Should we Believe in Miracles? Part 1

Jesus Walking On Water Paintings - Christ walking on the sea of Galilee  by Henry Coller
Jesus walking on the water

I am posting my arguments from my recent debate with “Nick the Christian” on Theology Web.  Here is my opening statement:

Thanks to Nick and the moderators of this blog for hosting this debate. 

There are approximately 20 major religions in the world, each with numerous “miracle” claims. And within many of these major world religions, there are multiple sects and divisions, each with additional miracle claims. For example, in Christianity, in addition to the miracle claims contained in the Bible, Roman Catholics believe that the mother of Jesus makes appearances to faithful Catholics here on earth. Some Protestant groups believe that a holy spirit gives certain members of their group the power to heal sickness, cast out demons, and speak in unknown tongues. One Protestant group in the United States teaches that devout believers can handle poisonous snakes without any danger of being made sick or dying. Add all these miracle claims together and they number in the hundreds, if not thousands.

But there are many smaller religious groups in the world, from native folk religions in Africa to the religious beliefs of remote, small, isolated, Indian tribes in the Amazon jungle. Therefore there are thousands if not tens of thousands of religious beliefs, a large percentage of which involve miracle claims.

So how should we view these thousands of miracle claims? Should we believe them all? We could, but the problem is that some of them are in direct contradiction to others. For instance, fundamentalist Islam says that Allah and the Koran are the only way to God and that all non-Muslims will spend eternity being burned alive in the Muslim Hell. But fundamentalist Christianity makes a similar claim: You must believe in Jesus as the one and only god; worship and obey him, or suffer an eternity burning in the Christian Hell. So it is impossible to be both a good Muslim and a good Christian at the same time. You are forced to choose, and these two religions are not the only exclusivist religions on the planet. There are many.

Bottom line: You can’t cover your bases and believe and adhere to every religious belief system in the world, each with multiple miracle claims, due to the existence of many exclusivist religions. The existence of multiple exclusivist religions invalidates the famous “Pascal’s Wager”: There is no way to play it safe and simply believe in “God” to keep you from facing divine judgement. You are forced to choose the correct “God” and the correct belief system about this “God”. So how can you determine which if any of these thousands of miracle-based belief systems is correct?

Some faiths, in particular Islam, Mormonism, and Christianity, will tell you to read their holy book and that “God” will speak to you in your heart and will show you the truth as you read, if, you read “with an open heart”. But in reality, a strange phenomenon seems to occur when trying to discover truth by reading a holy book with an “open heart”: people living in Muslim countries almost always choose Islam; people living in Christian countries usually choose Christianity, and people who live in Hindu countries almost always choose Hinduism. So this doesn’t seem like a very good method to determine which world religion is the one, true belief system.

What other option is there: Well, you could investigate each religious belief system, all several thousands of them, investigating in detail every miracle claim, to rule out all the false belief systems until you finally arrive at the one true belief system, if it exists. How long do you think it would take you to do this detective work? I would bet to do a thorough job, it would take you several life times.

Isn’t there an easier method??

Yes. Here it is: Accept the scientific method and reason as the basis of reality. Then…reject ALL miracle claims. Reject them NOT because they are impossible. Reject them because they are so very, very improbable. Think about this: if we were each to try to live our lives by following every superstition (miracle) based belief system that exists our lives would be chaos. Life would be impossible.

It is my assertion that it would make for a better, more peaceful world, if human beings would only believe claims of truth that can be backed up with solid evidence, using the tools of the scientific method and reason. If a truth claim lacks good evidence, it doesn’t mean it is necessarily false, it just means that there is no good reason to believe it is true. Place this claim in the “possible, but not probable” category, and don’t worry about it until the proponents of this truth claim can provide better evidence. When better evidence is presented, then you can decide whether to move a “possible, but not probable” claim a little higher on your believability scale.

But, we should never accept a “possible, but not probable” truth claim as “fact” simply because the proponents of this claim threaten us with terrible consequences for not believing their claim. Remember, at the same time that the conservative Christian is threatening you with eternal punishment for not believing in Jesus, the conservative Muslim is threatening you with eternal punishment for not believing in Allah, and the voodoo witch doctor in the jungle is threatening you with some other terrible fate for not following his superstition-based dictates.

Finally, how do we answer the question: How did the universe come into existence? Some atheists state that there is no Creator. There is no God. How can they know this? I freely admit that there seems to be good evidence for a Creator…or Creators. The fine tuning of the universe is certainly strong evidence for some type of Creator. However, I believe that it is a very faulty assumption to assume that the evidence for a Creator somehow confirms the Christian belief that Jesus is that Creator!

When this point is brought to the attention of Christians, they usually respond with, “The Resurrection proves that Jesus is the Creator, Ruler of Heaven and Earth”.

And that is what brings us here today in my debate with Nick. Does Nick have sufficient evidence to convince us that his god and his miracle-based belief system is the one and only truth? I suggest we listen respectfully to Nick’s evidence, but I ask readers to watch for the following:

1. Appeals to the opinion of biased authorities. How many Christians would believe that Mohammad flew to heaven on a winged horse just because the overwhelming majority of Koran scholars believe it really did happen?

2. Appeals such as, “No Jew/pagan/Roman/Martian in the first century would believe such and such unless they had seen such and such with their own eyes”. Although it might be possible to make generalizations of what “most” people would have done or believed twenty centuries ago, it is impossible to say with certainty that NO ONE would have done or believed something.

3. Lastly, I have no intention of trying to prove that the Resurrection did not happen. In my view, that would be like trying to prove that the Tooth Fairy, leprechauns, and fairies do not exist. It would be impossible. What I will attempt to demonstrate is that the evidence for the Christian claim of a resurrection—the reanimation of the dead flesh of a first century Jewish prophet—is so poor, that none of us needs to believe it was an actual historical event. If Christians want to believe in this event because it gives them internal comfort and peace, or they think it is a nice tradition, that’s fine. But I believe that Christians should stop trying to convince the rest of us that their miracle-based belief system is the one and only world truth, based on this highly improbable miracle claim.


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