Friday, July 20, 2018

Searching hearts and minds

The middle knowledge solution is not, however, a good one, for the simple reason that a person cannot be condemned for something he has never done. For example, had I been born in Nazi Germany, maybe I would have become a member of the Hitlerjugend and committed atrocities.  But God will never judge me for such crimes because I never actually committed them! We can be judged guilty only of wrongs we have actually done.

So (not to mention the fact that those who die in infancy might reject Christ under some circumstances and accept him under others) the fundamental point is that they cannot be condemned for something they never do. 


i) Unfortunately, Craig makes no effort to justify his claim. He stipulates that "a person cannot be condemned for something he has never done." Does he think that's self-evident? He that why he doesn't bother to defend his claim?

ii) One oversight is his failure to distinguish between sins and crimes. People aren't generally punished for crimes they didn't commit–although they can be charged with conspiracy to commit a felony. But that's different from sins. And mundane penology serves a different purpose than eschatological justice. Penology is more pragmatic. Keeping crime at manageable levels so that social life is possible. It's not about perfect justice. 

iii) Suppose I plan to rob a 7/11, beat up the cashier–for sadistic pleasure–then shoot him to death. I walk to the 7/11 with a concealed handgun, but when I see a police car in the parking lot, I change my plans.

So I didn't commit a crime. But surely my plan was sinful, even if, due to unforeseen circumstances, I had to call it off at the last moment. Am I not blameworthy for evil intentions? Is the distinction between moral innocence and guilt just a matter of being at a particular place a minute sooner or a minute later? Isn't that a hopelessly shallow view of culpability? 

iv) Scripture says God reads hearts and minds (Ps 7:9; 139:23; Jer 11:20; 17:10; 20:12; Ezk 11:5; Rev 2:23). And it sometimes says that in a judicial context. Doesn't that cover sinful plans and intentions? Indeed, isn't the point to judge the underly source of evil actions? To judge the moral condition of the heart? 

The reason sinners would do certain things if given the opportunity is due to an evil heart. If they thought they could get away with it, they'd do it. But isn't that blameworthy? 

That's why people can be outwardly decent but inwardly rotten. And that's why God reads hearts and minds. That qualifies him to be the eschatological judge. His verdict isn't limited to appearances, but goes to character. A psychopath can be very charming, but that's deceptive. 

Diabolical Trinity

This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666 (Rev 13:18).

I'd like to suggest another possible interpretation. The number of the Beast (i.e. Antichrist) may well be a diabolical parody of the Trinity. The number is a multiple of 3. And it's bigger and better! 

As Vern Poythress documents, theological counterfeiting is a major theme in Revelation:

The number of the Beast

This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666 (Rev 13:18).

I'm going to consider three interpretations of this famous verse.

1. A cryptogram for Nero or Nero redivivus. 

Many scholars and commentators identify the Antichrist figure in Rev 13 & 17 with Nero redivivus. That's a respectable interpretation, but not without difficulties:

i) Why would John resort to a cryptogram? Is the motivation that John is concealing the seditious nature of indictment in case his prophecy falls into the hands of Roman authorities? That John is thereby protecting Christian recipients of his Apocalypse? 

But that generates a dilemma. If the identity of the Beast is sufficiently transparent to John's target audience, then it would be sufficiently transparent to Roman authorities. 

ii) There's the question of whether a Nero redivivus figure is an artificial modern scholarly construct. In the Sibylline oracles, Nero doesn't return from the dead. Cf. Jan Willem van Henten, "Nero Redivivus Demolished: the Coherence of the Nero Traditions in the Sibylline Oracles", Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 11/21 (April 2000), 3-17.

iii) It's difficult to correlate the eight kings in Rev 17:10-11 with Roman emperors. Any particular correlation is arbitrary. Cf. C. Koester, Revelation (Yale 2014), 72-73. So interpreters who favor that identification must use a file to make the evidence fit the Neronic identification. 

2. Generic numerology

On this view, the Beast aspires to, but falls short of, the divine number seven. So this is part of John's stock numerology. The Beast comes tantalizingly but frustratingly close to the goal, making his failure all the more aggravating. That's my own interpretation. And that's open to a past or future fulfillment. 

3. Future Antichrist

i) For the sake of argument, I'd like to explore another identification. A challenge of prophetic hermeneutics is that we can only judge whether or not a oracle has been fulfilled by our own place in history in relation to the oracle. Candidates from the time of the oracle up to our own time. From the past to the present. In the nature of the case, we lack access to future candidates. 

So, for instance, Nero or a Nero redivivus figure might be best available candidate, given where we stand, but he might still be the wrong candidate. As I already noted, in reference to Rev 17:10-11, Nero/Nero redivivus isn't a tight fit with the 1C evidence at our disposal. Scholars who favor that identification can't simply take the evidence as it stands, but must file it down. 

By contrast, a future figure might be an exact fit. Easily recognizable. If he was on our list of candidates, he'd be the obvious candidate. But the only available candidates are past and present candidates. Nero wins by default because he comes closest to the profile, even though scholars who pick Nero have to wedge him into the evidence. 

ii) As commentators note, 666 is a triangular number. There are different ways to visually represent triangular numbers. In addition, triangular numbers overlap square, cubic, and hexagonal numbers, viz.,




In theory, the Antichrist might have a symbol or organization that subtly exemplifies some variations on triangular numbers. That's more sophisticated than gematria. And it's something only future readers would be able to discern, given advances in modern mathematics. 

Because prophecy is future-oriented, identification of the fulfillment often depends on a combination of past and future knowledge. Not just what the original audience was in a position to grasp. At the same time, this can be a trap since mathematical solutions invite excessive ingenuity, and offer too many solutions. 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Debt Secularists Owe to Christianity

Church and canon


It is not that the Church and her Magisterium actually create the canon: even less do they endow Scripture with its authority, as mistakenly rather than intentionally certain Catholic apologists have sometimes maintained. With this dogma, as with the others, Church and Magisterium simply recognize the truth established by God's action, submit to it and, since they are responsible for it, proclaim it with authority, making it into a Church law. Yves Congar, The Meaning of Tradition (Ignatius 2004), 110. 

Maccabean martyrs

Heb 11:35 describes a group of people in the OT period who "were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they may rise again to a better life". The only record of this is found in 2 Mac 7, which describes brothers who accept torture at the hands of the Seleucides instead of eating pork and violating Jewish law. Since the context of Heb 11 includes "the men of old [who] received divine approval" (v2), it follows that the books describing the Maccabean martyrs were part of the OT that was used by the author of the letter to the Hebrews", T. Horn, The Case for Catholicism (Ignatius 2017), 66. 

Several holes in Horn's argument:

i) The Maccabean revolt took place during interestamental history rather than OT history. 

ii) It's true, as commentators note, that 11:35 probably alludes to the type of situation described in 2 Mac 7. However, commentators also draw attention to literary allusions to 4 Maccabees. But that's not part of the Catholic canon. So Horn's argument either proves too much or too little for his cause. 

In addition, v38 apparently refers to Jewish legends about the martyrdom of Isaiah. But again, those sources aren't canonical by Catholic standards. So Horn's appeal is a double-edge sword. 

iii) At the time Hebrews was written, the Maccabean revolt was recent history. It only happened about a century prior to Hebrews. Therefore, I think there's no presumption that the author of Hebrews was dependent on 2 Maccabees for his information. We'd expect lots of traditions about the Maccabean revolt to be in circulation a hundred years later. Many Jews had ancestors who participated in that revolt. There'd be family lore about it. 

We need to distinguish between an event and a source. The fact that 2 Mac describes the Maccabean martyrs doesn't entail that that document is the only source of information regarding that event. Consider multiple source material for the American Civil War or WWII. The fact that 2 & 4 Maccabees may be the only extent record for modern readers hardly implies that the 1C Jewish author was limited to the same sources we are.

iv) The author is cataloguing inspirational Jewish heroes and heroines. He goes back to the earliest recorded history (Genesis), then moves forward. He goes beyond OT history to  include intertestamental history because that evokes religious patriotism, which is germane to his theme. We'd expect him to include that illustration, since that would resonant with his Jewish readers. That no more implies the canonicity of 2 Maccabees than a church historian who begins with NT history, but then proceeds to quote the church fathers. 

The False Prophet


Who is the false prophet in Rev 13:11-18? Preterists identify the referent as the Roman imperial cult, and that's certainly germane to 1C Christians. However, I'm inclined to think Revelation uses flexible imagery that has multiple referents throughout the course of church history. Sometimes the threat to Christians comes from a hostile religion, like Islam or the Roman imperial cult. But sometimes it comes from within, when a corrupt church forms an alliance with the state to persecute the faithful, viz. Arian bishops, Roman Catholicism, "official" churches in China, the Russian Orthodox church in league with Putin, and Progressive Christians who team up with secular progressives. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Hypergamy

Steve sends along this article: "Hypergamy and Singleness in the Church" by Michael Scott Foster. Well worth reading. I hope it's widely circulated among Christians.

Several people make valuable comments in Foster's Facebook post too (especially the ever incisive Bnonn).

Ephemeral streams

Professing Christians commit apostasy for a variety of reason, but here's one reason: I think that, in a nutshell, this is all a lot of Christians are taught: we are sinners, for God to forgive us, we must put our faith in Christ. That's the only way to avoid damnation.

Now, there's nothing wrong with that message as far as it goes. Indeed, mainline denominations fail to preach that fundamental truth.

But there's a limitation to that message. The rewards and sanctions are internal to the theological paradigm. If you come to reject the paradigm, you may feel that you have nothing to lose since the stakes are defined by the paradigm. For the prospective apostate, Christianity offers a make-believe solution to a make-believe problem. Sin is a theological category. If you don't believe in sin, if you don't believe in God, then there's no need for the Cross, no need for divine forgiveness. No heaven or hell. 

To take a comparison: in traditional Catholic theology, we are born hellbound due to original sin. Baptism shifts us from the hellbound lane to the heavenbound lane. But that's just temporary since we can slip back to the hellbound lane at any time. Therefore, we need a lifelong maintenance program of Penance, Communion, and Last Rites to stay in a  state of grace. The reason Luther posed such a threat to Catholicism is that when he rediscovered the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith, that implicitly nullified the entire Catholic paradigm. (Mind you, Catholicism had fudge factors, and it eventually ditched the traditional paradigm. The priesthood and sacramental system is an empty shell.) 

Christianity is often presented in such a way that the rewards and sanctions have no significance outside the Christian framework. If you reject the framework, you have nothing to fear since the rewards and sanctions take the framework for granted, and have no reality beyond it. 

But Christians need to understand that naturalism has its own sanctions, without any compensatory rewards. Christians need to consider the cost of naturalism.

Is human life of any value if we pass into oblivion when we die? 

If naturalistic evolution is true, then the things we value are the arbitrary result of how the mad scientist of natural selection wired our brains. Like in the animal world where some mothers defend their young while other mothers eat their young. Or the Terminator which is programmed to kill John Connor the first time around, then reprogrammed to protect him the second time around. 

If naturalistic evolution is true, there is no right or wrong, just winners and losers.

Part of enlightened self-interest is to consider the consequences of different positions. Suppose you stood before three doors. Suppose you know that if you pass through door 3 there's an 70% chance you will be electrocuted. Suppose you don't know what will happen if you pass through doors 1 & 2. For all you know there might be a 100% chance you will be electrocuted. Even so, it makes better sense in that situation to opt for the unknown danger rather than the known danger. 

Suppose for the sake of argument that the evidence for Christianity and naturalism was about the same. But the consequences are not the same. It would be foolhardy to bet on naturalism, because there's no payback. This is why I collect statements by atheists who are candid enough to admit what naturalism represents:




Atheists say we should follow the truth. But what if the truth is a door that will electrocute anyone who goes through that door? Isn't that an option you should scratch off the list?

Atheists are like a suicide cult where you mustn't disappoint the team. You go first! 

Now I'm not suggesting that Christian faith is just about playing a role or acting as if it's true. At some point there needs to be genuine conviction. 

Suppose you have a choice between living in the desert or living by an ephemeral stream. Either way, you may die of thirst, but if you live in the desert you're bound to die of thirst! 

A Christian whose faith is wavering should keep on doing Christian things. That's the only source of hope. Naturalism is hopeless. 

How did God inspire the Bible?

I'm going to comment on a post by Michael Bird:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2018/07/plenary-verbal-inspiration-and-its-problems/
  
It is common in evangelical theology to argue that the Holy Spirit’s influence extends to the very choice of words used, but falls short of dictation. On this theory, each word used is exactly the one that God intended. Inspiration is not a matter of guidance or assistance, but something given, imparted, conveyed to biblical authors as “sacred penmen,” and extending to the selection of words.[1] As such: “Each writer was guided so that his choice of words was also the choice of the Holy Spirit, thus making the product the Word of God as well as the word of man.”[2]  In support, it should be admitted that Jesus placed importance on the words and very minutia of scripture (Matt 5:18; John 10:35–36). Justin Martyr and Athenogoras described divine inspiration like the Spirit playing a musical instrument and among Protestants there has been a common analogy of authors as the Spirit’s pen, in one poem “Th’ inspired pens of his beloved disciples.”[3] Here inspiration is plenary and verbal.

Against plenary verbal inspiration theory, common as it is evangelicalism, it does have a few shortfalls.

First, it is not all that clear exactly how it differs from dictation theory. While dictation theory and verbal theory are not strictly the same, the difference is one of degree rather than mode of inspiration. For instance, Millard Erickson suggests that the Holy Spirit directs the thoughts of the Scripture writers, but the direction is quite precise and extends to the very choice of words in the author’s vocabulary: “By creating the thought and stimulating the understanding of the Scripture writer, the Spirit will lead him in effect to use one particular word rather than another.”[4] I submit that directing an author’s mind to a specific word is merely dictation at a subconscious level.

The standard conservative paradigm places verbal plenary inspiration within the framework of the organic theory of inspiration. That was championed by Warfield. It's no coincidence that Warfield was a Calvinist who relies on a Reformed understanding of providence. 

Putting it in modern parlance, the way God inspires the Gospel of Luke (to take one example) is to create a world with a particular history that includes St. Luke. God inspires the Gospel of Luke by picking a possible world or timeline in which St. Luke exists–along with all his contacts. A world with a particular past, leading up to St. Luke.  Luke's Gospel is the outgrowth of that historical process. God inspires the Gospel of Luke by providentially creating St. Luke, with his nature and nurture. 

If, instead, God wanted the Gospel of Andrew, he'd create a different world with a different history. For the most part, the doctrine of meticulous providence underpins the plenary, verbal inspiration of Scripture–according to that paradigm. The authors use their own words, yet their choice of wording is divinely intended by a prior chain of causes. The whole package reflects divine planning every step of the way–like a novelist who creates a narrative with a particular plot, setting, and characters. Everything they think, say, and do is the end-result of their circumstances. 

Now, you still have direct revelation. God causing Ezekiel to experience a series of referential mental images. However, even that can make use of Ezekiel's own imagination, a mind stocked with mental images of ancient Israel, &c. 

This is very different from dictation, where the writer is just a stenographer. According to a dictation theory, content and wording are entirely separate from the personality of the "writer". Different "writers" would produce the identical text. According to the organic theory, by contrast, the text is not independent of the writer's personality. To the contrary, God produces the text indirectly by producing all the conditions that necessarily eventuate in that particular outcome. A historical process leading up to that foreintended product.  

Letting Scripture speak for itself

Because I was eager to submit to the Bible itself, whatever I found there, more than any presupposed theology about the way God should have inspired it, I simply adjusted my understanding of inspiration to fit what I found there. I want to submit to whatever God’s Word says, not impose a philosophic or theological straitjacket on it. That was because I believed that the Bible, rather than any inherited theology about the Bible, should direct our beliefs. 
http://www.craigkeener.com/differences-in-the-gospels-part-1/

Yes, it sounds good to say we shouldn't impose our expectations on Scripture but let it speak for itself. Who doesn't say that? That's a fine ideal to aspire to. 

Problem is, people who say that are often oblivious to the presuppositions they bring to Scripture and the inferences they draw. They lack the critical detachment to realize that they're not just letting Scripture speak for itself. 

There's nothing wrong with bringing assumptions to the Bible. That's unavoidable. The Bible is part of the world we live in.

But scholars need to recognize and examine their operating assumptions. Unconscious presuppositions are treacherous. 


Peter Enns says we should just let the Bible speak for itself, and when we do, the Bible doesn't behave like an inerrant book. But Enns has preconceptions of what an inerrant Bible ought to say. Preconceived notions of what evidence should survive if these events actually happened. In reality, his position is quite naive. 

Did Jesus die four times!

I was converted from a non-Christian background, so I didn’t grow up hearing the Gospels. The first time I read through the Gospels as a new believer, I was shocked. Matthew was great, but then Jesus got crucified again at the end of Mark. “How often is this going to happen?” I wondered. 
http://www.craigkeener.com/differences-in-the-gospels-part-1/

This is an unintended parody of Bart Ehrman's case for Gospel contradictions. A reductio ad absurdum of his approach. Ehrman is always telling people to read the Gospels horizontally. 

So you read Matthew's crucifixion account, then you slide over to Mark–and Jesus dies again! Then you slide over to Luke and John and it keeps on happening. Jesus died four times! 

Just do the math! He dies in each Gospel, so if you add them up, he was crucified and resurrected four different times! Ehrman's case for Gospel contradictions isn't much more sophisticated than that. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Comparative religious miracles

i) An atheist trope is to neutralize the Christian argument from miracles by appealing to many purported miracles in other religions. In my experience, I've never seen an atheist actually document anything comparable in non-Christian religions. This is just a hypothetical counterexample they toss out. 

ii) Many atheists labor under the illusion that the occurrence of non-Christian miracles is incompatible with the truth of Christianity. They never explain why they think that. 

iii) Hume appealed to purported non-Christian miracles. His argument is that such a phenomenon creates a stalemate between revival religious claimants. Up to a point that's true if the argument from miracles was the sole argument for Christianity, but it's not. 

iv) In Miracles: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford Univ. Press, 2018), Yujin Nagasawa has block quotes of reported Christian/biblical, Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim miracles without any footnotes to the source material he's quoting from. It would be nearly impossible for the reader to track down the source in order to consider elementary questions about genre, the date of the source, &c. in relation to the putative event. He does have a chapter bibliography which hints at where he's quoting this material from, but that's it.

v) I'm going to quote from The Cambridge Companion to Miracles (Cambridge 2011), G. Twelftree, ed. This has contributors representing different religious viewpoints. It bends over backwards to be evenhanded. Each contributor gives a sympathetic account of purported miracles in non-Christian religions. So this is about as good as it gets. As scholarly, nonpartisan reference work. 

Despite that, notice the poverty of the examples. Notice the distance in time and space between the purported miracles and the source material. There's nothing comparable to the Christian argument from miracles. I'll be quoting from the following chapters: 4. Miracles in the Greek and Roman world by Robert Garland; 10. Miracles in Hinduism by Gavin Flood; 11. Miracles in Islam by David Thomas; 12. Tales of miraculous teachings: miracles in early Indian Buddhism by Rupert Gethin:

The fact that the Greeks used the word iama from iaomai, meaning "to heal", rather than thauma, suggests, however, the cures are to be regarded as routine rather than miraculous, even though they came about in surprising ways (81). 

[Aelius Aristides] is the only firsthand literary account from the beneficiary of a miraculous cure that has come down to us from Graeco-Roman antiquity (82)…Regarding the "truth" of the claims, Charles A. Behr, Aelius Aristides and the Sacred Tales (Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1968), 39, writes, "Many of Aristides' cures seem transient…" (92n20). 

Salmoxis was denounced as a charlatan by Herodotus' Greek informant (4.94-6). They claimed that he faked his resurrection by building a hall with an underground chamber and then went into hiding for three years, after which he popped up again–literally so, perhaps–to the amazement of all (83).

Even more ridicule attached to the philosopher Empedocles of Acragas (c. 492-32 BCE), who is said to have stayed the winds, cured the sick, resuscitated the dead and become a god. His chief claim to fame, however, was the bathetic manner of his death. The most colorful account has him leaping into the volcanic crater of Mt. Etna with the intuition of faking his apotheosis, only to be revealed as a fraud when the volcano belched up one of his bronze sandals (Diogenes Laeritius, Lives 8.69). It may be that the reports of his miraculous powers, largely extrapolated from his poetry, aroused such derision that posterity exacted its revenge by assigning him a particularly ignominious death (83).

In the absence of any contemporary account of Pythagoras' life, there is no knowing when reports of his wondrous deeds first began to circular (83). 

We hear of no Roman miracles workers, and it may be that here, as in so many other areas of professional expertise, the Greeks claimed a monopoly, particularly in light of the fact that miracle workers were, as we have seen, to some degree perceived as entertainers (84).

The Jewish philosopher Philo (Embassy 144-5) credited the deified Augustus with the ability not only to "calm the torrential storm on every side" but also to "heal plagues that afflicted both the Greeks and the barbarians". However, extravagant flattery of this sort was routinely offered by those seeking favors or rewards and is part of the language of soteriology (84).

Tacitus' account is nicely nuanced. Though he does not dismiss the story outright as fabrication, he falls short of endorsing the claim that Vespasian had miraculous powers…There are no reports of Vespasian performing miracles after his accession. Quite possibly claims to this effect would have been greeted with incredulity in the capital itself (85). 

Julian the Theurge is said to to have caused a miraculous downpour in 172 CE, when the Roman army was dying from thirst during Marcus Aurelius' campaign in Germany (88)…The earliest surviving reference to the rain miracles is in Tertullian, Apology 5.6 (c. 197-8) [93n27]. 

Perhaps the most famous contemporary guru associated with the miraculous is Sathya Sai Baba…There is much controversy surrounding Sai Baba…He has borne the brunt of negative criticism that his "miracles" are in fact sleight-of-hand [cf. Erlendur Haraldsson, Modern Miracles: An investigative Report on the Psychic Phenomena Associated with Sathya Sai Baba (New York: Fawcett, 1997) and accusations of sexual abuse and even complicity in murder [cf. David Bailey, A Journey to Love (Prasanthi Nilayam: Sri Sathya Sai Towers Hotels Pvt. Ltd, 1997] (195; 197n33; 197n34). 

In this context we must lastly mention the "miracles" associated with icons of the gods. In September 1995, a "miracle" occurred in a Delhi temple when the elephant-headed god, Ganesha, drank milk offered during worship. Due to mass communication this phenomenon spread and icons of Ganesha were drinking milk throughout the world within a few days. This was attested from Malaysia to London and 60 percent of the Delhi's population visited a Ganesha temple at the time. The phenomenon died down in due course and was explained by "rationalists" in India as the porous stone of the image absorbing the liquid (196).

According to traditional accounts, the Qur'an was revealed to Muhammad between 610 and 632 CE by the angel Gabriel from God himself…The reference in 54:1-2–"the hour [of judgment] is nigh, and the moon is cleft asunder. But if they see a sign, they turn away, and say, "this is [but] transient magic'"–was interpreted as a physical occurrence in the heavens witnessed by Muhammad and people around the world. And the reference in 17:1 formed the basis of a tradition that became a whole genre of literature in itself: "Glory  to [Allah] who did take his servant for a journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts we did bless–in order that we might show some of our signs"….The story of this event was greatly elaborated as time went on…These later amplifications of references in the Qur'an that at best hint at miracles associated with Muhammad boost his status to that of at least the equal of the greatest of his predecessors (204-5).

One of the best-known early examples of this genre is the Kitab al-din wa-al-dawla, The Book of Religion and Empire, by 'Ali ibn Rabban al-Tabari (d. c. 860 CD), who worked at the caliphal court in Baghdad for many years as a Christian but then converted to Islam at the age of seventy…'Ali also adduces examples of miraculous events that are immediately recognizable as works of wonder. They include the Night Journey, which here Muhammad proves when he returns home by giving the skeptical Meccans details about a caravan approaching the town that he could not have known about without seeing it, the sudden and painful deaths of five of his most vehement critics in Mecca, his diverting a storm that threatened to damage some dwellings, turning a plant stem into a sword and understanding what a bird was communicating, a calf that was about to be slaughtered proclaiming his advent, a wolf doing the same, his withholding rain, increasing food and providing water for his companions on a journey (207-8). 

From its beginnings in the fourth or third century BCE, Buddhist literature abounds in tales of miracles…In the earliest texts, the Buddha himself is  routinely portrayed as exercising his ability to perform miracles: he makes someone sitting near him invisible to another (Vin 1 16); he overpowers fiery dragons (naga) by himself bursting into flames (Vin 1 25), he disappears from one shore of the Ganges and reappears together with the community of monks on the far shore (D II 89), when the great god Brahma fails in his own attempt to make himself invisible, the Buddha makes himself invisible (M 1 330) [216,21). 

The Irrationality of Miracles


Jason Engwer pointed out the following.
Gary out of one side of his mouth:

"Some of the miracle claims are just downright stupid. Any educated Christian with a college degree should be embarrassed that Keener included these claims in his book. One such claim is that a woman who had previously undergone a complete hysterectomy prayed to Jesus for a child and nine months later she delivered a healthy child. If that story is true, that is more miraculous than the virginal conception of Jesus!"

Out of the other:

"When Jesus puts back together the thousands of pieces of tissue of a victim of a bombing, or reattaches the head of someone who has been decapitated, or reattaches a severed leg from an amputee, you will have my full attention. Until then, since prior investigations of 'miracle' healings have demonstrated that there is always a possible (and more probable) naturalistic explanation (such as the previous chemo and radiation treatment finally kicked in), I'm not buying your magic tales."

So, Gary apparently wants Jesus to produce miracles that he's already dismissed as "downright stupid" in principle.
It’s a common atheist tactic to claim that to believe in miracles is irrational.  This is why Gary feels comfortable saying it’s “downright stupid” when he disparages certain miracles.  But, I argue that it’s not irrational to believe in miracles, even on purely materialistic grounds.

To be clear, when I talk about “irrational” I’m referring to something that would be logically impossible, or something that it absolutely impossible to occur.  Furthermore, when I say it’s not irrational for miracles to happen even on materialistic grounds, I’m not referring to atheist claims of “spontaneous recovery” or “we’ll eventually figure out how to pretend God didn’t do this”-of-the-gaps arguments.  I mean legitimate miracles are perfectly consistent in a materialistic universe.

First, as I pointed out in one of my previous exchanges with Atheist Lehman, atheists assume that the supernatural is an impersonal force.  But God is a person.  It’s why He has the pronoun “He” (not because He’s gendered, so feminists can chill, but because He is not an It).  When we are looking at miracles, we are not looking at something that will happen due to machine-like causality, but instead we are looking at the choices of a personal agent.

One of the arguments that Gary brought out was that there are billions of people who pray to be healed, but not all are healed.  But this would only be a problem if God was obligated to answer all prayers.  We can easily imagine a hospital ward full of patients who have a bacterial infection.  A doctor may choose to give certain patients an antibiotic that he doesn’t give to other patients.  Those who receive the cure are cured, but those who do not aren’t.  Regardless of whether one wants to debate the ethics of a doctor making such a selection, it is clearly not irrational to stipulate that a personal agent could make such a decision for his own reasons.  In other words, it’s not like gravity (which functions no matter what someone wishes or desires) and so the fact that some, but not all, people who pray to be healed actually are healed is not grounds to rule that praying for a miracle is irrational.

But let me delve into this further with my second point.  The impetus for how miraculous healing works doesn’t have to be “magical” in any sense of the word.  All it requires is the existence of a higher dimension, something which string theory already teaches.  In fact, nearly all (if not all) of the miracles that Jesus performed could be adequately explained as the actions of someone who has the ability to use the fourth Euclidean dimension (I use the term “Euclidean” here to differentiate between it and Einstein’s use of the fourth dimension as time).

The easiest way to demonstrate this is to use the example of Flatlanders.  This work examined a theoretical two-dimensional space where creatures lived on a plane.  We can imagine a square drawn on a piece of paper with a heart-shaped icon inside the square.  To a creature that exists two-dimensionally, they would see only a line in front of them (they have only the x and y coordinates, no depth).  They would therefore see just the surface of the square and they would have to dig through the surface of the square in order to get to that heart icon.

You, existing in the third dimension, can see all sides of the square simultaneously, inside and outside.  You can even put your hand over the square and touch all points within the square simultaneously.  Neither of these concepts makes sense to a two-dimensional being, however, because they can only touch the outside of the square—never the inside, unless they burrow in.

Now consider some of the miracles of Jesus.  He walked through a locked door.  Irrational?  Well, a three dimensional being can use the third dimension to bypass a two-dimensional door.  To the perspective of a two-dimensional creature, we can walk through doors.  If Jesus could access the fourth dimension, bypassing a three-dimensional door is trivial.

Jesus turned water into wine.  Well, we can imagine a locked room in two-dimensional space that’s full of a substance—say, red chalk.  We can easily imagine erasing the substance out of that space and replacing it with something else, like black ink.  To the observer in two-dimensional space, a miracle has happened whereas for us, it’s just a natural aspect to the third dimension.

Jesus healed people.  Imagine what a doctor could do if he could see all points of a human body, inside and out, without having to cut into the body.  Just as we can reach in and touch the heart-icon inside a square without digging in, a fourth-dimensional being could see our entire heart and reach in to remove plaque or to repair arterial damage, all without cutting into our body or needing to use surgery.  Gary, being in the medical field, ought to appreciate how much one could do with this ability.

Again, extra dimensions are believed by many in modern physics.  It’s certainly not prima facie irrational to hold to their existence.  And it wouldn’t take a “magical” being to do anything.  If we had some way to access the fourth dimension ourselves, we could already do all of these things and we certainly aren’t magical beings.

Now atheists still might not like God.  They might even say that just because it’s possible that there could be a being in fourth-dimensional space doesn’t mean there actually is one.  But that “rebuttal” misses the point.  Atheists are claiming that Christians are irrational for holding to beliefs that are perfectly rational even on purely materialistic grounds.

What does that say about how rational atheism is?