XFiles Friday: The Ultimate SuperstitionApril 17, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 12.)
We come at last to the end of chapter 12, Geisler and Turek’s attempt to argue that we know Jesus really rose from the dead because a handful of men wrote a handful of books claiming that a handful of people claim to have had some kind of experience which they claimed was an encounter with a Jesus who was risen in some sense. And even though these claims have a strongly ghost-story-ish flavor, and tend to contradict one another in significant ways, we ought to believe them anyway because the men who wrote the stories mentioned the names of people and places that actually exist, which means the men are unbiased and unimpeachable witnesses.
Um, yeah. Well, anyway, we’re coming to the end of all that. G&T close with a couple cursory attempts to make Christianity sound amazingly unique.
David Hume argued that miracles cannot affirm any one religion because miracles are based on poor testimony and all religions have them. In other words, miracle claims are self canceling. Unfortunately for Hume, his objection does not describe the actual state of affairs.
First, Hume makes a hasty generalization by saying that alleged miracles from all religions are alike. As we’ve seen since chapter 9, the miracles associated with Christianity are not based on poor testimony. They are based on early, eyewitness, multiple-source testimony that is unrivaled in any other world religion. That is, no other world religion has verified miracles like those in the New Testament.
Indeed, nor does Christianity. Sure, we have early written accounts of people claiming miracles, but that’s not the same has having verified that the alleged miracles actually occurred.
We have people today claiming miracles, and agreeing with one another that yes, a real miracle did happen. Yet these miracles are not actually verified; we just have multiple people making claims. Write down these claims, and in 2,000 years, the people who read those claims will be in exactly the same position as we are in deciding whether or not such claims are justified.
But since we’re not living 2,000 years from now, let’s not wait. Let’s look at the claims people are making today, and see if the mere act of claiming a miracle is sufficient to prove that the miracle actually occurred.
Dr. Hank Hanegraaf, aka “The Bible Answer Man,” once asked Benny Hinn to give him a list of 10 verifiable healings—10 people he could contact, and obtain the medical records of, and verify that yes, the person was indeed seriously ill, and yes, his malady was in fact gone after obtaining a healing from/through Benny Hinn. Benny admitted he couldn’t name ten. So Hank asked for 5. Benny didn’t have 5 either. So Hank asked for one. Just one person who had actually, documentably, received a genuine healing through Benny Hinn’s ministry.
You guessed it. Benny Hinn was unable to supply even one person who had actually experienced a genuine, miraculous healing through the power of God in and through his ministry. Yet tune in the Benny Hinn show and listen to the people claim miraculous healings anyway! Is the claim alone sufficient to document the veridity of the miracle? Clearly not. Is the claim sufficient when it is buttressed by other people repeating the same claim, or variations of it? Happens all the time on Benny Hinn, yet none of the miracles is actually verifiable. The mere act of making or repeating a claim is not a verification that what the claim says is true. It’s just a claim.
What we have in the New Testament is a well-documented, well-preserved record of people making claims. This does not constitute a body of verified miracles. All it verifies is that claims were made in the past, just as claims are being made today, and with just as much reliability. If it would be gullible to uncritically embrace whatever men claim today, when they are not only living eyewitnesses, but are experiencing these “miracles” right in front of us, then we certainly don’t have any basis for assuming that 2,000 year old hearsay is any more reliable just because it is written down.
Geisler and Turek go on to propose the somewhat embarrassing argument that Hume is also wrong because he wrote this prior to modern scientific discoveries, which G&T use as a pretext for claiming that we live in a theistic universe. It’s ironic, because I really doubt that David Hume would find himself at all discomfited by the latter day superstitions that try to make the Big Bang an argument for a Creator, when in fact it eliminates the possibility of a Creator. So we’ll just skim past that section and look at their final attempt to refute Hume.
Finally, the uniqueness, number, and quality of New Testament miracles cannot be explained by anything other than a supernatural cause. Jesus performed more than thirty miracles that were instantaneous, always successful, and unique. Some were even predicted.
They go on to contrast this with the record of what faith healers like Hinn actually accomplish. But notice, this is an apples-and-oranges mismatch: they’re comparing the claims about what Jesus allegedly did, with the facts of what modern faith healers do. They ought to be comparing the claims of Jesus with the claims of the faith healers, or the facts of Jesus with the facts of the faith healers. But the latter option is rather difficult, since the only miracle that Jesus did that ought to leave behind a verifiable fact is the claim that he rose from the dead. And since he’s not here to provide verification that he really did rise, we have no basis for concluding that the gap between the claim and the fact is any less for Jesus than it is for Hinn.
The final section of chapter 12 is entitled “One Solitary Life,” and purports to argue that Jesus must have risen from the dead because he has had a greater influence on history than any other single individual. You’ve heard the schtick, I’m sure. “He never wrote a book, he didn’t go to college, he never travelled more than 200 miles from the place he was born, yet he affected the life of man more than all the kings, armies, and navies of all time.” Very inspirational, for believers who don’t look too closely at history.
As an argument for the resurrection, of course, this is a totally spurious approach. Mohammed has had almost as much influence, in only two-thirds the time, without even rising from the dead. It was the Muslim world that preserved much of the ancient knowledge of the Greeks, and extended it before returning it to the West. Even today, a huge chunk of modern math goes by its Arabic name: al-jebr. Can Jesus claim to have restored to Western civilization the mathematical foundation on which so much of our modern society is built?
Alexander the Great also failed to rise from the dead, and yet, without his career, the ancient world would not have had Greek as a lingua franca, and thus would not have had a Greek New Testament with which to extend the fame and faith of Jesus. And the whole idea of bible-based faith might not have arisen if Nebuchadnezzar had not isolated the Jews from their center of worship and forced them to develop a cult based on reading and discussing the Torah in the synagogues. Jesus himself would not have had Pharisaic (Farsi) beliefs to spread, if the Jews during the exile had not absorbed the non-Mosaic teachings of Zoroaster regarding heaven and hell and resurrection and judgment.
In short, the phenomenon of Jesus’ unique greatness owes its magnificence in very large part to the unacknowledged contributions of a great many other people, not the least of which are the works of Christians great and small who have done all they could in order to glorify their own religion (and thus themselves, as advocates of that religion). This is what I call The Ultimate Superstition: giving Jesus credit for the results produced through the hard work of others. Jesus is not the source of history, but the beneficiary of it. He has assumed the position of a repository of virtue, a place for people to deposit all their best hopes and values and deeds.
This has been both good and bad, on the whole. It has led to the founding of hospitals and inquisitions, orphanages and crusades. In Jesus name, the New World was colonized by Europeans, the native Americans educated and dispossessed. He has become a symbol, a banner, that men rally around for causes good or ill. And that is the extent of his “influence” on history.
He hasn’t been here to guide us. He hasn’t upheld his own faith by remaining, in resurrected form, in the Temple. He hasn’t given interviews, met with embassies, negotiated treaties, or held ecclesiastical courts. He has offered no solutions to any crises political, doctrinal, or economic. He has not, in short, showed up to influence us. He has merely served as a figurehead to be used by ambitious men.
Yet, magically, he gets all the credit for whatever good men have done, while men are assigned the blame for all the bad things done in Jesus name. His reputation is an artifact of the rigged system used to promote him. People “explain” history by arbitrarily and superstitiously giving him credit for it. The work of “one solitary life” is not really his at all, it’s the product of millions of solitary lives, some great and some ordinary.
And that’s it for chapter 12. It’s fitting, in a way, that Geisler and Turek would close with such a blatantly false bit of propaganda. But we’re not done yet, by any means! Stay tuned…