds for believing that certain events (assuming they occurred) are probably miracles; but if not, then either the definition of "miracle" must be significantly loosened so as to be consistent with what's naturally possible (though this option has its difficulties), or we currently have no good grounds for believing that certain events are probably miracles. Consider:

1. We cannot properly infer from the fact that, if event e were inconsistent with the physical laws understood by current science (henceforth C), then e will probably be inconsistent with the physical laws understood by any possible future state of science (henceforth F). [premise]
2. If we cannot properly infer F from C, then we cannot properly infer F (because there's no other basis from which F can be inferred). [premise]
3. If we cannot properly infer F, then we cannot justifiably claim that e, if C, is probably naturally impossible (henceforth N). [premise]
4. Therefore, if e occurs, and C, we cannot justifiably claim N.

Long (convoluted) version:

1. We cannot properly infer from the fact that, if event e were inconsistent with the physical laws understood by current science, then e will probably be inconsistent with the physical laws understood by any possible future state of science (e.g. science 800,000 + years from now). [premise]
2. If we cannot properly infer that event e will probably be inconsistent with the physical laws understood by any possible future state of science from the fact that e is inconsistent with the physical laws understood by current science, then we cannot properly infer that e will probably be inconsistent with the physical laws understood by any possible future state of science (because there's no other basis from which the claim can be inferred). [premise]
3. If we cannot properly infer that e will probably be inconsistent with the physical laws understood by any possible future state of science, then we cannot justifiably claim that e -- if it were inconsistent with the physical laws understood by current science -- is probably naturally impossible. [premise]
4. Therefore, if e occurs, and it is inconsistent with the physical laws understood by current science, we cannot justifiably claim that e is probably naturally impossible.

Miracles and Burden of Proof: which side has it?

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As argued in my previous post, the apologist who wants to ascribe supernatural causation to the phenomenon of Jesus rising from the dead (assuming it occurred) must demonstrate something like the following:

Assumption ~A: there probably could not have existed naturally relevant differences (i.e. physiological, technological, etc) between Jesus and the rest of humanity which could explain how Jesus would have been able to rise naturally.

In contrast,

Assumption A: there probably could have existed naturally relevant differences (i.e. physiological, technological, etc) between Jesus and the rest of humanity which could explain how Jesus would have been able to rise naturally.

Although each claim has a few variants, nevertheless, if the apologist's endeavor is to succeed, then something like (~A) must be established as true and something like (A) must be prevented from being established as true. In this post I will address two questions: (I) if Jesus really rose from the dead, should (~A) be presumed true or should the apologist have to argue for it?, and (II) If Jesus really rose from the dead, should (A) be presumed true or should the skeptic have to argue for it? I will supply two arguments for the following answers: to the first question, the apologist bears the burden of argument, and to the second, the skeptic can initially presume (A) without argument.


A1: (~A) cannot be presumed true without argument:

P1. Whenever we observe biological entity X with capabilities that biological entity O do not have, we should not assume these capability differences cannot be explained, at least in part, in terms of either: (a) relevant physiological differences between X and O, and/or (b) relevant technological differences between X and O, unless we have very good reasons to suppose otherwise.
P2. We observe Jesus with various supernormal capabilities that the rest of humanity do not have. [assumption]
C1. Therefore, we should not assume these capability differences cannot be explained, at least in part, in terms of either: (a) relevant physiological differences between Jesus and the rest of humanity, and/or (b) relevant technological differences between Jesus and the rest of humanity, unless we have very good reasons to suppose otherwise.
C2. Therefore, ~A should not be presumed true until we have very good reasons to affirm ~A.


A2: (A) can be presumed true without argument:


P1'. Whenever we observe biological entity X with capabilities that biological entity O do not have, we should assume these capability differences probably can be explained, at least in part, in terms of either: (a) relevant physiological differences between X and O, and/or (b) relevant technological differences between X and O, unless we have very good reasons to suppose otherwise.
P2. We observe Jesus with various supernormal capabilities that the rest of humanity do not have. [assumption]
C1'. Therefore, we should assume these capability differences probably can be explained, at least in part, in terms of either: (a) relevant physiological differences between Jesus and the rest of humanity, and/or (b) relevant technological differences between Jesus and the rest of humanity, unless we have very good reasons to suppose otherwise.
C2'. Therefore, A should be presumed true until we have very good reasons to abandon this presumption.

Besides their conclusions, the only difference between arguments A1 and A2 is with their first premises, and both strike me as true because they are extraordinary well confirmed; thus, to reject either (P1) or (P1') is to reject induction. However, in order to reject their respective conclusions, (P1) and (P1') must be denied, which thereby puts the apologist into an interesting quandary: either he must accept conclusions (C2) and (C2'), which is clearly undesirable, or he must reject either (P1) and (P1') by rejecting induction, which is also (probably more) undesirable. It therefore appears to be a lose-lose situation for the apologist.

Making the inference to the supernatural

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The apologist needs to show that if Jesus rose from the dead, he probably rose supernaturally (i.e. there was divine involvement). But how can he do this? He can only do this by showing that Jesus probably couldn't have risen naturally. In other words,

P1. Jesus probably couldn't have risen naturally. [I'm granting - for purposes of argument - that Jesus really did rise from the dead].
C. Therefore, Jesus probably rose supernaturally.

When we ask the apologist how he will attempt to establish (1), his defense will be to appeal to current science and our knowledge about the possibility of people coming back from the dead. In other words,

P1. The rest of humanity can't rise naturally.
C1. Therefore, Jesus probably couldn't have risen naturally.
C2. Therefore, Jesus probably rose supernaturally.

This route seems more promising, and if we grant (P1), as most do, then only one question remains: Is the inference from (P1) to (C1) valid? It would be if the apologist can demonstrate the following:

Assumption ~A: there probably could not have existed relevant differences (i.e. physiological, technological, etc) between Jesus and the rest of humanity which could explain why Jesus, but not the rest of humanity, might have been able to rise naturally from the dead.

Why is (~A) needed in order for the inference from (P1) to (C1) to be valid? To see that (~A) is needed, consider:

Assumption A: there probably could have existed relevant differences (i.e. physiological, technological, etc) between Jesus and the rest of humanity which could explain why Jesus, but not the rest of humanity, might have been able to rise naturally from the dead.

If (A) were true, then clearly the inference from (P1) to (C1) would fail, and if there were no good reason to believe that (~A) were true, the inference would also fail. Hence the apologist is forced to argue that (~A) is true, which I do not think he can do. Thus we finally come to:

P1. The rest of humanity can't rise naturally, and ~A.
C1. Therefore, Jesus probably couldn't have risen naturally.
C2. Therefore, Jesus probably rose supernaturally.

Now we see the problem: there's no good reason to accept (P1) because there's no good reason to believe (~A).

The Rise and Fall of Todd Bentley

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On Friday, August 15, the Board of Directors of Fresh Fire Ministries issued a press release, announcing:
We wish to acknowledge, however, that since our last statement from the Fresh Fire Board of Directors, we have discovered new information revealing that Todd Bentley has entered into an unhealthy relationship on an emotional level with a female member of his staff. In light of this new information and in consultation with his leaders and advisors, Todd Bentley has agreed to step down from his position on the Board of Directors and to refrain from all public ministry for a season to receive counsel in his personal life.
For the past couple weeks, there had been controversy and consternation at a previous announcement that Todd Bentley, a Canadian faith healer who had been on a rocket ride to worldwide fame and acclaim in Pentecostal circles for leading the "Lakeland Revival", was official separating from his wife Shonnah under the guidelines provided for by Canadian Law. With the announcement that "Brother Todd" had been involved in an "unhealthy relationship" with another woman, and was stepping down from public ministry, Bentley's start had crashed to earth even faster than it had risen.

Brother Todd, Revivalist Healer
And risen it had. When Bentley showed up in Lakeland, Florida in the first week of April this year, he had travel plans to return at the end of that same week. As it turned out, Brother Todd would stay in Lakeland for the better part of six months, leading a revival that would draw hundreds of thousands to Florida and spawn satellite revivals in places as far away as England and South Africa. Earlier revivals like the Toronto Blessing and the Pensacola Outpouring of the early-mid 1990s did not exploit the Internet; the Lakeland revival was not just daily services with 10,000 attendees to witness "healings" and the "outpouring of the spirit", it was streamed to the world, with Pentecostals all over the planet logging into watch, chat, and get "healed" right through their cable modems.


After a long session of worship music, Brother Todd would get up, and the "healings" would begin. Bentley's signature move was a shout of "Bam!", as he pushed/hit/kicked the faithful into a state of spiritual ecstasy, leaving the anointed writhing on the floor in convulsions, or simply catatonic, "slain in the spirit", in the language of the Pentecostal (watch this video, for example).

Aching joints were miraculously healed. Intestinal problems disappeared. Wheelchair-bound people were miraculously able to walk, or at least not fall down as they stood on the stage with the assistance of a couple fellow believers on either elbow. Cerebral palsy, ruptured discs, spinal problems, all healed, the Revivalists claimed, through the anointing of Todd Bentley, and the outpouring of the spirit he was presiding over in Lakeland (see example report from CBN here from the height of the revival frenzy).

The miracles accumulated and multiplied, and by late June and July, reports where making their way back to Lakeland that Todd's work had unleashed the ultimate work of the spirit -- the raising of the dead (see, for example, this video, this video, or this video ). Brother Todd eventually claimed more than a dozen cases of people being raised from the dead as part of the revival he led. At its peak, the throng exalted in reports like this from Bentley, reading a letter recounting one such resurrection (from this video ):

"My dear brother died, so the medical world thought yesterday. We requested at our all-night wake that GodTV would be on, the revival would be on. And we declared that our brother would not be embalmed. At 2:19 am my brother began to stir in his coffin. My brother sat up in the coffin, praising God and Reverend Todd Bentley. My dear brother all day has been telling us about his journey to heaven and how he thought he would never come back. He thought he would never come back here on the earth to be with us, but then he heard our beloved Reverend Todd and his voice pulling his spirit out of heaven. All of us at the funeral home began screaming and shouting fro more fire. Thank God for the revival on GodTV."

Brother Todd, False Prophet
For all the heady events in Lakeland, the revival was not without its critics within the church. Christian cessationists like the Calvinist bloggers over at TeamPyro have rejected the legitimacy of Bentley and his revival from the outset. Other mainstream Christian continualists like John Piper have now taken time to speak out against the Lakeland Revival, but as Frank Turk notes at TeamPyro, only after the fact, in light of Bentley's fall from grace due to his marital infidelity. How come frauds like Bentley cannot be identified and decried before they've duped tens of thousands of believers and brought shame, ridicule and cynicism to the faith? With Bentley's revelation of his betrayal of his wife and the impending end of their marriage as a result, even many of the once-fervent revivalists have now concluded that Bentley was a fraud all along (see this thread at the Charisma magazine forums, for example). While Bentley's star was on the rise, the gullible hopped on the bus to Florida and the rest of Christianity just watched, silent for the most part, managing a frustrated frown here and there.

It's no mystery why people like Todd Bentley can manage to rise to prominence and world-wide notoriety, despite the frustrations of Christian cessationist "skeptics" like Frank Turk. It's hard for a man with a glass worldview to throw stones, after all. Some forms of Christianity are much more level-headed, evidence-based and skeptical then others, but fundamentally, the epistemology of even the most skeptical Christian makes that term an oxymoron, useful only for gauging various degrees of credulity in a group that is profoundly credulous at its base.

I was a 'healing skeptic' when I was a Christian. Over the years, at many points where I expressed my skepticism about claims of miraculous healings, proponents of the miracles regularly pointed out that I wasn't in a position to say what God had or had not done in healing Aunt Martha, and moreover, if it was divine healing, by denying the miracle, I was denying the power of the Holy Spirit -- a kind of non sequitur as arguments go, and a rather transparent ploy to bring the fear of blasphemy on the doubter. But despite these problems, the core of their retort was a powerful one: Christianity is a subjective discipline, and one Christian cannot appeal to objective analysis of another without undermining their own claims to faith and knowledge of God. Ultimately, I appealed to revelation and supernatural intervention -- externally unverifiable intervention -- as the justification for my belief. I could point to some historical testimonies in scripture and claims about the lives of Christ and his followers, and some intuitive senses I had about God's existence as a brute fact, but without the appeal to my perception of the Holy Spirit's intervention in my life, my basis for belief could not hold up to scrutiny.

Defenseless Against Frauds
Such are the wages of a worldview based on the primacy of subjective experience. Christians who are skeptical of claims like those made by Todd Bentley and friends have to resort to the same kinds of defense for our own claims as Brother Todd does for his. Despite the differences I, or Frank Turk, or John Piper might have had with Bentley, we all embrace the same worldview, and see reality as subject to the magical, unpredictable, and impassible nature of God. For Christian's this is God's universe, and exegetical quibbles aside, God can do anything he wants and does what he pleases. If God wants to miraculously transform some teeth in a revivalist's mouth into gold (see here ) while just a couple miles away, young children languish in St. Joseph's children's hospital, suffering from brain tumors and all manner of other agonies, well, God can do what he wills, after all. To be a Christian is to give up the right to ask why, for many important questions.

With Bentley's fall from grace, people are disowning him right and left, and making much of the misgivings and doubts they had all along, even if they weren't announced or articulated at the time. Christian critics from the beginning, though, can complain all they'd like, and suppose they are "prophets" themselves of a kind, full of "discernment" regarding Bentley. When pressed, however, their skeptical verdicts ended betraying their debt to the stolen concepts of skepticism and evidence-based analysis, which, if applied consistently, debunk them as thoroughly as they debunk Brother Todd. Cessationism is a way to insulate and isolate their own credulity, to stuff all the magic back into the first century, reducing the footprint of exposure to critical analysis. Of course God doesn't shower God dust, miraculously given, down on the worshippers at Ignited Church! But of course the disciples could heal at will! Brother Todd can't do what the disciples did in the book of Acts, because that was then, and this is now.

All of which is a bit of uncomfortable special pleading. Bentley may be laid low for now, but Benny Hinn carries on, flitting hither and yon across the planet on his private jet working miracles and healing in the name of Jesus, as do many others, even if some of them have to console themselves with a first class seat on a commercial flight rather than the pampered leathers and chrome of Hinn's Gulfstream. The rest of Christianity is powerless to mount any substantial critique of Bentley, Hinn, et al. There can be no "Christian James Randi", that exposes Brother Todd, because Christianity, even the "skeptical" kind, is predicated on credulity and subjectivity. Frank Turk wonders how Brother Todd can get away with being such a hypocrite, and shows his own hypocrisy in doing so. This is why so much BS is always being tolerated and ignored in Christendom. It's an ideology built on credulity toward fantastic, unbelievable claims, even for the most conservative believer.

Xavier and the Evolution of Legendary Miracles

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I regularly encounter pseudo-skepticism -- reflexive doubt in response to criticism of credulous belief -- on the question of how the legend of Jesus could have developed in the period between Jesus' death and the writing of the synoptic gospels. Many Christians just don't see how or why such fantastic inventions arose from the crushing disappointment of the crucifixion of the man they supposed the Messiah (assuming here, arguendo, the historicity of Jesus and his crucifixion by the Romans at around the time commonly supposed)? "Why would these people die for a lie?" goes a common retort.

That's a fair question, even if it is offered pseudo-skeptically. But I don't think it's nearly as difficult as Christians commonly suppose. Even granting the dubious claims that all of Jesus disciples except John died a martyr's death (and indeed, this is precisely the kind of narrative we might expect as a later bit of legendary embellishment), we need not suppose a deliberate, coordinated conspiracy of lies is demanded of the situation. Rather, we need only look to the social capacity and disposition toward legend-making.

Inevitably, the pseudo-skeptic demands an example. I've suggested the legend and folklore of King Arthur, and pointed to the invention of "Newton's apple" by Voltaire as casual examples of the tendency to mythologize and embellish real people and events that capture our passions and imaginations. Reading a bit about Andrew Dickson White this week, intrigued by his provocative phrase "an asylum for Science", used in reference to his ambitions for Cornell University, a school he co-founded, I came across White's book A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (which title I believe is familiar to me from the words of Bertrand Russell?). In the book, White recounts the case of Francis Xavier, co-founder of the Jesuits, patron saint of missionaries, and the man the Catholic church credits with converting more souls to Christianity than any other since Paul.

White's book (which can be read here, or at Google books complete with footnotes here) has a chapter on Xavier, in which he details the progression and development of legends -- miraculous legends -- about Xavier in the aftermath of his death. Here is why White chose to examine the case of Xavier:

"We have within the modern period very many examples which enable us to study the evolution of legendary miracles. Out of these I will select but one, which is chosen because it is the life of one of the most noble and devoted men in the history of humanity, one whose biography is before the world with its most minute details - in his own letters, in the letters of his associates, in contemporary histories, and in a multitude of biographies: this man is St. Francis Xavier. From these sources I draw the facts now to be given, but none of them are of Protestant origin; every source from which I shall draw is Catholic and Roman, and published under the sanction of the Church. " [1]

White provides his basic claim for the chapter here:

"During his career as a missionary he wrote great numbers of letters, which were preserved and have since been published; and these, with the letters of his contemporaries, exhibit clearly all the features of his life. His own writings are very minute, and enable us to follow him fully. No account of a miracle wrought by him appears either in his own letters or in any contemporary document. At the outside, but two or three things occurred in his whole life, as exhibited so fully by himself and his contemporaries, for which the most earnest devotee could claim anything like Divine interposition; and these are such as may be read in the letters of very many fervent missionaries, Protestant as well as Catholic."[2]

White continues with an example:
"For example, in the beginning of his career, during a journey in Europe with an ambassador, one of the servants in fording a stream got into deep water and was in danger of drowning. Xavier tells us that the ambassador prayed very earnestly, and that the man finally struggled out of the stream. But within sixty years after his death, at his canonization, and by various biographers, this had been magnified into a miracle, and appears in the various histories dressed out in glowing colours. Xavier tells us that the ambassador prayed for the safety of the young man; but his biographers tell us that it was Xavier who prayed, and finally, by the later writers, Xavier is represented as lifting horse and rider out of the stream by a clearly supernatural act. "[3]

(emphasis mine in both quotes above)

According to White, Xavier is both quite keen on identifying diving providence, but claims or even mention of miracles is conspicuously missing from his writings. Not only are miracles absent from Xavier's own accounts, the man who knew Xavier best, fellow Jesuit and historian of the order Joseph Acosta, positively denies the presence of miracles in the Jesuits' missionary enterprise of the time:

"But on the same page with this tribute to the great missionary Acosta goes on to discuss the reasons why progress in the world's conversion is not so rapid as in the early apostolic times, and says that an especial cause why apostolic preaching could no longer produce apostolic results ``lies in the missionaries themselves, because there is now no power of working miracles.'' He then asks, ``Why should our age be so completely destitute of them?'' This question he answers at great length, and one of his main contentions is that in early apostolic times illiterate men had to convert the learned of the world, whereas in modern times the case is reversed, learned men being sent to convert the illiterate; and hence that ``in the early times miracles were necessary, but in our time they are not.''[4]

Over the course of the decades following Xavier's death, admiring biographers and sponsors for Xavier's canonization produced a rapid "evolution" of miracles and supernatural works that got attached to Xavier, increasingly fantastic as time went by. Here, White recalls the situation 70 years after Xavier's death:

"In 1622 came the canonization proceedings at Rome. Among the speeches made in the presence of Pope Gregory XV, supporting the claims of Xavier to saintship, the most important was by Cardinal Monte. In this the orator selects out ten great miracles from those performed by Xavier during his lifetime and describes them minutely. He insists that on a certain occasion Xavier, by the sign of the cross, made sea-water fresh, so that his fellow-passengers and the crew could drink it; that he healed the sick and raised the dead in various places; brought back a lost boat to his ship; was on one occasion lifted from the earth bodily and transfigured before the bystanders; and that, to punish a blaspheming town, he caused an earthquake and buried the offenders in cinders from a volcano: this was afterward still more highly developed, and the saint was represented in engravings as calling down fire from heaven and thus destroying the town.

The most curious miracle of all is the eighth on the cardinal's list. Regarding this he states that, Xavier having during one of his voyages lost overboard a crucifix, it was restored to him after he had reached the shore by a crab.

The cardinal also dwelt on miracles performed by Xavier's relics after his death, the most original being that sundry lamps placed before the image of the saint and filled with holy water burned as if filled with oil.''[5]


This is just a small sample of the inventory provided by White in the chapter. What is striking is not just the breadth and depth of the body of legend associated with Xavier in the years following his death, but the "whole cloth fabrication" of the stories. For most, and possibly all of the miraculous accounts given later, there doesn't even seem to be the "seed" used for later embellishment, but a kind of ex nihilo creation of a miraculum vitae for Xavier (one can feel the account of the crab returning Xavier's crucifix resonating with Paul's miraculous survival of the viper's bite on Malta in Acts).

The import of the example of Xavier, and the spontaneous appearance and evolution of miracles attributed to him should be obvious to the Christian, to the pseudo-skeptic; given a couple decades, and a cult following, the invention and development of miracle accounts -- accounts of fantastic miracles -- isn't implausible, or even novel, and relevant examples are found right inside the history and culture of Christendom itself.

I do note that White's book is now well over a hundred years old, and as science proves, a lot can be discovered over the course of a hundred and more years. I've done some googling on this, but have not found anything that indicates that White's claims in the book have been overturned by the discovery of new evidence from Xavier's writings or reports by his contemporaries that substantiate the miracles later attributed to him. If readers are aware of such a case, I stand to be corrected. But as it is, I commend the case of Xavier and his admirers to the pseudo-skeptic, as a vivid historical example of "legendation" in action, the kind of inventions and embellishments we see accounting for the death of Jesus circa 30CE and the legend of Jesus emerging over the next 50-60 years.

[1] Andrew Dickson White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (Prometheus Books, 1993), lib ii, cap XIII, p. 5.
[2] ibid., p. 6.
[3] ibid., p. 6.
[4] ibid., pp. 9-10.
[5] ibid., pp. 14-15.

Ministry of a Healing Amputee and Another Where the Dead Come Back to Life

69 comments

This article is about two ministries of note I've found in the past couple of months. One is an amputee that claims that Jesus is Growing her leg back, and one is a missionary that claims that he has witnessed the dead coming back to life by the power of God.

Carole Miller McCleery-Greene. On her website has posted medical information and interpreted it for the reader as proof that Jesus is restoring her amputated leg. She has had two automobile accidents that almost claimed her life and did claim her leg but she credits Jesus with getting her through it all.

David Hogan is a Missionary that has personally witnessed dead people miraculously coming back to life by the power of God through his ministry.
- David Hogan. Freedom Ministries. Faith to raise the dead.
- David Hogan at YouTube

I found the David Hogan ministry thanks to a commenter in another article, and I found the Amputee ministry thanks to my RSS Feed at Scienceblogs.com. The blogger at Respectful Insolence is a surgeon. He analyzed the claims of the regenerating leg, the medical information on the website and the interpretation and in his opinion, she's going to die before her leg grows back. He wonders the same thing I do, which is, if Jesus gets the credit for saving her, why doesn't he get the blame for putting her in that situation?

I didn't look long enough to find any dissenting opinions about David Hogan and the dead coming back to life except for this one from a christian because I am quite confident that if it were true, it would be widely reported in the science journals, because scientists love figuring stuff out.

I wonder, if we didn't live in the age where information can get transmitted in seconds around the world, what kind of impact would these claims have? Do you think more people would believe them? Do you think there is any correlation to the type of thing that went on with Jesus? Maybe, maybe not.

But hey, whats the harm, right? It makes them feel better and gives them hope.

Miracle Watch March 23 - 26, 2007

35 comments
I have a google news alert for miracles. I've been doing this for years, now I want to share it with you. This is an attempt to find instances of miracles. If Christians are right, and God provides without asking and they have seen at least one prayer answered, then with information at our fingertips, in this day and age, I could conceivably find up to 2 Billion instances of miracles in my lifetime. This is based on the fact that statistics from the World Book Atlas (corroborated on some other internet demographics sites) show that there are around 2 billion Christians in the world. I am going to assume that I can only find one tenth of that, just for the benefit of the doubt. That would mean that I could find up to 1,923,077 a week over 20 years.

Man Overboard Story
Critic
He seems to be the only one that thinks it is a miracle, and a news critic faults abc news for getting the facts all messed up. ABC is in a ‘position to know’ and has an implied responsibility to get the facts correct. If ABC news, who says they put high value on credibility, and has advanced communication capabilities, can’t get the facts right, can we really trust people without such a vested interest and not it a ‘position to know’? For example, the Gospel writers?

Weeping Jesus
A couple of paintings with Jesus weeping blood, some say it
could also be red paint running because of the humidity.

Weeping Madonna
The priest said “Indeed, even after hurrying over to check out what was happening at the Heroldsbach hostel, the local priest, Rev. Dietrich von Stockhausen, still wasn't prepared to immediately believe
what he was seeing. "When heaven wants to give us a sign," he said, "then it will be one that we can understand. It won't be such a vague one, and one that is so easy to manipulate."
That’s what I keep saying! Yet every Christian I know says they have seen prayer answered or God providing without asking, but I just can’t catch one!

Boy and his slab
He spent two hours under a slab of concrete that ‘came out of nowhere to fall on him’. He was able to wriggle enough to be able to breathe.

Face of Jesus in the Ultrasound photo
To me, it looks more like a pirate.

Motorcycle Wreck
I think the glory should go to the ambulance team who worked their butt off to keep her alive.
“In the ambulance while enroute to the JCL trauma center, Graff
lost her pulse and went into cardiac arrest due to massive bleeding
from her aorta. Paramedics Dorrance and Thomas and SW Ambulance
paramedics Jennifer Hoffman and Robert Arnott continued aggressive
compressions until arriving to an awaiting trauma team.”