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Old 03-23-2001, 03:17 AM   #1
Bede
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Arrow Evidence and Other religion's miracles

This is aimed at Michael but I'm sure others will jump in...

Michael seems to assume that it is common ground that miraculous happenings in China are myths. I must reject this absolutely and state quite categorically that I do not differentiate between reports of Christian miracles and all the others.

Whether we label our own side 'miraculous' and others 'magical' or worse 'diabolic' seems to me irrelevant. I am perfectly happy to admit that China has a grand tradition of what we would consider 'miraculous' and by pointing that out, all Michael does is strengthen the case that these things actually happen.

What about evidence?

As many people know, for canonisation to go through, the would-be saint needs to have affected two miracles. The Vatican employs a team of medical professionals whose job it is to ascertain claims of cures. They report on whether a particular cure is 'inexplicable' in their professional judgment. Lawyers also interview witnesses and the whole process is so vigorous that the vast majority of claims are rejected. This is not because they cannot be miracles but because the evidence is not sufficient to make such a claim.

Now, if someone believes miracles are possible, then the Vatican's procedures would be quite sufficient to ascertain when one has happened. However, if they are a priori rejected, no amount of work will convince otherwise. Personally I accept the work of the medical professionals who carry out this work and have not seen any reports that cast doubt on their integrity.

I actually agree that the historian cannot make any claims about miracles above saying that certain people believed they had happened. Furthermore, the lack of repeatability precludes rigorous scientific examination as they happen. But within those constraints it is possible to objectively investigate miracles provided one has not already taken the a priori position that they are impossible.

Yours

Bede

Bede's Library - faith and reason
 
Old 03-23-2001, 05:13 AM   #2
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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Bede:
This is aimed at Michael but I'm sure others will jump in...
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</font>
I'm anxious to see what Michael and Omnedon have to say about this. First, they claimed "miracles were impossible". Two days later Michael said, "All you need to know is this: we have video of Sai Baba performing miracles. Is there any video of Jesus?"

Am I the only one who thinks this is a contradiction? Miracles are impossible, but we have video of some of them? Hmmmm... Must be that free-thought logic.

Peace,

Polycarp

 
Old 03-23-2001, 06:41 AM   #3
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Now I know how Jim Mitchell feels. Threads all over the place.

I'm sorry I didn't answer your very reasonable post in the other thread, Polycarp. I hadn't got around to it before you started this one.

Tell you what. I'm going to have to ask you two to hold off on this thread about Taoists for a while. I have written a feature article on the Taoists and their miracles, which Dr. Still has informed me SecWeb will publish as a biweekly feature article. I'd love to discuss the Taoists (always happy to talk about China) but I feel it would be better to wait until the article comes out, so we don't have to repeat these arguments. If I have misunderstood Dr. Still, and they are not going to publish it within the next two-three weeks, then I will post it here and on a website (there is a table) and you guys can cut it to pieces in a new thread, which I am sure will be quite fast and furious.

The article (quite by accident) addresses some of the points you are making. I have been withholding information on the Taoists (quite confident you wouldn't actually look it up) but all is revealed therein.

So I'd like to set aside debate on the Taoists for now.

Polycarp, as for Sai Baba, no, I do not believe he is doing anything miraculous. He has been extensively debunked by Indian and Western skeptics (but you knew that, right? or didn't you bother to look that up?). But the quality of evidence for him being something divine, as his devotees believe, is certainly greater than any for Jesus.

I did not mention whether I thought his miracles were true because I wanted to put Baba on the same level as Jesus. Here is one body of evidence. Here is another body of evidence. Compare. Which is the richer body of evidence? Obviously, Sai Baba. Enormous numbers of first-hand witnesses, video and photos, artifacts allegedly materialized by him, etc. There is nothing like that for Jesus. Clearly, if we went by strength of evidence, which you people seem to think is coterminus with "copiousness of evidence," Baba is way ahead of Jesus. So why don't you believe that Sai Baba is a divine being? Why aren't you his devotee?

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BEDE: I actually agree that the historian cannot make any claims about miracles above saying that certain people believed they had happened. Furthermore, the lack of repeatability precludes rigorous scientific examination as they happen. But within those constraints it is possible to objectively investigate miracles provided one has not already taken the a priori position that they are impossible.</font>
If you want to read my arguments on the possiblity of objective investigation of miracles, review the thread started by Donnerkeil "Miracles and the Scientific Method" about Lourdes. There is no protocol that can be designed to discover miracles. Further, one cannot design a protocol to separate miracles from mundane acts by technologically advanced aliens. Finally, one cannot design a protocol to rule out miracles from other traditions and attribute them to god only. Whatever the Church is discovering, it isn't miracles.

Michael

 
Old 03-23-2001, 06:45 AM   #4
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China certainly has a history of miracle claims, faith healing claims, etc., by folk animists, shamanists, Buddhists, Christians, etc. Historians can usually verify that a claim has been made, that an event took place in which people concluded X happened. But it is a whole different matter to prove that X happened, a supernatural event, say. Since our understanding of the natural world is built on rigorous scientific investigation, such understandings cannot be lightly or trivially challenged. That is why the hearsay of potentially credulous and dishonest human beings cannot be taken alone as proof of supernatural events, whether they be faith healings or Elvis sightings.
 
Old 03-23-2001, 02:56 PM   #5
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by turtonm:


Polycarp, as for Sai Baba, no, I do not believe he is doing anything miraculous. He has been extensively debunked by Indian and Western skeptics (but you knew that, right? or didn't you bother to look that up?). But the quality of evidence for him being something divine, as his devotees believe, is certainly greater than any for Jesus.


</font>
How could that be possible, since Sai Baba has already been debunked? If he has been so extensively debunked, how is there still such quality of evidence for him being "something divine?" This "debunking" you speak of seems to show there is more evidence for Jesus being divine then Sai. After all, no contemporary skeptic of Jesus' time successfully debunked him that I know of.
 
Old 03-23-2001, 03:28 PM   #6
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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by turtonm:
I'm sorry I didn't answer your very reasonable post in the other thread, Polycarp. I hadn't got around to it before you started this one.
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Ummm... Bede and I are not the same person, but I understand about the different threads.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Tell you what. I'm going to have to ask you two to hold off on this thread about Taoists for a while.
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That's cool. Maybe somebody else will jump in.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Polycarp, as for Sai Baba, no, I do not believe he is doing anything miraculous. He has been extensively debunked by Indian and Western skeptics (but you knew that, right? or didn't you bother to look that up?).
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Gee, really ? I just finished burning all of my Christian books and recanting my faith in Jesus. Now what am I gonna do?

Ummm... You were the one who said:
“All you need to know is this: we have video of Sai Baba performing miracles.”

The normal interpretation of such a statement is that the person making the statement believes miracles to be possible. Thank you for revising your statement and further clarifying exactly what you believe. And just kidding about the book burning thing…

I’m glad we were able to make some progress on the historical method. If you have time, I’d like to see your response to my last couple posts on that thread.

Peace,

Polycarp


 
Old 03-24-2001, 08:36 AM   #7
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Well....it's funny that you say "Are there any videos of Jesus?" Well, of course not. That was 2000 years ago. No one can be 100% sure that his miracles actually happened, but no one can say for 100% sure that they never happened.

I personally trust the gospels when dealing with miracles. Jesus performed so many that I think it would be hard for all the writers to record all of them in perfect harmony. That is why you would see little variations of a story or two. No one is perfect.

Modern technology can explain away most mircales of today, but I don't see how you can apply modern technology to miracles of the past. No one from this age has witnessed them, so how can you judge?

And some people claim that miracles cannot happen because that breaks our current laws of physics and science. Well, isn't that what a miracle is? Something that doesn't fit into whats we currently know. And who's to say that this knowledge about science we know is 100% correct? We could be wrong.

It's a never ending battle, we'll just end up finding out when we die.

Andy
 
Old 03-24-2001, 12:34 PM   #8
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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by AuthenticMan:
I personally trust the gospels when dealing with miracles. Jesus performed so many that I think it would be hard for all the writers to record all of them in perfect harmony. That is why you would see little variations of a story or two.</font>
"Little variations"? Only one miracle occurs in all four gospels (the feeding of the 5000). None of the other miracles do.

Other than the resurrection, which has its own share of "little variations" of course.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">No one is perfect.</font>
If God inspired them, I'd expect them to be perfect, but, I digress...
 
Old 03-25-2001, 06:49 AM   #9
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I again want to emphasize that nowhere in this thread have I argued that miracles are possible. Its an entirely separate issue. Here's how I would make a distinction, so tell me if you'd agree. I don't think an argument for or against miracles is best suited by examining historical evidence. I believe that no amount of HISTORICAL EVIDENCE can prove the possibility of miracles. The best approach for such a discussion is on a philosophical level.

Let me disagree. To argue that no historical method can solve the issue is to restrict historical method to textual criticism and linguistic research. historical method is a huge field that partakes of many different methodologies, and draws on others as needed.

Consider the Shroud of Turin. Using some historical methods, we can learn that the earliest Church records of it declare it a fraud. By submitting it to other types of historical methods, such as carbon dating, we can learn that it is indeed a medieval fake. The same with the fake Mormon documents in the famous "Mormon Murders" case. They were submitted to analysis using "historical" methods, such as knowledge of inks, writing styles, handwriting analysis, historical fact and so forth. They were proven fakes when all documents containing a certain anomaly were demonstrated to have come from one source (the murderer), including several that had not previously been attributed to him. The term historical method covers a vast range. If I were writing a basic history of Thomas Edison's work, my historical methods would have to include some basic knowledge of electricity and machinery, as well as things like patent processes and 19th century analytical and research techniques. My "documents" would be things like centralized electrical distribution systems (they'd be artifacts), electrical theory, government contracts, scribbled notes for machinery, Edison's logbooks, the location of workbenches, and so forth, and my analytical techniques would be very different. When I participated in historical archaeology as an undergrad, we researched texts, plans and other things, as well as digging test pits around Cresson Mt. in Pennsylvania to ascertain the actual track of the railway, as well as excavating using archaeological methods. To a certain extent, the object of research determines what methods are to be used.

If we look at Sai Baba with the Six criteria proposed by Layman in the "Jesus the Miracle Worker "thread, we can make all six fit Sai. However, using historical methods, including interviews with participants, studies of videos, studies of other Indian holy men doing similar tricks (and dissimilar tricks), studies of miracle workers from other cultures (both falling under the rubric of "comparative methdologies"), application of known laws of nature, biographical methods, and so forth, it is easy to see that Baba is a fraud. In fact, Layman's criteria are not grounded in any theory, so that they can be applied in any way one likes. Layman argued that I had incorrectly applied the embarrassment criterion, but unfortunately, since his criteria did not rest on any theoretical foundation, he had no argument that could compel me to accept his view (in fact, I can satisfy his definition regarding Sai Baba). Note that none of his criteria turn on the truth of the act itself, they are all discussions of claims. They do not ask "could this event have occurred?" but instead ask "how does this claim fit into its context?" They carefully AVOID the whole discussion of truth.

Your criteria show that indeed Sai Baba is divine and producing miracles. You are not in a position to evaluate whether the events occurred as reported, but only to look at how the reports fit some social context.

But the reason we do history is because we want to know truth, not fit claims into social contexts. That is why you cannot claim there is some point at which "history" stops and "philosophy" takes over. In 1865 the chemist August Kekule proposed that the benzene molecule was ring-shaped. This idea came to him in a dream. Note how I could claim that this dream was a "miracle," god himself delivered it to Kekule in a dream, and satisfy all of Layman's criteria. That claim, the miracle claim, exists OUTSIDE of the criterion themselves, in your view and Layman's view. According to you, once I make the claim EVENT X is a miracle, we must cease all historical inquiry and move everything into the realm of philosophy. If I did that for Kekule, how could you stop me? However, using our current knowledge of the brain, as well as Kekule's testimony, we can quickly discount that possibility. Do you think that it is a fair move to apply current knowledge to my claim that Kekule's dream was only a normal cognitive act, and not a miracle? What prevents me from claiming that any event in the world is a miracle and thus isolating it from normal methods of historical evaluation?

Take, for example, the fortunate discovery of Lee's plans for the Antietam campaign. I claim that was due to the miraculous intervention of god. using Layman's criteria from the "Jesus the Miracle Worker" thread (which I thought were six, but seem to be four)
  • Multiple attestion: all officers on both sides admit to the event in their memoirs, the plans were seen and authenticated by many
  • embarrassment: gosh, it sure is embarrassing to admit that military officers lose plans....also embarrassing to McClellan to admit that he won the battle because of this knowledge. Why would McClellan make up a lie like that?
  • dissimilarity: this is the only time in the war one side possessed the other's plans in toto.
  • coherence: That god would permit this to occur is coherent with our understanding of the Union victory as ordained by god.

See how worthless these criteria really are?

The debate would hinge on the existence/non-existence of a god and/or the attributes of any god deemed to exist. In other words, if naturalism is true, then miracles are not possible because we are only subject to natural laws; AND if theism is true, then miracles are possible because a being who created the laws could conceivably alter them. So we don't argue over miracles while at the same time discussing history. Or at least I don't think it leads to the most fruitful discussion.

Well, it doesn't lead to fruitful discussion because you people want to isolate your section of the universe from the normal application of methodologies for evaluating historical truths.

This demonstrates how people from all backgrounds (atheist to theist) can utilize the same tools that I've been giving. If a scholar such as Gerd Ludemann (an atheist) believes miracles to be impossible, then he will rule those deeds alleging to be miracles as, in actuality, being fabrications. I'm perfectly fine with that. He arrived at his atheism by studying philosophy, etc.

That "ETC" contains a whole world of methodologies. I'm sure philosophical views played a part, but I also suspect that the plain old search for historical truth, using the tools science, textual research, comparative anthropology and other disciplines have provided historians, also had a great influence. Ludemann says that the secular world is too strong for the ancient texts. He says that Christian claims are "arrogant and ignore reality." What do you think he means by that? I doubt it is solely a philosophical statement.

I am sure that there are Christian scholars who dismiss some miracles. Do they all dismiss the same miracles? Do any of your people dismiss the Resurrection?

You want to claim Plato wrote Phaedo. No problem. But suppose I want to claim that god handed Phaedo down to Plato from on high and thus removing the question of authorship from the realm of historical scholarship into the philosophical realm. What is there to stop me from making that claim? Once I make it, must you then cease scholarship?

Michael

[This message has been edited by turtonm (edited March 25, 2001).]
 
Old 03-25-2001, 08:02 AM   #10
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A: I personally trust the gospels when dealing with miracles. Jesus performed so many that I think it would be hard for all the writers to record all of them in perfect harmony. That is why you would see little variations of a story or two. No one is perfect.

Andy, before you decide to "personally trust the gospels" please read them for yourself. Anyone who says the writers "record them in perfect harmony" obviously HAS NOT read the narratives. For example, count the number and type of "miracles" in "John" and compare the number and type in "Mark." Then get back to me.

A: Modern technology can explain away most mircales of today, but I don't see how you can apply modern technology to miracles of the past. No one from this age has witnessed them, so how can you judge?

You seem to forget the FACT that we live on the same earth that ALL people have lived on. "Modern technology" is not the issue. The suspension of natural laws is the issue. There is absolutely no evidence demonstrating that nature has ever been suspended, except in religious/superstitious works.

A: And some people claim that miracles cannot happen because that breaks our current laws of physics and science. Well, isn't that what a miracle is? Something that doesn't fit into whats we currently know. And who's to say that this knowledge about science we know is 100% correct? We could be wrong.

What makes you think that we could be wrong?

A: It's a never ending battle, we'll just end up finding out when we die.

No, when you die, you die.

 
 

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