March 19, 2019

From my book, The One-Minute Apologist (Sophia Institute Press, 2007), pp. 22-23.


The Bible teaches that “when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.” Thus the Catholic Church cannot claim that its ministers today enjoy the gifts and authority that Christ gave to the Apostles.



The idea that spiritual gifts or charisms, or even offices in the Church, were intended for the apostolic age only and not for all times is not taught in the Bible; and furthermore it makes little sense. God gave His gifts to the Church so that it could better fulfill its mission, which continued after the apostolic age.

Some Protestants (called “dispensationalists”) hold that God operates in different ways according to particular ages. A disbelief in miracles and supernatural gifts can also be the result of an anti-supernaturalist or skeptical bent. But the most common argument from Evangelicals in this regard stems from 1 Corinthians 13:8-11. They view the passage, which speaks of supernatural gifts “passing away,” as proof that whatever charisms the apostolic Church may have received from God, these did not carry on through the ages. Certainly the Catholic Church cannot lay claim to them today.

But this is very poor exegesis. The context makes clear that Paul is referring to the next life as the “perfect,” since in 13:12 he states: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.” [cf. 1 Jn. 3:2; Rev. 22:4] In other words, the gifts that are part of earthly faith and ministry will not be necessary in heaven.

Those who are known as “cessationists” claim that the “perfect” referred to by Paul is the Bible; but this is merely a preconceived notion imposed onto the text. And why would God remove the blessings for the roles which He had foreordained each of us to play?

Moreover, if these gifts were to cease, why would Paul spend the better part of three chapters (1 Cor. 12-14) defining and elaborating upon them for use in the Church? He urges the Corinthians to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” [1 Cor. 13:1] and to “earnestly desire the higher gifts.” [1 Cor. 12:31; cf. 14:39; 1 Thess. 5:19-21] Paul would have been wasting his time if he knew these gifts were about to pass away.


These gifts were intended only for the earliest period in Christian history, to attest to the gospel and the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But after that they were not strictly necessary. That goes for offices within the Church, too — so-called “apostolic succession.” Catholics are going beyond the Bible at this point and are simply trying to justify their man-made inventions and traditions.


In this passage St. Paul uses typical Hebrew rhetoric: an exaggerated form of “comparison and contrast.” He means to convey the idea that even important things such as prophecy and knowledge will count for little compared with the glory of being in the presence of God (“face-to-face”). They are not to be sources of pride.

In the surrounding context, Paul casually assumes that gifts would be present in the Church. He writes about “varieties of gifts,” [1 Cor. 12:4] details their distribution by the Holy Spirit (“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit . . . one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills”), [1 Cor. 12:7-11] shows that different Christians have different roles and charisms (“Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?”), [1 Cor. 12:27-31] and in chapter 14 provides a detailed exposition of the use of tongues and prophecy in the Church. Nowhere does he ever indicate that this is only a temporary state of affairs.

As for apostolic succession, that has clear biblical warrant, too. It is shown, for example, that the apostles (not Jesus) selected Matthias as the successor of Judas. [Acts 1:20-26] Judas was called a “bishop” (episkopos) in the same passage (1:20), where the Bible specifically describes a process of succession: “For it is written in the book of Psalms . . . ‘His office let another take’” (cf. 1:25: “to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside”). If apostles can be replaced in this fashion, and if one was called a bishop, then by logical extension there could be an unbroken apostolic succession of bishops, as the successors of the Apostles.

This conception is present, whole and entire, in the Bible. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 12, St. Paul seems to casually assume that the office of apostle was an ongoing one in the Church. The biblical and historical office of bishop would account for this. The Bible contains all the evidence that one would expect to find in favor of a continuance of all the spiritual gifts, including Church offices.

“1 Corinthians 13:1-13 is obviously directed against a kind of enthusiasm, where zeal for the more spectacular charismata, particularly prophecy, glossalalia and knowledge, had provoked jealousy, arrogance, irritability, and kindred sins. Love had been the loser, and love provides the test (13:4-7). No matter how outstanding the gifts exercised, if they produced a loveless character, Paul counts them of no value whatsoever.”

— James D. G. Dunn (Protestant New Testament Scholar)



March 6, 2019

Words of the friendly and civil atheist Gavin G. Young will be in blue. This took place in one of my blog comboxes.


Dave, are you familiar with what is called the problem of divine hiddenness? It is related to the problem of evil. Namely, if a loving personal god exists why has the god not revealed himself/herself to some people – including people why prayed to the god and called out to the god to provide evidence of the god’s existence to them.

Yes, I’m familiar with it. I consider the problem of evil the most serious difficulty that Christians have to grapple with in explaining our faith.

Consider the situation when such people then became atheists due to no god ever being discovered by those people? If such a god exists and if that god sends all nonbelievers to hell torment due to them not believing in him/her, isn’t that a major theological problem – especially if the people wanted to believe in the god and have a relationship with the god?

The Bible teaches in Romans 1 that all people know God exists by looking at His creation. Thus, in our view, this more or less innate knowledge would have to be unlearned by atheists and other unbelievers. It’s easy to take on any belief-system, depending on who we hang around. We are what we eat.

Romans 2 (a bit more ecumenical) also states that those who haven’t heard the full Christian message can possibly be saved by acting according to what they know.

We would say that if God knows that a person truly has to be communicated with directly by Him in order to follow Him, He would do so (similar to Doubting Thomas). If He doesn’t, He must feel that it isn’t necessary for the person (as He said after the Doubting Thomas appearance: “blessed are those who have not seen and still believe”).

I know that is totally unsatisfactory to you, and I’m not saying that this is persuasive apologetics, or (strictly speaking) apologetics at all, but that is how we look at it, from within our paradigm; why we don’t feel that this poses a problem for our position. I’m just trying to explain that to you.

I have another question also. In 1 Kings chapter 18, according to the Bible, a number of people petitioned the god (alleged god) Baal to consume the sacrifice made for it by its believers, yet the god did not consume it:

1 Kings 18: 18-27 (NIV) “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the LORD’s commands and have followed the Baals. 19 Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” 20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing. 22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the LORD’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire—he is God.” Then all the people said, “What you say is good.” 25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. 27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.’

What do you is the Bible writer’s intended meaning for that portion of the biblical account? Was it to convey the idea that Baal is not a real god for he didn’t provide evidence/proof when people implored/challenged/demanded him to do so? The way I see it, that portion of the Bible has an atheistic message in regards to alleged theistic type gods (this would not apply to deistic types of gods) other than the biblical god. Namely it says it is appropriate to test idea of an alleged god being real, even to the point of demanding the god to provide proof of his/hers existence; and if the proof is not provided (and if one can not find proof elsewhere) then one should become an atheist in regards to that particular god (or judge the god as being too weak to provide miraculous evidence).

The Bible also teaches atheism in regards to gods other than the biblical god when it says that graven idols are not gods since they neither see, hear, talk, eat, or reposition themselves if they happen to fall over (and furthermore that people made such images).

1 Kings 18 is the famous story of the encounter of the prophet Elijah with the false prophets, on Mt. Carmel. We visited the spot when we were in Israel in 2014. In this instance it was indeed a concrete demonstration that God existed and that the false god Baal did not. So you’re quite right: it was a sort of empirical proof of the sort that you demand in order to believe in God.

The thing is: miracles are never presented as normative for all time in the Bible. Elijah was a great prophet, and so he could and would do miracles, or preside over them, as here. But prophets are not with us most of the time. The apostles were also meant for a short period, filled with miracles. Elijah raised the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24); so did the Apostle Peter (Acts 9:36-42). That’s not normative, or to be expected, let alone demanded, although there have been reported raisings from the dead throughout Christian history. Jesus performed miracles, too. But He also stated:

Matthew 12:38-40 (RSV): Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”  [39] But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. [40] For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Mark 8:12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? . . .”

The sign of Jonah was referring to His Resurrection. But of course, many refused to believe in Jesus even though they saw Him perform many miracles. They denied that they were from God:

Mark 3:22-26 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Be-el’zebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” [23] And he called them to him, and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? [24] If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. [25] And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. [26] And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.

So these miracles you demand before you will believe, weren’t good enough for these people. They simply dismissed them, just as many dismissed the Resurrection when it happened, coming up with many idiotic theories to try to rationalize it away.

You bring up a story of the prophet Elijah as if it is supposed to be normative for all time. It’s not; anymore than the miracles of Moses were (how many times was the Red Sea parted?). Elijah prayed for it to stop raining for three-and-a-half years, and then prayed for it to start up again (James 5:17-18). You think that’s normative? It clearly isn’t.

Therefore, by your own biblical example (Elijah), you prove that your demand for miracles is excessive and unreasonable. God performs miracles if and when He chooses to do so. We can never totally figure all that out. But we can observe some degree of biblical explanation of it and can know some things about it.

Your view is that an infinite, omniscient God ought to be able to be figured out by us. That’s absurd. If He exists and is indeed omniscient, we’ll never completely figure Him out. But He can reveal Himself through revelation, which is why we have the Bible.

It’s true that God performed relatively more attesting miracles during certain periods, but it’s equally true that these were temporary. Testimonies of the miracles were written down for later generations.

My personal experience with the biblical god is that he never talks (nor communicates with me in any other way) nor can I even see him. If I am correct about that god being nonexistent (other than as a mere idea in the imagination of many humans), then isn’t worship of that alleged god a form of idolatry (since the god would a false god, due to not even being an existing entity)? At least the graven images exist, but it is not proven that anyone can point to the biblical god and show “there he is right over there” regarding the biblical god (though some believe they saw the god, but I think they were hallucinating or dreaming).

Sure, I can do that, by pointing to Jesus of Nazareth, Who is God in the flesh. God the Father is an invisible spirit. We believe the life of Jesus is sufficient to show us that God exists, is powerful (His miracles), loves us (His death on the cross for us, and His extraordinary sinless character), and has conquered death (His Resurrection).


Related Reading:

Photo credit: The Raising of the Daughter of Jairus (1881), by Gabriel von Max (1840-1915) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
February 28, 2019

Catholics don’t deny at all that Protestants can and do have miracles in their midst. Personally, my wife and I both feel that we were healed as Protestants, from her severe pains of scoliosis, and serious depression in my case. I noted many miracles in the Wesleyan revivals, as I was compiling my book of John Wesley quotations.

What I think is really the bottom-line point in the overall discussion of miracles and the differences between Protestants and Catholics is one I noted soon after my conversion: that Protestants habitually do not require personal holiness (including attesting miracles) in major “reformers” and Christian reform. This is what was radically new.

In the Bible and Catholic tradition, wisdom and righteousness were intrinsically connected. The wise person was the holy person, and if they ceased being holy they ceased being wise (as in King Solomon’s infamous case).

Catholic reformers were traditionally very holy people, who not infrequently had attesting miracles (people like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Ignatius of Loyola). The new Protestant idea was to say that reform was not intrinsically connected to personal holiness, so that Martin Luther could supposedly reform the entire Catholic Church without being personally holy.

Protestants (as a broad generalization) — particularly Lutherans, for obvious reasons — go to great lengths to freely admit that Luther was an “imperfect man” and a flawed man (often noting his uncontrolled tongue, his statements about the Jews, etc.), but they simply don’t care in the end whether or not he was a holy and righteous man. It’s irrelevant to them. All they care about (again, bottom line) is what he taught and did, which they regard as mostly true and of a reforming nature.

The Wesleyan revivals (which were actually a movement within Anglicanism) were a glorious exception to this usual Protestant thinking. They were all about profound personal conversion and holiness and the serious following of Jesus as a radically committed disciple, and there were many miraculous occurrences during them.

Wesley had no notion of the separation of wisdom and holiness, as Luther and Calvin, and those who look to them as leaders, do. Sanctification and holiness was front and center in his revivals. And this is because he was a traditional Anglican, and remained so his entire life.

But one of the Catholic counter-arguments to the so-called “Reformation” (which was really a Revolt) was to challenge Protestants by saying: “where are your miracles and why do you casually accept these major flaws in the founders of your various denominations?” That’s a separate issue from whether any miracles at all are present in Protestant ranks. We don’t deny that they are.

It is the “cessationist” man-made tradition (largely in Calvinist ranks) that formally denies the possibility of any miracles after the apostolic age. That’s not our fight. It’s an in-house Protestant fight.

I would also add in passing that the “Reformation” was not much concerned at all with missions and evangelization, as the Catholic Church at the time very much was (which is why all of South and Latin America became Catholic, and portions of, e.g., India).

The Protestants were far more concerned with the obtaining of political power, and stealing of churches, and forbidding what was a 1500-year practice of Catholicism up to that point: in other words, coercive efforts rather than traditional methods of preaching and persuasion of others to become Christians.

And we know that Calvin in particular (over against Luther) — also Zwingli, and eventually even Luther’s right hand man Philip Melanchthon — denied that the eucharistic miracle took place in Christian worship every Sunday. In doing so, they separated the supernatural from Christian worship, making it primarily a matter of verbal inspiration from preaching.

And so it remains to this day: the sermon is the centerpiece, focus, and climax of most Protestant worship services, whereas for Catholics, Orthodox, and some more traditional Protestants (Lutherans and Anglo-Catholics), the Eucharist — which is a supernatural occurrence; a miracle — is the primary purpose and focus of Christian worship.

We literally encounter our Lord Jesus at every Mass, and receive Him not just in our hearts but in our physical bodies as well, so that God’s grace towards us abounds. That’s about as “personal” of a relationship to Jesus as can be imagined . . .


(originally 9-23-14 on Facebook)

Photo credit: John Wesley preaching outside a church. Engraving. This file comes from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom. Refer to Wellcome blog post (archive). [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license]


February 23, 2019

This exchange occurred with my (former evangelical) atheist friend Jon Curry, in a Facebook combox for my post, Atheists, Miracles, & the Problem of Evil: Contradictions. His words will be in blue.


I wouldn’t say miracles are contrary to science. Science is just a method by which we evaluate hypotheses. No miracle has yet been evidenced in a manner sufficient to meet the standards of the scientific method. I’m always open to it, [but] for whatever reason God is unwilling to perform a miracle that comes with decent evidence. Maybe he will one day. If he does I’ll believe in him. He doesn’t. I figure it’s because God isn’t real. Nothing stopping God from proving me wrong some day.

And there never will be one sufficient for you if the hundreds already documented are not. Your premises disallow it. I prefer to modify my premises according to observed reality.

When the hundreds of miracles documented are of this nature (there is no known explanation, so we conclude a miracle happened) this to me is just not a rational basis for a miracle. Things happen all the time for which there is no explanation. Atheists, Muslims, Mormons, Hindus, you name it, all walks of life can point to instances of cancer disappearing without explanation or similar such events. There is such a thing as forensic science which evaluates claims about singular events that are not necessarily reproducible repeatedly, like murders.

God could perform a miracle that could be evaluated using these methods. He could re-arrange the stars, control natural disasters, such as volcanoes or tornadoes, in a way that communicated divine intervention. Very easily this could be done. Instead it’s things like you mentioned. Somebody’s cancer disappeared, I can’t explain it, and the fact that I don’t accept this as a miracle supposedly is proof of my stubbornness and dedication to atheism. Or we’re supposed to believe in a resurrection because books written decades after the fact by devoted, superstitious followers are supposed to be convincing.

God doesn’t have to be so obscure, transmitting information in the least reliable way. The fact that this is how the information arrives to us is a hint that really there is no God. But don’t paint it like atheists preclude the possibility. We want something evidenced in a decent way. In fact it should be evidenced really well. That’s how we all operate when it comes to extraordinary claims. You make an exception for miracle claims in your preferred religion, while not making exceptions for miracles in non-preferred religions.

How do you explained the hundreds of incorrupt bodies of saints? This looks to be true regarding Blessed Fr. Solanus Casey, who is our local Detroit future saint. See also a general Catholic article about the incorruptible saints.

The explanation is within the news piece you linked. “(I credit the preservation to) a lot of effort to prepare the body accordingly,” I cannot tell you that (it’s due to a higher power). I can say this man who was identified as someone that needs to be there for posterity.” Earlier in the piece the doctor is quoted as follows. “I am not sure I would call it a miracle. I would call this unusual,” Dr. Spitz said. Something unusual happened. That’s not a miracle.

Right. You are so utterly predictable. I virtually could have written your reply myself . . .

When the source you provide doesn’t support your claim and in fact expressly contradicts it you should be able to predict that I will point it out.

It substantially supports my claim, but because it isn’t absolutely perfect, you think it is no support at all. This was from a Jewish doctor, from a standard understated medical / scientific outlook. We would fully expect him to describe it as he did.

It remains no less extraordinary and miraculous. Go dig up any body that’s been dead for sixty years and see what it looks like. Are you unaware of how bodies decay? But you have no choice but to discount the report in any way you can: no matter how absurd or exaggerated, because you cannot accept the actuality of a miracle.

Winning the lottery is extraordinary. I’ve heard of a case of a woman falling from an airplane and surviving. There was a guy sentenced to death by firing squad, shot eight times including one at close range to the head. He survived. Many very incredible things have happened, things that are often believable. They come with decent evidence, like a lottery winner quitting their job and being able to buy nice things. The firing squad guy has the scars that are consistent with the claim.

I’m not super familiar with how bodies decay, particularly when they’ve been subjected to the preservation process with chemicals, etc. I understand some mummies have been uncovered that were surprisingly well preserved. But this is such a strange miracle. The whole point of a miracle is to kind of show people that God’s work is at hand. Why so obscure? A body exhumed that is not entirely preserved, still decayed to some degree, just not decayed quite as much as expected.

Why wouldn’t God just preserve the body totally if he wants to demonstrate his power in this way? No, he expects us all to get a degree in the science of body decay so we can understand exactly what is possible naturally, and we supposedly can see in this case that it’s outside the normal range of decay so we’re supposed to be impressed? For you this is reasonable?

There are many bodies of saints that are totally incorrupt: even have a sweet smell. So how do you explain those away? You can rationalize away Fr. Solanus because of very minor decay overall. One would fully expect you to do so. You’ll take any imaginable “loophole” to avoid the obvious conclusion: that a miracle has occurred, which is not able to be explained by the laws of science as we presently understand them.

Give me an example of a saint with a totally non-decayed body.

“The Incorruptibles: What’s the meaning of this remarkable phenomenon?,” by Fr. Dwight Longenecker (The Catholic Answer / OSV, 7-1-07)

Photographs of Incorruptibles

From your article: “Who exactly are “the incorruptibles”? They are saints whose mortal bodies have not FULLY decayed (or been “corrupted”) after death. Sometimes, one particular limb or organ of a saint’s body has not decayed, even though THE REST OF THE BODY HAS DONE SO.”

You go right to any possible loophole, so you can rationalize your unbelief yet again! Missing the forest for the trees . . . I do thank you for the absolutely classic, textbook example of this corrupt (pun intended) mentality in atheists and religious skeptics.
Photo credit: amboo who? (6-23-12): “Parting of the Red Sea” [Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 license]
February 22, 2019

“Anthrotheist” (words in blue below) responded to my paper, Miracles, Materialism, & Premises: Dialogue w Atheist. This continues our discussion. He has been perfectly congenial and a worthy dialogue partner for at least eight months now.


It occurs to me, after taking some time to think about your responses, that I had missed a critical assumption underlying my biases (which are surely shared by many atheists and secularists): if every phenomenon has a natural cause, that cause can be investigated and understood, and that cause can be leveraged into use by human ingenuity.

For example: A universally familiar phenomenon of human life is that the Sun provides energy. This energy has been used to do everything from drying clothes and warming the skin, to tracking the time of day and anticipating seasons for millennia. It’s effects were useful even when there were no other explanations for its causes than the existence of a supernatural god (which was often worshiped) or device (generally belonging to a god, like a chariot wheel). The scientific assumption that the Sun and its effects are natural and can be understood led to its investigation. First was the study of light itself, which led to advances in optics and artificial lighting; later, coupled with the study of lightning it produced things like photovoltaic panels to convert light to electricity. It also led to the study of what causes the Sun to produce light, which resulted in understanding nuclear fusion, which may one day provide bountiful power here on Earth (and, it has to be acknowledged, has already been harnessed into a horrifically destructive weapon). The assumption that everything has a natural cause is closely tied to the practical advantage that any natural cause can be harnessed by human technology.

Contrast that to the paradigm of supernatural miracles: Much like the Sun’s usefulness in drying and warming things, the direct effect of a miracle has practical use. Unlike our study of the Sun’s energy, the usefulness of a miraculous phenomenon stops there. If a miraculous phenomenon cures the sick or injured, it is quite fortuitous to the individual that happens to be the benefactor; but if the underlying processes of the cure or healing could be studied and understood, it’s likely that its causal forces could be utilized to provide those benefits to everybody (ideally, though currently that’s more like “everybody that can afford it”). It would be like if the conspicuous death in bacteria colonies that was discovered on Petri dishes had been written off as a miracle: nobody would have examined further and discovered that penicillin mold contains compounds that kill bacteria.

From the point of view of this assumption — that treating everything as being strictly natural is conducive to developing ways of utilizing the benefits of any phenomenon we discover — the realm of supernatural miracles is a dead end. To put a fine point on it (and, admittedly, to be a bit condescending and snarky), it prompts the response, “I am glad you experienced a miracle and feel better, that is wonderful for you and your loved ones. But given that you can’t offer any clues or insights into how or why it happened, and given that it only happens on extremely rare occasions, honestly who cares? It’s like someone winning the lottery or being born with exceptional gifts (or wealth): congratulations on your good fortune, but don’t expect anyone else to get excited about it.”

So, in short, even if the supernatural does exist, it doesn’t make any difference to the world; its only benefit, at all, is to excite and reassure those people whose religious faith relies on its existence. (And the debatable benefits of faith (and the myriad definitions of that word) are also, as you put it, “another huge discussion.”)

I hope you don’t mind, but I have more to say and think it would be better to break it up into more digestible segments.

The main gist of your argument here is self-evident, first of all, and so I have no disagreement with it: only the cynical, negative slant you put onto miracles. You’re merely comparing apples and oranges and noting that they are different. DUH! Of course they are . . .

Lastly, you act as if it is an either/or scenario: either we accept science (and thus reject miracles, even though this doesn’t inexorably follow at all), or we accept miracles and reject science.

Christians are quite capable of fully accepting both. It is you guys who have closed your minds to a whole host of other non-natural possibilities within an overall clearly ultra-complex reality, as if matter and natural processes are all that exist.

To be perfectly honest, and with no real hope of meaningfully defending myself on this point, I honestly believe the way that I do because it is more comforting for me to do so. The very idea of the supernatural scares the crap out of me. The idea that there could be entities that can affect us in the natural world, but are completely beyond our ability to affect in return, is pretty much the basic plot of every ghost story ever told. It robs us, not of free will, but of any meaningful power to protect ourselves from the whims of beings that can touch us but cannot even be seen, let alone countered.

Given the options of either: adopting the faith that all things supernatural are under the power of a single God, and that this God is the God of the Bible, and that despite all the horrors portrayed in the Bible and seen around the world, that this God is good, loving and just; or in believing that there are no supernatural forces in the world, and that every threat or force that we encounter can also be affected by us, given enough time to figure out how; ultimately, it is easier and more comfortable for me to choose the latter. I work hard to be rational, but at the end of the day I have to admit that I am an emotional being and I don’t like being afraid.

That is very honest indeed, and I thank you for it. The very idea of atheism (and I think, with it, an ultimately meaningless universe) scares the crap out of me. But it doesn’t follow that I have no reasons I can produce for why I believe in God and Christianity. I have hundreds of such reasons. Thus, Christian belief is both objective and subjective.

When I hear John Lennon’s Imagine (I’m a Beatles fanatic) and he sings, “imagine there’s no heaven”, that scares the wits out of me. But he seemed to think it was comforting. Because if that is true, in my opinion, there is no ultimate meaning to life and no hope that “the scales of justice” will be balanced in the end.


It’s interesting to me that you mention Popper, and it confuses me a bit. On one hand, you appear to uphold Popper’s principle of falsifiability as being essential to science,

It is the currently accepted approach to scientific method; not necessarily the only one. It seems good enough to me.

and on the other you claim that miracles can be studied scientifically. As far as I can tell, the investigation of miracles is far closer to an Anthropological or Sociological survey and study than it is a scientific experiment;

It’s both. For past instances, all we have is legal-type proof: testimony of eyewitnesses. In the present we can bring scientific investigation to bear. But we need not reject evidence besides empirical.

Popper rejected the burgeoning social sciences as “real science” (he referred to them as Marxism, which is fair considering that Marx was a key contributor to early social science). So how can miracles (or any supernatural phenomenon, which as far as I can tell are all essentially subjectively experienced) possibly be falsified?

Reputed miracles such as healings can be examined scientifically and medically. If there is a natural explanation then that can be considered a disproof: i.e., the principle of falsifiability. No difference here that I can see . . . How can a broken bone that is now whole be merely “subjectively experienced” if there was medical observation? There is plenty of evidence of that sort that is simply ignored by atheists. You have collectively closed your mind and your eyes. We haven’t. We follow facts and observation where they lead, which is the more scientific and rational attitude.

You also claim that my basic assumptions are circular, but I can’t help but feel that your criticism of them is hypocritical in relation to your defense of your own beliefs.

There is no hypocrisy or inconsistency. I’m criticizing you for not acknowledging your own axioms, that all thinkers of all stripes have. Christians (being also human beings) have axioms like everyone else. I was simply pointing out that our view is not anti-evidential, anti-scientific, or irrational blind faith (as we are always accused by atheists of being).

To wit:

Criticism of my beliefs: “. . . your own empiricist view necessarily starts with unproven, non-materialistic axioms: that you accept without proof to even have the view that you have in the first place. I would argue that this makes your view logically self-defeating or circular . . .”

Defense of your beliefs: “. . . we can present many solid reasons for why we believe all those things: reasons that can stand up to scrutiny, and show themselves to be more plausible and worthy of belief than alternatives.” (emphasis yours)

You blame me of believing in something just because there are reasons behind it, and no proof or evidence, presumably because you consider consciousness (i.e., the source of reasons) to be incompatible with materialism, as though consciousness cannot possibly exist in a purely material universe. Then you defend your beliefs without proof or evidence, but simply with reasons: exactly the same way that I do.

First of all, philosophical reasoning is part of evidence. I have more than 2200 online articles and 50 books in which I offer all kinds of evidence and reasons for why Christianity is true, and why Catholicism is the purest and fullest form of Christianity. Why would you think I have to present all of that in one short reply? That’s rather odd.

Our premises appear to me to be equally unprovable, we only appear to be differing in our reasons for valuing them.

Exactly! Now you’re starting to get it. But your unprovable axioms are inconsistent with your dogmatic empiricism, which disallows them by definition and with considerable philosophical naivete. That is the difference.

It’s feeling more and more like it is time for that huge discussion because honestly, Dave, this is starting to feel pretty condescending.

I didn’t intend any condescension, anymore than you intended a charge of bigotry. I am simply debating the ideas.

One argument for my preference may be: Belief in materialism originates in what you see and experience around you; everything you interact with is material; once you reach a sufficient level of development, then you begin to think deeper than the surface of the materials and contemplate emergent phenomena like consciousness.

The correlating argument against theism would be: Belief in God and the supernatural originates in an ancient holy text, transcribed and translated innumerable times throughout the millennia.

But in fact it usually does not. It usually begins with a felt interior consciousness of God or something other and mysterious: something “spiritual” (the latter idea is one that Einstein often wrote about, in his criticisms of materialistic atheism). This occurs before we ever get to actual reputed holy books. It was certainly the case with me. I never read the Bible or learned much about it at all till I was 18, but I had always believed in God.

Once you reach a sufficient level of development, then you begin to find ways to dovetail the things that you experience around you into the explanations that came from your holy book. (Which is part of the reason that I believe that theodicy is one of the most challenging areas of apologetics: it is one area where both evidence and reason quite apparently contradict the Bible’s explanations, requiring a plethora of reasons how to resolve the myriad incompatibilities.)

Finally — back to science here — you say ” A scientific theory is adopted at first, and then it is tested in order to try to falsify it.” I can’t help but argue that you leave out a critical step here, which is the hypothesis. The hypothesis is the tentative explanation that is adopted at first and then tested.

Sure. I was just not being specific or technical enough, but it’s the same general notion that I expressed.

A scientific theory is only adopted after the underlying hypotheses have been consistently confirmed through peer-reviewed analysis of experimental tests. To relate this to my arguments: science begins with hypotheses and tests them to produce a theory; theology begins with a theory and then produces hypotheses to support it.

Again, not necessarily at all. It usually begins with interior consciousness and spiritual experience.


Reputed miracles such as healings can be examined scientifically and medically.

It occurs to me that this may run into a problem similar to the “God of the cracks” argument. People on my side of the fence love to joke that the rate of miracles has declined in a perfect inversion to the increased availability of video recording devices. But more precisely, how can one differentiate between a miraculous healing and one that simply defies current scientific or medical understanding? Assuming that there are still more things to learn about medicine, surely phenomena that are not understood today will be perfectly explainable sometime in the future. If that is the case, then confirming a miracle relies on an existing body of knowledge, not on a logical framework that can be shown to be categorically false.

I argue that Christian beliefs begin with the Bible because nobody comes to believe in the Christian God without the Christian Bible. No amount of spiritual mystery or interior consciousness has ever produced the story of Jesus in a person outside of a culture that already included the story of Jesus. A state of wonderment and transcendence are perfectly human experiences, but concluding that eating pork is somehow unclean requires a primer. Thus, all the conclusions that are found in the Bible, which are used by Christians to explain the world, started in the Bible. This included children raised in a society that is predominately Christian and who therefore were inevitably exposed to Biblical messages, obviously.

It’s true that many things may possibly be explained by solely natural explanations in the future, just as many things are that way now, that weren’t properly understood before science cast light on them.

On the other hand, it’s equally possible that there are actual miracles that will never be explained (if we could look into a crystal ball and see the future: 10,000 years from now). One thing is just as possible as the other, so I don’t see that this argument is compelling at all.

Particulars of the Christian God are indeed dependent on the revelation of the Bible: but not theism itself, which is why there are many arguments for theism which don’t address the more specific traits of God, as taught in the Bible and Christian theology.

In Romans 1 it states that men can know that there is a God and that He created the universe, just by observing it. I totally agree: so have many great thinkers, including David Hume and (in a somewhat less defined way), Einstein (who was more of a pantheist).


Photo credit: The Raising of Lazarus (c. 1630-1632), by Rembrandt (1606-1669) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


February 20, 2019

If God were to prevent every instance of suffering, He would have to eliminate (it seems to me) both 1) human free will and 2) the laws of science.

The first would turn us into robots, which is hardly a desirable outcome. The second would lead to chaos and an inability to do science. This is the high irony that I note among atheists. When they talk science, no miracles are permitted or even imaginable.

But when they talk problem of evil or getting evidence for God that even they will accept, the more miracles the merrier: we are supposed to think that God should perform literally millions of miracles in order to stop all suffering and make His existence manifest to one and all: no doubt whatsoever.

To put it another way, in effect the atheist argues (in self-contradiction):

A) You Christians believe in miracles, which are unproven and irrational and contrary to science; therefore I reject your belief-system.

B) If your God doesn’t perform many miracles in order to alleviate human suffering, either this proves he doesn’t exist, or that he is evil and/or weak and ineffectual.

A contradicts B (claims of miracles are a disproof of Christianity / miracles are required to prove Christianity’s God). Yet atheists habitually make or simultaneously assume both arguments. It’s illogical, irrational, and most unfair as a critique. The atheist can’t have it both ways and remain logically consistent.

God chooses to involve us in prayer, helping others, and in working out our own salvation (that is ultimately by His grace). I think that’s a wonderful thing. I don’t want to be a robot, or ruled by fate and mere “mechanical inevitabilities.” That would be a sort of Divine Fascism. If God was actually like that, I’d become an atheist in a heartbeat.


[atheist “Anthrotheist”There is really zero irony involved, in the context of viewing God as being so much wiser and more powerful than humans (and being their creator to boot) that he is a parental figure to humanity. We expect parents to intervene on behalf of their children as often as it takes to keep them safe, and that supersedes the child’s temporary preference or limited capacity for comprehension (by analogy, we don’t see parental intervention as making children “robots” nor do we see it as making their environment chaotic).

Parents are not omnipotent. The insinuation you are trying to make is that God should intervene qua omnipotent being, to overcome every sad and tragic thing that happens in life in a physical universe. That makes it a whole different ballgame.

If you want such a being to intervene every time, then that has massive repercussions to the universe as a whole, and to uniformitarianism, and hence, to science (making the latter very difficult to pursue at all, because no one has any idea when the next of millions of supernatural interferences will occur).

Please take care; saying “If God was actually like that, I’d join you as an atheist in a heartbeat.” is a blatant misrepresentation of what atheism is. If you defy God because you believe that he is a certain way (justified or not) and you don’t believe that God doesn’t exist then you would not be an atheist, you would be a heretic.

[see Anthrotheist’s complete original combox comment]

I do believe that with at least some atheists, they are rebelling against a God that — down deep — they think exists. They simply don’t like Him and don’t want to be subject to Him (much as Satan and the fallen angels felt). My reply there was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, playing upon the very common atheist animus against God.

The anti-theists among your number almost seem to forget that He doesn’t exist, in their view, since their replies become so hostile and emotional. And of course, we ask: “why are you getting so worked up about the equivalent of a leprechaun and a unicorn and the tooth fairy (according to you)?”

One might submit that this suggests an actual belief in His existence, since so much angst and ire is directed at Him. I don’t get worked up and angry about things I regard as imaginary (like the evil stepmother in “Snow White” or what not).

What bothers me are outrages and tragedies that are quite real, like abortion or the situation in Venezuela or in the sanctuary cities, defying the rule of law, or sexual slavery, or the exploitation of the poor by the rich, or the wolves in sheeps’ clothing in the Catholic Church, going around sexually abusing innocent victims or winking at and enabling same.

All quite real an not imaginary or fictitious . . .

Note: I elaborated upon this argument at far greater length in my 2002 article, Christian Replies to the Argument From Evil (Free Will Defense): Is God Malevolent, Weak, or Non-Existent Because of the Existence of Evil and Suffering? The present article is a “nutshell” summary of one key argument from the longer paper.


[further exchange from the combox of this paper]

Gavin G. Young (who wrote of himself: ” I am an ex-Christian. I am now an atheist and scientific naturalist and in most respects I am also now a secular humanist”):

There isn’t really a contradiction in what atheists are claiming. Point A says there’s no scientific evidence for the existence of miracles and thus miracles don’t happen, but since Christianity says that miracles happen, then the lack of evidence of miracles [evidence that should be there if Christianity is true in its claims about the Christian god] is evidence against the existence of the god of Christianity. Point B says that since miracles don’t happen then a loving all-powerful all-knowing type of god doesn’t exist, but most Christians believe that their god is loving, all powerful, all-knowing. Thus the god that those Christians believe in doesn’t exist.

My point (B) was that atheists demand that God perform miracles in the case of human suffering, and if He doesn’t, He doesn’t exist. They also demand them in the case of proving His existence; i.e., He has to perform some extraordinary miracle like writing “John 3:16” in the stars; then the hardened, cynical atheist will submit in dust and ashes (God having “performed” according to the all-knowing epistemological requirement of the wise atheist). So it’s an odd situation, whereby atheists 1) state that miracles are categorically impossible, yet 2) they demand this very thing as virtually the only means by which they can be brought to belief in God (and then reject it when it happens).

In fact, Jon Curry, an atheist friend of mine, expressed exactly this yesterday on my Facebook page:

No miracle has yet been evidenced in a manner sufficient to meet the standards of the scientific method. I’m always open to it, for whatever reason God is unwilling to perform a miracle that comes with decent evidence. Maybe he will one day. If he does I’ll believe in him. He doesn’t. I figure it’s because God isn’t real. Nothing stopping God from proving me wrong some day.

From the Christian, biblical point of view, it is recognized that human excessive disbelief and skepticism (of the hardened, rebellious type) will not be overcome even by a miracle:

Luke 16:29-31 (RSV) 29] But Abraham said, `They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ [30] And he said, `No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ [31] He said to him, `If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'”

Defining miracles as impossible (which is extremely difficult to do, logically or philosophically) is the key to why atheists almost never come to belief. The prior assumption determines what they will accept, so that even when a miracle is documented and presented to them, they dismiss it because they have already concluded that miracles are absolutely impossible.

I think this is some of what Jesus hit upon in the statement above: nonbelievers reject revelation; therefore they will even reject a miraculous rising from the dead. In other words, nothing is good enough for them. They will reject what even they themselves claim is the thing that will convince them. This is why I replied to Jon’s comment as follows:

And there never will be one sufficient for you if the hundreds already documented are not. Your premises disallow it. I prefer to modify my premises according to observed reality.


(originally 8-15-18 on Facebook; a few paragraphs added on 2-20-19)

Photo credit: AwfulTrue (uploaded 6-30-15) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]


February 20, 2019

“Anthrotheist” responded to my paper, Scripture, Science, Genesis, & Evolutionary Theory: Mini-Dialogue with an Atheist, which was a discussion with him. He has been perfectly congenial and a worthy dialogue partner for at least eight months now (I have seven dialogues with him posted on my Atheism page): thus proving that atheist-Christian dialogue is entirely possible, if both sides will simply listen to each other and be charitable and civil. It’s very rare, but it can and does occur, and that’s very gratifying to me. I salute my atheist friend. His words will be in blue.


It’s taken me some time to contemplate what you have in the past referred to as bias, but I feel like that time has been fruitful.

Great! I commend you for your willingness to undertake such contemplation. Thanks for “listening.”

I have come to accept the modern scientific assumption that everything that we can observe can be explained through the examination of natural forces.

This is, of course, materialism and empiricism, which is not by any stretch of the examination either 1) proven, or 2) self-evident. There are even (as you likely know) atheists who are not materialists, and are dualists (David Chalmers is a prominent example). And your own empiricist view necessarily starts with unproven, non-materialistic axioms: that you accept without proof to even have the view that you have in the first place. I would argue that this makes your view logically self-defeating or circular, but that’s another huge discussion.

Science started within a Christian milieu, and several of its initial premises are far more consistent with that view, than with materialism. Things like logic and mathematics are also non-empirical: yet absolutely essential as starting-blocks of science and empirical observation and investigation. I’ve written about these issues and closely related ones many times:


That is a rejection of the supernatural, which by definition is any force or agent that affects the natural world while remaining beyond the reach of natural means of investigation (like science).

It’s not totally beyond the reach of scientific investigation at all. Reputed miracles can be investigated with the usual scientific means, and this has frequently happened. When challenged by another atheist, I gave the example of documented scientific verification of miracles at Lourdes: the Marian shrine in France (I received no serious response to that). In another paper (a reply to you), I provided many other examples and books and articles having to do with miracles. The atheist has to explain things like incorruptible bodies (we have hundreds of saints whose bodies haven’t decayed), eucharistic miracles, the Shroud of Turin, the miracle of the sun at Fatima (witness my multiple thousands), many types of healings, etc.

My own son, Paul, experienced a healing of serious back and neck problems, in conjunction with eucharistic adoration. He talked about it in a You Tube video. My wife Judy experienced a healing of her severe back pain as a result of scoliosis (a 51% curvature; she had to wear a metal back brace for several years as a child). These things are not nothing. You may believe they are, but it remains true that in both cases (my wife and son), there was severe pain, and now there is not. The changes came about in religious settings, not hospitals or doctors’ offices. It’s two cases just in my own family: and these can be multiplied in the thousands.

The atheist is forced by his or her own false premises and thinking, to simply ignore and dismiss all this evidence. How ironic, since we are supposedly the ones who cavalierly dismiss evidence. In these instances we have both legal-type eyewitness testimony, and scientific verification that something unexplainable has occurred that science cannot explain. You guys ignore it (which impresses no one); we interpret it according to our view that miracles are possible: based on observation of actual events.

This assumption that I’ve accepted necessarily rejects the possibility that the Bible is a divinely inspired word of God, and that therefore all the accounts in the Bible are historical references at best and nothing more than allegories of first-century knowledge and morality at worst.

Yes it does.

This bias of mine prevents me from accepting at face value any claims of truth or wisdom that are derived from a person’s self-described spiritual revelation.

That’s what the Catholic Church does, too. It is highly skeptical of any claim to miracle, or Marian apparitions, etc., and often spends many years of investigation to determine whether it is reasonable to believe that a miracle occurred. There are many false claims.

It may be a genuine and valuable revaluation, but a mundane one derived from the person’s own synthesis of their knowledge and experiences.

Yep. It may be that; and it may not be.

It also prevents me from accepting at face value claims of miraculous phenomena; again, there may be something unexplained at work but it must exist in the natural world and therefore discoverable by natural investigation (again, science).

You have made an assumption that logically reduces to circular reasoning (a logical statement about what “must” be which is by no means self-evident or unquestionable). But again, the theist is pro-science every bit as much as the atheist. We also understand better that science is not the sun total of all knowledge, and so we are more objective in utilizing it. Nor are we tempted to make it our virtual religion, because we already have a religion.

I have also begun to recognize the biases of Christians as well. They accept the assumptions that the supernatural exists, that it includes a creator God, that creator God is the one from the Bible, and that the creator God of the Bible is good, loving, and just.

Yes, and we can present many solid reasons for why we believe all those things: reasons that can stand up to scrutiny, and show themselves to be more plausible and worthy of belief than alternatives. My job as an apologist is to present and explain and defend such reasons: just as I am doing right now.

(I’m not quite sure if that is a longer list of particular assumptions compared to mine, or whether I am being far more particular in examining others’ assumptions.)

Fair enough.

As far as I can tell, these assumptions don’t necessarily cause Christians to reject any particular knowledges or wisdoms (though it can). Where the naturalist/science set of assumptions leads to the rejection of conclusions that don’t fit into its paradigm, Christians’ biases seem to generate preconceived conclusions.

Every thinker does the same thing. We all interpret the world according to a pre-existing set of assumptions or a worldview that (inevitably) began with unproven and unprovable axioms). The modern Popperian approach to scientific theory consciously takes precisely this approach. A scientific theory is adopted at first, and then it is tested in order to try to falsify it. The Wikipedia article on the philosopher of science Karl Popper explains:

Popper coined the term “critical rationalism” to describe his philosophy. Concerning the method of science, the term indicates his rejection of classical empiricism, and the classical observationalist-inductivist account of science that had grown out of it. Popper argued strongly against the latter, holding that scientific theories are abstract in nature, and can be tested only indirectly, by reference to their implications. He also held that scientific theory, and human knowledge generally, is irreducibly conjectural or hypothetical, and is generated by the creative imagination to solve problems that have arisen in specific historico-cultural settings.

Logically, no number of positive outcomes at the level of experimental testing can confirm a scientific theory, but a single counterexample is logically decisive; it shows the theory, from which the implication is derived, to be false. To say that a given statement (e.g., the statement of a law of some scientific theory)—call it “T”—is “falsifiable” does not mean that “T” is false. Rather, it means that, if “T” is false, then (in principle), “T” could be shown to be false, by observation or by experiment. Popper’s account of the logical asymmetry between verification and falsifiability lies at the heart of his philosophy of science. It also inspired him to take falsifiability as his criterion of demarcation between what is, and is not, genuinely scientific: a theory should be considered scientific if, and only if, it is falsifiable. This led him to attack the claims of both psychoanalysis and contemporary Marxism to scientific status, on the basis that their theories are not falsifiable.

This conclusion-at-the-start position results in a lot of intellectual work in order to figure out how observations and evidence must come together to support that conclusion.

Yes: again, just as virtually all thinkers do. We have premises and presuppositions and thus, biases that are in line with those premises. We accept the premises unless and until they are decisively falsified.

In short, people like me have biases that lead us to reject answers that don’t fit our worldview, while people like you have biases that lead you to dovetail observed phenomena into the answers your worldview requires.

We both do exactly the same thing, but we start from different premises (you irrationally limit testable reality to material and natural forces — empiricism — and we do not).

One example that I have noticed is how many things in society end up being blamed on the acceptance of homosexuality in our culture; the fact is, there aren’t enough homosexuals to make that big of an impact and people who aren’t homosexuals don’t experience any change to their day-to-day life due to greater acceptance of behavior that they never engage in themselves. But because homosexuality is sinful in Christianity, there must be some negative consequence of its acceptance by society, and everything from rape culture to priest abuses are offered as evidence supporting that necessary conclusion.

All we’re saying is that there is such a thing as the natural order. The reproductive organs were clearly designed for each other and to produce offspring: either by materialistic evolution or by God or by God through evolution or some other creative process. When this is rejected and other sorts of sexuality are practiced, there are (precisely as we would have predicted) dire health consequences (an objective deleterious effect: not some religious anathema): as I have written about.

What Catholics and many other Christians oppose is a radical redefinition of what constitutes moral sex; and the notion of unisexism, or no essential, ontological difference between the genders, and the redefinition of marriage (and all of this has come about due to a consistent internal, anti-traditional, radically secularist logic). That goes far beyond only homosexuality.

As for the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church: we didn’t make it what it is. The fact is (documented in many polls and surveys), that 80% of the victims were male and usually young adults (not children). Sorry: that is homosexual sex, not heterosexual. So, for example, the former Cardinal McCarrick, who was just defrocked / laicized, went after young [male] seminarians. That’s the usual pattern. Would you have us believe that this is heterosexual excess or wrongdoing? I don’t see how. So it is what it is.

If you say, “See?! Catholics want to scapegoat homosexuals for their own problems of abuse because they hated homosexuals in the first place!”, we reply that we are simply blaming the actual perpetrators for doing what they did: priests or bishops trying to pick up young men for sexual purposes, according to the well-known phenomenon of widespread homosexual rampant promiscuity.

That’s not even blaming all homosexuals or homosexuality in general, by a long shot. If someone has a homosexual orientation, the Church says that is not a sin. They have to act upon that and engage in sexual acts that we believe are unnatural and immoral, to be blamed according to our moral theology. There is also lust before that, but I digress. I made these distinctions of celibate vs. active homosexual clear in my article, Is the Catholic Church “Against” Gay Priests?

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. If a non-Catholic like you wants to blame the Catholic Church for its sexual abuse crisis (and believe me, we Catholics are as furious and disgusted about it as any outsider), then you can’t pretend that homosexual promiscuity and practices contrary to what our Church teaches, have not played a key role in the crisis and scandal. There are Catholics who have their head in the sand and pretend that all of this is a heterosexual excess, but this doesn’t comport with the reality of what we know about the past abuse. See the documentation in my article above about gay priests.


Photo credit: David Chalmers (b. 1966): famous dualist (non-materialist) atheist. Photo by Zereshk [Wikimedia Commons /  Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license]


February 7, 2019

This is an installment of a series of replies (see the Introduction and Master List) to much of Book IV (Of the Holy Catholic Church) of Institutes of the Christian Religion, by early Protestant leader John Calvin (1509-1564). I utilize the public domain translation of Henry Beveridge, dated 1845, from the 1559 edition in Latin; available online. Calvin’s words will be in blue. All biblical citations (in my portions) will be from RSV unless otherwise noted.

Related reading from yours truly:

Biblical Catholic Answers for John Calvin (2010 book: 388 pages)

A Biblical Critique of Calvinism (2012 book: 178 pages)

Biblical Catholic Salvation: “Faith Working Through Love” (2010 book: 187 pages; includes biblical critiques of all five points of “TULIP”)


IV, 19:24, 29


Book IV


24. The greater part of these orders empty names implying no certain office. Popish exorcists.

Still, lest they should be able to impose on silly women, their vanity must be exposed in passing. With great pomp and solemnity they elect their readers, psalmists, doorkeepers, acolytes, to perform those services which they give in charge, either to boys, or at least to those whom they call laics. Who, for the most part, lights the tapers, who pours wine and water from the pitcher, but a boy or some mean person among laics, who gains his bread by so doing? Do not the same persons chant? Do they not open and shut the doors of Churches? Who ever saw, in their churches, either an acolyte or doorkeeper performing his office? Nay, when he who as a boy performed the office of acolyte, is admitted to the order of acolyte, he ceases to be the very thing he begins to be called, so that they seem professedly to wish to cast away the office when they assume the title. See why they hold it necessary to be consecrated by sacraments, and to receive the Holy Spirit! It is just to do nothing. If they pretend that this is the defect of the times, because they neglect and abandon their offices, let them, at the same time, confess that there is not in the Church, in the present day, any use or benefit of these sacred orders which they wondrously extol, and that their whole Church is full of anathema, since the tapers and flagons, which none are worthy to touch but those who have been consecrated acolytes, she allows to be handled by boys and profane persons; since her chants, which ought to be heard only from consecrated lips, she delegates to children. 

There is scarcely any argument here. Calvin seems to sneer at children in a way that our Lord certainly did not:

Matthew 18:3 Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 19:13-14 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people; [14] but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Luke 18:17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.

And to what end, pray, do they consecrate exorcists? I hear that the Jews had their exorcists, but I see they were so called from the exorcisms which they practised (Acts 19:13). Who ever heard of those fictitious exorcists having given one specimen of their profession? It is pretended that power has been given them to lay their hands on energumens, catechumens, and demoniacs, but they cannot persuade demons that they are endued with such power, not only because demons do not submit to their orders, but even command themselves. Scarcely will you find one in ten who is not possessed by a wicked spirit. All, then, which they babble about their paltry orders is a compound of ignorant and stupid falsehoods. 

There are plenty of biblical examples of exorcisms in the casting out of demons:

Matthew 4:24 . . . they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.

Matthew 8:16 That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick.

Matthew 10:1, 8 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity. . . . Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. . . .

Matthew 12:22 Then a blind and dumb demoniac was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the dumb man spoke and saw.

Mark 1:34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; . . .

Luke 8:2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Mag’dalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,

Luke 9:42 While he was coming, the demon tore him and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.

Acts 5:16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

Acts 8:7 For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice; and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.

According to Calvin, apparently we should all ignore these kinds of things as of no import or relevance. We have no need any longer to cast out a demon, like Jesus and the disciples did. That was only a valid concern in the first century, not the 21st, or 16th. Again, we see a surprising skepticism and almost “Enlightenment”-like excessive rationalism afoot in Calvin’s thinking.

Of the ancient acolytes, doorkeepers, and readers, we have spoken when explaining the government of the Church. All that we here proposed was to combat that novel invention of a sevenfold sacrament in ecclesiastical orders of which we nowhere read except among silly raving Sorbonnists and Canonists.

More of the same sneering non-argument . . .

[ . . . ]
29. Absurd imitation of our Saviour in breathing on his apostles.

With the reality the ceremonies perfectly agree. When our Lord commissioned the apostles to preach the gospel, he breathed upon them (John 20:22). By this symbol he represented the gift of the Holy Spirit which he bestowed upon them. This breathing these worthy men have retained; and, as they were bringing the Holy Spirit from their throat, mutter over their priestlings, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Accordingly, they omit nothing which they do not preposterously mimic. 

Why does such a thing have to be mocked in this fashion? Is it not praiseworthy to imitate our Lord, and with the same purpose He had in doing the thing that is imitated: to ordain men for special ministerial service to God?

I say not in the manner of players (who have art and meaning in their gestures), but like apes who imitate at random without selection. 

A nice touch . . .

We observe, say they, the example of the Lord. But the Lord did many things which he did not intend to be examples to us. Our Lord said to his disciples, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). He said also to Lazarus, “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43). He said to the paralytic, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk” (John 5:8). 

Jesus certainly intended for these to be examples (there can be no possible argument on this point), since He said: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. . . .” (Matthew 10:8). Calvin is again decisively proven wrong by Scripture. The disciples and apostles did all these things. Peter raised the dead (Acts 9:36-41: Tabitha); so did Paul (Acts 20:7-12). They prayed for others to receive the Holy Spirit, and they did (Acts 2:38; 8:15-17; 19:6).

They healed many people (Mk 6:13; 16:20; Lk 9:6; Acts 4:7-10; 5:15-16; 8:7; 9:34; 19:12; 28:8-9), and cast out demons (Mk 6:13; 16:17; Lk 10:17; Acts 5:16; 8:7; 19:12), exactly as the Lord had commanded them to do, since Holy Scripture informs us that “he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity” (Matthew 10:1).

Jesus had also said to them, “I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you . . .” (Luke 10:19-20). And again, it is recorded that “he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:2). And yet again: “And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons” (Mark 3:14-15).

In one of my papers I noted a book that documented many people raised from the dead from the early patristic period all the way up to Calvin’s time and afterwards. These miracles were attested by St. Justin Martyr, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, the historian Sozomen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Hilary of Poitiers, and St. Ambrose. St. Augustine recounted at least four such stories (one of them in City of GodBook XXII, chapter 8).

St. Irenaeus casually assumed that these things still took place, and that it was folly for heretics to disbelieve it (Against HeresiesBook II, chapter 31, 2). They were far far from believing (like Calvin, with no reason at all) that these miracles had ceased after the apostolic age.

St. Martin of Tours (316-397) was said to have raised three persons from the dead. Pope St. Gregory the Great tells the story of St. Benedict doing the same. St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) is reported to have performed this miracle. Bernard himself testifies that his friend St. Malachy (1095-1148) had raised a woman from the dead.

Others who were used by God to perform this extraordinary miracle are St. Patrick, St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231), Blessed Margaret of Castello (1287-1320), St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Catherine of Sweden, St. Joan of Arc, St. Bernardine, St. Dominic, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Francis Xavier, St. Philip Neri, St. John Bosco, St. Martin de Porres, St. Vincent Ferrer, and St. Padre Pio.

But now Calvin wants to come and “veto” express instructions from our Lord Jesus and pretend as if they were only intended for a few generations only, or one century only; and delude himself that this cessation is somewhere taught in the Bible?

St. Paul specifically lists a gift of healing along with other offices (1 Cor 12:9, 28, 30). There is not the slightest hint that this office was intended to cease. It’s right along with the others, that obviously were intended in perpetuity. James (5:16) assumes that healing would occur for all time, because the “prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.”

Why do they not say the same to all the dead and paralytic? He gave a specimen of his divine power when, in breathing on the apostles, he filled them with the gift of the Holy Spirit. If they attempt to do the same, they rival God, and do all but challenge him to the contest. 

Obviously, raising the dead was not to be a frequent occurrence. On the other hand, Jesus did tell His disciples they would be able to do so, and Peter and Paul did it in recorded instances in Scripture. The fathers bear witness of the miracle continuing long after the apostles, and it has occurred all along. But no one is saying it should be a routine thing. Miracles are not for the purpose of “magic” or being puffed up with power, or to titillate those who hunger after signs; they are to demonstrate God’s glory and power, in particular circumstances.

But Calvin appears to not understand these elementary biblical themes. He can only mock healing and trivialize it, as if it is ruled out if it isn’t on demand. This is spiritual kindergarten and shocking in a man so familiar with the Bible; one who clearly prides himself on his knowledge. My eight-year-old daughter could have told anyone much of this, and Calvin can’t figure it out?

[ . . . ]

(originally 12-22-09)

Photo credit: Historical mixed media figure of John Calvin produced by artist/historian George S. Stuart and photographed by Peter d’Aprix: from the George S. Stuart Gallery of Historical Figures archive [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]


November 13, 2018

From my book, Mere Christian Apologetics  (2002; published in paperback in 2007)


It is often claimed that the Resurrection is suspect because it defies natural laws. But that’s what all miracles do. The question is whether they occur or not, and that is determined by substantiation and eyewitnesses. More than 500 people saw the risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:6). There was without doubt an empty tomb, which had been watched by a Roman Guard under penalty of death if they had allowed any mischief.

If one disallows the possibility of such things occurring from the outset (a sort of atheistic “dogmatism”), then of course they will reject the Resurrection. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that.

An atheist opponent I dialogued with on an Internet list mentioned how the Jewish historian Josephus, in his War Of The Jews, Book VI, Chapter 5, reported that many eyewitnesses saw soldiers and chariots flying in the sky above Jerusalem. The fallacy here is that if one or more alleged eyewitness accounts are unbelievable and partake of mythical characteristics, therefore all are fictitious, mythical, and untrue; hardly airtight, indisputable logic:

1. People claimed to see chariots in the sky above Jerusalem.

2. Mediums claim to see and conjure up dead spirits.

3. Scrooge claimed to see Marley’s ghost.

4. Hilary Clinton had an inspiring visit from Eleanor Roosevelt.

5. Therefore, all eyewitness accounts of supernatural events are obviously fantastic, unbelievable, and ridiculous.

6. Therefore, Jesus’ Resurrection either could not occur (skepticism), or if it possibly could, no amount of eyewitness testimony or circumstantial evidence is sufficient to compel belief in such an event (agnosticism).


1. My three kids, my wife and I saw with our own eyes Mary Poppins flying through the skies of London.

2. We also saw Superman and Peter Pan fly (and Michael Jordan).

3. St. Paul claims that over 500 people saw the risen Jesus.

4. But since this is similar to ridiculous and silly fictional accounts, and we don’t have the direct testimony of the 500, we must reject it as absurd.

Christianity has verifiable, substantiated historical evidences that no other religion has. The Resurrection (or the claim that it occurred) has to be explained somehow. The empty tomb must be grappled with. That being the case, skeptics have developed various alternate theories for what occurred: stolen body, swoon theory, hallucination theory, and the Passover Plot. All of these are woefully inadequate to explain what happened.

But the immediate point is: how did the initial Christian movement change from a beaten, scattered, frightened, cowardly flock of disciples who had just endured the torturous death of their leader, to joyful evangelists spreading a message of miracle and hope in very short order? Skeptics have to deal with the known, non-miraculous, undisputed facts of what happened (such as the empty tomb).

Or it is argued that the psychological characteristics of cult members can explain the disciples’ behavior, or the alleged superstitious nature of the time (supposedly more so than in our own), and that there are always folks who will maintain a grotesque, unbalanced, morbid devotion to charismatic figures who die young, such as Elvis or Princess Diana. But this is not compelling reasoning against the Resurrection, either:

1. When charismatic figures die, people embellish facts and claim to see them alive.

2. There is a fanatical cult for Elvis Presley.

3. There are weird cults which worship Princess Diana.

4. Women went crazy and fainted at the funeral of Rudolph Valentino.

5. The Resurrection of Jesus has some fleeting, superficial similarities to these wacky scenarios.

6. Therefore it never occurred, and furthermore, no reasonable (“rational and sane”) person can believe that it could ever occur.

This sort of “reasoning” mitigates just as strongly against atheism and secularism too (let us rhetorically turn the tables for a moment):

1. Lenin was an atheist and was a tyrant and despot.

2. Stalin was an atheist and was a tyrant and despot and mass murderer.

3. Mao was an atheist and was a tyrant and despot and mass murderer.

4. Atheist regimes have been responsible for the most murder and genocide by far (to an exponential degree) of all governments.

5. Philosophical (benevolent) atheism has definite similarities to these folks, because it, too, denies that there is a God.

6. Therefore it must be untrue, because of the similarities to the above revolting people and situations, and no reasonable person should or could accept atheism. Guilt by association . . .

Some skeptics will concede that the Resurrection could have conceivably occurred, but is not sufficiently documented for anyone to believe it; others contend that it could not possibly have occurred. The former group should, then, be delighted to explore the various historical/circumstantial/legal-type evidences that Christians can bring to bear. For the latter, all the argument in the world is futile and meaningless. Nothing can convince a skeptic unless and until their presuppositions are overthrown.

We do have several accounts of the disciples having seen Jesus, in the historically trustworthy New Testament. Skeptics will deny that it is historically trustworthy, in order to avoid this evidence, but that is simply not true, so they are operating on a demonstrably false premise to uphold their skepticism. The evidences are in the nature of legal-historical proofs, precisely those which we utilize to determine the particulars of criminal acts.

It is argued that miscellaneous documents (as it is claimed for the Gospels) written decades after events occurred, present very weak historical arguments. Why, then, I ask, do historians accept without question many Greek and Roman histories as valid, when the manuscript evidence for them usually dates many hundreds of years after their composition (sometimes all the way to the Middle Ages)?

As usual, there is a double standard. All of a sudden, once we are considering Christianity, then the criteria of proof becomes several degrees more strict than for other things. Matthew and John were eyewitnesses. It is thought that Mark got his account from eyewitness Peter. Luke was an extraordinary historian and gathered many sources, just as a biographer would do today. Many biographies are written decades after the person lived. That doesn’t mean they are to be immediately dismissed, as long as they are carefully researched.

Jesus Himself was well aware of this sort of super-skepticism: a demand for signs, yet never accepting the import and message of any which are indeed given:

. . . if they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead. (Luke 16:31)

Indeed this is what happened, with regard to the majority of Jewish believers at that time, and ever since among overly-skeptical minds inclined to rule out the possibility of miracles before ever even considering them from a legal-historical criteria of proof (as Hume himself did in his supposed compelling “disproof” which was really no rational disproof at all, or as someone like Thomas Jefferson did).

The Resurrection is discounted because nobody saw the event itself. Not many people witness murders, either, but we manage to scrounge up enough evidence to punish murderers. Nobody witnessed the Big Bang or the whole process of macroevolution, but atheists and agnostics have no trouble believing in those things. Yet when it comes to Christian tenets and miracles — which skeptics are inclined to be cynical about from the outset, due to prior hostility and biases –, a much greater amount of proof is required, compared to “natural” beliefs, which appeal to them by predisposition.

We are informed by skeptics that the claim of a guarded tomb is suspect because it requires us to take an inerrantist view of the book of Matthew. Inerrancy isn’t required; only sufficient historical accuracy, just as we accept any other document of the period. But this is the Christians’ document, so critics inconsistently and inexplicably apply a higher standard to it than to other documents, even in matters of historical fact. Anonymity (if it is to be claimed) is irrelevant, as long as the document can be trusted as a dependable historical source (which is certainly a characteristic of the New Testament).

We also have evidence from the hostile witness of the non-Christian Jews of the period (and thereafter), who believed the tomb was empty and therefore felt compelled to offer some theory as to why this was the case.

Matthew also reports on an event whereby people were resurrected out of their tombs and walked around Jerusalem (Matthew 27:51-53). This causes skeptics to dismiss the book’s historical accuracy. But let’s examine the “reasoning” involved here:

1. Source x reports a supernatural event.

2. But I don’t believe in supernatural events.

3. A source which reports supernatural events must be written by gullible buffoons.

4. Therefore, x must be untrustworthy for anything it reports, but especially with regard to supernatural reports.

(Hidden and unproven assumption: supernatural events cannot occur; more Humean axiomatically-based and circular “reasoning”)

(Second hidden “logical reasoning”: if Source x is wrong about amazing and obviously mythical event a, then it is wrong about everything else it reports)

If the Bible is trustworthy, then one must take it seriously (or at least not immediately dismiss it as a bunch of old wive’s tales) even when it reports events which don’t happen to fit into one’s own “box.” The Christian is skeptical of reported miracles at first, too, until sufficient confirmatory evidence comes in. Skeptics need to determine how much confirmation is sufficient enough to allow rational belief in a miracle?

Skeptics of the Bible always have the convenient option of explaining or rationalizing away any passage they happen to disagree with by claiming it was a later “interpolation” of the early Church, in a cynical and sinister effort to revise the actual facts or religious beliefs as originally written, according to some unsavory ideological agenda. This route is often followed, rather than acknowledging a supernatural event.

My atheist opponent on the Internet was so desperate to deny Paul’s claim that 500 had seen the risen Jesus that he even questioned Paul’s “mental health” and then claimed that it was not clear whether Paul believed in an empty tomb or Jesus’ physical Resurrection. For those interested in biblical counter-evidence on this point, see: 1 Corinthians 15:12-57, Romans 8:10-12,21-23, and Phil. 3:10-11,21.

Skeptics may allow a billionth of a billionth of 1% of a chance that the Resurrection could have occurred or did occur. If so, we need to ask them what sort of proof would be required for them to change their mind? If they can offer no answer, then their belief is unfalsifiable, and as such, not philosophically worth much, especially from a hard-nosed, empirical perspective. They are failing to apply their own ostensible principles consistently to themselves.


September 9, 2018

Dialogue with heleninedinburgh: who describes herself as a “Militant agnostic. I don’t know and you don’t either. Atheist by default.” Her words will be in blue.


What miracles can you point to? That’s a sincere question, by the way.  I always ask it of people who claim their god/s perform/s miracles. No one ever seems to answer.

I did a post documenting some (from Lourdes).

I’m afraid I couldn’t read all the books you mentioned in your article, but I did see the JHMAS article you linked to (the one which acknowledged that there have been no documented cures at Lourdes since 1976).

Is that your way of dismissing all the documented cures (or unexplained phenomena) in the article? Nice evasion there! We provide requested evidence; skeptics and atheists breezily dismiss it all. Same old same old.

Do you have any idea how your god picks the people whom he’s going to heal, by the way (since he can’t be bothered to heal every ill person who asks)? Is it to do with how much they pray, or how many other people are praying for them, or if they pray right? Or does he just play eena-meena-mina-mo? Inquiring minds, etc.

I think it’s like Wheel of Fortune. God has a big giant wheel, spins it around, and whaddya know?: whoever it lands on gets healed! [sarcasm]

Well, that’s as plausible as anything else.

Extraordinary claims, as someone once said, require extraordinary evidence. The claim that the creator of the universe took time out of its day to make you feel better is (I would argue) a fairly extraordinary one. ‘Unexplained phenomena’ isn’t really going to do anything. Spontaneous remission happens, in rare cases, on its own. If someone regrows an amputated limb, now we’re talking.

Why don’t you take a look at the data I provided in that article and give us your alternate, non-miraculous interpretation of each case determined to be possibly miraculous, or unexplained by science. I would be extremely interested in seeing that.

So… the burden of proof is on the person who doesn’t believe in magic?

I didn’t say that. We claim miracles. You asked for someone to produce evidence of some of those (which is fair). I produced it. And ever since, you (like all atheists and skeptics I have yet met) want to dismiss and ignore it and not examine it.

I gave you what you asked for. But apparently you are not interested enough in the matter to seriously investigate it. To that extent you have not followed the purported evidence where it may possibly lead. Dismissing and ignoring is not grappling with it.

What this suggests to me (since it is such universal atheist / skeptic behavior) is that there was no true interest in the matter in the first place. The challenge was thrown out as a typical “gotcha!”-type question, “knowing” that the Christian usually has no good answer. Since I am a professional apologist, I was prepared to provide some sort of substantive reply.

When I gave you something of what you asked for, suddenly all interest is gone and we are majoring on minors and trying to switch the topic. That won’t do. But thanks for the absolutely classic example.

You’re quite right, I don’t want to examine the anecdotes. This is because – well – they’re anecdotes. I’d be interested in the primary sources (or rather in a medically-trained person’s interpretation of the primary sources, since I’m not either a) trained in medicine or b) arrogant enough to assume that I’d understand the data properly).

Believe me, I am open to the idea of your god’s existing. It’s just that I would never worship it, because if the Bible is right about its nature it belongs in Broadmoor.

Exactly. I provided scientific study of the purported cures at Lourdes, from the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences (produced by Oxford University): “The Lourdes Medical Cures Revisited” (2012).

The authors of the study were:

1) Elizabeth Fee, Chief, History of Medicine Division at National Library of Medicine, who has participated in 186 scientific studies, listed at PubMed.

2) Dr. Bernard François, Professor of Medicine.

3) Dr. Esther M. Sternberg, Professor of Medicine in the UA College of Medicine, Research Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and Director of the UA Institute on Place and Well-Being. She is listed as a participant in 140 studies at PubMed.

These are your requested “medically-trained persons” who can amply provide an “interpretation of the primary sources.” This is your article. This is what you claim to seek. Are you willing to interact with it in depth or not?

Like I said before, I’ve read it. I liked the bit at the end where they say that they don’t know exactly what’s going on but hope that “understanding these [‘miraculous’] processes could bring about new and effective therapeutic methods.” Also this bit:

In our view, a next logical step might be to initiate an open international medical debate about any new case accepted by the International Committee; to proceed with an extended, diligent, and well-documented follow-up, at best life-long, that need not infringe on privacy; to consider with a critical mind the permanence of the cure, well after the time usually allowed for a recurrence of the disease.

That sounds good.


Also, quick heads-up that you’ve got a couple of articles from the early 80s about the Shroud of Turin being authentic. You might want rid of those.

It depends on what scientific dating test one accepts.

It does indeed.


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


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