Thursday, January 12, 2017

Does every religion have its own Superman?

Argument from Superman: Every religion has its own Superman argument. Moroni, Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, Buddha, even Lao Tzu, are all claimed to have proved their religious teachings supernaturally true by miraculous demonstrations of their power. “Our Superman exists; therefore our God exists.”

This is Richard Carrier's attempt to "destroy" an argument for God. But so many things go awry in his comparison:

i) In the same post, he accusing Christians of cherry-picking the evidence, yet he himself is cherry-picking the evidence. There are founders of notable cults or religious movements who aren't' claimed to have proven their teachings supernaturally true by miraculous demonstrations, viz. Anthroposophy, Aum Shinrikyo, British Israelism, Chabad, Jehovah's Witnesses, Moonies, Nation of Islam, Raëlism, Scientology.

ii) Carrier seems to be listing founders of religious movements. If that's his intention, then it's unclear why he includes Moroni on the list. Obviously, that's an allusion to Mormonism. However, the founder of Mormonism is Joseph Smith, or perhaps more accurately, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were the cofounders of Mormonism. As for reputed miracles, it would be necessary to sift the documentary evidence. Keep in mind that Smith was a classic conman. His reputation precedes him. You'd must also consider whether his cronies had a financial stake in vouching for him.  

Maroni is reputedly the angel who appeared to Joseph Smith. But if, by Carrier's logic, that makes Moroni the founder of Mormonism, does that make the Angel of the Lord who appeared to Moses (Exod 3) the founder of Judaism? It's hard to see that Carrier is using a consistent principle when he includes Moroni on his list. Perhaps Carrier is simply confused. Maybe he meant to say Joseph Smith, but because he associates Moroni with Mormonism, he confounded Smith with Moroni. 

iii) If his intention is to list founders of religious movements, it's questionable to classify Moses as the founder of Judaism. Assuming Judaism has a founder, Abraham is as much a founder of Judaism as Moses. Perhaps we might classify Abraham and Moses as cofounders of Judaism. But Abraham didn't perform miracles. David is another central figure in Judaism, but David didn't perform miracles. It would really be more accurate to say Yahweh was the founder of Judaism. 

iv) There are no miracles attributed to Muhammed in the Koran. It's only in later Muslim tradition that Muhammad undergoes legendary embellishment as a miracle worker. 

v) "Superman" suggests an agent with innate superhuman abilities. By contrast, Moses is empowered to perform miracles. Moses is not a "Superman" in his own right. He's just an ordinary human being. 

vi) By contrast, Jesus does haven't innate superhuman abilities. That's because Jesus is God Incarnate. But that makes Jesus unique compared to the other founders on the list. So that example is disanalogous rather than analogous.

vii) Moreover, Jesus performed many public miracles. There were multiple witnesses. Furthermore, Jesus was a 1C figure, for which we have multiple 1C sources. Carrier needs to show comparable evidence in the case of Buddha and Lao Tzu. 

viii) It's true that miracles are attributed to Buddha. Buddha undergoes legendary embellishment. That's true in part because the sources for the historical Buddha are so far removed from his own time. They aren't reliably connected to the historical Buddha. As such, they can take on a life of their own.

In addition, Buddhism is mainly a religion of ideas rather than events, in contrast to the Judeo-Christian faith, which is primarily a religion of events rather than ideas. Buddhism was never essentially rooted in a historical figure. In principle, Buddhism could still exist even if Buddha never existed, for Buddhism is based on Buddha's "insight" regarding the problem of suffering. He's the founder of that religious movement because he's the first person to have that particular take on the problem of suffering (the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path). But, in principle, anyone could independently hit upon that idea. By contrast, Christianity is subject to historical controls. 

ix) I don't rule out the possibility that some Buddhist or Taoist adepts might exhibit paranormal phenomena. The occult is a potential source of paranormal phenomena. That wouldn't disprove Christianity, for Christian makes allowance for supernatural agents other than God, including evil spirits. 


  1. “Our Superman exists; therefore our God exists.”

    Carrier seems to be committing a version of the Genetic Fallacy. Applied here it would be the fallacy of concluding that since he can identify the etiology (cause/source/origin) of belief in powerful beings (like superman and gods), and since they have supposed parallels in many religion (and presumably cultures), that you thereby demonstrate the belief false or unworthy of continued acceptance.

    I suspect Carrier understood how weak his argument is here and that's why he reserved it for last.

    But for all Carrier knows, it's precisely because the peoples among whom the religions began actually experienced supernatural occurrences which indirectly or directly lead to beliefs in such supermen. For example, Arabs during Muhammad's time (or Americans during Joseph Smith's time) may have experienced unrelated occultic experiences which prepared them to be willing to accept Islam or Mormonism. But of course, Carrier previously dismissed all testimonies of the supernatural or paranormal earlier in his over-arching argument.

    Also, Why assume that a desire for a superman, messiah, God or god-man is MERELY a human desire rather than a manifestation of a deeper spiritual hunger and need on account of there actually being a God in whose image we are made, and designed to have a relationship with?

    See Peter S. Williams lecture "The Argument from Desire":

    Odds both guarantee they are all just made up stories. And not being true, they fail as arguments. A real God would not produce stories that look just like they were made up, and then present no adequate evidence for them being true.

    Carrier talks of "odds" as if he can calculate probabilities in his atheism. But if he can't account for induction epistemologically, or for his assumption of the uniformity of nature metaphysically, then he has no business claiming he can calculate odds. As Bahnsen pointed out in his debate with Eddie Tabash, atheists cannot account for either the Supernatural OR THE NATURAL [sic].

    A real God would not produce stories that look just like they were made up, and then present no adequate evidence for them being true.

    Really? How does he know that? How is he privy to the motivations, purposes and plans of all the infinite possible conceptions of all gods/goddesses/Gods/God? There are over 2000 human concepts of supernatural-like entities. Maybe there are a few thousand more if you include those believed on other planets and universes in the multiverse. Like the planet Vulcan, planet Qo'noS (the Klingon homeworld) etc. [g]

    Maybe God WOULD produce stories that look similar to false religions without meeting his criteria for evidence because:

    1. maybe false religions anticipate or mimic the true religion or worldview

    2. maybe God tests our hearts to see whether we will honestly seek and pursue the true God among the false, or whether we use the similarities to justify and excuse our atheism and the amorality and/or immorality it can foster either by logical necessity or (at least) practically.


    1. 3. maybe God wanted to make the true religion more palatable and relatable to pagans. What C.S. Lewis referred to when he said Christianity is myth come true and made real in space and time. For example, (among many examples) God using Jonah who came out of a great fish to speak a message to a people who included a fish-god in their pantheon (Dagon).

      4. maybe God wanted to oppose, resist and mock self-righteous and/or rebellious atheists who use their God given intellect to oppose him (cf. Prov. 3:34; 1 Pet. 5:5; James 4:6).

      He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success.- Job 5:12

      Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?- 1 Cor. 1:20

      18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness,"20 and again, "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile."- 1 Cor. 3:18-20

      5. maybe in actuality the problem might be one's own naturalistic assumptions and expectations which are wrong and therefore one can't better distinguish between "made up" stories and real historical, and logically/philosophically/theologically plausible stories.

      6. maybe one's standard of "adequate evidence" is not only arbitrary but unreasonable and biased (influenced by intellectual and moral/immoral prejudice).

      7. maybe God didn't want to provide rationally coercive evidences so that the determining factor in disbelief is our sinfulness and the determining factor in salvation is God's grace.

      As Pascal wrote in his Pensées:

      The prophecies, the very miracles and proofs of our religion, are not of such a nature that they can be said to be absolutely convincing. But they are also of such a kind that it cannot be said that it is unreasonable to believe them. Thus there is both evidence and obscurity to enlighten some and confuse others. But the evidence is such that it surpasses, or at least equals, the evidence to the contrary; so that it is not reason which can determine men not to follow it, and thus it can only be lust or malice of heart. And by this means there is sufficient evidence to condemn, and insufficient to convince; so that it appears in those who follow it, that it is grace, and not reason, which makes them follow it; and in those who shun it, that it is lust, not reason, which makes them shun it.


      563 Willing to appear openly to those who seek him with all their heart, and to be hidden from those who flee from him with all their heart, God so regulates the knowledge of himself that he has given indications of himself which are visible to those who seek him and not to those who do not seek him. There is enough light for those to see who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition.

      577 There is sufficient clearness to enlighten the elect, and sufficient obscurity to humble them. There is sufficient obscurity to blind the reprobate, and sufficient clearness to condemn them, and make them inexcusable.—Saint Augustine, Montaigne, Sébond.

      574 All things work together for good to the elect, even the obscurities of Scripture; for they honour them because of what is divinely clear. And all things work together for evil to the rest of the world, even what is clear; for they revile such, because of the obscurities which they do not understand.

      562 It will be one of the confusions of the damned to see that they are condemned by their own reason, by which they claimed to condemn the Christian religion.

  2. Carrier's views regarding Jesus are in contrast to Bart Ehrman's views.

    1.Ehrman believes Jesus was a real historical person. That Jesus was a Galilean Jew who preached things regarding the Kingdom of God.

    2. Ehrman doesn't believe everything that the Gospels say. Nevertheless, he believes the canonical New Testament gospels are the earliest, and for all practical purposes, the only valuable sources of detailed information about the historical Jesus. The Gnostic gospels are worthless in regard to discovering anything regarding the historical Jesus.

    3. Ehrman believes Jesus thought that he was, or at least would become, the Messiah.

    4. Ehrman believes Jesus was crucified at the order of Pontius Pilate and that he actually died on the cross.

    5. Ehrman believes some of Jesus' ORIGINAL followers (not decades later) sincerely believed that they saw Jesus alive from the dead.

    6. Ehrman believes that the belief that Jesus rose from the dead convinced his disciples almost immediately that he was a divine figure exalted to the right hand of God. It was not a later development. There never was a Christianity that viewed Jesus as just a good teacher.

    7. Ehrman believes the belief that Jesus was a divine figure who existed before his human life (who pre-existed) was accepted by at least some Christians even before Paul's earliest Epistles (even though Paul's earliest Epistles all pre-date the Gospels).

    8. Ehrman believes that in Phil. 2:6-11 Jesus IS presented as a pre-existent "divine" (in some sense) figure who became a human being.

    9. Ehrman now believes, contrary to his past opinion, that Jesus IS called "God" (in some sense) in Rom. 9:5. See chapter 7 of Ehrman's book How Jesus Became God [The relevant passage is quoted here:]

    10. Ehrman believes that the author of the Gospel of John clearly taught in the Gospel that Jesus existed before creation as someone who was distinct from God the Father, and yet was "God" (in some sense) and was equal to God (the Father). Furthermore, that the author of John didn't originate this view. For example, the prologue derives from pre-Johannine sources.

    [Numbers 1-10 are adapted from Robert Bowman's lecture at 24 minutes and 36 seconds]

    11. Ehrman believes, and has stated numerous times in debate, that John 8:58 does have the author of the Gospel making Jesus claim to be "God".

    12.Ehrman believes all authors of the 4 canonical Gospels personally believed and taught that Jesus was "God" (in some sense and in different ways). See this video here at 18 minutes and 48 seconds: