Dialogues w Atheists on Miracles

Dialogues w Atheists on Miracles June 8, 2016

JesusBlindMan

Christ Healing the Blind Man, by Eustache Le Sueur (1616-1655) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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These discussions took place underneath my post, 16 Atheists / Agnostics & Me (At a Meeting). The respondents are atheists or perhaps agnostics. Words of Mountain Dew Fan will be in blue. Those of Francis Bacon will be in green.

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I would say that when examining evidence it is more like:

1) The assertion is that Jesus raised from the dead.

2) There are several plausible explanations,

. a) This is just a story. (The events as described never actually happened.)
. b) Jesus was not really dead, so there was no “raising” from the dead.
. c) A supernatural event happened.

3) Since there is no precedence for “C”, the only possible answers are A or B.

Who says there are “no” precedents? According to you, that is the case. According to many others, miracles have occurred before and after. Raisings of the dead were recorded in the Old Testament.

You can’t use the Bible to prove that something in the Bible actually happened. That would be like me saying that Superman as depicted in Superman comic #2 is real, because Superman Comic #1 “documents” his existence.

As for the other “miracles” which have occurred before and after … please see items a) and b) of my original post.

It is not just me that says there are no precedents. Hundreds of millions of people across the Globe do not believe in supernatural occurrences, and there hasn’t been any cases of true resurrection accepted as fact by the scientific community.

You can’t prove a universal negative. Surely, you know that. There have been many hundreds of reports of people being raised from the dead, including several recorded in the Bible. You thumb your nose at that, of course, but the historicity and accuracy of the Bible has been confirmed again and again by archaeology, historiography, etc.

Basically, you regurgitate David Hume’s very weak argument against miracles: “no one’s ever see one; therefore they don’t exist . . .” That’s been disposed of many times, as well. It’s like saying, “there can’t possibly be life elsewhere in the universe because we’ve never ever seen evidence of it.”

For much more on Jesus’ Resurrection and miracles, see: God: Historical Arguments (Copious Resources).

Just because some of the places and events in the Bible have been shown to be true does not in any way  prove that the Rest of the Bible is true.

I can go to New York and see the Empire State building, but that doesn’t in any way prove that any of the events in the book King Kong actually took place.

So you would also affirm: “there can’t possibly be life elsewhere in the universe because we’ve never ever seen evidence of it”?

That is precisely your entire “argument” against miracles: straight from Hume. It didn’t work then and it doesn’t now, because it is not a strong, compelling argument in the first place.

[five hours later] I’ll ask a second time (maybe you’ll answer this time): would you affirm: “there can’t possibly be life elsewhere in the universe because we’ve never ever seen evidence of it”?

The simple answer to your question is “No” … However, I never said that miracles/God can not exist because we’ve never seen evidence for them. What I believe is that supernatural things such as miracles and gods can not exist because they are scientifically impossible.

Life on a different planet is actually scientifically feasible even though we have not discovered it yet.

I’m sure you’ll have a field day with that response ;)

They’re not impossible at all. As I already argued: a miracle occurs when the laws of science are suspended, change, or are superseded in some fashion. We know that the laws of science were quite different when the Big Bang occurred, and we barely comprehend them at all, at the level of quantum physics.

Essentially, you are arguing: “the unproven and ultimately unprovable assumption of uniformitarianism cannot be questioned”; i.e., you claim that scientific laws cannot ever be other than what they are, at any and all times.

You simply can’t prove that. You have no case. You’re left either with bald axioms or self-refuting propositions.

I am not trying to prove to you that they are impossible. It is my opinion that supernatural occurrences are impossible.

I guess what I define as supernatural is anything which supposedly occurs in this world (in “modern” times) which can be observed or measured by humans which defies the laws of science.

Such things as ghosts, turning water into wine, turning a human into a pillar of salt, talking to the dead, bleeding statues, talking snakes, etc.

I’m not talking about quantum mechanics or anything on that level.

I don’t care about your bald opinions. It is exactly your intellectual burden to show us why (rationally) you think “supernatural occurrences are impossible”. You have not done so in the slightest.

Quantum mechanics was, of course, brought up as in example of a foundational presupposition of the miraculous: that the laws of science are not the same everywhere and in all places. The Big Bang was also used in this way. These examples show that miracles are not at all impossible (insofar as a key premise of them is quite possible and demonstrable), even according to the laws of science as we currently understand them.

Yet you say they are impossible and expect us to be impressed when you give no reasons for your dogmatic, arbitrary belief. I’m never impressed by blind faith.

You are not impressed by blind faith, unless it is religiously blind faith.

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We would first have to determine if a supernatural thing is even possible before we could ask if it is a possible explanation. Basically we would have to take another step back before we even asked the first question.

How does one argue that it is impossible? That’s a universal negative, whereas we can provide proof from science that the laws of science at least at one point are not as they are now (which is what is required for a “miracle”): at the Big Bang.

Therefore, if there was an example of a time (or before time) when the laws of science were not what they are now, there can plausibly be other instances as well where the laws of science as we understand them are suspended or are different.

It’s essentially that way in the world of quantum mechanics, too.

What is in play is the principle of uniformitarianism: the assumption that scientific laws function everywhere and always the same. It’s been a very fruitful assumption, leading to tons of knowledge obtained by scientific observation and verification and experimentation, but it is still an assumption, with no ironclad proof that there could never be exceptions to the usual rule.

I’ll ask you, too: would you also affirm: “there can’t possibly be life elsewhere in the universe because we’ve never ever seen evidence of it”?

I don’t know if a supernatural thing is impossible or possible. I’m not even sure what a supernatural thing is.

Of course you know what it is; you simply believe (with inadequate proof) that it never happens.

How do you define the term supernatural?

That which transcends the natural.

Can you give me an example of something that transcends the natural?

That’s just playing ring around the rosey games. You know what we’re talking about, and you need to deal with your fundamental difficulties of proving universal negatives.

I’m afraid I’m not sure what you mean. I am not aware of anything that transcends nature. Could you provide an example to explain it to me?

As I told Mountain Dew, I’m done with this discussion, because neither of you is willing to take up your intellectual burden and show us why anyone should believe in a universal negative: “no miracles are ever possible anywhere at any time.”

Because you guys refuse to deal with your foundational premises, as all thinkers must (you blew it off, again, above), I refuse to deal with relative trifles and rabbit trails.

But I do think the discussion has great utility in exposing the groundless basis of atheist assumptions and hostility to both God and miracles. Thanks so much for that!

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[five hours later] I’ll ask you again: “there can’t possibly be life elsewhere in the universe because we’ve never ever seen evidence of it”? That would not be supernatural, but natural.

I would not say there isn’t life elsewhere because we have no evidence. I would say that I accept it as a possibility but see no reason to believe that it exists here or there without evidence.

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We do not have to enter the conversation with a presupposition that there is no such thing as the supernatural. Of the millions of observations we have been able to explain over the history of humanity, not once has the explanation been magic. When someone claims that the best explanation for something is magic we already have a million examples where such claims are shown to be poorly supported. This doesn’t even touch upon the question of what it would even mean for something to be supernatural/magical.

Magic and supernatural are two completely different things. The Christian believes that there is a God, Who can do things that transcend or suspend natural laws (as it were) because He created and sustains such laws.

Magic or sorcery or wizardry is the view that an individual can exercise extraordinary power over nature in a way that violates the known laws of nature.

If indeed there is a God, then His nature is vastly different in kind from that of a man claiming to do “magic.”

So it comes down to the argument of theism vs. atheism. That’s really the foundational objection: if there is no God and only natural laws (that can never be broken), then we (at least conceivably) can rule all this stuff out as fantasy.

I think that the difference between magic and supernatural is a red herring in what Francis was asking.

Basically I think what he was trying to get at was that since the beginning of scientific studies millions of scientific discoveries have been made which all show a scientific explanation. Not once has a discovery been made where the explanation was … “That happens because of magic or some type of supernatural occurrence”.

We know how rainbows form, we know that the Earth revolves around the sun and is not flat and held in place by pillars, the Earth is not 6,000 years old, etc. etc.

Scientists and doctors will not say “because of a supernatural occurrence” because their fields of study do not allow that. But they will say (and have in thousands of instances) that “there is no scientific explanation” for this or that healing, or unexplained phenomenon.

Lots of documented unexplained healings. You simply dismiss them out of hand as “impossible”: but that impresses no one who isn’t already of your dogmatic mindset.

As I have relentlessly shown in many papers and a book, Christianity was in the forefront of modern science and remained so for at least 300 years, till secularism became the most dominant force and presupposition.

But there are still plenty of top-notch Christian and otherwise theist scientists today. See: Science and Christianity (Copious Resources).

Okay, so let’s say that a guy named Joe is ill. Dr. Bob examines him, tells him that he has cancer and will die in a week. Two weeks later, Joe is still alive … and a few weeks later his cancer is gone.

You would call that a “miracle” and probably state that some type of “Divine Intervention” occurred. However, here are a few possibilities as to what happened:

1) Dr. Bob misdiagnosed the patient.
2) Joe did have cancer, but it wasn’t as severe as Dr. Bob thought.
3) Some treatment by Dr. Bob and/or something that Joe did (for example eating an entire box of Twinkies) had an unexpected positive reaction to the cancer.
4) An invisible all powerful entity decided that out of all of the people with cancer across the world he was going to cure Joe’s cancer, not immediately … but slowly over the course of a month.

Which of these four possibilities do you think is the most likely? Is a misdiagnosis by a doctor more or less likely than an all powerful being snapping his fingers and making the cancer “go away”?

I would not call it a miracle at all, unless all plausible natural explanations could be ruled out. Even then, I would say it “might” be. I’m open-minded and scientific in outlook, with faith. You are closed-minded and dogmatically rule out things, even though you cannot rationally do so, as I’ve been arguing.

The most likely explanations would be #1 or #2, quite clearly. So I don’t look at it totally differently than you do. It’s just that I allow for the possibility of a miracle, whereas you don’t (for no good reason).

And you’re reduced to silly speculations about what I “would” do, which only prove that you have only a dim knowledge of my actual outlook on things of this sort.

Good grief: you must know that the Catholic Church investigates reputed miraculous phenomena for many years before coming to a conclusion. It’s quite as skeptical as you or any atheist. And even then, it is not required that any Catholic actually believe the reputed miracle.

Also … how do you apply my questions above to the resurrection of Jesus? Would you still say that one or two are the most likely explanations, and it would only be a miracle if “all plausible natural explanations could be ruled out”?

If so, then I guess your whole religion falls apart because you can not rule out all plausible natural explanations because there is no way to go back and determine if there was an incorrect diagnosis!! Therefore you must conclude that the most likely scenario is that Jesus was not resurrected! I guess you can stop celebrating Easter now :)

Yes I would say that, and this is exactly what is done, and what is investigated in apologetics about Jesus’ Resurrection. All alternative scenarios (endlessly suggested by atheists and other skeptics) are analyzed from a “legal criterion of proof” perspective and none of them are remotely plausible. Most are immediately ridiculous and farcical and do not actually explain the events surrounding or following the Resurrection at all.

The Resurrection is the most plausible explanation, if, of course, one accepts miracles as a possibility. Because atheists and skeptics don’t, they dogmatically rule out the very possibility.

And that brings it back, as always, to the fundamental questions: is there a God? and (as a result) do miracles occur? You still haven’t shown all of us how you manage to believe in universal negative propositions: on what rational basis?

If you continue to ignore you fundamental epistemological problem, then I’m done with this discussion, because there is nowhere else to go with it. You have to face the difficulties of your own position.

Really? The Resurrection is the MOST plausible?
More plausible then the story was not true?
More plausible then the fact the Jesus was not really dead??? Really? Do you have access to all of the read-outs from the medical instruments which were used on Jesus after his “death”????

You claim that misdiagnosis (as well as every single other possibility) is not even “remotely plausible”??? How in the world could you know that? Not even REMOTELY PLAUSIBLE that people 2,000 years ago would see a body which is on the brink of death and state that he is dead when in fact he is actually not? Did they look for his pulse? How do they know that beyond a shadow of a doubt he was really dead?

I think you are letting your beliefs cloud your judgement on this one. I’m not talking about the possibility of a miracle happening. I’m talking about your belief that misdiagnosis was not even remotely plausible.

You stated above that you wouldn’t call it a miracle “unless all plausible natural explanations could be ruled out”. I am stating that since these events happened 2,000 years ago and our only evidence of them is some writings in some book, then you CAN NOT state that all plausible natural explanations can be ruled out!!

There is plenty of apologetics out there showing how implausible and absurd all the alternate scenarios are. I’ve collected tons of the best examples.

Wow .. that’s a lot of information. The few that I looked at I can summarize as follows: “The resurrection really happened because there is alot of stuff written in the Bible which says that it did.”

If you know of something with a little more … historical proof other than the Bible … that would be of great interest.

Also, even using the Bible doesn’t appear to be a reliable source, for example see this article.

If the authors of the Bible can’t even agree on how many people saw the tomb the next day, and whether or not the tomb was already opened and how many zombies walked around the town after it all happened … then how can anything in the Bible about the resurrection be trusted as reliable evidence?

Nice try. Of course, the defenses of the Resurrection that I have collected are far, far more than your silly dismissive summary. If you’re truly serious about looking into the evidences for it, and historical arguments to be made then you will. It requires a lot of serious reading.

If you’re not (as appears to be the case), then you will blow it off, as you do here, and switch the topic to the usual atheist mockery.

The standard atheist response to being referred to lots of serious philosophical / historical treatments of the topics they ostensibly claim to be interested in, is to find some way to avoid them, lest the discussion actually become serious and constructive. We can’t have that: because then the Christian view wouldn’t be able to be dismissed as foolish and only fit for mockery.

I’m done with this discussion. You have stated flat out that you have no reason to believe that miracles are impossible, yet you believe it in blind faith, anyway. And that is of no interest to me. I’m interested in rational discussion, not touchy-feely “knowledge” of stuff with no rational evidence or arguments adduced in their favor.

Well, I know that you have done quite a bit of research on the topic, so you probably have a much better understanding of it than I do.

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So the difference between Yahweh powers and magic is that one is done by humans and the other is done by Yahweh? Is that correct? Do I also understand that you believe in wizards?

Far more than that. God is omnipotent, and created the laws of science and sustains them. That puts Him in a unique place to supersede the same laws.

I believe there is such a thing as demonic sorcery, yes. I don’t think its particularly prevalent.

Bernie Sanders might be a wizard, since he claims he can give everyone everything they want. If he can do that through socialism, that would indeed be a miraculous and unprecedented occurrence.

I’m curious. Have you ever gauged how confident you are that there is demonic sorcery? For instance, if you had to rate your confidence in that belief from 0-100 (0 being no confidence the belief is true and 100 that you have no doubt that the belief is true) where would you put it?

100. There is plenty of demonstrable evidence of demonic activity (such as exorcisms).

Atheists and other skeptics simply say (like Hume, who was a theist, by the way), “it can’t possibly happen, so it didn’t in this case.”

That’s an atrocious argument, with no force at all.

It’s like saying, “there can’t possibly be life elsewhere in the universe because we’ve never ever seen evidence of it.”

Wow! 100 percent is very high. You mentioned there being demonstrable evidence of demonic activity as being a reason you believe. Would you say that all 100 percent of your belief in demonic sorcery is based upon this evidence or is there more to it?

That sort of evidence, plus the fact that is is casually assumed in the Bible, which I believe to be inspired divine revelation (on a million other grounds).

So, hypothetically, if someone were to show you that, for example, there was a different explanation for what you believed to be demonic sorcery, would you still be at 100% certainty?

That’s only one case, and is irrelevant to your question: “Have you ever gauged how confident you are that there is demonic sorcery?” I answered “100” [%] as to the existence of the thing.

Now you are asking me about what amounts to one case, where there is a “different explanation.” That would only suffice for that one case; it wouldn’t prove that there is never sorcery anywhere at any time.

You can’t disprove all of the cases in one fell swoop, just as you can’t prove that there is no other intelligent life in the universe by a blanket category denial based on fallacious prior presuppositions.

In this scenario this person would have another mechanism or mechanisms to describe these instances of demonic sorcery. Would you be less confident in your belief?

The burden would be to disprove all such reputed instances by natural alternative explanations. Thus it is an attempted universal negative again, which is virtually impossible to establish.

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