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Meditation 1094
Faith or Fact


by: Henry M. Taber

Comment by JT: We are all familiar with Carl Sagan's "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." In this article we find the Reverend Howard McQueary's version from a century earlier: "An extraordinary event should be proved by an extraordinary amount of evidence.”  In every generation, we find it necessary to challenge claims of miracles.

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“It is more probable that testimony should be mistaken than that miracles should be true.” — Hume.

“It is a waste of time to regard any miraculous reports as even possibly true.” — Rev. J. M Capes.

THE importance of the subject of miracles is apparent when the fact exists that it is by miracles, and by miracles alone, that orthodox Christianity is supported. Think of a religion that is sustained only by belief in violations of the laws of Nature; which laws every scientist of note the world over declare, are immutable! The whole immense fabric of Christianity is built upon miraculous records, such as the story of creation, of the fall of man, of the deluge, of Jonah, Joshua, Baalam, Daniel, the three men in the fiery furnace, of the raising of Lazarus, the turning of water into wine, the feeding of the multitude, the virgin birth, resurrection and ascension of Christ. These and other violations of natural law are the props by which Christianity is maintained and without which it would speedily totter to its fall.

We may then well ask for the evidence of this sustaining power. Where is it to be found? Is there one single instance in which there is the slightest reliable evidence of the performance of a solitary miracle? Is there a particle of testimony such as would be entertained, for even a second, in any court of justice, throughout the civilized world?

Besides, as Rev. Howard McQueary has said: “An extraordinary event should be proved by an extraordinary amount of evidence.”

Rev. W. S. Crowe says of the miracles attributed to Christ: “We have only the testimony of partisans. In no unbiased secular record is there a word of corroboration. Of the partisans themselves we have not the testimony of a single eye witness. We have not one authentic word from the generation to which Jesus belonged. … The Christian churches were founded and were flourishing throughout Palestine and the whole Roman Empire before anyone seemed to think of putting the miracle foundation under them. … The miracles, if facts, would ruin all claims to benevolence in the founder of Christianity. The man who has power to heal every disease and to raise the dead, by a touch or a word, and who, in the course of his entire life only exercises that power in a few isolated instances, is worthy rather of the execration than the gratitude of mankind.”

The late Rev. Albert Barnes (Presbyterian, of Philadelphia) says: “An important question is whether there is any stronger evidence in favor of miracles than there is in favor of witchcraft, sorcery, reappearance of the dead, ghosts or apparitions; and if so, in what respect is the evidence in favor of the miracles of the Bible stronger than that which can be adduced in favor of witchcraft and sorcery? Has not the evidence in favor of these latter been derived from as competent and reliable witnesses as that in favor of miracles? Has not the evidence in favor of witchcraft and sorcery had, what the evidence in favor of miracles has not had, the advantage of a strict judicial investigation? Have not the most eminent judges, in the most civilized and enlightened courts of Europe and America, admitted the force of such evidence (in favor of witchcraft and sorcery,) and on the ground of it committed great numbers of innocent persons to the gallows and to the stake?”

Judge Richard B. Westbrook, of Philadelphia, says: “The miracles claimed for the New Testament failed to convince the people, among whom they are said to have been wrought, of the divine mission of Jesus and his apostles, as shown by the treatment they received. … Miracles, sorcery and witchcraft were always based on the delusions of ignorance and superstition.”

“Miracles resolve themselves into the question whether it is more probable that the laws of Nature, hitherto so immutably harmonious, should have undergone violation; or that a man should have told a lie. We have many instances of men telling lies, none of an infraction of natural laws.” (Shelley.)

“I have known theologians, occupying the highest positions in the Church, who frankly admitted among their own intimate friends, that physical miracles were impossible.” (Max Muller.)

“Doubt of miracle is faith in the eternal order of Nature.” (Lewis G. Janes.)

“Miracle is the negative of law.” — W. Chadwick.)

“ When miracles are admitted, every scientific explanation is out of the question.” — (Kepler.)

“To exclude from history every event of a miraculous character is an absolute rule of criticism.” — (Renan.)

“The world has trusted in the doctrine of miracle-mongers till skepticism became a condition of self-preservation.” (Felix S. Oswald.)

“Miracles exist only for him who has not studied them.” (Systéme de la Nature.)

“Science demands the radical extirpation of caprice and the absolute reliance upon law in Nature.” — (Tyndall.)

Hon. Andrew D. White expresses his disbelief in miracles in speaking of “that vast power which works in the universe in all things by law and in none by caprice.”

As illustrating how insincere were some of the church fathers, in their pretended belief in miracles and in practicing imposition on the ignorant, we quote from St. Chrysostom’s writings (fourth century:) “Miracles are proper only to excite sluggish and vulgar minds; men of sense have no occasion for them.”

“In our own time one of the most eminent and gifted of the prelates of the Romish Church, has expressed more or less distrust regarding miracles. The late Cardinal John Henry Newman said: “It is doubtless the tendency of religious minds to imagine mysteries and wonders where there are none. … The imagination is a fruitful cause of apparent miracles. … There have been at all times true miracles and false miracles. … No authoritative guide is supplied to us for drawing the line between the two.”

In Supernatural Religion, vol. ii, p. 478, we read: “Even if the reality of miracles could be substantiated, their value, as evidence for the divine revelation, is destroyed by the necessary admission that miracles are not limited to one source, but that there are miracles satanic, which are to be disbelieved, as well as divine.”

In Matthew xviv: 24, it says: “There shall arise false prophets, who shall show great signs and wonders.” If signs and wonders – miracles — are a test of true divinity, why are not these so-called “false prophets” divine?

In Mark viii: 12, Christ is made to say: “There shall be no sign given unto this generation.” And yet it is by signs and miracles that the Christian Church claims the divine character of Jesus.

It is a matter of history that the age of the Apostles was one in which the most miraculous stories gained credence, and where “little if any radical distinction was drawn between a miracle and an ordinary occurrence.” — (John Fiske.)

The miracles upon which the Christian religion mainly relies for its support are those of the virgin birth, resurrection and ascension of Christ. The first of these (claimed also for every other founder of a religion,) is of course so utterly opposed to natural law that no person who is familiar with such law, and who thinks, will for one moment entertain the thought of its being possibly true. As to the resurrection, it is quite safe to say that not a particle of reliable evidence has ever been produced in support of such claim. Rev. R. Heber Newton says: “Most thoughtful men recognize that any such resurrection of the body (as is largely believed in) demands a miracle of such magnitude as is utterly unbelievable by the average man.” As to the ascension, to where did Jesus ascend? If you point your finger upwards at twelve meridian, it points in one direction; keep it thus pointed till twelve midnight, and it points in exactly an opposite direction. There is no “up” or “down” — no ascension or descension — where the law of gravity holds sway, in this universe of circling spheres; no place whatever, in all probability, to which Enoch, or Elijah, or Jesus could, by any possibility, have been translated.

T. W. Doane, in his immensely valuable work called Bible Myths, shows an almost complete parallel between the miracles of Christ and those of Chrishna and Buddha; healing the sick, restoring the maimed, the deaf and the blind, raising the dead and other miracles attributed to Christ, are all to be found in the histories of those two incarnations of Deity who flourished respectively I, zoo and 6oo years B.C.

Miracles similar to those which Christ is said to have performed, were claimed for Zoroaster, Bochia, Horus, Serapis, Mardeck, Esculapius, Appolonius of Tyana, Simon Magus, Menander, Vespasian and others.

“The Gospel miracles are set in the midst of a series of similar wonders which commenced many centuries before the dawn of Christianity.” — (Supernatural Religion.)

Hon. Andrew D. White says that “in the sixteenth century such miracles as healing the sick, the miraculous draft of fishes, raising the dead and the resurrection, were attributed to Francis Zavier.”

The Romish Church claims that miracles are still being performed, but the Protestant Church says “the days of miracles are past.” The former is certainly the most consistent, for it is more reasonable to suppose that IF miracles were ever performed they are quite as likely to be performed to-day as at any time in the past. The miracles that it is claimed are being performed now are quite as well authenticated as the miracles in which Protestants believe.

Professor Baden Powell illustrates the position of the Protestant Church in saying: “ At the present day, it is not a miracle, but the narrative of a miracle to which faith is accorded.”

It must be admitted, however, that the Roman Church.derives a splendid income by reason of the position it takes on this question. Enormous sums of money are constantly being raised out of the superstitious, in all parts of’ the Catholic world, by pretended miracles, performed by so-called holy relics. In May, 1892, the miracle claimed to have been performed by a supposed bone of St. Ann, in New York city, yielded the handsome profit of $1,000 per day for sixteen days, in one church alone. Very properly did the distinguished member of the New York bar, John D. Townsend, Esq., recently ask the question, in a letter to the New York Herald, that if Madame Dis Debar was justly punished for obtaining money on the false pretense that the pictures with which she supplied the art gallery of Mr. Marsh were painted by the spirits of the “old masters,” why should not like punishment be meted out to such priests as obtain money, from the ignorant, credulous and superstitious, on equally false pretenses?

Both Catholics and Protestants, however, profess belief in the miracles recorded in the Bible. Take, for example, the one recorded in Matthew xxvii: 51-53: “The earth did quake, and the rocks were rent, and the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose and came out of their graves and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” Just analyze this record for a moment — calmly consider it — and you cannot help saying that such a statement is absolutely impossible of belief. Imagine, if you can, the surprise of the people living in the “holy city” having visits, “all of a sudden,” from the “many bodies of the saints,” the recent tenants of the grave! We are not informed as to what welcome the bodies of the saints received, how long their visits were continued, or to where they went on leaving. No wonder that intelligent people are refusing to believe such impossible recitals. No wonder that (even) Christian clergymen are daily repudiating belief in such incredible records, and forcing from them such declarations as that from the Rev. L H. Rylance, viz: “All notions of the miraculous character of the Bible has been almost wholly banished from us.”

In Supernatural Religion it is stated that “the great majority of modern German Biblical critics reject the miraculous altogether. … As a historical fact there is nothing more certain than that miracles, and the belief in them, disappeared exactly when education and knowledge of the operations of natural laws became diffused throughout Europe.”

Dr. Oort says: “Our increased knowledge of Nature has gradually undermined the belief in the possibility of miracles, and the time is not far distant when, in the mind of every man of culture, all accounts of miracles will be banished to their proper region — that of legend.”

But why try to penetrate the supernatural (if such there be?) Is there not enough in the natural to excite our wonder? What more marvelous, or seemingly marvelous, than Nature herself? Why indulge in the recital of impossible stories of the (supposed) preter-natural, when the story of Nature is so inconceivably greater and grander? Talk of the inexplicability of miracles, which are but pretended violations of the laws of Nature; when the laws of Nature themselves are far more inexplicable. The revelations of the telescope and the microscope are infinitely more wonderful than all the miraculous revelations claimed for the Bible. The knowledge of the material world, imparted by Kepler, Newton, Humboldt and Darwin, far transcends in importance (as well as in truth,) all the (pretended) knowledge of the im-material world, supposed to be miraculously revealed by prophets, apostles, evangelists and church “fathers. ” There is far more of inspiration in the one “book of nature” than in all the books of the Old and New Testament. The miraculous accounts by Moses, introducing us to the geology, astronomy and biology of six thousand years ago, are completely superseded by the more modern and more truthful teachings of science. The story of evolution is far more ennobling (in addition to its having become an established fact) than that of a miraculous creation. The marvel of birth, physical growth and intellectual development, towers grandly above the juggling tricks which are known as miracles. All these teachings of the Bible inculcate belief in useless fables, myths and miracles instead of in helpful facts, truths and natural causes. Miracles, and belief in them are utterly out of place in this age of scientific investigation and of the knowledge of cause and effect.

“When I consider that without a miracle the stars swing in their circles, that without a miracle seed-time and harvest keep their punctual round, that without a miracle the immanent life climbed from the fiery mist of worlds unmade to all their myriad shapeliness and interacting harmony, to mineral and vegetable and animal life, and from the wallowing saurain to the man or woman whom you love — when I consider all these things, I must confess it seems to me a little less than blasphemous to suggest that the power which is equal to them all is not equal to the development of humanity from any possible depth to any possible height, by methods as serene as those which keep the stars from wandering, or convert the substance of the planet into human smiles and tears.” — (Rev. John W. Chadwick.)

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