What good evidence for the supernatural would look like

This post was written for my series on science and religion, and incorporates material from previous posts as well as the current draft of chapter seven of the book.

Believers sometimes ask atheists what evidence would convince them that God exists. My answer to this question depends on what you mean by “God.” If you’re talking about capital-G God, all-powerful, all-knowing, and loving, my answer won’t make believers happy: it’s frankly very hard for me to imagine even wildly hypothetical situations where I’d think there was good evidence for that claim.

You’d have to somehow convince me that an all-powerful, loving God might very well allow a five year old girl to be raped, beaten, and strangled to death (see previous chapter), and I have no idea how you’d do that. I suppose finding out my entire life up to this point has been a dream could help (though that would itself seem like a dick move on any hypothetical god’s part).

But if you ask me what evidence could convince me to believe in a small-g god, defined as just a very powerful supernatural being, it’s trivial to imagine a world where we do have very good evidence of the supernatural. Authors of fantasy fiction do it all the time. If anything, it’s harder to tell a story where the evidence is genuinely ambiguous.

(Note that as I describe examples of possible evidence below, that does not mean I’d refuse to consider any other alleged evidence. In future chapters, I’ll be dealing with a number of standard arguments for the existence of God on their own terms.)

Take the story of Moses in the Bible. In Exodus 4:1-8, God gives Moses the ability to turn his staff into a snake and back again at will, as well as the less well known (and grosser) ability to turn his hand leprous and back at will. If God sent us such a prophet today, it would be fairly easy to document his powers beyond a reasonable doubt.

Believers often respond to suggestions like this by insisting that skeptics who claim they’d accept such evidence wouldn’t really accept it. How they think they know this, I have no idea. It is true that some people would, quite reasonably, suspect trickery, but you could do tests to rule this out. There are a number people would be happy to help design such a test, and able to design it well.

For example, James Randi is a former stage magician who’s used his expertise to expose a number of frauds, including Uri Geller and Peter Popoff, who use trickery to fake having supernatural powers. The James Randi Educational Foundation, which Randi founded, offers a million dollar prize for anyone who can demonstrate paranormal abilities under controlled test conditions. Winning this prize would be an ideal way for a modern-day Moses to give the world clear evidence of his powers.

Or: a couple years ago evangelical scholar Craig Keener put out a two-volume work titled Miraclesmostly a compilation of modern-day miracle stories from various sources. At one point, he cites a story from a book by Pat Robertson in which, supposedly, “a leg severed beneath the knee grew back” (p. 747). Keener suggests this is evidence that skeptics who complain that stories of miraculous healing never include regrown limbs are secretly just closed-minded.

But wait a minute. If such a thing really happened, couldn’t an intelligent group of witnesses could get the story reported in every major news outlet in the world? Document that the body part was missing, document that it was regrown shortly thereafter, and you barely need witnesses to the actual regrowing. This would avoid a number of common problems with claims of miraculous healings, such as the possibility of a coincidence or that the doctors made a mistake.

Keener tries to explain the lack of medical documentation for alleged miraculous healings by proposing that God has seen fit to mainly work healing miracles in the context of missionary efforts in the Third World, and that makes them difficult to document (see i.e. p. 662, 704-705). Unfortunately, a world where miracles only happen under circumstances where they can’t be documented well looks suspiciously like a world where miracles don’t happen at all.

  • eric

    The test for a tri-omni God is actually easier than the test for a little-g god, not harder. Its this: you ask big-G God to design a perfect test of his own Godliness for you. If he can’t come up with such a test, then either he’s not omnipotent, or not omniscienct, or he doesn’t want to help you out.

    ‘Perfect’ in this sense means one where we humans can understand the logic behind the test (i.e., how the test results rationally lead to a conclsusion of God or not-God); one where we humans are practically capable of carrying it out; and one which will is so definitive that only a statistically insignificant number of humans will disagree with the result. Now, desiging a test that does all that is a very tall order – for any small-g god. But for big-G God, it should be a piece of cake…because if he can’t do it, he’s not the big-G, is he?

    • Darren

      Nice.

    • http://www.seditiosus.blogspot.com Schaden Freud

      Yup, that’s a good one.

  • Patrick

    If I had to assess the quality of the evidence for (Christian) theism I would say it is “fairly good”. As for such evidence in the following threads I provided some of it under the name “patrick.sele”:
    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2012/09/is-there-any-evidence-for-christianity.html
    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2012/03/is-evidence-for-resurrection-of-jesus.html
    For atheists fairly good evidence is not enough. They ask for compelling, “extraordinary” evidence. But it may be that God wants the evidence to be of the former kind. For those who really seek God fairly good evidence is enough, and for all the others no further evidence is necessary. For someone who doesn’t seek God it may even be better if there is no compelling evidence for God’s existence, as for someone who would reject God despite such evidence it is certainly better if he was not faced with it (see Matthew 11,20-24, Luke 12,47-48, John 15,22-25, Hebrews 6,4-6, 2 Peter 2,20-21). This may also be the reason for “divine hiddenness”, a concept with which I dealt in the following thread as a commenter, again under the name “patrick.sele:
    http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2013/01/the-evidential-argument-from-divine.html
    As for the problem of evil, which is pointed to at the beginning of the blogpost in the following thread I dealt with it under the name “Patrick”:
    http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2012/08/01/the-only-reasonable-reply-to-the-problem-of-evil/

    • Chris Hallquist

      You cite Craig Keener? Keener’s evidence is definitely weak, for reasons I partly explained in this post and will further explain in my next post on this subject.

      For the resurrection, I’d just refer you to Carrier’s Hero Savior of Vietnam.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      If I had to assess the quality of the evidence for (Christian) theism I would say it is “fairly good”.

      For atheists fairly good evidence is not enough…

      Not so. They merely disagree with you as to the quality of your evidence. And I’ll bet that either a) they are willing to show up and debate that quality with you or b) you don’t allow negative comments on your site.

    • RobMcCune

      Given the extraordinary claim that the god of all the universe chose to walk around a small patch of land for a few years in order to deliver the most important message in all history, I feel it’s fitting to demand extraordinary evidence. For a fairly reasonable claim fairly good evidence suffices.

      Quoting a bunch of late 1st to early 2nd century religious pamphlets does not make for even” fairly good” evidence for that by the way.

    • eric

      For atheists fairly good evidence is not enough. They ask for compelling, “extraordinary” evidence. But it may be that God wants the evidence to be of the former kind.

      If people are going to hell because they need the latter to be convinced, and yet God decides only to give them the former, then he’s evil.

      “Hey eric, you save drowning people, right?”
      “Yep, absolutely. I care so much, I toss every single one of them a life ring.”
      “But that guy over there is wearing plate mail. If you care, should’t you give him something more?”
      “Nope, everyone gets a life ring. If that doesn’t save him, screw’em.”

      • hf

        Typical atheist equivocation: should read ‘plate armor.’ ^_^

    • Ryan M

      Grant that some proposition requires extra ordinary evidence in order to be probable at all. If a proposition requires extra ordinary evidence, then good evidence for that proposition would be extra ordinary evidence. I’m not sure how you can miss this.

      My response might be without use though since you need to define the following: Fairly good evidence, extra-ordinary evidence, compelling evidence.

  • Darren

    Now, that said, what might convince me that God exists, big G God, and that he has more or less the characteristics ascribed to him (omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, etc.) by Theists?
    Primarily, I would have to say “Informed Consent”.
    So, we are to believe that some all powerful being created the whole of existence, that he created humanity, that we are obligated through no fault of our own to obey his laws, that our very nature as created by God and again through no fault of our own (thank you, Adam) means we are absolutely incapable of obeying God’s laws, and aha, there you have it, caught dead to rights and into the lake of fire we go for all eternity… Unless we sign up for the Get Out of Hell Free card, free for the asking, but you do get to spend the rest of your life groveling and shouting “We’re not worthy”, and of course 10% of the gross wouldn’t hurt, you know, for God’s work and all.
    But, it gets worse. There are multiple competing examples of this story, each one exclusive, and at most only one of them can be right… Pascal’s wager my rear end… Two by two matrix? More like a 32 by 32 matrix…
    So, where exactly did I sign up for this?
    You could not legally sell someone a washing machine in this country under those terms, or enlist them in the Army, or sign them up for clinical trials, or accept a blood donation. But it is OK for the most Just being in the entire universe? I think not.
    So, if tomorrow morning, I were to wake and find Jesus Christ himself was standing there, with a stack of forms, and the Owner’s manual for Darren’s Life in hand, and he spent the next week following me around, and answering all of my questions about Life, The Universe, and Everything, and how all of creation is actually Just, despite appearances, and then gave me a choice, sign on the dotted line or evaporate from existence…
    Well, the most reasonable conclusion would be that I had gone completely insane.
    Now, if the same exact thing were happening to all 6 billion plus inhabitants of Earth, all at the same time, all visible to everyone else?
    Well, again, I would assume that I was insane.
    But, after a little while, when Jesus did not evaporate, I would have to conclude that, insane or not, this was really the way the world worked, or at least appeared to work, then I would happily sign on the dotted line.
    Now, for an infinite being, this task would be trivial. This would also not violate free will, as I would have the free choice, should I find the idea of Christianity and eternity in Heaven so repugnant, to simply evaporate into a cloud of insensate neutrinos or whatever a soul evaporates into. Something like this would also, I think, be about the minimum to qualify as Fair. God says, “Welcome to my universe. These are the rules. Play nice or you are free to leave.”
    I think that would just about do it.

  • MM

    “Take the story of Moses in the Bible. In Exodus 4:1-8, God gives Moses the ability to turn his staff into a snake and back again at will, as well as the less well known (and grosser) ability to turn his hand leprous and back at will. If God sent us such a prophet today, it would be fairly easy to document his powers beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    Slightly OT, but don’t forget that Pharaoh’s priests also were able to do the snake trick. In fact, Pharaoh’s guys also were able to turn the Nile to blood and bring a plague of frogs, and were only unable to keep up with the Hebrew god once they hit the plague of gnats. So it would seem that even the Biblical definition of God is a but fuzzy, if whatever they Egyptians were worshiping also had demonstrable supernatural powers…Exodus seems to indicate that the God of the Hebrews was simply the most powerful of many gods rather than the ONLY capital-G God.

  • Nolan

    What counts as supernatural? I always found Richard Carrier’s definition to make the most sense:

    http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2007/01/defining-supernatural.html

    I think something like human beings that function with no brains, verified reincarnation, or the existence of something like magical spells to be pretty strong evidence for this type of the supernatural, and I think would be more convincing than regrown limbs or staff-snake transformations. They all also happen to be things that within Christian theism, would easily be made possible by God.

  • MNb

    Evidence for capital G-god is not that difficult.
    There is a hurricane, tsunami or earthquake coming, or something similar. A week before all people threatened have the same nightmare, warning them for the danger coming. Thus god doesn’t have to violate scientific laws but actually uses them. Thus free will is not affected as people still have the choice to stay or to leave.
    If that happened on a statistically significant base I would convert, yes, but highly probably not to christianity.

    “respond to suggestions like this by insisting …”
    Yes, that happened to me as well.

    Patrick, your so called evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is nothing but a circular argument. You believe in the resurrection, hence you think the Biblical account reliable, hence you think the resurrection is historical. According to your logic I can maintain that the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe in a Big Boil, while slightly drunk. There is plenty of clearly first hand testimony to be found on internet.
    Just prove that I’m wrong and you will understand why no atheist will accept your “evidence”.

  • Patrick

    Chris Hallquist: “For the resurrection, I’d just refer you to Carrier’s Hero Savior of Vietnam.”

    MNb: “Patrick, your so called evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is nothing but a circular argument. You believe in the resurrection, hence you think the Biblical account reliable, hence you think the resurrection is historical.”

    My arguments for the historicity of the Resurrection given under the name “patrick.sele” in the thread below don’t presuppose it and therefore are not circular. Moreover they are based on the first hand testimonies given by the apostles Paul and Peter and not on the Gospel accounts, so Carrier’s objection is irrelevant here:

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2012/03/is-evidence-for-resurrection-of-jesus.html

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ vinnyjh57

      We have no first hand testimony from Peter. What we have from Paul is a bare assertion of an appearance by a supernatural being.

      In order to say that something is evidence of some event that occurred in the past, I need to have some understanding of the natural processes of cause and effect that are at work. If I come across a body with a knife sticking out of its back, I think that the little swirly patterns on the knife’s handle are evidence of who did the stabbing because I understand the natural processes by which fingerprints come to appear on objects and I believe that those processes act consistently. If I thought those patterns appeared randomly or by divine fiat, fingerprints wouldn’t be evidence of anything whatsoever. Knowledge and experience indicate that the overwhelmingly most probable cause of the kind of supernatural stories found in the Bible is some combination of of the usual human foibles, i.e., ignorance, superstition, gullibility, prevarication, and wishful thinking.

    • eric

      Moreover they are based on the first hand testimonies given by the apostles Paul and Peter and not on the Gospel accounts

      Joseph Smith’s account of his encounter with Moroni is first hand. Do you believe that?
      The Koran relates Mohammade’s firsthand accounts of Gabriel dictating it to him. Do you believe that?
      If not, then obviously you think “I have a first hand account of miracle x” is not a good enough reason to believe it, and it makes no sense to make an exception for the case of any biblical account.

  • Patrick

    Rob McCune: “Given the extraordinary claim that the god of all the universe chose to walk around a small patch of land for a few years in order to deliver the most important message in all history, I feel it’s fitting to demand extraordinary evidence. For a fairly reasonable claim fairly good evidence suffices.

    Quoting a bunch of late 1st to early 2nd century religious pamphlets does not make for even” fairly good” evidence for that by the way.”

    Ryan M: “Grant that some proposition requires extra ordinary evidence in order to be probable at all. If a proposition requires extra ordinary evidence, then good evidence for that proposition would be extra ordinary evidence. I’m not sure how you can miss this.

    My response might be without use though since you need to define the following: Fairly good evidence, extra-ordinary evidence, compelling evidence.”

    Extraordinary claims are about rare or unusual events or phenomena. But can the respective evidence ever be “better” (either quantitatively or qualitatively) than for frequent or common events or phenomena? Extraordinary claims cannot have extraordinary evidence, because if they had they would not be extraordinary.

    Proceeding from this view I define “fairly good evidence” as evidence that one would accept with respect to mundane, “ordinary” claims.

    • RobMcCune

      You’re confusing evidence that a phenomena is possible with evidence it occurred in particular instance. Yes, evidence for the mundane is abundant so it is easy to a story about ordinary things with little to no evidence. In contrast there is no precedent that establishes that an omnipresent god has ever become a mortal man and died for the sins of all mankind outside of the event you’re trying to prove in the first place. Any compelling case for such an event would require extraordinary evidence, because there are many other phenomena that could account for it that have evidence for them.

  • Patrick

    When theists present evidential arguments for God’s existence, atheists usually dismiss them as God-of-the-Gaps arguments. But what exactly distinguishes God-of-the-Gaps arguments from legitimate evidential arguments for God’s existence? One way to judge whether or not events or phenomena are caused supernaturally or simply have a yet unknown natural cause is to look whether or not they happen randomly. As for well-documented miracle claims they seem to happen mostly in the context of Christianity and therefore not randomly, as can be seen from the following quotes:

    “It is in this light that we must judge the accounts we possess of other miracle-workers in Jesus’ period and culture. We have already observed that the list of such occurrences is very much shorter than is often supposed. If we take the period of four hundred years stretching from two hundred years before to two hundred years after the birth of Christ, the number of miracles recorded which are remotely comparable with those of Jesus is astonishingly small. On the pagan side, there is little to report apart from the records of cures at healing shrines, which were certainly quite frequent, but are a rather different phenomenon from cures performed by an individual healer. Indeed it is significant that later Christian fathers, when seeking miracle workers with whom to compare or contrast Jesus, had to have recourse to remote and by now almost legendary figures of the past such as Pythagoras or Empedocles.”

    A.E. Harvey, Jesus and the Constraints of History, Philadelphia 1982, p. 103.

    (Source: http://christianthinktank.com/mqfx.html).

    “It is the rather explicit teaching of the Quran that Muhammad performed no supernatural, verifiable miracles apart from the inspiration that he received. The Quran in several places emphatically negates the idea of Muhammad performing physical feats such as raising the dead, healing the sick, opening physically blind eyes etc.”

    (Source: http://www.answering-islam.org/Responses/Azmy/mhd_miracles.htm).

    If one doesn’t accept this criterion, but is not able to provide other criteria for a legitimate evidential argument for God’s existence, such an argument is not even in principle possible. But then there is no point in asking for such evidence. Moreover, one cannot accuse Christians who regard the available evidence as sufficient of having an unjustified belief.

    • eric

      But what exactly distinguishes God-of-the-Gaps arguments from legitimate evidential arguments for God’s existence?
      In a legitimate argument, one defaults to the null hypothesis (“I don’t know”). In a GOG one, the believer defaults to their preferred hypothesis.
      Thus, GOGs have the same fatal flaw that Pascal’s Wager does, in that they provide equal justification to believe in an infinite number of contradictory conclusions.

    • eric

      If one doesn’t accept this criterion, but is not able to provide other criteria for a legitimate evidential argument for God’s existence, such an argument is not even in principle possible.

      I don’t accept counting accounts of miracles as good criterion for belief. My ‘other criteria’ is empirically confirmable evidence of it happening. If you want to say that your God can’t or won’t provide that, then we will in fact agree that there is no legitimate evidential argument for a belief in God. That may seem unfair to you, but it appears to me to be a direct conclusion from Christian assertions that God can’t or won’t provide confirmable empirical evidence of his existence.

  • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

    Patrick,

    You quite simply must be joking if you think that testimony from the Bible, even outside the gospels, even remotely constitutes “good evidence” for the resurrection, or any other miracle for that matter.

    The idea that “first hand testimony” somehow makes the claim any better is also laughable.

    By these standards, you should believe in the miracles of Sathya Sai Baba that took place only a few years ago. Or maybe the miracles of Mohammad, or Joseph Smith. Each of these has “multiple independent attestations” and we have “first hand testimony” from multiple witnesses.

    In fact, by these standards we have “good evidence” that people have been abducted by aliens and had probes shoved up their asses. Following your logic, the fact that we have so many different first hand accounts of people being abducted by aliens onto a UFO, and while the individual details differ, we see the common theme of probes being shoved up their asses, meaning that the ass-probing nature of abductions is much more likely true.

    I think this should be pointed out every time someone asks how we can explain the empty tomb. It’s just like a UFO/alien abduction claimer asking “How can you explain my sore ass?”

  • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

    I got so caught up in replying to Patrick that I neglected to say that this is a very well done article. Stuff like this is the reason I’m a fan of your blog.

    • Chris Hallquist

      Thanks!

  • Patrick

    vinnyjh57: “We have no first hand testimony from Peter.”

    Counter Apologist: “You quite simply must be joking if you think that testimony from the Bible, even outside the gospels, even remotely constitutes “good evidence” for the resurrection, or any other miracle for that matter.”

    1 Peter, written by Peter, “a witness of Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 5,1, NIV), contains allusions to the Resurrection (1 Peter 1,3, 1,21, 3,18, 3,21). The authenticity of this epistle has been contested, mainly on the ground that “Babylon” mentioned in 1 Peter 5,13 supposedly refers to Rome, but that it is only after 70 AD, i.e. after the destruction of the Jewish Temple by the Romans and also after Peter’s death, that Jewish sources call Rome by that name and consequently, 1 Peter supposedly cannot have been written by Peter.

    According to 1 Peter 2,13-14 the apostle Peter acknowledged the Roman government authorities. Therefore, it seems questionable to me that in the same letter he would refer to the capital Rome as to “Babylon”, thereby regarding the Roman Empire as being ripe for God’s judgement.

    In my view it is more probable that “Babylon” refers to Jerusalem. According to Galatians 2,7-9 Peter was regarded as “an apostle to the Jews” (NIV), who, at least around AD 50, stayed in Jerusalem. Moreover, if Jerusalem could be called “Sodom” (Isaiah 1,10, Revelation 11,8), “Gomorrha” (Isaiah 1,10), and “Egypt” (Revelation 11,8) it is certainly not unreasonable to assume that it could also be called “Babylon”. Finally, if “Babylon” mentioned in 1 Peter 5,13 refers to Jerusalem 1 Peter and the Book of Acts would be two independent sources of the fact that Mark and Silas were members of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 12,12, 15,22, 1 Peter 5,12-13), which provides another argument for the authenticity of 1 Peter.

    The Book of Acts and 1 Peter may even be two independent sources of another central miracle of Christianity apart from the Resurrection, namely the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Acts 2,2 and 1 Peter 1,12 are the only places in the Bible where we can read that the Holy Spirit was sent “from heaven”, and it may well be that the latter passage refers to Pentecost as well. It is also only in these two books that the geographical names Pontus and Cappadocia appear (Acts 2,9, 18,2 and 1 Peter 1,1). It could be that those who had preached the gospel to the addressees of 1 Peter were Jews from Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia who were present at Pentecost and later went back to their respective homelands and told their fellow citizens about their experience in Jerusalem. These Jewish Christians in these areas may have come to faith in Christ by the sermon Peter delivered on the day of Pentecost as described in Acts 2,14-41 and the pagan Christians that are addressed in 1 Peter by the witness of Jewish Christians, just as according to Acts 11,20 it happened in Antioch.

    As for the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9,1 and 15,5-8 he speaks about his encounter with the risen Jesus, which is clearly a first hand testimony of the Resurrection. One might ask if Paul had any reason not to tell the truth. Not only was his testimony the cause of much hardship (see 1 Corinthians 4,9-13, 15,30-32, 2 Corinthians 11,16-33), but in addition he had to fear that in the end he would turn out to be a false witness about God (1 Corinthians 15,15). According to Philippians 3,3-10, before his conversion Paul was a well-respected member of the Jewish community, so he didn’t have to become a Christian to win fame. From 1 Corinthians 9,3-18, 2 Corinthians 2,17 and 1 Thessalonians 2,9 one can see that Paul was not looking for financial advantage. Therefore, such a motive for his activities can also be ruled out.

    In the New Testament we can find references to experiences of other miracles than the Resurrection that amount to first hand testimonies of these events. They can be found in Romans 15,18-19, 1 Corinthians 12,9-10, 2 Corinthians 12,12 or Galatians 3,5. These passages wouldn’t make sense if no miracles or miracle-like events had happened. In addition they imply that the addressees of the respective letters had experienced such events, so there were quite a number of witnesses.

  • Patrick

    Counter Apologist: “The idea that “first hand testimony” somehow makes the claim any better is also laughable.

    By these standards, you should believe in the miracles of Sathya Sai Baba that took place only a few years ago. Or maybe the miracles of Mohammad, or Joseph Smith. Each of these has “multiple independent attestations” and we have “first hand testimony” from multiple witnesses.”

    As for Sathya Sai Baba, his claims concerning miraculous works seems to have been debunked, as can be seen from the Wikipedia articles about him. As for Mohammad, if the Quran claims that he didn’t work miracles, I don’t see how there can be multiple witnesses of alleged miracles. As for Joseph Smith, according to the following link at least some of the alleged witnesses were rather untrustworthy:

    http://www.bible.ca/mor-witness-book.htm

    • eric

      As for Sathya Sai Baba, his claims concerning miraculous works seems to have been debunked,

      So what you’re saying is, if we have independent reasons to believe a personal story is false, its rational to discount it?

      for Joseph Smith, according to the following link at least some of the alleged witnesses were rather untrustworthy

      So what you’re saying is, if we have independent reasons to believe a personal story is false, its rational to discount it?

      I consider Physics to be a pretty good independent reason. How about you?

    • RobMcCune

      So are demanding extraordinary evidence for those things, as well as saying testimony is not a reliable basis for deciding the truth of someones claims? How odd then that you spend a whole comment taking Paul’s word as authoritative on just about everything.

  • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

    Where were the Miracles of Sathya Sai Baba debunked? He refused to do them under controlled conditions, that doesn’t mean the miracles aren’t real! How dare you insult the great mystic, whose powers were manifested in the presence of multiple witnesses, which according to your standards is “good evidence”.

    As for Mohammed, the Hadith’s speak of his miracles which came after the Qur’an, though admittedly I’m less familiar with Islamic traditions so I’ll concede this point for lack of knowledge to rebut your claim.

    As for Joseph Smith, I’m talking about his healing miracles. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracles_of_Joseph_Smith#Healing

    One could just as easily dismiss the testimony of the witnesses of the biblical miracles. How do we know they were trustworthy? Does the lack of information going around at the time make those miracle claims more credible?

    I notice you didn’t reply to anything related to alien abductions and UFO’s. We have “good evidence” by your standards, that aliens must exist, and that there is a history of them abducting humans and shoving anal probes up the ass of a great many people, some of whom are still alive today and can attest to this personally!

    But lets look at historic evidence, look at the multiple independent attestation of witnesses to the Roswell UFO sighting! This is good evidence that aliens have visited earth!

    • StEwPiD_MoNkEy

      “How dare you insult the great mystic, whose powers were manifested in the presence of multiple witnesses, which according to your standards is “good evidence”.
      Actually, yes we dare. I witness magicians to extraordinary stuff. So should we just take Chris Angel on his word? I don’t care if a million witenesses saw it. Does the claims stand after being tested?

  • MNb

    @Patrick: “they are based on the first hand testimonies”
    You think they are first hand testimonies because you believe; you reject the stories about the Flying Spaghetti Monster because you don’t believe. You don’t have any objective standard to accept the first and reject the second. All your quotes from the NT are self-referential. You think they are first hand testimonies because you believe.
    Thanks for confirming my point just after denying it.
    I repeat: tell us why you reject the Pastafarian claims about the Big Boil and you’ll understand why I reject the Resurrection of Jesus. It’s typical you neglect this, but rather prefer just to repeat yourself.

  • Patrick

    Counter Apologist: “I notice you didn’t reply to anything related to alien abductions and UFO’s.“

    I’m not an expert on this issue. What one would have to find out in this respect is whether or not the alleged witnesses were sane and trustworthy. If this is the case I don’t rule out the possibility that these experiences were genuine. Whether or not they really can be put down to the activities of aliens is a matter apart.

  • Patrick

    eric: “Joseph Smith’s account of his encounter with Moroni is first hand. Do you believe that?

    The Koran relates Mohammade’s firsthand accounts of Gabriel dictating it to him. Do you believe that?“

    I don’t rule out the possibility that these two men had encounters with angels.

    eric: “I don’t accept counting accounts of miracles as good criterion for belief. My ‘other criteria’ is empirically confirmable evidence of it happening. If you want to say that your God can’t or won’t provide that, then we will in fact agree that there is no legitimate evidential argument for a belief in God. That may seem unfair to you, but it appears to me to be a direct conclusion from Christian assertions that God can’t or won’t provide confirmable empirical evidence of his existence.“

    The problem is that the God-of-the-Gaps charge has the consequence that it is not even in principle possible to provide empirically confirmable evidence. As for such evidence in my view a medical documentation of (seemingly) miraculous healings can be counted as such. Another way to arrive at such evidence consists according to me in applying a Bayesian analysis of miracle claims as demonstrated in the paper entitled “A Bayesian Analysis of the Cumulative Effects of Independent Eyewitness Testimony for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ”, written by philosopher John M. DePoe. The paper can be read in the following link:

    http://www.johndepoe.com/Resurrection.pdf

    • eric

      The problem is that the God-of-the-Gaps charge has the consequence that it is not even in principle possible to provide empirically confirmable evidence.

      Yes, it is. God comes down and works confirmable miracles under scientific conditions. Or my own contribution: God comes down and tells us how to test his own godly nature.

      The only thing making it “impossible in principle” to provide evidence for God is Christian insistance that God can’t or won’t do these things. In other words, it is YOUR assumptions that are making your claims untestable. That is not our problem to solve, its yours – if you assert an untestable God, then you”re stuck with the consequence that your God is untestable.

  • Patrick

    Hi Patrick, looks like this is a shorter version of a comment by you that got incorrectly marked as spam, so I’m approving the other comment and deleting this one. – Hallq

    • Patrick

      Some comments just didn’t appear, so I thought maybe it’s because of the length and consequently broke comments into smaller parts and sent them.

  • Patrick

    eric: “So what you’re saying is, if we have independent reasons to believe a personal story is false, its rational to discount it?“

    Of course it is. This also applies to Christian miracle claims, as can be seen in the following contribution that was written by a Bible believing Christian:

    http://www.alexanderseibel.de/lies_for_the_glory_of_god.htm

    eric: “I consider Physics to be a pretty good independent reason. How about you?“

    This sounds like the argument against the trustworthiness of testimonies about miracles put forward by the philosopher David Hume (1711-1776), according to which the laws of Nature undermine it. As for this argument the following book provides a criticism of it:

    John Earman, Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument against Miracles, New York 2000.

    As for the history of philosophical arguments against miracles the following contribution is very informative:

    http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/miracles.html

    • eric

      The WLC link is amusing. There is a lot of bad argument, but I hope you don’t expect me to respond to all 15,000 words of it here. That would be a ridiculous requirement, yes? So how about this: you present your two best reasons – in dramatically less than 15,000 words – on why physics is not a good inpendent reason to reject testimony against miracles, and I’ll respond to those.

      • eric

        err…testimony of miracles. D’oh!

  • Patrick

    Counter Apologist: “Where were the Miracles of Sathya Sai Baba debunked? He refused to do them under controlled conditions, that doesn’t mean the miracles aren’t real!“

    You are right that from the Wikipedia article one cannot arrive at the conclusion that Sathya Sai Baba’s miracles have been debunked. What comes closest to such an assessment is the following paragraph:

    “In 1998, British journalist Mick Brown stated in his book The Spiritual Tourist that in his opinion Sathya Sai Baba’s claim of “resurrecting” the American devotee Walter Cowan in 1971 was probably untrue. His opinion was based on letters from the attending doctors presented in the magazine Indian Skeptic, published by Premanand. Brown also related, in the same book, his experiences with manifestations of vibuthi from Sathya Sai Baba’s pictures in houses in London, which he felt were not fraudulent or the result of trickery. Brown wrote with regards to Sathya Sai Baba’s claims of omniscience, that “skeptics have produced documentation clearly showing discrepancies between Baba’s reading of historical events and biblical prophecies, and the established accounts.””

    Counter Apologist: “How dare you insult the great mystic, whose powers were manifested in the presence of multiple witnesses, which according to your standards is “good evidence”.“

    What is at issue here is not whether or not he performed the seemingly miraculous acts, but whether or not they were caused supernaturally, so your objection here is irrelevant.

    As for miracle claims outside the Judeo-Christian culture in general from a Biblical perspective one cannot rule out the possibility that they refer to true miracles (see e.g. Exodus 7,10-13 or 2 Thessalonians 2,9).

    • StEwPiD_MoNkEy

      So you advise to allow people to make claims that cannot be proven?
      And no, it is about whether or not he performed these acts. It’s actual a dual fold problem.
      1. Show that what he did has any basis in a “supernatural” sense
      2. Even if one proves the supernatural exists, one would then have to continue to prove that Sathya’s miracles where actually supernatural and not trickery.

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