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Did the miracles really happen? Are they happening today?

Christianity's miracles can be explained naturally

Postby Skeptical » Tue Feb 13, 2018 5:02 pm

I will only mention the most obvious one, but we may add some later.

OLD TESTAMENT MIRACLES

Burning bush

May have been acacia plants, which are known for making great charcoal. Mount Sinai has been claimed to be a former active volcano. It could be argued that a volcanic vent lit up acacia plants and that would be the origin of the burning bush. Benny Shannon argues that this could be combined with entheogen plants such as Peganum harmala and acacia tree in the vicinity of Mt. Sinai thus attributing the divine revelation to an psychedelic experience.

Turning a rod into a snake

This is a magic trick.The two ends of a snake, the tail and mouth-end, are held in two hands and the reptile pulled straight. Strong pressure in the centre of the head with the thumb and the pointing finger held on both sides makes the snake stiff. It cannot move even after lowering the tail-end to the floor. It looks like a rod. To make it crawl again let free the hand gripping the tail part and shake the snake and throw it on the ground; within a few minutes it will regain its moving power and crawl away.. This is why the egyptian wizards could perform it too.

Challenge to Baal

Elijah and the Baal followers competed to see which god was true. They took a bull and decided that the god that could set it on fire was the true one. Notice that Elijah commands people to pour water on the body and shortly it ignites. This could be achieved by introducing sodium crystal which explode when in contact with water. The same effect could be achieved by pouring glycerin on potassium permanganate hidden within the sacrificial animal, passing it as water. Naturally occurring lithium is an a more likely explanation given that potassium permanganate and sodium could not be obtained during that time. My bad.

NEW TESTAMENT MIRACLES

Turning water into wine

Keep in mind that they were asked to pour water on already prepared jars (John 2). It could be possible that these vessels could be trick vessels, like in here. Jesus is not the only religious figure to turn water into something else. Shirdi Ke Sai Baba turned water into oil although this could be achieved by pouring water in vessel that already contained oil thus bringing it to the surface. In some cases, a transparent substance turning wine-coloured could be used

Walking on water

This could be achieved by a variety of methods. One could build a secret platform or take advantage of a naturally occurring one use cornstarch to create a non-newtonian fluid which behave like solids under pressure to have people walk on it (like the Mythbusters did) or it could be simply an optical illusion.

Healings and exorcisms:

Back then, medical knowledge was practically non-existent and was mostly folklore-based (Leviticus 14). The method of putting a mirror under the see if it fogs up is widely known and regarded as not useful. The lazarus syndrome is also known. Premature burials are pop culture. My point is that mistaking someone alive for dead was pretty common back then, as it was in even posterior centuries. Blindnesses could be hysteria, pains could be alleviated by placebo effect, like faith healers do nowadays.

Demonic possession was employed to explain a wide arrange of mental illnesses as well as rabies, epilepsy, tourette syndrome, etc. An exorcism could serve as psychological tool to diminish symptoms by placebo or psychologically. Usually exorcisms take many sessions because the symptoms keep coming back; consistent with mental illness.

Multiplication of food

Explained though could be explained by gross exaggeration.

MODERN MIRACLES

Holy Fire: Considered a fraud and exposed on TV
Holy Snakes: The snakes that appear at Kefalonia are usually docile and their fangs are at the back of their mouths, so they aren't a threat to humans. Their appearance could be attributed to mating rituals.
Miracle of the sun: Staring at the sun causes pupils to contract thus dimming the sun, retinal bleaching explains changing colours and the people looking purple/yellow (Opposite colours; What a coincidence!). There are cases of documented retinopathies like at Knock.
Weeping statues: Putting fluids inside a hollow statue and scratching the eyes could cause the liquid to pour out as if it were crying blood, oil, or water.
Levitating saints: St. Teresa was poorly documented. St. Joseph of Cupertino baked rye bread which could harbour hallucinogenic fungi.
Incorruptibles: Most bodies are corrupted, some wear wax or silicone masks. None of them are miraculously preserved.
Saint Januarius: Not actually blood but a chemical compound that liquefies with heat and mechanical stress.
Eucharistic miracles: Serratia marcescens, fraud, pareidolia.
Rosaries turning into gold: Some metals turn golden when oxidized.
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Re: Christianity's miracles can be explained naturally

Postby jimwalton » Tue Feb 13, 2018 5:26 pm

It seems you have cut-and-pasted from some source. I'll try to comment on as many as possible within the constraints of the forum. It's obvious that the writer has missed the boat on all of these.

> Burning bush

I have heard other naturalized explanations as well, none of which hold water either. First of all, no one knows where Sinai is or which mountain Moses was on, so you can't claim it's a volcano. Secondly, the explanation doesn't really complement the meaning of the biblical text. There is was a bush on fire that didn't burn—the bush was still there when the fire subsided. So the volcanic vent lighting up a bush isn't what Moses claimed to have seen, and the idea that he was hallucinating is just making something up. There's nothing in the text to lead one to such a conclusion. The conversation and Moses's consequent actions don't align with a hallucinogenic experience. Besides that, Moses was a 40-year veteran of the desert. To explain what happened here as a temporary mirage of reflected sunlight on some red leaves, a campfire of some Bedouin, a volcanic vent, or even St. Elmo's fire is unrealistic.

> Turning a rod into a snake

You'll notice that the text specifically contradicts your trick strategy. The text specifically says that Moses grabbed it only and specifically by the tail. Anyone with brains knows you never grab a snake just by its tail.

> Challenge to Baal ... This could be achieved by introducing sodium crystal which explode when in contact with water.

In other words, you're making something up and inserting it into the narrative. You'll notice from the text that Elijah didn't handle the water himself. And then you're assuming that no one—no one—saw him approach the water and dump a quantity of chemicals all around the altar and trench? You're not being realistic with this assertion.

> Turning water into wine

Trick vessels? You're assuming Jesus came to the site beforehand and rigged the pots that he knew no one would tamper with. Hmm. Then you wonder if it was just a miracle of the color of the liquid, which goes directly against what the text says.

> Walking on water

Jesus walked on the water more than once. A secret platform in the middle of the lake???? It's 7 miles wide and 13 miles long! It was in the middle of a storm.

Corn starch is really reaching.

An optical illusion doesn't explain how Peter walked on the water also.

> Healings and exorcisms ... Premature burials are pop culture.

Lazarus was in the tomb 4 days, wrapped up.

> My point is that mistaking someone alive for dead was pretty common back then

There are indicators of death that don't take a medical degree: The mortis triad: (1) Loss of temperature (algor mortis), (2) Rigidity (rigor mortis), (3) lividity (discoloration; livor mortis). Death is obvious. There are rapid and unmistakable changes in the body. These people lived with proximity to death far more than we do in the modern world.

> Blindnesses could be hysteria

You're not paying attention to the texts. Some had been blind for years, one since birth.

Ultimately your explanations are contrived and don't match the facts we are given.
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Re: Christianity's miracles can be explained naturally

Postby Skeptical » Wed Feb 14, 2018 5:38 pm

> To explain what happened here as a temporary mirage of reflected sunlight on some red leaves, a campfire of some Bedouin, a volcanic vent, or even St. Elmo's fire is unrealistic.

Nobody said that.

> Mount Sinai

We don't know where he was standing, if there ever was such a thing. What we call Mt. Sinai is known to have been a volcano.

> there's nothing in the text that leads to moses hallucinating.

Really? Have you ever heard of entheogen drugs like ayahuasca, peyote, DMT, salvia? They all cause "religious experiences". Plus, as I wrote, there are some hallucinogenic plants near the area of Mt. Sinai. The giveaway should have been that the guy was talking to a tree that was fire.

> The text specifically says that Moses grabbed it only and specifically by the tail.

Literally it doesn't even mention that (Exodus 7:10)

> You'll notice from the text that Elijah didn't handle the water himself

The water can be poured by anyone. It doesn't affect the reaction.

> dump a quantity of chemicals all around the altar and trench?

All it'd take is a piece of lithium which is very easy to conceal and very easy to hide near a chopped bull. The sacrifice would catch fire on its own.

> You're not being realistic with this assertion.

As opposed to divine intervention.

> You're assuming Jesus came to the site beforehand and rigged the pots that he knew no one would tamper with.

We know trick vessels exist, and that accomplices exist too. 12 year old Jesus may have not been alone. Plus Who runs out of wine on a wedding? I suspect foul play.

> A secret platform in the middle of the lake

Does it say that it was in the middle of the lake? Did they walk all across it? Naturally occurring shallow areas could have been used.

> Corn starch is really reaching

Definitely not my first choice.

> doesn't explain how Peter walked on the water also.

Had you bothered to read the article it says that the optical illusion was responsible for making the water look deep when it actually wasn't. This is not assuming that Peter was in on the scan.

> Lazarus was in the tomb for 4 days.

Here's a case of a christian believed dead for days: https://www.near-death.com/science/evidence/some-people-were-dead-for-several-days.html

> There are indicators of death that don't take a medical degree

Do you think israelites know those symptoms?

> Death is obvious

We've literally had cases of premature burial in the 19th century and the middle ages. It isn't that obvious. A people in the middle ages were very acquainted with death.

> some had been blind for years

Hysteria could last years. My point is that claims about blindness usually are incomplete. Nobody goes to the faith healer fully blind and comes out seeing clearly; they usually have some sight, although impaired and leave convinced that they improved, only to worsen after time. Jesus could have been like them.

Ultimately your justifications are based on poor understanding and not reading.
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Re: Christianity's miracles can be explained naturally

Postby jimwalton » Wed Feb 14, 2018 6:18 pm

I guess it astounds me that you think these ludicrous explanations make more sense than other possibilities, miracles included.

> Nobody said that.

Volcanic vent was the alternative theory on the table. "It could be argued that a volcanic vent lit up acacia plants."

> What we call Mt. Sinai is known to have been a volcano.

Yes, what we CALL Mt. Sinai, but the location of Mt. Sinai is truly unknown. We don't know which mountain Moses was on, and there are even credible theories that Moses was in Midian, not in the Sinai Peninsula, so the theory of a volcanic vent goes out the window. It doesn't match what we know from the text, and you were working off the text if you're talking about a burning bush and Mt. Sinai.

> Have you ever heard of entheogen drugs like ayahuasca, peyote, DMT, salvia? They all cause "religious experiences".

Of course I've heard of them, and of course some cause what has been called religious experiences. But the nature of hallucinogenic religious experiences is different from the record given to us in Exodus 3-4. The conversation and reasoned though recorded there is not characteristic of drug-induced hallucinations.

> The giveaway should have been that the guy was talking to a tree that was fire.

God often revealed Himself in fire, both in the Old and New Testaments. This is no giveaway at all.

> "The text specifically says that Moses grabbed it only and specifically by the tail." Literally it doesn't even mention that (Exodus 7:10)

Exodus 4.4.

> As opposed to divine intervention.

Divine intervention is only less credible if you have a priori excluded the possibility of divine activity, which is not good logic. Rather than consider all the alternatives, you have decided ahead of time to exclude one important possibility (the one advocated by the text).

> We know trick vessels exist, and that accomplices exist too. 12 year old Jesus may have not been alone. Plus Who runs out of wine on a wedding? I suspect foul play.

First of all, communication was by word of mouth and no technology, so it would have had to have been quite a set up. Cana was 8 miles from Nazareth. Secondly, Jesus was 30 when this miracle happened, not 12. Third, Jesus would have had to have known ahead of time that they would run out of wine. Fourth, Jesus would have to have known ahead of time that no one would use those pots for anything else. Fifth, they were stone pots used for ceremonial washing. It would be almost certain that they would be used between the alleged setup and the trick. Sixth, it was Mary who made the suggestion, not Jesus taking any initiative (which he would be sure to do with this elaborate setup and ruse). Seventh, the result was not just wine-colored water, but good wine.

Who runs out of wine at a wedding? No one. Such an event was never expected. Running out of wine at a wedding was a social faux pas that would be the subject of ridicule for years. Morris also says, "In the ancient Near East there was a strong element of reciprocity about weddings, and that, for example, it was possible to take legal action in certain circumstances against a man who had failed to provide the appropriate wedding gift. ("The groomsmen's gift [counts as a loan and] can be recovered through a court of law" Mishnah, *B. Bat.* 9:4.) This is quite foreign to our wedding customs and we are apt to overlook such possibilities. But it means that when the supply of wine failed more than social embarrassment was involved. The bridegroom and his family may well have become involved in a heavy pecuniary liability."

The thought that Jesus set all this up is beyond unreasonable.

> Does it say that it was in the middle of the lake?

Matt. 14.24 says the boat was a considerable distance from land. Mark 6.47 says the boat was in the middle of the lake.

> Lazarus in the tomb for 4 days

Jesus heard that Laz was sick, and he didn't go. This doesn't sound like a man who has a trick up his sleeve because every moment that passes makes his trick less likely. And you may show me a link of a guy who was mistakenly dead 4 days and came back, but what you're telling me is that Jesus PLANNED (he knew it was a premature burial and that he could bring him back) that the guy would be dead 4 days and Jesus would bring him back. He KNEW without being there that was a mistaken diagnosis and conclusion. That doesn't make sense.

> Do you think israelites know those symptoms?

Sure. And remember that by the 4th day decay has begun. For 3 days (as in your link, and as in the resurrection of Jesus) the body was just a corpse. By the 4th day decay has begun. The fact that Jesus arrives on the 4th day is a key point in the story: Jesus had intentionally waited until the body had already begun to decay, when there was no chance it was merely an unconsciousness due to sickness. By the fourth day, no one could claim that Lazarus had been mistakenly pronounced dead. The point is that Lazarus was certifiably, unquestionably, and genuinely dead.

Remember also that Jesus didn't go into the tomb to make sure Laz was still alive, or to pull off some scam. He stood outside and spoke. You're claiming he was just doggone lucky that Laz got up, that he was actually still alive?

> Nobody goes to the faith healer fully blind and comes out seeing clearly; they usually have some sight, although impaired and leave convinced that they improved, only to worsen after time. Jesus could have been like them.

Not according to the Gospel stories. There's even a specific one where there is a two-stage healing. He is totally blind, and then with some sight although impaired, and then healed. Your only way to justify your explanation is to make a claim that they weren't totally blind but only impaired—something you can' possibly know. In John 9 the parents even vouch that their son was born blind.
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Re: Christianity's miracles can be explained naturally

Postby Eye to Eye » Wed Feb 14, 2018 8:55 pm

> The fact is, you don't know what are facts and what aren't, because there's no evidence either pro or con for these events. So you can't claim they aren't facts but rather only accounts. The fact is that we have no physical evidence one way or the other.

Thanks for restating what I said. They're not facts, they are accounts that were later written down. To become facts, they have to be corroborated or otherwise given evidence for...which doesn't exist, hence accounts - hence I CAN claim they aren't facts. In other words, simply writing stuff down is not a guarantor of fact-ness.

> This you don't know, either. Many of the books we don't know when they were written, and even the ones we do have, we don't know if there were written accounts from which they were drawn. So you don't have the evidence to substantiate your assertion.

Actually, I do. I am basing this on the evidence.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historiography_of_early_Christianity

This is what we know and and what we have regarding early christian writings. If you have evidence to the contrary, please let historians know.
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Re: Christianity's miracles can be explained naturally

Postby jimwalton » Wed Feb 14, 2018 8:56 pm

> To become facts, they have to be corroborated or otherwise given evidence for...which doesn't exist, hence accounts - hence I CAN claim they aren't facts.

Oh, not true. I saw a rainbow last week. It can't be corroborated, there is no physical evidence, and there is no verification whatsoever. But that doesn't mean it didn't happen, it isn't true, and that it isn't a fact. Facts exist separated from corroboration. Your belief about them may depend on corroborative evidence, but the facts themselves stand apart from your perception of them.

> In other words, simply writing stuff down is not a guarantor of fact-ness.

You're correct, but not writing them doesn't detract from their factness. Their truth and reality are objective regardless of corroboration, physical evidence, or even science. A friend of mine recently had debilitating headaches. She went to the doctor, who did a battery of tests and told her he didn't find anything wrong. Fact: HEADACHE. Corroborative evidence: missing. Scientific analysis: inconclusive. Yet the fact of the headache remains. No one can see her headaches or feel them. No one can prove them, except her own experience and testimony. That doesn't mean they are real.

> Actually, I do. I am basing this on the evidence.

The historiography of early Christianity is decidedly different separate from the issue of the books of the Bible. The article's analysis of the NT canon is the scholarly opinion of some scholars, but by far what could be called "evidence." There are huge scholarly debates about such things.

But your contention that they were written "at least a lifetime after their protagonist" is decidedly incorrect. The evidence is strong that the Gospels, and possibly much of the New Testament, was written before AD 70. the epistles of Paul (more than half of the NT) is verifiably written before AD 70, long before "a lifetime" has passed. Jesus was crucified in about AD 30, and Paul's letters were written in the 50s. The Gospels may have been written in the 60s (though some say 70s), still less than a lifetime after Jesus.

Your article link is not the evidence you were hoping it would be. You and I both know there are scholars who are minimalists, liberals, conservatives, mainline, evangelical, deniers, and fundamentalists. You can't honestly be claiming that one wikipedia article is the end-all to the debate.
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Re: Christianity's miracles can be explained naturally

Postby Eye to Eye » Thu Feb 15, 2018 2:47 pm

> our belief about them may depend on corroborative evidence, but the facts themselves stand apart from your perception of them

Ok, but this post is referring to miracles, and miracles are by definition, suspensions of natural laws. Ergo, they need extraordinary evidence. Your examples of rainbows and headaches do nothing to address this.

> The historiography of early Christianity is decidedly different separate from the issue of the books of the Bible. The article's analysis of the NT canon is the scholarly opinion of some scholars, but by far what could be called "evidence." There are huge scholarly debates about such things.

Once again, we are talking about miraculous events, which in religious writings are about as commonplace as rocks. Any extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence - NONE of which is forthcoming.

> But your contention that they were written "at least a lifetime after their protagonist" is decidedly incorrect. The evidence is strong that the Gospels, and possibly much of the New Testament, was written before AD 70. the epistles of Paul (more than half of the NT) is verifiably written before AD 70, long before "a lifetime" has passed. Jesus was crucified in about AD 30, and Paul's letters were written in the 50s. The Gospels may have been written in the 60s (though some say 70s), still less than a lifetime after Jesus

You're nitpicking here. While your dates are correct enough for this discussion, the average lifetime during that time was ~30-35 years. So yeah, NEARLY a lifetime after their protagonist.
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Re: Christianity's miracles can be explained naturally

Postby jimwalton » Sat Mar 10, 2018 3:41 pm

> miracles are by definition, suspensions of natural laws.

I disagree with this definition. It was popularly proposed by philosopher David Hume ("An occurrence contrary to nature"), but it's an inadequate definition and we should be so quick to rest on it as "miracles are by definition suspensions of natural laws." The Bible never claims that God violated the laws he himself imposed on the world. Maybe a miracle is God working with the laws of nature rather than against them, just in a different manner and on a different time scale. Some miracles are issues of precise timing (an earthquake on a fault line to create a rift in the Jericho wall) rather than suspensions of natural laws. The Cambridge Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (pg. 208) defines a miracle as "An event (ultimately) caused by God that cannot be accounted for by the natural powers of natural substances alone. Conceived of this way, miracles don't violate the laws of nature but rather involve the occurrence of events which cannot be explained by the powers of nature alone." That's a more acceptable definition, but I would tentatively define miracle as "a supernatural exception to the regularity and predictability of the universe, and therefore it is not a common (this term needs to be interpreted) occurrence." Maybe the laws of nature speak of naturally recurring events, and miracles speak of supernaturally nonrecurring events.

lvin Plantinga asks what the problem is in believing in miracles—why should anyone object to it? "Why can't the causal continuum be rent by the interference of supernatural, transcendent powers? Why are miracles necessarily incompatible with modern science? They are only incompatible if it can be proved that nature is a closed continuum of cause and effect, and closed to intervention or interference on the part of beings outside that continuum, including God himself." In no way does the predictable character of nature exclude the possibility of miraculous events. Science cannot prove that the universe is all there is, meaning that it's a closed causal system. "Natural laws offer no threat to special divine action," Plantinga concludes after a detailed chapter. The only way to show that miracles are impossible is to disprove the existence of God, a task that is both logically and scientifically impossible.

> Once again, we are talking about miraculous events, which in religious writings are about as commonplace as rocks.

Well, the Wikipedia article you linked me to was about historiography, not about miracles. There was no purpose that I can see in linking me to that article if you wanted to contain the discussion to miracles.

> Any extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence

I don't believe this is correct. Extraordinary claims just need a reliable source. The reliability of the source is what persuades more so than the wildness of the claim.

> the average lifetime during that time was ~30-35 years.

This is a misleading scale and measure. It depends how you are measuring life expectancy. Many died in childbirth (only about 75% survived to age 1; half had died by age 10). If you factor those in, yeah, maybe life expectancy was 30-35 years. But if you could get past age 10, many people lived into their 60s, 70s, and 80s like today. Sure disease was more uncontrollable and their medical knowledge primitive by today's standards, but many people lived ripe and long years just as we do.

Of some of the people we have records about, it is thought that the Apostle John lived to be elderly (80s or 90s). Tacitus and Josephus lived into their 60s, Clement of Rome to about 70. There are many ancient records of Romans and Palestinian Jews living into their 70s, 80s, and even 90s.

So I realistically think that your "at least a lifetime after their protagonist" is misleading. It gives the wrong impression.


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