“When you reject stories about greek gods impregnating woman, but you accept stories about Hebrew god's impregnating women, is this just your methodological naturalism rearing it's ugly head? Or is it because you have rules of historiography from your world-view through which you interpret evidence?”
Your strained attempt at a parallel between the virgin birth and Greek mythology is disanalogous since, in Greek mythology, impregnation takes the form of sexual intercourse, which is totally absent from the account of the virgin birth.
If you’re looking for rough parallels to the virgin birth, the place to look is not in Greek mythology, but in other Biblical examples of miraculous conceptions (Isaac, Samson, Samuel, John the Baptist), as well as passages describing the descent of the Shekinah upon the tabernacle (Exod 4:35), and the eschatological visitation of the Spirit to quicken the barren land (Isa 32:15).
So the virgin birth moves in a completely different universe of discourse than Greek mythology.
“I'm sorry to hear that you think seeing is believing. Personally, I do a lot of investigation to make sure I don't get tricked into believing something that isn't true.”
This is a classic illustration of secular fideism. Even if you were to personally witness a miracle, you would continue to deny the existence of God, following the motto Groucho Marx: “Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes!”
“The only proof I need to establish the possibility that people can rise from the dead is a single confirmed sighting. We aren't that different after all.”
Notice, once again, that our atheist has tacitly conceded that we don’t need parallel cases to establish the Resurrection.
The resurrection of Christ is confirmed by multiple-attestation.
“All attempts to learn what really happened by using historical documents, is historical reconstruction.”
Once more, this assumes that the Gospels don’t tell us what “really” happened.
The only reason you’ve given for disbelieving the Resurrection is your “principle of uniformity”—a principle which you’ve had to recant.
“I didn't think I needed to clarify that because uniformity of physical laws makes miracles impossible, Christianity, a religion based on a miracle, is refuted. Unless you have some sort of evidence that miracles are consistent with uniformitarianism?”
Now you’re resorting to truth by definition. If you define the principle of uniformity as a closed causal system, then, by definition, you’ve excluded the miraculous.
But that’s a tautology, not an argument, and a very self-serving tautology at that.
You, however, have also defined the principle of uniformity as meaning that the past resembles the present.
Yet as Jason and I have already pointed out, a Christian could accept that definition, but reject your conclusion. For a Christian can believe that miracles continue to happen in the present as well as the past. They happen throughout the course of recorded history.
When cornered, you play hopscotch with your own definition.
“Really? How could uniformitarianism be squared with the occurance of miracles? By arguing that the physical laws sometimes break down on their own and permit miracles?”
This is warmed over Hume. Natural law is not a Biblical category. Christians believe in ordinary providence (e.g. Gen 8:22), but that allows for the miraculous.
You are acting as though the universe is a box, so that nothing can enter or leave without tearing open the box.
But Christians don’t operate with such a crude, primitive conception of the universe.
Again, if you redefine the principle of uniformity as a closed system of cause and effect, you thereby exclude the miraculous, but this confuses a semantic ploy with a reasoned argument.
“How could you dare say such a thing without backing it up? Give me your best evidence of modern-day miracles. I will accept even just a single authenticated case. I'll put my automatic rejection of miracles on hold and just see if your best evidence can stand the test of scrutiny. I promise not to make use of my uniformitarian principle in my entire evaluation of your best proof for modern miracle. Deal?”
Of course, the escape clause is “authenticated.” This is a value-laden judgment.
I’ll just give three examples that come immediately to mind, two of which come from my own family history.
1.My mother is 87. She has macular degeneration. She has had macular degeneration for over 20 years, yet her eyesight is as good as mine (I’m 46).
She began going blind early in the progression of the disease. After visiting her ophthalmologist, she prayed about the matter. When she saw him the next time, her eyes had gotten better rather than that worse. Her ophthalmologist was stumped. He had no scientific explanation for the reversal. I take that to be an answer to prayer.
2.At one time her sister was in a doctoral program at the University of London. Her advisor was a misogynist. He was making it impossible for her to complete her degree.
When her sister came to visit us, she asked my mother to pray about the matter. We formed a circle and my mother prayed that the Lord would remove the obstacle.
The next day her advisor dropped dead of a heart attack, and my aunt was assigned a new advisor—a woman. I take that to be an answer to prayer.
3. John Ruskin records the following anecdote in his autobiography:
“Before her illness took its final form—before, indeed, I believe it had at all declared itself—my aunt dreamed one of her foresight dreams, simple and plain enough for anyone’s interpretation; that she was approaching the ford of a dark river, alone, when little Jessie came running up behind her, and passed her, and went through first. Then she passed through herself, and looking back from the other side, saw her old Mause approaching from the distance to the bank of the stream. And so it was, that Jessie, immediately afterwards, sickened rapidly and died; and a few months, or it might be nearly a year afterwards, my aunt died of decline; and Mause, some two or three years later, having no care after he mistress and Jessie were gone, but when she might go to them,” Praeterita (Oxford 197 , 61).
At the time Ruskin wrote his memoirs, he was an apostate. Hence, he had no religious incentive to credit his aunt with heavenly premonitions.
“I don't have to. If I DON'T abide by the ‘present is key to the past’ principle, then there is no more criteria for weeding out embellishments and factual errors. Jesus clapped his hands and made the birds fly away, eh? Well, that sure doesn't square with my experience of the past, then again, whether it square with my past experience is irrelevant."
“That's what I'd have to say under your criticism of me. How then could I ever distinguish truth from error in history books?”
All you’ve done here is to reiterate your original fallacy. This is a leap of faith—what George Santayana, your fellow atheist, dubbed animal faith.
It is irrational to reject a position just because you don’t like the consequences of the position if true. That does nothing to falsify the position or verify the opposing position.
There is no a priori reason why our historical knowledge might not be severely circumscribed—especially if we are merely animals whose cognitive abilities are adapted to bare survival.
The Christian also believes in historical continuities, but that is grounded in the promise and providence of God, whereas your own position is simply groundless.
“The fact nature exhibits a uniform order, and I've never seen a single exception to it, and the fact that seeing an exception to uniform physical laws seems to be a silly premise.”
Our only evidence for the uniformity of natural law consists in the testimonial evidence of those who went before us. But the historical record includes a great deal of testimonial evidence to the occurrence of miracles. You cannot have the witness to one without the witness to the other.
So your appeal is either viciously circular or else selectively lop-sided. Talk about special pleading!
“Should I always be open to the possibility that a pink-elephant may one day float out of the sky and give me a used pair of shoes? After all, just because it hasn't happened in the past....yada yada yada.”
The constant resort to silly, artificial examples affords no counterexample to serious reports of serious miracles.
“Ah, so the gospels are NOT promoting the cause of Jesus?
from dictionary.com, for your convenience:
The systematic propagation of a doctrine or cause or of information reflecting the views and interests of those advocating such a doctrine or cause.
Material disseminated by the advocates or opponents of a doctrine or cause: wartime propaganda.
how can you say the gospels, for example, are NOT "propaganda". Are they not material disseminted by the advocates of a doctrine or cause?”
You are equivocating and prevaricating. “Propaganda” is a word with both a neutral and a negative connotation.
Wartime propaganda is often deliberate misinformation to deceive the enemy.
Yes, the gospels are promoting the cause of Jesus. That doesn’t cast any doubt on their veracity unless, according to your journalistic standards, a news reporter is only believable if he doesn’t believe what he’s saying.
“Sure, so do you think any extra-biblical reports of miracles in ancient religious literature are reliable?”
I don’t generalize. One has to judge on a case-by-case basis. Not all reports of extraordinary events are reliable, just as not all reports of ordinary events are reliable. The rules of evidence are the same for both.
“That's funny, i could have swore that I explained my acceptance of the principle of uniformity, several times, with nobody who denied that principle being able to tell me why they deny the existence of flying pigs.”
To concoct a ridiculous example as a special case excluded under a covering law does nothing to establish the general principle.
“This is twice now, at least, that you have merely asserted that I give no evidence. You wouldn't be convinced if I said ‘but you give no evidence for your view’, why then are you throwing this provocative language out at me?”
You came over to a Christian discussion board to challenge our faith. In so doing you assume some burden of proof. Otherwise, all you’ve done is to say that you don’t believe because you don’t believe.
Judging us by your slanted rules of evidence without giving us evidence for your rules is not a rational way to make a case for your own position or oppose ours.
“Also, you should have already guessed that I, an atheist, would agree that the cogency of that historical rule is quite independent of whether it happens to exclude the divine.”
Why should I have guessed from your identity as an atheist that you’d agree that the cogency of the historical rule independent of its atheistic ramifications?
If, by your own confession, your atheistic identity should lead me to deduce your position regarding the rule in question, then your agreement with the rule in question is clearly implicated in its atheistic ramifications.
The “principle of uniformity” is self-refuting. For if we already knew that historical causation was uniform, then we wouldn’t need to impose this heuristic methodological axiom on the data. The introduction of this principle assumes that we don’t know that to be the case. But in that event, the principle is underdetermined by the evidence and thereby lacking in evidentiary warrant. Methodological naturalism is not derived from the evidence of history, but functions as a filter to screen out unwelcome evidence. All that “scepticdude” ever does is to cite the principle of uniformity to justify his criterion—which is viciously circular.
“My imposition of that axiom upon the evidence is not because I forgot that historical causation is uniform, but is only for YOUR benefit in knowing why i believe what I believe. But by myself, I do not apply this rule to historical sources much like you'd apply a ruler to paper to see how long 2 inches is.”
“You are right, we ATHEISTS don't need to impose that axiom, we only do it when Christians ask us why we reject miracles. When we aren't talking to you, we impose nothing more on historical books than anybody else. We all have inevitable bias, which cannot be snuffed out completely.”
Our atheist is substituting a disguised description for an explanation. Why doesn’t he believe in miracles? Because of the principle of uniformity.
And what does the principle of uniformity amount to? “Because I first assume uniform order in historical causation.”
All he’s done here is to repackage his original rejection. He appears to be giving a reason for his rejection of miracles, but when you unpack his reason, it comes down to the presumptive principle that the uniformity of historical causation doesn’t allow for miracles.
Why does he reject miracles? Because he “assumes” a causal model in which there’s no room for miracles. But this is just a circumlocution for saying that he doesn’t believe in miracles because he doesn’t believe that miracles ever occur.
Notice how that sidesteps the question of why he assumes the principle of uniformity in the first place. He defines uniformity by the absence of miracles.
So he hasn’t, in fact, given us a reason for his rejection. All he’s done is to paraphrase his original rejection. He’s done nothing at all to move the ball forward. The real question remains unanswered.
“Yes it is. It is the result of seeing the same result over and over and over and over, otherwise known as uniformity, which becomes methodological naturalism.”
Here he seems to be giving a reason for why he believes in the principle of uniformity, but this, too, is deceptive.
To begin with, he’s failing to distinguish between personal and impersonal causation. Impersonal causation has reference to the cyclical processes of nature. For example, once a man impregnates a woman, that sets an automatic process in motion. A process which is repeated over and over again in the course of human history.
However, whether or when a particular man impregnates a particular woman is not, of itself, a cyclical or automatic process. If he does so, certain things will follow, but it is not certain that he will do so, or at what time.
Now, the Resurrection is a case of personal causation. God the Father raises his Incarnate Son from the dead. This has nothing to do with the regularities of nature.
And even if natural law were in play, if our belief in natural law is based on seeing the same results time and again, then natural law is descriptive rather than prescriptive since it is based on observation of the way things usually work. It doesn’t dictate to reality what reality is permitted to do.
However, “methodological” naturalism is prescriptive and stipulative. For a detailed analysis of methodological naturalism, cf.
“Any rule which helps you refute the possibility that a crayon talked to you, is a good rule, amen? Or, would you rather not have that rule and just evaluate the evidence itself? ha ha ha, crayons talking? How silly....oh wait...I only say "silly" because I first assume uniform order in historical causation.”
For the umpteenth time he gives us an ersatz example of a miracle, as if that’s comparable to a biblical miracle like the Resurrection.
In the nature of the case, there’s no evidence for an ersatz miracle, and you can make it as silly as you please.
How is that the least bit relevant to the Resurrection, which is neither silly, nor bereft of evidence?
“You are just preaching to the choir. I came here of my own freewill and laid out my main presuppositions on the table and gave arguments for why I believe them. You are just using provocative language because you failed miserably to refute the very rule that protects you from believing everything you hear as soon as you hear it.”
What he did was to lay out his presuppositions and then offer circular arguments for why he believes in them.
At one level there was nothing to refute because he never gave a non-circular, non-question-begging argument for what he believes. All he did was to make baseless claims and groundless assertions for what he believes.
“Fallacy of confusion, I couldn't possibly do as you say I do, because the principle of uniformity IS my criter [ion].”
So, when push comes to shove, he is unable to justify his criterion. By his own admission, he can give no reason why he should believe it or we should believe it. So what is there to refute?
By contrast, we can certainly gives reasons for what we believe. Indeed, this all got started because Jason was discussing messianic prophecy in relation to the nativity of Christ.
Likewise, there’s no dearth of reasons for believing in God. But why should we have to reinvent the wheel each time when the arguments are only a mouse-click away? Cf.
It is not our duty to do an unbeliever’s reading and research for him. If an unbeliever can study liberal attacks on the veracity of Scripture, he can just as well study the many essays, articles, commentaries, and monographs which rebut the liberal attacks on Scripture.
It is not as if these objections have never been broached before, or answered before. These are oft-answered stock objections. An honest unbeliever would at least acquaint himself with the answers, and if he finds them unsatisfactory, explain why.
Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience. A very genealogically conscious audience.
They could read 1 Kings just as well as our atheist. Indeed, they could read it in the original. They knew their way around the OT genealogies. This was, after all, a tribal society and covenant community based on God’s covenant to Abraham and his seed, as well as a dynastic priesthood. They hated Herod because Herod was a usurper—an Idumean, which made him an Edomite, which made him kin to Esau, the outcast. They were looking forward to a restoration of the Davidic kingship.
Matthew is making use of a literary convention known as gematria. The numerological arrangement of genealogies goes all the way back to Genesis, where you have ten generations from Adam to Noah (Gen 5), and ten generations from Shem to Abraham (Gen 11), as well as ten generations from Perez to David (Ruth 4:18-22; 1 Chron 2:5,9-15). For a numerological arrangement based on multiples of seven, cf. Gen 46:8-27.
The obvious way to achieve numerical symmetry is to skip over various descendents. Indeed, if you think about it, gaps are the rule rather than the exception.
The stereotypical formula is: A begat B, B begat C, C begat D, and so on. Notice the singular form. But most fathers in fact had more than one son.
In Scripture, there’s a principle of theological legitimacy as well as genetic legitimacy. An apostate son is not a legitimate heir. His name and progeny may disappear from the family tree (e.g. Dan; Cain). The firstborn may be mentioned, but sometimes Scripture overrides primogeniture in favor of a younger son.
Driving the numerology is an overruling concern with tracing out the lineage of the seed of promise. Cf. “Seed,” New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, T. Alexander & B. Rosner, eds. (IVP 2000), 769-774.
So the messianic motif is driving the numerology. As such, Matthew’s practice is sanctioned by venerable Biblical precedent.