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Re: [XTalk] Miracles

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  • Antonio Jerez
    I already wondered months ago from which planet Ricki E. Watts came, and her (his?) latest message makes me almost certain that it must be from a place a
    Message 1 of 4 , Feb 23, 2001
      I already wondered months ago from which planet Ricki E. Watts came,
      and her (his?) latest message makes me almost certain that it must be from
      a place a billion lightyears away...
      Ricki wrote:

      > If we allow that Jesus was in some way the incarnate intelligence that
      > imposed order on the subatomic chaos of the universe (perhaps he's the one,
      > to borrow an image from Phenomenon, who causes the energy to dance), then
      > why not allow that he might act in character in order to reveal to his
      > disciples, in keeping with his intentions and their historical horizons, who
      > he was? In their experience, who else tells the sea what to do if not
      > Israel's god? Indeed, if he was able to alter via the subatomic realm the
      > surface tension of the water would this be a violation of anything (I think
      > some of Hume's earliest critics made a similar point)? That this only
      > happens rarely is in the nature of the case--incarnations of Israel's god
      > being relatively uncommon. But the point is, it is the same God who
      > sustains Israel's common experience such that they can enjoy the constancy
      > of life and who when he comes among them to deliver them reveals himself by
      > the same tokens (this would then meet Troeltsch's criticism: this action was
      > recognized because it made sense in Israel's experience and understanding of
      > the way things work). I can see nothing internally problematic in this
      > story. Unlike Hume it does not have to ignore any data (the criterion of
      > comprehensiveness), unlike Hume it is not internally inconsistent, and it
      > explains both our very common experience and Jesus' particularly unusual
      > actions rather well (the criterion of coherence).

      Again I notice that Ricki, in consonace with people like NT Wright and Tom Kirby,
      seems to be more interested in building metaphysical whatifs (what if we imagine
      that Jesus was really God and could play with the atoms at will...) than in letting
      those metaphysical whatifs be grounded in something as concrete as the world outside
      the mind. The thing that made me wonder again which planet Ricki came from was her
      (his?) claim that her (his?) metaphysical whatif "explains both our common experience
      and Jesus unusual actions rather well". Maybe I haven't catched the subtility of Ricki's
      argument but I simply don't get it: In what way can it be said that it is a common human
      experience to see God parting the waters and walking on water? It certainly not an
      experience that I have had, nor would I bet, Ricki.
      I might also point out once again that hardly any historian of reputation (linked to
      a historical department, and not to a theological department) would agree that Tom
      Wright's, Tom Kirby´s and Ricki Watt's metaphysical mindgames have anything to
      do with sound historical methodology.
      As far as I have seen Wright's, Kirby's and Watt's method basically consists in
      a twostep process:
      1. Build a metaphysical worldview that is claimed to be logically consistent from
      a philosophical viewpoint (I notice that their metaphysical worldview appears to
      be based exclusively on what they can infer from claims in ancient texts, not on
      common human experiences and observations in the outside world)
      2. Read ancient texts once again and compare them with other ancient texts. Bother
      as little as possible to take a look at the world outside the texts.Then claim that because
      your metaphysical worldview is logically consistent and coheres well with the ancient
      texts we shouldn't rule out the possibility that your personal jewish guru (long deceased)
      walked on water or raised a halfrotten corpse from a grave.

      In contrast to the "metaphysical history" method I will present what I consider to be
      sound historical methodology when dealing with texts overloaded with the miraculous.

      1. Start observing the world and the reactions of humans from an early age. Learn as
      much as possible about the world through books, but never forget to countercheck
      what people claim in books with the outside world.
      2. Since we live in the 21st century and most of what was once claimed by theists to be
      clear proofs of God´s existence (including purported miracles) have been shown to be
      otherwise it is a good startingpoint to be extremely sceptical, even to the point of rejecting
      reports in any texts about people walking on water or flying in the sky by willpower. Be
      willing to reopen the case about the possibility of walking on water if clear evidence is
      presented by those claiming otherwise. A historian does not consider metaphysical whatifs
      coupled with claims in the same texts he is supposed to study to be enough grounds to
      to reopen the case

      I think that Ricki's latest message clearly shows the perils of practicing method nr.1.
      She (he?) thinks that her explanation (suppossing that Jesus might actually have been
      God, walked on water and showed it to the disciples) coheres better with the data
      than an explanation that tries to get rid of the walking on the water. I wonder what
      data, besides Mark 6:45 and parallels, Ricki relies on? I doubt that Ricki is building
      her (his?) case on any anthropological studies or any studies whatsover of the world
      outside the texts. I even doubt that Ricki has used the little data we can glean from
      the WHOLE of the synoptic gospels in a way that could be called rational. Because
      if the gospels are to be trusted when claiming that the disciples where a scared bunch
      of cowards at Gethsemane and afterwards this hardly bolsters a historians confidence
      in a claim that the same disciples might have seen their guru displaying godlike powers
      just a few months earlier. As a historian I base my extreme scepticism on the simple
      fact that given what we know about humans this is a most unlikely reaction. Based
      on antropological, sociological studies and my own encounters with religious diehards
      the reaction of Peter and the others seems inexplicable - at least if they had really seen
      something along the lines of Mark 6:45. Specially when we find case after case in real life of
      religious diehards who would never desert their guru despite their guru not being able
      to offer more than words of wisdom and charisma.

      > We all know that at some point the early church began to worship Jesus as
      > the son of God, as somehow Israel's God (and not Zeus or Apollo) among us in
      > a strange and mysterious way. It just might be that Jesus' mighty deeds
      > were the cause rather than the result of such a claim (analogously I suppose
      > to Wrede, who in his last weeks reluctantly admitted to Harnack re Jesus and
      > his messianic consciousness: how could one explain the church if Jesus had
      > not made some kind of messianic claim).

      I agree that it is hard to explain the church if Jesus not made some kind of messianic claim
      (at last! Something Ricki ad I can agree about). But to go from there to say that because he
      saw himself as the Messiah and some of his later followers saw him as God we historians
      should take the miracles attributed to him more seriously than we would treat similar feats
      by Guru Nanak, Vespasian or Sai Baba is nonsense. The rise of Christianity may seem inexplicable
      to somebody like Ricki E. Watt without any real miracles. To us historians who have probably spent
      more time outside the world of academic halls and books the miraculous can safely be left out of
      the equation - at least for us who live on a planet were groups like the Mormons and the Witnesses
      of Jehohav breed in front of our eyes and give us a good idea about how Christianity started off.

      Best wishes

      Antonio Jerez
      Göeborg, Sweden
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