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Did the miracles really happen? Are they happening today?

Christianity, skepticism and the supernatural

Postby Bonky » Thu Nov 29, 2018 3:58 pm

Super brief background on me, I was raised to be a Christian and practiced from age 6 until about age 30. I re-evaluated my Christian beliefs around age 30 and eventually became an apostate.

While science certainly doesn't have all the answers one of the key things it does have [over most religions] are tools that are used to try to make sure we're not fooled, mistaken or tricked into wrong conclusions. Essentially science relies on skepticism as a vital tool [peer review/falsifiable claims etc].

It seems to me that most or all religions do the opposite, the last thing they want is for people to question scripture. It's like healthy skepticism is useful in most or all areas of our life but when it comes to religion things change. It's my view that humanity is pretty horrible at navigating anything supernatural. People seem to be able to believe all kinds of poorly supported claims. With that being said, how does a Christian determine that they are believing true claims about the supernatural vs false ones?
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Re: Christianity, skepticism and the supernatural

Postby jimwalton » Thu Nov 29, 2018 4:09 pm

I applaud your skepticism. I believe we should always be looking for evidence, for corroboration, and to make sure we aren't being tricked or fooled.

I believe faith, according to the Bible, is evidentiary. I define Biblical faith as "making an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make that assumption reasonable." In my opinion, belief is always a choice, and is always based on evidence. When you sit down in a chair, you didn’t think twice about sitting down. You believe that the chair will hold you. Faith? Yes. You've sat in chairs hundreds of times, but you can't be absolutely sure it will hold you this time. Things do break on occasion. But you make an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make it reasonable for you to make that assumption, and you sit down. That's faith, and it was a conscious choice based on a reasonable body of evidence.

Almost all of life works this way because we can never know what lies ahead. Every time you turn a door knob you are expressing faith, because 10,000 times you've turned a door knob, and it opened the door. So you turn the knob and move forward. Does it always work that way? No. Sometimes you turn the knob and the door doesn't open. But you make an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make it reasonable for you to make that assumption, and you walk forward in faith.

We know chairs hold people. That's past experience and learning. We know turning door knobs open doors. We know that when we turn a key a car starts. But every time we turn a car key, we do it because we believe it will start. The evidence is compelling, and it was a conscious choice. We don't know for sure that the car will start, and unfortunately sometimes it doesn't. Then we use our knowledge to try to figure out what to do about it. We dial our phone (as an act of faith, assuming it will work and help us reach another person), and try to get help.

You'll notice in the Bible that evidence precedes faith. There is no "close your eyes and jump off a cliff" and good luck to ya! God appears to Moses in a burning bush before He expects him to believe. He gave signs to take back to Pharaoh and the Israelite people, so they could see the signs before they were expected to believe. So also through the whole OT. In the NT, Jesus started off with turning water into wine, healing some people, casting out demons, and then he taught them about faith. And they couldn't possibly understand the resurrection until there was some evidence to go on. The whole Bible is God revealing himself to us all—and I mean actually, not through some exercise of faith.

My faith in God is a conscious choice because I find the evidence compelling. It's an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make it reasonable for me to make that assumption. When you read the Bible, people came to Jesus to be healed because they had heard about other people who had been healed. They had seen other people whom Jesus had healed. People had heard him teach. Their faith was based on evidence. Jesus kept giving them new information, and they gained new knowledge from it. Based on that knowledge, they acted with more faith. People came to him to make requests. See how it works? My belief in God is based on my knowledge of the credibility of those writings, the logic of the teaching, and the historical evidence behind it all. The resurrection, for instance, has evidences that give it credibility that motivate me to believe in it. My faith in the resurrection is an assumption of truth based on enough evidence that makes it reasonable to hold that assumption. Jesus could have just ascended to heaven, the disciples figured out that he had prophesied it, and went around telling people He rose. But that's not what happened. He walked around and let them touch him, talk to him, eat with him, and THEN he said, "Believe that I have risen from the dead." The same is true for my belief in the existence of God, my belief that the Bible is God's word, and my understanding of how life works.

> the last thing they want is for people to question scripture.

Not so. The Bible can stand up to doubts and questioning—it always has. Asking questions is a good thing. Pursuing evidences and the reasons behind are always good things. Expressing doubt that motivates someone to dive deeper for explanations is a good thing. I always want people to ask questions of Scripture. That's how we learn.

> It's like healthy skepticism is useful in most or all areas of our life but when it comes to religion things change.

I think healthy skepticism is healthy. I think bias that keeps people from being open-minded is where we get into trouble.

> It's my view that humanity is pretty horrible at navigating anything supernatural. People seem to be able to believe all kinds of poorly supported claims.

This is true. People are pretty lousy at it. We can really only digest what has been revealed to us and then look into the evidences behind it and around it. Christianity is evidentiary.

> With that being said, how does a Christian determine that they are believing true claims about the supernatural vs false ones?

We use our brains, we analyze, we study, we use all the resources at our disposal (science, history, literature, archaeology, etc.). I just keep examining the evidence. We all pursue the truth about things, and we do our best to (1) grant truth where it is obvious, (2) use evidence to arrive at "probably true" conclusions, and (3) to do the best we can to arrive at an explanation that best fits the facts.
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Re: Christianity, skepticism and the supernatural

Postby Bonky » Sun Dec 02, 2018 3:14 pm

> I believe faith, according to the Bible, is evidentiary. I define Biblical faith as "making an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make that assumption reasonable." In my opinion, belief is always a choice, and is always based on evidence. When you sit down in a chair, you didn’t think twice about sitting down. You believe that the chair will hold you. Faith? Yes. You've sat in chairs hundreds of times, but you can't be absolutely sure it will hold you this time. Things do break on occasion. But you make an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make it reasonable for you to make that assumption, and you sit down. That's faith, and it was a conscious choice based on a reasonable body of evidence.

You say belief is a choice but also based on evidence. You can't choose to believe something you aren't convinced is true. You couldn't choose to believe you are Elvis reincarnate. This is why I reject the idea that non-believers send "themselves" to hell for not "choosing" to believe. You don't choose, you either become convinced or you don't.
In your chair scenario I noticed you used a natural event to show that we have faith or trust in things. Now try to do the same thing with prayer. How do you demonstrate that prayer is reliable?

> My faith in God is a conscious choice because I find the evidence compelling.

That's an odd way to speak in my opinion. What do you mean a conscious choice? If you were convinced something is true, it's not hard to believe it at that point. I don't know how you would choose to not believe.

> We use our brains, we analyze, we study, we use all the resources at our disposal (science, history, literature, archaeology, etc.). I just keep examining the evidence. We all pursue the truth about things, and we do our best to (1) grant truth where it is obvious, (2) use evidence to arrive at "probably true" conclusions, and (3) to do the best we can to arrive at an explanation that best fits the facts.

How do you use natural resources to examine supernatural claims? How do you verify supernatural claims today never mind one's claimed 2000 years ago? I don't see how the things you list are helpful.
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Re: Christianity, skepticism and the supernatural

Postby jimwalton » Sun Dec 02, 2018 3:15 pm

> You say belief is a choice but also based on evidence. You can't choose to believe something you aren't convinced is true

This is correct. No one generally chooses to believe something they aren't convinced is true. Sometimes we believe in something tentatively, subject to more or better evidence ("OK, I'll accept that for now, but let's see where you're going with this.").

> You couldn't choose to believe you are Elvis reincarnate.

True again. I'm all shook up.

> This is why I reject the idea that non-believers send "themselves" to hell for not "choosing" to believe. You don't choose, you either become convinced or you don't.

It's not a flat scenario. There are things we don't get to choose and some things we do. I don't choose to believe the trees outside are made of marshmallows. That's pure nonsense. I can't just make myself believe nonsense, no matter how hard I try. But I do get to choose, for instance, whether I think President Trump colluded with Russia during the election. I can examine the evidence and made a volitional, rational choice based on what evidence I get, what weight I give to various evidences, and how I interpret it all. That kind of stuff I can choose. In my consideration, "God" is in the latter category, not the former. With God I can examine the evidences (what I see in nature, logic, philosophy, the Bible), choose what weight I will give to various evidences, and how I interpret it all. So you do choose. You weigh the evidences and either become convinced or you're don't. Too often, though, people's decisions are made viscerally or according to their biases, not according to objective standards. That's where we have to be careful. Some people attribute their rejection of God as "I don't get to choose this!" (like trees and marshmallows), when in actuality it's their biases and viscera causing them to skew the weights of the evidences and decide subjectively rather than objectively. That's why non-believers can be regarded as sending themselves to hell. They are skewing the data to arrive where they wanted to end up when they started thinking about it.

> How do you demonstrate that prayer is reliable?

"Reliable" is the wrong word to use for prayer. Prayer is valid. But since it's always God's decision how prayer gets answered, "reliable" isn't an apropos term. And since we know the world doesn't work according to the retribution principle (God's people can expect a better than average record for answers to prayer), we know that the answers to prayer are in the hands of God. They are not subject to scientific studies (one could never isolate and control all the factors involved) I can tell you prayer is valid, and it's effective, but I would never use the world "reliable" for it.

> What do you mean a conscious choice? If you were convinced something is true, it's not hard to believe it at that point.

I have seen people stare objective evidence right in the face and then make a different decision. So many of our decisions are motivated by our biases, emotions, and desires, rather than the objective evidence. Human are complex beings (no duh), and few of us are stark rationalists.

> How do you use natural resources to examine supernatural claims?

We don't. We use natural resources to examine various other claims in the Bible: its historical and cultural claims. As far as supernatural claims, they have to be weighed by other means. For instance, since the Bible has so much provable historicity, we have to wonder why authors trying so hard to tell a true story would go off the deep end with nonsense. Second, since we know that science cannot prove the impossibility of miracles (but rather only their uniqueness), we can't write off supernatural claims on the basis of science. Third, since the logical arguments for the existence of God are far stronger than the arguments against, there is reason to subscribe to theism. Putting the three factors together, we come to subscribe to supernatural claims because (1) science can't say they're not real, (2) theism is probably true, and (3) the Bible has great credibility.
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Re: Christianity, skepticism and the supernatural

Postby Bonky » Tue Dec 04, 2018 1:20 pm

> Some people attribute their rejection of God as "I don't get to choose this!" (like trees and marshmallows), when in actuality it's their biases and viscera causing them to skew the weights of the evidences and decide subjectively rather than objectively. That's why non-believers can be regarded as sending themselves to hell. They are skewing the data to arrive where they wanted to end up when they started thinking about it.

It's odd that you are warning against people and their biases and then you go on to conclude that non-believers don't evaluate the evidence objectively and instead essentially decide "a priori" that it can't be true.

> "Reliable" is the wrong word to use for prayer. Prayer is valid. But since it's always God's decision how prayer gets answered, "reliable" isn't an apropos term. And since we know the world doesn't work according to the retribution principle (God's people can expect a better than average record for answers to prayer), we know that the answers to prayer are in the hands of God. They are not subject to scientific studies (one could never isolate and control all the factors involved) I can tell you prayer is valid, and it's effective, but I would never use the world "reliable" for it.

Let's use the word "effective" then. How do you know this if no matter what the result is it's concluded that it's "God's will". It's a system setup so that one can't fail. Honestly that wouldn't just be for prayer it would be for any aspect of a religious experience.
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Re: Christianity, skepticism and the supernatural

Postby jimwalton » Tue Dec 04, 2018 1:36 pm

> It's odd that you are warning against people and their biases and then you go on to conclude that non-believers don't evaluate the evidence objectively and instead essentially decide "a priori" that it can't be true.

What I was saying is that from my hundreds of conversations with people on this forum, I have found it to be generally true (a generalization, not statistical) that non-believers, just like believers or any person, are often fundamentally shaped by their biases and emotions. So my statement is not the result of a bias but of years of observations based on conversations.

> Let's use the word "effective" then. How do you know this if no matter what the result is it's concluded that it's "God's will". It's a system setup so that one can't fail. Honestly that wouldn't just be for prayer it would be for any aspect of a religious experience.

I don't conclude that it's all "God's will." I think lots of things happen in life that aren't God's will. People choose how they want to behave, even when it displeases God and goes against His will. For instance, in Genesis 19.17 God tells Lot and his daughters to go to the mountains for safety. Lot makes the request (his prayer) to go to the small town of Zoar instead (v. 20). God allows it, though it is against his will (v. 21-22). It turns out to have been a terrible decision on the part of Lot. Verse 30 says he was afraid to stay in Zoar, and so he goes to stay in a cave and his daughters rape him (vv. 33-35). The resulting people groups end up being enemies of Israel (vv. 36-38). We have to be careful how we pray. Not everything is God's will.
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Re: Christianity, skepticism and the supernatural

Postby Bonky » Thu Dec 06, 2018 10:39 am

What I was saying is that from my hundreds of conversations with people on this forum, I have found it to be generally true (a generalization, not statistical) that non-believers, just like believers or any person, are often fundamentally shaped by their biases and emotions. So my statement is not the result of a bias but of years of observations based on conversations.

So you're now stating the non believers are just like believers, we have biases. Either way, if someone dies a non believer well it's their fault right? They should have known better.

>I don't conclude that it's all "God's will." I think lots of things happen in life that aren't God's will. People choose how they want to behave, even when it displeases God and goes against His will. For instance, in Genesis 19.17 God tells Lot and his daughters to go to the mountains for safety. Lot makes the request (his prayer) to go to the small town of Zoar instead (v. 20). God allows it, though it is against his will (v. 21-22). It turns out to have been a terrible decision on the part of Lot. Verse 30 says he was afraid to stay in Zoar, and so he goes to stay in a cave and his daughters rape him (vv. 33-35). The resulting people groups end up being enemies of Israel (vv. 36-38). We have to be careful how we pray. Not everything is God's will.

I didn't mean that the end result would be something God wanted. I mean no matter what happens, one can just interpret it to be exactly what they would expect or want based on their religious paradigm.

Say is this the same Lot that offered up his daughters to be raped? Then later got drunk and had sex with them? You say raped but my daughter could feed me a lot of booze and I'll bet I don't end up in bed with her. Just saying.
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Re: Christianity, skepticism and the supernatural

Postby jimwalton » Thu Dec 06, 2018 10:46 am

> Either way, if someone dies a non believer well it's their fault right? They should have known better.

No, that's not what I'm saying. Some people who die as unbelievers have never heard, like the Sentinelese. As far as we know they have had no interaction with the gospel. So in that case (and presumably many others), it's not their fault. In contrast, people who have heard the truth and choose to reject it are accountable for their repudiation of it.

> I didn't mean that the end result would be something God wanted. I mean no matter what happens, one can just interpret it to be exactly what they would expect or want based on their religious paradigm.

No, many of us work hard to be objective rather than blindly stupid. You follow the evidence where it leads; you don't just look at the world with the bias of blinders and rose-colored glasses. You weigh data, listen to the experts, examine the evidence, and try to make the best decisions possible.

> Say is this the same Lot that offered up his daughters to be raped? Then later got drunk and had sex with them? You say raped but my daughter could feed me a lot of booze and I'll bet I don't end up in bed with her. Just saying.

Yeah, same idiot. Total loser. This was assuredly not what God had in mind. It was not God's will, God's way, or God's result.
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Re: Christianity, skepticism and the supernatural

Postby Bonky » Thu Dec 06, 2018 2:40 pm

> No, that's not what I'm saying. Some people who die as unbelievers have never heard, like the Sentinelese. As far as we know they have had no interaction with the gospel. So in that case (and presumably many others), it's not their fault. In contrast, people who have heard the truth and choose to reject it are accountable for their repudiation of it.

It seems that you're suggesting that it's an objective truth that the Bible contains nothing but true/valid truth claims. So as long as someone hears about it and they don't accept all the claims then they're pushed the truth away knowingly. I mean we can't even objectively confirm that the supernatural exists never mind building on top of that all kinds additional claims left and right.

> No, many of us work hard to be objective rather than blindly stupid. You follow the evidence where it leads; you don't just look at the world with the bias of blinders and rose-colored glasses. You weigh data, listen to the experts, examine the evidence, and try to make the best decisions possible.

And this gets back to the root of my initial post....what you're saying right here sounds fantastic for natural claims. I don't see how this can just carry over to supernatural claims. As I mentioned earlier, supernatural claims TODAY are essentially impossible to verify in any meaningful way never mind the ones that supposedly happened 2000 years ago.

I was raised to be a Christian, I went to a Christian private school [also the family church] in the 70s. I didn't know any better but to assume a theistic world view. I can honestly say I've never had any experience or good reason to believe in the supernatural to begin with.
To help prove my point, name a single supernatural explanation that we've used that actually stands today as a valid explanation for something. There are plenty of claims and assertions but when in history did we appeal to the supernatural and that was ultimately a great idea.
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Re: Christianity, skepticism and the supernatural

Postby jimwalton » Thu Dec 06, 2018 3:06 pm

> It seems that you're suggesting that it's an objective truth that the Bible contains nothing but true/valid truth claims.

Yes, that is what I have discovered to be the case. But sometimes people in the Bible tell untruths, like the friends of Job, Sometimes also in the Bible God accommodates their scientific understanding (which we now know to be faulty) to communicate with them. So we have to make sure we both understand what you mean by "the Bible contains nothing but true/valid truth claims."

> So as long as someone hears about it and they don't accept all the claims then they're pushed the truth away knowingly.

"Knowingly" is a tricky word, and I'm not sure I go for it. There are scientists who disagree with each other, both looking at the same evidence. So also economists, historians, and archaeologists.

> I mean we can't even objectively confirm that the supernatural exists never mind building on top of that all kinds additional claims left and right.

You're right that we can't objectively confirm it, but we can confirm it beyond a reasonable doubt. As was said in the movie *Zero Dark Thirty*, "We don't deal in certainty, we deal in probability."

> I don't see how this can just carry over to supernatural claims.

Because we have use all the tools in our toolbox to examine all claims. Religion doesn't get a free pass.

> As I mentioned earlier, supernatural claims TODAY are essentially impossible to verify in any meaningful way never mind the ones that supposedly happened 2000 years ago.

To an extent, this is true, but science is not the only way to verify claims. Science has to stay in its arena (natural phenomena). We verify historical claims differently than scientific ones. Mathematics is different also. So also philosophy and logic. The supernatural is in a different sphere as well. Suppose your friend was on his deathbed. You asked me to pray specifically for an instant cure—and suppose it happened immediately, right then, exactly as you asked. You know as well as I that some people would say, "Well, there must be a scientific explanation." That's because they have an a priori presupposition that miracles don't happen and are impossible. And there may be a scientific explanation, since our bodies are biological. But does that mean there weren't supernatural forces at work? There is obviously no biological or scientific way to tell.

But that's what you're saying. Even if I levitated a table right in front of your eyes, you may still claim that the supernatural power involved is impossible to verify. And if (just hypothetically assuming) God were to appear to you in your room right now, talk to you, and prove himself to you, when you told your friends about it they wouldn't believe you. The lack of empirical verification doesn't mean supernatural claims are fabrications. Your desire for verification may be misguided. That may not be the right question to ask about supernatural phenomena.

> I was raise to be a Christian, I went to a Christian private school [also the family church] in the 70s. I didn't know any better but to assume a theistic world view. I can honestly say I've never had any experience or good reason to believe in the supernatural to begin with.

So you're in your 50s. I was raised a Christian as well. I've had many struggles through life, and have done deep research, thinking, and conversing. I can honestly say that time and again the case for God, supernaturalism, and Christianity wins the dialectic. The logical arguments for God are far stronger than the arguments against. The evidence for God in the natural world is far stronger than the assumptions of the natural world as it is without a deity. There is nothing in science that says miracles are impossible or even implausible, because science can't speak to that arena. And the evidences for the verity of Christianity are substantial and convincing.

> To help prove my point, name a single supernatural explanation that we've used that actually stands today as a valid explanation for something. There are plenty of claims and assertions but when in history did we appeal to the supernatural and that was ultimately a great idea.

The resurrection has been pawed over for two millennia now. Gary Habermas, Tom Wright, and Mike Licona have written massive books poring over all the evidence. the resurrection actually stands as a valid explanation for the data at hand. Recently Craig Keener wrote a two-volume book about miracles, investigating claims of modern-day miracles as well as reviewing the evidence and logic behind biblical claims. There is plenty of logic and substantiation in what the Bible asserts.

But, again, possibly you are trying to hone in on a scientific explanation for something outside of science's purview. Science can tell us a lot, but it's not the only go-to. You want "verification" for the supernatural. For what, exactly, are you asking? What do you expect to be the resolution of your query, and does that even fit what supernaturalism is all about?
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