Debate on the Don Johnson Show

Last Friday I had an informal, but quite interesting debate on the Don Johnson Show. The debate was rather long (approximately 2 1/2 hours), but it flew by quite quickly for me. Below are the two sections of the debate:

Part One:

Part Two:

Overall, I feel good about how things went. My only apology is that my voice is lower than Don’s in a number of places, since I was not as used to speaking in front of a microphone. Nevertheless, everything is audible, so just turn up your computer volume as needed.

Having listened to the playback of the debate, I feel that everything was covered well, so I don’t think there is need for too much of a follow up. Here is a list of the issues we discussed:

Part 1:

Introduction and Background: 00:00 – 12:00

What is Metaphysical Naturalism?: 12:00 – 28:08

Reductionism and Abstract Objects: 28:08 – 101:11

The last segment got into some fairly arcane philosophical issues that some people might not be familiar with. For those interested in further readings on reductionism and how it explains universals and abstract objects, I recommend Richard Carrier’s Sense & Goodness Without God. His chapter “What Everything is Made of” explains reductionism well, and his sections in this chapter “5.4 Abstract Objects” and “6.4.4 Qualia” explain further how reductionism is compatible with mathematics, colors, and qualia.

Part 2:

What is Christianity?: 00:00 – 10:42

(I misspoke briefly in this section 1:27-1:30: “the brain is an operation of the mind” -> “the mind is an operation of the brain”)

Arguments for Metaphysical Naturalism: 10:42 – 37:30

Arguments for Christian Theism: 37:30 – 43:09

History and Miracles: 43:08 – 1:18:38

(Another time I misspoke: 46:08: “Israels” -> “Israelites”)

In the last part we discussed my recent article “History, Probability and Miracles.” I also mentioned that there are tons of ancient records and witnesses of the pagan god Aesculapius performing miraculous healings in antiquity. Here is a pdf that records many of such miracles, including named persons and conditions, very similar to the alleged Christian miracles that were listed during the discussion.

Overall, I enjoyed the debate. A little disappointing that I was brought onto the show as an ancient historian, but then the issue of history was set aside (part two 37:37), and instead I was asked a lot about things such as the philosophy of mathematics. Also, portions of the debate came off as a little ambushy. I had not read Craig Keener’s Miracles before (review here), so obviously I was not going to be able to comment on the exact details of every anecdote or claim about someone I had never heard of before. Also, the comment about ethno-centrism (part two 46:56) I think was unnecessary (I do not have to share the 18th century racial attitudes of David Hume to think he had a good approach to miracles and history). If Keener’s book is really correct about miraculous healings, then he should immediately take his research to the American Medical Association. I would expect that someone who proved the claims in that book should receive none other than the Nobel Prize in Medicine. I anticipate that I will be waiting a long time to hear of such an award for Keener…

Nevertheless, I am very grateful that Don invited me onto the show and that we got to discuss these issues. Thanks to everyone who sat and listened through the whole debate!

-Matthew Ferguson

This entry was posted in Debates. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Debate on the Don Johnson Show

  1. When this debate was held, I was still using my old blog server. As a result, a thread of comments that originally followed this debate was not transferred over when I moved to this server. To fix this, I have posted screenshots of the comments below:

    The URL in the last comment for the news story about the hamster resurrecting from the dead can be clicked below:

  2. Gino says:

    I sent you an email thanking you for that interview, but I’ll post it here as well. Yours was by far the best response to Don’s debate style I have heard yet, and I have listened to all of his podcasts and many other beside. Don is very well read and has spent a lot of time considering his positions, and obviously he has debated a lot with atheists. His presentation attempts to shoehorn the atheist with a certain position which he has already set up refutations against, but you avoided those traps well. I was a little disappointed that your response to his waving Keener’s book around and calling it “evidence” wasn’t stronger, but given the fact you were in pretty much uncharted waters you did well. In all honesty, Don is right…the Christian world view does have a better and more satisfying explanation for everything in Keener’s book. That doesn’t mean those explanations are true, but truth isn’t about coming up with something that makes you feel better about it.

    So, great job and thanks for a fascinating discussion.Keep up the great blog!

    • Thanks for listening to the whole debate!

      “His presentation attempts to shoehorn the atheist with a certain position which he has already set up refutations against, but you avoided those traps well.”

      That’s the key when dealing with apologists these days. They don’t want to defend talking snakes, women turning into pillars of salt, or men walking on water, so they fight tooth and nail to always put the atheist on the defensive. “How do you explain this with naturalism?!” (common examples: morality, epistemology, or, in Don’s case, abstract objects). Fortunately, I prepared for this discussion by reading Richard Carrier’s Sense and Goodness without God, which provides a comprehensive naturalist worldview that answers all of these questions.

      It’s pretty absurd that the apologist’s strategy these days is to give the skeptic the burden to have to explain anything and everything about the universe and philosophy (when they virtually never explain how their god solves these problems), but fortunately there are real philosophical resources out there to equip atheists and naturalists.

      “the Christian world view does have a better and more satisfying explanation for everything in Keener’s book. That doesn’t mean those explanations are true, but truth isn’t about coming up with something that makes you feel better about it.”

      The discussion with Don was the first time I had heard of Keener’s book, so I was working on improvisation there (it would have been nice for Don to let me know that he wanted to talk about the book when I explicitly asked him before the show which topics he wanted to cover and discuss). Nevertheless, another strategy of apologists these days is to ambush people with unexpected material.

      I addressed Keener more thoroughly in my recent debate with Nick Peters (review of how I handled him here).

      I also got some good constructive feedback from another guy who wrote an interesting review of my discussion with Don about how to debunk the miracle claims.

      As far as the Christian worldview, I don’t think that it actually explains anything better in Keener’s book. This is because the miracles that Keener claims to record, such as fortuitous coincidences, resuscitations from near death (only to later die again), and remarkable healing events, do not support biblical-scale miracles. Keener does not make any stride towards establishing that a man could resurrect (not just resuscitate) into an immortal body, fly in the sky, or turn water into wine by his sheer volition. Keener’s book is like using the height of NBA players to argue that 100-foot giants exist. It is simply a non-sequitur.

      I also just elaborated in this recent blog about how to deal with Keener when debating the resurrection or Christianity:

      So Keener’s “miracles” do nothing towards establishing the core claims of Christianity. He may provide evidence for a minimalistic, ambiguous supernatural world where there are occasionally small-scale miracles that happen. But Keener hasn’t even shown that. If he had, his book would have been recognized by the medical community. Here is another review that explains well how Keener doesn’t even confirm small-scale miracles. So, short of demonstrating either biblical-scale or even small-scale miracles, Keener hasn’t even put a dent in Metaphysical Naturalism, and the only community that he has impacted are online evangelicals. Medical experts don’t waste their time with such pseudo-scientific nonsense.

      Anyhow, thanks for your feedback and compliments! I’m glad that you like the blog too!

  3. Graye says:

    “As far as the Christian worldview, I don’t think that it actually explains anything better in Keener’s book. This is because the miracles that Keener claims to record, such as fortuitous coincidences, resuscitations from near death (only to later die again), and remarkable healing events, do not support biblical-scale miracles.”

    Let me elaborate on my ill-written thought—From Don’s perspective, Christianity has greater explanatory power, and thus is a more successful world-view, because everything that is in Keener’s book (and in all the other 20+ arguments he wanted to drop on you) has a nice, clean, satisfying explanation in Christianity that fits with everything else. And he’s completely right, the Christian world-view really does have that…so long as you accept his understood premise that just being able to explain something is enough of a reason to believe it as true. I don’t think his argument is valid, but if you accept that simply having an explanation for something has some meaning, you would have to admit he does have a point. In a debate setting he’s been successful in turning the definitional limitation of a naturalist’s epistemology on itself, making it seem like a negative that we don’t allow ourselves to make up answers to fill in the questions.

    I’m not certain if my defense against all of that would work in a debate, but I think every one of his points relies on one fact that is completely untenable, which is that you can ever have knowledge of the source of supernatural causation. In every point he, and all apologists for that matter, claim a supernatural event as proof of God causal relationship with the material world, but I rarely hear anyone in a debate situation address how exactly they come to that knowledge. It would seem that since a supernatural event is beyond our natural limitations to fathom, the source could be anything, and thus is completely unreliable. I have yet to meet a Christian…or anyone who believes in the supernatural of any type…that had any answer to that beyond they simply have faith.

    I flipped through Keener’s book, but it is pretty much what I expected. That this is proof of anything to Don should be a pretty clear indication of the weakness of his arguments. 😀

    • “From Don’s perspective, Christianity has greater explanatory power, and thus is a more successful world-view, because everything that is in Keener’s book (and in all the other 20+ arguments he wanted to drop on you) has a nice, clean, satisfying explanation in Christianity that fits with everything else. And he’s completely right, the Christian world-view really does have that…so long as you accept his understood premise that just being able to explain something is enough of a reason to believe it as true”

      I see what you are getting at. The problem is with ad hocness. Sure, apologists can make up an explanation for everything and tack it onto every other invisible thing that is assumed in their worldview (god, supernatural agency, souls, heaven, hell, etc). However, when making all of these explanations they are always relying on unproven assumptions in their premises.

      It basically becomes a case of Occam’s Razor when demonstrating why naturalism has better answers. The naturalist may have to go into a more technical and less emotionally satisfying explanation to provide a theory for these things, but ultimately naturalism relies on less unproven assumptions (everyone can agree that nature and physical forces exist). So simply having a greater general ease in explaining something hardly entails that it is the best explanation. I discuss this more in these two blogs:

      “It would seem that since a supernatural event is beyond our natural limitations to fathom, the source could be anything, and thus is completely unreliable. I have yet to meet a Christian…or anyone who believes in the supernatural of any type…that had any answer to that beyond they simply have faith.”

      Exactly, and that is the problem with their god-of-the-gaps reasoning. They are looking at things backwards. Whenever something perplexing comes along, let’s say an unexplained healing event, they work it in as evidence of their worldview. However, such an event does not fully establish or lead to their worldview. There could still be even another supernatural explanation. However, I think assuming the supernatural only creates more problems, since it requires far more ad hoc assumptions. Naturalism, in working with tools that we can already agree exist, provides far more parsimonious explanations. So we should always seek natural explanations first until a problem genuinely stumps natural causality. And even if something did stump naturalism, that would hardly entail theism, much less Christianity in particular, as the only alternative.

      That said, I have yet to encounter anything in reality, whether it be cosmology, abstract objects and universals, or miracle claims, that defy a natural explanation. Naturalism can explain all of these things, even if it sometimes requires a more difficult explanation (we can’t just presuppose easy and convenient fixes in naturalism, as naturalists actually have to do the dirty work of empirically demonstrating the forces that we are using to explain things).

      Ultimately, it comes down to the distinction between “valid” and “sound” arguments. The Christian worldview may have a logically valid answer for everything (when they can just tack on ad hoc assumptions as they go along), but naturalism ultimately provides sound arguments (not relying merely on ad hoc assumptions, but actual demonstrable entities and forces).

      “I flipped through Keener’s book, but it is pretty much what I expected. That this is proof of anything to Don should be a pretty clear indication of the weakness of his arguments.”

      Yep, that was my main impression as well when I later read through it. I’d like to do a fuller review debunking that book, but I am pretty busy with grad school and other projects. Hallquist’s review was a great general overview. Carrier has said that he may be planning a more in-depth critical review of Keener down the road, but we will have to wait on that. For now, however, I think there is plenty of material available (such as the stuff linked above) for responding to that book when apologists bring it up in debates.

  4. Pingback: “Yellow-dog” naturalism | Weighing the Evidence

    • I have been having an ongoing discussion with the author of this blog, which begins here:

      Among the noteworthy items that I discuss is the following:

      Regarding the “big enough” objection that you raise, it is important to remember the context in which I was talking to Don. Earlier in the debate, Don actually claimed that a little girl losing her pet parakeet, praying for a new parakeet, and then having another parakeet fly into her hard the next day was an example of a miracle. The reason why I asked about the Red Sea parting and people resurrecting after clear examples of death (e.g. after being dead for 10 years), is because these types of miracles are far more relevant to the claims in the Bible than simply a girl getting a new parakeet after prayer.

      To illustrate this, I think that it is important to distinguish between the types of miracles in question:

      1. Miracles of probability: Many of the miracles that Don brought up do not necessarily involve clear violation of physical laws, but simply improbable events. For example, a girl loses her pet parakeet and then has another one fly into her yard the next day, or a couple prays for a certain amount of money and then receives it. The question of whether these events are “miracles” depends on whether they are so improbable as to suggest some sort of supernatural intervention behind their occurrence. However, I think it is very difficult to demonstrate such miracles, because there is also a natural probability that the bird would fly back or the couple would receive the money. In order to argue that it is a “miracle,” therefore, one would have to show that these events are more probably the result of supernatural intervention than simply being coincidences. Because I do not think that we can easily assess the competing probabilities of these two possibilities, however, I do not think that miracles of probability are typically capable of verification.

      2. Miracles involving restoration to ordinary human health: Most of the miracles that Keener documents involve restoration to ordinary human health, but not necessarily super-human abilities or conditions. For example, Keener discusses a number of cases in which people resuscitate from the dead under extreme circumstances. However, *resuscitations* are not the same things as *resurrections*. Someone who resuscitates from the dead is simply restored to ordinary human health, only to die again later. In discussing Jesus’ resurrection, theologian William Craig (Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection, pg. 15):

      “Resurrection is not resuscitation. The mere restoration of life to a corpse is not a resurrection. A person who has resuscitated returns only to this earthly life and will die again.”

      And (pg. 127):

      “Jesus rose to eternal life in a radically transformed body that can be described as immortal, glorious, powerful, and supernatural. In this new mode of existence, he was not bound by the physical limitations of the universe, but possessed superhuman powers.”

      Simply showing examples of humans resuscitating, as Keener has done, therefore, does not prove that someone could *resurrect* from the dead. Keener has only shown that people occasionally recover to ordinary human health. He has not shown miracles where people achieve super-human abilities.

      3. Miracles involving super-human abilities: These are the types of miracles most relevant to Jesus’ miracles in the New Testament. Turning water into wine, walking on water, and resurrecting from brain death into an immortal and imperishable body do not just involve healing miracles that restore people to ordinary human health. They involve super-human abilities that supersede ordinary physical laws. If Keener wants to argue for “the credibility of the New Testament accounts,” he really needs to provide modern examples of these miracles. Even William Craig acknowledges that recuessiation from the dead is not adequate to describe the resurrection of Jesus. Someone who necessitates from the dead will simply grow old and die again. However, the resurrection hypothesis posits that Jesus never died again. Has Keener shown any examples of people gaining immortality, or achieving other super-human abilities and conditions? None that I am aware of, and these are the types of miracles most crucial to his argument.

      4. Miracles involving direct examples of agency: Note that Jesus performs most of his miracles in the New Testament in person. He is a clear agent who is present performing the miraculous event, when he does things like turning water into wine. However, most of the miracles that Keener records do not involve the presence of miracle workers. Someone is declared dead for a couple hours, for example, has their fingers turn black, and then resuscitates back to life. We might call this a miracle, but did any agent perform it? Can we connect the miracle with a specific person, such as we can with Jesus? What is also worth noting is that miracles caused by agents could be repeatable and demonstrable with scientific instruments. If a miracle worker can perform miracles on demand, then he could do it when doctors and scientists are present. Keener’s claim, therefore, that we should not expect photographs and videos of this stuff is unsubstantiated, since the miracles ascribed to Jesus in the New Testament are kinds that would be repeatable.

      The reason that I do not believe that Keener’s book is relevant to the miracles in the New Testament is because he has not shown clear examples of 1) miracles that involve super-human abilities, and 2) miracles involving clear examples of agency. The most that Keener has shown is that people are occasionally restored to ordinary human health in ways that may escape ordinary medical explanations, and that improbable events sometimes occur that appear to be miraculous in their improbability. However, these types of miracles don’t support the types of miracles in the New Testament.

      Bear in mind also that Keener’s book has also not been peer-reviewed by forensic scientists, medical experts, or parapsychologists. He has only published a book with Baker Publishing Group, which is an evangelical press. I won’t accept the miracles that he reports (which are still not the types of miracles in the New Testament), until they have been vetted by scientific and medical professionals and been published by an academic press in these disciplines.

  5. Pingback: Response to Comment: Evidence for miracles | Weighing the Evidence

    • And the conversation continues here:

      Among the noteworthy items that I discuss is the following:

      First off, naturalism is not an a priori metaphysical position. I not only made this clear to you when I sent you my article ¨History, Probability, and Miracles,” which explicitly makes this point, but Staircase Ghost also made this clear to you in his comment above.

      A priori we might live in a number of possible worlds. We might live in a world in which plagues can be averted from military hosts, by ransoming the daughters of priests and sacrificing a hecatomb of cattle to a specific god. We might live in a world in which people turn into pillars of salt, for looking back upon cities receiving divine punishment. We might live in a world where the date and time of one’s birth, and the movement of celestial bodies, can be used to predict future events in their life. We might live in a world in which the world is only 6,000 years old, and its creation was revealed to us in a sacred text.

      I am not committed to any of these worlds, a priori. Instead, I only think that empirical evidence can be used to confirm whether any of them are true. We could statistically measure if it is true that plagues and illnesses disappear, only after we sacrifice animals to a specific god. We could empirically observe people turning into pillars of salt by documenting the before and after effect. We could use geological and archeological evidence today to see if there is any evidence of a world that is only 6,000 years old.

      Naturalism predicts a world that is causally reducible to physical, impersonal laws. Under naturalism, the universe was not created for us, nor is it intervened in by supernatural wills and agencies meddling in our affairs. Instead, life emerged only accidentally due to material causes. In this world, all mental states are dependent upon physical brains, so that there are no ghosts, souls, or immaterial deities that either exist or influence the world.

      Thales of Miletus (624-546 BCE) was the first naturalist, when he proposed that physical and material causes were behind things like natural disasters, rather than supernatural wills (such Apollo sending a plague to curse an army), and likewise proposed that the origin of the universe began with material causes, rather than the mind of a supernatural creator or creators. Now, a priori, Thales may have been right or wrong. His naturalism could have easily been falsified by empirical observation. For example, we could statistically confirm that only sacrificing to Apollo, and sacrificing to Apollo in a specific way, could advert natural disasters like diseases. Thales could be falsified by any other evidence that showed that immaterial will intervene in the physical world, such as miracles.
      The reason that scientific naturalists, such as myself, agree with Thales is because we believe that his metaphysical positions has been confirmed *a posteriori* … You keep wanting to depict naturalists as people sticking their fingers in their ears and saying ¨la la la¨ in the face of evidence, when no charitable interpretation of what we have said supports that conclusion. The argument that has been presented here is not that no evidence could ever conceivably falsify naturalism, but that no such evidence has been presented, including Keener’s book on miracles. I will continue to elaborate on this position by explaining why naturalists see a gap in the evidence.

      One thing that Don apparently did not understand in our discussion is that naturalism does not predict that there will be no stories or reports of miracles in the world. Don thought that when I said there are no ¨benchmark¨ miracles that I meant that there are no miracles that have ever been recorded to occur in modern times. He then bombarded me with a catalog of miracle reports (none of which were from scientific or medical journals), thinking that this would undermine some premise of my naturalism. The problem is that his understanding of what I meant by a ¨benchmark¨ miracle is flawed.

      Naturalism is fine with a world that is full of superstitions and false stories. The world can abound in reports about witchcraft, demon possession, and magic, and there can still be no reliable evidence that these phenomena actually occur. Likewise, the world could abound in false reports even about natural phenomena, such as UFO abductions and sasquatch sightings. The problem with these stories is that the can be fabricated and circulated without the actual event that they report occurring.

      What naturalists argue is that, despite the reports of these phenomena, none of them have hard evidence to back up their occurrence, when properly investigated. When investigated, they turn out to rely on hearsay or personal testimony that cannot be independently confirmed. They never have video or photographic evidence that can be vetted. They involve types of events that don’t seem lineup with how the world normally works, based on everything that we can observe outside of these claims. Moreover, there are usually cultural attitudes and popular beliefs that can explain why these reports occur. UFO reports did not become popular, until there was a science fiction culture that could produce interest in them. Keener even discusses in his book how there are more reports of miracles from regions in the world where there is already a strong belief in miracles. Finally, there are number of times that these stories have been properly investigated, but instead falsified, showing that people can falsely produce reports of such occurrences.

      What naturalists argue is that, despite all of these stories, they probably all have a physical and natural explanation. Namely, they are probably based on false human superstitions, rather than the actual occurrence of the reported phenomena.

  6. I just posted my final response to the blogger whom I have been conversing with in the posts above. Since this final response summarizes quite nicely the reasons why I do not think that Don provided any reliable evidence of miracles in our debate, I have decided to post it here as well:

    “Hi Seth,

    You want to argue that science/medicine can say nothing about miracles, so that a lack of modern scientific/medical evidence for miracles does not undermine the notion that miracles occur in the world. Let me be very clear about something first: I am not an advocate of scientism, in that I don’t think that anything and everything about reality can be explained solely by the scientific method. For example, I do not think that questions like ethics can necessarily be answered by science, nor tautological truths like mathematics. I explain quite clearly some of the limitations of scientific analysis in my post “Science, Philosophy, and Placement Problems”:

    The reason why I think science should be the primary authority on miracles is for the following reasons: 1) miracles involve empirical effects that pertain to the physical world, and 2) science is the best empirical method for studying the physical world.

    Science could tell us that the Red Sea has parted after a man has lifted his arms and prayed to a certain god.

    Science could tell us that a man has resurrected from brain death into an apparently imperishable body.

    Science could tell us if psychics can make accurate predictions without having prior knowledge about things.

    Science could tell us if limbs regrow after people pray for healing.

    Your primary objection is that, even if science can tell us this that these physical events have occurred, it can tell us nothing about whether they are miraculous or supernatural. First off, let me state that, even if this were a limitation in science, we could still make valid philosophical interpretations, based on scientific evidence, that supernatural intervention is likely, or at least prima facie taking place. I define some criteria for identifying supernatural phenomena in the following article:

    But, even more importantly, I have provided a definition of miracles from Michael Murray and Michael Rea (both Christian philosophers) from The Cambridge Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (pg. 208):

    “An event (ultimately) caused by God that cannot be accounted for by the natural powers of natural substances alone. Conceived of this way, miracles don’t violate the laws of nature but rather involve the occurrence of events which cannot be explained by the powers of nature alone. When dead bodies come back to life it is a miracle because the molecules that make up the corpse lack the powers necessary to generate life.”

    This definition provides two basic criteria for identifying miracles:

    1) The event defies ordinary physical causality
    2) The event was caused by a supernatural, volitional agency

    Science can definitely tell us the first of these criteria. As such, science could verify the types of physical phenomena associated with miracles in the New Testament, such as a man resurrecting from brain death, turning water into wine, and flying into space in broad daylight. So far as I know, no such scientific evidence exists (just as no scientific evidence also exists of UFO abductions, Sasquatch sightings, and other purely natural phenomena that I do not believe in). These kinds of events only occur in ancient literature, hearsay reports, and other forms of media that are conveniently never able to provide empirical documentation.

    Science could also tell us that the types of phenomena in Keener’s books actually occur. For example, Keener (pg. 747) claims that there is modern evidence of people’s amputated limbs regrowing. Great! Science and medical reports in peer-reviewed journals could verify such occurrences. However, Keener only justifies this claim with a footnote that references a book by Pat Robertson, claiming that a guy who had his leg severed below the knee later had it grow back. The problem, however, is this is not peer-reviewed scientific evidence. It is very easy for a story like this to appear in a Pat Robertson book without actually being true, while it would very difficult to produce peer-reviewed medical evidence of this occurrence, unless it actually took place.

    I do not think that there is any scientific evidence that the kinds of events reported in the New Testament – water spontaneously turning into wine, people resurrecting from brain death into immortal bodies, and men ascending into space in broad daily – have ever occurred when there have been adequate recording and documentation methods in place.

    The types of lesser miracles in Keener’s book could be backed up by scientific and medical evidence, but he hasn’t subjected it to scientific and medical peer review. So, when Keener claims that there is evidence that amputated limbs regrow in the world, I will not believe this claim until it has been supported by peer-reviewed scientific and medical evidence from a respectable publisher in these disciplines.

    That is what science can tell us about whether these random departures from ordinary physical causality actually occur in the world. Even if science could not tell us whether a supernatural agency is behind them, I still think that we could make valid philosophical inferences about whether there is some kind of supernatural intentionality or purpose behind them.

    A good way to identify arbitrary, intentional, and agent-driven intervention (such as the kind caused by God), when an apparent departure from ordinary physical phenomena has taken place, is by an understanding of agency-centered teleology. As philosopher André Ariew (“Platonic and Aristotelian Roots in Teleological Arguments,” pg. 9) summarizes, agency-centered teleology reflects the following criteria:

    I. Agency-centered teleology:
    i. Behavioral. Activities undertaken for the sake of something, which may be either a state or further action.
    ii. Artifactual. Activities undertaken for the sake of producing an object of a certain sort (artificial).

    And so, when a limb regrows after someone prays to a specific god, we can infer that the action was behavioral and undertaken for the sake of something. When the Red Sea parts, specifically to allow a group of people to pass through, we can infer that the action was artifactual, in that the it achieves a very precise effect and not other effects. When a man turns water into excellent wine for a wedding, we can infer both that the action was behavioral and done for a certain purpose, and that it was artifactual in producing a specific sort of wine.

    So, the combination of 1) scientific/medical evidence of apparent departures from ordinary physical laws and 2) signs of agency-centered teleology suggesting intentional intervention (such as from God), in my opinion, could provide prima facie evidence of a miracle.

    What apologists want to do, however, is to shortcut step 1, by claiming that science can say nothing about miracles. They then often assert that miracles are purely a philosophical question and provide a bunch of dubious anecdotal claims (which haven’t been verified by science), to draw inference towards supernatural intervention. But, this entirely misses the point, because even if step 2 is a matter of philosophy, step 1 is still a matter of science.

    And so, Don provided a catalog of dubious reports from an Evangelical press about apparent miracles, and expected me to draw the philosophical inference that these events suggest some kind of supernatural intervention. I replied by pointing out that there is no scientific evidence that these kinds of events occur in the world.

    You have tried to respond by claiming that science and medicine can’t tell us about miracles. But, as I have explained, even using some of your same reasoning above, science can still tell us at least half of the question:

    1) The event defies ordinary physical causality
    2) The event was caused by a supernatural, volitional agency

    Even if the second of these criteria is a philosophical matter beyond science, the first criterion can only be answered by science, and it hasn’t by any respectable scholarly sources. At that point, the evidence is dead in the water, because criterion 2 cannot be fulfilled until there is first scientific evidence of apparent interventions into ordinary physical laws. If such evidence were presented, I think that the person who provided it would win a Nobel prize, and yet a world of academic and scientific/medical research has found no such things, only a New Testament professor working at a Christian university…

    So, when Don thought that he could undermine a premise of my naturalism with his catalog of miracle claims, he failed because he never got past step 1 of scientifically/medically backing any of them up. You responded by claiming that science and medicine can’t back them up, but I have pointed out that, even if it were true, it would only apply to the second criterion, which still cannot by applied until the first criterion has been fulfilled, which it hasn’t.

    Also, I want to say one final thing. You have stated above that naturalists ignore the evidence of miracles, even when there is intuitively obvious signs of supernatural intervention. For the record (and I even explained this in my conversation with Don), I have never had a single experience, ever, that has even remotely suggested to me that the supernatural exists. This is despite the fact that I was once a believing Christian who was raised in a church where I was told that miracles were occurring right in front of me, when it was obvious to me, even as a kid, that people were having placebo effects. I have prayed multiple times in my life and only felt a profound, utter nothingness from such experiences. I looked for ghosts as a teenager, and found nothing. I experimented with Ouija boards when I was younger, and I could always tell that it was just me and my friend moving the dial. I even worked nights at a cemetery for two years when I was in college, where I slept in the actual funeral home inside the cemetery. I never once had any experience that would make me think that ghosts, angels, or anything else was going on. Literally everything that I have experienced in my entire life suggests to me that nothing but physical, repeatable laws exist. So, your characterizations of naturalists do not correspond to any of my life experience.

    Now, I realize that, even if miracles and supernatural events have not occurred in my presence, there might still be evidence, related by others, for their occurrence. But, I also know that reports of such things can easily circulate without the actual reported claim being true. To find reliable evidence, therefore, I need evidence that meets the criteria above, and neither Craig Keener nor Don Johnson has provided it.

  7. I have just published the first part of a multi-part review of Craig Keener’s Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. The first part can be read here:

    I will post the other parts here when I finish them.

    [Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 are now also available.]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s