the official site of Michael Shermer

top navigation:
photo

Debating “Miracles” on Premier Christian Radio

broadcast July 2009 | comments (16)

You don’t have to look far for claims of the miraculous. But what constitutes a “miracle” and do Christian beliefs in this area make sense?

Michael Shermer, a well-known atheist, says miraculous claims always have a natural explanation. Adrian Holloway is a London Pastor and apologist. He claims to have witnessed the miraculous and says that Michael’s skepticism is unjustified.

LISTEN to the debate

topics in this broadcast: , , , ,

16 Comments to “Debating “Miracles” on Premier Christian Radio”

  1. Jeff McGonigle Says:

    First I’d like to say that it was refreshing to hear Mr. Shermer and Mr. Holloway have a civil debate.

    Now, thank goodness for Michael Shermer being a voice of reason. Seeking evidence is a much better way of determining what’s really going on v.s. “I believe this to be true.” Believing something to be true does not make it true. Again we are presented with the anecdotal versus evidence.

  2. Mark Thomas Says:

    Michael did a good job of being skeptical in his debate with apologist Adrian Holloway. However, he still seems to think that there’s reliable evidence that Jesus actually existed. There is no such evidence. All reliable evidence indicates that Jesus was created by Paul (ne Saul) in the 50′s CE, with the unknown authors of the gospels adding to the story at least 20 years later. No historian of the first century referred to Jesus, and many should have if he really existed.

    Earl Dougherty makes an excellent case for this in “The Jesus Puzzle.” I’ve written an article (with Bible references) at http://www.godlessgeeks.com/JesusExist.htm

  3. Wayne Dunlap Says:

    I was amused to see Adrian Holloway attempting to use Occam’s razor in his favor since, in reality, this argument is better used against his argument for miracles . Occams razor states that the simplest answer is usually the best. Therefore, the expaination that something was due to a super natural explanation, i.e, a miracle, would not be the simplest explaination. Adrian also tried to use the telephone game in which one person whispers a message in someone s ear and that person goes and whispers it to another and so on until it gets back to the originator. At that point the message has changed considerably. Funny that Adrian should attempt to use that as an argument in his favor. Michael immediately jumped on it and mentioned that Mark, the oldest gospel, was written 40 years after the fact. Imagine how much the original message would change in that period of time. Also, there was competition between various religions and there was.

    Therefore, temptation to make Jesus look even better than he actually was, including his performing miracles. There is an argument that in those days, before things were written down, that people were better at remembering things that they passed along orally. The main problem with that argument is that, without writing, there is nothing out there to reference as the original word. One more thing. Jesus in Mark was asked by his disciples when the end times would occur. Jesus responded, Verily I say unto you, there will be some of you still standing when my Father arrives in glory in his Kingdom. In other words, it was supposed to happen then not millenniums later. As a result, I can only come to the conclusion that Jesus was just another failed prophet and, therefore, not divine. So, those miracles that Adian mentioned most likely were not due to praying to Jesus. Therefore, there must be some other explanation. Perhaps the mind is more powerful than we realize. Also, in the Egyptian temples of the Goddess Isis, there were found discarded crutches.

    Unfortunately, Michael let Adrian get away with stating that the gospels were written by eye witnesses. The fact is that the authors were anonymous and only much later did the church put names to them. However, the evidence reveals that they were written by very literate Greeks, including John , and it is written in one of the Gospels that John was illiterate. One other thing, they were written in the 3rd person instead of the 1st person like you would expect if it were written by a companion.

    For more, check out the Bart Erhman s Historic Jesus. This is excellent for providing the facts. http://www.teach12.com/ttcx/CourseDescLong2.aspx?cid=643

    In response to the individual who posted that he believed that Jesus didn’t exist, there is just too much evidence that he did exist Even Tacitus, the Roman historian , had a blurb about Jesus being tried by Pilot and crucified.

  4. Mark Thomas Says:

    Apparently, Mr. Dunlap did not take the time to read my article (http://www.godlessgeeks.com/JesusExist.htm). He mentioned a supposed reference to Jesus by Tacitus, but doesn’t seem to know that this “reference” was probably added in the 1400′s — because no mention is made to it in any known text prior to then.

    The other “historical reference” that people often use is in the writings (about 93 CE) attributed to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. This is also an obvious forgery.

    I checked out the website for Bart Erhman’s course, and he seems to not deal with these problems.

    I repeat, there is no reliable evidence that Jesus ever even existed. The epistles and gospels were explicitly not written by eyewitnesses, and no first century historian even referred to Jesus.

  5. P K Narayanan(Dr) Says:

    A miracle is generally explained as a sensory experience caused by supernatural and extra sensory perceptions. Extra sensory perception is attributed to a (non-existing)Sixth Sense. Religious faithfuls have several explanations for the experience of miracles. In my rational opinion, we should have to admit that the experience of miracles by the gullible believers is true. They percieve miracles out of thier deranged mental condition. Their delusional cerebral function brings in hallucinatory perceptions of extra sensory and supernatural experiences. This is the case of innocent believers. But what about the evangelists, god men and the ilk? They manipulate things to cheat the gullible believers. Therefore the fact remains that “the innocent and the gullible experiences miracles out of his/her deranged condition. The crooks and the cheats make miracles out of their wickedness.”

    For the purpose of scientific evaluations, a miracle can be defined as follows:

    ‘A miracle is an event or an occurence beyond the level of being objectively understood or deciphered by an individual or a group of individuals, at a given time or situation’. (Reference: Psychosomatic Structure of Miracles – Dr. P K Narayanan)

  6. Mark Thomas Says:

    “Is it more probable that nature should go out of her course, or that a man should tell a lie? We have never seen, in our time, nature go out of her course; but we have good reason to believe that millions of lies have been told in the same time; it is, therefore, at least millions to one, that the reporter of a miracle tells a lie.”
    β€” Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason (1794)

  7. P K Narayanan Says:

    Sure enough, reporter of miracle is hardcore lier and a calculated cheat. But then what about the one who experiences miracle? “All who experience miracles, all who have experienced miracles, all who talk about truthfulness of miracles are people needing corrective therapy.”

  8. Amicus Says:

    Mark Thomas: My understanding is as yours, that references to Jesus attributed to Tacitus and Josephus are bogus. But does it really matter? It seems to me that there are any number of “real world” reasons that a small splinter sect surrounding one of the many itinerant apocalyptic preachers of Judaism could evolve first into a movement (by then pretty much “Paulianity”) with enough political influence to win over an Emperor and then be spread by force, coercion and evangelizing. (Rodney Stark’s “The Rise of Christianity” provides a good example.) Why should we quibble? Even if Tacitus and Josephus actually did refer in passing to a fellow named Jesus who the Romans saw as a troublemaker and crucified him, what would that “prove” about all of the other nonsense that is attributed to him.

  9. Amicus Says:

    I have always found it amusing that, to “believers,” miracles are ONLY low probability occurrences with POSITIVE outcomes; “God” apparently controls only the good stuff. Has anyone ever heard the term use to describe someone’s being struck by lightening? Why isn’t the death of a child from measles every bit as much a miracle as the survival of one with leukemia?

  10. Mark Thomas Says:

    Hi Amicus and the rest of you seeking rational and happy lives,

    I think that it can make a big difference. Most Christians think that they have theological, moral, and historic backing for their faith. Once Christians grasp both the complete lack of historic evidence for JC and the positive evidence that he’s just a myth, they lose a leg of their tripod. Cognitive dissonance can ensue. Some will question their beliefs and realize the many lies that they’ve been fed. This is what happened to Dan Barker (of FFRF.org). He was a fundie evangelist preacher who started to question the historicity of JC. In his own words, he threw out all the bath water and found that there was no baby. This started him down the path to atheism, and he’s now a great evangelist for rational thought. His book “Godless” is excellent. http://www.ffrf.org/books

    See also (by Dan Barker):
    “Debunking the Historical Jesus”
    http://ffrf.org/fttoday/2006/march/barker.php

    Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead?
    http://www.ffrf.org/about/bybarker/rise.php

    For many more articles, see “Christian Historicity” at
    http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/Debate.html#hist

  11. Mark Thomas Says:

    As for miracles only being for the good, The Onion envisioned them with a somewhat negative outcome:
    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/28812

  12. Amicus Says:

    Mark: Point well taken and thanks for the great Onion reference; somehow I had missed it. I also agree that Dan Barker’s “Godless” is a great read.

  13. alephbet Says:

    I’m responding to a dead topic but I listened to the debate on Nightline a few weeks ago. What I read today makes me feel like commenting even if it’s not read:

    “Michael Shermer, a well-known atheist, says miraculous claims always have a natural explanation.”

    This is so ironical, that’s why the problem exists. There’s a natural world explanation (the world of appearances) and a purely personally explanation always. The synchronization of inner and outer world content is the ‘miracle’. The difference between psychosis and personal revelation is found in William James, its comforting to know that he recognized that a thin veil of language separates the world of appearances from another world. The doubleness of life has been well established. That’s one reason for the word ‘synchronicity’ to have been made up, or ‘meaningful coincidence’, a term that is quite accurate, strings of events that happen over decades are very convincing. Science doesn’t go there. Personally I wouldn’t abandon string theory. Biology with its cell which demands “replicate thyself” and the atom are synchronized already in every movement by a living organism. And everything seems to be alive on some scale.

    The irony is that the ‘medium is the message’ to re-use a quotation from Noam Chomsky. Any idea that has the extension through Time that religion has, must have some basis and some reason for it’s continuation. The word ‘miracle’ is so inappropriate in the present because everything was once a miracle.

    Occam’s Razor doesn’t necessarily state that the simplest explanation is true, it states that once all extraneous material is removed, the details that remain are enough to reveal the facts. A movie is an example, isn’t it?

    It’s so sad that the question of whether Jesus was real obscures the fact that the story of that life contains new ideas that no other religious leader revealed: “There is a father in heaven”, there is another world than the physical world, a kingdom and it is within you.” That doesn’t require proof of any kind other than can be found by comparing the content of that messenger to other ‘messengers’ from that hidden world. There are differences. Love as we think of it wants what it wants. There must be a scientific basis yet to be recognized for ‘do unto others as you would have done to you’ and’love your neighbor as yourself.

    In the past 25 years I’ve witnessed and received miracles both physical and mentally apprehensible,every one on the planet has received something that was fantasy less than 50 years ago.

    The recognition of new information has almost always occurred in one mind that went against the tide of the ‘status quo’. The greatest irony is that every person’s life contains the unexplainable kind of incidents that happen only to an individual, that can convince that person they are being related to and directed uniquely, not merely as a speck but as an individual ‘viewing point’ on the planet. The collective itself is very difficult to convince

  14. Mike Says:

    A friend of mine suffered a terrible accident when he was 15 (this was back in the 60s) and he was burned in a gasoline fire so badly that 80 percent of his skin was burnt. The doctors initially didn’t think he would live. Fortunately he survived, but the doctors then said that he would be badly disfigured for his entire life, with scars all over his body. Over a period of several years, God miraculously healed him so that all of his scars disappeared. I recently created a short documentary on his story you can watch for free at http://bit.ly/s4f1S5 – You can click on “Angel in the Fire” and determine for yourself whether this was actually a miracle.

    After directing, editing the video, and talking with the people involved, I think this case is either a miracle, or at least someone who experienced a healing that is a mystery to everyone who witnessed it. It didn’t happen in one moment, it happened over several years, and it shows that these events (whether miracles or mysterious healings) do occur even today.

  15. Bob Says:

    I get the impression that some people here are gulluble enough to believe that all reports about miraculous or supernatural phenomenon are lies. Now I would like to know how they use their entirely closed-minded (“we live in a closed-universe that allows nothing outside of that which it consists of to explain it) approach to explain away the many reports (including that which was viewed on a mainstream popular TV station in Toronto — CFTO TV Channel nine, in the 1980′s — about “the girl with the crystal teardrops” and which stumped all the scientific minds that attempted to explain it) of phenomenon which takes place in the natural world but for which there is no known closed- minded narrow-minded materialistic naturalistic uniformitarian explanation.

    With reference to:

    β€œIs it more probable that nature should go out of her course, or that a man should tell a lie? We have never seen, in our time, nature go out of her course; but we have good reason to believe that millions of lies have been told in the same time; it is, therefore, at least millions to one, that the reporter of a miracle tells a lie.”
    β€” Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason (1794)

    I don’t think of miracles as nature going out of her course. Rather, I think of them as beneficial-to-us actions (or events) that take place whenever a certain living, intelligent entity — an entity that audibly speaks and reveals Himself at will because it is more consistently successful at hiding itself from us than we are of hiding from one another — chooses to perform them.

    I think that closed-minded people who live in a box are the only ones who refer to all reporters of miracles as liars and lunatics. Open-mined people are willing to accept the fact that certain actions (or events) can best be explained in the terms of the open-minded presupposition (or approach) that something greater than (or outside of) this materialistic natural universe and someone greater than any natural man, woman, child, beast, or insect.

  16. Bob Says:

    I think that closed-minded people who live in a box are the only ones who refer to all reporters of miracles as liars and lunatics. Open-mined people are willing to accept the fact that certain actions (or events) can best be explained in the terms of the open-minded presupposition (or approach) that something greater than (or outside of) this materialistic natural universe and someone greater than any natural man, woman, child, beast, or insect has performed and therefore is capable of performing certain things that nothing natural is capable of performing.