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Friday, April 21, 2017

Resurrection skeptics and "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"

       He is Risen!

       He is Risen, indeed!

Except, there are some folks, especially now that they have the very convenient platform of social media, who proclaim their skepticism at the idea of Jesus rising from the dead.  

Their rejection is summed up here:

Image result for carl sagan extraordinary claims

And here:

Image result for hitchens extraordinary claims

That is, "We're not going to believe that extraordinary claim that your Jesus rose from the dead until you provide us with some really, really, amazing, extraordinary evidence.  That's only fair, right?"
However, in a rather delicious irony, it turns out that this oft-repeated doctrine "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" is actually not true. Instead it's statement of faith*--an atheist heard another atheist say it, who heard another atheist say it, but no one ever stopped to consider the evidence for this statement.

This is what is the correct formulation:  "Extraordinary claims require sufficient evidence".

All that is required to believe an extraordinary claim is that there is enough evidence to support that claim.

We know this from our own experience.

Let's take some examples of extraordinary events:  



All of these folks experienced something extraordinary, and we believe them because we've seen the video.  And a video is not, by any means, any kind of extraordinary evidence.  All it is is sufficient proof that the person is telling the truth.

(If a skeptic responds to the above by saying, "You offered videos of astonishing events, near misses, all caught on video.  Well, I'll believe in the resurrection if you can offer a video of the event!"...we can respond by telling the skeptic that he's missing the point.  The point of the examples caught on video was to demonstrate that ordinary means can provide proof of very out-of-the-ordinary events.)

Christian apologist/philosopher William Lane Craig presents a beautiful and pithy refutation in a short video here: Don't Extraordinary Claims Need Extraordinary Evidence?

And, in fact, sometimes, even for extraordinary claims, no proof is required.  All that is required is faith* and belief in the testimony of someone.  For example, if your loved one came home and related some really, really bizarre event had happened to her, most of us would believe her based on her testimony alone.  

That, too, is not extraordinary evidence.  It's rather ordinary indeed.  But we believe the extraordinary claim because we trust the deliverer of the story.  

So....no.  An extraordinary claim (like Jesus' resurrection) does not require any extraordinary, mind-blowing, in-your-face type of proof. It just requires sufficient proof, like every other claim does.

Finally, just a quick rejoinder to Hitchens' last comment "...what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence":  we say, "Yes, you are essentially correct here, but we do have evidence for what we believe."  Hitchens is attacking a straw man that faith is "belief without evidence". No Christian ought to embrace the elements of the faith without evidence.  The definition of faith being "belief without evidence" is NOT what is the foundation of Christianity.  We "always have a reason" (or defense) of what we believe, as 1 Peter 3:15 says. 

And Christianity has done a wonderful job offering sufficient apologia for Jesus' resurrection from the dead.  

There is proof indeed that He is Risen! 
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*(Clarification:  it's true that in refuting Hitchens' straw man of our faith I've rejected the definition of faith being "belief without evidence", yet earlier on in the text I do use "faith" in this manner.  That is, when I assert that atheists who proclaim "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" have made a statement of faith (they haven't examined the evidence), and when I say that we might believe our loved one's bizarre story based on faith alone (that is, without any corroboration that her story is true), I AM using the definition of faith as "belief without evidence".  Suffice it to say that, like "love", there are many definitions of "faith".  But Christians do not base their doctrines on "belief without evidence", as Hitchens is alluding to.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Easter and the Pagan Wars (again)

Every year as Easter approaches commentary appears about the pagan roots of Easter. Fundamentalist Christians who view all-things-Catholic as an abomination proclaim that Easter is actually a pagan fertility celebration.  

Accusations look like this:








This is simply gaga, lala nonsense.

Firstly, the above accusations have their foundation upon a very narrow Anglo-centric objection involving our use of the word "Easter". Most of the Christian world doesn't speak English and doesn't call this holy day "Easter" at all, so the alleged link to a pagan goddess is non-existent for most of Christendom. Most of Christianity refers to Easter as some derivative of the Latin and Greek word Pascha, which references the Passover. In Spanish it's called "Pascuas"; French "Pasques"; Afrikaans "Paasfees", Italian "Pasqua", Icelandid "Paska", Turkish "Paskalya....

Secondly, EVEN IF the origins of the Christian celebration are pagan, this is not ominous or sinister in any way.  Christianity has taken the pagan meaning and made it holy.  Just like Christ took a pagan world and sanctified it. If Fundamentalist Christians can say, "I'll see you at Bible Study tomorrow, Diana!" without inadvertently worshipping the Roman goddess of the woodlands....and can walk down the aisle of their wedding carrying a bouquet without believing she's superstitiously trying to ward off evil spirits... then good Christians can certainly celebrate Easter without unwittingly participating in a pagan fertility rite.

The best apologia I've seen for Easter in these annual "Easter is pagan" wars comes from a member on the Catholic Answers forum named "PrayerWarrior":  

I love how some folks think that English is the official language of the ancient world. Not. Come to think of it, English wasn't even the official language of the Church. Why is this important? "Easter" is an English word. In many languages, if not most, the Feast of the Resurrection is named after the Hebrew word Pesach which means passover. In Latin, the official language of the Church for centuries, the word is Pascha. So the fact that the English word may have been derived from a germanic goddess of the spring equinox means pretty much nothing at all. (I, personally, do not think Easter is named for the goddess but rather for April which was Eostremonat. Whoever decided to use the name "Easter" was probably thinking that passover is usually in April and that is why they went with that name---not because april was a month dedicated to the fertility goddess, Oestre.) 



By the way, in some light research, I found that Eusebius noted that there were problems with the timing of the feast of the Resurrection around 190ad. This had to do with the Church's celebration of the Resurrection as related to the Jewish celebration of the Passover. So, the issue was clarified by the Council of Nicea in 325. I think we can be confident that it was not called Easter by the Eusebius nor by the Council of Nicea. Nor do we have any reason to believe that the Feast had anything to do with a germanic pagan fertility goddess, since the Feast was well in place prior to the conversion of the germanic people's associated with that particular goddess. The first hints of Christianity among the Germanic people was in about 337. And, as far as England, who borrowed the word from the germans, they didn't convert until even later (according to Bede; the same source who tells us about Oestre)



Bottom line, the Feast of the Resurrection was in place at least in the 2nd century (probably was celebrated from the beginning). The germanic worship of Oestre would have had no bearing on the "creation" of the feast as the germans had not even been converted yet. Oh, and I didn't see any germans as attendees of the Council of Nicea either...



Now if you want to talk about how Easter is celebrated by secular society (and yes, many churches have joined in), it is completely obvious that pagan practices are still alive and well. Eggs are a sign of fertility, for example. However, I would challenge anyone to find a Catholic teaching any where in history, that instructs the faithful to participate in Easter egg hunts...

Thus, any link to pagan rituals (true or alleged) is irrelevant because we aren't pagan anymore, and we have taken these pagan customs and made them Christian. 

Also, my understanding is that the reason we celebrate Easter with the custom of eggs is because our Eastern Orthodox brethren fast from meat, dairy and eggs for the ENTIRETY of Lent (not just from meat on Fridays as we do in the Western Church).  As hens would continue to be laying eggs throughout Lent, a surplus of these eggs would exist by Easter, and thus, when Easter came, there was a veritable feast of eggs!

So, nothing menacing, malevolent or devil-inspired going on with celebrating Easter with the tradition* (i.e. custom) of enjoying a few dyed hard-boiled eggs.  

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*"tradition" should not be confused with Sacred Tradition.  It's simply a custom to have eggs at Easter.  It's not part of the Sacred Deposit of the Faith, the Word of God handed down to us through Sacred Tradition.  A Catholic can never ever eat a single Easter egg yet still remain a faithful, practicing Catholic!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sedevecantists vs Scripture

Christ: I will not leave you orphans.
Sedevacantist: We are orphans.
--Scott Eric Alt

Thursday, April 6, 2017

(Revisit) Prayers of Petition

Lately I've been seeing a lot of discussions from skeptics who mock and deride believers for praying.  

Some comments from atheists look like this:


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The atheistic meme is this:  your prayers are useless because your God's going to do what God wants to do anyway...and even you Christians admit this with a resigned shrug when you don't get what you pray for..."I guess it wasn't part of God's will".  So what's the point of praying?

And the Christian response is often, "We pray because it changes us.  It doesn't necessarily change God, who is all sovereign, all powerful".

That's a good response.  But I think there's also a very, very big apologetics rejoinder is often forgotten:

                                Prayer can indeed cause God to change his plan. 

Now, this of course needs to be understood with some nuance. 
In one sense God is indeed sovereign, and his will immutable.  

But in another sense, God does allow us to change events by our prayers.  God gives us the "dignity of causality" (one of my favorite phrases!)--that is, we have been given the great privilege of actually being able to cause events to change because of our actions.

In fact, we see this evident every day, if not necessarily in our spiritual lives, but in our natural lives. We see that when we plant seeds for corn, we get corn on our plates.  We don't just assume, as Ricky Gervais implies, "Hey, God knows I'm going to need corn on my plate, so let me just sit back at the dinner table, and God will provide it!"  We plant seeds, and then we get corn.  God is indeed sovereign, and if he wanted, he could send corn down from the sky, but we have been given the privilege of actually causing corn to grow in our fields, so we take actions to effectuate this process. If we don't plant the seed, we most likely aren't going to get the corn.

Similarly, we see that when we plant seeds for a cure for our loved one, through a novena, for example, we get a cure "on our plate".  We don't just assume, "Hey, God knows that we want a cure for Aunt Martha, so let's just sit back and wait for her to come home from the hospital!"We "plant the seeds" for her cure by our Prayers of Petition.  Without the prayer, we may not get the cure.

If you say that we should not pray because God already knows our needs, then as CS Lewis says, "...it would be equally foolish and impudent to put on a mackintosh - does not God know best whether you ought to be wet or dry?  The two methods by which we are allowed to produce events may be called work and prayer. Both are alike in this respect – that in both we try to produce a state of affairs which God has not (or at any rate not yet) seen fit to provide 'on HIS own'. And from this point of view the old maxim laborare est orare (work is prayer) takes on a new meaning. What we do when we weed a field is not quite different from what we do when we pray for a good harvest."



Finally, a quick comment regarding the inane "You pray for me, I'll think for you" meme--this taunt creates a peculiar (and ubiquitous) Either/Or false dichotomy.  For some weird reason atheists have decided that one cannot both be a prayer AND a thinker.  The Catholic response is, "We are perfectly capable of the Both/And.  We can pray and think at the same time!"