The Miracles Of Jesus

I’m always a bit disappointed at what some skeptics pedestalize as good arguments for their “non-belief”.  Perhaps I’m biased against some of the criticisms.  And perhaps some of the criticisms aren’t up to what should be par.  One example of what might not be up to par is how skeptics explain [away] the miracles of Jesus.  Now, it’s not that any evidence is given supporting the rejection of miracles, other than presupposed naturalism (See: The Impossibility Of Miracles), or positing unsubstantiated alternate explanations (See: Yes, But What If…).  Today I was thinking about the miracles of Jesus, specifically the kinds of miracles he performed, and it caused me to ask myself a question: Why weren’t Jesus’ miracles more spectacular?

This is a question skeptics should be asking themselves.  From what I’ve heard, the miracles of Jesus are pretty easy to explain away as parlor tricks or some other trickery.  This consideration shouldn’t be taken to stand alone, but along with the assumption that the written records, in the form of the Gospels, were written long enough after the life of Jesus that the ‘legend’ could develop and allow magic and miracles to sneak in unaudited.

I mean, as long as they were making up stories handily convincing a thoroughly gullible people, why stop at walking on water, or curing some guy who was probably a shill pretending to be unable to walk or see, why not go big?  People are uneducated and will believe whatever you tell them without question, right, so let’s have him turn rocks into gold.  Or turn bad people into frogs or something, like a genie.  The man was claimed to have been God incarnate from on high for goodness sake.  Works of fiction are supposed to be grand and spectacular, not boring and simple.

I’m not suggesting that because the miracles weren’t grandiose therefore they’re true.  No.  But it should be taken into consideration that if the skeptic’s explanation that Jesus’ miracles are a product of late authorship resulting from imagination and embellishment is true, it should at least raise an eyebrow as to why they aren’t like other bodies of fiction where wonder-workers create audacious feats of power.  If the Gospel writers had the motive and opportunity to invent a mythical Jesus; and had an audience incapable of refuting the claims (having no eye-witnesses alive to offer refutation); and which audience is willing to believe whatever they’re told due to their ignorance, we should have a much more spectacular Jesus than we do.

Comments

  1. One need not create an alternate explanation. That’s not how the burden of proof works.

    Anecdotes, written or spoken, are not good enough evidence by themselves for extraordinary claims. That simple.

  2. Normally, when discussing this matter with Theists, I point out the lack of historical record. If Jesus rose from the dead, cured sick people, etc., why isn’t the written history more extensive? If this man truly was God incarnate or the Son of God or whatever have you, why wasn’t there an explosion of texts describing his actions? Why were they not more spread? Why did only a few non-Christian (an anachronism I know) sources mention him in their historical accounts? Surely if he were more well known and doing such impressive things, there would be more written about him rather than just writings from within his own camp? I find that lack of evidence to be a giant red flag that requires some sort of satisfactory explanation.

    • Do I understand you correctly that you don’t count the new testament record for the most part because they are written by friendlies? If so, let’s say for arguments sake that you saw someone rise from the dead, wouldnt you become a friendly observer? In other words after having seen the risen Jesus and then becoming a believer why should that disqualify you?

      I’ve written on this previously, if you were in a store and someone you’ve known your whole life came in and robbed it, should we discount your testimony because you are biased toward believing this person you knew robbed it?

      One more thing, are you aware of all the sources outside the bible which references Jesus, other than Josephus?

  3. Tafacory says:

    John, I think you make a caricature of my position, but I do believe that the motives and fears and political/social conditions of the time period must be taken into consideration. While that does not, prima facie, rule out supportive sources, what we now know about the Biblical writers, their agendas, and some of the controversies occurring during the time period, I would say those make a solid case as to question and scrutinize their writings.

    Also, your analogy fails because we’re discussing a supernatural event, an event that had never, and in my opinion, has never occurred. So while I understand the principle involved that you’re defending, it’s out of place here.

    And I know of a few. But perhaps you could share some links with me that show just how many non-Christian sources support the claim?

    • But the motives and possible nefarious actions is just supposition and extrapolation. Ehrmans book Forged was full of that.

      And here, where you seemingly discredit out of hand any report of a supernatural event as probably false isn’t treating the issue fairly. You essentially define the possibility of miracles out of the equation and then ask for evidence. When you ask for “extraordinary” evidence, you act as judge, jury, and prosecutor for what counts as extraordinary. There is no evidence which can ever meet your standard, and I believe that is by design. Same thing with miracles. When you start with the filter that the natural world is all there is and miracles are impossible, how can anyone argue with that? The deck is stacked in your favor. Read the two posts I included above for a more clear explanation.

      Right now I’m away from my computer and am responding from my phone. But if you go to pleaseconvinceme.com and look in the “Jesus” section, he has listed all the extrabiblical notation of Jesus in ancient literature, and the pertinent quotation.

  4. Tafacory says:

    No, I don’t define the possibility of miracles out of the equation. I’m making a probabilistic argument. Out of all the occurrences that have happened in history, how many of them have been supernatural? I’m sure you could try to cite many different miracles about healing and possessions and whatever have you, but I don’t doubt that scientific inquiry into these events would yield a naturalistic explanation that requires no supernatural entities. And if that is the case, if we accept Ockham’s Razor as a philosophical tool, the natural explanation trumps the supernatural explanations. Now, if, after investigating, there is an event which cannot be explained naturally, then perhaps there is a case you can make for miracles. You may call that biased or close-minded if you wish.

    In the meantime, I’ll take a look at the site and get back to you. Cheers.

  5. “I’m not suggesting that because the miracles weren’t grandiose therefore they’re true. ” Lol, …yes, you are.

    • Dan

      Reread it and quote where I make that argument.

      The point of the post is the focus of the atheist who would claim the gospels are embellished and ask yourself why they didn’t embellish bigger, especially if they are written as late as speculated.

  6. (alternate loin today)
    Obviously the burden of proof is on the person making the claim, so skeptics need provide no response to claims that have insufficient evidence.
    But skeptics also wonder why miracles are underwhelming and downright weird.
    We ask why god doesn’t end hunger, appear as a blazing light in the sky, or just drop into Fox and Friends and make a distinction between Christianity and war mongers.
    Skeptics are wondering about greater miracles. We also wonder about perfectly normal, midair acts like appearing on the street. We wonder about basic ethical achievements like celbrating love and denouncing violence. Jesus does none of those things, at least not consistently and not in person.

    • Jason

      I agree that the christian has the burden. But once he offers his reasons the skeptic is not afforded the luxury of perpetual accusations. Once the skeptic disagrees with a line of reasoning, he must now substantiate his criticism. The burden shifts multiple times during a discussion.

      I still have yet to have a skeptic actually address the post. I want to know why the skeptic believes that if the gospels were written late so that no eye witnesses were alive; and that Jesus performing miracles are only embellishment, why weren’t the miracles grander than they are given that this man Jesus was elevated to God status?

  7. John,

    You still don’t seem to understand the principles behind owning the burden of proof. Theists make claims they cannot defend, plain and simple. You insist that a burden lies with the person not accepting that claim, but there is none. Any line of reasoning to support the rejection of your assertion is something you then wish to argue. The burden of the initial assertion never shifts.

    Skeptics simply don’t put the bible on the pedestal you do. Skeptics are just more critical on the written claims and don’t just accept something to be true simply because someone says so.

    • Actually Z

      You are under the impression that you can just say “nope, I don’t buy it” in perpetuity. I on the other hand realize that after I have presented a case for my view the skeptic is welcome to disagree. But they must do so with reasons, and those reasons must also be defended by the skeptic. You think you can just be a lazy skeptic who can just dismiss everything you don’t like. And that is just intellectually dishonest.

  8. John,

    We’ve had this discussion before… and you just don’t seem to understand it.

    Indeed, I can say “nope, I don’t buy it” until you present some valid evidence to support your assertion.

    What I’ve discovered over the time reading your blog is that you and your fellow believers can’t seem to grasp the concept that the witness testimony in the bible is just not evidence.

    All you wish to ever engage in is arguing about the reasons why the skeptic doesn’t buy it. You constantly try to shift the burden of proof. As much as it frustrates you, John, the burden will always lie with the initial assertion.

  9. @Notascientist (apparently not a thinker either)

    Eyewitness accounts are evidence. In most cases, the best evidence we have.

  10. So, DogTags, personal attacks aside – what makes you think that eyewitness accounts are evidence?

    What’s your criteria for accepting any eyewitness accounts as evidence? Would you accept any eyewitness accounts not found in the bible?

  11. It’s amazing to me that the atheists on this web site deny that they have any sort of faith. Just last week Jason posted the following statement. I challenged him on it and heard no response:

    ““Art, like life, is as yet not fully explained, but so are the towering gas clouds of the cosmos and the rock formations of the desert. They are devastatingly beautiful yet entirely accidental.”

    This is a statement of blind-faith. But somehow Jason, Z, and others just don’t see it that way.
    Likewise, by faith, I assert that the universe has a Maker and has a purpose. If this is so, then there is absolutely nothing illogical about “miracles”. The Grand Designer set the universe to operate in a particular way and can “tweek” with the system whenever He so-desires.

  12. OK, you want an actual skeptic to address your question. Here I am, and I’ll take a stab at it.

    If the miracle stories are later embellishments, why aren’t the miracles bigger and more impressive?

    Well first, to the people writing them, those miracles might have been pretty big and impressive. They didn’t have the advantages of modern technology and special effects, which affects our perception of what’s impressive or convincing. In the days before antibiotics, curing a leper would have been quite miraculous. Now it’s a ho-hum everyday occurence. We see David Copperfield or Penn & Teller doing much bigger “miracles” but we know those are faked. It takes a lot more to impress us now than it would to impress a resident of Roman-era Judea.

    Second, If they had claimed huge showy miracles in the recent past, there would have been plenty of people around who could say “Wait, that didn’t happen! I would have seen that!”. So they were safer in telling stories of smaller things that would have only been witnessed by believers. Just like today, if an evangelist claimed that god was going to cure all the amputees, rearrange the stars, and make the trees start growing KJV bibles, it would be really obvious that nothing like that happened. Harold Camping was really embarrassed when the rapture didn’t happen. But the faith healers are harder to catch when they are just as wrong. Smaller claims are safer and harder to refute.

    Thirdly, I think they were likely conflating stories about other “messiahs” into their legends. The dying and rising god is a common motif across many cultures. The Egyptians has this myth at least 2,500 years prior to the Christians. (Joseph Campbell has some very good discussions of this in his writings.) So they were incorporating the kind of stories that were already familiar and relevant to their audience.

    But mostly, I think it’s because humans tend to create gods that are like powerful humans, only moreso. Our gods are projections of our own egos. The ancient Hebrews created a war god that was vengeful, jealous, and approved of genocide and slavery. Their miracle stories were about military victory, punishment and divine smiting. Their god was like a poweful warrior king of their era, only larger. The early christians were creating a mystery religion that was spread among the women, and slaves and the poor among others, and their god was much more benevolent and personal. So their miracles were about feeding the hungry and healing the sick and freeing prisoners. Personal stuff that mattered to their potential converts.

    Humans always create gods for themselves that still have recognizable human characteristics. We never envision a god that is so high above us that we can’t comprehend it at all. We ascribe human emotions to our gods, and tell ourselves that the gods are concerned with the tiny details of our lives. I don’t know of any religion that worships a god who is so huge and powerful and incomprehensible that we can’t understand it in any way. Miracles on a human scale are part of this tendency to create human-like gods.

  13. Also, one thing that people outside the faith (and people new to faith) seldom appreciate is that the miracles of the Bible are NOT arbitrary. They are almost always for a greater purpose. The God described in the Bible DOES NOT simply do cool tricks to get people to worship Him. Rather, he performs “miracles” to teach lessons – both to the observers and to us.

    If you read the Bible like it’s a child’s story, then you’ll walk away thinking that God is puny trickster. But if you treat the Bible with the same sort of “respect” that you treat a great piece of literature, then you’ll discover that there are layers-upon-layers of meaning that are under the “cute stories” being told. There is a grand story with an amazing (and consistent) message that is woven throughout the Bible. It was authored over thousands of years, across many cultures, from both male and female perspectives, written by both slaves and kings. Yet the message is amazingly consistent – and it has been life-changing to BILLIONS of people.

    It is not a story that can be dismissed with a few quips about inconsistencies, legend, and parlor tricks.

  14. John,

    I expect him to say that the bible is inerrant and the only source of truth as it relates to god.

    I would expect him to accept any testimony that supports his beliefs and reject any testimony that doesn’t.

    Tap-dance around it all you want – the purpose of the question is to simply expose the bias by which he accepts this supposed ‘evidence’.

  15. Tumeyn,

    Yes, you have asserted the position of a “Grand Designer” several times and have yet to produce any evidence beyond your personal feelings.

    What you fail to recognize are the constant excuses you make for your deity’s shortcomings.

    What you may refer to in the bible as “cute stories” are truly barbaric, vindictive and downright inhumane. Your attempt to rationalize it by saying “look how many lives it’s changed” is really quite sad and actually prompts us to imagine how much further along mankind could have been without clinging to these archaic dogmas for the past two thousand years.

  16. Yes, John, I’m aware of his profession in law.

    All the more interesting, I would imagine, would be to find out the last time he encountered the admission of testimony from a dead witness in a trial case. I would guess opposing council might have an objection since that dead witness is no longer available for cross-examination…

    Call me what you will, John, it still doesn’t detract from the fact that your argument is still not supported.

  17. Z,
    I accept the written evidence of the Bible for the same reason that I accept written accounts of all sorts of events. If I want to read about climate change, I’ll start with looking at writings by scientists about climate change. If I want to learn about Julius Caesar, then I’ll start with people that wrote about him. If I want to learn about Jesus, then I’ll start by reading what people had to say about him.

    Unlike many Christians, I actually don’t say that the Bible is “inerrant”. Rather, I say let’s look at what it says and see if what it says MAKES SENSE. Let’s have a look:
    1) Numerous non-Christian writings assert that Jesus actually lived, had many followers, and died at the hands of the Romans. This is in complete agreement with the New Testament. So, let’s accept it as fact. (See Tacitus, Josephus, Pliny the Younger, the Talmud)
    2) Many people with many different writing styles wrote accounts of some of the events of his life. These accounts emerged within just 30-60 years after his death. Many of the eyewitnesses were still alive at this time. I’m not asserting that these accounts are true, just that they exist and were written 30-60 years after his death.
    3) These writers wrote in such a way that their accounts were EASILY falsifiable. In other words, they described dozens and dozens of REAL PEOPLE who would have still been alive – many who were supposedly in important positions in the government. They described countless places that could have easily been made up. But in-so-far as archaeology has allowed us to ascertain, the people and places described in the 4 gospels really do exist in the way they were described. (I’m not talking about miraculous events – I’m talking about just geography and persons)
    4) Not only were the accounts falsifiable, but they also were likely rather embarrassing to the early church leaders. Peter denies Christ. Thomas doesn’t believe. The first witnesses of the resurrection were all women. Peter gets out to walk on water but sinks. One of Jesus’s own disciples turns him in for money. Jesus says many confusing things that people didn’t understand. Jesus calls himself “The Son of Man” – a title that NO ONE in the early church called him. This is NOT an account that would have just been made up.
    5) Many letters were passed among early churches – only 20-30 years after Jesus’s death – that also support the major events of Jesus’s life. The places that these letters went show us that belief in this man (Jesus) spread VERY quickly.
    6) Christians were so prevalent (and so reviled) in Rome in 64 AD that Nero blamed them for the great fire of Rome and began a massive persecution of Christians described by Tacitus. Note that Rome is 1500 miles from Jerusalem. This is ENTIRELY consistent with the spread of Christianity described in the book of Acts.

    Now, based on this, I believe that the witness attestation in the New Testament is internally consistent and is consistent with what we know about history. Does this make it inerrant? Of course not. But does this make it reasonably trust-worthy? I believe YES. Therefore, if you don’t like a few of the books of the New Testament. Fine, throw them out. I think you’ll find that the basic message of the New Testament (Jesus’s divine nature, his death, and his Resurrection) is present in every one of the New Testament writings – and even in the vast majority of the “apocryphal” works that seem to have become popular lately.

    If you don’t believe the resurrection, fine. But don’t say that there isn’t evidence for it. There is. There is plenty of it.

  18. Z writes : “Yes, you have asserted the position of a “Grand Designer” several times and have yet to produce any evidence beyond your personal feelings.”

    Likewise, you have yet to produce any evidence that our existence is accidental and arbitrary. No evidence that “something” can come from “nothing”. No evidence the our sense of beauty, love, and morality are are just illusions – an accidental biproduct of a drive for survival. No evidence that the grand molecular machinery of life could have come from inanimate molecules. These are astounding claim. As you say, astounding claims require astounding evidence. But I have yet to see the evidence of your faith.

  19. Tumeyn,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts – I appreciate your candor.

    First off, please understand that you are in an extreme minority of those Christians who would say that the bible is not inerrant. Most followers simply put up a wall when it comes to any serious critical analysis of the text because it may challenge what they really want to be true.

    Let’s see if what you conclude really “makes sense”.

    1. Jesus actually lived. Sure – no problem. I agree.
    2. People wrote about Jesus and they had different writing styles. Sure – people often do that.
    3. People wrote about places that actually existed. Sure – no problem.
    4. Stories spread, but how would you go about proving that these stories weren’t true? Besides, anything that opposed the narrative of the story could have easily been marginalized and omitted. We know this from what councils decided what was to be canon.
    5. Again, the stories spread. This does not prove that these stories were factual, no matter how quickly they spread.
    6. Those in power do have a tendency to demonize anything that challenges their authority. It happens today too.

    So, based on this, you choose to accept these stories as true as well.

    What doesn’t make any sense to me is this: Even assuming that there is a god, assuming that the bible is true, assuming that Jesus is god and he came here to die for your sins… why? Why would it be necessary for a deity to create a person who is destined for eternal damnation unless they believed the Jesus story to be true?

  20. For the record, Tumeyn – please don’t try to turn this into “Oh yea? Well, if god didn’t do it, what happened then?”

    I never claimed to have those answers. All I have ever stated is that theists that make their assertion of creation and don’t have the evidence to support it.

    I’m not afraid to be humble enough to say “I just don’t know.”

    It doesn’t take faith to make that statement.

  21. Z, you write:
    “What doesn’t make any sense to me is this: Even assuming that there is a god, assuming that the bible is true, assuming that Jesus is god and he came here to die for your sins… why? Why would it be necessary for a deity to create a person who is destined for eternal damnation unless they believed the Jesus story to be true?”

    That’s a great question. That’s a question I struggle with sometimes too. But I’ll give you a couple of observations that help me out:

    1) Two things that makes humans unique from other animals is our creativity and our desire for relationships. Survival-of-the-fittest just doesn’t do a good job explaining those aspects of “personhood”. The Christian concept of humanity, however, does a great job at explaining them: We were created in the image of a God who is “the Creator” (loves being creative) and who loves relationships (he is described a “Love” throughout the Bible). He created us for the joy of potentially having a relationship with us – so he would have an object for his love and so we could (potentially) love him in return.

    2) I’ll ask you this: Is it immoral to have children? All children will oneday die. All children will suffer at times in their life. Some children will die horrific deaths at an early age. Why in the world would we want to bring children into the world? I posit that the reason is because the joy of the relationship with the child is greater than the risk of the horrific things happening to them. The same can be said of God’s creation of mankind.

    3) Contrary to many fundamentalists Christians, I don’t quite believe in a Hell of eternal conscious punishment. The Bible speaks of being “born again” – a spiritual birth, so-to-speak. What happens to those that don’t have a “spiritual birth”? Well, I take it to mean that they simply don’t have a spiritual existence. “Hell” is just a word to describe separation from God. Apart from God, there is no life – and certainly no spiritual life. Maybe death is truely just “the end” (or “Hell”) for those that don’t want a relationship with him.

    Anyway, certainly those aren’t great answers – but that’s the way I approach the question when it comes up in my mind.

    Z, I don’t agree with many of your objections to Christianity. But I understand and can relate PERFECTLY to this objection. I agree that this is a completely valid criticism of Christianity. For me, however, the evidence in favor of Christianity outweighs this objection.

  22. Z, one clarification about inerrancy: Just to be clear, I *treat* the Bible as if it were inerrant. But inerrancy has very little to do with Christianity – it is just a doctrine that we put in place so that we have an agreed-upon standard by which to evaluate life. Sortof like, I use my desk ruler as my measure of a foot. But I know that the “true” measure of a foot is a titanium rod in some vault in Washington, I suppose. I treat the Bible as inerrant until something shows me otherwise.
    For instance, contrary to most Christians, I believe that the story of Adam and Eve was an allegory. And Noah’s flood was just a local flood – not worldwide. Why? Because I have evidence (modern science) to show that these events likely didn’t happen exactly as described in the Bible. But I have “faith” that the Bible is accurate until I’m shown otherwise – with EVIDENCE – not quips such as “miracles don’t happen.”

  23. Again, Tumeyn, I appreciate your response. Please be aware that almost every other Christian commenter on this site would take issue with your somewhat liberal interpretation of biblical doctrine.

    As for my reply to your response:

    “Relationships” are not exclusive to humans in the animal kingdom and the notion for a deity (who has been credited as being perfect) to have any use for any kind of relationship is absurd. Your statement about us being created for the joy of potentially having a relationship with this deity is a rather bold claim to know the motives of this deity. (Not to mention that he must be extremely disappointed, but that’s a whole new topic.)

    Immoral to have children? Only if you think of it that way. Nature pretty much drives everything on this planet to procreate. A variety of animals have thousands of offspring in the hopes that a few survive. What kind of creator would set up this environment to begin with?

    Your version of hell sounds like the mere absence of god, as opposed to many who believe it is eternal pain and torment. There are many of those like Glenn who believe the entire bible is literally true and any science that says otherwise is bunk. At least you seem to be more open minded than him.

  24. Z, of course relationships aren’t unique to humans – nor is creativity. But humans have taken relationships and creativity to an entirely different level than anything found in the animal kingdom. I spent last weekend in New York City. I spend an hour or two in the “Hall of Human Origins” in the Natural History Museum looking at all the biological evidence that humans and animals have a common ancestor. And, of course, I agree – on a biological level.

    But then I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I went around the museum asking myself: “What sort of survival advantage did this bring to mankind?” Art, music, love, and creativity just can’t be explained by science. It’s almost as if there is something “transcendent” inside of us that wants to be expressed. Take Van Gohn or Bach. Look at the discovery of the Higgs Boson and quantum mechanics. Humans have an absolutely insatiable desire for discovery, creativity, and expression. Why?

    Same could be said of altruism. We admire people who give themselves selflessly to help people who can offer them nothing in return. (think soldiers, firefighters, workers in orphanages, social workers) Why is this? Why do humans value such self-less relationships even when they offer no hope of propagating their own DNA?

    As a naturalist, the only possible explanation you have is that something entirely ACCIDENTAL has produced such immense beauty and meaning. It is an accident of evolution that we have such capacity for relationships. It is an accident of evolution that resulted in the masterpieces found within art museums around the world.

    But the Christian hypothesis is that that we are made in the image of a creator who shares has shared his nature (creativity, love) with us. He has revealed glimpses of his character to us both within ourselves and through his workings in history, some of which has been recorded in the Bible.
    .
    I can understand how you don’t believe it. But I don’t understand how you can call this foolish. My Christian faith helps me make sense of the world we live in. You can throw your hands up and say “I don’t know”. But I think we can do better than that.

  25. Tumeyn,

    You know that science often cannot answer “why” to many questions, but it is specious to simply conclude that there must be a god at play here. I find it ironic that you state (correctly) that humans have an insatiable desire for discovery and expression, yet I find that religion often makes every attempt to stifle it because it may conclude something that goes against its teachings or its foundation.

    You seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding about naturalism. Naturalism is not about accidents. Evolution is not necessarily just “survival of the fittest”, but survival of those who can adapt to change. You look at human creativity and ask “why?”, but do you do the same when it comes to the existence of every creature and condition that harms us? Why would it be that conditions on the vast majority of this planet so are hostile and inhospitable to the Christian god’s prize creation?

    To me, this Christian attitude of being so special represents the epitome of arrogance.

    Your Christian faith seems to give you rose-colored glasses. Your view of the world simply affirms one of my previous statements when I said it is common to see your god get all of the credit and none of the blame. I can call it foolish because believers have to constantly make excuses for their god and reassure themselves with purpose for all the tragedies that may happen in their lives.

    “it’s all part of god’s plan” is a lame answer for a parent who loses their child to cancer or to the family who loses all of their possessions to a raging wildfire. No, no, we much rather hear how god helped us catch the winning touchdown at the football game.

    Yes, I agree, we can do better than that. We have to do better than that.

  26. Z writes: ““it’s all part of god’s plan” is a lame answer for a parent who loses their child to cancer or to the family who loses all of their possessions to a raging wildfire.”

    I agree completely. But what is your answer to those tragedies? Is it really any better? Is it really any more comforting?

    The Christian answer (that God has a plan) isn’t something that is taken lightly or said glibly. It is something rooted within our faith-history: That God really DOES have a plan. That plan has been played out through Abraham, through Moses, through Joseph, through Jesus, through Paul, and even through me.

    The biggest message of the Bible (in my opinion) is the fact that there really is a “metanarrative” of life. God really does work out tragic events to accomplish His goals. We see that again and again in the Bible (most clearly in the death of Jesus). God really is moving history in a particular direction – it isn’t arbitrary and random. I see evolution fitting nicely into this meta-narrative. In one sense, life (and evolution) are very random and chaotic. But look back: There is a direction – we have been moving TOWARDS something. We can’t see where each turn is taking us – but looking backward we can see that the movements aren’t random.

    This is the Christian hope. That life really is purposeful and meaningful in the end. It isn’t a sequence of random events that just happen TO us. Rather, it is a sequence of somewhat chaotic events that is orchestrated in a grand and beautiful way towards a particular goal: Towards a relationship with God.

    THIS is the hope that Christian faith brings to a parent who loses their child to cancer or to the family who loses all of their possessions to a raging wildfire.

    Your comments remind me of a sermon I heard recently. The pastor commented that the biggest hurdle to faith today is the prevailing view that fairy tales just aren’t real: That the the prince really doesn’t come back in the end. That there is no “happily ever after”. That the wicked witch really isn’t killed in the end. The Christian message is that “fairy tales” are actually rooted very much in reality. History is headed somewhere. There really is meaning and purpose in the chaotic and tragic events of life. One day the Prince really will return and make everything right.

  27. Tumeyn,

    You’ve really got a point there. Religion gives people a reason for comfort. Science does not. Belief in god provides comfort and solace to those who ask “why”. It’s a great coping mechanism, to help people feel like there’s a purpose to misfortune.

    Again, it is the ego of man that makes him feel like this all happens for the reason of personal benefit.

    I don’t mean to be the wet blanket here, but how could the casual observer not see these thoughts as delusional?

    Religious adherents are genuinely frightened to think any other way, and that’s understandable. I guess reality isn’t easy sometimes.

  28. Z writes: “I don’t mean to be the wet blanket here, but how could the casual observer not see these thoughts as delusional?”

    I can certainly see how you would come to that conclusion. Frankly, I have to remind myself at various times in my life why I believe it isn’t a delusion (or wishful thinking).

    I can only speak for myself, but my faith rests on 3 things:
    1) Physical evidence: (part of which I outlined in my post above describing the reliability of the New Testament). The Bible is hard to believe – but there is enough good evidence for its reliability that it is hard to dismiss.
    2) Personal evidence: Most Christians (including me) claim to have experienced some sort of “communication” with God. Somehow or another, we feel that God “showed up” at particular key points in our life. We believe that God somehow intervened, resulting in (sometimes) amazing “coincidences”, or comforting and directing us at just the right time when something in life was going horribly wrong. These events reassure me that the events of life are not just random – they happen with a purpose.
    3) Cohesive worldview: My faith makes sense of “who I am” in a way that atheism just can’t do. The God I read about in the Bible helps to explain a multitude of things about who I am that are very hard to explain otherwise. It explains my sense of morality – my sense of good and evil. It explains my creativity. It explains why self-sacrificial love is such an admirable thing. It explains why I long for “Home”. It explains my longing to thank someone for all the wonderful things that I have to enjoy in this life.

    If any one of those 3 pillars were to collapse, then I suspect my faith would collapse as well.

    It is said that art imitates life. I think that there is a good reason why humans love epic stories and great novels. We really do want good to triumph over evil. We really do want the good, kind King to reign forevermore. We really do want the lovers to live happily ever after. But why? Is this just a false hope? Certainly these stories aren’t reflective of what we really see in real life. Rather, they reflect our deepest desires. Do those desired have any meaning?

    C.S. Lewis writes: “The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”

  29. My thought:

    Miracles are reported in lots of cultures. Most are indeed similar in magnitude to the reported Jesus miracles in that they are not grandiose. I think that may be because the human mind only allows for a certain amount of exaggeration — even from listening believers in any system or club.

    I have heard said that the best myths are those which sound plausible to some degree and only change a few details to be out-of-step with normal experiences. If you change too many, the listener/reader’s skeptic switch get’s flipped on whereas they might suspend it if the are sympathetic to the speaker or the implication of the story.

    Principle: I feel that whatever tools we use to explore exaggeration or myth creation in other traditions or setting, we should consider applying equally to our own.

    So that would be my reply to you OP query, but as for miracles in general: “When miracles stop” seems another important skepticism switch. But I won’t sidetrack that issue.

  30. Jason,
    Your theory sounds great – until you look at the details of the records of these miracles. Let’s take one miracle in particular, probably the one that is most well-attested to: The resurrection of Jesus.

    All 4 Gospels give an account of the resurrection. Three out of the 4 were written in 50-75 AD — well within the lifetime of the witnesses to the event. Paul writes letters (Galatians and 1st Thessalonians in particular) that almost all scholars (even skeptics) date to ~50-60 AD – only ~20 years after the miracle took place. In these letters he clearly states his belief in the resurrection. Note that he was not a direct witness, but spent a great deal of time with the direct witnesses, the early apostles.

    Now, because of the very nearly belief in this miracle, there are only two possible explanations: 1) It really happened or 2) It was a lie / hoax.

    Let’s assume that it is a lie. Does this fit the evidence?
    1) The first witnesses to the empty tomb were all women (attested to by all the gospels). This is an awfully strange detail to make up, considering that the testimony of women was not even admissible in court at that time period. Why not make the first witnesses to be men?
    2) One of the disciples didn’t even believe. Why include that detail if you were making it up?
    3) This hoax would have to have been perpetuated by MANY individuals. Remember, all the accounts show that Jesus appeared to many, many of his followers. It wasn’t just one or two. If it were a lie, then it was a lie that was held to-the-death by dozens and dozens of people.
    4) The accounts of the disciples in the gospels describes them as rather cowardly and weak. (arguing over who is the greatest, not believing or understanding Christs teaching, etc). The weak faith of these disciples should have been crushed by witnessing the death of their leader. But it wasn’t. They became the leaders of the early church. Why? Even Jesus’s own family didn’t believe him – but his brother, James, went on to be one of the leaders in the church write one of the books of the Bible. Why?
    5) HUGE numbers of people believed in this miracle within the lifetime of the witnesses. This is well attested to outside of New Testament.

    So, was this miracle a hoax? Perhaps. But, if so, it was an awfully good one. In fact, probably the greatest hoax that the world has ever known.

  31. If Jesus’ miracles could be proven, Christianity couldn’t be called a “faith.”

    But I still appreciate all the inquiry from believers and non-believers. I am sure Jesus does too.

Any Thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: