A foolproof argument against the resurrection?

March 27th, 2016 in clues. Tags: , , , , , ,

I was reading my favourite atheist blog recently when I saw a commenter make an argument against the resurrection that went something like this:

  1. There are natural explanations of the resurrection (e.g. “It is possible that grave robbers stole the body of Jesus [and] …. that the alleged post-death appearances of Jesus were simply vivid dreams confused with reality.”)
  2. The christian God is not reported to have resurrected anyone before this.
  3. “To make the claim that a bodily resurrection of Jesus is more plausible than any natural explanation, Christians need to prove that the odds of grave robbery and vivid dreams confused with reality occurred less often in first century Palestine than a never heard of before resurrection.” This isn’t the case.
  4. Therefore “the Christian argument has been disproved”.

How good is this argument?

Checking out the premises

1. Natural explanations

It is true that natural explanations have been offered, including the two mentioned here. But it isn’t clear that any of these are very plausible explanations of the full set of events which followed.

Certainly, many christian apologists have argued that none of these so called explanations go anywhere near explaining the historical evidence (the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, the change in the disciples, the subsequent growth of the church, the arguments used against the christians by their opponents, and the fact that no-one ever recanted their belief in the resurrection). Most anti-resurrection arguments entail the disciples deliberately lying or being collectively deluded, which, it is argued, are extremely unlikely. Christians argue that the historical evidence would be decisive if it didn’t lead to a supernatural conclusion. Debaters such as WL Craig and Gary Habermas have successfully defended the historicity of the resurrection against formidable sceptical opponents.

Of course sceptics have argued contrary to these claims. But we can at least conclude that this premise requires a case to be made, and cannot be assumed.

2. The first resurrection ever?

The arguer asserts that other apparent resurrections, performed by Jesus or recorded in the Old Testament, are different to the alleged resurrection of Jesus because those people came back to an ordinary life, and had to die again later, whereas Jesus, christians claim, went forward into a new non-ordinary life and never died again.

This is a fair understanding of christian belief, but it doesn’t really help the argument. The focus in this argument is people coming back to life, or being raised, not on what happens to them later.

So God is reported to have raised other people from the dead, even though we can agree that there were differences with Jesus.

3. Comparing the two probabilities

This is probably the key to the argument, and the key to assessing it is that the argument assumes (for the sake of argument) that the christian God exists, and assesses on that assumption whether God would likely have raised Jesus.

For this premise to be true, the way God acted towards Jesus would have to be similar to the way he acted previously in history, so the comparison can be made. And this of course is quite unsupportable.

Christians believe Jesus was God’s chosen representative on earth, the son of God and Messiah. No-one else was that. We believe that the historical evidence is best explained by that being true.

An example may help here. Mathematician Pierre de Fermat proposed his famous “last” theorem in 1637, and for 350 years no-one was able to prove or disprove it. One could therefore construct an argument that since none of the millions of people who lived since then could prove it, neither would a ten year old boy reading about Fermat’s Last Theorem in a library book. But it turned out that that boy, Andrew Wiles, became a gifted mathematician at Oxford University, and after almost a decade of work on it, produced a proof of the theorem.

This example shows that probabilities based on people generally may not apply to gifted or extraordinary people. So with Jesus, we cannot simply ask how likely God is to resurrect “somebody”, but how likely God is to resurrect his son.

So it is quite unlikely that God would act the same towards Jesus than towards anyone else, and that is clearly stated in the Bible. For example, Psalm 16:10: “you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay”. And in the New Testament, Jesus predicts his resurrection several times (e.g. Mark 8:31).

This premise is quite unreasonable.

4. The conclusion

It is clear that the conclusion isn’t at all certain, and this argument cannot be as “easy” as its proponent thought. A lot of argument has to be done to establish each of the premises and maintain them against critical assessment. The resurrection remains a “live” issue. And so the arguments will continue.

A more reasonable discussion?

Jeffery Lowder is an atheist, one of the founders of the Secular Web (Internet Infidels). He is well-known, and well respected, for assessing contentious questions in a very fair-minded manner. And he has considered the resurrection at length. His conclusions are worth reading.

I think it is rational to both accept and reject the resurrection. I think there are strong historical arguments for the resurrection (a lá Craig), but I also think there are good reasons to reject such arguments.

He comes to this conclusion because he thinks both “sides” are correct within their worldview, that is: “Unless atheists can demonstrate that theism is irrational or that the historical evidence for a material resurrection is lacking, they are unlikely to convince many theists to reject the resurrection. Similarly, Christian apologists need to recognize that, until atheists are shown that theism is plausible, atheists will continue to regard the resurrection as a highly implausible event.”

My final thoughts

The resurrection cannot be so easily dispatched, nor can it be easily proven. Each person, believer and sceptic alike, has a dilemma to face if they want to be honest to the evidence.

My personal view is similar to Jeffery Lowder’s, in this respect at least. If I disbelieved in God, I would doubt the resurrection. But since I believe, on the basis of other evidence, that God exists and Jesus was divine, I have no trouble believing in the resurrection. Indeed, I see it as an entirely appropriate act by God to conclude and give his stamp of approval on Jesus’ life and ministry.

But what about agnostics?

Christians will believe, atheists will disbelieve, but how should an agnostic assess the resurrection?

It seems to me that the resurrection adds to the evidence for the authenticity of Jesus’ life and teachings, and hence to belief in the existence of God. Belief in God rests (I think) on cumulative evidence, and the historical evidence for the resurrection adds cumulative weight to that evidence, even though it doesn’t “prove” Jesus was divine on its own.

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Photo: Djampa Wikimedia Commons.

72 Comments

  1. The Resurrection of Jesus is an historical event. There is no evidence that Jesus is alive, but there are many reasons to believe Jesus is alive in a new life with God. One reason is that there is an argument, not a proof, that God exists. However, you can prove that the human soul is spiritual. Another reason is that people who don’t believe in life after death are generally ignorant, unintelligent, irrational, and dishonest about the proof that the human soul is spiritual.

  2. In response to the ‘argument’ against the resurrection, I could construct a similar argument against a fundamental claim of atheism, as follows…

    To make the claim that the complex and intricate systems of living beings were formed without the input of intelligence (i.e. the abiogenesis theory) is more plausible than the theory of intelligent causation, atheists need to prove that the probability of complex systems arising without intelligent input is greater than their origin with intelligent input.” This isn’t the case, as we know of no intricate functioning system (of which we know the origin) that has ever arisen without design.

    Therefore “the atheist argument has been disproved”.

    If an atheist does not accept the validity of this argument, then why should a Christian accept the above mentioned resurrection argument, given that it takes exactly the same logical form?

  3. Are our pastors telling us the truth?

    Are Christian pastors honest with their congregations regarding the evidence for the Resurrection? Is there really a “mountain of evidence” for the Resurrection as our pastors claim or is the belief in the Resurrection based on nothing more than assumptions, second century hearsay, superstitions, and giant leaps of faith?

    Check out this Christian pastor’s defense of the Resurrection and a review by one of his former parishioners who lost his faith and is now an nonbeliever primarily due to the lack of good evidence for the Resurrection:

    http://www.lutherwasnotbornagain.com/2016/06/a-review-of-lcms-pastor-john-bombaros.html

  4. Hi Gary,

    Thanks for reading my blog and for commenting. Thanks too for the reference. (But I must confess I didn’t stay with the argument, and the red comments, right through.)

    I’m not sure I’d dismiss the Christian pastor’s arguments about the resurrection as quickly as you and your reference do, but I agree that it isn’t the most compelling in places. But of course that makes it less useful as a rebuttal of the christian claims, for we both know that better arguments could be made. As I mention in this post, philosophers Gary Habermas and William Lane Craig have defended the truth of the resurrection very ably in debates with sceptics, so interacting with their arguments would be a stronger test.

    Perhaps the toughest nut for sceptics to crack is NT Wright, a formidable and eminent historian who, unlike many other historians, attempts to analyse the alleged resurrection on historical grounds. His 700+ page The Resurrection of the Son of God presents the full analysis (again, I haven’t attempted to read it), but you can see summary forms of his argument in Jesus’ Resurrection and Christian Origins and a review on the Wintery Knight blog.

    I don’t think it would be fair to say that Craig, Habermas or Wright’s arguments are “based on nothing more than assumptions, second century hearsay, superstitions, and giant leaps of faith”, so those are the places to go to test out ideas. I think even I can present a case stronger than what you claim.

    Thanks for reading.

  5. OK, thanks for your interest. But I didn’t make an argument and I didn’t say my comments were foolproof. I concluded that neither side can prove their case.

  6. My apologies. I thought you were the one who wrong the article A foolproof “argument against the resurrection”

  7. I did Aaron, but my blog title had a question mark at the end. If you read the post, I was critiquing a sceptic’s argument that he claimed was foolproof.

  8. Hi Aaron, do you mind asking if you have read this post, and if so, what you think it was saying?

  9. I had to argue a point made by someone who said that the only important thing about Jesus is that he gave us an example to follow

  10. OK, I can see why you were looking around and happened on my website. I hope you found something useful. All the best.

  11. “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

    —Sherlock Holmes

    Yet, how many times have you heard a Christian apologist say one of the following:

    —“It is implausible that any first century Jew would have moved the body of Jesus resulting in the Empty Tomb. The miracle of the Resurrection is much more probable than that a first century Jew would move a dead body.”

    —“It is implausible that the Jews and Romans would not have brought out Jesus’ body to disprove the Christian claim of a Resurrection if they knew the whereabouts of his corpse. The Resurrection is much more probable than that the Jews and Romans had moved the body and did not care what a small band of religious fanatics were saying about their dead leader.”

    —“It is implausible that the authors of the Gospels made up stories in their Gospels when so many eyewitnesses would still have been alive to challenge their false claims. The miracle of the Resurrection is much more probable than that the Empty Tomb and the Appearance Stories are literary fiction.”

    —“It is implausible that the Jewish rabbi, Saul/Paul, would have converted to Christianity if he had only experienced a vivid dream or hallucination. The miracle of the Resurrection is much more probable than the conversion of a Christian-hating, devout, first century Jewish rabbi to Christianity.”

    —“It is implausible that Paul did not know all or many of the five hundred eyewitnesses listed in the Early Creed of First Corinthians chapter 15. The miracle of the Resurrection is much more probable than that Paul was simply repeating something he had heard but not verified.”

    —“It is implausible that Christianity would have grown so quickly under such difficult circumstances if the disciples had not really seen a resurrected body of flesh and blood. The miracle of the Resurrection is much more probable an explanation for the growth of Christianity than that this belief was based on hallucinations, illusions, or false sightings.”

    —“It is implausible that so many disciples would have been willing to die for their belief in the Resurrection if their belief in this alleged event was based on a lie, hallucinations, or illusions. The miracle of the Resurrection is much more probable than human misperception.”

    —“It is even more implausible (and practically impossible) that all these very implausible events, added together, explain the early Christian Resurrection Belief. The miracle of a once in history Resurrection is much more probable than these very implausible naturalistic explanations.”

    Dear Christians: Even the extremely unlikely scenario that a group of disciples, at the same time and place, experienced simultaneous hallucinations in which they each believed they in some general sense saw a resurrected Jesus is still much more probable than a true resurrection of a dead corpse. The only reason Christians cannot see this is that they have presumed the existence of the Christian god, Yahweh, and his unlimited supernatural (magic) powers, before the debate on the probability of the Resurrection has even begun. We skeptics, on the other hand, are not claiming that a Resurrection is impossible, we are simply saying a Resurrection is much, much less plausible/probable in our cumulative human experience than any combination of very improbable naturalistic explanations. A miracle, by definition, is a very rare and very unusual event.

  12. Hi Gary,

    I think you understand that an assessment of the probability of an event depends a lot on one’s prior information or assumptions. I would agree with you that the probability of the revival of a definitely dead ordinary human being is extremely unlikely, more or less zero. But the probability of the resurrection of the son of God seems to me to be quite probable, if the person really was the son of God and if they had predicted they would be resurrected. It is your and my prior beliefs that make the difference in this case, and all the other information you present isn’t very relevant to this difference.

    Sp for me, the question isn’t “proving” that Jesus was or wasn’t resurrected, but “proving” that he was or wasn’t the son of God.

  13. You are absolutely correct, Erik. If Jesus was the Son of God all prior probability goes out the window. But how do you prove that Jesus was the Son of God without using the alleged Resurrection as evidence/proof of his divine status and supernatural powers? If you state that the Resurrection probably happened because Jesus is the Son of God, and you know that Jesus is the Son of God because of the Resurrection, you are Begging the Question (a circular argument),

  14. Hi Gary, it is good that we can agree on what I wrote. And I can agree with you have written here. It isn’t valid to use a circular argument. Fortunately, I don’t do so.

    In my discussion of Jesus – son of God? I offer reasons to believe Jesus was (and is) the son of God. I mention the resurrection briefly, but don’t use it as part of my argument. My reasons are instead based on facts which are generally accepted by secular historians (see also Who was Jesus?), and is supported by philosophical arguments and people’s experience of God in healing and in other ways.

    Nevertheless, I think belief in the resurrection is based on very good evidence. No-one has ever offered what I can see is a plausible explanation, so while I concede that if our minds are made up that no God exists, then we would find it very difficult to believe Jesus was resurrected, I think if we were open-minded about God (e.g. 50/50 agnostic), I think the evidence for the resurrection is way better than any other hypothesis.

    So while I don’t use the resurrection to establish Jesus as son of God, I think the historical evidence for the resurrection adds credibility to the claim of Jesus’ divinity.

    Perhaps I should suggest to you that your former christianity might have misunderstood some things that I would see as fundamental, and it might be good for you to review your assumptions and understandings?

  15. I am reading your post, “Jesus—Son of God?”, to evaluate your evidence. Just to be clear, I am not trying to convince you or anyone else that Jesus was NOT the Son of God, only to demonstrate that the evidence for the claim that he was is pretty weak by objective standards. And there lies our problem. The problem for our discussion is that many Christians do not base their belief in the divinity of Jesus based solely on objective evidence. If we were having a discussion on the historicity of Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon, how many of us would accept as evidence the claim by a historian that he is certain this event happened due to a presence within him that tells him it did, or some miraculous event in his life, such as the appearance of the dead Caesar to him on a mountain top last night. We would immediately discount such claims for all other historical claims, yet Christians ask us to accept their subjective feelings and perceptions to be admitted as evidence for the historical claim that a first century corpse came back from the dead.

    Many Christians base much of their belief in Jesus and the Resurrection on their personal, subjective feelings and perceptions. I cannot, nor can any skeptic, disprove personal feelings and perceptions. The most we can say is this: self deception is a very frequent phenomenon in human history. We all know someone who very sincerely believes some really off the wall claim (such as conspiracy theories) when we and most of society believe he or she is being foolish for believing such nonsense.. Thousands upon thousands of very sincere people have been sincerely wrong over human history. Sincere belief does not guarantee that a belief is true.

    So if we limit our discussion to objective evidence, let’s look at your first claim:

    —Most scholars accept that Jesus was well known as a healer and exorcist – for example, EP Sanders says: “I think we can be fairly certain that initially Jesus’ fame came as a result of healing, especially exorcism.” And both Jesus and his hearers saw his power to heal as a sign of divine authority: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Luke 11:20).—

    That Jesus was “known” (believed to be) a healer and exorcist is not the same as having solid, objective evidence that he was a healer or exorcist. Many, many people throughout human history and even today have been “known” to be healers and exorcists. You don’t believe that all these people are the divine Sons of God, do you? Of course not. Therefore, being “known” to perform miracles is not proof of divinity. And just because someone claims to be divine, to be God, or to be Elvis, does not prove that they are.

  16. —When Jesus prayed, he called God “Abba”, which means “Father” or even perhaps “Dad” (the scholars are not in agreement about how familiar the term was). He taught his disciples to pray “Our Father” but he always called God “My Father” when he prayed. This indicates Jesus saw himself uniquely as God’s son.—

    The fact that someone believes themselves to be God, the Son of God, or the reincarnated Buddha, is not evidence that they are. Once again, humans are infamous for self-deception and not just when they are mentally ill. Very sane, healthy people can be very, very self-deceived.

  17. —New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado has studied how the early christians worshiped Jesus, and concluded that christian belief about Jesus as the son of God developed over time:

    ◦During his life, the disciples watched as Jesus did many amazing things, leading them to conclude he was the Messiah (a figure the Jews regarded as a human ‘special agent’ acting for the one true God). They revered him, but didn’t worship him as God. It would have been very difficult for a monotheistic Jew to worship a human as God.
    ◦After his resurrection, the early christians quickly (probably within a decade) began to worship Jesus as divine, as is shown in early creeds, prayers and hymns, some of which are recorded in the Bible (e.g. Colossians 2:5-11, 1 Corinthians 16:22, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8). This probably occurred in response to their reflection on his life, their belief in his resurrection and powerful spiritual experiences.
    ◦It was probably decades until they came to formulate the doctinal belief in Jesus as son of God, a process which continued for several centuries until the doctrine of the Trinity was developed.

    This early devotion to Jesus thus lends further support to the christian belief in Jesus as “son of God”.—

    Just because a group of first century people believed that someone was a god or a son of a god is not proof that that person was a god or son of a god. This is not evidence for anything other than human beings are capable of believing some pretty fantastical things. I don’t see how this can be construed to be “evidence” for anything other than evidence of a sincere belief.

  18. —The only Jesus we can plausibly find in the sources is a Jesus who, though usually reticent about it, speaks and acts for God in a way that far surpassed the authority of a prophet in the Jewish tradition. …. Could Jesus act with fully divine authority and exercise the divine prerogative of giving life, while being himself no more than a human servant of God? No, because in Jewish theology such prerogatives belong uniquely to God and cannot simply be delegated to someone else. They help to define who God is. Hence, even in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus’ claims to divine authority – to forgive sins or to share God’s universal sovereignty – are regarded as blasphemy by Pharisees and chief priests.

    IN summary, not all scholars will accept Jesus’ divinity as a fact of history, but using the facts they generally do accept a case can be built which I find to be compelling. Each of us can make our own judgment on that.—

    That’s it, Erik? That is your “strong” evidence? Jesus claimed to be divine so therefore he must have been divine! My goodness, if that is the case we should accept the claims of all men and women who down through history have claimed divinity, including someone like David Koresh.

  19. Hi Gary,

    Here is my response to your first comment.

    ”I am not trying to convince you or anyone else that Jesus was NOT the Son of God, only to demonstrate that the evidence for the claim that he was is pretty weak by objective standards.”
    I appreciate the opportunity to hear your ideas and express mine without too much of an edge. I agree with trying to be objective in these discussions, but I believe that “objective standards” can sometimes be unreasonably sceptical assumptions, as we may see.

    ”The problem for our discussion is that many Christians do not base their belief in the divinity of Jesus based solely on objective evidence.”
    Quite true. But many non-believers don’t base their disbelief solely on objective evidence either. In fact, in my experience, non-believers are less likely to be objective than christians, possibly because it isn’t as important to them. So perhaps we should stick with what you and I think? Further, who says objective is always best? Can you show me evidence that it is best in this case? I can show some evidence that it may not be.

    ”If we were having a discussion on the historicity of Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon”
    But we are not. We are discussing whether a personal God exists and was manifest in Jesus and wants to be in relationship with us. Can you show why we should treat that situation just like we’d treat Caesar?

    ”Christians ask us to accept their subjective feelings and perceptions to be admitted as evidence for the historical claim that a first century corpse came back from the dead.”
    Well I’m not sure how many christians would argue that way, but I certainly wouldn’t. Like I said, my belief in Jesus isn’t strongly based on the resurrection. And I would accept subjective evidence about subjective matters (like someone being healed, or guided or seeing a vision, etc), not objective matters.

    ”I cannot, nor can any skeptic, disprove personal feelings and perceptions. The most we can say is this: self deception is a very frequent phenomenon in human history. We all know someone who very sincerely believes some really off the wall claim (such as conspiracy theories) when we and most of society believe he or she is being foolish for believing such nonsense.. Thousands upon thousands of very sincere people have been sincerely wrong over human history. Sincere belief does not guarantee that a belief is true.”
    No, but sincere belief doesn’t mean that it is false either. You have to do a lot better than that to disparage personal experience. Self deception is common as you say, but it could be you who is deceiving yourself, not me. So we need some better argument. And christianity is very far from being an “off the wall” claim. It is the largest religion in the world and has been believed by billions of people. Studies show these people are not mentally ill but actually more mentally and emotionally healthy than average. Now please don’t say numbers don’t prove it is right – I know that, but you used the numbers of people who have been fooled as an argument, so it is reasonable for me to respond by pointing out that the facts are opposite to what you say.

    ”That Jesus was “known” (believed to be) a healer and exorcist is not the same as having solid, objective evidence that he was a healer or exorcist.”
    No, true, but if he wasn’t known to be a healer then it would be less likely that he was. So his being known is one necessary piece of evidence.

    ”And just because someone claims to be divine, to be God, or to be Elvis, does not prove that they are.”
    Of course not. But in the case of Jesus, there is a lot more evidence than that. Isolating one piece of evidence out from the rest doesn’t do justice to the case. I will come back to this point later.

  20. Hi Gary, here is my response to your second comment.

    ”The fact that someone believes themselves to be God, the Son of God, or the reincarnated Buddha, is not evidence that they are.”
    Very few people believe they are son of God and convince many others. so the fact that Jesus did this is one piece of evidence. You cannot reasonably take one piece of evidence on its own and draw a conclusion, we have to take all of it at once.

    ” Once again, humans are infamous for self-deception and not just when they are mentally ill. Very sane, healthy people can be very, very self-deceived.”
    Yes, and once again this could be as true of you or other atheists as it might be of me or other christians. You need some actual evidence. And like I said before, the evidence is that christians (probably other religious people also) are more mentally healthy than average. So perhaps it isn’t us who are deceived, but you?

  21. Hi Gary, here is my response to your third comment.

    ”Just because a group of first century people believed that someone was a god or a son of a god is not proof that that person was a god or son of a god. This is not evidence for anything other than human beings are capable of believing some pretty fantastical things.”

    Whatever else it may or may not be, this apparent historical fact is more than what you say here. There are people who say the story of the resurrection is a later legend, added to the Jesus story when eyewitnesses had died. But if the story can be shown to have arisen within months or a couple of years at most, then it wasn’t a later legend. Either it was a true reporting of experiences, or an honest mistake, or a deliberate lie, but it wasn’t a legend. That is an important fact to establish.

  22. Hi Gary, here is my response to your fourth comment.

    ”That’s it, Erik? That is your “strong” evidence? Jesus claimed to be divine so therefore he must have been divine?”

    It is easy to mock a viewpoint by not presenting it completely or fairly. I don’t know whether you have done that deliberately or simply out of enthusiasm, but it is incorrect nevertheless.

    I specifically said in my comment:

    In my discussion of Jesus – son of God? I offer reasons to believe Jesus was (and is) the son of God. I mention the resurrection briefly, but don’t use it as part of my argument. My reasons are instead based on facts which are generally accepted by secular historians (see also Who was Jesus?), and is supported by philosophical arguments and people’s experience of God in healing and in other ways.

    So no, that’s not it. That’s one small part. Perhaps you should address the whole cumulative argument. Thanks.

  23. Good morning, Erik!

    “christianity is very far from being an “off the wall” claim. It is the largest religion in the world and has been believed by billions of people.”

    True. But just because a lot of people believe something does not make it true. Experts estimate that Islam will be the largest religion in the world within the next century. I’m sure you would agree that when Islam is the largest religion in the world, that will not in any way be evidence that the claims of Islam are true. Also, at one time in human history, EVERYONE on the planet believed that the sun circles the earth. Science has demonstrated that they were ALL wrong.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but so far in our discussion you have listed the following pieces of evidence for the Christian claim that Jesus was divine, the Son of God:

    1. Jesus claimed to be divine.
    2. Many people believed him to be divine.
    3. He had a reputation for performing supernatural acts.
    4. Your personal experiences of miracles in the name of Jesus.
    5. The testimony of other Christians claiming miracles in the name of Jesus.

    As for the first three pieces of evidence, there have been numerous human beings throughout history who have claimed to be divine, have claimed to possess supernatural powers, and large numbers of people believed their claims. The Roman emperors come to mind. Some of the Roman emperors claimed to be gods and claimed to perform miracles. Many hundreds of thousands of Roman citizens believed that these men were gods and that they had performed miracles. That number dwarfs the number of first century Christian believers in the supernatural powers of Jesus. So do these facts lead you to believe that the Roman emperors were gods? I doubt it.

    So let’s get to the real evidence: personal experiences.

    Personal experience is a very powerful factor in our individual belief systems. Let me give an analogy: Let us imagine that you, Erik, have been the owner of three Toyota vehicles and every one of those Toyota vehicles has given you nothing but trouble. They were always in the mechanic’s shop for repairs. Due to your personal experience, you conclude that “Toyotas are not well-made, reliable vehicles”.

    Is your conclusion correct? No. Not according to automotive studies and owner reviews. Toyotas are considered very well-made, reliable vehicles. Even though you personally have had bad experiences, your experiences do not accurately reflect the truth.

    That is the danger of depending on personal experience to determine truth claims: One cannot rule out the possibility that one’s experience was a rare, random, but natural exception. Your experience with Toyotas was a rare, random, but natural exception to the rule that Toyotas are well-made, reliable vehicles. Therefore, personal experience is NOT a reliable means of determining general truth claims.

    .

  24. Hi Gary,

    “But just because a lot of people believe something does not make it true.”
    I already anticipated and answered this. It was you who used the numbers of people as an argument (“Thousands upon thousands of very sincere people have been sincerely wrong over human history.”), and I was just pointing out that your numbers argument was a poor one. I presume your comment here indicates you accept it was a poor one too?

    “Correct me if I am wrong”
    With pleasure! 🙂 You have understated the evidence again. Jesus was reported as doing many miraculous things, far more than can be historically justified for virtually any other character, he made many believable claims beyond the normal, he convinced people of the truth of his teachings and claims, he impressed people then and down through the ages with his sincerity and truthfulness, and no other hypothesis about him explains the fact better than that he spoke the truth. It therefore makes more sense to believe him than to disbelieve him. That is my judgment and has been the judgment of billions of people. And believing him fits in with so much else about the world, the things found by science, things covered in the philosophical arguments and the experiences of people, while atheism doesn’t fit all those things because it cannot explain most of them. So that is a bare summary of the case. No other conclusion fits all the facts.

    The Roman emperors are not a parallel – who believes them now? What do historians say about them? Who do they heal today? What philosophical proofs point to them?

    “Personal experience is a very powerful factor in our individual belief systems.”
    It may be in your belief system, and you have been saying it about me for a while now, but it isn’t true of me – not my own personal experience. The cumulative evidence of other people’s experience is good evidence. So the Toyota example is also not a valid analogy (I actually drive a Toyota!). My evidence is not individual and small sample like you say in your example, but the cumulative evidence of many, many people’s experience. Read Healing miracles and God and the several pages that provide more details (and know that I have more examples I am yet to write up), and read Unusual spiritual experiences and the two pages referenced there, and see that very normal and well adjusted people have experiences that cannot be readily explained naturally and which have positive effects.

    So your personal experience or my personal experience may not be reliable, but the cumulative weight of hundreds (actually millions, but most haven’t been documented enough to reference them) of people’s experience is much harder to dismiss.

    So I don’t believe anything you said there actually addresses the evidence I have mentioned.

  25. Erik: “You have understated the evidence again. Jesus was reported as doing many miraculous things, far more than can be historically justified for virtually any other character, he made many believable claims beyond the normal…”

    Gary: The Buddha is reported to have done many miraculous things, I would bet just as many miracles if not more than Jesus, including making a water buffalo speak in a human language for three quarters of an hour. Does that prove he was a god? No. History is full of “miracle workers” and their many (alleged) miraculous deeds.

    Erik: “…he convinced people of the truth of his teachings and claims, he impressed people then and down through the ages with his sincerity and truthfulness, and no other hypothesis about him explains the fact better than that he spoke the truth”

    Gary: What did Jesus really say? Are we certain he spoke the words of the Sermon on the Mount, or was this story a literary embellishment? We know that the story of the woman caught in adultery is an embellishment as it was not in the original Gospel. So how can we be sure that the original Gospels did not contain literary embellishments? The truth is, it is impossible to know exactly what Jesus said.

    Just because someone speaks with great sincerity does not preclude them from being sincerely WRONG. Since not one single miracle has ever been proven with 100% certainty to be an historical fact, probability tells us that it is much more probable that Jesus was mistaken than that his belief that he was divine and possessed supernatural powers was correct.

    Erik: It therefore makes more sense to believe him than to disbelieve him. That is my judgment and has been the judgment of billions of people.

    Gary: And it makes more sense to a couple billion Muslims to believe Mohammad’s claims than to disbelieve him. You are once again appealing to a logical fallacy: Argumentum ad Populum. As has been true numerous times throughout human history, the overwhelming majority of the general populace may sincerely believe something and be sincerely wrong. The discovery of Heliocentricity is just one example.

    Erik: And believing him fits in with so much else about the world, the things found by science, things covered in the philosophical arguments and the experiences of people…

    Gary: The literal interpretation of the Bible does NOT fit with science. Only by twisting the plain text into pretzel-like contortions can one make the Bible agree with science. “Experiences of people”: I believe I have effectively demonstrated that personal experiences are NOT a reliable means of discovering universal truths. Using our “Toyota analogy”: It may make sense that you do not trust Toyotas after having had three Toyota “lemons”, but your experience in no way is proof that Toyotas are a poorly constructed automobile.

    Erik: “…while atheism doesn’t fit all those things because it cannot explain most of them. So that is a bare summary of the case. No other conclusion fits all the facts.”

    Gary: I am not arguing for atheism. Our discussion has not been about the origin of the universe, a subject about which even the top cosmologists in the world have not reached a consensus. I am arguing that your original claim that a first century man, named Jesus of Nazareth, was a divine (supernatural) being with supernatural powers lacks any good evidence to support it. The only evidence you have is hearsay (the Gospels), your personal experiences, and the alleged personal experiences of others. I have demonstrated that none of these pieces of evidence are good methods for evaluating a universal truism.

    Erik: The Roman emperors are not a parallel – who believes them now? What do historians say about them? Who do they heal today? What philosophical proofs point to them?

    Gary: Since Muslims, Hindus, Mormons also claim that their prayers are answered, it is entirely possible, allowing for the supernatural, that ALL prayers are answered by the Roman Emperor gods! Their divinity is not dependent on how many people today believe in them. I’m sure you see this as silly, but that is how we skeptics see your claim that a first century Galilean peasant is still alive and Lord and Master of the Cosmos.

    Think about this Erik: If only Christians experience rare health recoveries after prayer to Jesus, then you might be able to use this as evidence for your belief system. But the truth is, Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, and ATHEISTS, living in the same country, in the same social class, all have approximately the same morbidity, accident, and mortality rates. So looking at actual objective evidence, your claims fail. Once again, you are forced to appeal to anecdotal claims that Christian healings are some how real, and the alleged healings in other religions are either fake, produced by an evil being named, Satan, or the silly ad hoc explanation that the Christian god is answering the prayers of everyone, regardless of which god the person prays to, or in the case of atheists, no prayers at all.

    Isn’t it obvious, Erik? It is all one big superstition.

  26. Hi Gary,

    Before I answer the substance of your latest comments, I want to ask you for details about a few things you have said please.

    You said: ”The Buddha is reported to have done many miraculous things”

    Can you tell me, please, a little more about the Buddha’s miracles?

    (1) How many did he do? What types of miracles? What do historians say about them?

    (2) In what sources are they reported? How reliable are these sources? How long afterwards were they written? What do historians say about them?

    You said ”History is full of “miracle workers” and their many (alleged) miraculous deeds.”

    (3) Which particular miracle workers do you have in mind? How many miracles are they reported to have done? What do historians say about their miracles?

    Thanks.

  27. I’ll let you look up the answers to your own questions, Erik. They are freely available to anyone on the Internet.

    I do find your last question interesting. “What do historians say about their miracles?”

    What do the overwhelming majority of historians say about Jesus’ miracles:? Answer: Nothing. There is zero evidence for any of Jesus’ alleged miracles other than hearsay. The majority of New Testament scholars tell us that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses nor the associates of eyewitnesses. Therefore, for all we know, the miracle stories in the Gospels are literary inventions. That is why historians are silent on the alleged miracles of Jesus other than to say that he had a reputation for miracles.

    Thousands of people throughout history have had a reputation of performing miracles.

  28. Hi Gary,

    We said at the start we weren’t going to get competitive and try to convince the other, just compare notes and see where we differ. I think your latest couple of comments illustrate some of our differences very well.

    You said ”The Buddha is reported to have done many miraculous things” and when I asked you about the details and the evidence for that statement, you said ”I’ll let you look up the answers to your own questions, Erik. They are freely available to anyone on the Internet.“

    This is interesting, because I did look up the answers (before I asked you the questions). I found that although some people talk about the Buddha’s miracles, the most informed people don’t.

    Wikipedia summarises: ”Gautama Buddha was alleged to possess superhuman powers and abilities; however, due to an understanding of the workings of the skeptical mind and how the display of miracles can be abused by unscrupulous people, he reportedly responded to a request for miracles by saying, “…I dislike, reject and despise them,” and refused to comply.”

    Buddhanet says the same – that the Buddha thought such miracles ”a source of shame, humiliation and disgust”. The only “miracle” he praised was that of bringing enlightenment and so putting an end to suffering.

    Several other credible sites said the same. So it seems that your statement was not based on evidence and it was not correct.

    Then you say ”What do the overwhelming majority of historians say about Jesus’ miracles:? Answer: Nothing.” But this also is incorrect. You are closer to the mark when you say ”That is why historians are silent on the alleged miracles of Jesus other than to say that he had a reputation for miracles.” but this too is not strictly accurate.

    Maurice Casey believed Jesus performed healings, but saw them as natural healings (folk healings) rather than supernatural. EP Sanders said: ”I think we can be fairly certain that initially Jesus’ fame came as a result of healing, especially exorcism.” G Stanton: ”Few doubt that Jesus possessed unusual gifts as a healer, though of course varied explanations are offered.” Other historians don’t accept that miracles of healing occurred, but others (e.g. NT Wright) accept that he performed miraculous healings.

    So it is simply not true that the historians say nothing.

    I also asked you about the documentary/historical evidence for the Buddha’s teachings and miracles, and while historians don’t doubt he was a real person, it seems that no-one is sure of his birth and death dates (it is even possible that the commonly believed dates are out by several centuries). The earliest accounts of his life were written down something like 5-6 centuries after his death, and the earliest copies we have are dated much later still. I couldn’t find much historical assessment, but it seems historians think these sources are not historically reliable.

    This is in marked contrast to the life of Jesus, where there are many sources dated within living memory of his life, we have many copies of these sources, and historians find them to be useful historical sources. So I know of no reputable historians who would agree with your statement that ”for all we know, the miracle stories in the Gospels are literary inventions” Of course they don’t accept everything in the gospels as historical, but nor do they dismiss them as you did.

    Finally, you said ”Thousands of people throughout history have had a reputation of performing miracles.”, but didn’t offer any names or any evidence. I will say that I have never heard of any person in history, apart from Jesus, who meets these four criteria:

    (1) Was believed and recorded as performing literally dozens of miracles.
    (2) The miracles were not done “in the name of Jesus”.
    (3) There are multiple sources giving accounts of these miracles and dated within living memory of the events.
    (4) Historians accept these accounts as useful historical documents.

    Now I am not saying there is no-one who meets those criteria, I am saying that I don’t know of anyone. I will ask you again, can you name anyone who meets those criteria? If you cannot, or will not, then we can safely conclude that Jesus is unique in these regards.

    This comment is about evidence in support of claims we each make. So far we can see a significant difference between us. I try to verify everything that I say, using reputable sources, and where there are different views among the experts I try to outline the range of views.

    On these matters at least, you appear not to have done that. You have made several statements that are so far unsupported by evidence, and appear to be incorrect. This throws into doubt other claims that you make that we have yet to discuss. I’ll get to them soon.

    Thanks.

  29. Erik,

    Please read my statements more carefully. Here is what I actually said:

    “What do the overwhelming majority of historians say about Jesus’ miracles:? Answer: Nothing.”

    This statement in no way precludes the possibility that SOME New Testament scholars believe in the historicity of Jesus’ alleged miracles. And notice that the scholars whom you quote are not all saying that Jesus’ performed “miracles”. Some of them simply say that Jesus was a “healer”. Folk medicine practitioners and medical doctors are “healers”.

    You asked for other examples of alleged miracle workers. I left a comment with two links to lists of ancient miracle workers. For some reason you have placed this comment in moderation and have not posted it.

    But let’s cut to the chase: If the evidence for Jesus’ alleged miracles are as good as you say it is, Erik, then we should find this statement or something similar to it in public university world history text books:

    “Jesus is alleged to have performed many miracles. Although there have been other persons throughout human history who have claimed to have the powers to perform miracles (supernatural acts), the miracles of Jesus have the strongest evidence to support their historicitity.”

    Please produce such a quote, Erik. If you cannot, it should be obvious to everyone that what I have said is correct: The only thing historians can really say about Jesus’ alleged miracles is that he had a reputation of performing miracles. Period. Good evidence that he actually performed supernatural acts (miracles) does not exist.

  30. Hi Gary,

    Imprecision and lack of finality are, unfortunately, all too common features of internet discussions. This is sometimes inevitable, given the ephemeral nature of discussions, but I think it is good to try to avoid these. So, before I move on to anything else, I am going to focus on just a few matters that have been left unresolved.

    The Buddha

    You said ”The Buddha is reported to have done many miraculous things”. I showed evidence that he did not, and also that the documentary evidence for him was significantly inferior to that for Jesus. You didn’t offer any contrary evidence, so until and if you do, we can take it that your original statement was not justified by the historical evidence.

    Jesus’ miracles

    I did read your statement carefully and I responded to exactly what you said, which was: ”What do the overwhelming majority of historians say about Jesus’ miracles:? Answer: Nothing.” I explained that many historians have indeed addressed this question, I outlined the way they addressed it, and gave some prominent examples, showing that your statement about “the overwhelming majority” was not true.

    I never said that the scholars I quoted all say that Jesus performed miracles – in fact I quite specifically pointed out that they hold many different views. But your original statement said nothing of this. You said that “say nothing” and that is plainly incorrect.

    I never said that the evidence for Jesus miracles was “so good”, I said ”Jesus was reported as doing many miraculous things, far more than can be historically justified for virtually any other character” I have given you evidence for that careful statement. “Historically justified” doesn’t mean that they definitely happened, or that they were divine manifestations. It simply means that the historical evidence for their occurrence is good, and it will likely be metaphysics that decides whether we accept them or not.

    Finally, you say: ”The only thing historians can really say about Jesus’ alleged miracles is that he had a reputation of performing miracles. Period” This is close to what I have said all along, and it is good that we are now at least partly agreed, that the historians DO INDEED talk about Jesus miracles (which you earlier denied), and they agree that he had a reputation as a healer, just as I said. But we still differ when you say “Period”, because I have offered clear evidence that they say more than that, namely:

    * some historians disregard the miracle stories
    * some accept them (or at least some of them) as true and miraculous
    * some offer natural explanations for them
    * some agree that Jesus’ reputation as a healer is historical, but are unwilling to offer an explanation either way.

    That is more than “Period”!

    Other miracle workers

    You originally said ”Thousands of people throughout history have had a reputation of performing miracles.”, and have offered two websites as evidence. I read through those accounts, and only one of the people mentioned (Apollonius) has any credible similarities to Jesus, and I find that historians I checked out offer considerable doubts about him on 2 grounds:

    (1) While there are some similarities, there are more important differences that mean it is doubtful that he meets the criteria I suggested.
    (2) While Apollonius probably lived just a little later than Jesus (and their lives probably overlapped for a decade or two), the one main source for his life was written about a century after the gospels were written, and quite likely copies some aspects of them.

    So it is doubly doubtful that Apollonius is a believable example of a historical miracle-worker, but let’s accept for the moment that he was. That leaves another 1,999 at least to make up to your “thousands”.

    I think we can agree that you grossly exaggerated. So far, we have possibly one other. (If you think any of the others mentioned meets the requirements, please outline how – but it will still be well short of “thousands”.)

    Conclusion

    On all three matters I have discussed here, your original statements are not supported by the evidence you have offered or the evidence I have seen (and I have searched quite a bit). In the second case you appear to have modified your position, and we can at least partly agree, which is good.

    Before we proceed further, can I test if you agree with all this please, which will indicate we have made progress in this discussion? Thanks.

  31. Erik,

    I’m not interested in addressing your nit-picking. I leave it to your readers to investigate whether or not Jesus was unique in his reputation as a miracle worker.

    Now, to the point: Can you quote any public university world history textbook which states that:

    “Jesus is alleged to have performed many miracles. Although there have been other persons throughout human history who have claimed to have the powers to perform miracles (supernatural acts), the miracles of Jesus have the strongest evidence to support their historicity.”

    You know that you cannot, and this is why you want to go down a rabbit’s trail regarding the Buddha.

    If you cannot provide such a quote, your argument collapses.

  32. Hi Gary,

    First of all, my apologies, it appears that one of your comments and one of mine went into moderation. I thought I had seen both of them on the page, I thought I had approved yours and I shouldn’t have needed to approve mine, so I’m not sure what happened there. But they are both there now.

    ”I’m not interested in addressing your nit-picking …. you want to go down a rabbit’s trail regarding the Buddha.”

    You raised these topics and thought them important enough to include in your argument. But when I have shown that your statements are lacking evidence and incorrect, they suddenly become “nit-picking”?

    Can you quote any public university world history textbook which states that:

    “Jesus is alleged to have performed many miracles. Although there have been other persons throughout human history who have claimed to have the powers to perform miracles (supernatural acts), the miracles of Jesus have the strongest evidence to support their historicity.”

    Of course I cannot quote a textbook that says exactly that. But I can go close.

    1. I have quoted from Casey, Sanders (”I think we can be fairly certain that initially Jesus’ fame came as a result of healing, especially exorcism.”) and Stanton (”Few doubt that Jesus possessed unusual gifts as a healer, though of course varied explanations are offered”), three eminent historians, on the place of Jesus’ miracles in his ministry and in history.

    I can quote others. For example:

    J P Meier: “The miracle traditions about Jesus’ public ministry are already so widely attested in various sources and literary forms by the end of the first Christian generation that total fabrication by the early church is, practically speaking, impossible.”

    Bart Ehrman: ”in John Jesus does signs in order to prove that he is the Son of God so that people would come to believe in him, in the Synoptics Jesus refuses to do signs in order to prove his divine identity. But why then does he do miracles in the Synoptics?” Now please note Bart Ehrman does not believe that Jesus did supernatural miracles, and he discusses elsewhere why miracles are virtually impossible for a historian to prove or disprove because their acceptance or rejection depends on factors outside the discipline of history. But it again shows that Jesus’ miracles are an important part of the life of Jesus that a historian has to address.

    NT Wright: ”Few serious historians now deny that Jesus, and for that matter many other people, performed cures and did other startling things for which there was no obvious natural explanation.” He also offers reasons why we can believe Jesus really did perform miracles and why they mean something significant.

    Marcus Borg: ”the mighty deeds of Jesus, healings and exorcisms alike, were the product of the power which flowed through him as a holy man ….”

    Geza Vermes: ”A powerful healer of the physically and mentally sick ….”

    Richard Bauckham: ”Jesus healed people of all kinds of disabilities and diseases.” He goes on to explain why these accounts are important, and cannot have been inventions.

    Craig Keener: ”Although limited in kind (i.e., no artifacts), the available evidence for Jesus as a miracle worker is substantial.”

    So, contrary to your statement (“What do the overwhelming majority of historians say about Jesus’ miracles:? Answer: Nothing.”), historians do indeed talk about the miracles of Jesus and they take them seriously even when they don’t personally believe they were supernatural events. They generally accept that the historical evidence is good, and it is science, philosophy or theology that leads them to accept or reject the miracles as real.

    2. I have said I haven’t seen another figure in history whose life is as well attested as Jesus’ (i.e. multiple sources close to the event) and whose performance of miracles is taken seriously be scholars. And I have asked you to show someone who passes this “test”, and you have only come up with Apollonius, whose life isn’t as well attested and whose miracles are not taken seriously be any scholar I have read.

    So you haven’t shown anyone who seriously challenges Jesus in that regard.

    3. So the conclusion you ask for follows from those two facts. Craig Keener compares ancient miracle accounts and says: ”The sorts of healings through particular human agents such as we observe in the Gospels and Acts, however, are much less commonly attested in this period, and when they are they usually reflect a much longer period of transmission”. Historians Gerd Thiessen and Annette Mertz: ”Nowhere else are so many miracles reported of a single person as they are in the Gospels of Jesus …. The uniqueness of the miracles of Jesus ….”

    That isn’t exactly what you asked for, but it is pretty close!

    I have never claimed that Jesus’ miracles can be “proven”, I have simply offered them as credible historical evidence about who Jesus was and why I believe in him. The comparison with other claimants shows why I don’t believe in them.

    Conclusion

    I don’t say Jesus is totally unique in every way, nor do I say I can prove his divine status, but I have offered reasons and evidence to support my view that he was/is unique and believable.

    You made claims about the Buddha, the historical basis for the miracles of Jesus, and the occurrence of other credible miracle-workers, that you were unable to support with evidence and which appear to be quite incorrect. But you have been unwilling to concede these matters.

    I’m not really interested in continuing to refute exaggerated and unsupported statements you make, only for you to refuse to acknowledge your error and try to dismiss the points you yourself made as “nit-picking”.

    I prepared this before I saw your latest comment, and I can understand why you would want to call the issue as “settled”, and I agree, though in a quite different way to you. So let’s stop. Thanks.

  33. Here is an interesting comment from the author of “The Book of Miracles” which evaluates and compares miracle claims in the major world religions. Sounds like a good book to read::

    If, however, we begin with stories (as all religions do), we find that miracles tend to define themselves. That is, a miracle is usually an act or event that in some way repeats or echoes previous miracles within the same tradition. The Buddha’s disciples repeat the miracles of the master as they progress along the path to enlightenment. Muslim mystics imitate the mystical path traced by the Prophet Muhammad. Krishna’s miracles not only echo previous stories of the gods but also establish in his devotees the ability to replicate the experience of Krishna by, in some cases, becoming Krishna himself. When the Hebrew prophet Elisha picks up the mantle of his predecessor, Elijah, the power to work miracles passes with it. The apostles of Jesus, as we have already seen, perform miracles like Jesus, but they do so in his name and through the power of the same Holy Spirit.

    In short, what constitutes a miracle within each religious tradition is defined to a great extent by the tradition itself. That is why I have followed each chapter on the foundational miracles in each tradition by a chapter on the miracles of the great saints, sages, and spiritual masters. In this way, we can see how miracles themselves become signs of the continuing power and presence of God in this world (for Jews, Christians, and Muslims), of the continuing power of the diverse gods and goddesses (in Hinduism), and of the continuing power of the Dharma, or teachings, of the Buddha — and in some Buddhist traditions, of the enduring presence of the Buddha himself.

    Source: http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/w/woodward-miracles.html

  34. Hi Gary, I have removed, temporarily or permanently, your three most recent comments. I was serious when I said I’m not interested in having “fake facts” on this website, and I have presented information that showed you have presented “fake facts”.

    Therefore before we continue any discussion, I want to see the three matters I have raised resolved, either by you agreeing that you didn’t base those statements I questioned on evidence, or you exaggerated, or else you present the evidence for those statements.

    I’m sorry to have to do this. Counter opinions are welcome here, but fake facts are not, and I am determined to keep it that way where I can. Thanks.

  35. By the way, the first two comments that you deleted contained evidence that the followers of the Buddha believed he performed miracles. So you have deleted the very evidence you demanded. I suggest if you want to read more about the alleged miracles of the Buddha and Jesus, read the book, “The Book of Miracles”. It will demonstrate that miracle claims are common in many of the worlds great religions.

  36. Hi Gary,

    Thanks for returning to the topic of the Buddha’s alleged (or otherwise) miracles. I have restored the comment that addresses that issue – I’m sorry, but I didn’t realise that you thought that quote offered evidence.

    I have read the reference, and I’m sorry I don’t see any real evidence there. The author refers to some Buddhists referring to the Buddha’s miracles, which I also mentioned. But he offers no sources in that quote, and the sources I have read, which included modern Buddhist writings, were quite clear that the Buddha despised miracles and didn’t do them even though he could (or if he did, they were rare). There is a difference between historical sources of what the Buddha did and said, and the beliefs of some followers.

    The difference between Jesus (whose miracles are well attested historically) and the Buddha (who so far as I have seen has no, or maybe few, historically attested miracles) is still great, a fact reinforced in your reference by the statement that “Christianity is the one that has most stressed miracles”.

    He also supports the idea that the Buddha was not a great miracles worker: “miracles are never to be sought or performed for their own sakes. The Buddha, in particular, is quite explicit on this point. He knows well that with spiritual discipline (asceticism and meditation) a monk can eventually fly in the air, make his body invisible to others, and otherwise manifest the miraculous powers (called siddhi) that accompany advancement toward liberation from the cycle of rebirth. But he forbids his monks from exhibiting these powers before the laity. To do so is a manifestation of vanity”

    So I appreciate that you are reading on this topic, but so far I don’t think we have any reasonable evidence that would equate the Buddha’s miracles (or lack of them) with Jesus’ miracles – which of course was the point we were arguing about. Thanks..

  37. “The difference between Jesus (whose miracles are well attested historically) and the Buddha (who so far as I have seen has no, or maybe few, historically attested miracles) is still great, a fact reinforced in your reference by the statement that “Christianity is the one that has most stressed miracles”.

    This is incorrect, Erik. Jesus’ alleged miracles are NOT well attested historically. Jesus’ reputation as a healer and an exorcist may be well attested historically but the individual miracles themselves are not. Since the majority of scholars believe that the books which describe Jesus’ alleged miracles were not written by eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses, the detailed stories of specific miracles in the Gospels may be simply literary embellishments, standard features in Greco-Roman biographies..

    Therefore, the best we can see is that Jesus had a reputation as a healer and exorcist. Period.

    Based on the evidence I am willing to concede that there are more claims of miracles by Jesus than by the Buddha but the evidence for the claims themselves are very poor for both religious leaders.

    And depending upon the Gospel one reads, Jesus seemed to share the Buddha’ attitude regarding performing miracles: “But Jesus replied, “Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah.”

  38. If we believe that these words of Jesus’ are historical (we can’t know for sure), then Jesus did NOT perform miraculous signs. The only sign he gave was that of Jonah. And what was Jonah’s sign. It was not being swallowed by a fish. Jonah’s “sign” was this:

    ““Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” —Jonah chapter 3

    Like, Jonah, Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet: “The End is near”. Jesus (allegedly) prophesied that the End would occur during the lifetimes of some of his disciples (“some of you will not taste death”).

    So if we believe Jesus, he did NOT perform miraculous signs, and…his one prophesy did not happen. By the standards of the Jewish Bible, Jesus was a failed prophet.

  39. Hi Gary,

    “Based on the evidence I am willing to concede that there are more claims of miracles by Jesus than by the Buddha”
    OK, thanks for that. We can agree on that then. So now to the second of your claims that I have queried, about which I have a few questions please …..

    ” Jesus’ alleged miracles are NOT well attested historically.”
    (1) Can you tell me then, please, if Jesus did in fact perform miracles, what historical evidence we should expect that we currently don’t have?

    “Since the majority of scholars do not believe that the books which describe Jesus’ alleged miracles were not written by eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses, the detailed stories of specific miracles in the Gospels may be purely legendary.”
    So can you answer these questions please ….

    (2) How many historical documents of the time were written by eyewitnesses or their associates?
    (3) Can you tell me which mainstream scholars believe the detailed stories of miracles in the gospels are legendary, and which don’t?

    “Jesus seemed to share the Buddha’ attitude regarding performing miracles:”
    You have quoted very selectively. In other places Jesus asked people to believe in him because of his signs and said his miracles demonstrated that the kingdom of God had come upon them. Your argument here is based on several misunderstandings, and I can’t imagine any christian or any scholar granting your premises.

  40. “Can you tell me then, please, if Jesus did in fact perform miracles, what historical evidence we should expect that we currently don’t have?”

    I would say that we would need the same evidence most people would demand to believe that a laws-of-nature defying event occurred today. Let’s take for example the alleged Miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. If a claim came out today that a holy man in India fed five thousand people with five fish and two loaves of bread—and then had food left over—what evidence would most educated people in western civilization demand to believe this claim? Would they accept that this event occurred because four anonymous books were written decades later alleging that the story comes directly from eyewitness to this event? Absolutely not.

    Would most educated westerners believe this story if a television camera crew went to India and interviewed EVERY ALLEGED EYEWITNESS (five thousand people)? No. We would not. We would assume that the people were caught up in religious hysteria.

    The fact is that the majority of modern educated people in western culture are not going to believe this event happened unless they witness the event themselves, either in person or by watching it on film from a trusted news source with trusted, independent experts on site confirming the accuracy of the filming and the event.

    You see, Erik, eyewitness testimony is sufficient for car accidents and murder convictions, but not sufficient for very extra-ordinary, laws-of-nature-defying claims.

  41. “How many historical documents of the time were written by eyewitnesses or their associates?”

    Irrelevant for the reason stated above. I am willing to accept the existence of Jesus as a real historical figure, that he was an apocalyptic preacher, that he got on the wrong side of the Jewish authorities, and that he was crucified sometime around 30-33 CE, based on non-eyewitness sources. I am not willing to accept that Jesus walked on water even from FIVE THOUSAND alleged eyewitnesses.

  42. ” Can you tell me which mainstream scholars believe the detailed stories of miracles in the gospels are legendary, and which don’t?”

    I did not say that the miracle stories in the Gospels ARE legendary or that scholars believe they are legendary only that they COULD BE legendary. I challenge you to provide statements from any respected NT scholar who states that Jesus’ miracles are accepted historical facts.

  43. “Jesus seemed to share the Buddha’ attitude regarding performing miracles:”

    Erik: You have quoted very selectively. In other places Jesus asked people to believe in him because of his signs and said his miracles demonstrated that the kingdom of God had come upon them. Your argument here is based on several misunderstandings, and I can’t imagine any christian or any scholar granting your premises.

    Gary: And that is the problem with the Gospels. We have no idea what Jesus actually said. Maybe the only true statement from Jesus regarding miracles in the Gospels is the passage in Matthew I quoted above in which Jesus states that he will not perform ANY miracles only that he will preach Jonah’s message of “Repent or judgment is coming!” and the miracle stories are all legendary. Of course, Christians don’t believe these stories are legendary, but again, provide a statement from any respected scholar who states that the miracles stories in the Gospels are accepted historical facts.

  44. Hi Gary,

    Thanks for your answers. This is good, I think we are well on our way to clarifying the source of our differences.

    ”I would say that we would need the same evidence most people would demand to believe that a laws-of-nature defying event occurred today.”

    That is interesting, because (1) it means even if the miracles did occur, you would be unable to accept them (which means your “experimental design” is poor, because it doesn’t allow both options to be tested), because (2) obviously no historical event could satisfy that criterion. And yet you believe that some historical events occurred. For example, you say:

    ”I am willing to accept the existence of Jesus as a real historical figure, that he was an apocalyptic preacher, that he got on the wrong side of the Jewish authorities, and that he was crucified sometime around 30-33 CE, based on non-eyewitness sources.”

    Yet the historical evidence for these events is pretty much the same as for Jesus’ miracles. So on the basis of similar historical evidence, you accept some events and reject others. And you have also given a brief statement of why this is:

    ” eyewitness testimony is sufficient for car accidents and murder convictions, but not sufficient for very extra-ordinary, laws-of-nature-defying claims”

    This statement, it seems to me (do you agree?) indicates that it isn’t historical evidence that stops you believing in the possibility of miracles (for we have similar historical evidence for the miracles as we do for Jesus himself, and often better evidence than we have for many other historical events – more sources, closer to the event, etc). Rather it is your philosophical beliefs that you bring to the historical evidence that leads to your scepticism – just as it is my philosophical beliefs that lead me to accept them.

    Now you say that Jesus’ miracles are ”very extra-ordinary, laws-of-nature-defying claims”, which I agree with, but you don’t make clear why that makes them less believable. Again, I presume it is your philosophical assumptions. You think healings don’t happen and it is hard to believe anything can go against the laws of nature.

    But I say that healings do happen – surveys suggest that something 300 million people alive today believe they have observed or experienced a healing miracle, and many of them (not the majority but a significant number) have been reasonably documented. You say that superstitions occur everywhere and suggest that this negates these miracle claims, but you have again tried to draw an unreasonable analogy. Many of the christian miracle claims have at least been investigated in a rudimentary way, and I have investigated a small sample of them in more detail, and this sampling shows that something very unusual happened after prayer to the christian God, offering plausible evidence that a miracle occurred. When you have done that sort of investigation of the superstitions you mention, you have a right to draw the analogy, but until then, it is just a “throw-away” claim for which you have offered no evidence.

    Further, I say that healings don’t normally happen, but I say Jesus wasn’t a normal person. And the laws of nature only apply if the universe is a closed system, but if God exists, as I believe the evidence indicates, then the universe isn’t a closed system at all.

    So in the end, it comes down to this. I presume you don’t believe God exists, you don’t believe Jesus was divine, you believe the universe is a closed system and therefore you think healings can’t happen. And if I show you documented evidence of what appear to be healings, you will reject them, not because of the evidence (you will likely agree that the event was unusual), but because your dogmatic philosophical belief won’t allow you to believe in them.

    I of course have a different set of beliefs. I believe God exists, Jesus was divine, the universe isn’t a closed system, and miracles can happen. With that belief, I am actually more able to consider the evidence than you are, because I can believe that any particular claim may be true or may be false. So my philosophical belief is slightly less dogmatic than yours, in that it allows both options, but still colours my conclusion.

    But the important thing for this discussion is that it isn’t historical evidence that determines our different beliefs about miracles, for the historical evidence is similar to that for events which you accept. So when I say the historical evidence for the miracles is good, I believe I am right. It is the philosophical matters which lead to your disbelief and my belief, and that isn’t a matter of history at all.

    Granted all that, you may be able to see how argument between us about miracles is unlikely to be fruitful because you have a dogmatic position different to mine that we each bring to the discussion. If you haven’t read it before, you may like to read The Contemporary Debate on the Resurrection by JJ Lowder, for a thoughtful atheist approach that recognises what I’ve been saying here.

    What do you think of all that?

  45. “That is interesting, because (1) it means even if the miracles did occur, you would be unable to accept them (which means your “experimental design” is poor, because it doesn’t allow both options to be tested), because (2) obviously no historical event could satisfy that criterion. And yet you believe that some historical events occurred. For example, you say:”

    That is incorrect.. I gave very specific criteria for sufficient evidence for me to believe a laws-of-nature-defying claim (miracle). I did not rule out the possibility of laws-of-nature-defying claims, only that I have more stringent criteria for sufficient evidence to believe such a claim.

    Is this unreasonable or inconsistent? Not at all; not by the standards of the overwhelming majority of educated persons in the Western World.

    If your friend, who has a reputation for honesty and reliability, tells you that he saw a red Corvette yesterday, what level of sufficient evidence would most educated people demand to believe this claim? Answer: most of us would accept our friend’s word as sufficient evidence. Now, what if this same friend says that he was abducted by little green Martians last night and taken to Mars for three hours of mind probing? Would most educated people in the Western World accept this alleged event as fact based simply on their friend’s word??? Absolutely not. What evidence would be sufficient for most educated people to believe this laws-of-nature-defying claim? Answer: They would have to see this event with their own two eyes or watch it on film from a trusted news source.

    So my standard of sufficient evidence for believing a laws-of-nature-defying claim is the STANDARD for most educated people. I assert that educated, western people only deviate from this standard when the laws-of-nature-defying claim is part of one’s religion.

    Erik, would you kindly give us the criteria you would require to believe that a “holy” man in India recently fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish…and had twelve baskets of food left over?

  46. “You say that superstitions occur everywhere and suggest that this negates these miracle claims, but you have again tried to draw an unreasonable analogy. Many of the christian miracle claims have at least been investigated in a rudimentary way, and I have investigated a small sample of them in more detail, and this sampling shows that something very unusual happened after prayer to the christian God, offering plausible evidence that a miracle occurred.”

    Studies are good, of course, but some issues do not need a “study” just good ol’ common sense. How many studies need to be performed for you to believe that you should not walk behind a horse you are unfamiliar with? How many studies need to be performed for you to know that waving a red cloth in front of an angry bull is probably not a good idea? We don’t always need a “study” to know something is true.

    So how many studies do we need to demonstrate that millions if not billions of people on this planet believe in superstitions (cultural taboos) because either they or someone they know has experienced misfortune shortly after violating a cultural taboo??? I would say that the fact that so many of these superstitions exist, and so many people believe them, is sufficient evidence to assume that bad fortune occurs just often enough after violating a cultural taboo for the belief in the taboo to persist. If NO ONE ever experienced misfortune after violating a cultural taboo, these beliefs would simply die out.

    “I have investigated a small sample of them in more detail, and this sampling shows that something very unusual happened after prayer to the christian God, offering plausible evidence that a miracle occurred.”

    I do not deny that very unusual events have happened after prayer to the Christian god. The question is: Do these unusual events after prayer to the Christian god occur a statistically significant percentage of time for us to conclude that there is a causal relationship? Think about this: Christians pray for EVERYTHING. So if every time someone is sick, a Christian prayer is said, we should not be surprised that occasionally, the desired outcome of the prayer occurs with in a short period of time of the prayer. For us to believe that their is a causal effect, Christians need to provide statistics which demonstrate that Christians have a lower accident rare, a lower morbidity (sickness) rate, and a lower mortality (death) rate than other people, including atheists, living in the same community of the same social class. Christians cannot do this!

    How many times have Christians prayed for healing of a terminally ill person and it has NOT happened? I would bet the overwhelming majority of the time. Again, just because once in a great while an unusual, rare, healing occurs within a short proximity of a prayer is NOT proof that your invisible deity has anything to do with the healing.

    I suggest that this is strong evidence that praying to the Christian god is no more effective than crossing your fingers.

  47. “And if I show you documented evidence of what appear to be healings, you will reject them, not because of the evidence (you will likely agree that the event was unusual), but because your dogmatic philosophical belief won’t allow you to believe in them.”

    False. I do not reject well documented health recoveries, nor do I reject well documented health recoveries that have occurred in close time proximity with a Christian prayer for healing. What I reject is your baseless assumption that these health recoveries were caused by the prayer that preceded them. Again, you cannot provide statistics which demonstrate that Christians have lower accident, mortality, and morbidity rates compared to persons living in the same location, of the same economic and social status, who are members of other religions or who are non-religious. Until you can provide such statistical evidence, your claims are simply assumptions and wishful thinking.

  48. Hi Gary,

    Thanks for your several responses. I will get to them later, but first I want to say that I don’t think you have addressed the main matter we were discussing, which was what constitutes historical evidence. I think you have confused evidence with conclusions and historical evidence with other evidence. So let me try again.

    No-one today can observe historical evidence nor can we run the experiment again. So historical evidence, as far as I can see, consists of two things: documents and artefacts. Some documents may be frauds, or biased accounts, unreliable, or written long after then event, etc, and historians have to decide how much useful information can be obtained from them. Likewise artefacts have to be interpreted for relevance.

    Historians use various criteria to judge authenticity and usefulness. Some criteria are historical (number of independent sources, how sources compare with established history, how close to the event they were written, internal consistency, whether they show obvious political or religious bias, etc), but also criteria that aren’t historical (e.g. science, personal beliefs about the supernatural, etc).

    So when historians assess the life of Jesus, they have very few artefacts, and they must rely on documents for their historical assessment. And in broad terms, the documentary evidence is good for ancient history (about 8-10 sources, relatively close to the event, reasonable consistency about the main facts, etc).

    And this evidence is more or less the same for the miracles as it is for the rest of Jesus’ life.

    So historians report that the documentary evidence is reasonable and it uniformly reports that Jesus was a miracle worker. That is the historical evidence, and that is what they report. Then they may make a judgment on other grounds whether they think that the miracles actually occurred and whether they were supernatural, or they may leave that question open.

    And so I reported 8 historians who all recognised the historical facts, some gave a natural explanation, some a supernatural one, and several left the question open. I will repeat three quotes:

    Maurice Casey: “There should be no doubt that Jesus carried through a dramatic and successful ministry of exorcism and healing” But note Casey defines a miracles as “a remarkable deed performed by an unusual person believed by their followers to be in close touch with a deity” – i.e. not a supernatuiral explanation.

    EP Sanders: ”I think we can be fairly certain that initially Jesus’ fame came as a result of healing, especially exorcism.”

    Stanton: ”Few doubt that Jesus possessed unusual gifts as a healer, though of course varied explanations are offered”

    To sum up. They all saw the same historical evidence of Jesus’ miracles, some accepted or rejected the truth of the accounts on philosophical grounds but most were non-committal, because they were confining themselves to the evidence.

    So I will ask my questions of you again please:

    1. What historical evidence could be given for one of Jesus’ miracles other than what we have?

    2. What is the difference between the historical evidence for Jesus’ miracles than for other aspects of his life?

    3. Do you agree, then, that the reason why you disbelieve in Jesus’ miracles is not the historical evidence itself, but non-historical beliefs that you bring to the accounts? (I don’t say this to disparage those beliefs, for I have such beliefs as well, just different to yours, just to clarify.)

    Thanks.

    PS (1) I moved the last few posts back to this page as I had inadvertently posted them in the wrong discussion.
    (2) Did you read the JJ Lowder article?

  49. “So when historians assess the life of Jesus, they have very few artefacts, and they must rely on documents for their historical assessment. And in broad terms, the documentary evidence is good for ancient history (about 8-10 sources, relatively close to the event, reasonable consistency about the main facts, etc).

    –And this evidence is more or less the same for the miracles as it is for the rest of Jesus’ life.–

    So historians report that the documentary evidence is reasonable and it uniformly reports that Jesus was a miracle worker. That is the historical evidence, and that is what they report.”

    Erik, you are misstating the evidence. I believe that the evidence that Jesus had a REPUTATION as a healer and exorcist is reasonably good; probably just as good as many other historical claims from Antiquity. However, the evidence that Jesus actually fed 5,000 MEN (this number allegedly does not include the women and children) with five loaves of bread and two fishes—and then had TWELVE baskets of leftovers—is NOT historically well documented. It was first told in ONE anonymous book written decades after Jesus’ death, and then copied into later Gospels with alterations to the story.

    Jesus’ REPUTATION as a healer and exorcist is mentioned in the writings of Josephus. The Feeding of the Five Thousand is not. In fact, NONE of Jesus’ specific miracles are mentioned by ANY first century author other than the anonymous authors of the Gospels; the later Gospel authors very probably plagiarizing many of the stories of the first author.. Not even PAUL mentions any of Jesus’ specific miracles! So that would leave us with ONE anonymous source for the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. That is NOT good historical evidence.

    So for all we know, Jesus was famous for healing people in the same way that charismatic pastors “heal” people today: with the power of suggestion. And that is it. We have no good evidence that Jesus performed even ONE of the detailed miracles described in the Gospels. It is entirely possible that ALL the miracle stories in the Gospels were literary/theological embellishments, an accepted practice in Greco-Roman biographies. The authors never meant people to believe these stories were literal historical events and the original readers would have understood this. The Evangelists were writing religious propaganda, not historical textbooks. “We write this so that you may BELIEVE.”

    We just don’t know how much of these individual miracle stories is historical and how much is literary invention.

  50. “What historical evidence could be given for one of Jesus’ miracles other than what we have?

    Answer: Multiple sources, Christian and non-Christian.

    “What is the difference between the historical evidence for Jesus’ miracles than for other aspects of his life?”

    Answer: the historical Jesus is mentioned in the writings of Josephus and other non-Christians. The specific miracles of Jesus are not even mentioned by Paul, let alone non-Christians.

    “Do you agree, then, that the reason why you disbelieve in Jesus’ miracles is not the historical evidence itself, but non-historical beliefs that you bring to the accounts? (I don’t say this to disparage those beliefs, for I have such beliefs as well, just different to yours, just to clarify.)”

    Answer: No. If we discovered a report from a high-ranking non-Christian Roman and a report from a non-Christian member of the Sanhedrin (a Jew) that stated that they both personally witnessed Jesus feed five thousand men, their wives, and their children with five loaves of bread and two fishes…I would probably still be a Christian!

    But no such non-Christian (unbiased) evidence exists. The only evidence we have for Jesus’ specific miracles comes from anonymous Christian sources, the authors of whom the majority of NT scholars believe were NOT eyewitnesses nor the associates of eyewitnesses. That is not good historical evidence.

  51. ” I believe that the evidence that Jesus had a REPUTATION as a healer and exorcist is reasonably good”

    A reputation means that people reported that he did miracles. And someone wrote some of those reports down. That is documentary evidence, and that is what history is based on. You have effectively admitted that there is historical evidence.

    ”However, the evidence that Jesus actually fed 5,000 MEN (this number allegedly does not include the women and children) with five loaves of bread and two fishes—and then had TWELVE baskets of leftovers—is NOT historically well documented.  It was first told in ONE anonymous book written decades after Jesus’ death, and then copied into later Gospels with alterations to the story.”

    You have chosen an interesting example. The story of feeding 5000 is one of the few (only?) miracles that is in all four gospels = multiple reports. And no, it wasn’t written in just one book, it is in the quite independent sources of Mark and John. So two independent sources, which is pretty good evidence for a single event like this.

    But we are not discussing whether Jesus did this particular miracle or not, we are discussing the historical evidence that Jesus was a healer and miracle-worker. And as you say …

    ”Jesus’ REPUTATION as a healer and exorcist is mentioned in the writings of Josephus.  The Feeding of the Five Thousand is not.”

    Josephus doesn’t use the word reputation, he says (using the broad consensus on what he actually wrote): “For he was a doer of startling deeds”. That is a clear report of what Josephus apparently regarded as fact.

    So we can say that there are many sources of information about Jesus in the first and second centuries, and they almost all say he was a miracle-worker or healer, even many enemies or critics of christianity. That is historical evidence.

    ”We just don’t know how much of these individual miracle stories is historical and how much is literary invention.”

    That may be true, but that isn’t what we are discussing. We are discussing whether Jesus was a miracle worker and healer, and that can be true even if we cannot be sure about the details of individual stories. I can be sure that soldiers were killed in a war without being certain of the details of the deaths of individuals. So what we have is “historical evidence”.

    “What historical evidence could be given for one of Jesus’ miracles other than what we have?
    Answer:  Multiple sources, Christian and non-Christian.

    That is exactly what we have i.e. historical evidence..

    ”Answer:  the historical Jesus is mentioned in the writings of Josephus and other non-Christians.  The specific miracles of Jesus are not even mentioned by Paul, let alone non-Christians.”

    I’m beginning to sound like a cracked record, but we are not talking about any individual event, but about the historical evidence that Jesus was a healer and miracle-worker. And that IS INDEED mentioned in Josephus, Celsus and others. i.e. it is historical evidence.

    I think you do not understand what historical evidence is. It isn’t proof, it is documents and artefacts. Jesus as miracle-worker is recorded in many documents, as you yourself have admitted here. That is historical evidence. It doesn’t mean that Jesus actually did those things, but it does mean that it isn’t lack of historical evidence that stops you believing, but something else. That is quite reasonable, but your unbelief doesn’t change the historical evidence.

  52. And I am beginning to think you are incapable of distinguishing between evidence for Jesus’ reputation as a healer and exorcist and evidence that Jesus actually performed supernatural acts of healing and supernatural acts of extracting invisible beings from the bodies of human beings.

    There are thousands of Pentecostal preachers around the world who have reputations as healers and miracle workers, that is NOT the same as evidence that they actually perform supernatural acts.

    Please provide evidence for ONE of Jesus’ alleged miracles other than his reputation as a miracle worker which is not evidence for a specific miracle only evidence of his reputation.

    If you cannot comprehend the difference there is no point in continuing this discussion.

  53. Maybe we are speaking past one another. Let’s try this. I will offer what I see to be the only evidence for one of Jesus’ alleged miracles, the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and let’s see if we can agree.

    1. Jesus had a reputation as a miracle worker.
    2. The anonymous author of the Gospel of Mark was the first author (we know of) to write this story onto parchment (or whatever he used).
    3. The anonymous authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke contain the same story, with alterations in the details, but since most scholars believe that both authors borrowed heavily from the material in the Gospel of Mark, we cannot be certain that these authors are independent sources for this alleged miracle.
    4. The Gospel of John, written circa 30-40 years after the Gospel of Mark, contains this story. The question is: Is the anonymous author of the Gospel of John a truly independent source? Can we be certain that the author of John had not read or heard the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand due to the presence of these stories in the Gospels of Mark, Luke, and Matthew, all books which were written at least a decade prior to the writing of the Gospel of John? No. No, we cannot. Therefore, we cannot be certain that the Gospel of John is an independent source regarding this particular miracle story. Could it be, yes. Can we be certain, no.

    In conclusion, we have ONE confirmed, anonymous source for the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Is ONE, anonymous, two thousand year old source sufficient to be believe ANY historical claim? I say, absolutely not.

  54. ”Maybe we are speaking past one another.”

    Yes, I’m afraid that’s true. But I think you are also talking past the evidence. Let me illustrate briefly.

    ”I will offer what I see to be the only evidence for one of Jesus’ alleged miracles, the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and let’s see if we can agree.”

    I have never argued that the evidence for this particular miracle, or any other miracle, is particularly strong. I have simply said that it has two independent sources, not one as you have said again. (And despite all you say, the experts say they ARE independent sources. e.g. Bart Ehrman in Did Jesus Exist? makes this clear. One of many examples of you ignoring the experts and speaking confidently about something even though you are wrong.)

    But most importantly, you are changing the subject. We were discussing whether there was historical evidence that Jesus performed miracles , especially healing and exorcism, not whether we have good evidence that he performed that particular miracle.

    I have provided quotes by 8 eminent scholars, most of them not christians, which show that they believe there is good historical evidence of Jesus being a healer – some believe he actually healed with supernatural power, some believe he healed through natural means, and most simply record the historical fact without offering explanation.

    You have offered your own ideas which are contradicted in many places by the facts and expert conclusions.

    I suggest we leave it there. (I will try to summarise this whole discussion in another comment, and then I suggest we stop.)

  55. Gary, I want to try to both summarise and to make peace.

    This discussion has ranged over many related topics, as internet discussion tend to do. You have unfortunately made a number of statements that are contrary to the facts:

    1. You spoke of the Buddha’s many miracles, but after I showed evidence that the experts say he despised miracles, you agreed you had overstated.

    2. You spoke of thousands of miracle workers through history to compare to Jesus, but the only plausible one we ended up with was Apollonius, and there are considerable doubts about the validity of that comparison.

    3. You said historians said “nothing” about Jesus’ miracles, but I showed you many reputable secular historians who said lots about his miracles and accepted the reports as good historical information (whether they believed supernatural events happened, or not).

    4. You said there was only one historical source for the feeding of the 5000 story, but scholars like Bart Ehrman show there were two.

    That is not a good record on your part.

    So having made that point, I want to try to make peace.

    You, like anyone else who stays within comment policy, are welcome to comment here. But false “facts”, like fake news on Facebook, are not welcome and actually do your cause harm. You say you are rational and evidence-based, and christians are not, and yet this discussion shows exactly the opposite. I presume this is due to your enthusiasm as a relatively new deconvert, but it isn’t helpful. I don’t enjoy the adversarial tone of our discussion, and I don’t like having to say “you are wrong” all the time, but your approach forces me into it for I will always focus on getting the facts right before I am willing to discuss opinions..

    Surely it would be better for you to check your facts before you make such definite claims? Then it would be possible to have a much better discussion, or else have no discussion at all.

    I’m not sure why you chose to come and engage on this topic, but for my part, I am not trying to change your view or reconvert you. I just want to get the facts straight before any discussion. It is quite possible to accept all the facts I have mentioned here and still be an atheist or agnostic – scholars like EP Sanders, Maurice Casey and Bart Ehrman are examples. But you seem to take every factual matter as a challenge to your unbelief when it doesn’t have to be.

    Can I suggest you take a break from this discussion, consider these facts, do a little reading, and see if we can shift to a different footing if you want to discuss again? Thanks.

  56. “I have provided quotes by 8 eminent scholars, most of them not christians, which show that they believe there is good historical evidence of Jesus being a healer – some believe he actually healed with supernatural power, some believe he healed through natural means, and most simply record the historical fact without offering explanation.”

    Erik, Erik. What I said is that there is no evidence that Jesus performed supernatural acts (miracles), other than the evidence that he had a reputation for being a miracle worker and four anonymous books which claim he did. If you want to declare victory because a handful of scholars believe that there is sufficient evidence to declare Jesus a “healer, in some fashion”, go right ahead. Declare victory and then walk away (which is your usual MO in discussions). An herbalist and a chiropractor can be considered :”healers”. But that in no way makes them worthy of our worship as a god nor does it prove that they possess supernatural powers.

    Does the Gospel of John copy word for word material from the Synoptic Gospels? No. Are scholars certain that the author of the Gospel of John either witnessed this event himself, or, heard of the Feeding of the Five Thousand.from a source completely independent of the Synoptics? No.

    I rest my case.

  57. ” You spoke of the Buddha’s many miracles, but after I showed evidence that the experts say he despised miracles, you agreed you had overstated.”

    It is true that the Buddha despised the requests from the lay public to perform miracles to prove his powers (as did Jesus) , but the book I am currently reading, “The Book of Miracles”, makes it very clear that the Buddha’s disciples believed he performed some amazing miracles. My only misstatement was that: “the Buddha probably performed as many alleged miracles as Jesus”. The same book states that Christianity claims the most miracles of all the major religions.

    “You spoke of thousands of miracle workers through history to compare to Jesus, but the only plausible one we ended up with was Apollonius, and there are considerable doubts about the validity of that comparison.”

    That is the only plausible one that YOU ended up with and you excluded from the discussion all the many thousands of alleged Christian miracle workers for no good reason.

    “You said historians said “nothing” about Jesus’ miracles, but I showed you many reputable secular historians who said lots about his miracles and accepted the reports as good historical information (whether they believed supernatural events happened, or not).”

    Nonsense. The fact that a handful of NT scholars state that Jesus was some sort of a “healer” does not contradict my original statement.

    “You said there was only one historical source for the feeding of the 5000 story, but scholars like Bart Ehrman show there were two.”

    False. Show me a statement by Ehrman where he states that all the stories in the Gospel of John were obtained by the author from completely independent sources ( sources we are certain had not first heard these stories from one of the Synoptic Gospels or someone retelling a story from the Synoptic Gospels). You can’t do it. It is true that the author of the Gospel of John does not plagiarize the Synoptic Gospels as the authors of Matthew and Luke plagiarized the Gospel of Mark, but that is in no way proof that the author of the Gospel of John did not use stories he had heard from the Synoptics and incorporate his own version of those stories in his Gospel. Bottom line, neither side of this debate can be certain if the Gospel of John is or is not an independent source.

    “That is not a good record on your part.”

    And you wonder why so many people on “Finding Truth Blog” absolutely detest you, Erik. This statement is so obnoxiously rude. If it is your goal to piss off non-believers you do a great job, but if you are trying to convert any of us, your methods are very poor.

  58. Hi Gary,

    “If you want to declare victory because a handful of scholars believe that there is sufficient evidence to declare Jesus a “healer, in some fashion”, go right ahead. “

    I am not interested in “victory” and I am not interested in being adversarial. I was trying to help you and make peace, in the hope that future discussion, if any, could be more pleasant and more constructive.

    But as it is, it is clear that you see evidence very differently to me, and it seems you are still seeing this matter as if I was discussing who is worthy of our worship as a god …. or having supernatural powers, when I am trying to discuss history.

    You last comment shows that this is becoming nasty and I’m not interested thanks and I’m sorry you said that. Let’s stop before it goes further.

  59. Hi UnkleE
    I admire your stamina, however I think Gary is very determined in his desire to go to hell….sadly…and there is no argument that can convince anyone so determined.

  60. Hi Susan, thanks for reading. I think Gary has more stamina than me! To be fair, he has become convinced that there is no supernatural Jesus and I am foolish to believe in him. My main objection was not to his unbelief (which is his choice and something I respect even as I disagree) but to his cavalier attitude to facts. But we disagree about that too, it seems. Best wishes.

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