Board index Miracles

Did the miracles really happen? Are they happening today?

How do you verify miracles?

Postby Teagan » Thu May 17, 2018 9:18 pm

How do you verify miracles in your tradition and falsify those in other religions?

A standard question.

What is your methodology for deciding which miraculous claims a reliable and which are not? If you believe that the miracle claims (and attendant doctrines) of your own tradition are valid but not those of others what is the method for sorting the wheat from the chaff? Are these beliefs just justified by other miracle/supernatural claims (the Qur'an is a miracle, the Bible is divinely inspired) or are there other arguments below that?
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Re: How do you verify miracles?

Postby jimwalton » Thu May 17, 2018 9:40 pm

We can't verify most miracles. First of all, they are like pebbles dropped in a stream. They make waves, and they're gone, with no record or archaeological evidence. Suppose Jesus walked on the water. There's no evidence to find, no archaeological artifact, no photograph, no footprints observable on the water. All we have to go by is the testimony of the eyewitnesses, which we have but many (possibly you also) choose to reject. Many miracles are this way.

Imagine for a moment that God actually appeared to you, I mean, really, in a way for you that was unmistakable. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that he levitated all the furniture in your room and then set it down again. Let's say he filled your room with 100 cute little minions, and then they were gone. And you knew if was real, not psychosis—for the sake of argument. Then he's gone. You run out to tell your friends because you are just blown away. They say, "Prove it." What do you have for them?

Secondly, we can't verify most miracles because they are events in history. Just as we can't re-watch Hannibal recross the mountains en route to Rome, we can't do a science experiment on miracles. They were one-time occurrences in history. You want methodology, but historical events don't lend themselves to methodology.

Third, logically and scientifically speaking, miracles cannot be shown by science or logic to be impossible. The way science generally works is by stating a hypothesis and then designing an experiment to prove or refute the hypothesis. None of this is possible in the event of a spontaneous miracle. Science can only speak to what is in the purview of scientific observation. Anything outside of that ballpark is outside of its scope. Science can't prove to us whether entities exist outside of nature or whether those entities could possibly have an influence in our natural world.

Miracles can only be proven in two ways: (1) They can be shown to be logically consistent with the physical world, or (2) By enough corroboration by credible eyewitnesses.

Scientifically speaking, the odds of certain miracles occurring (such as the resurrection, may be infinity to one, but theologically speaking they are x:x (unknown to unknown). Miracles are outside of the scope of probability calculations. Ultimately you are asking the wrong question of the wrong discipline. Science can really only work in a uniform environment that is predictable, repeatable, and (in this situation) controllable (a control group and an experimental group). Evidentiary demands require some sort of material remains that allow a phenomenon to be studied, but this requirement is outside of the sphere of what we mean by "miracle." Miracles are not predictable (so the situation can't be intentionally studied before the event), reproducible (so the situation can't be tested again to confirm hypotheses), nor controllable (cannot isolate causal mechanisms). Nor do they leave behind any material evidence.

It's absurd to think that everything must be subject to scientific methodology and verification. While we can bring some scientific thinking to bear as we evaluate them, they are just as much outside the purview of science as, "I forgive you."

> What is your methodology for deciding which miraculous claims a reliable and which are not?

There is no methodology for such decisions. Only if one subscribes to the other parts of a faith system that have evidence behind them such that one also subscribes to the theology behind them will one also believe in the miracles that are part of the picture.

> and falsify those in other religions

There is no need to attempt to falsify other miracles. The Bible admits that God is not the only entity who can perform miracles (Mt. 7.21-23; Rev. 13.14).
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Re: How do you verify miracles?

Postby Teagan » Sun May 20, 2018 3:58 pm

> We can't verify most miracles

Put it another way then: how do you know which miracles, if any, are to be taken seriously?

E.g.: you hear of a miracle that makes you want to rededicate your life to Jesus vs. a miraculous claim that Hindus care about that you don't care at all about.
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Re: How do you verify miracles?

Postby jimwalton » Sun May 20, 2018 4:09 pm

Fair question. I think all miracles are to be taken seriously. Whenever something that unusual happens that we attribute to a spiritual entity or force it should warrant our attention. You seem more to be asking (from your "e.g.") how we tell whether a miracle is from God or some other source, if I'm interpreting you correctly.

Detection and exposure of false prophets, false teaching, and miracles that aren't from God isn't all that easy. There are few clear lines. There is a text in 1 John 4.1-6 that gives us a few guidelines.

1\. Use spiritual discernment to test people—their attitudes, behavior, consistency, integrity, godliness, etc. Given enough time, the false will stick out as false and the true will hold true. Time tells the tale. Eventually false colors will show if a person is false.

2\. We always have a duty to think, examine, consider, doubt, and confirm. We have a duty not to just accept blindly but to use every avenue at our disposal to determine the integrity of a thing.

3\. Work that is really of the Spirit of God (1) exalts Jesus, (2) opposes Satan's interests, (3) points people to the Scriptures, (4) elevates truth, and (5) results in love for God and others.
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Re: How do you verify miracles?

Postby Pie Eater » Sun May 20, 2018 4:28 pm

> All we have to go by is the testimony of the eyewitnesses, which we have but many (possibly you also) choose to reject.

It's not a choice. If 20 people tell me with a straight face they cured their child of autism by feeding them bleach I would consider them idiots and be disgusted. I dont choose to do that, its a direct consequence of my knowledge of how the universe works. If 20 people told me they saw a guy fly around the sky I dont choose not to believe them. I cant believe them. People dont fly.

> Imagine for a moment that God actually appeared to you, I mean, really, in a way for you that was unmistakable. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that he levitated all the furniture in your room and then set it down again. Let's say he filled your room with 100 cute little minions, and then they were gone. And you knew if was real, not psychosis—for the sake of argument. Then he's gone. You run out to tell your friends because you are just blown away. They say, "Prove it." What do you have for them?

Nothing, and they have no reason to believe me, and they should not believe me.

> Secondly, we can't verify most miracles because they are events in history. Just as we can't re-watch Hannibal recross the mountains en route to Rome, we can't do a science experiment on miracles. They were one-time occurrences in history. You want methodology, but historical events don't lend themselves to methodology.

If God did actual, giant miracles then we could at least somewhat infer it. Like for example, a global flood.

> Third, logically and scientifically speaking, miracles cannot be shown by science or logic to be impossible.

Nothing is impossible. So what?

Miracles can only be proven in two ways: (1) They can be shown to be logically consistent with the physical world, or (2) By enough corroboration by credible eyewitnesses.

Why would this prove miracles? Me killing someone is perfectly logically consistent with the physical world. Doesnt mean it happened. Eyewitnesses are wrong all the time, no matter how many, or how credible you think they are, which is pretty subjective.

> Evidentiary demands require some sort of material remains that allow a phenomenon to be studied, but this requirement is outside of the sphere of what we mean by "miracle." Miracles are not predictable (so the situation can't be intentionally studied before the event), reproducible (so the situation can't be tested again to confirm hypotheses), nor controllable (cannot isolate causal mechanisms). Nor do they leave behind any material evidence.

Jesus could do them at will. Some chosen people in the Bible seemed to be able to do them at will. So just send a guy down with a supernatural ability to heal, for example. Make him cure every illness known to man, make him be able to regrow limbs, etc. Seems pretty predictable, repeatable, etc.
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Re: How do you verify miracles?

Postby jimwalton » Sun May 20, 2018 4:32 pm

> Its not a choice. If 20 people tell me with a straight face they cured their child of autism by feeding them bleach I would consider them idiots and be disgusted.

So would I be disgusted, but it would be my choice. I wouldn't believe them unless there was reason to believe in the reliability of the source making the claim.

> If 20 people told me they saw a guy fly around the sky I dont choose not to believe them. I cant believe them. People dont fly.

I agree, but it would be my choice. I wouldn't believe them unless there was reason to believe in the reliability of the source making the claim.

> Nothing, and they have no reason to believe me, and they should not believe me.

And yet it actually happened in reality. So you're saying that whether or not people believe in a miracle or even the possibility of miracles has no bearing on whether the phenomenon actually occurred. I agree with you.

> If God did actual, giant miracles then we could at least somewhat infer it

If there actually was a God with supernatural power, it's easy to infer the possibility of miracles.

> Nothing is impossible. So what?

The "so what" is that, then, miracles are possible and shouldn't be written off as ridiculous.

> Why would this prove miracles?

It only proves that they are not impossible and so we should be open-minded about the prospect of miracles.

> Eyewitnesses are wrong all the time, no matter how many, or how credible you think they are, which is pretty subjective.

Eyewitnesses can also be right. We rely upon them for news, in a court of law, and even in science. It depends on the reliability of the eyewitness. Though they can be wrong, they can also be right. We don't just write them off because they are eyewitnesses.

> Jesus could do them at will.

Yes. Jesus could.

> Some chosen people in the Bible seemed to be able to do them at will.

Probably not. Their abilities came and went and pertained to what God was doing in them and through them. I'm not convinced there was anyone in the Bible besides Jesus who could do miracles at will.
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Re: How do you verify miracles?

Postby Tanner » Sun May 20, 2018 5:24 pm

Are there any third-party accounts, that are not already in the bible, of some of these events?

In particular, did the local authorities at the time investigate any of the miracles that involved thousands of people? Surely there must have been someone who wrote this stuff down.
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Re: How do you verify miracles?

Postby jimwalton » Sun May 20, 2018 5:34 pm

We can hardly expect eyewitness accounts from people who weren't there. And yet when we have the written accounts of the people who were there, you don't accept it and want the written accounts of the people who weren't there. That's a tall order.

> Are there any third-party accounts, that are not already in the bible, of some of these events?

I'm trying to figure out what you're asking for. Accounts of biblical miracles "that are not already in the Bible"? Help me out.

> In particular, did the local authorities at the time investigate any of the miracles that involved thousands of people?

There are two times in biblical history when there were "miracles that involved thousands of people"—the Exodus and Jesus. The miracles that are recorded in the Exodus happened while the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, so no "local authorities" were there. The ones of Jesus were investigated by the Pharisees. They acknowledge that Jesus was a worker of miracles (Matthew 12.22-24; 14.54-57; John 3.2). In addition we have some other attestations (outside the Bible) of Jesus's miracles.

 - Josephus, in a text considered to be historically reliable, mentions "Jesus, a wise man. For he was one who did surprising deeds."
- A bowl recently discovered in Alexandria, Egypt, dates from about 125 BC to the first century AD. The engraving reads (in Greek) "dia chrstou o goistais," translated by the excavation team as "through Christ the magician." It is speculated that a first-century magician used it in the work he was doing to invoke the name of Jesus, showing from an extra-biblical source that Jesus was known for his miracles.
- The Paris Magical Papyrus, dated to about AD 300, describes an elaborate exorcism ritual that begins with, "I beseech you by the god of the Hebrews," and then lists a number of mystical names, of which Jesu is the first on elisted. The papyrus then continues with numerous other references to biblical events and persons, some of which are undecipherable. It is yet another evidence from an extra-biblical source that Jesus was known as a worker of wonders, a successful exorcist, and called "the god of the Hebrews."
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Re: How do you verify miracles?

Postby Tanner » Mon May 21, 2018 1:14 pm

Something like a newspaper, or contemporary analogue thereof, or other written account of events like this.

For example, with the Exodus, are there written accounts from the Egyptians' point of view? For instance, these slaves' god sent some sort of daemon that slaughtered a lot of men, women, children, and babies; surely an traumatic event like that would have been recorded by multiple government officials at the time, not to mention recorded by the thousands of people who woke up in the morning to find pieces of their children and babies scattered hither and thither. If you think about it, the common peasants had no idea what went on at the palace, all they'd know is that they were suddenly knee-deep in their kids' giblets for no reason at all.

In addition, did the Pharoah's wizard not make some sort of account of his wizarding failures? That in itself would have been a major event, what with him being the best wizard in all of Egypt to have reached the position of Pharoah's chief wizard.

I'm not saying there's not, but it would be interesting to know if these major events are recorded by the other side.

The fortune teller's bowl is an interesting one. Is it actually a reference to an individual, or a generic title (i.e. "messiah") do you think?

The exorcist's manual doesn't sound like it's a contemporary account.
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Re: How do you verify miracles?

Postby jimwalton » Mon May 21, 2018 1:14 pm

> Something like a newspaper, or contemporary analogue thereof, or other written account of events like this.

Yeah, I guess that would be nice, but they didn't have anything like newspapers because the printing press hadn't been invented. The only way they had to mass produce a document was to make multiple copies by hand—not exactly the daily news kind of process. We do have four different accounts of Jesus's life including his miracles. They were later gathered into the book we call the Bible. On that grounds people reject them, but I can't imagine why. They were accounts of Jesus, written to be historical, and just because we've assembled them into the Bible, they're "no longer objective." I don't know what more we'd expect from people interviewing the eye-witnesses (Lk. 1.1-4), from people who were eyewitnesses (the Gospel of John), and from the other two writers trying to tell the story to show a particular perspective. Some say, "Oh, they were biased." Well, I'd have a bias too if I saw those things. I'd be convinced and I'd write it that way. Besides, bias doesn't mean you're wrong. If it were, then we can't believe any Jewish historian who writes on the Holocaust, or any African-American writing about antebellum slavery. Too many elements of the gospels don’t come across as having been invented for the sake of bias (the disciples' lack of faith, the testimony of women on resurrection, Jesus’ claiming his father had forsaken him, etc.). But elements in the gospels also show they are trying to report accurate history. Richard Dawkins has an objective, an agenda. Gerd Ludemann has an agenda. We don’t reject writings because the authors have an agenda, but because the arguments are insufficient. Even we as readers are biased.

> For example, with the Exodus, are there written accounts from the Egyptians' point of view?

The Egyptians didn't record events that humiliated the Pharaoh or the Egyptian people. Neither did the Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians, or any other ancient group (except the Israelites).

> surely an traumatic event like that would have been recorded by multiple government officials at the time,

Not "surely" at all. They only recorded the great achievements of their king and culture.

> not to mention recorded by the thousands of people who woke up in the morning to find pieces of their children and babies scattered hither and thither.

Uh, no one was hacked to pieces. The account says they simply died, not that they were dismembered.

> did the Pharoah's wizard not make some sort of account of his wizarding failures?

The very few books that have survived show what works, not what doesn't. We don't have their wizardry books. We have copies of their mythographies and we have the Egyptian Book of the Dead. None of their books of spells survived.

> what with him being the best wizard in all of Egypt to have reached the position of Pharoah's chief wizard.

????? Who are you saying was Pharaoh's chief wizard? I lost ya.

> The fortune teller's bowl is an interesting one. Is it actually a reference to an individual, or a generic title (i.e. "messiah") do you think?

It is debated, as is just about everything. The word in question is "chrstou", and the important vowel is missing. If the word is "chrestou," it can mean "good person" or even be the genitive form of the way Suetonius referred to Jesus ("Chrestus"). It could also just mean that a nice guy gave the bowl as a gift. If the word is "christou", it probably refers to Jesus, though there were many messianic claimants in the 1st century. Its combination with magician could indicate a magician who was a good man who did good things, or it could mean that a 1st-c. magician was invoking the name of Jesus for power. As one article says, "According to French marine archaeologist Franck Goddio, co-founder of the Oxford Center of Maritime Archaeology, and Egyptologist David Fabre, the phrase could very well be a reference to Jesus Christ, since he was one known as a primary exponent of white magic."

So, the debate rages on. Though it could be an era-biblical reference to Jesus as a miracle worker, that identification can't be made with a a whole lot of confidence. It is possible, however.

The exorcist's manual is 2 centuries later, but it still shows that Jesus was known as a miracle worker, just as the Gospels portray him.
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