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Is there any act of God that can't be explained away?

Postby Koog » Thu Aug 15, 2019 4:15 pm

Is there any act of God (after there were more than couple of humans on earth) or Jesus, that cannot be explained by apophenia, schizophrenia or exaggerated storytelling and could not be performed by an adept magician?
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Re: Is there any act of God that can't be explained away?

Postby jimwalton » Thu Aug 15, 2019 4:16 pm

Sure, as long as you realize that anyone can make up supposed explanations that don't really fit the situation (meaning that you could cavalierly say ANY of it was exaggerated storytelling, but with no evidence to support that conclusion). In other words, I guess you yourself would have to be careful not to be both prejudicial and biased in a priori conclusions, assuming the negative.

  • Creation
  • Healing of a blind person (doctors today are still unable to do that), especially one born blind.
  • Raising the dead
  • Virgin birth
  • One might even say that the preservation of Israel as a people and as a nation is quite unique. No other ancient Near Eastern people group survived antiquity, having been conquered, deprived of a land to call their own, with no central government or cultural forces keeping them together.
  • Healing a man lame for 38 years, where there was instantaneous walking despite muscular atrophy.

There are others, but this should be enough to prompt a response. Let's talk.
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Re: Is there any act of God that can't be explained away?

Postby Koog » Sun Aug 18, 2019 2:03 pm

Creation wasn't witnessed by anyone, so that doesn't meet the rules of the question. The next two I agree (although for the curing the blind, see below (not pun intended)). Virgin birth, well, come on, would you believe anyone who was pregnant and claimed to still be a virgin? This is a bit off-topic, but it always amazes me that some people believe a story that has been passed down from 2000 years ago when they wouldn't believe the same story if it was told them by the person they trust the most today.

As to Israel, well, honestly, given that my grandparents went through the Holocaust, and all the myriad other insane and horrific stuff we've been through, I would have preferred to not be the chosen people, thank you very much. Also, many other Near Eastern people (e.g., Bedouin) would disagree. They literally meet every point you made.

As for the last one, yes, if it actually happened, but we see this kind of crap done by 'Christian healers' on TV all the time, and we know how it's done, so again, if I wouldn't believe it today, I wouldn't believe it in a story from 2000 years ago.
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Re: Is there any act of God that can't be explained away?

Postby jimwalton » Sun Aug 18, 2019 2:11 pm

> Creation wasn't witnessed by anyone, so that doesn't meet the rules of the question.

OK, if you say so. The question doesn't specify what was witnessed, but only what could be explained. But we can move on, as you wish.

> curing the blind ... it always amazes me that some people believe a story that has been passed down from 2000 years ago when they wouldn't believe the same story if it was told them by the person they trust the most today.

We dare not evaluate truth by the age of the account. Because it has been passed down is not a marker of fiction. True stories also get passed down, and we should not disregard them just because time passes.

> Virgin birth, well, come on, would you believe anyone who was pregnant and claimed to still be a virgin?

Nope, and that's the point. Since there was no assumption from prophecy of a virgin birth, Matthew and Luke had no bias to expect it. Secondly, Matthew and Luke (a doctor) knew biology well enough to know they were claiming something miraculous, not biologically believable. Matthew and Luke had nothing to gain by telling such a preposterous story unless it were true. They have no reason to concoct a story that would discredit their account. We need to consider the broader picture here.

1. Matthew was trying to present a case that Jesus was of the line of David. He even starts his book with “Jesus, son of David...” It hurt his case to claim that Joseph wasn’t involved in the conception. Jewish messianic expectation included Davidic descent, so no one was expecting a virginal conception. Matthew had nothing to gain from claiming it unless it were true.

2. Matthew would have absolutely no motive for inventing such a story. It only made his writing seem mythological. No convincing motive for contriving such a story has yet been suggested.

3. J. Gresham Machen states that traditional Jewish monotheism would have abhorred the notion of a story about God replacing a human male in the act of conception to be born in the flesh as a son of God. It is one thing to say that Jesus’s conception by the Holy Spirit could be harmonized by divine revelation with the transcendence of Almighty God, but it is quite a different matter to assert that a Jew, beginning with the transcendence of God, would ever have been able, without compulsion of fact, without the enlightenment of revelation, without the reality of history, to arrive at a virginal conception of the son of God.

4. Since Isaiah 7.14 (the prophecy referred to in Mt. 1.23) was not understood to predict a virginal conception, there was no reason for Matthew to invent it.

5. The only logical reason that Matthew and Luke would have included a virginal conception is if they were convinced that’s what actually happened. It goes against reason and the known biology, even at that time. (They didn’t understand what we know about gynecology, but they knew it took two to tango.)

6. The theology of Jesus’s sinlessness doesn’t require a virgin birth. The Bible is silent about exactly how sin passes from one generation to another through humanity. We are merely told that sin entered the world through Adam’s sin, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned (Romans 5.12). How sin and death pass to us we are not told. There was no reason to make up a virgin birth.

7. The virgin birth is never again mentioned in Scripture. If it were that important to our theology of Christ’s deity, Paul or the book of Hebrews would have mentioned it. Matthew’s point is not so much that Jesus is God because he was born of a virgin as much as that the birth of Jesus was the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is God because He is the incarnated deity.

> As to Israel, well, honestly, given that my grandparents went through the Holocaust, and all the myriad other insane and horrific stuff we've been through, I would have preferred to not be the chosen people, thank you very much.

I understand the sentiment. It was also in "Fiddler on the Roof," where Tevye says, "I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can't You choose someone else?" But that sentiment, as legitimate as it might be, has no bearing on the fact that Israel is unique in its survival from antiquity.

Certain people have survived in the Near East. But where are the Assyrians (as Assyrians), Babylonians (as Babylonians), Edomites, Hittites, Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites, Amalekites, etc? Their descendants are still with us, obviously, but not as a people group with a nation. The Jews are unique, and that was my point.

> Healing a man who had been lame for 38 years. ... yes, if it actually happened, but we see this kind of crap done by 'Christian healers' on TV all the time, and we know how it's done,

Now, "Christian healers" are the lame ones, and what they do is not to be confused with what Jesus did. You have no warrant to connect the two. What we have today are frauds and charlatans, but it's illegitimate and baseless to say that because TV healers are fake, therefore Jesus was also a fake. That's like saying that because Donald Trump is a bad president, therefore Abraham Lincoln was also.

Actually there have been scholarly studies done of miracles in the modern world, and they have not only merit but substantiation. I presume you have investigated these yourself. If not, it would seem you're guilty of bias in drawing a conclusion before making the investigation, on the presumption of an a priori presupposition of "such things are impossible."
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Re: Is there any act of God that can't be explained away?

Postby Koog » Mon Aug 19, 2019 9:17 am

First of all, thanks for that in depth reply. I appreciate it. There are some issues I have with some of your reasoning (naturally), but your viewpoint is definitely interesting, and this is why I love dialogue.

I will just reply to a couple of your points:

> 1) No convincing motive for contriving such a story has yet been suggested.

Convincing to whom? I don't mean to sound callous, but how about "someone made it up as a joke, they believed it and wrote it down as truth." I mean, "I don't see why they would lie so it must be true" is not a very good reason for believing someone. Just to give an example from this weekend, Israel told Rashida Tlaib she can't come visit. So she wrote a letter saying "please, I just want to visit my dying grandmother." Now if Israel had said "no", anyone saying that she wrote that letter to try to make Israel seem evil would be labeled a conspiracy theorist, and I'm sure that many people would say " No convincing motive for contriving such a story has yet been suggested."

> 2) You have no warrant to connect the two.

I am just saying, "we know that these guys are frauds, and we know how the trickery is done. Considering I know that this stuff can be faked, why should I believe that this same thing that was faked now wasn't faked before? Because people 2000 years ago, when people were even more gullible, believed it?"

> 3) Actually there have been scholarly studies done of miracles in the modern world, and they have not only merit but substantiation.

If you give me a link to a scholarly peer-reviewed study that shows that there are miracles in a respected scientific journal, I will get baptized this Sunday. I am not even kidding. I would absolutely LOVE to believe in Jesus. It would make my life much easier.
Koog
 

Re: Is there any act of God that can't be explained away?

Postby jimwalton » Mon Aug 19, 2019 9:53 am

> I don't mean to sound callous, but how about "someone made it up as a joke, they believed it and wrote it down as truth."

This is exactly the point and how we know this is not the explanation. The claim of a virgin birth just strangled their own case. It was an impediment, not an asset. If they're trying to influence people and win friends to the movement, the virgin birth is the absolute wrong strategy. No moron would even try a stunt like that, not as a serious strategy, and certainly not as a joke. If they are trying to promote a theory (Jesus is God!) and win people over from Judaism (who never joke about their religion) and from Roman polytheism, a joke about a virgin birth is the kiss of death. A claim about a virgin birth is sure to raise eyebrows and motivate scorn.

> Rashida Tlaib

Suppose Tlaib had given this as a reason to be allowed into Israel: "Because I'm going to be picked up by extraterrestrial space ship." Yeah, like Israel'd ever open the doors for that. With a moronic plea, she sinks her own case. Sure, Israel said "yes" about visiting the grandma, and then the visit collapsed anyway. But if she had said something ridiculous, she would ruin her own cause.

> "we know that these guys are frauds, and we know how the trickery is done. Considering I know that this stuff can be faked, why should I believe that this same thing that was faked now wasn't faked before?

Sure we know these guys are frauds. Sure, we know how the trickery is done. But it's misguided to assume that become someone is a fake, then all are fakes. I can name politicians that are weasels, but should I then assume that all politicians are weasels and always were? Trump is a weasel, so therefore so was Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, Abe Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, and Thomas Jefferson. Instead of prejudicially assuming "these guys are fakes, therefore Jesus was a fake," we have to evaluate Jesus on his own terms, in his own context, and on the basis of evidences pertaining to him.

> Because people 2000 years ago, when people were even more gullible, believed it?"

Actually, the Roman Empire of the 1st century is known to have been an era and culture of great skepticism, not one of gullibility. Even in the Gospel accounts, people aren't just pushovers to believe in Jesus (not even his disciples). The Romans, Jews, and even disciples in the New Testament are presented as wary and skeptical, not wild and gullible. It is true of the era.

> If you give me a link to a scholarly peer-reviewed study that shows that there are miracles in a respected scientific journal, I will get baptized this Sunday.

There is a two-volume work by Dr. Craig Keener where he researched both the miracles of the New Testament and modern miracles. If you're serious about really wanting to know, I recommend it to you (https://www.amazon.com/Miracles-Credibility-New-Testament-Accounts/dp/0801039525/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1YB9ERYUXP4CP&keywords=craig+keener+miracles&qid=1566222037&s=gateway&sprefix=craig+keener+mi%2Caps%2C151&sr=8-1). I know it's an expense and a hefty read, but if you are "not even kidding" and "would absolutely LOVE to believe in Jesus," you just may want to take the plunge.

As to a study, try these. (It's difficult to get everything you want online.)

https://www.greenmedinfo.com/article/proximal-intercessory-prayer-results-significant-improvements-auditory-and-vis

https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674064676
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Re: Is there any act of God that can't be explained away?

Postby Koog » Mon Aug 19, 2019 11:35 am

I took a look at the links. The first and last ones are not peer-reviewed (books typically aren't), so I'm obviously not going to read them. The second two (including the book) attest to the power of prayer. I do not doubt that prayer is useful. Meditation has also been found to be useful. Yoga is great for physical and mental health. All great things that affect the mind in a positive way. Now if you show me a peer-reviewed study that shows that prayer to one God is more consistently effective than prayer to another God, THAT would be something.

Also, as a scientist, let me say unequivocally that if a properly conducted study actually found compelling evidence that miracles occur, that would be on the front cover of both Science and Nature.
Koog
 

Re: Is there any act of God that can't be explained away?

Postby jimwalton » Mon Aug 19, 2019 11:36 am

Many books of this sort are peer-reviewed, though certainly not all. Keener is well-respected as a careful scholar (he wrote a 4-volume commentary on the book of Acts that has been well-received and acclaimed). I suggested the books on the offshoot that you were truly interested in investigating the claims of miracles. If you're only interested to the point of brief and convenient research, then I probably can't help you, and it motivates me to interpret your motives to a less-than-stellar conclusion.

> The second two (including the book) attest to the power of prayer.

The concern at hand, at least the way I understood it, was whether or not divine intervention led to legitimate healing. If so, it hardly matters whether it comes by the laying on of hands or by prayer (though I would say legitimate healers engage in deep prayer as they do their work, so the distinction is foggy). Meditation and yoga are useful for the participant, but never claim to be efficacious for someone else ("I'll meditate so that your disease can subside.").

> Now if you show me a peer-reviewed study that shows that prayer to one God is more consistently effective than prayer to another God, THAT would be something.

That's what this study is. But if you're not interested in truly pursuing it, that's your business. But then you mostly squelch your own case as bias and prejudice, not sincere inquiry.

> Also, as a scientist, let me say unequivocally that if a properly conducted study actually found compelling evidence that miracles occur, that would be on the front cover of both Science and Nature.

Then I'm sure you understand that it's impossible for a scientist to confirm a miracle. Science can only work with natural explanations. In the absence of a natural explanation (and there are plenty of these), a scientists shrugs his shoulders. He hopes for a future explanation, or he recognizes it's outside of science's orbit. A scientist who finds compelling evidence that miracles occur is no longer be doing science—I trust you recognize that.

But I also hope you understand that science cannot object to the possibility of special divine action—that the causal continuum can't be acted upon by a supernatural, transcendent being. There is nothing about miracles that is necessarily incompatible with science. They are only incompatible if it can be proved, scientifically and logically, that nature is a closed continuum of cause and effect, and that spirit beings do not and cannot exist, and even if they did exist, nature is closed to their action, intervention, or interference. Such things can't be proved, and they're certainly not in science's purview. It is not a scientific pursuit to prove (or even assert) that the material universe is causally closed. Classical science is nowhere nearly sufficient to prove anti-interventionism, and Quantum Mechanics even less so (QM teaches indeterminism—a spectrum of possibilities to the possible outcomes). Miracles are incompatible with neither classical science (Newtonianism) or QM. The laws of nature describe how the world works when, or provided that, nature is a closed system. Newton's laws are stated for closed or isolated systems—when no resultant external forces act on that system. And science cannot prove that there are no such external forces.

So I don't think that a science experiment, even properly conducted, could determine evidence of a divine miracle. It's not in their arena. And it would never be on the front cover of both Science and Nature, because such a discovery would no longer be science, but metaphysics.
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Re: Is there any act of God that can't be explained away?

Postby Koog » Mon Aug 19, 2019 1:59 pm

> That's what this study is

Which one? There is one study that is peer reviewed and that one isn't this.

> A scientist who finds compelling evidence that miracles occur is no longer be doing science—I trust you recognize that.

I wholeheartedly disagree. Take a large group of people with the same affliction, split them into two halves at random. Give them the same medical treatment (no treatment is fine too, as long as it's the same). Let a group of Christians pray for one group and a similarly sized group of Muslims pray for another. If you find a statistically significant difference in recovery rates, that is scientific, not metaphysical. If this is confirmed when this experiment is repeated, then I will become a believer in that religion.
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Re: Is there any act of God that can't be explained away?

Postby jimwalton » Mon Aug 19, 2019 2:23 pm

So you think a scientist who says "God did it" will be recognized as doing science? "I've done multiple experiments, and have concluded that the cause is divine." That just baffles me. That's outside of the reach of science, and would never be accepted as a scientific statement or conclusion.

> Let a group of Christians pray for one group and a similarly sized group of Muslims pray for another. If you find a statistically significant difference in recovery rates, that is scientific, not metaphysical.

Such studies have been done, but are always necessarily inconclusive because prayer is an impossible control factor. Can we guarantee that someone else, somewhere in the world, is not praying for this person? Can we guarantee that this is a prayer that God would or will answer? Can we guarantee that the people praying are praying with the right motives (James 4.3)? It's just not a situation that science can control, and we know that good science depends on control. If a strong wind is going to change the speed and/or trajectory of a falling object, then the data is skewed. We need control and reproducibility to do good science, and they are impossible in a prayer situation. You so badly want science to be the know-all and detect-all in spiritual situations, but such things are out of science's league. We can predict the rate of a falling ball (science), but we cannot predict the outcome of an election (not science). We can use science to contribute to a court case, but we need a jury to make a decision (since there are other factors at play than data). We can use science to analyze Beethoven's 9th symphony, but we've missed the whole point if we think it's a scientific matter. So also with miracles, prayer, and healing.

Suppose this: A patient has terminal cancer, as evidenced by medical tests and professional medical opinion. Suppose now that I pray for said patient, and the next day the cancer is gone—completely GONE. Can I guarantee you that it was divine action, or is it possible that you could possibly arrive at another (physical) explanation? Even if it were divine action, there might still be a physical explanation. How would one ever tell? Science has no way to confirm or measure divine intervention, especially if we grant (as Christians do) that God uses natural means sometimes to accomplish his purposes.

If you require scientific proof of divine healing, (1) you will never become a believer in that religion, (2) you are approaching the reality of God from the wrong angle, and (3) you are perceiving Christianity all wrong.

Even if someone came back from the dead, at my direct prayer, coinciding exactly in time, you could still concoct other "natural" theories to explain it: "Maybe he wasn't really totally dead. People do make mistakes about such things, y'know. It was just a coincidence. Obviously his brain waves were still functioning at a survival level, and his body had not yet..." Whatever. You are misapplying science to a question it has no part of, and making that the criterion for belief. To me it's like saying, "Unless you can prove by science that you have forgiven your friend for the hurt he caused you, I'll never be your friend." Such things cannot be proved by science.
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