1. Loftus: “God evidently never learned any new truths and cannot think, since thinking demands weighing temporal alternatives.”
If we are going to speak of God “thinking” we must be willing to note that God would ultimately think in a different way than we do. So, if this God exists then he probably “thinks” in a way that is hard for us to comprehend (see. Isaiah 55:9). I also would suggest that when scripture talks of God thinking, or that his thoughts are above our thoughts, it is a literacy device known as anthropomorphism. In other words, God does not really “think” the way we do using physical matter within our brains and of which is subject to space-time. When God saw that his own creatures were rebelling against him “He was grieved in His heart” (Genesis 5:6), but that does not mean God actually has a heart. These are literary devices applied by the author to God’s human actions, attributes, and emotions. I don’t, therefore, think that we can make an argument against Christianity based on an author’s literary device, as Loftus tries to do.
2. “This God is everywhere, yet could not even know what time it is since time is a function of placement and acceleration in the universe; or if timeless, this God cannot act in time.
I find it difficult to see eye-to-eye with Lotus here. Saying that “God cannot act in time” is a bit silly, precisely because God would have created time, and because he created it he therefore can act within it. It’s like a computer programmer. He builds a software program and at a later time he can go back into it and edit the code if he so wishes. That suggests that the programmer can feed in or act within the functioning of the computer program because he is not subject the laws he created within it. I don’t see why God’s functioning in the universe is unlike this. Regarding Loftus’ claim that God “could not even know what time it is” I felt that I misunderstood what he is trying to say, so I got a second opinion. My friend who is majoring in Atmospheric Science says:
“Also, “time” is not a function of acceleration and placement within the universe. This is a re-expression of the Aristotelian concept of time [that time is a by-product of motion in space] which is normally considered to have been made obsolete by the advent of modern science, specifically, the advent of Einstein’s theory of special relativity. Time itself is an independent dimension/variable that is used along-side the normal space-dimensions in the equations used to describe the universe. Time is affected by acceleration and placement in the universe [the metric equation and the Lorentz transformations indicate that time is warped for objects moving at incredibly high velocities; i.e. velocities approaching c]. Because of this, it is possible that God actually does know the ‘real’ time or absolute time, independent of time measured relative to the reference frame, because God is simultaneously everywhere” (1).
3. Loftus: “Of course miracles are possible if there is a creator God, but what is really crucial is whether they are probable. We are asked to believe in the Christian God on the grounds that biblical miracles supposedly took place, yet by definition miracles are particularly improbable. To justify belief in the God of the Bible we must first believe that those miracles took place, but we cannot bring ourselves to believe in those miracles because they are inherently very improbable.”
Here we have an appeal by Loftus to the 18th century philosopher David Hume. However, this is problematic for several reasons as we shall duly note.
Firstly, I quite like it that Loftus at least admits that if a creator God does in fact exist then it is possible that he can perform miracles. However, Loftus smashes into a brick wall when he writes: “yet by definition miracles are particularly improbable.” Well, says who exactly? I don’t think so, nor does my congregations pastor who saw the miraculous regrowth of an individual’s hand from a mere stump. I also think my lecturer in ethics would have a hard time swallowing this because he has himself witnessed a miracle healing in front of his own very eyes, especially since he was the one who prayed for the person in question. It really comes down to that of definition, and when we examine how a miracle is defined by Loftus (which is just really a copy & paste from Hume’s long disproven argument) we see the problems. Philosopher of science John Lennox explains that: “when you examine in detail what Hume actually says, and how he defines miracles, he defines them out of existence. They cannot happen because they are defined as not being able to happen” (2).
Such a definition itself should be seen as unscientific since he renders his position as unfalsifiable. In other words, Hume, with Loftus now paddling alongside him in the same boat, has presupposed a standard of proof so high that any evidence is effectively ruled out in advance. However, the irony is immediately apparent when we see that Loftus charges the Christian writer on miracles John Mackie of having “a double burden of proof that is nearly impossible to meet.” But out of the other side of his mouth Loftus does the exact same thing of which he accuses Mackie of, namely rendering his position unfalsifiable.
Lastly, when one actually comprehends the abundance of miracle testimonies provided by eyewitnesses, as well as the evidence that corroborates the testimony, such an appeal to Hume by Loftus quickly deconstructs. I know this since I’ve consulted thorough academic works on reports of miracles, have done my own personal investigating, as well as also interviewing eyewitnesses to miracles for my personal work.
4. Loftus: “John King-Farlow and William Niels Christensen argue that just because we don’t experience miracles today doesn’t mean that God has not performed a plethora of them throughout human history, or that he will not perform many more when the time is right.”
Well, this is simply false for several reasons.
Firstly, I shall refer you to the work of Professor Keener who has completed a 2-volume investigation of miracle stories from across continents (see his work ‘Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts’). Here is some data that renders Loftus’ comment that “we don’t experience miracles today” (this comment was, according to Loftus, made by King-Farlow & Niels but I take it for granted that Loftus personally holds to such a belief) as rather ill-informed and simply false (note that I haven’t completed references to what I forward below as I have taken it out of my thesis that I am yet to complete). I shall divide my answer into two spate sections:
a. Academic Studies:
Having consulted Keener’s investigation I concluded that the amount of testimony is quite overwhelming. For example, Leo Bawa, PhD candidate Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, testifies to being an eyewitness: “By God’s grace I have seen God healing all kinds of diseases and sicknesses by his power: malaria, pains and aches, cancer, depression, bones; and the dead brought back to life” (xx17). According to Keener a woman by the name of “Shelley witnessed a deaf boy about the same age healed the same night, and the next day a church was started” (xx18). Keener’s correspondence with Dr. Nicole Matthews confirmed an eyewitness testimony to healing of a paralyzed woman on a mat (xx19). Dr. Julie Ma, Korean missiologist at the Oxford Center for Mission Studies, claims to be an eyewitness to the healing of an old man with a critical spinal problem, she saw that after prayer he “was instantly healed and he stood up and walked away.” Another time she saw “an old man who had been deaf in both ears since he was a young man was instantly healed” (xx20). According to Keener he has investigated reports “of someone being miraculously healed, and a church being started in a village the next day, in a whole region—sometimes entire villages turning to faith in Christ” (xx21). According to a study 86.4 percent of Brazilian Pentecostals have claimed have experienced divine healing (xx22). The former principal of the Malaysia Theological Seminary, turned bishop, in Asia affirms that “the miraculous is assumed and fairly regularly experienced” (xx23). Sung-Gun Kim tells us that “Pentecostal Christianity within Latin America, Africa and Asia” have experiences of “exorcism, healings, … and so forth” (xx24). In India we are told that “many tangible miracles have happened such as the healing of the deaf and dumb and incurable diseases which strengthened the ministry in its initial stage” (xx25). A Western researcher in the Philippines found out “that 83% of them actually reported that they had experienced some dramatic healing from God in their bodies” (xx26). Another Asia based study found that ”562 of the 604 Christian respondents claimed to have experienced healings, all with positive spiritual and church benefits” (xx27). Two interviewers, Millar and Yamamori, found that “in India, in particular, healing was viewed as commonplace among the Christians we interviewed” (xx28). Martin found that miracle healing and exorcism compose “a large proportion” of South India’s Christian population (xx29), wheres Betty Young, an archivist of United Mission to Nepal, says that in Nepal “there must be thousands who have come to the Lord through healing” (xx30). Edmond Tang says that “according to some surveys, 90% of new believers cite healing as a reason for their conversion” (xx31). Of Christianity in China David Aikman concludes that “it is difficult to investigate the phenomenon of Christianity in China today without hearing stories of miraculous healings” (xx32).
b. Personal Experience & Testimony:
Firstly, I claim to have experienced, or had, a supernatural encounter myself (xx35). My encounter was experienced by at least a dozen other Christians on separate and in different occasions, and thus provides corroboration that I did not subjectively imagine what I experienced (xx44). However, such an encounter affirms the existence of the supernatural for me on a personal level but has nothing to do with miracle healing. Nonetheless, I have also inquired of, and interviewed, many people in regards to supernatural encounters.
Although I have rejected some as probably having a natural cause (xx36) several of them almost certainly affirm supernatural causation. One friend had encountered an exorcism on a church youth camp, and this had caused him and others to flee the scene. When this friend later inquired of what occurred he was informed be elders that it took several men to hold down a 13 year old boy who foamed and frothed at the mouth in response to prayer (xx37). A leader in a church in Mitchells Plain, in Cape Town, affirms an encounter of possessed girl in a hospital (xx38). This mature leader, whose occupation is that of a nurse, claimed that a girl she prayed for manifested a deep voice, unusual strength and was foaming at the mouth. Only after prayer did these symptoms subside. My lecturer in Ethics, who is also a pastor, prayed for a man with a cancerous tumour on the brain (xx39). This man had all but accepted that death would result, since he was given mere months to live. In that moment of prayer the man had an overwhelming heat sensation in his head, and scans the following day revealed that the tumour had shrunk to the size of a scab, and amazingly it had relocated to the bottom of his brain at the back of his head. A South African pastor who had ministered for 37 years affirmed that when he prayed and anointed with oil a deformed baby that was soon to die the baby then recovered fully (xx40). This pastor was invited to the baby’s 2nd, 3rd and 4th birthday parties. When doctors confirmed this remarkable recovery one doctor said to the pastor “I don’t believe in God, but whatever you did worked.” This same pastor had an experience when a man he prayed for begun retching, except no substance came out from his mouth, and the pastor took this as demonic in nature. One acquaintance alleged to have seen a pastor exorcize a demon from a schoolgirl in one of Cape Town’s top schools just over a mountain from my house (xx41). A close friend of mine also had an encounter with demon possession. This involved a girl who collapsed and writhed in response to prayer, this scene took place at his school during after-hours. It was later discovered that this girl took part in witchcraft since her mom was heavily involved in such practice (xx42). A friend of mine at my college alleged to have seen gold dust inexplicably appear on a pastor when he was giving a sermon (this phenomena was surprisingly corroborated by Darren Wilson in his four-part documentary series) (xx43). Finally, my personal GP booked an elderly lady in for a back operation to rectify a dislodged spinal disc. A few days before the operation, in which my GP was operating as an assistant, the woman returned to her practice claiming that her back had healed after her family had prayed for her. Scans of her back confirmed this full recovery and the operation was cancelled. When I asked my GP what she thought of this she said that “some things are not scientifically explainable” (xx44). I actually got back in touch with my GP recently and she forwarded me the contact details of another GP in our area that has had experiences with miracle healings in her patients. It is also worth noting that 55% of doctors have claimed to witness miracle healings.
So, reality proves that Loftus is simply incorrect in his assertion here. It would lead me to think that he either is ignorant of this evidence or that he a priori dismisses it because his naturalism demands that he does. That is hardly consistent with his claims to be rational & open minded that he repeats like a mantra throughout his blog (even to the extent of giving others full page challenges of which he urges them to take).
Secondly, since Loftus appears to not believe that authentic miracles are experienced by people today I would then like to ask him how he knows this? If this is his position then he is making a claim to knowledge that cannot be supported as the burden of proof is simply too high. He would have to know every single experience of everyone on this planet in order to make such a conclusion. Therefore, he is merely assuming that people do not experience authentic miracles (hence is assumes his naturalism), and this assumption is factually bankrupt in the face of evidence. So, when Loftus writes that “They ask us to believe, against the overwhelming present-day experience of nearly all modern persons” it simply evidences his ignorance and detachment from reality (I am not saying that he is detached from reality, but rather that his arguments & assertions are).
Thirdly, one can have great confidence that God has in fact performed spectacular deeds in history. Of course we have to take it on faith that God parted the sea for the Israelites to cross, for example, since we have only one historical document to confirm this. However, when we study the life of Jesus we have powerful evidence of his spectacular feats, and I detailed this in my reply to the atheist Hemant Mehta which specifically focuses on this challenge.
5. Loftus: “Consider the biblical story that Balaam’s ass spoke to him. Confronted by a tale like this today, many modern Christians wouldn’t believe that it happened unless there was very good evidence for it. But when they read something like this in a supposedly inspired book, they “shut off” their critical faculties and accept it.”
This I have tackled already and it is also something that I personally call the challenge from the ‘Absurdity of the Christian Worldview.’ The challenge is forwarded since the skeptic knows that the Christian worldview affirms many overtly unusual supernatural acts of God, such as Balaam’s talking donkey or that of Jonah being miraculously transported in the belly of a large fish. So, what do we make of Loftus’ challenge that “many modern Christians wouldn’t believe that it happened unless there was very good evidence for it”?
I must actually agree with Loftus that insufficient historical evidence supports any of these two miracles since they each come down to us in the form of a narrative in a lone single text. However, I am not going to simply reject them nor would I use them as an apologetic to argue for the Christian faith. That’s point one.
Point two is that I don’t look at these miracles in an isolated fashion as does Loftus. I look at it within the bigger picture. My investigations of the evidence for Jesus informs me that the best historical explanation is that he was really raised form the dead (see my article). Unlike the narrative of Balaam’s donkey the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is compelling. This in turn verifies the truth of the Christian religion as well as strongly informs me that a God exists, and that this God can intervene in his creation. Now, when we consider this it is hardly irrational to hold that God could communicate a message through an animal, Balaam’s donkey, if he so wishes. After all, this is the same God that created the entire universe from nothing in a shorter time that it takes for me to butter my toast (Genesis 1:1).
Thirdly, none of these events are described as the natural workings of nature. These overtly unusual miraculous events are once off demonstrations of God intervening in history for a specific reason. So, I don’t agree with Loftus that I “shut off” my thinking abilities. That is the very last thing I do. In fact, earlier Loftus even admitted that if a creator God exists then miracles are possible. To that I must agree.
6. Loftus: “Today’s Christians operate by what Harvard-trained biblical scholar Hector Avalos describes as “selective supernaturalism.” They believe the biblical miracles because they accept the Christian faith, but they are skeptical of the miracles of other religions. Why the double standard? At least general skepticism of all miracle claims lacking compelling evidence is consistent, and I have yet to see any evidence that requires a supernatural explanation for any such reports.”
This is again simply a false understanding of Christianity. I won’t speak for other Christians but I will speak for myself.
Firstly, contrary to what Loftus asserts I don’t a priori reject supernatural claims from other religions. In fact, each claim deserves to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. And should a miracle claim from another religion be well attested to (which I don’t doubt that they may well be) then it would be a double blow for the atheist for he now has to explain away an additional set of miracles.
Secondly, this position is consistent with Christian theology. The Bible well affirms that demonic forces exist and that through them people can tap into the supernatural. This is, however, in conflict with God’s purposes. For example, Satan is said to be a deceiver (John 8:44), and can, should he wish, present himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). We are also told that the Antichrist “will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie” (2 Thes. 2:9). According to Matthew, Jesus said that false prophets “will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive” (Mat. 24:24), and this is why there is a biblical challenge to test these things (1 John 4:1). That other religions may have authentic supernatural miracles is entirely consistent with Christian theology. So, I don’t agree with Loftus at all. And when he tells us that he has “yet to see any evidence that requires a supernatural explanation for any such reports” I strongly suggest to him that he has had insufficient exposure to what many academicians have written & documented about on this subject.
7. Loftus: “He evidently allows intense suffering in this world and does not follow the same moral code that he commands his believers to follow. And so on.”
We have already highlighted in our previous rebuttal that the reality of evil & suffering is consistent with the Christian faith and that it is, in fact, a major issue for the atheist and his worldview. But for now I am more interested in Loftus’ claim that God “does not follow the same moral code that he commands his believers to follow.”
My first inclination is to ask: “And?” Is that meant to be an argument? For all intents & purposes here we should at least reply to this statement. I think it should be noted that God’s moral nature is going to be distinct from the commands and regulations that he gives for humans to follow. The commands and regulations for human nature are going to be based in both God’s own character and in human interactions, so it would be unreasonable to expect there to be a one-to-one correlation between the moral code that God gives to the human-race and the actions which God himself performs. At least that’s how I see it. So, there is hardly a challenge to be had here.
To be continued…
1. Steiner, J. Personal correspondence. (12/21/2015)
2. Video: 2:09 – 2:27. John Lennox – Science And Miracles. Available.