Friday, March 22, 2013

Marshall vs. Carrier: My opening statement

In our debate in February at the University of Alabama - Huntsville, Richard Carrier advised the audience, "Of course after this debate you should go out and learn more . . . Learn about this beyond what gets covered in this debate."  I agree.  A public debate can be a fun spectacle, but also the chance to raise important questions and to think in new ways -- then go out and check the facts for oneself. 

That's the main reason I'm putting together a transcript of our debate.  Not only for the value of the debate itself, and not just because I personally prefer transcripts, which can be read easily and quoted if desired.  But also this allows the debate to go on, to serve as a springboard to further research.  I, for one, am eager to double-check some of the claims Richard made during our debate, not all of which I could answer (or even knew enough to answer!  and I'm pretty sure that was true for him, too) in those few minutes on stage.  And maybe others will also like to know where we got our information from, and check whether it is accurate. 

So here's a fairly close transcript of my opening statement.  I've eliminated most disfluencies for both of us, since obviously the word "uh" only adds so much. 
While I thought this opening statement generally sounded pretty good, I was aghast, listening to this tape for the first time, to see that I blew not one, but two punchlines in this opening talk!  I've reinserted those brief punchlines in the text below, in red.  Of course Carrier can't be expected to reply to blown punchlines, and as it turns out, his responses don't much focus on those particular stories, anyway. Adding them here will make my initial arguments clearer for readers, however.   

Here's the audio, if this link works.  I've now also posted a transcription of Richard Carrier's opening statement, our first rebuttals, and my in-depth analysis of some of Carrier's claims.  Click link at bottom to go to later parts of the debate. -- DM
Thank you so much for coming. I can't actually see you, but I believe by faith that you're out there. I also would like to thank Richard for coming. Richard is someone who thinks outside the box, and he's willing to take on big issues, and I really like that. I don't agree with the conclusions he comes to, but that's what we're here to talk about tonight.
The debate is entitled, "Is the Christian faith reasonable?" What does that mean? Some of you may be afraid that having the words "faith" and "reason" so close together in a sentence may cause the building to explode. It won't happen, don't worry. Faith and reason have been intimately associated in Christian thought for two thousand years. 

Time is limited, so I'd better stick to the basics. I think there's something to be said for the classical philosophical arguments -- from the nature, origin, or fine-tuning of the universe, or from the very concept of who God must be -- as developed by modern theistic philosophers. I don't think those arguments are conclusive, but I think they are suggestive. Anyway, I'm not going to use them tonight. If you want to see a really good debate on those subjects, at least from the Christian perspective, William Lane Craig's debate with Alex Rosenburg last week was really interesting. But there's going to be practically no overlap with the debate tonight. 

I'm a student of world religions, and an historian. Those are the perspectives I'll be arguing from tonight. I made two arguments this morning -- that Christianity makes sense of world religions, and that it has reformed and makes better sense of how we understand history. But there's no time for those arguments tonight. I want to argue from facts that are available to people in this audience, with a little study, or asking around. 

This question, "Is the Christian Faith Reasonable?" can mean at least three things. First, "Is Christianity reasonable in the pragmatic sense? Does it deliver the goods? Is it useful for individuals or for society -- for humanity, this thing called Christianity?" I had a friend in Hong Kong who was an engineer. He told me that at engineering schools there tended to be a lot of good Christian fellowships, because engineers like things that work. Well I agree. Christian faith works, for individuals and for society. But that's not the issue I'll be focusing on tonight.

This question could also mean, "Do Christians employ reasoning in arguing for Christianity? Or is the Christian faith supposed to be something one believes "not only without evidence, but in the teeth of the evidence," as Richard Dawkins famously claims?

Well I think the Christian faith is something that is closely associated with reason.
But I want to make a stronger claim tonight. "Not only is Christianity reasonable in that it makes practical sense to believe it, and that Christians have always reasoned to and for their faith. There are also good reasons to believe -- good evidences -- that Christianity is true."

Let me give three, briefly. (1) Miracles. (2) Anthropology, a God that transcends particular cultures. (3) New Testament criticism -- the person of Jesus. 

(1) Miracles

First of all, miracles. Richard has said that he can "imagine sufficient technical and professional documentation" of some kinds of supernatural events like levitation of demon levitations that would convince him. Or, "so could directly witnessing it myself." (Proving History, 55)
So Richard concedes, first of all, that believing something is a personal thing. Something might be reasonable for you having a certain amount of evidence, and maybe not for me, because you have a certain amount of background knowledge, and I don't. He also concedes that the direct experience experience of miracles, baring drug use or something like that, may render belief in something apparently beyond nature reasonable for the person who experiences it. B
But how might this work?
Let's give an example.
Twenty or some years ago, I was working as a "faith missionary" in the country of Taiwan. "Faith missionary" basically meant I didn't have any money. And I prayed for it, I didn't ask anybody.

One Friday, I was out of money, I went to the bank with a check from the US. They said, sorry, we can't cash it right now. So I went back home to take inventory. And lo and behold, I had no toilet paper. No soap. And no food. And no money to buy any of it with, but little more than a dollar. 

So on Saturday morning, I took that little more than a dollar and I bought a ticket to Taipei Station. And I started wandering around New Park near Taipei train station, complaining to God. 

"God, what am I doing in Taiwan? I don't even have enough money to buy a hamburger! I'm going to go home, I'm tired of this!" See what a faith missionary is, he has lots of faith. 

And after complaining like this for a while, I got tired of talking to Someone who didn't answer me, and I started going out of the park. And there was a girl, kind of pretty, reading an English newspaper. I struck up a conversation with her. And after we talked for a while, and I got up to leave, she asked me, "What's your name?" "Ma Dewei." She said, "Ni shi Ma Dewei ma?" "Are you really Ma Dewei?" 

It turned out that a few years before, I had found a billfold on the campus of National Taiwan University several miles away. I had taken it to Lost and Found, and had written a little note in it: "God loves you - Ma Dewei." And this was that girl. In a city of 4 1/2 million people, several years later, just when I was praying for that.

She took me out for lunch, to thank me.  Nothing expensive -- Mcdonalds.  As I was sitting there eating my cheeseburger, it occurred to me -- hadn't I said something to God about not being able to buy a hamburger?

It's a longer story than that, several other things happened, and all of my needs happened to be met. Now what does this mean? It's an anecodote. A coincidence. You meet lots of people, maybe this was just blind luck. Maybe it's a two on a scale of one to ten. Maybe it's a little bit of evidence that something is happening beyond coincidence. 

But I happen to know it is true -- I happened to be there. 

Richard (speaks of) "God's absolute silence and complete inactivity in our own experience."
(33) "No one has observed a realact of God, or any real evidence of his inhabiting or observing the universe.So no one has really seen any evidence that he is good, or even exists . . . " (35)

I can't really say that that's true for me. And what do I do, then, with the story of Jesus' disciples and the huge catch of fish? Maybe that's a 3 on the 1-10 scale. What about stories I hear from other missionaries I met, about long series of "coincidences" in response to desperate needs and prayer? In some cases it might be a 4 or a 5. And I know these people, I know they're not lying, they tell me the story over popcorn, at 12 at night. Smart and honest people, in some cases critical thinkers, even scientists. 

I get to know a PhD student in law at one of world's major universities. He's from an African country. He used to be imam at a mosque. And he tells me he was sitting in his mosque minding his own business one day. And he says he heard the audible voice of God. "Follow Jesus!" As a specialist in Islamic law, he knew that if you convert to Christianity or some other religion, you're worthy of death. He knew it would risk his life. He left his country, he's never been back, because he is so convinced that he had actually heard from God. 

Is it reasonable for him to believe in the supernatural? I think so. 

How about a young man I meet in southern China, who tells me, "My friends can laugh at me, but I will never stop believing in God." Because his wife had been cured from a head injury. 

Or a man I met on the coast of China who was dying of throat cancer. The doctors said he had no hope. He went home, and some people prayed for him, and he saw a vision of Jesus, who said "Go preach the Gospel!" And he was cured. And he'd been preaching the Gospel ever since. 

It turns out, a high percentage of converts to Christianity, in places like India, China, and other parts of the world, convert either through such such experiences personally, or experiences that others relate.

Craig Keener, a New Testament scholar, has documented many of these stories, in a book that's about 1100 pages long, telling hundreds of stories about how God has helped people around the world. Some of these stories are 8, 9, 10 on the scale of 1-10, including things that happened to him personally, and to his wife.    

Miracles don't just happen to superstitious old ladies: they happen to geniuses who change the world. St. Augustine records some of these events in his own life. St. Patrick, Mateo Ricci and the Chinese Jesuits, and many others. 

So what? 

Richard says, "In truth, science is actually subordinate to history." And I agree with him on that. In some ways, science is the record of things that have been recorded in the past, patterns that have been observed, and understanding of the universe based on experiments related to us by other people. (Proving History, 47-8)

Richard also admitted, in a debate with Michael Licona, that if he himself had close friends whom he trusted intimately, who told him about things that happened in their lives that were beyond the possibility of explaining naturally, that he would believe in the supernatural. So this seems to concede, not only for the tens of millions of people who have had direct supernatural experiences, but also for the hundreds of millions of people who have heard about such events from people they have good reason to trust, (that) it is reasonable to believe in a supernatural. 

(2) God 

Second point, God.

There's a very popular argument among New Atheists that God is the construct of a particular culture and therefore he is nothing more than an artifact. Richard Dawkins says, "Not surprisingly, since it is founded on local traditions of private revelation rather than evidence, the God Hypothesis comes in many versions. Historians of religion recognize a progression from primitive tribal animisms, through polytheisms . . . to monotheisms . . . " (GD, 32)

Emile Durkheim, the founder of sociology in some ways, said that Religious beliefs have "varied infinitely." This shows none "expresses (truth) adequately."

And Richard Carrier also say, "Were the Christian God genuinely communicating with us, his communications would be consistent across all times and regions." (43) (Carrier, Why I am not a Christian, 43)

So here's the argument: If God existed, he would transcend the creation of any given culture. But God does NOT transcend the creation of any given culture: he arose maybe during the reign of King Josiah in the Old Testament, and then radiated out to form Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. 


But, as Durkheim also noted, the Australian God was "fundamentally the same everywhere." "Eternal," "a sort of creator," "father of men," "made animals and trees," "benefactor," "communicates," "punishes," "judge after death," and they "feel his presence everywhere."

The word for God in ancient China is "Shang Di" from the Shang Dynasty, and then "Tian" in the Zhou Dynasty. I won't give you all the characteristics of God for want of time, but he also conforms to the same pattern.

Richard Carrier also admits this a little bit.


So forget about, "You just disbelieve in one more God than we do." The Christian God is not "just one more god." That's a bad pun. God is conceptually as distinct from the gods as Tinkerbell's pixie dust is conceptually distinct from the Big Bang. God is, in Anselm's words, "He than whom greater one cannot conceive.

Furthermore, the atheist argument is, "God does not transcend one culture, so there is no God. He is the product of his culture."

Let's reverse that. It turns out God DOES transcend Hebrew or American culture. He clearly is NOT the product of one society, or even one kind of society. 

Does it not following, using Dawkins, Durkheim's, and even Richard's argument, that if God DOES transcend any one culture, he is NOT the product of human imagination?

(3) Jesus

A couple years ago my wife was walking through the busiest train station in the world, Shinjiku station in Tokyo. A couple million people walk through there every day. That's every day! As she was walking down this flood of humanity, like a river, up the other way another flood of humanity, tens of thousands of people -- somebody noticed her. They stopped, and looked at each other -- Hiroko! From Seattle, her good friend. Both were not too tall, not too short, average height, pretty Japanese women. Black hair, the same as everybody else in the crowd. What was it about Mayumi, my wife, that allowed Hiroko to notice her in the flooding crowd of tens of thousands of people? Just some slight difference in the nose or the eyes, something like that, and she noticed. A "Where's Waldo" kind of a moment.

Let's set that story to the side for the moment. We'll come back to it. 

I disagree with Richard Carrier in that I think that conventional historical research on Jesus has yielded a great deal of fruit. It has established a great deal. Even from people like Thomas Jefferson, a skeptic, who said the "eloquence and persuasiveness" of the Gospels goes "far beyond" the "feeble minds" of the gospel writers to invent. William Paley, who found the "similtude of manner, which indicates the actions and discourses proceed from the same person." In other words, you can triangulate from the different gospels to an historical person. 

Robert Funk, the founder of the Jesus Seminar, wrote about parables, on which he was an expert. He said "virtually unknown in the OT, and rarely successfully imitated in Christian lore . . .Very few sages have achieved the same level of creativity" as the Jesus of the gospels. ((136, 153) John Crossan realized that Jesus: was a "prophet of the margins" who overturned social convention. Richard Burridge has shown that the gospels conform to the category of bioi, or Greek biography. Morton Smith, a professor at Columbia University where Richard studied, showed that miracles infuse every single layer of the gospels. Jesus was a worker of miracles, the historical Jesus must have worked miracles, he argued.

Now we can set these characteristics against one another, and do a kind of zero-sum game thing, where only one can be right, and they have to fight and struggle against one another.

But Marcus Borg, more perceptively, realized that Jesus could be all these things at once, like blind men feeling the elephant. They feel one part of Jesus. Marcus Borg recognized that Jesus was a "spirit person." He was "a charismatic healer or 'holy person.' He was a subversive sage who undermined conventional wisdom and taught an alternative wisdom. He was a social prophed, and an initiator of a movement the purpose of which was the revitalization of Israel." That's a pretty big elephant!

Richard Bauckham has recently written a brilliant book showing that the Gospels almost certainly contain a great deal of eyewitness testimony. NT Wright, the great British scholar, has shown, as philosopher Raymond Martin says, "The Gospels makes remarkably good historical sense." One of the tools that he uses to show that is something called double similarity, double disimilarity, which I think is a very powerful tool. 

OK, this is a sampling of some of the historical research on Jesus. Certain perspectives on who Jesus is, which added together make a remarkable person, which I think gives (us) a very good reason to believe.

But my contention is that ordinary readers can meet Jesus by simply reading the Gospels for themselves. Our eyes are created or evolved to recognize human faces, and no one, having read the Gospels, can unrecognize Jesus without cost to his or her honesty.

I describe fifty characteristics that all four gospels share in common, having to do with setting, the style and literary character, having to do with Jesus as a moralist, Jesus in society, how he treats other people, Jesus as a teacher, and theological. characteristics. Many of them have nothing to do with something one would make up just to make up a good story. These are things we pick up on without noticing.

At least twenty-six of these characteristics relate to historicity. And all twenty-six strongly favor the essential historicity of the main narratives of the Gospels. But I maintain that we pick up on these qualities even without noticing, much as my wife's friend noticed her in the Tokyo train station, even without careful analysis.

These three sets of facts -- first of all, the miracles do in fact seem to happen. Secondly, that God is not limited to one culture but transcends culture. And thirdly, the person of Jesus, I maintain, are all good reasons to believe in Christianity. And Richard Carrier seems to implicitly admit the premises of parts of the first two arguments. 

Next: Richard Carrier's opening statement.   For first rebuttals, read here


rockingwithhawking said...

I always appreciate your fine thinking, David! You so often cast new light onto old things, or give a side-glance look or askew view into a familiar topic such that it opens up a whole new perspective on the matter. A perspective which in turn enlightens inasmuch as it refreshes. And that's what you've done here, I think. So, anyway, long story short, thank you for it! :-)

By the way, when you wrote: "A couple years ago my wife was walking through the busiest train station in the world, Shinjiku station in Tokyo."

I just wanted to say I recently got a chance to travel to Tokyo. (And I have family over there as well.) I had never been to Japan let alone Asia before. It's an awesome city. So well organized, and so clean, at least for a big city. The Japanese are impeccably polite too. And I had a lot of fun trying to cross at busy intersections like the Shibuya crossing. It's definitely a city I'd like to check out again, and hopefully will get to, since part of my family is half-Japanese.

David B Marshall said...

Thanks, Hawking. Shinjiku is just about four stops from Shibuya. I've shared at a few churches within walking distance of Shibuya -- you know about the famous statue of Hachiko, the dog, there? Everyone in Japan knows that statue.

rockingwithhawking said...

Sadly, I didn't know about it till just now when you mentioned it! I'm sure I must've walked by it (several times in fact) since I recognize and remember walking right in the same area (based on YouTube videos). But, alas! I don't remember seeing the statue. Hachiko seems like a good example of loyal faith though! If only I were half as faithful to God as Hachiko was to his owner.

By the way, how is the state of Christianity in Japan? I'd be interested in knowing so I might be able to direct family members there (although they live a bit north of Tokyo). Or have you already posted about that before? If so, could you please point me to the post(s)? Cool, thanks again, David!

David B Marshall said...

I think it came up once, with a visitor who taught English on a little island in Japan. Less than 1% of Japanese are Christian. Most Japanese show little interest in Christianity or religion in general. Most churches are about 30 members; 100 members is large. Japan in that way stands out from all its neighbors. 400 years ago, things were different.

There are good churches, and Tokyo seems to have more of them than most places, even per capita. I wouldn't have any suggestions north of Tokyo, unless way north, in Aomori, then I have friends. But there are a number of small churches in every reasonable-sized city, just not very big.

rockingwithhawking said...

Ah, gotcha. Thanks, David. Very interesting, although a bit sad.

I forget the exact name of where they live. But I had to get off on Kuki station in Saitama to meet them. Any good churches out there? Thanks in advance! :-)

rockingwithhawking said...

Actually, I think I'd better email you in private so as not to derail your thread! Sorry.


to David B. Marshall:

Last night I listened to your debate with Richard Carrier and I found your part in the debate very encouraging. I noticed that part of your arguments included appeals to the supernatural. You even cited Craig Keener's book on Miracles.

Well, this afternoon I found and listened to Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland's lecture: Discerning God's Voice - When God Seems Silent

Starting at 13 minutes (and for the rest of the lecture), J.P. Moreland recounts his experiences with the supernatural and that of his friends. They include examples of specific words of knowledge, dreams and visions, angelic presence and sightings etc.

I thought you might find the lecture additional ammo for your future debates. I'm a continuationist myself, but I was surprised to discover that a noted Christian philosopher would be so open to the supernatural as he is.

Here's the link again

David B Marshall said...

Thanks, Pinoy. As I plan to show in an upcoming post (working on it today), Carrier essentially just ignores my arguments in his rebuttal, directing his audience to books by him that say nothing to support his views, and to ancient "parallels" that only go to show how hard it is to find any real parallels.

Sounds like something well worth listening to. Moreland is one of those people who I know is good, but haven't had occasion to much read. I'll try to do so, soon.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Christian faith works? That's your opening statement? Any faith works so long as the person is alive and continues believing in it. And not all Christians, even of the most devout sort, are successful or beyond the reach of depression. So your point is moot.

As for engineers, one of the co-authors of the new book, EVOLVING OUT OF EDEN, studied engineering, and saw how evolutionary algorithms made possible the compact antenna found on today's cell phones, and became convinced of the fruitfulness of evolutionary theory. Great book by the way, EVOLVING OUT OF EDEN.

Morrison said...

Ed, that's it?

Edwardtbabinski said...

David, You didn't complete your story about the lack of money. I guess you got your check cashed. I assume you were a missionary being supported by U.S. citizens. The U.S. tends to have loads of money.

I'm curious, was the Taiwanese woman in the park already a Christian (if so, which franchise?) or was she in need of conversion? Do you know how she's doing today, faith-wise? What was her take concerning the coincidence?

As for amazing coincidences, they happen to everyone. I was once in Grand Central Station and bumped into a friend of mine from my chess days. My own chess career path had been derailed by this fellow in the last round of the U.S. High School Championship. He went on to be seeded into the U.S. Open, then became a Grand Master, while I quit chess. He was coming back from Florida. I was just visiting NYC that day. We spoke a bit then went our separate ways. On another trip to NYC I bumped into a female friend from my college anatomy class on the street. On a few occasions during high school I picked up the telephone at the same time that my best friend had dialed my number and we were both waiting for the phone to ring on the other end, then one of us spoke, and we realized we'd dialed each other at the same time. And I once found an apologetics book by Chesterton on a very small ill-stocked discount book table. It was the GK book that C.S. Lewis thought highly of, and I took it as a miracle that I had found a copy so quickly and cheaply. Though I'm not as impressed today by the arguments in that book as I was back then.

I suppose that in any large city with people moving around, it's like stirring up a zillion possible near hits and a few amazing coincidental meetings. In most cases they probably involve younger people, since the young are more active and mobile in general. And you knew she spoke English by the magazine she was perusing, and you were likely to speak to a female perhaps more than a male, being down spirited at the time. (Females tend to smile and laugh more easily and frequently than males, they cheer us males up. *smile*) And parks are popular places. (What was in the wallet you found? If it contained her photo your unconscious mind might have had a lingering remnant of her image in mind when you approached the woman. When we are not focusing on anything in particular the unconscious mind probably is free to compare images stored in our unconscious.)

No doubt if an amazing coincide occurs and we can connect it with our present belief system it will appear that much more significant to us, but that tells us more about our personal interpretation of such a coincidence rather than the odds of such coincidences in general. For instance I'd like to know how many "amazing coincidences" of people bumping into each other happen THROUGHOUT TAIWAN EVERY DAY.

I'm sure some amazing coincidences happen to Buddhists and Taoists in Taiwan, and they find such coincidences significant for their belief system just as you did for yours. (The Taiwanese are about 35% Buddhist, about 33% Taoist, and only about 4% Christian per Wikipedia.)

Edwardtbabinski said...

Even atheists experience amazing coincidental meetings with other people (more coincidental meetings in the comments):

And see this podcast that features some coincidence stories with additional ones in the comments section:

Also try this google search string: coincidence*

There are links to articles on amazing coincidences throughout history, and in the making of motion pictures, and under a host or other circumstances, in this post, under part 2)coincidences:

I also list links to amazing healings in the link directly above.

Neither does the growth of Christianity in communist China mean that the churches there are united or intellectually level headed. There are plenty of rival "end of world" sects growing fast in China where the environment does seem to be headed for utter disaster and where cancer cases continue to rise. No doubt stories about occasional remissions are passed along quite avidly in such a dire atmosphere.

Neither would the growth and even the ascendancy of Christianity in China mean that the Chinese people and government would necessarily be very friendly to the U.S. They might curse the way the U.S. helped turn their country into an industrial wasteland, and helped support poor nutrition right from the start by introducing the Chinese to the Coca Cola sugar-water industry. And even if both China and the U.S. were to become nations of great Christian faith, history proves that nations of great Christian faith need not be very friendly to one another, and that's putting things mildly. The Chinese have their own history and way of thinking of themselves as a people which is unlike that of the more mixed culture (melting pot) found in the U.S. And the U.S. continues to be the most religiously diverse nation on earth rather than headed for homogeneity.

Edwardtbabinski said...

I was not attempting above to confuse Taiwan with communist China. But thought I'd add some insights regarding how even if communist China was Christianized, it still might not "work" very well, or "play well" with the U.S. I have read an essay by a Chinese Christian and scholar, part of a conference on the topic who agrees.

Edwardtbabinski said...

ON Miracle stories and conversion stories, I have heard just about everything in every direction.

I'd say Marshall's tales involve selection bias. Tales missionaries tell each other. Missionaries are eager to hear and repeat whatever tales they might encounter that seem to promote their own beliefs.

But you don't hear about say, a Christian college professor and blogger who converts to a form of Hinduism which happened not too long ago.

Or Evangelical Protestants converting to Catholicism and claiming that now they have really finally found "it." One was fired from Wheaton after he converted to Catholicism. Another was the president of an Evangelical Theological or Philosophical Society and stepped down after converting to Catholicism.

Or Christian priests who dialogue with Hindus and Buddhists in India or Japan and find so much in common in their spiritual core that their religious views grow increasingly more inclusive. From Merton to William Johnson (author of The Inner Eye of Love) to Dom Bede Griffiths, C.S. Lewis' lifelong friend, who exceeded Lewis by far when it came to inclusivity.

Or the Protestant, Conrad Hyers and his book about a sect of Zen that advocates meditating on the pains of Buddhist hell that leads to a "born again" like experience, Once Born, Twice Born Zen.

Or Christian clergy who convert to other religions while in India.

Or a Christian clergyman in India who admits he still is close to Krishna.

A close friend of mine was a born again Christian and took a turn eastward after studying Christian mystics and then Buddhist and Hindu mystics. Will Bagley. He's a facebook friend of mine and has dialogued with quite a few Christians over the decades I've known him, including myself when I tried to lead him back to the fold.

AND SPEAKING OF COINCIDENCES I read a story that is often repeated by one sect of highly orthodox Jews. It was about two Jewish families who were seeking to marry off their mentally handicapped children, one a boy, another a girl. Unknown to each other, both families had gone to see the same wise rabbi to ask for advice. The rabbi told the fathers to visit Israel and carry a rose. And by golly, the two men happened to bump into each other on a bus in Israel and each asked about the other's rose, and they found out that they were both looking for mates for their children and that both had seen the same rabbi. What are the odds? I guess that's the one true religion! Conservative Judaism!

And let's not get into the ark full of miracles that Catholics claim constitute evidence that Catholicism is the one true form of Christianity. There has been an enormous war of words between Catholics and Protestants over whether all those Catholic miracle stories are true, or if the Catholic miracles were inspired by Satan, or if they were due to exaggeration/delusion. Plenty of Protestant books were composed in order to debunk Catholic miracles from every possible angle.

In the 20th century some of today's Protestants find Pentecostal miracle tales just as hard to swallow and have investigated Pentecostal revivals like the one in Indonesia in the 70s and debunked those miracles. Other Protestants debunked Mike Warnke's autobiography, The Satan Seller.

Meanwhile skeptics also debunk miracles, and ghosts, etc. But Christians have been at it far longer than skeptics, i.e., debunking each other's miracle stories (and debunking each other's biblical interpretations), such that Christians have the longest history of debunking each other's views, and are still going at it if you read say Steve Hays vs. Dave Armstrong's blog-wars over the past five years. They remind me of Tyndale (Protestant) and More (Catholic) and the hundreds of thousands of words poured out at each other back then.

Edwardtbabinski said...


Sir Jason Winters was dying of inoperable throat cancer. But he went into remission and claimed it was an herbal tea that cured him. He sincerely believed that's what the tea would do before he started drinking it. Part placebo effect? Does prayer work that way sometimes as well? Look up Sir Jason Winters online. A small number of people undergo remissions from fatal cases of cancer. Links to such tales:

Your opening speech was nearer to being an admission of selection bias than an inquiry into just how wild and crazy the wide worlds of miracle tales and conversion stories really are.

Speaking of which, I've read about a modern day Muslim who claimed to have seen Mohammed (his interview was on a video tape that was advertised in The Fortean Times). And I've read in the NY Times an article by a U.S. gov. spokesman who went to Iraq and heard stories about Muslims "seeing angels" along with the bodies of their martyrs that "glowed."

Here's a top 10 list of miracles by a Catholic:
But do such miracles make you want to begin venerating the Virgin Mary like Catholics do? Probably not. So why do you hope against hope that your "missionary miracle stories" are what everyone should react to such that they will grow to love and/or believe exactly what you love/believe?

-One religious organization is claiming that miracles from around the world all relate to their religion which revolves around a figure named "Maitreya." So they list miracles from all religions this page:

-There's a three-year-old Cambodia boy who is being hailed as a great healer and whom thousands have flocked to see. Just google Cambodian healer

-In the 1980s, a Japanese couple had a boddhisatva statue in their bathroom that was reported to glow with a multi-colored light.

-In 1996 (I remember this one), a farmer in Senegal found a watermelon with the name "Allah" on it or in it. In the same year, a fisherman in Senegal found a fish with "Allah" written on its scales. (Selection bias. There's countless simulacra in nature and countless flowing natural formations that Catholics interpret as apparitions of Mary)

-In the same year (1996), a girl in Lebanon was reported to produce crystals when she cried. She was healed, according to the family by a man dressed in all white who simply called himself a "messenger of God." The family is Muslim.

-In the late 90s (I don't remember the year), a red heifer was born in Israel. It was previously believed that the genes were no longer existent in the breeding population. There are 9 recorded red heifers in the Jewish tradition. According to the famous medieval scholar Maimonides, the 10th red heifer will be prepared by the messiah. Rabbi Erlich in Israel believed that this was God informing the Jews that the Messiah was imminent.

Edwardtbabinski said...


-The Roman Emperor Vespasian is credited with having performed several miracles, and, coincidentally, he ruled during the same years when most scholars agree the first Christian Gospel was composed. Josephus mentions several of Vespasian's miracles as do the Greek historians Dio Cassius and Tacitus, who claim that Vespasian healed a blind man and restored a crippled hand while visiting the shrine of Sarapis in Egypt (Tacitus Histories 4.81). (A growing number of NT scholars argue that Mark's Gospel was composed to counter Roman imperial propaganda of just this sort, from the virgin birth, son of God and savior names, miraculous vanishing at death, and euvangelion (gospel) of the Roman Emperor Augustus (whose worship cult began when Jesus was born) to that of the Roman Emperor Vespasian (whose tales of miracles were being touted when the Gospel of Mark was first being composed). See also the increasing number of biblical journal pieces that argue the Gospel of Mark was partly composed as anti-imperialist literature against Rome:

Unknown said...

Ed: God provided in two other unexpected ways, after the hamburger, meeting all my needs in surprising ways. No, the girl wasn't a Christian: she'd been asking what I was doing in Taiwan, and I was very reluctantly telling her, and answering her questions about Christianity. (I was mad at God.) She seemed a little shocked when I told her what had happened. Never saw her again.

This was way beyond finding Everlasting Man on a bookshelf -- are you kidding? But I only put it at a 2 on a scale of 1-10 -- it was an introduction, not my argument.

Yeah there are cults in China, I wrote my MA thesis on them.

It's nice to have you drop by, but your posting is a little manic. So many topics! (The Chinese will hate America because of Coca-Cola?) Why not write a full rebuttal on your own site, then link, and post a note or two letting people know about your rebuttal?

David B Marshall said...

I have no problem with the idea that God arranged the two kids with the rose to meet. You seem to have completely misread my opening statement, Ed.

David B Marshall said...

OK, Ed. I've read your stories. They're no kind of answer at all to my argument.

First, you obviously didn't pay any attention to that argument. It had three parts. The first part, and I worded this very carefully each time it came up, was for the "supernatural." Not for "Christianity," as you keep on assuming throughout your posts. Didn't you bother to really read, first?

And didn't you notice that the debate is over whether Christian faith is reasonable? And that Carrier conceded, in quotes I gave, that direct experience of the supernatural would make that reasonable?

That's one reason I started off with a story I personally experienced, and then gave stories not that I found on the Internet, but of people I met personally. That's to limit confirmation bias. One can find anything on the Net.

Then the second and third parts, respectively, were for "a culturally transcendent God" and for Jesus.

And what are these stories supposed to show? Most of them aren't really very good parallels. Of course people with cancer get better sometimes. It's more impressive when one sees a vision of Jesus and is cured instantly. You can't reasonably compare the two.

But if the evidence is strong some time, so what? If miracles happen outside the Christian tradition, then they happen. God is not limited to our circles, He can do what He wants. As you probably know, C.S. Lewis said exactly that, about Vespasian, years ago, and you probably know his response to it. Why not answer his excellent repartee, instead of going around as if this were some novel argument?

Cornell Anthony said...


you say "Christian faith works? That's your opening statement? Any faith works so long as the person is alive and continues believing in it."

Not at all, for instance take the Greek pantheon. Let's look at the father of the gods in Zeus.

Well first off it appears that Zeus came into existence from other gods who existed before him. (Cronus, Rhea). So the father of the gods was in fact fathered by a higher god.

If Zeus is contingent upon their existence and came into being from other beings then why should we refer to him as the father of the gods, hence it appears he isn't even at the top of his own food chain? In fact why should we even deem him the name of 'God' to begin with? Therefore, this 'property' of being contingent obviously shows that Zeus is not a NECESSARY being. So this 'faith' doesn't work.

In conclusion 'faith' doesn't always work Ed, as logic gets in the way and becomes the final judge on the matter.

This is why 'Philosophy Matters' these implausible criticisms of yours are easily answered in freshman philosophy of religion classes.

If you wish I could recommend you some good beginner books regarding the Philosophy of Religion?

Cornell Anthony said...

Another thing, I'm aware that Ed usually attacks a form of a Christianity that is similar to the beliefs of anti-academic Christians Harold Camping, Joel Olsteen, Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps etc.

As if Christianity was true the radical Bible-Belt fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity has to be correct. Ed actually thinks the Flat Earth objection holds as if one needs to read the Bible like a radical literalist, it's as if he is completely clueless to real modern day scholarship in academia.

Well that's what we are here for Ed, to get you past that mentality of playing Devil's advocate towards fundy, radical Phelpsian Bible-Belt theology.

Longstreet said...

Apparently the Babinski Reflex has a couple of different meanings...

Anonymous said...

"A growing number of NT scholars argue that Mark's Gospel was composed to counter Roman imperial propaganda of just this sort, from the virgin birth, son of God and savior names, miraculous vanishing at death, and euvangelion (gospel) of the Roman Emperor Augustus"

Mark says nothing about the virgin birth.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Thanks David, But your story about finding a wallet and later meeting the girl who owned it (if it was the exact same girl, or if she was just being kind to you), could be coincidental. Far greater coincidences have happened, and in non-religious contexts.

Also, I have no trouble admitting the possibility of miracles. The question comes in how to explain the direction they are pointing. Same with NDEs. They do not agree in pointing in the direction of some "one true faith" whose belief is necessary in order to be "saved" from "eternal damnation."
I have post here about this question, including links to great coincidences:

David B Marshall said...

Ed: No, she wasn't play-acting. Nice try. She told me her side of the story. Sure, it could have "just" been coincidence -- along with thousands of other such providential coincidences. Martin points out that, theoretically-speaking, even resurrection might happen by quantum coincidence. There is always an escape.

But I don't argue that miracles, by themselves, are enough to prove Christianity as opposed, say, the Islam, necessarily. They are enough to cast serious question on atheism, I think.

Edwardtbabinski said...

David, We live in a world of coincidences. Here's another to go with my earlier examples.

In 1973, Anthony Hopkins accepted the starring role in George Feifer’s The Girl from Petrovka, based on the book by the same name. He traveled to London to buy a copy of the book. Unfortunately, none of the main London bookstores had a copy.

Giving up, he set off for home. On his way, waiting for an underground train at Leicester Square tube station, he saw a discarded book lying on the seat next to him. It was a copy of The Girl from Petrovka.

Two years later, when he had a chance to meet the author, Feifer said that in November 1971 he had lent a friend a copy of the book—a uniquely annotated copy in which he had made notes on turning the British English into American English (“labour” to “labor,” and so on)—but his friend had lost the copy in Bayswater, London. Hopkins pulled out his copy, he found. “This one?” he asked.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Apparently amazing coincidences happen even without praying. I was listening recently to the podcast The Hidden Brain, "Magic, Or Math? The Appeal Of Coincidences, And The Reality" May 8, 2017 9:00 PM ET

Take, for example, one of Joseph Mazur's favorite coincidence stories, about the 19th-century French poet Emile Deschamps. As a teenager, Deschamps meets a man with a strange name, Monsieur de Fortgibu. De Fortgibu is an immigrant from England, and he introduces Deschamps to a very English dessert: plum pudding. Ten years go by. One day, Deschamps passes a Paris restaurant that has plum pudding on the menu. He goes inside, only to be told the last of the plum pudding was just sold to a gentleman sitting in the back. "And the waiter calls out loud, 'Mr. de Fortgibu, would you be willing to share your plum pudding with this gentleman?' " tells Mazur. Years pass, and Deschamps is at a dinner party with some friends. The host announces that an unusual dessert will be served. You guessed it — plum pudding. Deschamps jokingly says that one of the guests at the party must be Monsieur de Fortgibu. "Well, soon the doorbell rings and Mr. de Fortgibu is announced," says Mazur. "And he enters, he's an old man by now, but Deschamps recognizes him. And Mr. de Fortgibu looks around and he realizes that he's in the wrong apartment." He was invited to a dinner party — but not there.

This sort of coincidence defies mathematical explanation. There's only one way to describe it — magical.

What are the odds? According to mathematician Joseph Mazur, it depends on how you ask the question. Imagine what it feels like when you bump into your childhood friend on the first day of college ... or meet someone at a party in Paris, only to discover she lives in your dad's childhood home in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. But mathematician Joseph Mazur says these coincidences are not as extraordinary as we might think.

"People think that their address book is essentially the people they know, and it turns out any address book is about one percent of the people they know in some way," Mazur explains.In other words, the odds of bumping into someone you know are greater than you might think, because you know many more people than you realize. Understanding these odds can help us wrap our heads around stories of people who seem inexplicably fortunate. People like Joan Ginther, who won the lottery four times. "The odds are about 18 septillion to one against it happening," Mazur says. A septillion is 1 followed by 24 zeros.

But if you reframe the question, and calculate the odds that anyone — not just you, or Joan Ginther — will win the lottery four times, you get much better odds.

"It's about 5 million to one," Mazur says. And that accounts for the number of people playing the lotto, the number of lotteries in the world, and the fact that most lottery winners use some amount of their "house money" to increase their odds of winning again. (And the odds are that someone has to be the top odds beater when it comes to lotteries the world over.)

For better or worse, this sort of number-crunching can demystify even the most tantalizing coincidences. But that doesn't diminish their quirky serendipity.

The Hidden Brain Podcast is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Maggie Penman, Jennifer Schmidt, Renee Klahr, and Rhaina Cohen. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. Follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, and listen for our stories each week on your local public radio station.