Monday, July 17, 2006

Miracles and the truthfulness of Acts

Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, in their apologetic work, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, list an impressive array of arguments for the truthfulness of the New Testament. One of these arguments appeals to the historical details found in the book of Acts. They reference the work of Colin Hemer, who chronicled 84 facts in the last 16 chapters of Acts that have been confirmed by historical and archaeological research. Geisler and Turek point out that Luke reports 35 miracles in Acts and argue:

In the light of the fact that Luke has proven accurate with so many trivial details, it is nothing but pure anti-supernatural bias to say he’s not telling the truth about the miracles he records. (pg 260)

Lee Strobel, in The Case For Christ, argues along the same lines:

If Luke was so painstakingly accurate in his historical reporting . . . on what logical basis may we assume he was credulous or inaccurate in him reporting of matters that were far more important, not only to him but to others as well? (pg 99)

Is this argument valid? It may be. However, as George H. Smith notes in his book, Atheism: The Case Against God, the apologist who adopts this argument is faced with a dilemma of selectivity: on what basis can the Christian apologist accept the miracle stories of the New Testament, but reject those found in holy texts of other religions? (pg 216).

On this site, a good example is mentioned. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, recorded his revelations and life story in The Pearl of Great Price (see here). Within this book there are many historical facts that can be verified to be true. For example, it can be verified that Joseph Smith was born on December 23, 1805; that the Mormon Church was organised in 1830; that there is a place called Sharon in Windsor County, Vermount; etc. However, Smith also claims in this book that he was visited by God and Jesus, and that the angel Moroni gave him golden plates on which the Book of Mormon was written.

The Pearl of Great Price contains many historical claims that can be verified as true. Does this mean that we should believe everything contained within the book? According to the logic of Geisler, Turek and Strobel, we should. If we don’t, we – Geisler, Turek and Strobel included – will be exhibiting ‘anti-supernatural bias’.

If Christian apologists accept the miracle stories from the New Testament, but reject the miracle accounts from other religions, then what objective criteria are they using to distinguish between fictional miracles and those worthy of belief?


Menopausal Agnostic said...

Good question.

Bishop Rick said...

This is a very good question. As I observer members of different religions, they all have one thing in common. They all believe that their religion is the true religion. How can they all be true? It is much more likely that they are all wrong than any are true. It's funny. You talk to Mormons or Baptists or Catholics or Jews, and they will all tell you that they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that their religion is true because they have recieved a personal witness. Again, how can this be so when each of these religions oppose the others?

tichius said...


I think, though well-stated, you are framing your argument with the wrong question. The question of an "objective criteria" with which to measure fictional miracles and actual miracles, assumes that the dilema of whether miracles even exist or not has already been discussed.

Though I can answer your question, it would be pointless to answer it without two questions:

1. Do you believe in miracles?
2. Who do you believe to be behind the miracles...who performs miracles?

If you do, then we can continue to have this discussion, if not, does it really matter to you which miracle is "real"?

To Bishop Rick:

Good point. You have just proved why you cannot judge a philosphy or a religion by its followers. This is a valuable lesson to learn.

Of course everyone will say what they believe is the truth; in fact, it would be self-defeating to follow something you admit to be anything other than the truth.

Ultimately, the decision is not an intellectual, human-logical one, but one of the heart and of faith. I, for one, am thankful that God's-logic is different than ours.

I would love to hear you comments/ and or critcism of these statements!

Kevin Parry said...

Hi tichius

Excellent comment!

I don’t believe in miracles, so I’m not really concerned about what miracles are ‘true’ and which are ‘false’. However, I am concerned about the apologists’ position. They already believe in miracles, so the question I asked in the post was directed to them. I was highlighting what I see as an inconsistency: if they believe in the miracles of the gospels (and they claim that they believe on rational grounds) then on what rational basis do they reject the miracle claims of other religions?

At least I am consistent in my beliefs of miracles when I consider different religions and faiths.

All the best

pt said...

I think George H. Smith may have made a bad assumption. Christian apologists don't necessarily discount the miracle claims of other religions.

e.g., I may treat Joseph Smith's story with scepticism, but I don't discount it simply because a miracle reportedly took place. I discount Mormonism because of it's truth claims, not because of it's miracles. (Though, once it's truth claims are found to be false, the miracles certainly become suspect.)

In the Christian world view, there may be other causes of "miracles" besides God. (I suspect this is where tichius was going with point #2).

Thanks for being open with your thoughts and struggles.


Anonymous said...

An interesting discussion. The author makes the correlation between Mormonism and Christianity and notes that Joseph Smith also claimed miraculous intervention. The logical question is asked, "Why do we accept one and not the other- and on what basis do we make that assumption?" As a Christian, I obviously cannot bear testimony to the miracles recorded in the Bible- I simply wasn't there. Neither can I bear witness to Joseph Smith's claims. What I can do, however, is look at other evidence that may or may not provide a foundation for my faith. For example, I have found Biblical accounts of history true and accurate. I have found Biblical prophecies to be absolutely correct and not self-fulfilling, etc. In the case of Joseph Smith, I am able to find many prophecies that have not come true and certain inconsistencies that cannot be explained. ( For instance, he prophecied that there would be a temple built in West Plains, MO, well over 100 years ago, and this still hasn't happened). While it is not the miracles that cause me to choose one over the other, I can make a reasonable argument against Mormonism, based on the life and actions of its founder. Thank you for your time. Christian

Anonymous said...

if you read a case for faith... lee strobel does talk about other faiths and religions - and their miracles, and Christianity compared to them... I know now why you're an 'ex-christian' - its clear that you just failed to persevere, since your arguments are the kind that would sway a very young Christian indeed... God bless you :-)

Michael said...

How can you seriously doubt that miracles have taken place there have been thousands of recorded incidents and they occur on a daily basis. I won't deny that they seem to happen in many religions so I don't claim to know which is the "perfect" or “chosen” or which to undoubtedly follow. I can’t explain why they happen but I do believe faith is the main factor in their occurrence. One thing I do know is that without faith, you have no hope. Without hope you lose your will to live. My father was an atheist and if it couldn’t been proved through science he refused to believe it. Through his lack of belief he limited his ability to achieve things greater than himself. If you don’t believe in something greater than yourself you won’t ever achieve your full potential because your limiting yourself to your own natural abilities before you start. Relying on something larger than yourself is key to accomplishing great things.

God Bless

Brian said...

To anon who wrote: "I know now why you're an 'ex-christian' - its clear that you just failed to persevere, since your arguments are the kind that would sway a very young Christian indeed".

This is absolutely insulting. I know you don't intend it to be, but it truly is. You have no history with Kevin, no relationship with him, yet you presume to know exactly where he was in his walk with Christ at the time he decided to end that walk. And that's all based on his analysis of a book we can all agree was written by a man, not one of the gospels or indeed the Bible itself. You should really spend some time reading through this blog, since it is clear that the author had been a Christian for some time.

Moreover, do you know of anyone you thought of as a pillar of faith, absolutely unshakable in their faith, who decided to leave? It is a difficult experience, but all churches I've ever heard of have had people leave, people who were looked upon as powerful members of the body of Christ. Just because someone leaves doesn't mean that they were young Christians or that they merely "failed to persevere." For that matter, why should someone NEED to "persevere" when one has committed oneself to the faith?

Ilse said...

'Without hope you lose your will to live. My father was an atheist and if it couldn’t been proved through science he refused to believe it. Through his lack of belief he limited his ability to achieve things greater than himself. If you don’t believe in something greater than yourself you won’t ever achieve your full potential because your limiting yourself to your own natural abilities before you start. '

This is - sorry to say - nonsense.
I have been an agnostic for 26 years before becoming a muslim, back to becoming agnostic since shortly. I think what makes people capable of achieving things greater then themself is compassion and love, unconditional love for all people and wanting to make the world better by trying to see the positive light in everybody. My experience is that restricting yourself to one brand of religion might make some people better, but it makes also a lot of people even worse because they are told only they are the ones chosen by God. And what kind of hope is the fundamentalist religious kind of hope? From the outside it looks great and fuzzy and loving and all, and this is why I became a muslim, for the hope that God would save me if I just prayed hard enough. But well.. a hope that you will be saved while you know that the rest of the people will go to hell?
Maybe you don't hold this kind of hope yourself, I don't mean it personally adressed to you, but still I see this in many religious persons.

Anonymous said...

I find your comparison of the book of Mormon to the scriptural account of Acts somewhat lacking in justification. In Joseph Smith's writings there are accounts of massive civilizations in North and Central America who engage in equally massive battles. Despite the efforts of Mormon archaeologists, there is no evidence of any of these supposed civilizations, which to med indicates that at least part of Joseph Smith's writings are patently false and clearly fabricated. From this I would extrapolate to the rest of his writings and assume the rest of his narrative was fabricated to meet his own ends.

While I haven't studied enough other world religions to make similar claims about them, I am much more well versed in the Bible, and I would claim that you would be hard pressed to find historical narratives in the Bible that have been irrefutably disproved (assuming that the supernatural is in fact possible). Whether or not that stands as proof remains to be seen, but there is a great deal of historical and archaeological evidence corroborating numerous accounts in the the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. To compare them to the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price is tenuous at best.

Anonymous said...

Miracles are simply put abnormalities. Go to your nearest casino and play long enough, eventually you'll win a jackpot. Playing the odds in real life, eventually everybody will experience"a miracle". We as a whole, are all born from the same body of energy, the one we return to once we are educated enough to generate more energy. Life is given to educate those born without empathy, which is needed for progress. Without inertia, energy(us and everything else) ceases to exsist, which causes time to collapse. The questions man seek answers to are distractions making accomplishment falter. In a nutshell, we are all doomed if we cant get along/pass our education. You are all adding stress to our precarious position. Love is the only acceptable answer to life.