Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"We're All Atheists"

In a recent post, Bill Vallicella (The Maverick Philosopher) ably dismantles the “we’re all atheists” canard which has become increasingly common recently. He cites Christopher Hitchens (author of God Is Not Great), from a debate with Shmuley Boteach:

“We’re all atheists,” Hitchens argued in his dry British timbre. “We no longer believe we need to tear the beating heart out of a virgin to make the sun rise. We no longer believe in the sun god Ra or in Zeus, and we now must go one step further.”
Vallicella notes the absurdity of this argument by offering a parallel: we all reject certain older scientific propositions – that the sun orbits the earth, that light needs a medium to travel (the ether), etc. By Hitchens’ reasoning, it would be logical to go the next step and reject all scientific propositions:
What people like [Hitchens and] Daniel Dennett, another key Dawkins Gang member, cannot get through their heads is that religion might be subject to development and refinement just as science is. Such people cannot understand development of the God concept as anything different from deformation. They think, quite stupidly, that the crudest anthropomorphic conceptions are those with which religion must remain saddled. But they would never say something similar with respect to science. Why the double standard?

Vallicella is of course correct. The problem is that the “new atheists” seem to accept the fundamentalist claim that religion is only authentic if it falls from heaven fully formed. They look at the obvious developmental nature of religion and seem to think this proves it’s all bunk. Yet this is the very thing they praise about science! If the history of religion evidences a willingness to modify old views in light of new evidence or further reflection, is that not a good thing?

Even more basically, what folks like Hitchens seem to miss is that this denial of polytheism can itself be seen as an inference from Christian experience and theological reflection. We Christians have abandoned humanity's polytheistic roots precisely because we have accepted God's continued revelation. We have rejected those old attempts to manipulate him through human sacrifice precisely because we have accepted a more developed view of God's sovereignty and the value he places on human life.

The Christian denial of paganism is not based on some independent standard we share with atheists and apply to other gods but, inconsistently, fail to apply to our own. We deny the existence of other gods precisely because we accept the Christian story. It is not inconsistent for a monotheist to deny polytheism; it would be inconsistent to do otherwise.

18 comments:

Drew said...

Well done.

The response from Atheists is that it is all bunk because we cannot prove there is evidence. It is no more real than the development of literature in history. The difference is that we do not usually build a civilization or social order on the grounds of fiction. This is the flying spaghetti monster argument.

My question has to do with the social construction of what evidence is satisfying to the knower. If you need some sort of indubitable evidence that God exists good luck. We are quite aware that love exists and there is research to substantiate that partnering for humans is qualitatively different than with other species. There is also enough research to substantiate that belief in a higher power is a powerful element in self-actualization and other measures of healthy human relationality and development. So either both love and God exist or they do not. Even if ideas about God differ as they do love, these are contingent on the reality that lies beneath those ideas. The social function of love or God is not as important here as the rational belief that each exists.

Now this can easily boil into various kinds of theisms like pantheism or panentheism which are both more rationally defined in terms of God's relationship to our social constructions and conventions. Think Cobb or Whitehead here. Perhaps Hick. But regardless it answers the question that belief in God is fundamentally irrational. God's independent existence is just one step away from accepting this claim.

The same can be said for social ordering, laws, values, etc. These social constructions do exist and can be either rational or irrational.

It can also be said that a rational belief can lead to irrational behavior. What happens with atheist arguments is that they conflate contingent aspects of religious belief with contingent aspects of it.

This is why I like Schleiermacher's argument against the cultured despisers. Rather than focus on reason, he focuses on the aesthetic nature of how the world and humanity is related to God.

Ken Brown said...

Thanks Drew!

I've reposted an old piece from my preivous blog that addresses the question you raise, here. I also think your comments about the interrelation between the existence of love and the existence of God are absolutely correct.

To my shame, I've not read any Schleiermacher. Any suggestions on where to start?

Drew said...

I have actually only read through On Religion which is representative of his earlier thought. This edition: Cambridge University Press; New Ed edition (April 26, 1996) has a great introduction to Schleiermacher in general as well as analysis of the lectures in the book.

Since Schleiermacher grounds his argument in experience, I think it is worth reading for those who are confronted with the atheist rationalistic arguments. That was his problem too!

I have not yet gotten to his later work The Christian Faith which is important to understand Barth and neo-Orthodoxy in general.

Parvez Ahmed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Parvez Ahmed said...

So, my good believers, you want to say that there is a man in the sky who knows everything, is all-powerful; if you follow his commands you go to heaven and otherwise, you shall be for ever burning in hell, ha! Sounds saintly.
So, my good and dear believer bloggers, if your so powerful God created the heaven and the earth and all that is, then who created him; or he just came from nowhere and became all the lord of the lands, finding them to be empty.
If you think other wise then take a look at my blog. Click here

Ken Brown said...

Parvez Ahmed,
Perhaps you disagree, but I don't think a caricatured restatement of a person's position counts as an argument. Do you have a substantive response to the post itself, or were you just bashing your shield?

Oh, and if God truly did "created the heaven and the earth and all that is," then by definition he was not created by anything else.

Ryan said...

A trail of links from other blogs led me here and I just wanted to say that I appreciated your post - especially appreciated the bit about how the new atheists expect religion to "fall from heaven fully formed." I'm currently writing a thesis on how/if the new atheism represents,at rock bottom, a response to the problem of evil, but one of the things that continues to amaze me as I read these guys is exactly what you say - the crudest, most anthropomorphic conceptions of God are assumed to be the most authentic. You've quite ably highlighted the absurdity of that assumption.

Ken Brown said...

Thanks Ryan, that sounds like an interesting thesis.

BTW, I almost went to Regent for an M.Div then Th.M (decided to go the Biblical Studies M.A. route instead); great school huh?

God bless!

N. Adam said...

What people like [Hitchens and] Daniel Dennett, another key Dawkins Gang member, cannot get through their heads is that religion might be subject to development and refinement just as science is. Such people cannot understand development of the God concept as anything different from deformation. They think, quite stupidly, that the crudest anthropomorphic conceptions are those with which religion must remain saddled. But they would never say something similar with respect to science. Why the double standard?

Where to start.

The development of science and the development of religion are two completely different processes. For something to become a scientific theory it must be falsifiable, undergo a process of peer review, endure numerous and continued tests.

As far as advancements in religions go, it must be noted that these occur at a much slower pace. The second thing to note is that in the few moments when religious doctrine changes abruptly (the religious version of a scientific breakthrough), they often shift one unfalsifiable claim for another. Take Catholicism and Limbo; for many centuries and for many people limbo existed--now it don't.

This is not a case of a double standard. A double standard would entail having two different rules for the same class of entities. Religion and science are two completely different classes of entities.

We Christians have abandoned humanity's polytheistic roots precisely because we have accepted God's continued revelation.

Firstly, I would argue that between the Trinity and the Virgin Mary, Catholicism has a lot to answer for in that department. Secondly, in your post "Why I am a Christian" you seem to allow for the possibility that other gods may exist.

Ken Brown said...

The development of science and the development of religion are two completely different processes.

This is an exaggeration. Science is merely a refined form of human observation and theorizing. Old ideas are subjected to experience, those which pan out are retained those which do not are discarded (eventually, though sometimes only as old proponents die off). But many aspects of experience are not open to direct test. When it comes to history the best we can do is attempt to make our reconstructions as plausible as possible; there is no possibility of final proof, because the events in question are intrinsically unrepeatable. Similarly, when it comes to realities far beyond human observation (for instance, what preceded the big bang or the interior structure of a black hole), we must resort to logic and inference; but there is generally no possibility of direct test at all.

Though there is much more to religion than this (for instance, shared community and symbols, ethical guidelines, etc.) it also seeks to answer questions that fall within those latter two areas of history and ultimate reality. That religion, too, must therefore speculate should come as no surprise, but it is simply false that religious claims are arbitrary. Theologians and religious scholars use the same tools of logic and inference to tease out the possibilities and implications of religious claims, and this accounts for a great deal of the progress of religion. Though ultimately, since the areas religion considers go well beyond human observation, it can come as no surprise that final proof is rarely possible, religious scholars have well established methods for analyzing both history and theology.

And don't object that "the average person" evidences little concern for logic and consistency in religious matters, for the same would be true of the average person's approach to scientific questions.

“We Christians have abandoned humanity's polytheistic roots precisely because we have accepted God's continued revelation.”
Firstly, I would argue that between the Trinity and the Virgin Mary, Catholicism has a lot to answer for in that department. Secondly, in your post "Why I am a Christian" you seem to allow for the possibility that other gods may exist.


As for Trinity and the Virgin Mary: Leaving aside the possibility that these are metaphors and not statements of empirical fact, they too are inferences from religious experience. If you reject the experiences that lead many of us to believe Jesus divine, you will naturally reject the conclusions, but if you accept those experiences, something very like those beliefs becomes necessary.

As for polytheism: I admitted in my other post that a priori I cannot rule out the possibility of other "gods" (i.e. they are a brute possibility, and I'm not so presumptuous as to claim that all non-Christian religious experiences are mistaken) but since I believe the central claims of Christianity to be true, it is a simple inference from those beliefs to the conclusion that any other "gods" must be secondary beings.

What you need to understand is that theology operates in systems. A theological system seeks to be internally consistent based on its presuppositions. Ultimately, because it deals with realities beyond our direct experience, these systems must remain largely unfalsifiable, so the best we can do is to compare the presuppositions and internal consistency of different systems and try to determine the best fit with our experience.

No one (ok, no one but the Fundamentalists) is claiming this is a fool-proof process, nor that it can give anything like perfect knowledge, but the religious experiences of billions of people (including myself) drive us to do the best we can.

N. Adam said...

[Religion, like science,] also seeks to answer questions that fall within those latter two areas of history and ultimate reality.

That does not change the fact that religion and science are two completely different processes. That both seek answers to questions within nature does not change the fact that they are two different paths to that end.

Recall that Vallicella's criticism of the New Atheists is that they "cannot get through their heads is that religion might be subject to development and refinement just as science is." If I am right and religion and science are, fundamentally, two completely different processes, then what might constitute "development and refinement" in one does not necessarily constitute "development and refinement" in the other. Therefore, the implicit demand that Harris et al show the same respect for religious advancement that they do for scientific advancement, as though both were on the same level, is absurd.

Further, there is just no getting around the fact that Christianity (for example) contains core doctrines that, under no conceivable circumstance, can change. The only advancement that comes from religion is in the form of reinterpretation, oftentimes to conform to modern, secular values (as, I predict, will be the case with homosexuality one hundred years from now) or scientific breakthroughs like Darwin's theory of evolution (which many continue to struggle with).

Theologians and religious scholars use the same tools of logic and inference to tease out the possibilities and implications of religious claims, and this accounts for a great deal of the progress of religion.

Theologians and religious scholars are scientists. They use scientific methods like carbon dating to authenticate the age of documents like the Gospel of Judas and, in so debating, do not appeal to revealed truths or religious experience but strict logic and physical evidence.

Generally speaking, it is a disservice to religion that the methods of theologians are not applied on the pulpit.

What you need to understand is that theology operates in systems. A theological system seeks to be internally consistent based on its presupposition.

You have made a point on my behalf. Science is further distinct from religion in that it has to be more than internally consistent.

As for Trinity and the Virgin Mary: Leaving aside the possibility that these are metaphors and not statements of empirical fact, they too are inferences from religious experience. If you reject the experiences that lead many of us to believe Jesus divine, you will naturally reject the conclusions, but if you accept those experiences, something very like those beliefs becomes necessary.

I accept neither the premise nor conclusion of The Trinity, but that is beside the point. You have claimed, boldly, that religion has moved on ("abandoned") from polytheism when there are major aspects of Catholic lore that clearly have artifacts thereof.

Ken Brown said...

the implicit demand that Harris et al show the same respect for religious advancement that they do for scientific advancement, as though both were on the same level, is absurd.

You seem to be reading more into Vallicella and my words than we implied. Neither of us, I think, argued that Hitchens must give religion equal credence as science. We simply objected to his claim that, since we reject a million other gods, we are inconsistent not to reject our own. That argument is based on a crude caricature of theology as a purely arbitrary word game with no ties to reality. Just because religion must of necessity reach towards truths and realities that (if real) lie beyond our grasp, does not mean we are not constrained by logic and what experiences we have that point in that direction.

Nor is it any argument against this point that religion, too, relies on the insights of science, and so must reevaluate old ideas on the basis of the advance of secular knowledge. The point is that just because we have abandoned old theological concepts that no longer make sense of our knowledge of the world does not make us inconsistent in continuing to maintain those that (we believe) do continue to make sense and provide meaning.

Generally speaking, it is a disservice to religion that the methods of theologians are not applied on the pulpit.

I absolutely agree, though it must be remembered that science, in studying natural patterns and consistencies, can only ever take us so far. It might tell you the physio-chemical basis for love, but it can't teach you how to love.

Science is further distinct from religion in that it has to be more than internally consistent.

So does theology. Even if its empirical bases are, by necessity, more tenuous, they are not irrelevant. If the extreme skeptics are correct that Jesus never lived, then Christianity is false, plain and simply—internally consistent or otherwise.

You have claimed, boldly, that religion has moved on ("abandoned") from polytheism when there are major aspects of Catholic lore that clearly have artifacts thereof.

I did not claim that "religion" had moved beyond polytheism, but that my reasons for rejecting all other "gods" as secondary, and accepting the God of Christianity, are not distinct nor inconsistent. I don't reject Zeus on grounds that I fail to apply to Yahweh (assuming, that is, that they don't in fact refer to the same being by different names); I reject Zeus precisely because I am a Christian, and there is no room for him as an independent deity in that system.

Similarly, I reject traditional polytheism, which identifies various features of the natural world themselves with individual deities (the river god, the storm god, etc.), because it violates my experience: Besides the apparent absurdity of the claim (from my perspective), nothing about my experiences of rivers suggests any kind of consciousness inherent in such objects, and indeed the very fact that rivers have constantly appeared and disappeared throughout earth history seems to preclude any claim to deity that might be made for them. Clearly, however, such an argument is completely irrelevant to Christianity’s claim of a God who is distinct from and transcendent of the natural world, so I am not inconsistent in failing to apply it to that God.

N. Adam said...

We simply objected to [Hitchens'] claim that, since we reject a million other gods, we are inconsistent not to reject our own.

I have viewed many lectures and read many articles (including selected chapters) pertaining to Christopher Hitchens' book but I have not read the book itself. So, perhaps I am setting myself up, but that I dare say that that is not the argument Hitchens makes. I am familiar enough with the arguments of Harris and Dawkins to say, more positively, that they don't make that argument either.

Their argument is not that you are inconsistent to reject your God because you reject others. Hitchens, a political writer, surely rejects theories put forth by other writers; Dawkins has famously rejected theories put forth by his friend Stephen J. Gould. The fact that they do not reject all theories pertaining to their field does not make them wrong for accepting the ones which they do. The difference is that they can tell you why they reject the theories which they oppose without being inconsistent in advocating the theories which they do.

Their point, with those remarks, is to provoke the believer by getting them to think why they reject those gods yet accept their own. It is a method of putting something on the table that most believers, frankly, have not given serious thought to.

So does theology. Even if its empirical bases are, by necessity, more tenuous, they are not irrelevant. If the extreme skeptics are correct that Jesus never lived, then Christianity is false, plain and simply—internally consistent or otherwise.

And yet the fact that Jesus performs numerous acts inconsistent with the laws of nature remains unpersuasive.

I did not claim that "religion" had moved beyond polytheism, but that my reasons for rejecting all other "gods" as secondary, and accepting the God of Christianity, are not distinct nor inconsistent.

I was wrong to say "religion" in that instance (I should have said "Christianity"), but you were not giving your own personal reasons. "We Christians have abandoned humanity's polytheistic roots precisely because we have accepted God's continued revelation."

Similarly, I reject traditional polytheism, which identifies various features of the natural world themselves with individual deities (the river god, the storm god, etc.), because it violates my experience.

Ironically, I think you have managed to vindicate the point that the New Atheists are making. You reject polytheism despite the fact that a polytheist might have just as profound personal experiences as you have had with your God. In other words, someone else's personal experience is not enough to convince you of the existence of more than one god. This is where the charge of inconsistency is applied.

N. Adam said...
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Ken Brown said...

It is a method of putting something on the table that most believers, frankly, have not given serious thought to.

You are probably right on that score, but I've heard this line that "we're all atheists" enough times as a kind of knock-down point—as though the very fact that I reject Zeus makes me inconsistent—that it was worth challenging that notion, of which Hitchens' quote seemed (perhaps mistakenly, I haven’t read his book either) to be but one more example.

And yet the fact that Jesus performs numerous acts inconsistent with the laws of nature remains unpersuasive.

That depends entirely on what you mean by "the laws of nature." Are such laws truly inviolable, or merely our best approximations of the normal course of nature. There is no a priori reason why an external stimuli could not introduce new factors of which we who are inside the system are incapable but that, once introduced, would follow the normal course of nature. Such events could not themselves be predicted from the prior state, but that doesn’t make them impossible, merely unpredictable.

Miracles are by definition extremely improbable, and any sane person ought to be skeptical of any such claims, but based on my own experience and countless stories from across the world, I also believe that real miracles do happen on an occasional basis, and not just among Christians. And yes, I am skeptical even of those ascribed to Jesus, and would even go so far as to say that a number of those recorded in the Gospels are likely apocryphal (such as the doublets in Matthew); but I do believe there are good reasons to accept that he performed some miraculous feats which set this particular Jewish peasant apart from his contemporaries. After all, many 1st century Jewish men claimed to be the Messiah and promised miracles, and were promptly killed by the Romans and dismissed as imposters. Clearly something was different about this one that his followers proclaimed his messianic status even louder after his death than before it, and they maintained that belief to their own violent deaths. Such does not, of course, prove that the stories they told are true, but it certainly lends them a good deal of credibility.

I was wrong to say "religion" in that instance (I should have said "Christianity"), but you were not giving your own personal reasons. "We Christians have abandoned humanity's polytheistic roots precisely because we have accepted God's continued revelation."

And Christian have indeed given up their polytheistic roots (and I do mean "their"; the early portions of the Bible itself are pretty clearly polytheistic). Whatever Christians claim about complexity within the Godhead, they certainly do not maintain the nature gods of their ancestors, and this is just as clearly a form of progress. Vallicella’s and my point, from the beginning, was that to reject the earlier religious views, even of one’s own tradition, is not (as the Fundamentalists and many atheists seem to assume) a mark of compromise and degradation, but of progress through continued honest reflection upon our experiences and history.

Ironically, I think you have managed to vindicate the point that the New Atheists are making. You reject polytheism despite the fact that a polytheist might have just as profound personal experiences as you have had with your God. In other words, someone else's personal experience is not enough to convince you of the existence of more than one god. This is where the charge of inconsistency is applied.

On the contrary, I don't have any reason to doubt that they had genuine religious experiences, nor even deny that those experiences might well have originated from a higher being; I simply have good reasons to doubt that that higher being was the river itself. You are, however, correct (as was the Sam Harris quote that you cited and deleted), that such experiences, theirs and mine, do not provide proof of much in terms of doctrine, other than the brute fact that we as a race seem to be predisposed to seek the transcendent, and (perhaps) that the transcendent seems to make itself available to us as well. Such experiences provide one presupposition with which any consistent theology must deal, but teasing out what they might actually point to is, again, a matter of inference and not proof.

N. Adam said...

Are such laws truly inviolable, or merely our best approximations of the normal course of nature.

You say that as though the two propositions were necessarily mutually exclusive.

There is no a priori reason why an external stimuli could not
introduce new factors of which we who are inside the system are incapable but that, once introduced, would follow the normal course of nature.


Ask yourself the following: Is it more likely that Jesus was an external stimuli that introduced new laws of nature then took those laws with him as he ascended to heaven or more likely that the laws of nature are a constant?

I do believe there are good reasons to accept that he performed some miraculous feats which set this particular Jewish peasant apart from his contemporaries.

I would like to hear them.

And Christian have indeed given up their polytheistic roots (and I do mean "their"; the early portions of the Bible itself are pretty clearly polytheistic). Whatever Christians claim about complexity within the Godhead, they certainly do not maintain the nature gods of their ancestors, and this is just as clearly a form of progress.

Had you claimed that Christians have moved on from nature gods from the beginning, I would not have had any trouble. But you did not and so I do.

Am I wrong in saying that the Trinity has polytheistic elements?

I don't have any reason to doubt that they had genuine religious experiences, nor even deny that those experiences might well have originated from a higher being...

Still, the fact that you do not take their testimony as proof for polytheism vindicates the "We are all atheists" axiom, does it not?

Ken Brown said...

"Are such laws truly inviolable, or merely our best approximations of the normal course of nature."

You say that as though the two propositions were necessarily mutually exclusive.


No, I say that to establish that the latter need not entail the former.

Ask yourself the following: Is it more likely that Jesus was an external stimuli that introduced new laws of nature then took those laws with him as he ascended to heaven or more likely that the laws of nature are a constant?

"Likely" has nothing to do with it. A miracle is by definition horrendously improbable, but if you use that fact to rule them out then you could never recognize one at all, even if it happened right in front of you. And I did not say he "introduced new laws" then "took them with him;" I said that he seems to have performed some miraculous feats, by which I mean that the divine broke in through and around him. I am certainly not claiming that he is the only person this has ever been true of, that such events constituted new (temporary) natural laws, nor that they stopped happening when he left (though it might be that they happened more often around him than usual). I believe miracles still happen on an occasional basis (in fact, my grandmother is literally walking proof; perhaps I'll tell you her story some time). The fact that they cannot be predicted, and therefore cannot be tested in a lab, does not rule miracles out.

"I do believe there are good reasons to accept that he performed some miraculous feats which set this particular Jewish peasant apart from his contemporaries."

I would like to hear them.


I have already referred to most important one, that while the Jews of his day were looking for miracles (though mainly of the destroy-the-Roman-army sort), they also were quick to reject those who failed to deliver, particularly when a would-be messiah ended up dead. The fact that a group of monotheistic Jews not only continued to proclaim Jesus’ messianic status and tell of his miracles, but actually ascribed divinity to him within a few years of his death (depending on how you date Paul's letters) gives strong reason to accept that at least some of the stories they told about him were true. There is also the fact that the resurrection accounts hinge their testimony on a group of women, who would not have even qualified as legal witnesses in that patriarchal culture--not exactly the story they would make up unless women really did discover the empty tomb.

As I said, however, such does not in any way prove that Jesus was divine. Even if we had a videotape of Easter morning, it wouldn't prove that a miracle had happened, for if your presupposition is that the laws of nature are inviolable, you can always come up with an alternative explanation which, however improbable, will be more probable than a miracle. That, in part, is why religion calls for faith.

Am I wrong in saying that the Trinity has polytheistic elements?

Yes, in the usual sense of "polytheistic," meaning a pantheon of competing gods, each maintaining a limited authority over specific realms--war, storms, wine, etc.--and tied in power to specific localities. There is plurality in the Trinity, and neither I nor anyone else knows quite how to explain it, but it is not on the same level as the polytheism of our ancestors. For that matter, the Trinity may simply be a metaphor, a way of saying that at the deepest level, reality is defined by love.

Still, the fact that you do not take their testimony as proof for polytheism vindicates the "We are all atheists" axiom, does it not?

If I were claiming that all the other river gods are a sham, but that my river really is a god, that would be the case, but we are talking about very different sorts of claims.

And now I'm afraid I'm going to have to beg off this conversation. As much as I am enjoying it (such discussions always help clarify my thoughts and assumptions), I have a great deal to do before Wednesday that I really need to get to.

So thanks again!

N. Adam said...

"Likely" has nothing to do with it. A miracle is by definition horrendously improbable, but if you use that fact to rule them out then you could never recognize one at all, even if it happened right in front of you. And I did not say he "introduced new laws" then "took them with him;" I said that he seems to have performed some miraculous feats, by which I mean that the divine broke in through and around him. I am certainly not claiming that he is the only person this has ever been true of, that such events constituted new (temporary) natural laws, nor that they stopped happening when he left (though it might be that they happened more often around him than usual). I believe miracles still happen on an occasional basis (in fact, my grandmother is literally walking proof; perhaps I'll tell you her story some time). The fact that they cannot be predicted, and therefore cannot be tested in a lab, does not rule miracles out.

Firstly, I'll stand by my use of the term "likely" because it is an important question. I'll get to that later but for now answer me this: Just how often do you think miracles occur on Earth on a yearly basis? See, I wouldn't ask except I'm curious as to how you are defining improbable. If it occurs as many times a patient recovers from a terminal illness or survives a near-death experience, you are defining "horrendously improbable" as thousands of times per year.

Secondly, I'll stand by my phrase "took them with him" because we are not talking about any old miracles here, we are talking about being dead for three days then ascending to heaven. All due respect to your grandmother, but I doubt her miracle compares.

The fact that a group of monotheistic Jews not only continued to proclaim Jesus’ messianic status and tell of his miracles, but actually ascribed divinity to him within a few years of his death (depending on how you date Paul's letters) gives strong reason to accept that at least some of the stories they told about him were true. There is also the fact that the resurrection accounts hinge their testimony on a group of women, who would not have even qualified as legal witnesses in that patriarchal culture--not exactly the story they would make up unless women really did discover the empty tomb.

Due respect, but I could prove that Joseph Smith was a prophet if all it took were testimony. This is why the term "likely" is justified. If miracles are as improbable as advertised, then however likely it is that miracles occur, it is less likely that the testimony of a miracle was true. Furthermore, however likely it was that one person performed one miracle, it is less likely he performed two or that he was the son of God and performed three.