Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More Miracle Codswallop (Part 2)

We left off by rigorously examining the defense of "miracles" as genuine, objectively real events which somehow convey a divine message or subtext. We continue now with this pursuit, by referencing the arguments of one Florida Pastor. He writes:

“Now , notice how he constructs his strawman by using the words "perceived event." They weren't "PERCEIVED" events! If they were , why would even the Pharisees ADMIT they occurred?”

First, he misuses the term "strawman" which means (cf. Thinking About Thinking, by Anthony Flew):

"Directing the argument against an imagined claim that nobody actually holds or that everyone agrees is very weak"

Of course, I did no such thing. I didn't proffer an "argument" but supplied a definition. He provided his definition according to which miracles are defined in bible lore and context, and I provided mine. There is no strawman here, but the fact he invokes this, indicates HE is the one using a strawman if anyone is!

Indeed, for highly anomalous events one uses the term “perceived” because as Immanuel Kant clearly showed (‘A Critique of Pure Reason’) no human mind is privy to direct reality. All reality is filtered through the brain’s internal architecture, optics, media and processes. Thus, when we observe the “sky” it isn’t really blue! That PERCEIVED color is a result of our eyes accepting a particular narrow spectrum of visible light (at about 589 nm) which when scattered via air molecules APPEARS blue! Thus, all events are really perceived events! What can eventually perhaps make them real or in the category of objective events? Only stringent scientific investigation with controls applied. (This also shows whether the Pharisees accepted them or not is neither here nor there. They saw the events as evil or Satan originated, merely disclosing no uniform interpretation existed.)

Pastor Perplexed again:

“He then continues with his strawman by writing:

"But it is not classified as a "miracle" until and unless the report is replicated in entirety! (Or another group that investigates it arrives at the same conclusion)."

REPLICATED??!! Duhhh, If a miracle could be replicated , it wouldn't BE A MIRACLE!!“

Not true! Logically, in fact, a non-sequitur. To BE classified as an objectively real event, a miracle must at least possess the possibility for its replication. Otherwise, one must concede all (or most) alleged (previously) known miracles have expiry dates (like raising the dead, walking on water etc.) and can never occur again. But if that is so it means that from about 2,000 years ago ALL miracles ceased! But this undermines the overall miracle claim by asserting ALL exist only ex post facto. If only ex post facto in existence, then no rigorous approach is EVER possible, so the claimant is asserting these events (though they violated natural laws) can never ever be validated or verified, or falsified. If this is so, then “miracle” can’t ever exist as an objective claim (i.e. open to scientific investigation) only as a subjective belief in a retrospective happening reported in the person’s own bible – based on his perceptions of witnesses’ perceptions in said book!

Then, we are merely being asked to bestow gravitas on balderdash! Again also, asserting a distinction between miracles and miracle reports is not a strawman! It’s a refinement of the definition to take into account that any claimed “supernatural’ interjection might actually be supra-phyical. (And up to now no believer has been able to differentiate between the two)

Pastor P. moves on:

“Now , DOES God still perform miracles today? Well , although I myself have never .witnessed one , nor heard of a GENUINE one being performed today , that doesn't mean that God will NOT perform miracles today. After all , He's GOD! He can do whatever He wants , whenever He wants , wherever He wants , and to whomever He wants!”

But this merely validates my previous point that if miracles CAN still occur, they cannot be “one offs” in the distant past. Whatever happened 2,000 years ago must be able to occur again, if what he says above is true. Thus, if God seeks to raise another dead man, for whatever reason, it must be able to happen! Thus, Lazarus’ claimed raising can’t be a one off or as the pastor put it un-repeatable! Else, he ends up contradicting himself!

But IF raising a dead man AGAIN is declared not repeatable (by his miracle def.) then he is in effect ordaining what God can and cannot do! Ditto with walking on water, changing water to wine, or whatever.

He now commits another logical error:

“But the point is , we're talking about the miracles that JESUS and God's prophets performed ( via GOD )! Jesus' miracles were a TRUTH confirming His Deity!”

But this is only in the mind of one who is already biased (blinded?) by his belief. What evidence do we have Jesus was really a deity? None! In fact, what cumulative evidence exists historically (as documented by J.R. Robertson in his ‘Pagan Christs’) shows that nearly all the recorded miracles in the Izeds of the Zendavesta found their way to the NT hundreds of years after the fact. Mithras changed water to wine at a wedding, he walked on water, and he also raised the dead. On the face of it then, the Mithras’ episodes were plagiarized by Christians to make the case for their own god man.

He continues with the logical errors:

“My friends , Many people desire God to perform miracles to “prove” Himself to them. “If only God would perform a miracle, sign, or wonder, then I would believe!”

This is a non-sequitur as well as partial strawman. For sure I’d be impressed by observing all the stars in the universe undergoing the same change in polarization (say from circularly polarized to linearly) at once. However, that would not cause me to believe! The reason is that an extraordinary physical agent may have been responsible (see e.g. the current issue of Physics Today, June, p. 16, and how exotic helical polarizations can be generated from superpositions of circularly polarized light waves.)

Even if one hundred dead men suddenly arose out of their graves, it wouldn’t cause me to believe. I would again suspect a supra physical cause(perhaps an escaped synthetic bacterium) that had re-animated the neural pathways!

Another non-sequitur:

“Today , miracles are no longer necessary, as the message of Jesus and His apostles has already been attested to and accurately recorded in the Scriptures. “

But the fact is there are virtually NO accurate reports! Of anything! We already know of more than 1,100 substantive contradictions (not mere "inconveniences" as bible bangers portray them) where supposed events in two different passages are differently reported (e.g. such as whether Christ carried his own cross or not). This means the reports cannot be trusted. In addition, in examining all the professed statements of Christ, the Jesus Seminar found that 80% of them were never made or inaccurate. So, how can we even trust accounts of secondary witnesses if we can’t trust those attributed to Yeshua being accurate? Even R.C. Church Historian The Rev. Thomas Bokenkotter, in his monograph ‘A Concise History of the Catholic Church’, concedes (page 17):

“The Gospels were not meant to be a historical or biographical account of Jesus. They were written to convert unbelievers to faith in Jesus as the Messiah, or God.”

This is a shattering admission indeed, and from a historian of Christendom’s largest (and original) Church. It is a de facto admission that no historical support exists for any of the accounts in the New Testament. Indeed, if they ‘were not meant to be historical’ (or accurate), then we cannot be sure if any are! Quite possibly, none of the accounts should be taken seriously.

Now, let us behold a TRUE strawman!

"The unbelieving want God to "prove" Himself by showing THEM miracles because they don't believe the miracles which have already been performed."

In fact, this is preposterous since we don't accept there is any divinity. What we want is for the deity -God believers to prove it to us! As for the reported 'miracles', as I said in the previous blog, anecdotal reports - especially from ancient texts- don't count as proof, especially absent quality control or cross checks based on empirical validation.

Next, let's consider his claims that "Real miracles" meet some special attributes or criteria assigned to show they are the one and only and not mockups. He writes:

First , a true miracle has an unnatural dimension. A burning bush that is not consumed , fire from heaven , and walking on water are not normal occurrences. Their unusual character commands attention.

But once again, this makes assumptions that are dangerous. For example, a bush may be smothered in a fire-retardant or preventive chemical to make it appear like it's burning but it actually isn't. (This is actually used by a number of magicians and tricksters into fooling audiences that they're burning but the protective chemicals on their skin prevents it!). A "fire from heaven" may simply be a positronic bolt of lightning (e.g. as reported in the recent issue of Eos Transactions (May 31, p. 185, , 'Positrons Observed to Originate From Thunderstorms'), certain high intensity lightning bolts include anti-matter particles known as positrons.) It may also be an extraordinarily bright bolide that enters the Earth's atmosphere at a low altitude and appears to be a fiery streak across the sky, such as I observed in 1991 in Barbados. Walking on water may also be a trick configured by using a hologram or other gimmicks.

My point is one can always find an alternative NATURAL explanation for any of these, and one is obligated to adopt THAT explanation, or one commits the fallacy of ignotum per ignotius. What is the logical fallacy of ignotum per ignotius? Basically it translates from the Latin to mean: “seeking to explain the not understood by the less well understood.” In this case, attempting to invoke a supernatural explanation for an event that can be explained in natural terms - though admittedly, unusual natural terms.

He continues:

Second , a true miracle has a theological dimension . It presupposes the theistic God who can perform these special acts.

Of course, therein - in his 2nd sentence, he reveals the logical fallacy implicit in the attribute! That is: Affirming the Consequent. That is, starting out by stating that which they need to prove or demonstrate. Here he admits he does this by asserting "true miracles" PRESUPPOSE a "theistic God"! But he's not proven the latter!

Once more with feeling:

Third , a true miracle has a moral dimension. It manifests the moral character of God. There are no evil miracles , because God is good.

This one commits the logical fallacy of begging the question. The 2nd sentence is thus simply a restatement of the conclusion! For example, saying: "Apples are healthy because they're good for you". There is no basis for support because the premise and conclusion loop into each other, ditto with "there're no evil miracles because God is good". It says nothing, tells us nothing. It BEGS the question!

And on we go:

Fourth, a miracle has a teleological dimension. Unlike magic , miracles never entertain ( see Luke 23:8 ). Their overall purpose is to glorify the Creator...GOD!

The problem here is he mixes two teleologies! The meaning of "teleological" is purposive. But "entertainment" is as much a purpose as "glorifying the Creator". (In other words, BOTH are "teleological"!) Here it makes for an even superior purpose, because one can at least SEE the effects of entertainment, say on an audience or witnesses. But saying a purpose is to "glorify the Creator" again commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent- since no "creator" has been shown to exist, yet is invoked as part of an explanation. So how can an event "glorify that which hasn't been shown to exist. I could as well say the miracles "glorify the flying spaghetti monster"!


Fifth , miracles in the Bible , particularly the gifts of miracles , had a doctrinal dimension . They directly or indirectly verified TRUTH claims!

This commits the final tallied logical fallacy: appeal to authority. In this case, some "doctrinal authority" only apparent to the believer. If the believer makes the claim he's appealing to no doctrinal authority (which may also imply a specific doctrine) then he's obliged to show us how a "doctrinal dimension" exists. Merely throwing out the phrase gets us nowhere, just as tossing out the phrase "God exists" gets us nowhere. We need forthright and substantial argumentative ballast and that has to issue from more than biblical authority or citations!

The kind of questions raised here go to the heart of basic theories of knowledge (epistemology). How does one "know" something? And more importantly, how does one know that he knows? Or, in the absence of knowledge, does faith enter as a kind of substitute? In the case of science, it can certainly be argued that a kind of "faith" exists, e.g. in the reliability of the methods common to all scientific disciplines. However, in science there are a variety of "reality checks" in the form of technological manifestations.

For example, there is no disputing the reality of high-speed computers and micro-processors, medical imaging and diagnostic devices, more efficient telecommunications systems -including fiber optics relays, and novel advances in gene mapping and splicing techniques. Collectively, these show two things: 1) that science as a process cannot be "standing still" - since technology advances and technology is the offspring of applied or basic scientific research. And 2): these researches can generate real, physical counterparts in the objective world.

If science were exclusively based on an internal (subjective) faith, there would be no hardware of the type described. Nor would there be advances in the hardware. The reality of the hardware, and its effective practical application, implies that science must be based on something else apart from faith. In essence, there must be a substantial and objective dimension to scientific knowledge, i.e. that exists apart from the scientist's mind and personal beliefs.

Whether the same can be said for God, or religious teachings, is a matter of debate, and often subjective debate at that. At the very least, the implicit subjectivism of religious thought means that no onus can be placed on a non-religious person or unbeliever. This is further reinforced by the second reason - that there exists no unequivocal physical evidence for any divine manifestations on Earth. Including, but not limited to, MIRACLES!

The late Stephen J. Gould often referred to "non-overlapping magisteria" to try and assert religion and science have distinct knowledge domains. This is also what we have vis -a -vis those who only accept reality as defined or allowed in their bibles. The problem is that reality is fundamentally untestable by empirical science. On account of that, "biblical magisteria" must remain only in the brains of the percipients or followers. We can't say it's really "out" in physical reality, or ever was!

So do "miracles" exist apart from miracle reports? Perhaps, but only configured as specific alignments of neural matter or axons, dendrites in believers' brains. Much like the "tooth fairy" exists in many children's brains!

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