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Old 03-27-2001, 06:30 AM   #1
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Post Comments on "The Christ of Daoist Alchemy"

Comments on "The Christ of Daoist Alchemy"

-All my questions/comments are in bold


To an outsider with an interest in East Asia like myself, one of the most striking things about the debate over Jesus, his life, and works is the narrow confines of the debate. Scraps of papyri are pored over for the most infinitesimal clues. Romans are contrasted with Greeks. Jesus is compared to other miracle-workers of the Hellenistic period. So thin is the evidence that trench warfare is fought over three or four contested paragraphs in a couple of ancient texts.

Here I assume you are just referring to your personal experience with Christian apologetics, and not modern biblical scholarship, which, in my reading, is anything but narrow when it comes to looking for historical and experiential vantage points from which to assess Jesus' miracles.

What would it be like if we had a region with similar miracle claims, but with copious documentation? What if Jesus had left instruction kits for miracles? What if the Gospels had been written by men who had actually seen Jesus and others perform his miracles, and repeated them themselves? What would "miracle" mean in a society more technologically advanced and philosophically sophisticated than that of first century Palestine? What if the kind of evidence that apologists cite for the miracles of Jesus was actually greater for similar figures in another society?

I don't think this essay establishes that these situations are the case, but even more so, I don't really understand how you ultimately answer the 'what if' question. I might have a clue from something towards the end, and I'll respond, but its hard to tell what the Christian reaction is supposed to be, even if you prove your case.

To answer those questions, we must look across the Eurasian landmass to China, a society that had a full-blown bureaucratic state with state-funded military and scientific research institutes at the time of Jesus. Although, in most areas, China and the West were more or less on par at 500 BCE, by 50 CE China had raced ahead of the Greeks. Consider that by Jesus' time the Chinese had already been using the compass for 500 years, had invented or discovered negative numbers, the kite, relief maps, contour transport canals, hot-air balloons, the rudder, iron plows, seed tube drills, sunspots, Cardan suspension, cast iron, crank handles, deficiency diseases, geobotanical prospecting, cybernetic machines, lacquer (the first plastic), natural gas as fuel, calipers for measuring, paper, circulation of the blood, extracted higher mathematical roots and reached drilling depths of almost one mile.

That is extremely interesting, but I'm not sure that these facts alone necessitate an attitude of skepticism towards the miraculous. I seem to remember hearing that a majority of Americans believe in miracles. In a recent work by a skeptical NT historian, in a discussion of exorcism, we read:

"I myself, for example, do not believe that there are personal supernatural spirits who invade out bodies from outside and, for either good or evil, replace or jostle for place with our own personality. But the vast, vast majority of the world's people have always so believed, and according to one recent cross-cultural survey, about 75 percent still do." [Crossan, John D., "Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography"(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994) p. 85.]



There was also a potent skeptical attitude among Confucian scholars that would have laughed Jesus out of the market. "The conclusion is that man has his happiness in his own hands, and that the spirits have nothing to do with it," stated Wang Chung, a towering first century thinker writing in a tradition that was already centuries old in his time.

Hmmm…This quote alone seems merely to assert that man's "happiness" is not dependent upon what the spirits do or don't do. It doesn't seem to rule out the existence of spirits (actually it seems to affirm it), and it doesn't seem to rule out belief in their interaction with the physical world. Indeed, below, I think you say something about a spirit being confined to a 'bean' or something, so I'm not sure what value this quote is, even if it were taken to represent more than Chung's own opinion, which I'm not sure it should be. I don’t think it shows that Confucian scholars would have "laughed Jesus out of the market" and I don’t' know how that statement is relevant at all or even what it means. Does this mean if they saw Jesus performing these miracles that they would have laughed at him? If they heard about these miracles they would have laughed at him? Even if we answer 'yes' to both these questions, I'm not sure how this is relevant. Are we to assume that miracles can't happen, and hence, cultures who don't accept them are more advanced? Furthermore, its equally possible that Pharisees, Essenes, Sadducees, etc. would have laughed at the alchemical tasks that the Daoists allegedly performed.

In first century China, the boundary of the miraculous was a lot farther away than in first century Palestine.
If we look at contemporaneous China, we find that there are reports of miracles and wonders among the ancient Daoist alchemists. These wonders are attested to in numerous documents over the centuries.

I'm not sure if the above is supposed to create the impression that the Chinese are more skeptical of miracles, and hence, miracles attested by Chinese sources are more likely to be true. Since, alchemy really isn't considered 'miraculous' by the Chinese, a background belief of skepticism concerning miracles doesn't increase the likelihood of authenticity of alchemical feats that were documented.

As Joseph Needham, the author of the monumental work Science and Civilization in China, wrote in his introduction to the 4 volumes on alchemy in that work:
"The first question which is likely to occur to anyone curious about the ways and means of finding out what China accomplished in the chemical arts and sciences is -- what documents do we have? The answer is, a veritable ocean, only a small part of which has yet been charted and explored; and nearly all of this is in printed form."[1]
This remark will serve as an introduction. The sheer volume of sources will be dealt with later.

Ok, there are lots of documents on 'chemical arts and sciences'. Its difficult to see where that gets us though. Is the author here referring to purely alchemy, actual legitimate research, a little of both, or what? This passage doesn't specify.

In addition to the wonder stories, many of the people involved became deities who inspired other miracle workers.

Its statements like this that I have trouble understanding the significance of too. Surely not even the average McDowell-thumping internet apologist is unaware of the deification or legendary embellishment of the lives of actual people, and stories concerning divine heros and saviors of antinquity. I don't think you're making a case for borrowing. So I guess the only use for such information would be found in a thorough discussion of the sources, their relationship to the person deified, their dates, the religious beliefs of the culture in which this occurred (i.e., did this occur often as is not the case in Judaism?), etc. and a comparison with the New Testament view of Jesus. But even then, I'm not sure what that will really show us as concerns the miracle accounts.

They are known and attested to by name, and specific miracles are attributed to them. Some of them are known historic personages.
In short, if we are asked to believe in Jesus on the evidence we have, we cannot but believe in the miracles of the
Daoist adepts, because the evidence for them is far more copious, diverse and independent.

Well, let's see about the documentation. But I'm not sure I agree with the statement here. If the Daoists are claiming to scientifically make people immortal and change certain metals to gold, these statements have been falsified by modern science, and hence, the reports are easily exposed as fraudulent or simply mistaken. On the other hand, with Jesus, we have a person who is allegedly the Son of God, working miracles by the 'finger of God'. I don't see anything in modern science that says God simply cannot exist, and if He does, He simply cannot ever, nor ever has operated as the source of transcendent miracles. But from the start, we have good reason to doubt the scientific claims of Daoist alchemists which have been falsified.

For example, the adept Wei Po-yang, discussed below, is attested to by works from his own hand, works by his disciples, and other works doubtfully attributed to him. As we shall see, Wei is also deity credited with giving the elixir of immortality to a dog.

The important issues here will be

Daoist Alchemy: Some Basic Ideas
Daoist alchemical practices fall into two basic groups, those of the External Elixir (waidan), which sought eternal life through chemistry, and the Internal Elixir (neidan), which took a physiological approach. Both have common roots. Waidan practitioners flourished from about 200 BCE to 1000 CE, overlapping with the time of Jesus. It is on them we will focus.
The waidan adepts sought, among other things, to develop an elixir of immortality based on some combination of alchemical theory and experimentation. This immortality was material, not spiritual. The adept actually went on living in his physical body, preserved by the secrets he had learned.

So what happened to them all? Did all of those who allegedly became immortal, ascend to heaven?

Such elixirs were made of precious metals and mercury in most cases, and were highly poisonous. It was the eventual early deaths of so many test subjects, including several Emperors, that caused the abandonment of this program and the gradual focus on neidan, the cultivation of the powers in the adepts's own body rather than in some external substance. Of course, waidan adepts developed gymnastic, sexual, respiratory and dietetic techniques for prolonging life. Taoists also put forth an ethical system to complement their magical system.
Many magical powers were attributed to Waidan adepts. In addition to immortality, they were also said to have turned lead to gold. "Various magical operations," as Needham notes, "[such as] confining a spirit in a bean and making images speak; are met with on every other page of Daoist philosophical books."[2] Flying and riding the wind are commonplaces. In short, the miracles of Daoist adepts are more abundant and diverse than those of Jesus.

I don't see how more abundance or diversity of miracles really matters. As far as the documentation of these particular miracles or instances of magic (though these terms are not entirely appropriate - it seems they thought they were doing 'science'), here you don't give the sources, the dates, etc.

It is important to note some fundamental differences. There was a strong skeptical strain in Daoist writings. They pooh-poohed many folk beliefs and maintained that theirs were superior, because they had the support of an experimental methodology.

This doesn't really tell us anything as obviously they weren't skeptical of the fact that these 'amazing' feats could be achieved through the right 'science'. The ones that wrote the books just seem to be claiming to have the right science. They aren't skeptical of the possibility of occurrence of these things, just the practitioners methodologies and capabilities

They would also have found Jesus' miracles ridiculous, because they violated nature rather than worked with it, as the adepts claimed they themselves did.

Again, I don't see this as significant, but ironically, in our post-Enlightenment Western culture, I'd say that many more scientists see Christian miracles as possible, over and against the possibility of Daoist alchemy.

Some may regard this as the difference between "magic" and "miracles," but from this vantage point that distinction looks like simple ethnocentrism: your "miracles" are "magic," but my "miracles" are "true miracles." Each side had its own view of the Possible.

Right, and each culture had a background belief in the possibility of those miracles performed. Well, actually we don't see a background belief in Judaism as concerns a singular bodily resurrection from the dead within history, as opposed to a general eschatological resurrection at the end of it.

There is, as a matter of practical ability, little to distinguish between the descriptions given in the texts of making someone immortal and raising someone from the dead. By any scientific standard, both are equally impossible.

I think there's a substantial difference. One is a scientific claim, the other one has to do with the power of God. Drinking an elixir that some pseudo-scientist made and becoming immortal, is a lot different than dying a natural death and then being restored in a bodily glorified form by the power of God. I don't think its possible, by purely scientific standards, to make someone immortal. The universe itself is under the governance of the 2nd law of thermodynamics and will eventually experience heat death. If Daoistic alchemy in principle recognizes the laws of nature as absolute and seeks to harmonize its 'science' with them, then scientific routes to immortality seem to be out of the question based on what we currently know.

Texts, and then Some
Speaking of texts, the sheer volume of them is staggering. There are more than 1,500 texts in Daoist canon. These were divided into three traditional groupings around 400 CE, when there were fewer texts. Four Supplements were added later, containing new works. Printing was common from the 8th century onwards in China, and the Daoist canon was printed in medieval times. Consequently, except for objects recovered from tombs by archaeologists, almost everything we have is printed.
However, these figures hardly scratch the surface. In addition to the texts by the alchemists themselves mentioned above, there are dictionaries and other lexigraphic tools, encyclopedias, dynastic histories of "unimpeachable historic quality," pharmaceutical natural histories (from the 200 BCE on), an enormous medical literature, and finally, numerous diaries, memorabilia, notes, personal observations and novels and works of fiction. The range of literature on Daoist adepts is vast, and no man knows even a small portion of it. New texts are found constantly as unopened tombs yield their wealth. For example, from the tomb of the son of the Lady of Tai (described below) were recovered texts describing how to achieve longevity through the use of planetary influences. Jesus never left us an instruction kit like that.

This is all irrelevant IMO. So the Chinese wrote a lot, and specifically wrote a lot about alchemy. This has absolutely nothing to do with the criteria of multiple attestation as employed in New Testament criticism (if that's what it is attempting to employ). As far as the tomb of the son of the Lady of Tai and her instruction kit, does it work? Jesus didn't need to leave an instruction kit because miracles in Christianity are about what God does, not pseudo-scientific methodology.


By comparison, Greek, Roman and Jewish works surviving from the first century are few. Jesus does not appear in any comparable contemporaneous works. Not until fifty to a hundred years or so after his own lifetime does he finally start showing up in plays, poems, stories, encyclopedias and so forth. The Daoists also left behind an inexhaustible trove of material evidence of their existence, in the form of archaeological data. Jesus left no material mark upon the world.

This doesn't seem to be relevant either. You don’t' seem to be discussing the historicity of Jesus in this paper, so bare historical references don't seem to important. Considering that Jesus was a poor itinerant preacher for a mere three years, residing in a predominantly illiterate culture, its impressive that we do have so much writing about Him. As far as contemporaneous historians, who else would we expect to write about Jesus and why? Also, you are comparing a huge body of people with one person. Of course there are going to be more texts about Daoists. If you think the miracles are better attested according to the criteria used in historical Jesus research, you should pick one Daoist and present the texts recording this Daoists miracles, establish their independence, give us the dates of the texts and the date of the actions on the part of the Daoist, etc.

Glimpses of Nirvana
We'll begin by taking a short look at the Daoist concept of ascension, and a long one at an individual Daoist alchemist.
In the Hou Han Shu, there is a story of how the adept Gong Shang-cheng ascended into heaven, witness by two well-known scholars.

Ok, when did Gong Shang-cheng allegedly ascend and when was this particular text in the Hou Han Shu put into writing? Who are these two well-known scholars? Are the accounts from their hands? Are they just said to be well-known or do we have independent evidence of their existence and status as 'well-known'?

This event is also recorded in another work, Chang Yen, although the names of the people in question are not the same.

Is the Chang Yen dependent on the Hou Han Shu's account? How far removed from the alleged event is the Chang Yen, etc.?

The Tai Ping Qing, written at the same time, also speaks of adepts rising to heaven.

That's interesting but not really relevant. We know that Daoists being capable of and actually having performed these feats is part of the background belief of many in the culture at the time, just like it is concerning certain prophets and Holy men in Israel. In establishing that Jesus was known as a miracle-worker, we look at the tradition concerning Jesus-as-miracle-worker. If you want to compare the attestation of a certain Daoist's miracles to those of Jesus, then just saying that a book says adepts in general could rise to heaven is not the way to go about it. You need to present names and dates of individual Daoists and present the dates and number of manuscripts attesting to the alleged feats. That's all that's really relevant and I realize you try to do that with Wei, which I'll comment on below. Certainly there are apocryphal works in abundance describing all sorts of miracles of Jesus and early Christians. We could pull those in and say "Look, more attestation of Jesus' miracles!" but they aren't considered anywhere near as reliable as the accounts in the NT as concerns Jesus' miracle-working. Apply the criteria of multiple attestation to a Daoist and see how his miracles stack up against Jesus.

Barry Blackburn summarizes the data concerning the attestation to Jesus' miracles, based on form-critical studies: "the miracle-working activity of Jesus--at least exorcisms and healings--easily passes the criterion of multiple attestation. Such miracles are attested in Q [Matt 4:3 = Luke 4:3; Matt 8:5-10, 13b = Luke 7:1-10; Matt 11:4-5 = Luke 7:22; Matt 10:8 = Luke 10:9; Matt 11:20-24 = Luke 10:13-15; Matt 9:32-34 = 12:22-29 =Luke 11:14-15, 17-22], Mark, material unique to Matthew [7:22; 9:27-31; 17:24-27; 21:14] and to Luke [4:18, 23-27; 5:1-11; 7:11-17; 8:2; 9:54; 10:17-20; 13:10-17; 13:32; 14:1-6; 17:11-21; 22:51; 23:8, 37, 39; 24:19], and the Gospel of John (healings only), including the 'signs source'. Jesus' wonderworking is also attested in various forms of oral tradition isolated by form criticism: (1) controversy [Mark 3:1-6 par; Luke 14:1-6; 13:10-17; Mark 3:22-30; 2:1-12 par], scholastic [Matt 11:2-19 par; Mark 9:38-40 par; 11:20-25 par], and biographical apothegms [Luke 17:11-19; Matt 17:24-27; Luke 13:31-33. Bultmann also regards Mark 7:24-31 par and Matt 8:5-13 par as apothegms (cf. History of the Synoptic Tradition, 38-39)], (2) dominical sayings, including logia (wisdom sayings) [Mark 3:24-26 par], prophetic sayings [Matt 11:21-24 par; 11:5-6 par; 7:22-23 par], church rules [Mark 6:8-11 = Matt 10:5-16 = Luke 10:2-12], and "I" sayings [Matt 12:27-28 par], (3) miracle stories, (4) legends, and (5) the passion narrative.

"(Moreoever), Jesus' exorcistic and healing activity is mentioned or implied by a few dominical logia with strong claims to authenticity. Following the charge that Jesus exorcised as a sorcerer, both Mark and Q contain two dominical parables, the former of which, the 'divided kingdom' parable (Mark 3:24-26; Matt 12:25-26; Luke 11:17-18), almost certainly originated as a defense against the charge of demonically empowered healings and/or exorcisms. Only so could the language about Satan being divided against himself be meaningfully interpreted. Independently attested by Mark and Q and addressing a charge patently not created by the church, its claim to be an authentic dominical saying is good."[B.L. Blackburn, "The Miracles of Jesus," in Chilton and Evans (eds.), Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research (NTTS 19; Leiden: Brill, 1994) p. 356-57.]

Based on the above data, scholars draw the following conclusions…

Craig A. Evans: "Any fair reading of the Gospels and other ancient sources (including Josephus) inexorably leads to the conclusion that Jesus was well known in his time as a healer and exorcist…The miracle stories are now treated seriously and are widely accepted by Jesus scholars as deriving from Jesus' ministry…Several specialized studies have appeared in recent years, which conclude that Jesus did things that were viewed as 'miracles'."[B.D. Chilton and C.A. Evans (eds.), Authenticating the Activities of Jesus (NTTS, 28.2; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1998) (p. 11-12)]

R.H. Fuller: "the tradition that Jesus did perform exorcisms and healings (which may also have been exorcisms originally) is very strong"[R.H. Fuller, Interpreting the Miracles (Philadelphia: Westminister, 1963), p. 39]

Gerd Theissen: "There is no doubt that Jesus worked miracles, healed the sick and cast out demons."[Gerd Theissen, The Miracle Stories of the Early Christian Tradition (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983) p. 277]

Morton Smith: "In most miracle stories no explanation at all is given; Jesus simply speaks or acts and the miracle is done by his personal power. This trait probably reflects historical fact."[Morton Smith, Jesus the Magician (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978) p. 101.]

E.P. Sanders: "There is agreement on the basic facts: Jesus performed miracles, drew crowds and promised the kingdom to sinners."[E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (London: SCM Press; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985) p. 157.]

H. Hendrickx: "Yes, we can be sure that Jesus performed real signs which were interpreted by his contemporaries as experiences of an extraordinary power."[emphasis his][H. Hendrickx, The Miracle Stories and the Synoptic Gospels (London: Chapman; San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987) p. 22.]

Ben Witherington: "That Jesus performed deeds that were perceived as miracles by both him and his audience is difficult to doubt."[Ben Witherington III, The Christology of Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990) p. 155]


In 60 BCE we find the scholar Wang Pao bitterly criticizing immortals for cutting themselves off from humanity. Similar attacks are known from multiple sources from 196 BCE onward. The Prince of Huai Nan, the subject of a book written about 100 BCE, ascended into heaven with his circle of adepts, as well as their domestic servants and household animals.

When did Huai Nan do this? When's the earliest report? How many reports are there? Are they independent? Etc. All the same questions…

Dynastic histories, like the Shi Ji, also record Daoist adepts achieving immortality. A stone inscription from 7 CE, entitled Memorial of the Immortal, Tang Gong-fang, tells the story of a minor local official on the border between Shenxi and Sichuan who became a Daoist adept by studying with a master. Tang could conjure up scenery for those who wished, and magically call rats. He became the target of the King's ire when he refused to teach the King. To escape the King, he rose to heaven (with family, domestics, and livestock) through the assistance of his mentor.
Compare the enormous range of evidence contained in this small paragraph with that for Jesus.

Huh? As you've presented it, it doesn't even compare at all. Same questions as above. When did this occur? When's the earliest report? How many reports are there? Are they independent?

Not only do we have the testimony of the adepts themselves (no texts from Jesus have come down to us),

This doesn't really matter as obviously both the adepts and Jesus were either aware of the fact that they were deceiving people, or actually believed they could do miracles. That's all we need to know about them.

we have eyewitness testimony, second-hand reports of eyewitness testimony,

[/b]I'm not sure what eyewitness testimony you're talking about, but since, in the opinion of New Testament scholars, Jesus was widely known as an actual miracle worker, especially so by his followers, and even by his enemies, obviously some of what we have in the Gospels is currently seen as stemming from eyewitness testimony. Indeed, any scholarly work on Jesus that makes any claims about Him is basing those claims on what portions of the NT it considers to ultimately derive from eyewitness testimony-albeit accurately transmitted.[/b]

third-hand garbled reports, the testimony of the adepts' opponents (there is no corresponding record from Jesus' enemies),

Where is the testimony of the adept's opponents, and are they claiming to have witnessed the alleged feats of their rival alchemists? How much later than the feats are they saying this? With Jesus, we have accounts with Jesus' rivals witnessing his miracles and attributing them to Satan, and scholars agree that these accounts evincing acceptance of Jesus' miraculous ability, but questioning the source, are authentic.

and inscriptions (none of Jesus). Clearly, by the standards of evidence applied to the New Testament by apologists, Daoist adepts were ascending into heaven on a regular basis.

I haven't seen any substantiation of this claim as yet.

As we shall see below, it gets even worse for biblical apologists.
Wei Po-yang
Wei Po-yang was an alchemical adept who wrote one of the earliest and most influential books of alchemical theory ever written, the Zhou Yi Can Tong Ji (hereafter termed "ZYCTJ"; it has several names). It was, literally, the Bible (later adepts simply referred to it as 'the Canon') and every Daoist magician worth his salt was familiar with it. It was written in 142 CE. Several other texts are ascribed to Wei, but the attributions are generally considered apocryphal.
Very little is known about the early life of Wei Po-yang. He is not mentioned in any of the dynastic histories. A fourth-century tradition relates that he was from the state of Wu in what is now Zhejiang. In his own work Wei states that he was from Guiji and that he avoided government service, apparently refusing a post at court about 121 CE. A later tradition had him passing on his art to a high administrative official in Loyang, a known figure who left his post about 150 CE. Based on the dating of his book and other evidence, his dates are generally thought to be roughly 100 CE to 170 CE.
How do we know that ZYTCJ was written so early? Barely eighty years later there is a commentary on it by the scholar Yu Fan. Ge Hong, a famous fourth-century adept, noted it in a bibliography he compiled, and it pops up in Sui and Tang bibliographies.

When is the earliest copy we have dated though?

The Shen Xian Chuan,
a fourth-century text, scornfully records that "ordinary Confucians, knowing nothing of alchemy, have commented on it as though it were a treatise on the Yin and Yang, thus completely misunderstanding it." The earliest extant edition is a printed version from about 1550 CE, but the innumerable commentaries and criticisms of it make clear we have a good text.

That doesn't seem to follow. All they seem to indicate is that it was around in some form.


The Dao Cang, a compilation of about 1,500 Daoist texts dating from the Tang (but recompiled in the Song several times) contains no less then ten commentaries on it. Its enormous influence continued well into modern times, and commentaries were still being written as late as 1820. In the Ming a group of scholars even produce a faked "original version" of it, a move reminiscent of the fortuitous discovery of the Law in the Temple in the Old Testament.

What does all this have to do with attesting to the feats performed in it though? Commentaries on it from much later mean exactly what?

The topic of ZYTCJ is the preparation of magical elixirs. In addition to ZYTCJ magical elixirs are attested to many other contemporaneous works. The Tang or Song (eighth to tenth century) work The Yellow Emperor's Canon of the Nine-Vessel Spiritual Elixir, with Explanations, incorporates a second-century text that gives names and recipes for magical elixirs.

So what though? That doesn't attest to people having actually used them successfully. And what era are the actual elixirs they are talking about from? And what do these elixirs do? Magical elixirs…that do what? What are they exactly? Who's saying they have used them and when? You might as well snip out newspaper clips from the 50s of 'magical elixirs'.

Biographies of adepts of the period are preserved in numerous texts, hagiographies and dynastic histories. Pharmaceutical texts, such as Shen Nong's Materia Medica, an early fourth-century text, also attest to the healing power of alchemist's potions.

What is the 'healing power'? Who's said to have it and when? How many sources attest to this person having it, etc.

In fact, the neighboring nation of Annam (Vietnam) recorded a healing of its Emperor by the famous adept Tong Feng in the second century.

Date of and number of texts? Date of event? How did it occur? Etc.
Contemporaneous accounts, as we just saw, also attest to the achievement of immortality by various Daoist adepts, and the general feeling that it could in fact be done.

Same questions. The 'general feeling' that it is possible just tells us what kind of beliefs are seen as possible in that culture on that worldview. It doesn't necessarily stem from the actual occurrence or even perceived occurrence of the feats.

Wei's work is heavy with metaphors and light on direct details. His use of Chinese was considered exquisite by later commentators, which tells us more about their love of obfuscation than Wei's ability to express ideas. Many of the chemical reactions are referred to in vague and cryptic terms, specified in later alchemical texts and commentaries. Wei warned his followers to be circumspect in introducing others to this knowledge, and stressed the paramount role of oral transmission of knowledge through a master, rather than mere reliance on a text.
A theoretical work, ZYTCJ emphasized processes that were based on Yin-Yang dualism as expressed in the Yi Jing, familiar to westerners as the Book of Changes. The sequence of steps is controlled by the use of trigrams and hexagrams from the Yi Jing. Reactants, always in pairs, are put in a sealed chamber, where they are subjected to heat in a cyclical fashion. ZYTCJ is less interested in products, and rarely refers to them. The practical steps in getting from reaction products to immortality, as Needham noted, are simply left for later alchemists to work out. In the lone instance where he gives a recipe for an elixir of immortality, he uses euphemisms for the two main ingredients. Naturally, that passage excited much frustrated commentary over the ensuing centuries.
Despite his neglect of details, Wei does, however, maintain that it is possible to become a true Daoist immortal "through taking drugs [made from] substances of the same category." Category theory was a crucial aspect of Daoist alchemy, and even in the 2nd century of this era Wei was already the aware of several centuries of development of the idea. However, it was not a classification system a la Linneaus, but an elaboration of partly mystical concepts of relationships between things in the world. As such, it could never serve as the basis of a science, and never grew into one. Wei provided a basis for alchemy, but ensured that it would never break free of its mystical shackles. On a practical level, his emphasis on mercury, lead, sulfur, gold and other poisonous substances ensured that successful followers would lead short lives.

That's all very interesting, but it doesn't tell us much. So Wei claimed to be able to bestow immortality through his alchemy, and he was real vague and cryptic about it, and people tried to figure it all out after him. As far as attestation to Wei's amazing feats, there's really nothing here at all.

Wei's theoretical treatise became the foundation of Chinese alchemy and all later practitioners drew on it. It is not merely a collection of chemistry recipes, but a philosophical system and belief system that produced hundreds of thousands of adherents, commentators, disciples, and adepts. In addition to its influence on Chinese chemistry, some of its ideas reached the West as transmissions from China. In short, it has had a global, though subtle, influence.
In addition to his alchemical writings, Wei also founded a school of self-cultivation, known as lian-yang. Its long reach is still felt by Daoists doing physiological alchemy even today. Thus, his work created two schools, one of macrobiotic alchemy, the other of physiological. In addition to the proto-chemistry, it appears that Wei was aware that useful substances could be obtained from urine, in other words, he knew of a tradition of proto-endocrinology as well. Daoist writings are couched in allegorical language, and much of their knowledge was kept secret, so it is difficult to know for sure.

Again, all very interesting…

There is, however, another side to Wei, one of interest to us. He is one of the Daoist Immortals, a divine being. In Daoist tradition Wei is known as the "Highest Purity Adept" or the "Cloudy-Banner Master." There is an extensive hagiography of Wei. An encyclopedia published in the Ming (1670 CE) tells us he learnt the art of immortality from Yin Chang-sheng, an early adept who is associated with many apocryphal writings.
By the fourth century there was already an old tradition of Wei's immortality.

This is extremely late and extremely insignificant as its just common occurrence deify/immortalize great men in this culture.

One of the oft-retold stories about him is related in a text of that time usually attributed to Ge Hong (but most likely not by him). Wei, it seems, went into the mountains to prepare elixirs. With him went three disciples, two of whom he felt lacked faith in him. He decided to test them. He made an elixir of gold, and gave it to a dog. If the animal lived and soared into the air, he told them, then the liquid would be safe for human beings, if it died, then the liquid would be unsafe. Wei gave the elixir to a dog and the animal promptly died.
Wei then dolefully confessed that he had screwed up the potion, and asked the disciples for their suggestions. They replied by asking him if he would take it himself. Wei noted that he had already forsaken the world, so why not? He popped it in his mouth and fell down dead.
Observing this, one of the disciples reasoned that his master must have had some idea of what he was doing, so he took the potion and expired. The other two disciples chickened out and left to get coffins for the unhappy trio of dog, disciple and demigod.
After they had gone, men and beast revived, no worse for the wear, and went off to tread the paths of the immortals. But on the way, they sent a letter by a friendly woodcutter to the two disciples thanking them for their kindness in procuring coffins. The two reprobates were filled with regret when they read the letter.
This popular story is noteworthy for many reasons (among them the idea of animal experimentation in the fourth century) but also because it contains elements that any literary analyst would immediately recognize as mythic.

Interesting, but late, obviously legendary, and irrelevant.

Comparisons
Having sketched (just) some of the fabulous history of Wei Po-yang, we are now in a position to take a comparative look at the "evidence" for the divine status of Wei and Jesus, and what it means. Since a picture is worth a thousand characters, let's do it in tabular form.

<snip table>

Categories 1-9 are irrelevant when considering 'evidence' for the divine status of Wei and Jesus. Category 10 is irrelevant. Categories 11, 12 and 13 are misleading. Wei's 'miracles' aren't evidence for his divinity because a) miracles, even on the Christian tradition are not at all necessarily indicative OF divinity b) Wei is specifically performing alchemy, not exercising divine power 'by the finger of God' to authenticate His eschatological authority, and alchemy just was not interpreted by anyone as indicative of divinity. Even if we accepted Wei's feats, it wouldn't point towards his divinity at all. Category 14 just isn't true and it contradicts category 13. 15-17 are irrelevant. 18 is just silly. 19 is completely irrelevant. Wei doesn't offer eternal life in a soteriological sense, uniquely through acceptance of His status as a divine mediator. 20 irrelevant. 21 is about the only relevant category so far and I agree with what's written there. 22 is insignificant as concerns Wei because that's just a common occurrence. What is interesting is Jesus being made divine against a background of strict Jewish monotheism, and the fact that he was crucified shamefully as a messianic pretender. 23 is another silly one which obviously is not an objective fact shared by theists and atheists alike. 24 irrelevant. 25 based on what? A legend how many years later saying Wei died because he believed in his potion? That's also irrelevant to the issue of divinity. 26 concerning Wei is inaccurate and irrelevant. I haven't seen any good evidence that followers died for their belief in Wei's system based on what they witnessed to be true, though I don't doubt that some got brave and experimented. In the case of Jesus, assuming that some of the apostles died for their faith in Jesus' resurrection, they risked their lives, wealth, families, and souls to witness to His having appeared to them. What is the evidence for 27 concerning Wei? I hope its not just a legend from centuries later? 28 is another category error concerning the difference between alchemy and the power of God but still irrelevant to divinity for the most part. 29-32 irrelevant. 33 relevant to authenticity of miracle tradition and Jesus passes, Wei definitely doesn't as the feats of alchemy are a consistent background belief in his culture…But this category isn't relevant to his divinity either. 34 and 35 are irrelevant and 36 is silly. :^)

The table above incorporates some typical claims of apologists, a few criteria I have put forth on my own, and a couple of satirical reflections on history. Nevertheless it illuminates a singular point about Wei: if you accept, on the evidence, that Jesus was a god with miraculous powers, you must also accept, on the same or even better evidence, that Wei was a god with miraculous powers too.

This doesn't follow at all. Arguments for Jesus' divinity aren't really based on the bare fact that he performed miracles. They are usually based on His divine claims and the evidence for His resurrection brought about by God as the vindication of those claims. Obviously all that has to be argued for, starting with the issue of whether or not He made divine claims. But the point is, Christian tradition holds that even the demonically possessed can perform 'wonders'. Secondly, accepting Wei's feats certainly wouldn't lead us to conclude that Wei was divine. And thirdly, I don't think the evidence is even close to the same or even better for the authenticity of the tradition.

In fact, it is clear that there are a few areas where Wei exceeds Jesus. For example, Wei has some practical knowledge about the world, Wei left a firsthand text, and the efficacy of Wei's magical system is attested to by numerous contemporary and later records and texts. Jesus raised humans, Wei raised humans and animals. On the negative side, Wei never claimed to be a god, but then Jesus was somewhat ambiguous on the issue as well. Nobody ever claimed Wei's father was a god, either.

This is getting silly. If we're accepting the claims for Wei and Jesus, Jesus wins hands down. He took the sin of the world upon Him, is one with God, and will judge every human that ever lived with the advent of His kingdom.


Historical arguments also confirm Wei's divinity. Wei founded a system that spread throughout his culture area, as did Jesus. Jesus' system continues today. So does Wei's. History is on Wei's side too. Wei's followers killed only themselves and others, a handful compared to the millions killed in Jesus' name. Wei's followers did not suppress documents and beliefs unfavorable to them. Christians did. As we will see in the last paragraph of this piece, archaeology confirms the extraordinary chemical accomplishments of the Daoist adepts, whereas it has nothing at all to say about Jesus.

All these are arguments for Wei's divinity in what way exactly? They're not.

In sum, there is little or no major evidence that can be asserted for Jesus that cannot be asserted for Wei as well. Widespread influence? Got it. Second-hand evidence of miracles? No problem. Raising the dead? Been there, done that. Promise of eternal life? You betcha.

All in completely different contexts that are entirely unrelated to the issue of divinity.

Of course, Wei is hardly the only figure out of Chinese alchemical history I could adduce. There are numerous others with varying degrees of attestation. Ge Hong, whose dates are 283 CE to 343 CE, is in many ways an even richer figure who left a number of writings and is attested to by many contemporaneous documents. In addition to alchemy, Ge Hong left his mark as a physician, and in the fields of mineralogy, meteorology, and astronomy. He was also an officer in the army for a time. His famous bibliography of alchemical texts has 206 entries, few of which have survived. His own works are very widely cited and commented on.

Irrelevant unless you're going to actually compare the attestation in detail.

Ge Hong's most famous work, Bao Pu Zi, which discusses the creation of gold, was written about 320 CE. It is chock full of supernatural events. People, Ge Hong avers, can turn into animals, men into women, and thus, by extension, lead into gold. Many "natural" examples of metamorphosis are cited, such as sparrows into clams, pheasants into mussels, alligators into tigers, and others. "I guarantee you that…gold and silver can be [successfully] sought," he says. He adds, of course, that due to wars and financial difficulties, he has not yet done it himself. His master had, however. Once, when Ge Hong asked him why they didn't use genuine gold for research into immortality, his master replied that poor adepts couldn't afford real gold, and thus, were forced to make it!
As for personal experience, Ge Hong had seen, touched and worked with artificial gold, and is able to tell us many things about it. In fact, it is, in his eyes, better than the real thing. Ge Hong also describes medicines for melting ice instantly, floating on water, and returning certain frightened souls to the body. According to his first-hand testimony, incense was used in his laboratory to purify his laboratory of demons. Common drugs, he claims, can restore the dead. He provides lists of famous immortals, and stories of supernatural events, both of which have "independent confirmation" in other extant texts. The thinking person will make his or her own decision whether multiple citation constitutes confirmation of the supernatural.

None of this has anything to do with multiple attestation. We've got the writings of one alchemist making a lot of unordinary claims and there's really no difference if we accept or reject them. If we say science has falsified these beliefs then that's that. If we say Ge Hong did them, so what? We've just got a whole lot of strange new beliefs. None of them point to his divinity.

The stories of Ge and Wei also illustrate another point. Far from being handicapped by the lack of mention of Jesus in contemporary records, Christians in fact benefit from the dearth of information about their man. We can test Wei's recipes and assess the veracity of his claims against the rich tradition of Confucian scholasticism and later Taoist writings.

And how well do they work?

Had Jesus been as exhaustively recorded, it is doubtful that any objective record would show the alleged miracles that took place at his execution, since none do now. More records would simply mean more contradictions, more hard-to-explain-away stories, and more uncomfortable details.

Right. Since we're omniscient we have knowledge of alternate histories.

Without countervailing evidence, Christians are free to go by the book they have edited and redacted over the years, the New Testament. The lack of records puts skeptics at a disadvantage. We have to argue from their (edited) evidence.
I beg the reader's indulgence to add one more story about the amazing alchemists of ancient China. In the 1970s the Tomb of the Lady of Tai was discovered during construction for a hospital in Hunan. Needham writes of that tomb: "...but an unprecedented finding then showed that the ancient Daoists knew how to achieve an almost perpetual conservation. A large tomb excavated at Ma-wang Dui near Changsha proved to the of a Lady of Tai, apparently the wife of the first Lord of that [kingdom] ... She would have died about 186 BCE, and the painted outer coffins were filled with a great variety of rich and beautiful objects, then sealed tightly with layers of charcoal and a kind of sticky white clay ... when the body was finally uncovered it was found to be like that of a person who had died only a week or two before. The elasticity of the subcutaneous tissues was conserved in an extraordinary way, for when the skin was pressed it at once returned to normal when the pressure was released. Similarly, preservative solutions when injected raised swellings which after a short time subsided. The body was partly immersed in a brown aqueous liquid, which contained mercuric sulfide, the atmosphere in the coffins was largely methane under some pressure, the temperature had been constant at about 13 C, and the coffin complex had been air-tight and water-tight."[3]
Jesus left us nothing as astounding as that.

Jesus' actions and sayings only inspired what is now the world's largest religion. Not so impressive…He's only the most written-about human being in all of history.

SecWebLurker




[This message has been edited by SecWebLurker (edited March 27, 2001).]
 
Old 03-27-2001, 06:40 AM   #2
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SecWebLurker:

I already responded to many of these points in Layman's thread on this, so I will only say this:

multiple attestation is clearly demonstrated by hundreds of workers, all writing on the topic, that alchemy actually worked. If one assumes that the NT constitutes multiple attestation, then one must make the same assumption about the Daoists. They must have been doing what they said that they were doing. But of course, they weren't.

That said, the criterion itself is garbage. So are the other three. Check out the thread by Bede on miracles and evidence, my post there where I prove that McClellan's victory at Antietam was clearly the result of intervention by god.

If you like, we can discuss this over there.

Michael
 
Old 03-27-2001, 06:53 AM   #3
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I already responded to many of these points in Layman's thread on this, so I will only say this:

multiple attestation is clearly demonstrated by hundreds of workers, all writing on the topic, that alchemy actually worked.

That's just too vague. We could say 'There's a greater abundance of multiple attestation to the effect that Christianity really enables us to have a real relationship with God!' That's not how the criteria works. The possibility of alchemy is just a standard background belief of the culture. We have to assess actual instances of it to see what it entailed - what they thought was happening by the hand of specific alchemists - not just what they believed was possible. You haven't done that for any specific feats of any individual Daoist in any way comparable to that done by NT scholars for Jesus.

If one assumes that the NT constitutes multiple attestation, then one must make the same assumption about the Daoists. They must have been doing what they said that they were doing. But of course, they weren't.

Multiple attestation doesn't prove one was actually doing what is attested. It demonstrates that the belief in these miraculous feats performed by Jesus is widespread and very early.

That said, the criterion itself is garbage. So are the other three.

LOL, yeah. When you misuse it!

Check out the thread by Bede on miracles and evidence, my post there where I prove that McClellan's victory at Antietam was clearly the result of intervention by god.

If you like, we can discuss this over there.

I'm going to hang out here. I like the whole fresh-start thing.

SecWebLurker



 
Old 03-27-2001, 08:46 AM   #4
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by turtonm:
SecWebLurker:

I already responded to many of these points in Layman's thread on this, so I will only say this:

multiple attestation is clearly demonstrated by hundreds of workers, all writing on the topic, that alchemy actually worked. If one assumes that the NT constitutes multiple attestation, then one must make the same assumption about the Daoists. They must have been doing what they said that they were doing. But of course, they weren't.

That said, the criterion itself is garbage. So are the other three. Check out the thread by Bede on miracles and evidence, my post there where I prove that McClellan's victory at Antietam was clearly the result of intervention by god.

If you like, we can discuss this over there.

Michael
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Now you are just back to trashing the criteria. The express purpose of your article was to use the tools that many apologoists have used to demonstrate the superiority of evidence for Daoists alchemists. You have not done this. Instead, you have compiled the traditions of 1200 years of alchemy regarding hundreds, perhaps thousands of practitioners and compared it to 70 years about writings about Jesus. You have yet to justify this problem with scope.

When you have focused on one person, you have failed to give us the dates of the works attesting to his "miracles." Moreover, you have not discussed whether they are dependent on one another.

You have also ignored, or winked at, other important criteria, such as dissimilarity and embarrasment. For example, while I made reference to specific reports about Jesus' miracles as being embarrassing, you vaugely referred to the fact that some commentatires contained "embarrasing" things about alchemy (like the experment failed. Here is the IMPORTANT difference: I AM more likely to believe those embarrasing asserted in the commentary (that their experiments FAILED), while you refuse do any such thing regarding Jesus.
 
Old 03-27-2001, 12:09 PM   #5
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Layman:
Now you are just back to trashing the criteria. The express purpose of your article was to use the tools that many apologoists have used to demonstrate the superiority of evidence for Daoists alchemists. You have not done this. Instead, you have compiled the traditions of 1200 years of alchemy regarding hundreds, perhaps thousands of practitioners and compared it to 70 years about writings about Jesus. You have yet to justify this problem with scope.

When you have focused on one person, you have failed to give us the dates of the works attesting to his "miracles." Moreover, you have not discussed whether they are dependent on one another.

You have also ignored, or winked at, other important criteria, such as dissimilarity and embarrasment. For example, while I made reference to specific reports about Jesus' miracles as being embarrassing, you vaugely referred to the fact that some commentatires contained "embarrasing" things about alchemy (like the experment failed. Here is the IMPORTANT difference: I AM more likely to believe those embarrasing asserted in the commentary (that their experiments FAILED), while you refuse do any such thing regarding Jesus.
</font>
Hmm....guess I'll just have to say it again, until it penetrates. 1,500 texts, plus innumerable other documents, plus archaeological data....= multiple attestation. I don't need "independence" in the sense you mean, because I have mountains and mountains of data. Your choices are either error or conspiracy. Obviously, the writers did not know each other, and viewed their topic differently. Instead, I have:

a) first-hand accounts (you have none)
b) archaeological evidence (you have none)
c) second-hand accounts in dynastic histories

and so forth. All of these attest to the success of the Taoists in their quest for eternal life, the ability to fly, and sundry other skills too numerous to list.

"Independence" is basically worthless as well. I know you think it is really, really important that MMLJ are not dependent on each other, but even if they all knew each other, it would not invalidate their story, and even if they never knew each other, it would not make their story true. 750 witnesses to the sinking of Titanic, but hardly anybody noticed it broke in half, and nobody knew that until it was actually discovered. "Independence" is irrevelant. Edgar Cayce and Sai Baba are attested to by many independent witnesses (the latter by video).
Would you argue that modern genetic knowledge is bogus because the researchers are all familiar with each other's work?

"Enmbarrassment" is even worse. Your criteria are so incredibly subjective I find it difficult to believe anyone could take them seriously. When real scholars try to judge the accuracy of an ancient textual claim, like whether Philip II actually got wounded in the right eye by an arrow, they rely on a wholly different group of criteria. Just today I was reading about that incident in a book on forensic reconstruction of his face to determine whether his body was indeed the one actually found in the purported royal tombs...guess what, nobody ever said a word about the four criteria of yours, though they did talk about archaeology, various stories, their probable truthfulness, the human skeleton, and so forth. They had a methodology that made no assumptions but instead relied on a wide body of data and methods. For example, they retreived an actual Macedonian helmet to see whether it would have protected Philip from such a blow. They also used ancient busts of his face, some of which were useful, some too idealized. One bust in particular showed a peculiarity of his face not mentioned by the ancient historians, but revealed in his skeleton.

Of course, they may have been wrong. See:

http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/macedon/

So let's talk about "embarrassment," which is so profoundly stupid I'm sure it refers to the feelings of the apologists who use it, rather than the actual effect of its deployment. Taoist records and commentaries show a number of "embarrassing" things, depending on how you use that subjective criterion (do you have any theory supporting this claim -- didn't think so). First, there is disagreement on the actual method of producing gold (or other desirable products). Second, there is the record of failure. Third, there is the embarrassing lack of clarity in the explanations -- I mean, don't you think it would clear? Fourth, there is the fact that nobody understood the stories in Wei's book -- I mean, they were supposed to know, weren't they? Gosh, so much embarrassment, so little time.

It would be nice, Layman, if you actually had any theory, any at all, that underpinned these ideas. But you don't. Your methodology is an AVOIDANCE of the issues. Let me quote from my post in the Evidence and Other Religion's Miracles:

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">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?
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So, Layman, what prevents me from claiming everything is ordained by god, and thus avoiding the effort of actual scholarship? In your view, nothing!

But let's look at another worthless claim, "independence." In 1996 I went to Taiwan to do research on the mold and die industry. I talked to a bunch of people about a particular problem: why had the industry relocated from a particular street in Taipei (in traditional Chinese cities there are often streets associated with particular crafts; there is still a Shoe Street dominated by shops of that nature near the Post Office), to the suburb of San Chung. I got different stories from everybody, but basically they resolved into four scenarios:

a) a leading maker of molds went first and others followed;

b) land was cheap in San Chung when the industry was looking to relocate;

c) there was some kind of straw poll held and San Chung was selected; and

d) No reason, just happened.

Now, since all of these people cannot possibly have known each other; indeed, couldn't give a flying fuck in a rolling donut about the history of their industry, they are "independent" of each other, which do I pick?

Similarly, when I interviewed people for another project (my masters) at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Industrial Development Bureau, and several district administrators, they all told me with one voice that there is no favoritism in the sale of sites within industrial districts to firms. Strictly on a first-come, first-serve basis. Several manufacturers told me that as well. Would you accept that as confirmation, since it was independent?

I sure as hell hope not, since they were all lying....

So that's the reason I have winked or ignored your criteria. They are utterly and completely worthless as far as producing the truth about any event I deem a miracle. Once I deem something miraculous, your criteria will make it so. So what stops me from deeming everything miraculous?

Michael
 
Old 03-27-2001, 12:24 PM   #6
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"So that's the reason I have winked or ignored your criteria. They are utterly and completely worthless as far as producing the truth about any event I deem a miracle. Once I deem something miraculous, your criteria will make it so. So what stops me from deeming everything miraculous?"

Turton. The entire point of your article on the SecWeb was to USE our own criteria against us. Now you admit that you didn't even attempt to demonstrate independence, embarrassment, or dissimilarity because they are "utterly and completely worthless." WHAT???

If you failed to use our own criteria against us (as you now concede), but that was your entire purpose for writing the article (as stated in the article itself), isn't your article "utterly and completely wortheless"?
 
Old 03-27-2001, 02:27 PM   #7
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The claims of some Daoist alchemists that they had made gold makes one wonder: where did all that gold go?

And let us consider the claim of one alchemist that he had manufactured gold in such great quantity that he had to toss some of it into the ocean.

The answer lies in considering gold's density. Gold is a very dense metal, with a density of 19.3 g cm^-3; by comparison, lead has a density of 11.3 g cm^-3, iron 7.9 g cm^-3, most rocky materials around 3 g cm^-3, water 1 g cm^-3, and most organic materials fairly close to water's density.

Now consider how much space an alchemist's workshop is likely to have. Given the typical dimensions of houses, even small ones, its linear dimensions are likely to be at least 2 or 3 meters, meaning that excess material would have to reach a volume of at least a few cubic meters before it starts getting really annoying. The mass of 1 cubic meter of gold is 20 metric tons, which would have been difficult for an alchemist to carry out of his workshop without making many trips.

If one imagines a more reasonable weight, say, 20 kilograms (40 pounds); that weight could be carried in one trip, but that amount of gold has a volume of 1 liter (about 1 quart), which is hard to call obnoxious.

One counterargument is that the gold had been obtained in powdered form; that would reduce the effective density, but only about a factor of 2 or 3, which would not change my arguments very much.

Finally, there is the question of why the gold-making alchemists did not sell their gold; they could have gotten rich -- at least if they did not sell it too fast.

That caveat about selling it too fast reflects a side effect of manufacturing large quantities of gold -- its selling price would go down, as a result of the changing supply/demand balance.
 
Old 03-27-2001, 04:21 PM   #8
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Bold-faced type are quotes from Michael Turton’s “The Christ of Daoist Alchemy.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> How do we know that ZYTCJ was written so early? Barely eighty years later there is a commentary on it by the scholar Yu Fan. Ge Hong, a famous fourth-century adept, noted it in a bibliography he compiled, and it pops up in Sui and Tang bibliographies. The Shen Xian Chuan,
Quote:
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Using this criteria we now know that Mark wrote his gospel based on the testimony of Peter, one of the very disciples of Jesus. Papias who wrote less than 80 years (probably 40-60 years) after the time Mark was written tells us so. Eusebius noted this in his work, “Ecclesiastical History”.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Jesus does not appear in any comparable contemporaneous works. Not until fifty to a hundred years or so after his own lifetime does he finally start showing up in plays, poems, stories, encyclopedias and so forth. The Daoists also left behind an inexhaustible trove of material evidence of their existence, in the form of archaeological data. Jesus left no material mark upon the world.
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A trivial point – but Jesus shows up 20 years after his life in Paul’s letters. You are comparing the Daoists to Jesus; a fairer comparison would be to compare Daoists to Christians. Certainly early Christians left many material marks upon the world in the form of many writings, etc.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> The earliest extant edition is a printed version from about 1550 CE, but the innumerable commentaries and criticisms of it make clear we have a good text.
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Is this referring to “ZYCTJ” or “Shen Xian Chuan”? It was difficult to tell from the context. Either way, a gap of 1200-1400 years is far beyond anything remotely related to the gospels. We have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of “extant editions” of the gospels in that time span and you have one !!! Maybe I’m missing the thrust of your argument in this area because its looking extraordinarily weak.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> An encyclopedia published in the Ming (1670 CE) tells us he learnt the art of immortality from Yin Chang-sheng
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Information from 1500 years after the fact is considered reliable ? When did you lower your standards? Come on, Michael. You can’t be serious about some of this stuff. Information from 1000 years after the fact is no comparison to the New Testament which was written 20-100 years after Jesus.

The earliest reference to Wei I can identify in your article is from the 4th century. Please tell me if I’m mistaken. Even your case of 200 years is not even in the same league as the gospels (30-60 years). The gospels were written no later than the second generation after the events they report. Your sources all seem to be so far removed from the events as to render them useless.

Being that your earliest sources for information on Wei’s life (besides his own alleged writing) seem to be from the fourth century, could we not argue that the Daoists stole all of the parallels from Christianity?

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">In sum, there is little or no major evidence that can be asserted for Jesus that cannot be asserted for Wei as well. Widespread influence? Got it. Second-hand evidence of miracles? No problem. Raising the dead? Been there, done that. Promise of eternal life? You betcha.
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The problem with this simplistic explanation is that it ignores the QUALITY of the sources. How soon after the events were they written and how well preserved are the sources? Jesus has four biographies and a total of over 50 writings which refer to him – all written within 100 years of his life. The overwhelming majority of these writings have outstanding textual support with copies extant from less than 200-300 years after their writing. This is much firmer ground than anything for Wei.

You said there was evidence that Wei allegedly rose from the dead. What is the source for this info and when was it written? The written sources for Jesus’ resurrection are 20-60 years old.

You make frequent mention of alleged miracles of Wei, but I’d like to know specific sources where these miracles are recorded. Are they in writings which were composed by people who knew Wei’s followers as is the case with the gospels written by people who knew the followers of Jesus? If not, then any comparison you make is handicapped from the starting gate. The only mention I see you make regarding Wei’s miracles is from “fourth century traditions”. If this is all you’ve got, then I’m afraid it is nothing like the evidence for the miracles of Jesus.


Peace,

Polycarp

[This message has been edited by Polycarp (edited March 27, 2001).]

[This message has been edited by Polycarp (edited March 27, 2001).]

[This message has been edited by Polycarp (edited March 28, 2001).]
 
Old 03-29-2001, 08:38 AM   #9
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Polycarp and Layman:

Both of you make good points in your responses. Sorry I took so long in getting back, been busy these last couple of days.
Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled argument.....

The only "criterion" I was really interested in was multiple attestation. The other three, which are almost completely subjective, are not very interesting, except for their amusement value (which is admittedly vast). As I have demonstrated with innumerable examples, once the miracle claim is made, your four criteria can always be used to support it. If you doubt that, debunk Sai Baba or my claim about Antietam, using only those four criteria and nothing else. There is nothing in them that prevents me from making miracle claims about everything and anything.

That said, you are absolutely right about the quality of the evidence for Wei, that's why I picked Wei, and not Ge Hong, or one of the many other figures making gold, flying, living forever or whatever. Wei is a sort of ghostly figure without real strong attribution (whereas Ge Hong is a giant well known in his own time). I also liked Wei because he is more contemporaneous with Jesus, whereas Ge Hong came a couple of centuries later.

The point I made in the posts above remains. The totality of the tradition/attestation for miracles among Daoist alchemists is huge, and stretches for over a millenium. If you want to put up the large Christian tradition between 0 and 1000 AD, by all means do so; it only makes your case more problematic (how could two completely conflicting miracle traditions both be true?).

Attestation for Wei's miracles rests on several grounds, the work of his own hand, the evidence of contemporaneous works that such miracles were occuring (compiled in numerous documents, including court histories and so forth), and the testimony of subsequent workers that Wei's systems worked. There are all independent (unless you want to imagine some vast conspiracy, stretching across hundreds of thousands of square miles of territory and several hundred years). Ge Hong says he used Wei, as did the alchemists who wrote commentaries about him, and later alchemists, etc. Because Wei, unlike Jesus, left a system. The continued existence of this system and testimony for the next 800 years that it worked, constitutes multiple attestation for the miracles of Wei.

For example, the Tang Liu Tian (Adminstrative Regulations of the Six Ministries of the Tang Dynasty), a work finished in 739, gives fourteen different types of gold. The Bao Cang Lun (~918) lists twenty, 15 artificial, five genuine. This work is cited by several other works in the following centuries, some as late as the 16th, all printed. There are in fact many such works, lists of types of gold real, fake, artifical, where they were recovered, how they were made. Some are obvious (to us) alloys, others are mysterious, still others seem to refer to where they were mined.

If you can get a hold of a copy of Needham's Science and Civilization in China, volume V:2 and read from about page 275 on, this is discussed. The next section, from 282 on, discussed how the positive effects of these alchemical preparations (long life, etc) were verified.

Many of these "verifications" will be quite amusing. The adepts believed that the nasty physical symptions of metal poisoning -- loss of sex drive (important because the seminal essence was thought to contain the stuff of life), hair falling out, mental effects -- were proof of the effectiveness of the potions. For example, an official work of 1151 lists arsenic sulfides as an aphrodisiac (kids, don't try this at home!). This is an old idea, dating back to the 6th or 7th century.

It is easy to dismiss this, until one remembers that in peasant societies, deficiency diseases were/are common. A dose of zinc or iron compounds may have been just the ticket for many, even well-fed emperors. That is why the ancients cannot be dismissed as total fools; there could well have been positive effects. Just think what a strong dose of iron might do for the sex drive of the perpetually anemic women of ancient China. In fact, some iron tonics were considered so strong that it was advised they be taken with anti-aphrodisiacs! Additionally, there were many chronic infestations, worms, parasites, that we don't suffer from -- and these were certainly impaired by the consumption of metals. So positive effects could well have been observed by critical thinkers. It is not a great leap to see how they could have come up with the idea that poisoning people extended their lives. (this is all covered in the section above).

Further, even when the adept died, many noticed that his body was spared decay (no doubt with so many poisonous metals, bacteria and insects could hardly survive). Thus another confirmation of the life-giving powers of Daoist alchemy. This later led to a tradition of self-mummification while still alive that continued into our century.

Well, I can see that I have rambled on too much. I suggest some day you waltz over to the library and read all five parts of volume five of Needham's monumental work (the first is on paper, printing and texts). I cannot possibly reproduce here the sheer number of texts -- in the thousands -- testifying to the miraculous effects of Daoist potions.

Michael
 
 

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