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Carrier on miracles 
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Post Carrier on miracles
I'm borrowing Interbane's comment and starting a new thread.

Interbane wrote:
Quote:
What’s next, guys? Shall we start debating the age of the earth or how Noah got all those animals aboard the boat or why God put all those dinosaur bones in the ground? I mean, seriously?


Question everything, debate everything?

The problem is, a massive percentage of people already think the resurrection was an actual event. Literalists don't need a platform for many of the more ridiculous ideas, because the platform already exists in the form of churches. How does the "other side", the rational skeptic, reach the general population except through debate?

Still, I agree with you. The issue isn't to challenge the ridiculous ideas directly, but to challenge the foundations of belief. I'm not sure what the foundation would be, since everything in a literalist's worldview is internally coherent(if also by definition circular). What I always find puzzling is that people accept the bible in the first place. It's not as if Sunday School starts off with the historiographical merits of the authors of the gospels. There is belief before there is critical analysis, and by the time there is critical analysis, it is pointed at the skeptic rather than at the belief(look at all the hoops Flann is jumping through). There is an amazingly admirable quality to the power of the Christian meme to delude people. We can see how it works, but damned if there's a way to undo it.


I'm not sure how many people believe that the resurrection was an actual event. I suspect most believers are merely paying lip service to prevailing religious beliefs without putting much thought into it. Carrier himself suggests that most people don't put much thought into their philosophy or worldview.

I agree that we should challenge the foundations of belief, but I also get frustrated with Carrier because he's seriously beating a dead horse here. Hitchens famously said that what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. And, indeed, the believer is impervious to evidence. Belief in God and miracles is not reached through the intellect and it will never be effectively challenged by the intellect. As such, Carrier seems to be beating his head against a brick wall and the reader gets to bang his head against the wall too!

Speaking of miracles, I read that the Pope has recently canonized the Rev. Giuseppe Baz, a 17th-century missionary who is credited with having revived the Catholic faith in Sri Lanka. Canonization usually requires verification of two miracles, but the current Pope is trying to inspire people and so is relaxing the rules a little. Last year, the Pope canonized his predecessor, Pope John II, also with just the one miracle.

What's interesting is to see the paltry evidence used to declare a "miracle." In Pope John's case, a French nun, confined to her bed by Parkinson's Disease (or a neurological condition with similar symptoms which can go into remission), is reported to have experienced a "complete and lasting cure after members of her community prayed for the intercession of Pope John Paul II.

Yep, that's all it took. A nun says she believes she was healed when members of the congregation prayed for her. This is why we can't take personal testimony very seriously. In fact, it's quite possible that Sister Marie Simon-Pierre didn't have Parkinson's Disease at all. It's difficult to diagnose without a medical autopsy.

Also, and this seems sort of relevant, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre suffered a relapse of her symptoms.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beatificat ... hn_Paul_II


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Post Re: Carrier on miracles
Anyway, here's what Carrier says about a credible historian's criteria used to assess his sources.

Carrier wrote:
A good, and therefore relatively trustworthy historical writer, will exhibit these qualities:  

(1) He will show in his writing a critical awareness of problems with his sources or with the intrinsic believability of an event. In other words, he will admit when something sounds amazing, or when his sources contradict each other or are not completely reliable. A bad historian will show no awareness of his sources at all, will report the incredible as if it were ordinary, and will never even mention alternative accounts of the same event even when he knows they exist.

(2) He will engage in logical historical argument addressing various forms of evidence and assessing their merit. A bad historian will never mention what evidence he has for what he is claiming and thus will never discuss its merits. He simply tells stories as if not a single event or fact is doubtful or uncertain. Yet in even the simplest of true stories, there are always details that are uncertain, like the exact name of a person or place, or just when or where something happened, or just what was said or done there. Competent historians will admit this, incompetent ones will not. Likewise, good historians will tell readers who their sources are and what good they are. Bad historians will name no one.

(3) Lastly, because he is an historian, and a good one, if he writes enough, eventually we will find him correct not only on many matters of fact (for even bad historians get some things right), but on notable or difficult historical questions. In contrast, a bad historian will be caught in overt falsehood or errors that a competent scholar of the same period would not make. In the one case, we have evidence of good scholarship; in the other, of bad scholarship.

The quality and therefore trustworthiness of an historian will stand in direct proportion to how often and how thoroughly he fulfills these criteria in any given work. It is easy to see how modern historians do far, far better here than even the best of ancient historians, but even the average historian of antiquity meets all three criteria to some degree, whereas, for instance, the authors of the Gospels meet none of them in any appreciable degree. In fact, and this is the salient point, no record supporting a supernatural miracle in all of human history meets all three of these criteria, and most meet none of them. This cannot be a coincidence. Since we are left with the scientific observation that no supernatural miracles actually happen today, we are quite reasonable to conclude that they never did.


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Post Re: Carrier on miracles
geo wrote:
In contrast, a bad historian will be caught in overt falsehood or errors that a competent scholar of the same period would not make.

Hi Geo,
So these are Richard Carrier's standards for historians and scholars.Again it's noticeable how dismissive he is about the gospel accounts.
I've already pointed out how he deals with Josephus' reference to James the brother of Jesus who Paul also refers to.Is Carrier's "James was a spiritual not physical brother of Jesus" solution good scholarship or error? Here's a link to look at this.
http://www.ingermanson.com/mad_science/james_ossuary
I mentioned on another thread his theory of the book of Acts being of the genre of fictional religious novel.
If Paul was a real person (which Carrier believes he was) and actually did travel extensively founding churches in diverse places how can this be the same as a novel where a fictional person travels around?
How's that for competent scholarship?
Finally on miracles. Carrier is ridiculously confident here, in effect asserting omniscience.
Craig Keener has written a book on miracles.It is hard to get documented evidence,but I think the scale of claimed eyewitness accounts should caution against the kind of assertions Carrier makes.
Here's a 3 minute snippet from an interview with Keener. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZ1IiXl0N_4



Last edited by Flann 5 on Wed Sep 24, 2014 3:06 pm, edited 2 times in total.



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Post Re: Carrier on miracles
Hi Flann,

Thanks for your comments.

I can't really comment on Carrier's Outer Space Jesus theory or Acts as fiction until I see Carrier's direct arguments. Even then I'm not really qualified, although it does seem that he overreaches with the theory that Jesus was a myth. And I base this solely on the fact that most historical scholars do accept that Jesus was historical.

"The majority viewpoint among those scholars of various disciplines who have commented on the subject is that Jesus existed, although biblical scholars differ about the beliefs and teachings of Jesus as well as the accuracy of the parts of his life that have been recorded in the Gospels."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus

That said, I'm pretty sure Carrier is very thorough in his arguments as he has proven in this book. I've been looking at his web site and it appears that he has responded to many of the criticisms of his book. Unfortunately, there's some bad Flash programming that keeps crashing my system.

http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/

Carrier makes a pretty good case against miracles. I would define a miracle as some event that transcends the laws of physics. Stories about people being suddenly healed are only testimonials. We know people can be wrong and are wrong all the time. I mentioned the case of the nun who claimed she was healed. This was obvious a case of someone who wanted to believe she was healed. It turns out she was only in remission. If even the Catholic Church can’t find better evidence of a miracle than that’s pretty indicative that miracles don’t really occur. All miracles rely on testimonials. Why is that? Why isn’t there more direct evidence of, say, a double amputee being shown on film and in front of credible witnesses to grow new limbs? Because it doesn’t happen.

Your claim to know a heroin addict suddenly being healed is a good example. Am I supposed to rely on your second-hand testimony of someone else’s claim of being suddenly healed? I know a guy who swears he saw a ghost. I just flat out don’t believe him. If the choice is my friend was mistaken or fooled or a real ghost appeared before him, which is actually more likely? Apply Occam’s razor.

If you rely on historical testimony of miracles, than it begs the question. Why aren’t miracles happening today? I know you’re going to bend over backwards trying to rationalize your belief. But I’d like to hear them anyway. :-)

Here’s another mind experiment I made up a long time ago. Imagine that a bright fiery ball of light appears in the sky above someone’s house. Now imagine that the person who witnesses this event believes that UFOs regularly visit our planet. You can already predict that this guy will see the ball of light and believe it’s a UFO. In fact, he’ll be damned sure of it.

Now imagine the witness believes in God and miracles and such. He might very well interpret the event as a visitation from God. He wants to believe that and he’ll find a way to accommodate these beliefs.

By the way the ball of light turns out to be a natural phenomenon.

Why pick one rather than another. There are many ways a sword can end in a field.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oSJdSL8YOE


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Post Re: Carrier on miracles
Hi Geo, Thanks for your comments.
I can understand your scepticism about second hand accounts of sudden claimed miraculous healing.I don't think a claimed ghost apparition is the same as an actual person who is blind say or even an addict who says they have been healed.It could be determined if that person had in fact been blind or not or an addict.
While Keener's accounts are largely testimony,certainly people in these places could know if someone had been blind or deaf or not, if they knew them or grew up with them for instance. The double amputee seems to be a rationalist icon.

The bible doesn't discount medicine and all that can be found in nature and advances in medical knowledge are good things.Actually biblically speaking miracles don't convince people if they are inclined not to want to believe anyway.It's Joan of Arc psychology in reverse.
I think there needs to be more medical documentation to provide more robust standards of proof but I don't think testimony is worthless.It largely depends on the character and credibility of the witness.The claim is of course that miracles are happening today not just historically.
I'm just saying that the sheer scale of such claims should caution against the kind of dogmatic assertions Carrier makes.
The Joan of Arc example is just a sort of stereotype from Hollywood, of the wise rationalist deprogramming the naive deluded supernaturalist. When it comes to Hollywood "testimony" I'm sceptical myself. An addict is a real person,not a sword found in a field.
The theist says God does do things,the naturalist that everything must have a natural explanation. Most things do but does everything?
John Lennox gave a talk on the subject;Is belief in the supernatural irrational? He begins with familiar arguments and around 35 minutes in gets into the whole miracles question.
Most Christians would say that God answers prayer though often it is providential events which are natural occurrences believed to be directed by God in answer to specific prayer. Lennox gives one striking example from his own life in the Q and A part of the talk.
I've been through this with Interbane in relation to events in Hudson Taylor's life. The answer given is that extremely improbable things happen naturally. They seem to happen tailored to specific requests in many Christians lives. So they can be explained as improbable coincidences though I don't find this a satisfactory explanation myself.
Lennox is critical of new atheist militants so I just want to say Geo,that I'm not putting you in that category in linking his talk here.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Kz4OgXsN1w

P.S. I saw an image of a horned devil in my burnt toast! What on earth could it signify?



Last edited by Flann 5 on Thu Sep 25, 2014 9:51 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Carrier on miracles
Quote:
Actually biblically speaking miracles don't convince people if they are inclined not to want to believe anyway.


This is because the only miracles that happen are naturalistic. There are endless miracles that could convince me in a heartbeat. Easily the majority of possible miracles. Anyone regenerating any portion of their body, or healing from an obvious wound far too quickly. Anything like cancer or virus infections or other conditions that could be very quickly healed by the human body do not convince me. Not that it's common for the human body to heal such things, but it does happen given the right chemical triggers and nutrient supply. Recovering from one of many or any mental illnesses is also exceptionally rare, but not miracle material. I know from personal experience that certain triggers can have a cascading effect from mind to body. The mind is an amazing thing, without resorting to miracles.

There are countless possible miracles that would convince me - the double amputee is one example amongst millions. Since such miracles do not happen, we're left to wonder. Either miracles truly do not happen, or the person who answers miracles does not want me or others like me to believe, so only answers miracles that could otherwise happen naturalistically. Picking between these two is easy.

Flann wrote:
The bible doesn't discount medicine and all that can be found in nature and advances in medical knowledge are good things.


Are you implying that you need the bible to tell you that advances in medical knowledge are good things? They are good things regardless of what the bible says, miraculous things even. Advanced medicine is responsible for thousands of proven naturalistic miracles, even the regeneration of body parts. The bible or anything supernatural pales in comparison.

Quote:
They seem to happen tailored to specific requests in many Christians lives


The rarity of the rarest possible event can be seen with heuristical reasoning. Take the total number of people on Earth, multiplied by the number of days in the window you're studying. Seven billion times thirty thousand or so days for the past century. If each day has the potential for many rare events, it's easy to see how mind bendingly, inexplicably, astoundingly(add more adverbs) rare events are guaranteed to happen given enough time.

The rarity of the event can be expressed by the unlikely correlation of two independently common events. The appearance of needed materials wouldn't be miraculous at all if they weren't needed. What is needed is a specific request, when correlated with fulfillment of that request, makes the event exceptionally unlikely. What I mean is, the events required the specific requests of Christians in order to have any rarity. It is the seemingly tailored fulfillment of the special requests that gives the supposed miracles their rarity.


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Post Re: Carrier on miracles
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Post Re: Carrier on miracles
Quote:
I can understand your scepticism about second hand accounts of sudden claimed miraculous healing.I don't think a claimed ghost apparition is the same as an actual person who is blind say or even an addict who says they have been healed.It could be determined if that person had in fact been blind or not or an addict.
While Keener's accounts are largely testimony,certainly people in these places could know if someone had been blind or deaf or not, if they knew them or grew up with them for instance.



Hi, Flann:

You have been very patient with the godless ones of BT. ;) You articulate yourself well and offer links to discussions that enhance your ideas.
Thanks for that.

I think it is a thoughtful exercise to consider epistemic theories of miracles. I believe you've mentioned John Polkinghorne before. He also elaborates on the issue of miracles.

Much of Saint Augustine's theological doctrine on miracles has greatly influenced Christianity. Spinoza speak of miracles as well.

The theologically challenged and disinterested new atheists are unaware of the belief theological idea that a miracle is miraculous only insofar as it does not agree with our understanding of nature. Accordingly, a perfect scientific understanding of nature (doubtful to ever be attained) would mean there are no miracles.

Quote:
The epistemic theory of miracles is the name given by the philosopher William Vallicella to the theory of miraculous events given by St. Augustine and Baruch Spinoza. According to the theory, there are no events contrary to nature — that is no "transgressions", in Hume's sense, of the laws of nature. An event is a miracle only in the sense that it does not agree with our understanding of nature, or fit our picture of nature, or that it thwarts our expectations as to how the world should behave. According to a perfect scientific understanding there would be no miracles at all.



Saint Augustine in "The City of God" - (emphasis mine)

Quote:
There occurred a remarkable celestial portent; for Castor records that, in the brilliant star Venus, called Vesperugo by Plautus, and the lovely Hesperus by Homer, there occurred so strange a prodigy, that it changed its colour, size, form, course, which never appeared before nor since. Adrastus of Cyzicus, and Dion of Naples, famous mathematicians, said that this occurred in the reign of Ogyges.

So great an author as Varro would certainly not have called this a portent had it not seemed to be contrary to nature. For we say that all portents are contrary to nature; but they are not so. For how is that contrary to nature which happens by the will of God, since the will of so mighty a Creator is certainly the nature of each created thing? A portent, therefore, happens not contrary to nature, but contrary to what we know as nature.[1]


Spinoza:

Quote:
Further, as nothing happens in nature which does not follow from her laws, and as her laws embrace everything conceived by the Divine intellect, and lastly, as nature preserves a fixed and immutable order; it most clearly follows that miracles are only intelligible as in relation to human opinions, and merely mean events of which the natural cause cannot be explained by a reference to any ordinary occurrence, either by us, or at any rate, by the writer and narrator of the miracle.[3]


Wiki


It is this concept of God and His laws of natural order that govern our experience of the world.
We do not base an understanding of God on our ignorance of nature and her laws.
Rather, we seek to affirm our faith through reason and our never ending quest for epistemic clarity of natural laws that bring order to a rational COSMOS.

If we did not have faith that nature was intelligible, all science would come to a halt. Both theist and atheist alike share faith in the belief that the cosmos is rationally ordered.


Quote:
cos·mos1/ˈkäzməs,-ˌmōs,-ˌmäs/
noun
the universe seen as a well-ordered whole.



The atheistic doctrine which conjectures that Nature and her enormous complexity (consciousness, origins, Life, the beginning of it all) is due to random, mindless chance is an extrapolation based on no empirical evidence. It to is an article of faith. A faith that is antithetical to how nature demonstrates herself to finite, limited creations.

I suppose that if tomorrow Man's intelligence were to multiply twofold, we would not have less questions to answer. Our questions would likely increase exponentially. Also, we would formulate BETTER questions to ask Nature. Our answers are only as good as our questions.
The result of an increase in intelligence would also more than likely allow us to uncover GREATER complexity.

And that is an exciting thing to think about :)



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Post Re: Carrier on miracles
ant wrote:
The theologically challenged and disinterested new atheists are unaware of the belief theological idea that a miracle is miraculous only insofar as it does not agree with our understanding of nature. Accordingly, a perfect scientific understanding of nature (doubtful to ever be attained) would mean there are no miracles.


And if there was a "Christian miracle" that was of interest to non-Christians, they would just be called scientific anomalies by everyone else. Then people do research on them.



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Post Re: Carrier on miracles
Then people do research on them."

Yeah. And many of those people that did the research and are continuing to do the research to bring a smile to your face are theists. They are not just bland "people"

thanks for pointing that out for us all.



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Post Re: Carrier on miracles
ant wrote:
Yeah. And many of those people that did the research and are continuing to do the research to bring a smile to your face are theists. They are not just bland "people"


If they're doing science, then I don't care which God, if any, they believe in. If they're doing theology, then they're not really doing anything, they're just making stuff up.



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Post Re: Carrier on miracles
Dexter wrote:
ant wrote:
Yeah. And many of those people that did the research and are continuing to do the research to bring a smile to your face are theists. They are not just bland "people"


If they're doing science, then I don't care which God, if any, they believe in. If they're doing theology, then they're not really doing anything, they're just making stuff up.


That is an expression of scientism: The only real source of knowledge is that which comes from "doing science "
And then of course this leads to certain individuals encapsulating their worldview in dogma.

Dont worry. I understand you.



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Post Re: Carrier on miracles
ant wrote:
Dexter wrote:
ant wrote:
Yeah. And many of those people that did the research and are continuing to do the research to bring a smile to your face are theists. They are not just bland "people"


If they're doing science, then I don't care which God, if any, they believe in. If they're doing theology, then they're not really doing anything, they're just making stuff up.


That is an expression of scientism: The only real source of knowledge is that which comes from "doing science "
And then of course this leads to certain individuals encapsulating their worldview in dogma.

Dont worry. I understand you.


I know you're trying to be politically correct, but do you consult Islamic theologians (or pick another religion) to help you understand the world? Of course not, because you know they have nothing useful to teach you unless you're trying to live as a Muslim.



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Post Re: Carrier on miracles
"
If they're doing science, then I don't care which God, if any, they believe in. If they're doing theology, then they're not really doing anything, they're just making stuff up.[/quote]



I know you're trying to be politically correct, but do you consult Islamic theologians (or pick another religion) to help you understand the world? Of course not, because you know they have nothing useful to teach you unless you're trying to live as a Muslim.[/quote]

this is an expression of historical ignorance.
History tells us that Islamic theologians contributed largely to the base of our current scientific knowledge. Their theology was not a deterrent, but was actually an inspiration and motivator of scientific creativity.

Of course Dexter is advancing the most common strawman argument against religion by alluding to the aspects of islamic fundamentalism specifically.

I would utterly dismantle this conflict thesis in disguise



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Post Re: Carrier on miracles
ant wrote:
this is an expression of historical ignorance.
History tells us that Islamic theologians contributed largely to the base of our current scientific knowledge. Their theology was not a deterrent, but was actually an inspiration and motivator of scientific creativity.

Of course Dexter is advancing the most common strawman argument against religion by alluding to the aspects of islamic fundamentalism specifically.

I would utterly dismantle this conflict thesis in disguise


You're evading the question. Do you consult the THEOLOGY of different religions to help you understand the world? Not scientists who believe in God. You missed the entire point, or pretended to miss it, as usual.



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