Posts Tagged ‘Miracles’

Book Plunge: Where The Conflict Really Lies?

September 17, 2014

What do I think of Alvin Plantinga’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Since this book has been one talked about highly in the modern science debate, which I do enjoy, I figured I should take a look. Alvin Plantinga is one of the biggest names in Christian philosophy today. He has also written some on what he sees going on in the new atheism today so I was eager to see where he would say the real conflict in the science and religion debate lies.

Plantinga starts off with a case that I have been making. He looks at the idea that many atheists will say evolution is true, therefore theism is false. Plantinga is willing to grant evolution for the sake of argument and contends that it could be that God would use an evolutionary process to bring about the creation the way that He wants to.

I find this an important point to stress.

Too often, fundamentalist atheists and fundamentalist Christians think the exact same way. If evolution is true, then Christianity is false, and if Christianity is true, then evolution is false. It could be that they’re both true. It could be that they’re both false. There is nothing in one that necessarily contradicts the other. To be sure, some forms of Christianity would face contradictions with evolution and some understandings of evolution would contradict Christianity.

For instance, if you hold evolution is an unguided process, then for the most part, this would go against Christianity, yet the problem with that position is that that position is not known through science. It is a metaphysical idea. Meanwhile, if you hold to a view like young-earth creationism, then you will no doubt find a conflict with evolution.

It’s my stance with Christians that if you are not science-minded, don’t argue evolution. Leave that to those who are science-minded. If you are science-minded and you want to present a scientific argument against evolution, have at it! Now if you are a skeptic who holds to evolution and receives such an argument, it behooves you to really look at it. I contend that if evolution falls, it will fall because it is bad science and will do so when better science shows up.

Plantinga also points out that the theist in fact has the most options at this point. For a naturalist, at this point, evolution is the only game in town. The theist can be open to evolution or he can go with fiat creation if he thinks the evidence warrants that. Neither one will be harmful to his views.

If we instead go with the route of the fundamentalists, we create a false gap between science and religion. When it is asked why so many don’t believe in evolution today in America, it is because for the most part, most people in this country are theists and if it comes down to choosing God who most people would claim to know through a personal experience (Not validating that. Just stating it) and it comes down to choosing God or evolution, the majority of them will choose God. We could argue that they should sit down and weigh out the evidence and make a decision, and I agree they should, but that sword also goes the other way.

If many atheists are taught that belief in Christianity means that they have to give up evolution and then in their eyes be anti-science, then it becomes a no-brainer just as much. If they want to be scientifically-minded people, then they will just have to reject the resurrection. This is why so few that I meet no doubt have really failed to interact with the evidence and in fact taken knee-jerk positions. (Jesus never existed for instance. The sad part is that there are more scientists who hold to a YEC view than there are historians who hold that Jesus never existed. If the atheists see YEC as a joke, they should see Christ-mythicism as a bigger one.)

I contend that too often the evolution debate has been a knee-jerk debate as well based on people thinking that the “plain reading” of a text must be the right one and that Genesis must have been written to address scientific issues. Both of these are modern presuppositions. The problem that we really have is not with what the Bible says, but with the modern thought processes we read into the Bible.

What about miracles? Plantinga again sees no contradiction there as well. It is this idea that we often encounter that if you believe in miracles, you believe in a God who is constantly intervening in the system. While we would say God intervenes, we do not think it is constant. In fact, I consider this to be based on a large misnomer. God is constantly interacting with the system holding it all together. Much of the modern debates assume that if God is doing anything with the creation, it is when He directly acts in the form of a miracle. Other than that, the creation can run just fine on its own, all the while ignoring that it requires God’s upholding of it for it to just exist.

The reason that we recognize miracles is because we do have an organized system. Why is it a virgin birth would be seen as a miracle? Because we know darn well what it takes to make a baby. Why would walking on water be seen as a miracle? Because we know what happens when people try to walk on water. Why would a resurrection be seen as a miracle? Because we know that dead people stay dead.

It has never made sense to me to say that because we live in an era of modern science, we now know miracles don’t happen. Sure, the ancients weren’t as scientific as we are, but did they have to be to know what it takes to make a baby, that people don’t naturally walk on water, and to know that dead people stay dead? Are these recent discoveries since the scientific era?

Plantinga does briefly touch on biblical criticism and I would have liked to have seen more replies to what is going on in that area since too many atheists just read the people that agree with them and go on from there. (I think of Victor Stenger who on Unbelievable? decried people who use just one source and then said for the questions about the Bible, he relies on Bart Ehrman. By all means read Ehrman, but read his critics as well and if you read the NT scholarship that is conservative, then read people like Ehrman as well) This was a part that Plantinga looked to have brought in and then just let drop.

Plantinga goes on to talk about two areas of agreement he sees between Christianity and science. Both of these are in the areas of fine-tuning. One is the intelligent design of the cosmos. Plantinga is a bit more hesitant there, but he does lean to the idea that fine-tuning of the universe if demonstrable, and to some extent I think it is, does fit in well with theism.

The next area would be in the area of the research of Michael Behe with Darwin’s Black Box. Plantinga does think that Behe is on to something here. To go with Behe would not rule out evolution either, but it would point to evolution needing to be guided and he spells out what he thinks would be needed to have a defeater for Behe’s beliefs. Those wanting more on these last two points will need to read the work itself since I don’t discuss the science as science.

The next area of concord that he sees is that science arose in a Christian milleu and this was because the Christians saw themselves in the image of God and that God made a creation that is rational and meant to be understood. Plantinga makes the case that it is incredible that mathematics of a complex nature that we can do would be that which is just what we need to understand the universe.

Finally, he brings out the deep conflict. For this, Plantinga uses his famous evolutionary argument against naturalism where he says you can believe in one or the other, but you will face a problem if you believe in both because you will have a defeater for your belief in naturalism. The argument is an interesting one worthy of consideration.

So this gets us to where the conflict really lies and that is….

Do you really think I’ll spoil it for you? This was a great ending to the book and I recommend instead of my sharing it, that you go read it for yourself.

A downside to the book however is that I did often wish when historical questions came up, like Biblical criticism or the history of science, that a historian had been called on to write those. Also, sometimes, the writing in Plantinga’s book becomes highly technical and thus it will not be as accessible to the layperson. Still, there is plenty here for all readers to consider. I recommend this one for an excellent look at the modern debate between science and religion.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

How To Not Make A Messiah

May 6, 2014

If you were to create an account of a Messiah for the people of Israel, what would you not do? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Many times we’re told about how Jesus was a made-up figure meant to inspire the people of Israel and to be a challenge to Caesar. All manner of motives have been given for this great hoax to take place, but I’d like to consider this idea. What kind of Messiah would you make if you wanted one just to win a popularity contest and get the people to follow you? I think it’s easier to talk about what you would not do.

First, you would not have anything that would indicate that the birth of such a person was illegitimate. That is, you would want him to be a descendant of his father and his mother. Some might think it would be good to have a deity bring the child into existence in a more direct way, but for a Jew, this would seem too close to paganism. Therefore, you will have them come from a family of high honor.

You also would make sure that this family would be a wealthy family. This would fit the scene of your Messiah. After all, in the ancient world, poor people were not trusted. Rich ones were the ones that had the favor of the gods and the poor were the ones who were more prone to deceive you because you have something they want.

You will also make sure this Messiah comes from a town that is well-known and honorable. You’d avoid a no-name town that no one cares about such as, oh, Nazareth. The birthplace of your Messiah will be a determining factor of his future after all.

You will also seek to have him come from a region that is not looked down on in the world, such as the area that we call Palestine today. Claims from that part of the world were not taken seriously by the populace as a whole so while this might impress Jews, it would certainly not impress Gentiles.

You would make sure this person has a great career. They would likely be a king or a military leader. For the Jews, this would mean someone in the line of David, who the Messiah was to be a descendant of. For Gentiles, a powerful warrior would earn their respect, especially for those who were not happy with the Roman Empire.

You would not have this person be a miracle man. Why? Because people like Lucian and others made it a habit to debunk miracle claims and the world was full of people who were skeptical of miracles. Adding miracles would make your messiah seem like the modern equivalent of a televangelist.

You would make sure his followers were the best of the best. That would mean people who fully understood his teachings and embraced the reality of who he was. Not having your Messiah be understood would be an indication that your Messiah was not a good teacher. He would also be known by the company of his closest followers.

You would make sure his immediate family accepted his claims as well. After all, if one’s own family doesn’t accept one’s unique claims about oneself, then why should anyone else do so? Having the recognition of your family is important in this field.

You would have him travel abundantly. This is the Messiah who is to save the world after all. There’s no need to limit him to one country or people. Go out and spread him with all the world and make sure he has a worldwide reputation.

You would have him be embraced by all his people. After all, why should anyone think that a person is the Messiah of the Jews if it turns out the Jews themselves do not accept such a claim? How could someone proclaim such a message with confidence.

You would certainly not have him die a shameful death. Now for a shameful death, I can’t think of any more shameful than crucifixion. This was the humiliation given to dissidents of Rome who were seeking to be their own kings. Such people would be branded as traitors to Rome and defeated by the Roman Empire. For a Jew, they would be seen as under God’s curse. In any way, following such a person would mean identifying with him, something that would dissuade people from following him.

If this Messiah figure died, you would make sure he had an honorable burial. That would mean that all the people would come immediately to mourn him. He would be mourned by his family and he would be buried in the tomb of his ancestors and near the place where he lived. Anything else would be dishonorable.

This person if dead would be divinely exalted. This would mean this person was immediately ushered into the presence of God and received vindication that way. Any other way, like a bodily resurrection, would be far harder to explain after all and be the route that could be most easily disproven, which is not helpful if you’re making up this claim. You want something that cannot be disproven at all. Besides, this is what happened to the emperor and you’re wanting to rival the emperor. Who wants a bodily resurrection anyway? That returns you to a prison.

You would also make sure your belief was not exclusive. Your messiah would be a divine figure indeed, but he would be one among many. This would be someone that your Gentile friends after all could worship along with all their other deities.

Now these ideas are important to follow, but it would be difficult to follow all of them, though possible. Still, one should be absolutely certain that any belief that went against all of these would have to be doomed to failure. That would be the last kind of Messiah that anyone would make up and follow.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Historical Figure of Jesus

April 25, 2014

What do I think of this book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

E.P. Sanders is really one of the most important writers in recent times on the historical Jesus. His works have been highly influential and while he does not come from the Christian perspective, he does I think seek to treat the Gospels fairly and not always with a hyper-skepticism, although I think there are times that the skepticism that he has is unwarranted.

Let’s start with something he does not say. Not even on the radar at all for Sanders is the idea that Jesus never even existed. This despite the idea that internet atheists will often insist that there is some debate to this. In fact, he will tell you that we know a lot about Jesus. In fact, on page 3, he tells us that the sources that we have for Jesus are better than the ones that we have for Alexander the Great.

Sanders starts us off largely with the political setting and the theological setting of Jesus. What was Rome doing at the time of Jesus? What was going on in Judaism at the time? Both of these are essential questions and readers who want to go with the Bible only and no extra-Biblical information will find that their attempts to understand what was going on in the life of Jesus are highly lacking since they do not consider all the sources. This is remarkable since even Sanders agrees Jesus was not thought much of in his time and Palestine was not thought much of either.

Sanders also even addresses the common charge that the Gospels are anonymous. He tells us on page 66 that in the ancient world, to have an anonymous work implied complete knowledge and reliability. To put a name to the account would be just saying “In my opinion, this is what happened.” Could it be that despite what internet atheists say again that there was an entirely valid reason for a work to be anonymous?

My main contentions are largely twofold. First off, on page 143 he quotes Cicero’s view that there are no miracles. (Despite the ancient world supposedly consisting of gullible people, Cicero would be right at home with the intellectual elite of his day) Sanders says he fully shares this view. Unfortunately, this view is not defended. Now can one investigate miracles fairly despite disbelieving in them? Yes. All one needs to do is take a non-dogmatic stance. It is just saying “I don’t believe in miracles, but I am open to the evidence.” Then look at the evidence and be skeptical, but make sure your skepticism is reasonable.

The other claim is one that shows up repeatedly and that’s that Jesus was wrong about his coming at the end of the age. This too often relies on a more literal reading of the text than on the kind that I believe Jesus fully intended us to get. Unfortunately, this kind of viewpoint has been bought into by several skeptical writers including Ehrman. Many who do this also tend to state repeatedly that we can’t take the Gospels literally. It is quite amusing that we’re repeatedly told to not do this and yet on this point, that is exactly what the skeptics do.

Still, someone is impoverished if they don’t take advantage of reading authors like Sanders. While the Christian will disagree with his ultimate conclusions, there is still much valuable information to learn and we owe it to ourselves as good investigators to do so.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast: 4/26/2014 — Craig Blomberg.

April 24, 2014

What’s coming up on Saturday’s episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

First off, due to a scheduling need of my guest, our episode will air a little bit later this Saturday. Instead of the traditional time of 3-5 PM EST, we will do the show from 4-6 PM EST.

So now, let’s get to the heart of the matter. What’s coming up?

Well I have as a return guest someone who has come to be an arch-heretic (if you believe certain parties heavily pushing an anti-intellectual view of Inerrancy) in the media. That is Craig Blomberg who will be back again to discuss his recent excellent book, “Can We Still Believe The Bible?” So who is Craig Blomberg? According to his bio:

“Dr. Craig Blomberg is Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colorado. He holds the B.A. from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, the M.A. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and the Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

Craig is the author of twelve books and has co-authored or co-edited seven more, along with dozens of journal articles and chapters in multi-author works. His books include three on the historical reliability and interpretation of the gospels (one specializing in John), two on interpreting and preaching the parables, three commentaries (on Matthew, 1 Corinthians and James), a textbook on Jesus and the Gospels and another on Acts through Revelation, and two books on material possessions in the Bible.

On Sunday mornings Craig regularly preaches and teaches in a variety of churches. On Sunday evenings, he attends and is part of the leadership team of Scum of the Earth Church in urban Denver, an outreach ministry to “the right-brained and left out” young adults of the metro area.

Craig’s wife, Fran, is currently adjunct professor of Intercultural Ministries at Denver Seminary and is pursuing her Ph.D in Missiology through the International Baptist Seminary in Prague. Craig and Fran have two daughters: Elizabeth (Little), who is married and is employed as a lay student worker at her Methodist Church in Canterbury, England; and Rachel, who is majoring in biochemistry at the University of Rochester, New York.”

Blomberg 2014 pic 1

Despite what his critics think, I find Blomberg’s book to be incredibly helpful and for those who were listening last Saturday, keep in mind that Daniel Wallace as well spoke highly of Blomberg. Blomberg’s book covers the areas of the text of the Bible, the canon of Scripture, the problems of translation, the issue of Inerrancy, questions about genre consideration, and finally miracles. All of these are incredibly relevant to our culture today and all of them have answers.

I really hope you’ll be there to listen to this important episode and also that you’ll go out and get a copy of Blomberg’s book. Remember that our show will be on a different time this week and that is going to be from 4-6 PM EST. We will naturally be able to take your calls as well and the number if you want to call in is 714-242-5180.

The link can be found here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Can We Still Believe The Bible?

April 1, 2014

What do I think of Craig Blomberg’s latest book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

CanWeStill

I was one of those fortunate enough to get a copy in advance of Blomberg’s latest book for review purposes. As it stands, I was expecting to get a book on new findings that demonstrate the reliability of the Gospels and answers to atheist objections and matters of that sort. I was disappointed in that regards.

But sometimes, it’s good to be disappointed.

Blomberg’s book was not what I expected, and that’s a good thing, because he dealt more with issues surrounding the Bible. I don’t think he wrote this for skeptics of the faith as much as he wrote it for Christians to get them to focus on what’s really the most important, and there have been too many debates lately that have lost that focus.

The book moves in a gradual path from one point to the next connecting the chapters. There is a progression that the reader can easily pick up on that answers the major contemporary issues that are surrounding the Bible today. Also in this, Blomberg goes to great lengths to avoid extremes. There’s more of a happy medium in the topics that he raises that he encourages us to embrace.

The first topic Blomberg deals with is if we have the right words of the Bible or not. After all, if the text has just been so terribly corrupted, then how can we even begin to say we believe the Bible since we have no idea what it says?

We’ve seen those memes before that have the facts about the Bible about how the copies we have are late and there are only copies and copies and we possess no originals and since all of this is true, well we just can’t really trust the Bible.

The sad reality is that if the text of the NT cannot be trusted, the text of any other ancient document cannot be trusted. Now keep in mind at this point I am not saying the information conveyed in the text is true. I am simply saying that the text has been handed down reliably.

For every ancient text, we only have copies. Some of these are indeed centuries away from the original text. Sometimes, we only have a few extant copies. Yet the time span of the Bible is closer by far than other ancient texts and when it comes to the number of texts that we have, there is an embarrassment of riches.

In fact, we have more evidence of the reliability of the Biblical text than we did when Ehrman had his crisis of faith that he recounts in several of his books. Yet still, this idea persists that we can’t know what the authors of the Bible originally said. (Interestingly, Ehrman does think he can get to what the oral tradition was behind the text of the Bible. So Ehrman thinks he can take an inaccurate text and use that to get an accurate oral transmission?) A sign of this is that recently on Peter Boghossian’s Facebook page he put up a link to Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman and said he was sure the apologists would not comment.

As if any of us were just unprepared for Ehrman and had nothing to say.

This is also especially so since there is always new information coming. A book that came out shortly after Blomberg finished the manuscript I’m sure is The Early Text of the New Testament. There is even a rumor that we could have a 1st century copy of Mark, which would really devastate much of this ideology.

For those interested, Blomberg even goes into Old Testament textual criticism. He notes that the skeptics would have a stronger case here, but it is not made. I suppose the NT is the one that most want to deal with and sadly, too many Christians do ignore the OT.

On the other extreme, Blomberg advises not heeding groups of people like the KJV onlyists. As he tells us, each generation it seems this movement arises again and must be dealt with. I won’t go into what Blomberg says here, but he goes so far as to say the KJV onlyists go past the Muslims in the way they choose one text and just exclude all others.

The next topic to consider is the canon of the Bible. Did the church get it right with the canon? Blomberg here shows how many of the books were debated for the OT and the NT both but eventually made it in. He makes a case for why the Apocrypha was not included in the sacred literature and discusses the books that were selected to possibly be in the canon but in the end, were rejected.

What’s the other extreme to having the canon be flexible entirely? Well it’s to say that the Bible stands alone and is our only guide for anything. This gets ridiculous when we see many books on a Biblical Guide to X, where the topic is concerning matters the Bible was never meant to address. One can find principles that are consistent with the Bible, but let’s not get that confused with what the Bible is really authoritatively teaching. If you want to learn algebra, your best bet is a math textbook and not the Bible.

The next section deals with the topic of translations of the Bible. Why are there so many? Blomberg points out that there are different theories on biblical translation. Some go for a word-for-word translation as much as possible. Some want to focus on getting the meaning across more than a literal translation of the words. Then some try to go in the middle. There’s a time and place for each. It would be a mistake however to always think that the literal is best.

Naturally, there are some translations to avoid such as the NWT of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Mormons. I was also thinking Blomberg might have included something I read when I was in Bible College, which is the Scholar’s Version, the one put out by the Jesus Seminar which included the Gospel of Thomas.

Meanwhile, there is an extreme to avoid here and that has been a debate over gender-inclusiveness in the Bible. Now if we’re talking about turning God into a female for instance, then yes, I have a problem with changing that language, but when we talk about mankind in the generic sense, I really don’t have a problem. There are commands that are clearly wrong for men and women both and changing the language to indicate that is not an issue, yet sadly so many Christians have been ready to attack anyone that moves in a direction they don’t really like. This included an all-out attack on the TNIV.

Blomberg ultimately concludes that one can take any of the best-selling translations of the Bible and find the Gospel message in there. While I have my own preferences at times in translation, I do have to agree with that one.

Next we come to a big one. What about Inerrancy? As many know, I have been caught in the thick of this one having been someone who was a student at Geisler’s first Seminary he founded and even being one of his students for a time. I also happen to be the son-in-law of Mike Licona so when the Inerrancy wars started, I was right there.

One of the first points I really liked in this chapter was how Blomberg dealt with this idea that there is no academic freedom for many scholars since they have to agree to something in a statement such as Inerrancy. Blomberg points out that most scholars agree to that who teach at these institutions because in their background study for years, they’ve come to the conclusion that they agree and they don’t take such claims lightly. If they do change their minds, they move on from that institution to another. Unfortunately, stories like that don’t get attention. It’s when a professor gets “ousted” that the media suddenly show up.

Blomberg also says that “Inerrancy can be wielded as a blunt tool to hammer into submission people whose interpretation of passages differ from ours, when in fact the real issue is not whether a passage is true or not but what kind of truth it teaches.”

Too many times I have seen the idea put forward that because Inerrancy is true, a teaching is true. It could be young-earth creationism. It could be pre-trib dispensationalism. It could even be that the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 is a real historical event instead of something apocalyptic!

Consider for instance the doctrinal basis for being a member of the Evangelical Theological Society.

“The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.

God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.”

So to answer someone like Geisler who would ask “Could Mary Baker Eddy join the ETS?”, the answer would be no. She would not agree with the second. Yet notice that believing in the first does not mean one automatically believes in the second. One can believe the Bible is Inerrant and still get the second question wrong in thinking the Bible does not teach a Trinity. Jehovah’s Witnesses do this. Yet they could certainly not join ETS.

If you want to know if a person denies Inerrancy, it is not to be found in looking at what that person thinks the Bible teaches. Where is the knowledge that they deny Inerrancy to be found? It is in saying that they think the Bible has errors in it.

It is not a surprise then that the opposite extreme in this chapter is someone like Geisler again. Blomberg points out that if Geisler and those like him had their way, there would hardly be anyone left in ETS. This is the same Geisler who likes to use ETS as a weapon in the Licona debate to point out how Gundry was voted against (Which is covered in the next chapter) but ignores that the vote didn’t go his way with open theism. At this, Geisler left the institution and called it the Formerly Evangelical Theological Society. Now that he needs the Gundry vote again for his case, then he can start using the ETS once more. Blomberg points out that Geisler has repeatedly left Seminary after Seminary, including the one he founded, because none of them were conservative enough for him. I concur with Dr. Michael Bird.

“I thought a big highlight was Blomberg’s critique of extreme views of inerrancy by Robert Thomas and especially Norman Geisler. It becomes clear that Geisler in particular is not a particularly pleasant chap to work with and has never found an institution that was worthy of him. Seriously, Geisler is the villain of this chapter and comes across as being slightly to the right of Atilla the Hun.”

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2014/03/craig-blomberg-can-we-still-believe-the-bible/

It is good to see evangelicals like Bird and Blomberg coming out and standing up to what has been going on and being willing to really use all the historical tools that we can to examine the Bible instead of imposing modern standards on the text.

Related to this is the fifth chapter on genre categories in the Bible. Again, Blomberg covers both testaments. He asks questions about the nature of Job, Jonah, and the authorship and dates of books like Daniel and Isaiah and asks if the critical approach to any of these would really be a death knell for Inerrancy, concluding that they would not.

When it comes to the NT, he brings up the Gundry issue that I hinted at earlier and again points out the way Geisler behaved in this one. Gundry had the idea that much of Matthew was midrashic and thus not meant to be read as historical. It was something the readers would have known about and thus would not be a danger to Inerrancy.

Geisler would have none of it and encouraged the ETS to oust Gundry from membership. Most of the society however said that Gundry should be allowed to make his case and let it be critiqued in the scholarly circles instead of by censuring him. If there was little to his proposals, they would not gain scholarly support and would die out. Yet in the end, Gundry was voted out of the society. How did this happen when so many were saying what they said?

Answer. Geisler started a political campaign and had friends show up who normally would not come to meetings. The views presented were not presented in their fullest and just barely over the 2/3rds needed voted to remove Gundry. Blomberg points out that someone as stalwart as D.A. Carson did not see a violation of Inerrancy here, though he certainly saw no credibility to Gundry’s views. No shock Geisler has followed similar tactics against Mike Licona.

The simple solution to all of this is to do what we encourage skeptics to do. Follow the evidence where it leads. If the evidence shows that the Gospels are Greco-Roman biographies for instance, and scholarship across the board tends to go this way, then let us go with it. Let us find a way to shape our worldview according to the facts. Let’s not shape the facts according to our worldview.

The final chapter is on miracles. Now I must admit this one was probably the one that I thought could be improved on the most as in dealing with objections to miracles, there are mainly endnotes referring to Keener and Hume. For a book like Blomberg’s I would have liked to have seen some of the argumentation take place, although I certainly agree that pointing to someone like Keener is the way to go.

In this chapter, Blomberg looks at the miracles in both testaments and focuses mainly on the purpose of the miracles and their nature in comparison to claims in other religions. He notes many of the accounts are rather restrained and are meant for a specific purpose instead of just show. This is especially so in the case of Jesus’s miracles in the NT. He also uses the NT time to go after the health and wealth word of faith teachers. Many people Jesus healed did not have faith.

There are two extremes to avoid. The first is to believe all miracle claims. All claims of miracles should be believed or disbelieved based on the evidence that we have available. The next is to be overly skeptical of all miracles, and this includes Christians who believe the miracles of the Bible, but stalwartly refuse to admit any miracle in any other religion. This becomes a double-standard.

Meanwhile, you can also have claims such as John MacArthur with the “Strange Fire” conference where all charismatic were painted with a broad brush. Now I am in no way charismatic, but I agree that MacArthur crossed a big line with this one. Naturally, one can be on guard, but one should always be open to being wrong, and I have many Christian brothers and sisters in the charismatic movement. I have no desire to question their salvation.

In the end, I think Blomberg’s book is an excellent one. It’s not one on biblical apologetics per se, but it does fill a necessary gap. Blomberg’s writing remains us where our true focus needs to be. I highly recommend this one for students of Scripture.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Sense and Goodness Without God: Part 9

January 10, 2014

Can miracles work with the historical method? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

We’re going to return today to our look at Carrier’s Sense and Goodness Without God. This one will largely focus on history.

Carrier chooses to look at a number of miracles. The first is the rain of Marcus Aurelius. Let’s look at some statements.

Carrier says it is incredible that there would be Christians in the army, let alone an entire legion of them, but saying something is incredible is not the same as showing that it is. In fact, we do have testimony from church history of Christians in the army.

Let’s start with Eusebius.

8. This persecution began with the brethren in the army. But as if without sensibility, we were not eager to make the Deity favorable and propitious; and some, like atheists, thought that our affairs were unheeded and ungoverned; and thus we added one wickedness to another.
324
And those esteemed our shepherds, casting aside the bond of piety, were excited to conflicts with one another, and did nothing else than heap up strifes and threats and jealousy and enmity and hatred toward each other, like tyrants eagerly endeavoring to assert their power. Then, truly, according to the word of Jeremiah, “The Lord in his wrath darkened the daughter of Zion, and cast down the glory of Israel from heaven to earth, and remembered not his foot-stool in the day of his anger. The Lord also overwhelmed all the beautiful things of Israel, and threw down all his strongholds.”

Here we have testimony from Eusebius that there were in fact Christians in the army.

We can go further here.

Others passed through different conflicts. Thus one, while those around pressed him on by force and dragged him to the abominable and impure sacrifices, was dismissed as if he had sacrificed, though he had not. Another, though he had not approached at all, nor touched any polluted thing, when others said that he had sacrificed, went away, bearing the accusation in silence.

Now the situation in all of this is that the Roman army was running out of water and needed the rain in the face of the enemy and the Christians prayed causing rain to come and a storm routed out the enemy. There is no reason to question the rain and storm came. There is a monument depicting that that is soon after the event by the emperor himself. Christians at the time said a Christian legion prayed. Others said it was Egyptian magic.

Which is it? I couldn’t tell you honestly. I wouldn’t even rule out magic if you could show some evidence for it. Is it any shock though that the emperor would attribute it to Jupiter? The emperor is going to defend his honor and he has the power to shape the story the way he thinks it should be shaped as well. Will he go with a belief with honor or a belief with dishonor?

Also discussed is the healing of Vespasian. Again, I have no problem with saying this healing could happen. Yet there is a problem here. The healing took place in Alexandria where Vespasian healed a blind man by spitting on his eyes. What is not mentioned normally is that even the doctors were not convinced the man who was healed was fully blind. Also, the healing took place in Alexandria whose patron deity was Serapis. Wanna guess what one of the first cities was to endorse Vespasian on the throne? If you guessed Alexandria, give yourself bonus points. They had something to gain from this.

Moving on, when we get to Carrier on historical methodology, I do agree with much of what Carrier says. He starts with textual analysis making sure the document is handed down accurately. I agree. He also says this on page 237.

We must ascertain what the author meant, which requires a thorough understanding of the language as it was spoken and written in that time and place, as well as a thorough grasp of the historical, cultural, political, social, and religious context in which it was written, since all of this would be on the mind of both author and reader, and would illuminate, motivate, or affect what was written.

I find this highly agreeable. I just wish Carrier would do this. As we see later on when we see his view on certain biblical passages, he doesn’t. In fact, this is advice I would give to atheists wanting to understand the text, and of course to Christians. Both groups consist of fundamentalists who too often read a modern American context onto the text.

The second recommendation of Carrier is

always ask for the primary sources of a claim you find incredible. Many modern scholars will still get details wrong or omit important context or simply lie.

I would hesitate to say a modern scholar is lying. One needs really good evidence to make an accusation of moral turpitude. It’s important to also realize that sharing information that is false is not the same as lying. Sharing information as true you KNOW to be false is lying. I also would disagree at the start. Don’t ask for primary sources on claims you find incredible. Ask for primary sources on any historical claim!

Carrier also says the historian must try to gather all the evidence and not just rely on one item. I agree. Of course, one could never truly say they’ve examined ALL the evidence, but one must try to find as much as they can.

Carrier also gives characteristics of a good explanation.

First, it has explanatory scope. It explains more facts than other explanations. I have no problem with this.

Second, explanatory power. This means the explanation will make the facts more likely than any other.

Third is plausibility. It is historically reasonable that such a thing happened, which Carrier wishes to add even if it was improbable.

Fourth is ad hocness. It will rely on fewer undemonstrated sources. Most theories will have some aspects that are ad hoc, but not entirely. The fewer, the better.

Fifth, it fits the evidence. It will not contradict other facts that we know about the event and the context.

I have no problem with these.

Next time, we’ll get to see some of this at work as Carrier deals with the claim that the resurrection has more evidence than the crossing of the Rubicon. It is my plan to finish this chapter on that and move on then, but it is a lengthy section so I will save it for the next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Sense and Goodness Without God: Part 8

January 1, 2014

Is there a place for the paranormal? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

We’re returning now to Sense and Goodness Without God by Richard Carrier. I’m skipping over a couple of chapters because there’s not much I really want to cover in them other than some minor details. I’d just say on the chapter of reason that I trust in reason because of a good Thomistic common sense realism.

I use paranormal in the opening line because that is the term Carrier uses, but it is not a term I prefer to use. I do not even prefer to use supernatural. I go by the terms suprahuman and supranatural instead. To say supernatural often implies that nature is just fine on its own and needs no deity sustaining it. This is a point that I disagree with so why should I use a term that automatically grants credence to a position I find highly questionable?

As we go through the chapter, on page 213, Carrier says that there is an approach that bypasses science altogether by pointing to a superior metaphysics and going under the name of first philosophy. Carrier is never clear on what this is. Does he mean all of metaphysics in general? This is the only conclusion I can reach. If so, there is a great problem here as metaphysics is never defined.

As one who has studied metaphysics, I often find this to be the case. People dispute metaphysics, but they don’t really know what it is. Metaphysics is simply the study of being as being. This does not go against science as the sciences often study being in a certain condition. Physics studies material being in motion. Angelology would study angelic being. Biology would study material living being. Astronomy studies being in space. Zoology studies animal beings. We could go on and on.

Interestingly, Carrier places metaphysics dead last, but on what authority? Why should I accept that? Am I to think studying the nature of being itself is dead last in understand the nature of truth, that is, in understanding that which is? It looks like knowing what “is” would come first.

The first method of finding truth that Carrier speaks about is, SHOCK, the scientific method. Now as readers know, I am not opposed to science, but I am opposed to a scientism approach that places the natural sciences as the best means of determining truth. Now if everything is purely matter and there are no essences to things, then this would follow, but that is the very aspect under question.

On page 215, Carrier says

“But htis is another strength of science: science is not only about testing facts for truth, but testing methods for accuracy. And thus science is the only endeavor we have that is constantly devoted to finding the best means of ascertaining the truth. This is one of the reasons why science is so successful, and its results so authoritative. Yet metaphysics has no room for means of testing different methods for accuracy, and if it ever started producing surprising predictive successes, it would become science.”

The problem I see here is yes, metaphysics is not done the same way the natural sciences are. So what? The whole idea starts off presuming the natural sciences are the best way to know something. Yet the natural sciences are more inductive than deductive while metaphysical arguments are designed to be more deductive. The conclusions are to be known with certainty. Metaphysical arguments also do for most of us start with sense experience and what we see.

Yes, science is successful, but as has been pointed out earlier with using the analogy of Feser, a metal detector is the best tool for finding metal objects at the beach, but that does not mean that the only objects to be found are metal objects. Science is the best tool for finding truths about nature, but that does not mean those are the only truths to be found.

On the next page he says

“And science does not simply undergo any arbitrary change, as religious ideology or clothing fashions do, nor does it hold out long against contrary evidence, asserting that the facts must surely be wrong if they do not fit the going dogma.”

Now this is interesting since any changes that were made would not be arbitrary. I am not Catholic, but it isn’t as if the Pope woke up one morning and said “What a beautiful day. I think I’ll declare the perpetual virginity of Mary.” There were historical debates and discussions. I do not think the perpetual virginity claim is true, but it did not just happen arbitrarily. The same with fashion tastes. People change tastes in fashion for a reason.

Yet the great danger in Carrier’s statement for him is that the sword cuts both ways. For me, for instance, if macroevolution is true, cool. I’m fine with that. What happens to the atheist position if macroevolution is not true? I do not doubt there will still be atheists, but an extremely important beliefs of theirs being gone would cause some doubt I suspect.

Another example is the case of miracles. Let’s take a work like Keener’s book “Miracles.” Let’s suppose it has 500 miracles in it. I haven’t counted. Let’s suppose only 50 of those are shown to be real honest miracles. Okay. I’m disappointed some, but hey, I have 50 miracles right here. My worldview is still fine. I have evidence of miracles which backs Jesus rising from the dead.

What about the atheistic worldview? Can the atheist say the same if he has to admit that there is no known natural explanation for what happened and that the event did indeed happen? He can say “Well we’ll find a natural reason.” He’s entirely allowed to do such, but if he is assuming there has to be one, is he not then using a naturalism-of-the-gaps? Could it not be that just as much, the fact of a miracle must be wrong if it does not fit the dogma?

And no, I am not going to deny that too many Christians think this way as well. There are too many Christians who stick their heads in the sand and don’t even bother to interact with different evidence. This is what I call the escapist mentality.

Before moving on, it’s worth noting that Carrier says on page 217 that metaphysics sets the lowest bar for credibility, but yet has not defined metaphysics once.

Carrier says that if faith is placed before truth, it will lead to conflict. With this, I agree. Everyone should. Truth must be paramount. Yet Carrier goes on to say that if faith is what someone has because something is true, then science becomes the one true faith.

Why should I think this?

I believe several claims that are not established by science and act on them. I believe in the laws of logic. I believe in rules of mathematics. I believe that there is a world outside my mind. I believe propositions about morality and beauty. Can there be knowledge outside of the natural sciences? Yes there can be. If so, why think the scientific method is the best method?

Before moving on, once again on page 219, metaphysics is denigrated and once again, it is not defined. The same happens on page 221.

Carrier then goes on to talk about how science was in the medieval period. Yet this is not an accurate history at all. I would like to know his sources, but unfortunately, he never gives them. I will instead give some counter sources. First off is my interview with James Hannam on this topic that can be found here. Atheists can also consider the work of Tim O’Neill, an atheist himself who disputes this dark ages claim. An example can be found in his look at Hannam’s book here. In fact, he has a graph there that is common on the internet that is supposed to show the lack of scientific endeavors in the period and refers to it as “The Stupidest Thing on the Internet Ever.”

And once again, worth noting, is that on page 222, again metaphysics is secondary to science, but again, no definition.

On page 223, Carrier asks why it is God supposedly packed up his bags and stopped doing miracles when he had supposedly been doing them in abundance.

Well first, there has never been a period of abundant miracles.

“Wait! Don’t you believe in the Bible?”

Yes. Yes I do. And the miracles are actually sparse in it as well. There are three times where miracles become more abundant but they never reach the kind of idea Carrier has. Those are the time of the Exodus wandering, the time of Elijah and Elisha, and the time of Jesus and the apostles.

Yet miracles have not ceased. Indeed, Keener indicated earlier has made a strong case they are still ongoing. You can find my review of his book here and listen to the interview that I did with him here.

Carrier expects a world where guns turn into flowers and churches are protected by mysterious energy fields. Why should we expect any of this? Because God exists and can work miracles, He should work miracles in the way we think He should? Why?

Much has been said today, but there is more coming on history. I prefer to save that for a fuller approach and will do that next time I blog on Carrier’s book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Things Ancient People Did

April 4, 2013

Were the ancient people stupid and superstitious? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Recently, I’ve been debating on an article that Dr. Gary Habermas wrote for the Washington Post for Easter on reasons Jesus rose from the dead. Consistently, an argument that I have seen is one that says that the ancient people believed in a lot of this superstitious nonsense and that this didn’t happen in an age of science where people know better.

Oh really?

For the sake of those with that mindset, I’d like to point out to you some activities that the ancient people did.

#1-Ancient people had sex.

Yeah. This might seem like a shocker, but ancient people were really interested in having kids. After all, that was how you had a productive home life and made sure your family name was passed on. Their preferred method of getting to have kids was through having sex. They didn’t sit around and wait for virgins to get pregnant and then be overjoyed at the thought that they were now parents. Even back in Abraham’s day when he was told he should have a kid through Hagar by Sarah, he decided to sleep with her. When Lot’s daughters wanted to have kids without another man around, they got their Dad drunk and slept with him. They seemed to realize that there was this connection intrinsically between sex and babies.

#2-Ancient people built boats.

Sometimes, ancient people wanted to travel on the water. There was a whole industry for this and the ships would be used for battle as well as transport. In order to be able to move on the water, the ancient people built boats. They realized quite easily that when men start to walk on the water, they don’t last too long. They could not explain why this was, but they figured if they want to move on the water, they’d better build something that can.

#3-Ancient people grew food.

Believe it or not, ancient people worked long hours just to make one loaf of bread for their families. They planted seeds and cared for them in the hopes that they would have a good harvest. Why did they do these things? They did them because they did not expect food to just instantly pop up on their doorstep. They had this strange idea that they would actually have to work to produce food.

#4-Ancient people made wine.

Ancient people loved to drink wine, and they did not expect that if they just left water in a jar in the house, that it would suddenly turn into wine. Instead, they went through a long process in order to get the wine that they wanted. Once again, it’s a strange idea to some today I’m sure, but the ancients did it.

#5-Ancient people had doctors.

Of course, their doctors weren’t as good as ours today, but they had doctors who sought to have natural theories. Galen, for instance, believed that there had be a balance between the four humours of the body. He was wrong, but this theory was one that was perfectly natural. Like in any age, there were some quacks, but there were some who did seek those natural treatments.

#6-Ancient people buried their dead.

When someone died, the ancient people would bury them. Why? They didn’t need much experience to know that dead people stay dead. No one expected that when uncle Jacob died, that he would by some chance suddenly wind up on their doorstep within a week. They were dead and that was it. They had abundant evidence for this. People staying dead seemed to be a consistent pattern.

Why do we say all of this? Because ancient people would know what a miracle was. They had a basic idea of the natural order even if they couldn’t explain how it all worked. We can say they were wrong about miracles taking place, but we cannot say they were wrong in being able to tell what would qualify as a miracle. Suppose they were wrong about Jesus coming back from the dead. That would not mean that they would not know that had He come back, it would have been a miracle.

Were some people superstitious? Sure. So are some people today who read their horoscopes and such. Were they superstitious because they believed in miracles and deities? No. To have such an approach is to beg the question in favor of an atheistic worldview as being the only rational worldview through a circular argument.

By all means, say the ancients could have been wrong, but let’s not establish idiocy to them where it is not due.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Jesus, The Miracle Worker

January 10, 2013

What do the miracles of Jesus mean? Le’ts talk about it on Deeper Waters.

My Master’s research is on miracles. One book recommended to me (And if anyone has any other recommendations feel free to give them!) was Graham Twelftree’s “Jesus: The Miracle Worker.” This one was published in 1999 long before Craig Keener’s excellent work on the topic of miracles, yet they handle quite different themes, meaning the two work together very well.

Keener’s book dealt largely with modern accounts of miracles and asking if they are still going on today. Twelftree’s deals with the accounts of the biblical material and is not really interested in if miracles are happening today, although he does indicate that the biblical writers think that miracles should be going on today.

Early on, Twelftree does have a section dealing with Hume, which is an essential for most any work on miracles today. The arguments are simple, but I think in many ways effective. Twelftree does realize that this is not his area and does have sources in the back to help the reader with further study.

Then, he takes us through the gospels where we look at each in turn and look at each miracle that Jesus does. It has been said before that Twelftree argues the strongest case for the deity of Jesus can come from the gospel of Mark. Some readers might be surprised at that, but throughout Twelftree’s book, he does argue that Mark saw Jesus acting as God doing miracles. Whether this is the book the person who told me that had in mind or not, I cannot say, but it is a strong case. It is difficult to think about looking at miracles the same way again after this.

Then, we get into historiography and this is some of the most fascinating material. My father-in-law had warned me that when you get into historiography, that it is a very appealing area and one you can lose yourself in. He’s right. It’s quite fascinating when you see discussion back and forth on whether this passage is historical or not.

I like in this that Twelftree does present a real approach. He is not simplistic enough to say “It’s in the ‘Word of God’ so we know it happened.” In fact, when he speaks about the “Word of God” he uses quotation marks in describing the people who hold to a theory like that so much that they do not allow the Bible to be investigated. I do not doubt Twelftree sees Scripture as God’s Word, but the point he wants to make is that it is not an idol.

So there are places in there where he lists reasons and says “This is why we can say this traces back to an event in the life of Christ.” Then there are places where he says “We can’t be too certain here.” This is a wise move. Let’s suppose you’re like me and do believe that both the wedding of Cana miracle happened and that the resurrection of Jesus happened.

Which one could a stronger case be made for?

Without a doubt, it’s the resurrection. Most of us accept the wedding account because we accept the resurrection account. Of course, if we are wrong about the wedding, then we are wrong, but it does not mean that we will throw out the resurrection. Each account of a miracle should be handled on its own terms. (Do we need to be reminded on this blog that not all miracle accounts are equal?)

Twelftree also lists the miracles by type such as blindness, raising the dead, paralysis healing, nature miracles, exorcisms, and then anything that doesn’t fit into those categories to see what we can gleam about them that way and discuss their historicity. He then gives us a look at what this means about how Jesus saw himself and what we can say about the historical Jesus.

For those interested in miracles, this is a fine work to read alongside of Keener’s book on the topic. In fact, just this morning I started reading Mark again and could not help but see the miracle accounts differently after just reading this book, and of course, that means more abundantly.

I highly recommend this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The book can be purchased here

Miracles: New Essential Reading On The Topic

November 4, 2012

What do I think of the two volumes of Craig Keener’s “Miracles”? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

For my birthday back in September, my in-laws got me the two-volume set of Craig Keener’s “Miracles.” There are 884 pages of content here and several pages of notes. The message you should definitely get from that at the start is that Keener is not taking a lazy approach. Keener has done plentiful research on the topic of miracles. I can say without reservation that from now on, anyone who has not dealt with the claims found in this book is not qualified to speak on the topic of miracles.

To the surprise of most people, Keener spends relatively little time on the miracles in the gospels at the start and answering questions concerning early Christian claims of miracles. Why? Because he is not writing this to explain how the early Christians saw miracles, as important as that is, or the historicity of the miracles, also an important question, but rather to deal with the treatment of modern thinking today in regards to miracles. Many will say we cannot take the gospels and Acts seriously if they contain miracles since we all know miracles don’t happen. Well, all of us except these ignorant religious people. Educated people know better!

Keener is educated. It seems that he didn’t get that memo.

Of course, he does spend some time looking at the miracles and in conjunction with his main claim that miracles are possible and in fact ongoing, he states on page 25 that none of the sources in antiquity responding to the claim that Jesus did miracles tried to deny that. (Note also to some others out there ignorant on another related front, none of them tried to deny that he even existed) Most of them would say he did his miracles by dark powers. This is an important claim. They realized that strange happenings were connected with the ministry of Jesus and could not be denied. This would mean it was part of the essential historical kerygma, something central to the teaching of the early church, and something so well-attested that no one wanted to deny it.

In fact, Paul in his epistles in Romans 15:18-19 speaks about working wonders, and there is no doubt that Paul wrote Romans. In 2 Corinthians 12:12, Paul lays claim to his right to be called an apostle by telling the Corinthians that he worked miracles amongst them. Note this is a letter where his credibility is being called into question. It will not help that credibility to make a claim that his opponents know to be false. He is appealing to knowledge that they already have.

Of course, when miracles come up, the question asked is “What about Hume?” As one who has done internet debates, I’ve reached the point several times in the debate when miracles comes up that I will say “Okay. Go ahead and give Hume.” You would think that no one else really said anything worthwhile about miracles after Hume came out, as if he put the nail in the coffin with an argument that no one has dealt with.

The reality is its more likely that in philosophy everyone and their mother has dealt with Hume. His argument was criticized then and it is being criticized now. People who automatically assume Hume is the last word are more likely looking for something to cement their beliefs that they already hold and are unwilling to go looking further. It is odd that these people will usually tell us about science being so much better since it can correct its mistakes and relies on the latest study (Which is true by the way, that is the way science works), but they seem to reject that when it comes to philosophical dialogue.

Of course, Hume being 200+ years old does not make him wrong. I am a Thomist, for instance, and I realize Aquinas was around 800 years ago. That does not make him wrong. The difference is I have also done some of the reading in Thomistic thought since then. I realize that people have critiqued Aquinas since his own time. (Yes people. Back in the medieval period, the theologians critiqued one another’s arguments and wanted only the best ones) There are several people who still hold strongly to Thomistic thought today, like myself, but it also does not mean we have to hold everything he did. (I’m Protestant, for instance, although some have argued that Aquinas would be considered a Protestant today as well. That is not the purpose of this review of course.)

In dealing with Hume, Keener does admit that he is not a philosopher, but his sources are the philosophical sources. This is important to admit. Keener knows when he is not speaking from his area of expertise, so he has gone to others who are experts and shared their thoughts. Most devastating is a critique he shares from David Johnson in Cornell University Press:

“The view that there is in Hume’s essay, or in what can be reconstructed from it, any argument or reply or objection that is even superficially good, much less, powerful, or devastating, is simply a philosophical myth. The most willing hearers who have been swayed by Hume on this matter have been held captive by nothing other than Hume’s great eloquence.” (Page 169)

Ouch. That’s quite an indictment.

Looking at the question of history, one statement that has driven my research in this area is that that Bart Ehrman gave to my father-in-law, Mike Licona, in a debate at SES. Ehrman repeatedly made a statement along the lines of “History can only tell you what people do. It cannot tell you about the actions of God.” Keener says in a statement that seems to have Ehrman in mind on page 186 that

“History as history might not pass judgment on whether or not an occurrence (such as the resurrection) was a miracle ( a theological judgment involving philosophic questions about God’s existence and activity), but it can seek to address whether or not an event literally happened.

In a radio debate on Unbelievable? with Licona, Ehrman was stating that historians can agree universally upon a number of events in history, but they don’t agree on the resurrection. How can we treat it as historical then? The problem would be that too many historians are likely approaching with presuppositions beforehand that state miracles cannot happen. Therefore, they come to the account of the resurrection and can say “I don’t know what happened, but I know right off it wasn’t resurrection.” This is no longer doing history. It is doing philosophy under the guise of history.

It is not fair history to come to the data beforehand saying “The conclusion of a miracle cannot happen” and then looking at the data and construing it in such a way to exclude the miracle. In that case, it is clear that the belief one holds is influencing the data rather than the other way around. Of course, for the sake of argument, it could be that the resurrection did not happen, but that needs to be determined on historical grounds and not philosophical ones.

Before we get back to Hume, Keener wants to point us to the Majority World, that is, the world that has not been saturated with Enlightenment thinking. On page 212 Keener states “The claim that no one in the modern world believes in miracles (a claim once seriously offered by some scholars as an answer to the question of miracles, as I have noted) is now too evidently irresponsible to be seriously entertained.”

Will Keener back this statement? Yes. It is a strong statement in the face of academia and if Keener is correct, as I believe he is, it is not because of new data or arguments per se, but it is because of an unwillingness on the part of the academy to consider perspectives apart from their own. It has been by an arrogance that has written off too many people as “uneducated” and thus not worthy of contributing to the conversation.

And sadly, this is shown well in Hume. On pages 223-4, we have a quote from Hume:

“I am apt to suspect the Negroes and in general all of the other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was a civilized nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. No indigenous manufacturers amongst them, no arts, no sciences.”

Some could answer “Okay. Hume was a racist. It doesn’t mean he’s wrong.” On its face, no. It doesn’t. There is something important here. Hume is automatically excluding the testimony of anyone that is not amongst his circle of people he considers educated. Who are the educated? Those are the ones who don’t believe in miracles. If anyone believes in them, surely he cannot be educated. He must be some backwater person. Therefore, all educated people don’t believe in miracles. It is a lovely piece of circular reasoning.

Hume goes on to say

“Not to mention our colonies, there are Negro slaves dispersed all over Europe, of which none ever discovered any symptoms of ingenuity, tho’ low people without education will start up amongst us [whites], and distinguish themselves in every profession. IN Jamaica indeed they talk of one Negro as a man of parts and learning, but ’tis likely he is admired for very slender accomplishments, like a parrot, who speaks a few words plainly.”

To say “‘Tis likely” indicates that Hume has heard a claim and has not bothered to really investigate it. He has just made an assumption based on his prior notion of the black race. Keener, however, does know who the Jamaican is and says “The Jamaican whom Hume compares with a parrot stimulating speech was Francis Williams, a Cambridge graduate whose poetry in Latin was well known.”

Sound like an uneducated parrot with slender accomplishments to anyone else? I didn’t think so.

Okay. But surely today claims or miracles aren’t common. If they are, it must be amongst the Pentecostal movement (Of which I am not one) and we know they really like to talk about miracles! No. In fact, under the sub-heading on page 239 of “Such claims not limited to Pentecostals” Keener writes “But those who would simply reject all healing claims today because Hume argued that such claims are too rare to be believable should keep in mind that they are dismissing, almost without argument, the claimed experiences of at least a few hundred million people.”

So let’s give a quick synopsis then of the data that Keener has because it covers several hundred pages all over the world. Keener admits he is not a doctor, but he tries to get medical documentation of such claims. Even if he does not have them, he realizes that we should not reject testimony ipso facto just because it disagrees with our beliefs. People may be wrong about seeing a miracle or interpret some event wrongly or have a psychosomatic healing. Some of these do not fall into this category. If someone knows someone who is blind, as an example, and prays for them, and they suddenly regain their sight, would that person not be justified in believing a miracle has taken place? Keener says some healings could be coincidence, but that they are consistently connected with prayer goes against the idea that they are coincidence.

Keener also points out that many people in these settings are in fact educated. He has testimonies of his own wife who is quite educated. PH.D.s and doctors and others all claim to have seen such events. Again, even if some people are uneducated who see these claims, they may not have the full knowledge of the natural world, but they know enough to know when something happens that does not normally happen.

Keener also readily admits that miracles do not always take place. I took special note to highlight several times in the book that he makes a claim along those lines. There are people who are not healed in response to prayer. That does not negate the fact of the many people who are. If just one of these numerous numerous claims is true, then it seems that the idea that miracles do not happen is highly suspect, and it is quite likely that more than one is true. (Indeed, I found myself praying for the healing of the loved ones in my life. My own wife suffers from depression and when I read about people being healed of depression, I made it a point to pray more for that. I realized in my own thinking I too had taken on more of skepticism than I realized. If God can raise His Son from the dead as I proclaim, then healing depression is simple. Of course, if He does not, then I must just trust He has some reason. He is not obligated to tell me what it is)

Keener also looks at healing ministries. One noted case he looks at is Kathryn Kuhlman. Many of you, like me do get suspicious hearing that name, but Keener wanted to be objective in his analysis. He does point out that Kuhlman said that not everyone gets healed and that she has no problem with modern medicine. God gave us brains and we should use them. She would not have objected to someone checking with a doctor to see about their healing.

In fact, he points out that some journalists sent to investigate the claims of Kuhlman came out believing the cases after research. Of course, not all cases are bona fide. Healing doesn’t always happen and there could be times someone thought themselves healed when they were not. Keener’s warning for times like this is that you do not look at the false reports and lump all the reports in with them.

Keener also does in fact tell of times when people had fingers grow back and legs grow right before the eyes of people. So in answer to the question of “Why doesn’t God heal amputees?” Keener would reply “Who says He doesn’t?” Keener has some cases of such events taking place. It is more likely that those who do not find such cases do not find them because they have not really looked, or perhaps think the only people worth listening to with such a claim would readily have access to YouTube and film such an event, because everyone knows when a miracle is going to take place after all.

Keener spends most of book 2 dealing with objections to his idea, and these are quite weak. He does point out objections even from Christians who would often want to discredit healing ministers who came through an area. Now of course, one should always be cautious. One must also realize that healing does not mean all the particulars of theology are correct. There are healing at Lourdes, a Catholic site, and there are healings in Protestant communities. Still, too many have stacked the deck in advance by saying they will only accept natural explanations or some natural explanation must be forthcoming eventually and one day we’ll find out what it is. Such thinking would fall into a “Naturalism-of-the-gaps” paradigm.

Also, there is the stigma against miracles in the academy where one by claiming a miracle has happened can automatically have their intellectual stature lowered. Such an approach encourages scholars to not really be open to the claims of miracles, which is a tragedy for the history department since one is no longer doing history at that point but more philosophy. Keener contends we need more openness to opposing ideas in the academy. I agree.

Keener also takes the time to answer the question of “What about video tapes?” I find such an objection quite absurd, as one does not normally know when a miraculous event will take place, nor can one set one up as if God was a machine to respond the way we want Him to when we want Him to. Still, there is an obvious problem with video tapes we all know about today.

A show my wife and I have watched together numerous times is “Fact or Faked?” It has a group of investigators trying to see if an event normally caught on video tape is in fact a paranormal event or if it is a mistake or a hoax. There are some times where they approach someone about the video they’ve made and asked “Is this a hoax?” and get the answer of “Yes.” People do hoax videos quite often. We live in a day and age where we can go to a Cinema and watch events that would supposedly be “filmed” that we know are not real. We know about what photoshop can do. Yet with all of this, some people still think that if there had been video tape, that would conclusively settle the matter. Keener does point to some sources on video, but I will contend that to those who are not open, the response will be “faked!”

Finally, Keener ends by looking at cases in the appendices of exorcisms, demonic activity, visions and dreams, and how people saw the natural law in antiquity and later on prior to our time. Each of these sections is worthwhile in themselves. Going through these sections, as well as the rest of the book, I found myself thinking that I need to realize that God could be active in far more ways than I realize. No doubt, I’ll still be skeptical of a lot of claims, but I’ve found myself for my own research asking people if they know of any miracle claims, and it’s quite amazing to see how many people do have such examples.

Overall, Keener’s book is essential reading on the topic of miracles and the question of if they have them today. No one in the academy will be able to argue against the possibility of miracles without dealing with Keener’s excellent research.

In Christ,
Nick Peters