Can We Prove Jesus’ Historical Miracles?

I recently encountered a discussion between an atheist and a Christian that went something like this:

A: How do you know that Jesus did miracles and created the universe? Using your own reason, and without using the Bible, prove to me he did these things.
C: Jesus was God, and as such, could do miracles. 
A: You are giving your opinion. I asked how you know? If you cannot prove it, you are basing beliefs on your unfounded personal opinion, certainly not evidence.

Such a discussion is likely common in atheist circles. The atheist reasoning has more than one significant flaw.

First, there is no good reason to eliminate the Bible from a historical discussion, especially one about its main subject. Since external sources have proven the Bible accurate in a wide variety of historical instances, we can therefore trust it in the areas that it is the primary source.

Second, in this discussion the atheists assumes the high ground and asks Christians to prove the creation of the universe, but the atheist has no more ability to explain the beginning of the universe than the Christian. The atheist accuses the Christian of something he is guilty of himself, namely belief without empirical evidence. The atheist berates the Christian for something which he has no better answer. In fact, the atheist answer would seem to ultimately assume that the effect of the universe resulted without a cause, an absurdity.

Third, the question asks for both knowledge and proof, two very different areas of philosophy. If we are to dive into the depths of epistemology, especially post Gettier, we end up with questions about how to prove knowledge of anything, not just religious history. Therefore the knowledge question is at best not confined to religious knowledge.

Fourth, knowledge of any historical event proves difficult to the stringent philosopher that demands empirical proof. Using such a high epistemological standard, we cannot prove that we were not created five minutes ago with the false knowledge of our childhood. Such strict standards of doubting historical evidences leaves us with no way to prove we know anything in history, a standard no one takes seriously, but only applies when they want to dismiss views with which they disagree.

Fifth, as Alvin Plantinga points out, there are many things everyone holds to be true that we cannot prove empirically. We cannot prove what we had for breakfast this morning or that we are feeling frustrated, but we do not doubt these things as true. So the suggestion that if we cannot give empirical evidences then we have no basis for knowledge, therefore we are unreasonable, is a claim that is itself irrational and unfounded.

Lastly, it is much easier to toss out these persuasive hand grenades than it is to explain how irrational they are. It has taken me all these words to explain the hollowness of the accusation, while it only takes a brief comment to make the accusation. To borrow Hume’s phrase, the current atheist resurgence is based more on sophistry and illusion than on objective reason and evidence. Such statements demonstrate the adept persuasion techniques of modern atheists, but also demonstrates their irrationality.

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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15 Responses to Can We Prove Jesus’ Historical Miracles?

  1. Since external sources have proven the Bible accurate in a wide variety of historical instances, we can therefore trust it in the areas that it is the primary source.

    Since many peripheral details in Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels are verifiable as true, therefore it is reasonable to assume that Jack Ryan exists and has done the things the books have said he has done.

    The atheist accuses the Christian of something he is guilty of himself, namely belief without empirical evidence. The atheist berates the Christian for something which he has no better answer. In fact, the atheist answer would seem to ultimately assume that the effect of the universe resulted without a cause, an absurdity.

    There are a few plausible options available, including creation from nothing, which is not so absurd. The important thing is that we are not making stuff up to satisfy a need for ultimate purpose. A physicist can explain to you the steps to reach his conclusion, and how to test it. What can a theologian do other than circularly reference his preferred holy book?

    • Carl says:

      I am unaware that anyone, anywhere has ever claimed that Tom Clancy’s, Jack Ryan ever existed, yet there are claims outside the Bible that Jesus was a historical person, who did miracles, and these claims go back 2,000 years. Also you say that it is not absurd to declare that creation came from nothing. Could you please outline why that is not absurd?

      • Of course no one has claimed that Jack Ryan exists. This is because the Jack Ryan novels aren’t 2000+ years old and were written by a known man who slapped the fiction label on them. The point is to illustrate the absurdity of claiming the Bible is a whole fact by virtue of extraneous peripheral facts.

        The correct phrase would be that creation was caused by nothing. You must first take the view that nobody has ever seen creation ex nihilo, and therefore presumptions about this hypothetical kind of creation are superfluous unless grounded in something which we have observed, such as mathematics and physics. And these tell us that the sum energy of the universe may very well be zero. Which means nothing. To cause nothing to make nothing, nothing must be done. Now, the common rejoinder is that it is obvious that there is something, after all, look around, but these are the people who also suggest that life defies thermodynamics, ignoring the fact that our planet is not a closed system. Like life, growing in pockets of a universe that is cooling and will eventually find life unsustainable, pockets of positive energy (matter), held together by negative energy (gravity), will fade away to nothing over time as the universe expands and mass evaporates.

        Now, the point is not that I know this to be true. I don’t. But I do have alternatives to believing that a conscious preexisting creator spake the universe into existence, and honestly, I find these alternatives much more compelling for their simplicity.

        • humblesmith says:

          The way history is done, indeed even all empirical study of past events, is to study the clues that we have, including the reliability of the source. The claim that we made here is that when we have a source that is proven reliable in the things we can verify, then it is reasonable to trust that source for the things we cannot. Like it or not, that’s the way history is done. Rejecting some statements or the entire source merely because we do not like what they say is unreasonable and illogical. The New Testament has reliable sources that have been corroborated. For examples search for History in this blog. Whether we like it or not, it is unreasonable to deny history because we don’t like what it says. Our New Testament sources meet the standards if the king if skeptics, David Hume, who was trying to deny the validity of the sources when he made the challenge. I did a post on Hume’s witnesses also.

          As to thermodynamics, I have never applied this to earth, nor do any of the apologists I know. To make the closed/open system response against us for this is a straw man.

          It is indeed obvious that something exists. That something exists is undeniable without making a self refuting statement.

          • Rejecting some statements or the entire source merely because we do not like what they say is unreasonable and illogical.

            Accepting some statements or the entire source merely because you would prefer it to be true is unreasonable and illogical. Just because the Bible mentions Egypt and Babylon and many other nations in the area, does not for a second mean that I ought to believe that the sun literally stood still in the sky for a full day. It certainly does not mean that I ought to believe that there was a first woman made of a rib. Parts of the Bible are undoubtedly true, and still it is easy to see that many parts are undeniably false. Jesus isn’t quite undeniably false, but it is surprising that, for such a supposedly immense figure, he wasn’t noted at all in literature in his time. The first mention beyond scripture is by Josephus, mentioning his existence in a single doctored paragraph, 70 or so years after his death.

  2. Oiziruam says:

    “There are a few plausible options available, including creation from nothing, which is not so absurd. The important thing is that we are not making stuff up to satisfy a need for ultimate purpose. A physicist can explain to you the steps to reach his conclusion, and how to test it. What can a theologian do other than circularly reference his preferred holy book?”

    Can you provide an example of a tenable model that shows how an uncaused, created-from-nothing universe could occur? Or also some examples and/or evidences of the other “few plausible options available”?

    As far as the theologian response goes, it seems many theists hold to the “Kalam cosmological argument”, which is (deductive) logically based. The 1st premise of the argument can be defended in part by using Big Bang cosmology. Whether the theist or theologian is correct in advocating this argument is a different concern- they are not, however, simply “referencing their preferred holy book”.

  3. humblesmith says:

    Claims that the Bible narrative can be explained as being similar to an historical novel are only claims that can be made by non-historians and non-experts in literature. I’ve dealt with such criticisms already:

    http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2011/09/10/could-the-bible-be-written-like-a-historical-novel/

    http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2010/06/09/c-s-lewis-christianity-and-myth/

    http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/conclusions-about-historical-accuracy-of-the-bible/

    In reality, when we look at what the text of the Bible says, it is quite clear that it is not written as a novel, a myth, or legend. It is written as eyewitness testimony, and broad, fuzzy claims that it could be a novel are insufficient. In the posts provided, I’ve given mulitiple historical and literary scholars that are experts in their field. They say there is a very distinct difference that we can discern. If we claim these scholars cannot tell the difference between historical novel and eyewitness testimony, we have claimed that we know better than they, and we have concluded that no one can tell the difference, a claim that cannot be held by the mere speculation you provided. The post stands.

    As for nothing causing something, I’ve seen no such thing. All claims of men like Krause seem to explain “nothing” as having properties that can be predicated to it, which is not truly nothing., but rather something that is called nothing. To claim that nothing can cause something is to say that there is an effect with no cause, a claim that would undermine all empirical investigation. This is an unreasonable claim.

  4. Oh, I’m not saying that the bible is similar to a novel. I’m saying that your claim that peripheral facts in a book render the questionable parts of the book factual is rather poorly thought out. If you apply this standard to contemporary novels or historical fiction, well some pretty crazy things have happened. To make it more relevant, forget Tom Clancy. While it seems pretty clear that the gospels were written well after eyewitnesses were dead, let’s ignore that and compare it to the Koran, instead. Two religious texts, both with fantastical stories which claim to be true, both with peripheral facts, both supposedly written by the main character’s contemporaries. If peripheral facts make things true, then surely the Koran is true.

    I think of the Bible more as fan fiction, really. Once upon a time something interesting happened and was recorded in literature or, more likely, oral tradition. Later, fanboys decided it could use some additions and modifications in order to close gaps and make things more exciting (I’m talking to you, Luke).

    Of course nobody has ever seen something come from nothing. This is one of the reasons why the Kalam argument is such tripe. Its premise is something that has never been observed.

    The world we live in, in which we don’t see something come from nothing on a macroscopic level (happens all the time on the quantum level) is a cause and effect world. By what logic do you then apply that to what would be the initial moment of our universe? If you believe that time started at that moment, then there was no cause, because nothing preceded it. To say otherwise is to redefine what cause means. If you believe that the sum energy of the universe is zero, as it may very well be, then why must there be a cause to make nothing produce nothing?

    An interesting alternative to big bang cosmology is conformal cyclic cosmology. This view suggests that the universe is ever expanding, but since the beginning and the end are equally uniform, the frame of reference can change, making the vast, cold expanse of the future universe appear identical to the hot beginnings we are so familiar with. I (personally) believe there is a beginning in this view, but it may not be necessary.

  5. humblesmith says:

    This latest comment continues to throw out unsupported accusations which are off topic, such as the dating and sources of the Bible books, a question which has been answered elsewhere on this blog. As the links I provided show, and to which no response was given, there is no way to separate the corroborated historical accuracy of Bible accounts from the alleged inventions without showing some bias. So to claim that it is “pretty clear” is unsupported and does not align with the facts. Further, to claim that the historical accounts in the Bible and the Koran are in any sense similar in style or content, is to show that no study of the texts has been done. For example, the geographical, political, technical, nautical, and sociological details in the last half of the book of Acts has no similarity with anything in the Koran. To make such a claim demonstrates a lack of truly studying the texts and an apparent bias. I suggest you might want to study them a bit more carefully.

    As for the Kalam, this is off topic, and the comments made here in no way align with what the Kalam actually claims, so no further comment will be made. I’ve done plenty of posts on this if you want to comment there.

    As to something coming from nothing “all the time” this is not true. The subatomic world shows no such thing, nor has it ever been proven, and other than writers who redefine “nothing” to mean something, it is not held. What is held is that particles cannot be determined by location and speed at the same time, and we cannot determine the cause of some movement, but it is not true that something comes from nothing routinely. Such claims have reached the level of urban legend in atheist circles, and are flatly untrue.

    The rest is your opinion, of which you are entitled. But I will not continue with someone who appears to be saying the universe does not exist, so it was not caused.

  6. Marcus Ampe says:

    From your article it looks like the atheist and you are mixing two figures: 1. God the Father, the Divine Creator of heaven and earth, Who is a Spirit; 2; Jesus, the son of man and son of god, who is a man of flesh and blood.
    According to the Scriptures it was God who created the universe and not Jesus, who is not God, but the son of God and was born in October 4bCE..

  7. Pingback: I can’t believe that … (3) miracles can happen | Stepping Toes

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