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Post no. 87

April 19, 2012

My usual line is that God is not a “scientifically” testable entity.

Then I came across this.

Among other things it says that, as shown in various spots along the Old Testament, God interacted with humans at precisely (or nearly) known eras and locations. You can argue that it was all a coincidence or that, perhaps, such things as talking and burning bushes, parting of seas and columns of fire in the desert don’t usually happen. But if that were the case, why would a historically accurate account on all other counts, bother with a sprinkling of fantasy?

Now I had already read, somewhere, that Pontius Pilate was inserted into the Creed to allow people to place the events described by the creed in a historical “context”, but I had never thought about the OT along these lines.


My point is that although God is not something you can test, he has still decided to interact with humans in a way that has left a print in history. A bit like seeing footprints in the sand. You know a human must have passed through there, even though you didn’t see him or her.


From → Misfires

  1. Is this one for my benefit, too?

  2. I just thought it interesting…

    It would be great if someone benefitted from something I did or wrote, though 🙂

  3. I don’t like to be contrarian if it’s a “for us / by us” Christian thing. It’s bad form and bad manners. But since you haven’t stopped me, I’ll take that as an invitation 🙂

    From my point of view, the crux of the article you linked was whether you consider the old testament to be a genuine historical document. Whether you can point to the parting of the red sea as historical fact, in other words.

    If you were to accept ancient religious texts at face value when it comes to such miracles, you’d have to contend with pagan sources as well (pagans had their own miracles, after all).

    • I’m sure the the Israelites were not the only people in that “era and area” who kept records of their comings and goings on every level. Now I’m (obviously) not a historian but I would say that if we can find multiple accounts of the same “event” we can safely assume that the event really happened.

      Regarding your point about pagan sources, I think you’ll have to be a bit more specific. I don’t want to nitpick, but I’ve even seen it written that Christ’s life was based on the “life of Osirus (sic)”

      Again, I’m afraid I can’t put up much of a fight there because I don’t know the first thing about evaluation of the historicity of documents.

      Just a small “disclaimer”. Christians, as the name implies, are followers of Christ. The Old Testament is not the “last word”. The New Testament is a polishing and “pruning” of the Old Testament.

  4. “Again, I’m afraid I can’t put up much of a fight there because I don’t know the first thing about evaluation of the historicity of documents.” I guess I don’t either, If I’m going to be brutally honest. I’m not trained as a historian, archaeologist or scholar of antiquities. I’m just going from common sense.

    Regarding pagan miracles, I’ve read that pagan temples were witness to miracles, or healings and supernatural events in first few centuries after Christ, and used that to compete with I’ll try to find the book and reference.

  5. Sorry. I’ve been both absent and absent-minded lately. I found the source of the info, a book I read called “Christianizing the Roman Empire” by Ramsey McMullen. I couldn’t narrow down any specific references. As I remember, though, they weren’t referring to the life of Osirus or Zarathustra or anything. It was referring to miracle workers of various mystery cults in the Empire within a 100-300 AD timeframe. The Cult of Sol-Invictus sticks out in my mind. Anyway, the point was that there were people exorcising demons and performing various “miracles” in a contemporary time-period to early Christians.

    Either miracles were much more commonplace than they are today, or the recorded perspectives/discernment from back then were different than they are today.

    It makes little difference to the matter of history whether these miracles were genuine or not, but if one is going to accept the testimonies as factual, that’s a problem.

    • Hello again 🙂

      As I said, I am not in a position to effectively refute the “pagan origins” of Catholicism. However I have taken the liberty of linking to three articles which I think are particularly edifying.

      A word of caution, however.I have always found “American Catholics” to be quite defensive – understandably I would say. When – and if – you read these 3 articles please bear that in mind. Don’t feel put off by the “aggressive” mode in which they’re written. I’m sure I would have done the same if I had to refute the same thing a zillion times over.

      Here goes:

      This is, IMO, the best article. It’s calm and scholarly-ish. It comes with a nihil obstat too.

      Then there’s

      This is not as good as the first one, but it provides some insightful remarks. A bit of a bumpy ride.

      Last but not least is:

      The most irascible of the lot. Read this with an open mind. I think it’s easy to take offence at this priest’s writing sometimes. But he’s good. His blog’s name – Standing on my head – incidentally is inspired by the works of one GK Chesterton. You may find Chesterton thoroughly engaging. Caution: Another Catholic 😉

  6. No, no. I think we’re all turned around, here. I was never trying to imply that Catholicism has pagan origins. My point is that the guy in the original linked article seemed to be offering up biblical references to miracles as historical evidence (and you too, in your blog), supporting the notion that God exists.

    I’m saying that if you’re going to admit ancient religious texts as historical, then it’s not fair to just do that for Christianity. You’d have to let other’s admit evidence like that too. And there are non-Christian examples of miracles. So if the parting of the Red Sea can be taken as evidence of YHYH’s footprint in humanity, or the raising of Lazarus as that of Christ, then what of Sol Invictus? He apparently had some miracle workers, and some miracles that were witnessed. Does that amount to evidence? Despite the best efforts of Christian record keepers, The Unconquerable Sun has left his mark in history too. Should that, in any quantity, change our knowledge of whether there really exists a sun god?

    I would say: No, of course not. Just because it’s written does not mean that it actually happened. And the EXTREMELY high rate of uneducated people at that time (also in the time that accounts of the old testament were given final form and record) casts doubt on the credibility of any witnesses. And when it comes to the Torah, the scholarly consensus right now is that it was recorded for posterity more than a millenium after the events of Exodus. To my knowledge we have no way of knowing if Exodus is historically accurate at all. There is no archaeological evidence from that time to support and there were no contemporary accounts of the event.

    • Ages ago I had come across an article in the Scientific American or American Scientist or National Geographic or New Scientist – I forget which – that tried to explain the plagues of Egypt as run of the mill natural phenomena. To my mind this would mean that such events happened. (This to counter your point about whether or not we know that Exodus is historically accurate. One can also consult records the Egyptians kept, I’m sure)

      The historicity of the Gospels and the life, death and resurrection of Christ, it is said, are possibly the best documented events in history. I wouldn’t know.

      Also, if Christ were a myth, why does he still persist 2000 years after he died? Why are people – to this day and age – willing to die for something that does not exist? (Keep in mind that Catholics believe that Christ is alive today)

      The Catholic Church (as have the Jews and Islam) has persisted for all this time. Doesn’t that give one an inkling that they might be saying something that, perhaps, transcends human knowledge? (Bear in mind that for better or for worse, the three monotheistic religions adore the same God.)

      There are other religions too that are as old or even older than all the three mentioned above. The fact that they have stood the test of time should be a clear indicator that they must be on to something… they’re obviously talking about the same thing in their own way

  7. To respond to each statement individually:

    1. It’s unfortunate that publications and TV shows take up topics that attempt to explain biblical miracles, because it’s pointless for one, and implies the wrong thing, for another. In the states, the “History Channel” makes a lot of money with such garbage. I’m willing to look at any evidence to the contrary, but non-biblical materials from that long ago do not (again, to my knowledge) reflect the story of Exodus. They don’t negate either, but they don’t corroborate. There are references to “Hyksos” who were foreign invaders that took over for a century or so, around the date of Exodus. There aren’t really any Egyptian references to even the Kingdom of Israel going back to the time of David and Solomon. It’s just that it’s a long time ago and there aren’t a lot of extant records.
    [Reuben – It was more of a debunking exercise, really. I was always under the impression that there were abundant historical records of the time. I’m no historian, so I can’t support my impression.

    2. Outside of gospels recorded decades after the death of Christ, there are no contemporary records of Christ’s life and death. Roman accounts like Tacitus and Suetonius are made (based on Roman reactions to Christian teachings) almost 100 years after his death, and are very brief.
    [Reuben – Again, I’m no historian, but I find it highly improbable that such a sprawling empire as was the Roman did not keep tabs on what it did to who.

    To clarify: I’m NOT trying to argue Christ didn’t exist. I believe he did. I believe it because the Gospels said it, and I believe much of what the gospels say. But when it comes to miracles, things that defy common events and reasoning, I would probably need more than the 40 year old account someone who already believes, and probably did not directly witness the events.

    OR, I could accept it, along with other accounts of miracles – and conclude that this was a time and place where supernatural occurences were more common than they are today.
    [Reuben – Miracles still happen today. It’s part of the canonization process. As long as saints are being declared by the Catholic Church, that’s a sure sign that miracles are being worked. They’re “searchable” too.

    3. It’s terrific and interesting that religions have continued unabated for so long. I can appreciate it as a cultural thing. However, when deciding whether or not there’s REASON (which is what we’re talking about here, with these references to physical “footprints” in history) to believe, the notion that many others believe is not a good justification. The fact that many people, over the millenia, have turned to astrology should not affect my decision about whether the stars control my fate.
    [Reuben – Were it purely cultural, I don’t think people would hang on to it despite knowing that it can literally kill them. Powdered wigs were all the rage in the 18thC, but due to their being unwieldy, filthy and disgusting quickly fell by the wayside. That’s cultural. Or suicide cults.
    Just a side note. Astrology makes testable claims. Claims have been tested and found to be – let’s be charitable – inaccurate

    • When it comes to records, it’s not just about the records that were written, it’s the records that have survived. There are (as far as I know) no surviving records of Christs life and execution outside of the Gospels, and pagan polemics written long after the events.

      I’m welcome and encouraging of evidence to the contrary, but I think you’re wrong about there being historical record of miraculous and super-natural occurences. To my knowledge, there isn’t.

      How would you interpret non-Christian claims of miracles made in, say Tibet or Africa?

      I wasn’t trying to assert it’s only a cultural thing. And, okay, let’s eliminate astrology from consideration because it’s falsifiable.

      You are mixing two approaches in this blog. Your previous statements that faith is something which is not a product or relation of science, and there cannot be no purpose or need for material evidence – basically that’s not what faith is about (my takeaway) – mixed with this notion that there are wonderful historical markers of God’s actions, or “footprints”. You seem to be dipping a toe in the water of materialism and science.

      • You’re right about my mixing 2 approaches. I didn’t mean to but that’s what it looks like. I still think that if pressed you can’t really prove God’s existence despite all the “circumstantial evidence”

        I just thought that the original article quoted looked at the same thing from a new angle.

        Still, I can only take your word about the history bit. That’s “scientific” and my opinion doesn’t count for much.

        Re “non-christian claims of miracles” I don’t think that Christians have the exclusive in that Department. I’m sure that God, in his infinite and perfect wisdom, will show himself to people in ways he sees fit. Again, it’s not something about which I should be taken seriously.

  8. I’ve replied to your points in bold 😉

  9. Okie doke. We seemed to have civilly “resolved”, or pretty much explored/exhausted, all lines of dispute. Just as an interesting aside, not an argument, I wanted to note something about pagan miracles.

    In that book I was reading about the subject, the way early Christians (and just about all non-Christian contemporaries) treated miracles and miracle workers who were outside the individual’s religion, were to label them a product of “Daemons”. Just about everyone believed in the existence of common, everyday demons which explained supernatural occurences. These took the form of more than demon possession, but explained many other phenomenon. Demons were seen to have powers comparable to Gods, but lacked the moral status and authority of Gods. They were seen as sort of spiritual dogs, that could be beckoned, bought or bribed into using supernatural powers in some way, in service of the human being in question.

    Christians of the time reacted to opposing demonstrations of miracles by labeling them the products of common demons. There are surviving Christian stories of church leaders and missionaries getting into public competitions of miracles, demonstrating the power of God, and defeating the other fellows “Demon”.


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