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Magician Uri Geller Teaches Much About Bible Miracles

Remember Uri Geller? He was the psychic (or entertainer) who bent spoons and performed similar demonstrations in the 1970s and later. He claimed that extraterrestrials gave him paranormal powers, but wet blankets like stage magician James Randi stated that all of Geller’s claimed paranormal demonstrations were done with conventional stage magic. Randi showed this by publicly duplicating all of Geller’s tricks.

Geller responded: “Sure, there are magicians who can duplicate [my performances] through trickery.” In other words, just because others can do these things as tricks doesn’t mean that he’s not doing them using paranormal powers. But Randi observed that if Geller was actually doing what he claims, “He is doing it the hard way.”

Miraculous Bible claims

I was reminded of Geller when I recently read a defense of one of the Bible’s miracle claims. Maybe it was the Genesis flood story (which looks a lot like the prior Gilgamesh epic). Or the creation story (which looks a lot like the prior Sumerian creation story). Or the Jesus virgin birth story (which looks a lot like prior virgin birth claims of other great men). Or the Jesus resurrection story (which looks a lot like prior dying-and-rising stories of other gods from cultures in the eastern Mediterranean).

It doesn’t much matter which Bible story the apologist was trying to shore up—the defense is the same. It’s the Uri Geller defense. Geller would say that just because they did his stunts through tricks doesn’t mean that he’s not doing them for real. And the Bible apologist says that just because other cultures anticipated some of the Bible’s fundamental miracle claims long before a Bible story was written doesn’t mean that that Bible story isn’t for real.

Granted. But if Randi can duplicate Geller’s demonstrations as tricks, that makes the null hypothesis that Geller’s paranormal claims are fraudulent. Geller has the burden of proof to show that this simple and obvious natural explanation is wrong. And if we have precedents for many of the Bible’s miracle stories, that makes the null hypothesis that these are just ancient Jewish versions of well-known supernatural stories. The apologist has the burden of proof to show that, while the other stories are just myths and legends, the Bible miracles actually happened.

Yes, but those earlier stories don’t count!

Some apologists try to dismiss the earlier stories, but early church father Justin Martyr tried to spin the similarities between Jesus’s virgin birth claim and those of other gods to his advantage. Why should the Greeks dismiss this miracle claim of Jesus, Justin asked, when they make similar claims about their own gods?

About the Jesus resurrection story, Justin speculated that the similar Dionysus story was planted in history by the devil himself. (I give Justin’s arguments in more detail here.)

Another angle is to emphasize that each Bible story is different from its precedents. Of course it’s different—if the Jesus story were identical to that of Dionysus (say), we’d call him Dionysus instead of Jesus. The question is: how can we trust a Jewish or Christian story as history when it came out of a culture swimming with older (false) stories with the same supernatural claims?

How we deal with similar claims.

Psychics might really be talking to the dead. Though that’s not where the evidence points, desperate customers want the psychics’ story to be true.

Crop circles might really be made by extraterrestrials. Though that’s not where the evidence points (creators have documented how they do it), crop circle enthusiasts dismiss the mundane explanation.

Uri Geller might be for real, though that’s not where the evidence points. Similarly, the Bible miracle stories might be true, but similar miracle stories in nearby cultures make copying by Bible authors the best explanation.

We can’t prove that the Bible’s miracle claims aren’t for real, despite all the precedents, but that’s the way to bet. The plausible natural explanation makes the supernatural explanation unappealing and unnecessary. Only someone with a desire to support a preconception wouldn’t follow the evidence where it leads.

I don’t want to argue
with people who believe the world is flat.
— Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong

Photo credit: Wikimedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Kip Hughes

    I love how James Randi exposed Uri Geller as a fraud. This is a must-watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3vGGf-ZIkc

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      [I heard that Randi surprised Johnny with this one to get an honest reaction.]

      My bad–I was thinking of Randi on the Tonight Show with Peter Popoff.

      I just watched the video. Great stuff.

  • King Dave at Newsvine

    Well this only proves humans have free will. Mother nature could not randomly produce that many gullible people.

  • Greg G.

    SATAN gave Uri Gellar the power to do those feats so ATHIESTS could use that argument to make Christian beliefs look silly. [/poe mode off] (Somebody had to say it.)

  • Jerry Lynch

    “The apologist has the burden of proof to show that, while the other stories are just myths and legends, the Bible miracles actually happened.”

    It seems innate within most human beings to want miracles to be real, which may be part of our superstitious nature or a defense mechanism against loss. That this was a subject popular before Jesus is not an argument against the gospel performance of miracles.

    The Evolutionist also has the burden of proof to show that the origins of life actually happened as theorized.

    “About the Jesus resurrection story, Justin speculated that the similar Dionysus story was planted in history by the devil himself. (I give Justin’s arguments in more detail here.)”

    Justin was a person, like you or me. If either one of us offered a bizarre explanation for some event as described, say, in a respected history book written by people of our same ethnic background, what does that say?

    “The question is: how can we trust a Jewish or Christian story as history when it came out of a culture swimming with older (false) stories with the same supernatural claims?”

    How can we trust Quantum Mechanics when much of its imagery comes out of a culture a few thousand years old, “swimming” with the same paradoxical claims? “False stories” of lotus blossums that accurately describe present scientific understanding of how the universe came into being. Or try the Tao Of Physics.

    “…but similar miracle stories in nearby cultures make copying by Bible authors the best explanation.”

    Prove coping? Look at advertising. Many vacuum cleaning products make the same claim about their suction. This does not make the company that can really produce the suction, boasted of by others and never fulfilled, another story just because of previous lies. Again, miracle stories are not just entertaining and a defense against loss, they are a natural means to soothe the psyche. Just like the wish to fly. Icarus is a story about flight: are what the Wright borthers did thereby impugned? Is the “best explanation” that the Wright brothers copied the story of Icarus?

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    The Bible doesn’t highlight magic…but signs…that point to Jesus Christ as God our Savior.

    Don’t believe it (the gospel) yet?

    Look again.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Steve: the idea that the Old Testament is just throat-clearing until the main act of Jesus is pretty far fetched. Search at this blog for my posts arguing against the claims of prophecy in Isaiah 7, Isaiah 53, and Psalm 22.

    • ciroc2323

      “We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, … in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”
      Richard Lewontin

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