CPBD 002: Mike Licona – Debating the Resurrection

by Luke Muehlhauser on January 12, 2009 in Historical Jesus,Podcast

Better audio quality this time! In today’s episode, I interview Mike Licona, New Testament historian and Christian apologist. Among other things, we discuss:

  • the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection
  • “God of the gaps” vs. “naturalism of the gaps”
  • comparisons to modern miracles claims that we know not to trust

guest mike liconaThe interview inevitably turned into a friendly debate. I think our differences are summed up in two points. The first:

Luke: “So, the background knowledge that people don’t generally rise from the dead is not useful in us determining whether or not Jesus rose from the dead?”

Mike: “No, it’s not helpful at all.”

Mike seems to argue that whether I say there is a Buick in my garage or an invisible dragon in my garage, we should require the same level of evidence for each (i.e. very little). Obviously, I disagree, as I think most people will if they consult their own common sense.

The second major difference in our views is that Mike thinks the question for the historian to answer is: “What best explains all the data?” But if so, well, visitation by the angel Gabriel can explain all the data for Joseph Smith! But that doesn’t mean this is what actually happened in history. I think a better question is: “What probably happened in history?” Under this question, it becomes clear that visitation by magical angels is not the most probable event experienced by Joseph Smith.

But decide for yourself! If Mike writes any comments about this interview, I’ll link to them.

Download CPBD episode 002 with Mike Licona. Total time is 2:29:44.

Mike Licona links:

Other links related to the interview:

Near the end of the interview, I said that “the vast majority of New Testament scholars are and always have been Christian,” and Mike replied, “That’s false… the majority of scholars are not Christians.” Mike could be right. I was only speaking from my own experience of researching the historical Jesus – most books I find on the subject are written by Christians. But I could be wrong. I tried to find somebody who has counted up New Testament scholars and cataloged their beliefs, but I couldn’t find any such list. So, I don’t know who is correct on that point.

Let me know what you think about the interview, and submit your own questions for me to answer on the show!

Note: in addition to the regular blog feed, there is also a podcast-only feed. You can also subscribe on iTunes.

Update Jan. 25, 2009:

Mike read this post and responded:

1. I wouldn’t at all argue as you suggested that the evidence required for there being a Buick in your garage or an invisible dragon are the same. Neither would I argue that “very little” is required for either as you stated. In my opinion, extraordinary claims do not require “extraordinary evidence.” However, they may require “additional evidence” that undergird a particular worldview behind it. Thus, theist historians should be prepared to support theism.

2. The “second major difference” between our views that you [cite] is also not accurate in my opinion. Historians must always ask what best explains the known historical facts. The best explanation, however, consists of more than explanatory scope on which your example of the angel Gabriel focuses. It involves explanatory power, plausibility, and which hypothesis is less ad hoc. The best explanation excels in these 4 areas over competing hypotheses and is how one determines “what probably happened in history.” You have to have a method for determining what probably happened. So, our questions are not at all in conflict. There are good reasons why I reject the claim that Moroni (not Gabriel) appeared to Joseph Smith. Smith’s prophesies did not come true. There is no specific archaeological confirmation of the Book of Mormon, even in areas where artifacts should be turning up in abundance. Smith’s claim to have a divinely given gift for translating Egyptian has been largely disproved via modern translations of the Book of Abraham which show no resemblance whatsoever to Smith’s. And given the fact that 8 of the 11 witnesses to the golden tablets of the Book of Mormon left Mormonism (the 3 remaining being related to Smith), the few facts that may form the relevant historical bedrock related to the divine revelation of the Book of Mormon may be explained better by a naturalistic hypothesis such as deceit on the part of Smith. Accordingly, I don’t think the analogy of Mormonism you provided is a good one.

I have disagreements, but they are probably best saved for a large post on historical method. Actually, I would like to read Mike’s Ph.D. dissertation on that topic first, when it is published.

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

lewism January 13, 2009 at 3:31 am

I’m an Atheist and can confidently align my views with yours, but thanks for this interview. I have to say you represent your case well against a professional academic and also gave Mike plenty of time to put his case.
I’ve signed up to the podcast and hope to be listening to more soon.
One additional question I think in extension to the worthwhile exercise of looking for New Testament Scholars that are not Christian, I assume most are cultural christians. Are there any that profess a different faith and not from culturally christian countries?

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lukeprog January 13, 2009 at 5:49 pm

lewism,

Thanks for the kind words.

There are many NT scholars who are Jewish or agnostic/atheist. Most NT scholars I know are from the USA, Germany, Britain, and a few other European nations: all culturally “Christian” nations. I would love to find out the constituency of NT scholars. If anybody knows it’s probably Gary Habermas, but I haven’t read any of his books yet. He’s made a project of counting up scholarly opinions about the historical Jesus.

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tinyfrog March 25, 2009 at 5:41 pm

Interesting podcast. I usually agreed with LukeProg, and occasionally agreed with Mike. I somewhat agree with Mike in this argument:

Luke: “So, the background knowledge that people don’t generally rise from the dead is not useful in us determining whether or not Jesus rose from the dead?”
Mike: “No, it’s not helpful at all.”

I wouldn't agree with Mike that it's “not helpful at all”. It is helpful, but it's not helpful enough to make a decision about Jesus in this case.

One of my complaints about Mike's argument is that he had a tendency to exaggerate the strength of his position. It seemed each time he restated his case, he would use more and more definite language. I don't have any specific example right now, but it seemed like he would start out saying, “it seems more likely that…” and within twenty minutes, after Luke didn't buy into his argument, he'd be restating his position as “it's far more likely that…” It seemed to me that you had to watch his language closely or else he would continually inflate his position.

Another thing I noticed was that he said that friend and foe agreed that Jesus rose from the dead. I couldn't figure out what “foe” he was talking about here. The only accounts of Jesus resurrection are from Christians. Maybe he was saying Saul/Paul was a foe, but Paul wasn't a witness to the resurrection. He claims that he had an experience of God on the way to Damasus, but Paul's story is really no better than any contemporary story involving an experience of God. I personally believe that Paul wasn't entirely honest about his conversion. I think Paul found something attractive in Christianity and decided to convert. He also had plenty of reasons to lie about this conversion: first, if he believed in Christianity, then his conversion story would help his missionary work (he was lying for Jesus – essentially making up some evidence to “help” people believe what he “knew” was right). Second, I think he lied in order to get Christians to trust him. In any case, Paul does not count as a “foe” who witnessed the resurrected Jesus.

I'm also not sure that Jesus predicted his resurrection. He made a comment once that this temple will be torn down and rebuilt in three days. None of his disciples seemed to understand what that meant. Was that the sole “prediction” Jesus made about his resurrection? (And, further: can we trust that Jesus actually said that, as opposed to being a fiction or rumor added by New Testament authors?) Mike seems adamant that Jesus definitively predicted his own resurrection. Maybe that's another case of Mike exaggerating the facts.

The other problem I had with Mike's argument is that he said the resurrection of Jesus was the most plausible of any explanation. I disagree with that, but I had to wonder: was he saying “resurrection” was more plausible than any other *single* explanation, or that the probability of the resurrection was more probable than no resurrection? He seemed to be arguing the former. It seems to me that the later question is really the relevant one. (To use an example, if resurrection had a 5% chance of being true, and all other possible explanations have a 4% chance or less of being true, then “resurrection” is the single best explanation, but “the resurrection didn't happen” is still at 95%.) I think there are plenty of possible explanations for the resurrection, and lots that we haven't even thought of. For example, maybe the Romans moved the body because they were afraid it would become a rallying-point for Jews angry with Roman occupation. After they moved the body, rumors started cropping up that Jesus had resurrected. This explanation would weave together honest misunderstanding with rumor and exaggeration. It would also explain why the disciples believed Jesus rose from the dead without claiming that they were lying.

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Samuel Erikson May 13, 2009 at 6:46 am

So I get lumped in with Holocaust deniers because I question the existence of Jesus? (Starts at roughly 23.20)

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Lee A. P. May 26, 2009 at 9:10 am

I have been reading a lot of Christian apologetics and Christian religious philosphers lately and even though I disgree I have had a good time doing it and I’ve learned a lot.

I started out respecting Licona’s position and point of view but when the interview turned to the supernatural and Licona started talking about ghosts and demons and all that, he turned into a typical fundy superstitious supernaturalist right before my eyes.  Stuff like “ghosts exist but they are demons. All other religions like Islam are the work of the devil”. 

Those type of people all seem to believe in a very dualistic “Jesus vs. Satan” type of world with demons and angels all around us literally engaged in greco roman wrestling matches for our souls. 

I was friends with these two fellas growing up and their dad was a big time fundy. I Really nice guy. ”d have prayer devotionals with them and he taught me Baptist theology and the basics of the Bible.  The guy believed in a lot of stupid shit. He “prayed” the demonic spirits away from his Korean wifes oriental coffee table (it had dragons carved into it), he was a YEC,  he believed  in conspiracies like the “NWO” (New World Order), was certain we are in the “last days”,  believed in demon possesion, believed that UFO’s existed but that they are demonic,  and believed that there was possibly a big foot living in the woods behind our homes. 

He had all sorts of anecdotal stories — that his daughter went to a party and the ouiji boar stopped working when she walked into the room because she was Christian.  He directed his NEw Ager friend at his work to ask her “spirit guide” “in the name of Jesus” for it to reveal itself and that it was a demon. He had some new bullshit supernatural story every week.  

Its funny that demon posession and super natural chacanery always happen in far off places like Africa. Could it be that africans are superstitious as shit? They are as witch hunting happy as the people in Salem were.

I notice that about a lot of Fundamentalist Christans. They tend to believe in weird shit. Thats what I take from this interview. Sorry.  

I do not know if this is entirely fair at all but when Licona started spouting that goofy supernatural shit typical of paranoid fundies I basically lost all respect for his position on the historical Jesus.

But maybe thats just the demons in me.

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CharlesP June 10, 2009 at 6:58 am

Lee A. P. nails it:

I started out respecting Licona’s position and point of view but when the interview turned to the supernatural and Licona started talking about ghosts and demons and all that, he turned into a typical fundy superstitious supernaturalist right before my eyes.  Stuff like “ghosts exist but they are demons. All other religions like Islam are the work of the devil”.

I admire your restraint lukeprog because I only made it about an hour into this because the “agghh” response to so much of what Mike was saying was driving me nuts (and all the other drivers on the commute were looking at me funny as I was grumbling at my car).  

While I think it admirable that he admits he’s had doubts, his choice of language and arguments doesn’t seem to jive with an honest critical assessment of those doubts as much as it screams “confirmation bias”.

I do plan on finishing listening to it, after I cleanse my reason pallate with one of the Alonzo Fyfe interviews, as I want to hear what may be good arguments on the side of the resurrection.

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Lee A. P. June 12, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Thanks CharlesP. I’m not all that smart. I just do the best I can. I don’t have multiple degrees. But it seems like guys like Licona take their theological beliefs down a slippery slope towards supernatural absurdity and stupidty. Originally  you are attempting to follow their arguments and take them seriously and before you know it they are espousing a sharp diualistic laughable supernaturalisitic worldview of which there is virtuallty zero GOOD or SOLID evidence for.

Show mer a demon or someone possesed on video camera . Just one time. JUST ONCE! Oh they are too clever to be vaught on camera aye? Hoe convenient. Its always like this. Licona is a supernatiural KOOK.

I am so sick of fundys. Please forgive me. I;m just tired of their shit.

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MikeB July 6, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Wow, just listened to this podcast.  

“If we KNEW god existed and we KNEW he wanted to raise jesus, then the chance of him being resurrected approached 100%”.

I lost count how many times Mike repeated this.   It still doesn’t make a lick of sense.  OF COURSE!  If we KNEW it, we would KNOW it.  We wouldn’t be having this debate.

Even the most improbable naturalistic explanation of the resurrection is much more probable than a supernatural explanation.

Oh, and what is “historical bedrock”?  It gives the impression that the basis of his findings are somehow irrefutable.   I think most of his findings have already been refuted by the likes of Richard Carrier, who I think does a much better job of interpreting not only the written accounts, but the culture of the time and the possible motivations of the people of that time.  This was a time where almost everyone was a superstitous kook.  They believe a LOT of stuff back then that we don’t believe today.  Why should we believe this one story when there is just NO evidence.

He also quoted Jesus’ words proclaiming that he was god’s agent,  performed deeds and predicted his own death.  Show me the book of the bible directly attributed to jesus’ own written word?  The entire biblical story is a second hand report at best (I won’t get into the historicity of the gospel itself).   To claim that a supernatural cause is the most probable answer destroys all credibility with me.

I think Luke did a great job of hanging with a very well studied “historian”. 
 
A good but VERY frustrating podcast to listen to.

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lukeprog July 6, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Thanks, MikeB. As usual, I wish I could go back and re-do it, as I know much more now than I did then.

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MuslimgirlfromNZ December 1, 2009 at 11:06 pm

I’m still 19 and getting over my severe gullibility, but it was still a serious shock when I found out how faulty the info Mike Licona uses is. Like the “die for a lie” argument. It was seriously shocking to find out how very little evidence there is for that – and how Josephus doesn’t actually lend much evidence at all to that case.
(All thanks to ProfMTH on YouTube!)

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Naane February 1, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Theist: “So, the background knowledge that things don’t rise from nothing is not useful in determining whether or not the universe and its laws require cause?”
Atheist: “No, it’s not helpful at all.”

hmmm! interesting!

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lukeprog February 1, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Naane,

I’m not sure I’ve seen any atheists say that. They just don’t think positing “God” as a cause is useful, because that explanation isn’t testable, doesn’t predict anything, etc., etc.

Besides which, that leaves God without a cause, which is just as problematic given how you’ve framed the problem.

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Naane February 2, 2010 at 4:22 pm

I agree! but my point is not about whether positing God as cause is valid or not! I was trying to point out the fallacy in your argument! Since atheism need to assume either
1) Universe popped into existence out of nothing OR
2) eternal universe (It existed forever). Universe – i mean matter or energy!

With the current scientific background knowledge both of these positions are similar to the claims of resurrection! Without any precedence!

That is, if the background knowledge 1) Things (matter/energy, etc) (as we experience scientifically) do not pop into existence from nothing, and 2) infinte regress is impossible, could be ignored in determining the cause for the existence of universe and its laws, then how is it different from the question you posted against resurrection!

In other words, atheism does not exhibit any intellectual superiority while dismissing resurrection claims by pointing out “background” knowledge!

You need to cencede to one of the following: 1) universe from nothing, 2) eternal universe OR 3) enternal mind!

Your choice cannot be based on the “background” knowledge, but based on prior commitment to your metaphysical view!

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Rob March 1, 2010 at 10:50 am

Luke,

Licona did a HUGE bait and switch during this interview. He claimed that his belief in the resurrection was based on the evidence only, and had nothing to do with his background belief that God exists. He said “that is a different issue”, and even said maybe Jesus was raised by an alien’s PhD project. Great. Good for Mike Licona. He’s thinking clearly here.

But then when you suggested that the likelihood of a person rising from the dead is low, he quickly retreated to his background belief that God exists. He also then said that the likelihood of Jesus rising from the dead naturally is zero, which contradicted his alien hypothesis from 5 minutes before.

To summarize, he early on claimed that God belief was irrelevant to making a judgement on the resurrection based on historical evidence, but then later smuggled in his God belief in order to make the resurrection plausible. That’s a bait and switch.

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lukeprog March 1, 2010 at 11:26 am

Good point, Rob.

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johemeth March 6, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Luke,

I came across this page while searching (unsuccessfully) for the audio/video from the recent Licona/Carrier debate in Washburn and I ended up listening to your entire conversation. I think this interview actually provided better insight into the typical Christian apologetic stance than most of the debates I’ve heard so far.

I am curious how accurate Licona’s “most NT scholars are non-Christian” position really is, especially given how so many apologists appeal to consensus of scholars. I know Bart Ehrman has claimed the very opposite to be true.

Anyway, thanks for the interview and keep up the good work!

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lukeprog March 6, 2010 at 11:34 pm

johemeth,

Habermas’ 2005 paper on the subject of NT scholarship asserts precisely the opposite of what Licona claims. It’s odd Licona disagrees, seeing as he and Habermas work so closely with each other.

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BruceB March 7, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Hi All,

Ok, I’ll take the Licona challenge, basically, suggest a hypothesis that is more likely and easier to fit in with the current suggested evidence than a physical resurrection.

Note 1: I have neither the years nor the desire to dig as deeply as Mike did into the evidence, so for the purpose of the challenge, I’ll take the presented evidence at face value.

Note 2: I’m not suggesting that the following hypothesis is true, or that there are not others that may fit better, my hope is to present a scenario that fits with what I know of the Universe and with what was presented in the podcast.

Note 3: I’m not a Biblical scholar, but I did go to Sunday School, so I’ll work what I can into the story.

So let’s review:

Licona Fact Number One: Jesus died by crucifixion

Licona Fact Number Two: Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them

Licona Fact Number Three: The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed

Licona Fact Number Four: The skeptic James, brother of Jesus was suddenly changed

Licona Fact Number Five: The tomb was empty

Again, I think there are any number of Hollywood plot lines that could work, but let’s go with the ‘Bodyguard double dies in your place’ theory. Faking a death is common enough that its the first thing people suspect whenever a big celebrity dies like Elvis/Michael Jackson.

1) Identity Issues: I’m guessing that without State issued driver’s licenses and electronic fingerprinting, verifying someone’s identity was a problem. “False Prophets” also seemed to be pretty common in those times. Basically, because people didn’t know who you were, you could go into a town, claim to be a representative of the Prophet and scam the local village.

2) Going with the cover-up theory, the Last Supper becomes the place where Jesus explains the plan to fake his death. As part of the plan, he also decides who will play the role of the ‘betrayer’. Wanting the part, Peter asks, “Lord, who will betray you?” Instead, knowing that Peter needs to be the next guy in charge, Jesus goes with the zealot Judas.

3) After the Last Supper, they all go down to the Garden of Gethsemane, where they wait for Judas to show up. The ‘real’ Jesus slips out the backdoor, and the ‘Bodyguard’ takes the leading role. The Bodyguard prays. Peter, James and John fall asleep in the middle of his prayer. It’s not like it’s Jesus praying.

4) Judas shows up with the cops, points to the Bodyguard, ‘he’s the one’. The Bodyguard says, ‘yes, I am Jesus, I’m the one you’re looking for’. Because the cops have no idea who everyone is.

5) The part of Jesus, now played by the Bodyguard, stops talking in parables, and for the next day or so keeps repeating, “I’m the King of the Jews, kill me if you must”

6) The Bodyguard is condemned to death. Everyone that doesn’t know the real Jesus doesn’t know its the Bodyguard.

7) Judas feels guilty, and goes and kills himself, “I’ve betrayed innocent blood” which was true because Judas defrauded the leaders of the tribe of Judah out of 30 silver for the Bodyguard, and got them to witness the false identity of the Bodyguard. A fact that if made known, would shame his kinsfolk/Jewish faith. Thus making him a true betrayer, of Israel.

8) The Bodyguard gets marched up the hill, and put on a cross.

9) Mary, Jesus’ Mother shows up, and doesn’t recognize him, at which point the Bodyguard says, ‘Woman, behold thy son”. Perhaps because she was crying for the wrong guy.

10) Bodyguard gets killed, wrapped up, and put in the tomb.

11) Before the bandages are changed, Jesus removes the body. Because if anyone showed up and unwrapped the bodyguard, they’d know the wrong guy was in the tomb.

12) Jesus studies the scars, and follows the pattern. Ok, let’s see that was holes in hands, holes in the feet and scar in the side. Done, done, done.

13) Jesus shows up to Mary and Mary. And asks, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Also, ‘don’t touch me’, short for I just cut my hands and feet, and I’m sore.

14) Mary tells the 11 that the living, talking Jesus is at the tomb, Peter doesn’t believe it, because Jesus is suppose to be in hiding. The 11 show up, and ‘doubt’ what they see. Not that they doubt that he is alive and speaking to them, but that he ever died in the first place.

15) Jesus meets with Peter and John, walks them through the next steps.

16) The tomb watchmen report back to the Sanhedrin about the missing body. The Sanhedrin starts telling everyone that the body was stolen, because it was. The public agrees with the Sanhedrin’s report.

17) A few weeks later, Jesus makes a number of appearances. Shows everyone his scars. ‘See, I was crucified’. The little boy now famous for pointing out that the Emperor had no clothes on that day asks, ‘if you’ve been perfected, why do you still have the scars?’

18) Jesus appears to James, and walks him through the whole story.

19) James, the brother of Jesus, and son of Mary, realizes that his Mother must have known it wasn’t Jesus on the cross. Meaning that she will be put to death if the Romans ever find out she was in on it. He then changes his tune from, ‘I don’t believe’ to ‘yep, Jesus rose from the dead’, ie my Mother wasn’t part of some plot to make a fool of the Roman Government.

20) Sosthenes introduces Jesus to Paul. Paul thinks he’s seeing a ghost. Jesus and Sosthenes walk Paul through the plan to defeat the Roman Myths with Messianic myths, and they get Paul to switch sides.

21) Paul and Sosthenes work together like Pope and King to unite Jew and Gentile against the Roman Gods.

22) The plan works, and snowballs into what we have today. the crowd rejoices

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Now, just to go through the Licona facts with this (soon to be relesed Langdon novel) in mind.

Licona Fact Number One: Jesus died by crucifixion
>>Well, kinda, it was actually the Bodyguard double. For the purpose of this scenario, I think I’d say ‘The Roman’s believed they killed Jesus by crucifixion, and no one ever corrected them’. Mainly because if the Romans ever found out they killed the wrong guy, they would have killed more than just Jesus the next time around.

Licona Fact Number Two: Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them
>>The disciples believed it was Jesus who appeared to them after the death of the Bodyguard, because it was Jesus. They were also ok with going along with the myth that Jesus was now resurected, as a political story to defeat the Roman Gods, which eventually worked. Besides mythical rebirth, how else do you explain how someone who died, is now talking, breaking bread and (outside the scars) looks healthy.

Licona Fact Number Three: The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed
>>Yes, because Jesus and Sosthenes walked him through the politics of it all. Like many others that Jesus converted, he converted Paul, and made him ‘an Apostle’.

Licona Fact Number Four: The skeptic James, brother of Jesus was
suddenly changed
>> Yes, not because he became a believer, but to protect his Mother from the Romans.

Licona Fact Number Five: The tomb was empty
>> Yep, because the body was stolen just like the Sanhedrin said it was.

I’ll throw in two more just for fun.

Licona Fact Number Six: Jesus predicted his own death and postmortem reappearance.
Again, not hard to do in a World and Time were identity is transferable and you can find someone to play the leading role in Act 1.

Licona Fact Number Seven: Many other people died claiming that Jesus was back from the dead.
Yes, as a way to plead their innocence as they were being killed. Had they said, ‘ok fine, Jesus never died’ this is the same as pleading guilty and doesn’t help them, and actually puts more people at risk.

Ok, enough for today.

-BruceB

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Dan September 15, 2010 at 7:07 am

It makes your argument seem much more legitimate if you label all those who disagree with you as “fringe”.

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Dan September 15, 2010 at 11:09 am

Does this guy get a dollar every time he says “relevant historical bedrock”???

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Garren October 6, 2010 at 8:10 am

RE: MikeB

“If we KNEW god existed and we KNEW he wanted to raise jesus, then the chance of him being resurrected approached 100%”.

I lost count how many times Mike repeated this. It still doesn’t make a lick of sense. OF COURSE! If we KNEW it, we would KNOW it. We wouldn’t be having this debate.

He was trying to point out that it begs the question against Christianity to say there was a low probability of Jesus rising from the dead.

Of course this is not a reference to epistemic probability, but another type of probability…whatever actual chance something had to occur, regardless of our knowledge (which also explains why Licona said Bayesian considerations are irrelevant).

I chalk this up to the problem of ambiguous terms for different types of probability.

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Patrick October 28, 2010 at 7:48 am

I think Mike started on a great point, namely that historical scholarship isn’t too valued in religious studies. I was hopeful, but he forgot something else: psychology, in particular how we can fool ourselves or be fooled, and how memories change over time.

With the bible being written way after Jesus’ supposed resurrection, there are many possibilities for the claims of his followers to become exaggerated or changed. There was a great survey about what people were doing on 9/11, and you can see that phenomenon there, where common cultural memories have superceded these people’s own memories. And they would “know” whether it was true or not, right? The same goes for people who claim to have seen Elvis – is he, therefore, risen from the dead?

In fact, it is *very* possible for people to deceive themselves, and yes, even in groups – and that doesn’t even approach the problem of how even real experiences may change over time, and may even be changed on purpose in a document. See how many religious people quote the founding fathers to say they founded a Christian nation, or supposed Christian thoughts from Einstein.

If you factor in these sources of inaccuracies, then the case is much more wobbly, I believe. But of course, since Mike takes the experience of a white man’s ghost in China on face value, that might be lost on him.

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Mr. Pink November 21, 2010 at 8:35 am

snippet from Eyewitness Evidence A Guide for Law Enforcement-Research Report

3. When multiple witnesses are involved:
a. Separate witnesses and instruct them to avoid discussing
details of the incident with other witnesses.

Reason: Dominant personalities can contaminate other witnesses’ accounts.

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Paul Kelly January 26, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Though a Christian, I found your common sense approach to logic to be a breathe of fresh air, Luke. This interview just reassured me how valuable bayes theorem is to the problem of miracles. I personally found Mr. Licona’s arguments to be seriously lacking and he never really, seriously, grapples with your humean type arguments. I personally find an approach similar to Lydia Mcgrew’s to be the most powerful. In the context of a worldview where a God exists who is intimitely involved in the creation of human beings, relates morally to them, and where the after life exists, we can say the resurrection is the most probable.

I think Lydia is right, you really have to go into the trenches and see how well alternative explanations fair in terms of bayesian analysis. I think the evidence is very powerful for the resurrection. I think if you think of the resurrection as a sort of categorically uinique event, then the prior probability of people generally staying dead is not relevant to the superantural action of God. In this light, it seems your objections are based on an overzealous application of frequency in your assesment of the prior probability of the resurrection.

The probability of any miracle like the resurrection is only as low as the probability that

(A) A God exists

(B) God would wish to act in history in a way that would decisively reveal how he is going to interact morally with the world.

In the context of arguments like the moral argument, EAAN, evidential NDE’s, etc, I don’t see any reason why we must assign such amazingly low values for propositions (A) and (B). If the bayes factor analysis of the facts pertinent to Jesus resurrection are correct, then I think we ought to switch the burden of proof and force you to offer a better argument against the identification of miracles in light the strong confirmatory evidence for the resurrection.

You see, one of the major differences between the resurrection of Jesus and miracles from other religions (perhaps not other monotheisms which require other lines of argument) is that we have independent evidence for the being which is supposed to cause the miracle. If the arguments for monotheism succeed (and maybe some arguments for multiple personalities in the single Godhead like swinburne argues), then we rule out other religions because our evidence for our type of causal agent counts against their miracle claims.

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Mark May 17, 2011 at 11:30 am

Was it on this podcast that described the Jewish burial laws that accounted for the missing body in the tomb? If a Christian wants you to hypothetically agree that Jesus died and was executed they wonder how you explain the missing body. Is there any scholarly work going on in that area of study? If so I would like some information.

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james wiliams June 16, 2011 at 8:01 pm

-Is There a Higher Theology For Man, Than Knowing God personally -person to PERSON-?

True Theologians
“He is not here; for he is risen” (Matthew 28, 6)
From the island of Cyprus (Acts 13:4,5).

Beloved Christian brothers and sisters,
There are those today who live in not so distant places that have a real life person to Person relationship with Lord Jesus!
These humble words that are shared with brotherly love and respect, point out to the kind of relationship man was made to have with our Lord Jesus Christ. The following paragraphs, where taken from the book of Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos Entreaty” (Paraklitika), and it is knowledge that must be shared with all those who have Lord Jesus Christ as their Heavenly Father.

“Those who have made their selves worthy to see God are the True Theologians. Saint Gregorios the Theologian taught that those who saw God like Apostle Paul can safely theologize, because the sight of God cleans them from all fantasy, and renders them true preachers of the truth making them explicitly different from philosophers and philosophies”.

Metropolitan Hierotheos who is member of the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church continues in his book:

“It is with a lot of awe and fear of God that we dare write here that even today there are Saints (that are alive today) who saw and see Christ in the Light, they converse with him, and stay in His Sight for days and even weeks. We have been blessed by God to personally meet such people who saw Christ in His Divine Light, who attest to the fact that Lord Jesus is a True God, the only Savior of man, our only hope for Eternal Life, our only way out of the dead end that we have reached”. (John 17:3) “And eternal life means knowing you (personally), the only true God, and knowing Jesus Christ, whom you send”

Saint Gregorios (3rd century) description of his personal experience who saw Christ in His Divine Light is used as an example to describe how the Saints are able (became worthy), to see and know God in His Divine Glory.

“UNDER CONDITIONS OF CONTINUED PRAYER AND UPWARD EXTENSION THAT HAVE AS CLIMAX THE UNION WITH GOD, MAN IS POSSESSED ENTIRELY FROM LIGHT OF DIVINE GLORY THAT IS SEND FOURTH ETERNALLY FROM THE TRIAD. AFTER THE MIND IS SEIZED FROM THE DIVINE LIGHT AND ENTERS THE LIGHT IT BECOMES ITS SELF-LIGHT. THUS LIKE LIGHT, IT SEES LIGHT”

A notion, which Saint Symeon goes to great lengths to clarify in his writings, is that of the Divine Light as personal. It is not simply a sensible radiance—an inanimate luminosity such as one might receive from a lamp, or from the sun. Rather the Divine Light is the very ‘Person’ of the Divinity Himself: it is not simply a product of God, it is God. “Your light, O my God, is You”, he writes, and to this point of emphasis he often returns. Saint Symeon is also known to emphasise in his teachings… “If we don’t see Lord Jesus in this life…we will never see Him ever”! There is no other theology higher than being in the presence (union) with God. There is an actual physical ontological transformation that takes place that can be verified after death and after exhuming the body that testifies to an awesome EXPERIENCE in the presence of God.
The object and the purpose of our Christian Life is enabling our selves in His Divine presence by becoming in His Likeness (“Be Holy because I am Holy” (Peter 1, 16) through a THERAPY that was delivered to the Apostles the day of Pentecost ONCE AND FOR ALL 2000 years ago!

Orthodoxy teaches that it has an unbroken Holy Tradition of spiritual knowledge a way of life (in and out the Church) that leads to the mystical union with God. This mystical union is also known as Sainthood, Supernatural condition, the overcoming of mans mortality state, or being a god by the Grace of God. They also teach that it is not possible for this union to become an object of any kind of an academic study that can “discover” or “deepen” in the knowledge, because Christianity is all about Divine Grace.

The people of the Nations belonging to Orthodox Christianity will never claim that they have discovered the road (THERAPY) for Salvation. However they will tell you that their prime directive and responsibility has always been to keep everything that was passed down from Jesus (the Holy Spirit) and the Apostles u n c h a n g e d for these methods and teachings that were put forward for the Salvation of all man constitute or sum up the Divine Will of God.

To know Lord Jesus philosophically is to have a love relationship with an idea “philosophy” and not Lord Himself who appears to his Saints in His Divine Light as a PERSON! This why the Greek Orthodox Church teaches that, -Man has a Divine Inheritance (the Church) and a Divine Destination (Eternal Life, Holiness)

Interesting relating Internet addresses:
ORTHODOX-PSYCHOTHERAPY

http://www.greekorthodoxchurch.org/orthodox_psychotherapy.html
Lord Jesus did not come to teach philosophically but THERAPEUTICALLY.
The personal experience of the Saints begotten during conduct with Divine Light is the very base of Orthodox theology.
The term “Orthodox Psychotherapy” does not refer to specific cases of people suffering from psychological problems of neurosis. Rather it refers to all people, for it is the darkening of the “nous” (mind) a condition disabling man to ever have communion (PERSON to person) with God.

HOLY LIGHT
http://www.oodegr.com/english/ekklisia/holylight.htm
(Miracle of Holy Light in Jerusalem: Testimonies and Evidence)

An awesome miracle on video that takes place Orthodox Saturday Easter (ONLY) during Divine Liturgy each year for about 1670 years at the spot our Lord Jesus was born, in the Temple of Nativity in Jerusalem

Those who see this video, can reflect back to the Old Testament and clearly understand how the fire did not burn, (look at pictures at the very bottom) and how the fire was in essence Gods Holy Light, Gods Holy Fire.
I belong to no organization and no one pays me.
God bless,
your friend and servant

Constantinos (J.W) 357(Cyprus) 99873390 (mobile)

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Rich July 3, 2011 at 10:20 am

I agree! but my point is not about whether positing God as cause is valid or not! I was trying to point out the fallacy in your argument! Since atheism need to assume either
1) Universe popped into existence out of nothing OR
2) eternal universe (It existed forever). Universe – i mean matter or energy!
With the current scientific background knowledge both of these positions are similar to the claims of resurrection! Without any precedence!

“Atheism” needs not to assume either of these. The fact of the matter is We don’t know- and the point is THIS DOES NOT AT ALL HELP THE THEIST’S **POSITIVE**CLAIM THAT A GOD EXISTS! The “begining” of the universe goes well beyond anything we can apply our common sense and “background knowledge” to as we are not around when/if the universe isn’t.
There IS precedence as it pertains to resurrection as it has been presented, which is inside the confines of our little universe which is something we can reasonably apply common sense and background knowledge to because we have collective experiences and can test them.
It is an appeal to Solipsism and a non-sequitur to say these are similar positions.

That is, if the background knowledge 1) Things (matter/energy, etc) (as we experience scientifically) do not pop into existence from nothing, and 2) infinte regress is impossible, could be ignored in determining the cause for the existence of universe and its laws, then how is it different from the question you posted against resurrection!

Your “background knowledge” is flawed here, ever heard of quantum mechanics? We “know” certain things (i.e. human beings) don’t just pop into being from nothing but we don’t “know” that there are no things (i.e. virtual particles) that can pop into being out of nothing. The point is no scientist claims to know for certain one way or the other as to the origins of the universe if there are any, but they do attempt to bulid a case based on background knowledge and testing of a hypothesis. They don’t regard something to be true unless and until it can first be shown to be possible and subsequently shown to be true or at least be useful for making predictions. Both of these are necessary to substantiate a POSITIVE claim. Neither one of your points are being ignored, but they are not accepted as 100% true nor are they accepted as the only possibilities.
It has never been shown to be true that a ressurection is actually possible, it has only been theorized. This doesn’t mean it didn’t happen but it is necessary to prove it is possible and the only way to do that is to actually make it happen. The difference between your question and Luke’s is nobody is ignoring your “background knowledge” to come to a conclusion about the origins of the universe, the only people who have come to a conclusion about the ‘origins’ of the universe are theologians. The rest of us are busy trying to figure it out. And Luke isn’t making the positive claim that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, only that it has serious obstacles that have not been overcome and until they are it is reasonable to assume that he did notcome back from the dead just as every other person who we have experienced as having died has not come back from the dead. For death we have a wealth of experience, for the “creation” of a universe we really have very little experience and all of that is within the confines of the particular universe we happen to be in, whether others exist or not.

In other words, atheism does not exhibit any intellectual superiority while dismissing resurrection claims by pointing out “background” knowledge!

You need to cencede to one of the following: 1) universe from nothing, 2) eternal universe OR 3) enternal mind!

Your choice cannot be based on the “background” knowledge, but based on prior commitment to your metaphysical view!

There is still the option: I don’t yet know. I am sorry religious people hate that answer because they can’t argue against it. Also how do you know there is no other option beyond our ability to comprehend? Until we can say 1,2,3 etc. we can’t say we know all the possibilities. Did it ever seem likely that a anything could be in 2 places at the same time, i.e. the double slit interference pattern created when you shoot a single photon through a sheet with 2 slits? It goes through both slits at the same time, and to me that seems illogical but the results are real. Here’s a video illustrating this.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSnVnyQA8UU&feature=related

Your entire argument is an unreasonable appeal to solipsism and a non-sequitur. It is reasonable to make a judgement based on background knowledge that apply to our limited scope of reality which encompasses ressurection. This doesn’t mean the ressurection didn’t happen because our background knowledge precludes it but it does make it reasonable to not believe it happened, at least until our background knowledge has been changed or overcome. The origin of the universe is well beyond our limited scope of reality, just look at how confusing quantum mechanics (which governs the “creation” of the universe) is and you will know what I am talking about.

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Rich July 3, 2011 at 10:59 am

I love how everyone says you only need to posit that god exists to make the resurrection possible. This just assumes god is capable of performing a resurrection, how the hell do we know this? you can’t just posit god’s existence you have to prove he is also capable of bringing someone back from the dead as he is said to have done. Remember even the great wlcraig says there are some things even god can’t do. Its not a stretch to say if he took almost 14 billion years to make the universe habitable for humans there likely are real limits to his power. Of course we will never know the true limits of such a being if in fact it exists but it is just as silly to argue that if god exists then the resurrection is possible as it is to argue that if a resurrection is possible then the resurrection is possible. Stop arguing from possibilities and PROVE resurrection is indeed possible and true. You don’t get a pass by positing god, you still have to prove the possibility of resurrection, it is not given that god would have this power. He may just be able to use the forces of nature in ways far beyond our ability, like we are compared to an ant, but not be able to do the “supernatural”. Like we are able to build a car but we can’t make one that is completely rusted and corroded beyond repair come back to new- though we can make a new car with other parts that is different. Maybe this is a limit to god’s power if he exists. Maybe he is only able to make new humans through the process he set up but can’t reform those that have died, or atleast have been dead for a while- brain cells go quickly you know.

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james wiliams July 3, 2011 at 11:39 am

THE TWO WAYS OF ACQUIRING KNOWLEDGE

Dear friends,
This essay is an acknowledgment of the theology of the Greek Orthodox Church that I hope will give you the “know how” needed that can determine for you the -Life saving knowledge-, from knowledge that it is Not.

The man centered way (Philosophy)
Philosophy is known to be a man centred way in acquiring knowledge because man himself has the first word through his own mind, his own logic. Mans logic and thinking process have the first word in formulating ideas in order to express ideas opinions or visions, or in order to further benefit man kind in medicine and science. However this type way of acquiring knowledge” philosophy”, can be very damaging when used for spiritual matters because it becomes very illusive when used in trying to give meaning especially to verses of the Holy Bible that are Divine begotten. This is because philosophy is a thinking process that is usually used along with imagination (fantasia). It is the “fantasia” in philosophy which in essence is damaging, because it has the “ability” to confirm at will “self begotten knowledge” as True. The existence of hundreds of denominations of Christians Churches in the world today, proves the presence of “fantasia” in a Christian Church that was ordained by Lord Jesus His Self to exist as a SINGLE (ONE) Church alone. (Ephesians 4, 5) One Church, One Faith and One Baptism.

The Christ centered way (Revelation).
The experience during contact with Divine Light (God) makes up the very base of Orthodox theology.

The precondition of acquiring knowledge the Christ centered way, is that religious Life is practiced according to the Will of the Triad God. The TRUTH is revealed ONLY to those who have properly prepared to receive it, and it is RECEIVED- PERSON to person-, meaning that the TRIAD God delivers the knowledge personally to man just like he delivered to Moses the Ten Commandments.
This is where the Church comes in. You see it is impossible for man to know God with his own mind (philosophy) or with His own logic no matter how smart or brilliant. The golden rule that has applied from the beginning of Creation is that: GOD HAS TO WANT TO REVEAL HIMSELF TO MAN! This was the purpose of the coming of Lord Jesus and the creation of His Church in order to “set up” the right circumstances for man to be able to personally know God. (John 17:13) “And Eternal life means knowing you, the only true God, and knowing Jesus whom you sent” When it says here in this verse –knowing you- it does not mean in a philosophical way but in a PERSONAL one. This very important detail can only be known by those who had had this experience personally! After Pentecost (and the dissenting of the Holy Spirit), the Apostles created the Church around the world using specific rules (given from above) that are known today as the 85 Holy Apostolic Cannons http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/cannons_apostles_rudder.htm
When Paul was writing his epistles to Christians around the world he was writing to people ALREADY BELONGING TO A SPECIFIC CHURCH THAT HAD A SPECIFIC WAY OF DOING THINGS! The word CHURCH is mentioned in the Bible 104 times!

Mark the Evangelist (who had Cypriot parents), who came to Cyprus with Paul (Acts 13:4, 5) became the first Bishop of Alexandria. James the brother of Jesus (the son of Joseph) was at the time the first Bishop of Jerusalem. Lazarus the resurrected friend of Lord Jesus was a Cyprus Bishop in Larnaka for 32 years! His burial place is here in Cyprus. In concluding, the only proud claim that you will get from the Christians belonging to the nations that belong to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchy today is that “they have kept everything delivered by the Apostles for the Salvation of man UNCHANGED.

You see the sole purpose of the Church was to serve as a Hospital or a Therapeutic Institution to clean man from sin in order for him to personally be able to know God! These “circumstances” for knowing God are defined very clearly in (Peter 1, 16). “Be Holy because I am Holy” What escapes the knowledge of most people today, is the fact that the God-man Lord Jesus incarnated into a man in order for mankind, to know…their True POTENTIAL (New Creation) of a new way of being! In other words God became man so man could become god! Lord Jesus is God by NATURE, and man is given now the opportunity (through the Holy Sacraments (therapy) of the Church) to become a god but by the GRACE of GOD, to be (Holy like He is). The Saints SEE the Glory of God and participate in IT according to the proportion of the each person’s purity. This is what is known as Sainthood. In continuing I would like to inform you that Sainthood (holiness) is NOT a moral or an ethical term in the Orthodox Church but a condition that is viewed as an ontological transformation that is verifiable! Five years after the death of the monks in the Orthodox Monasteries, they remove their remains in order to verify a gold colour, or verify the presence of beautiful aroma emanating from them. This has always been the “hands on proof” for the first Christian Church that “during their life time they managed to become worthy to become TEMPLES of the Holy Spirit”. The fact that the Church today is in possession of Holy Remains of even the Apostles, proves the age of this Church Tradition. Here in Cyprus we have the Kara (scull) of Apostle Philip and Remains of others you know and love thought the Holy Bible. The FACT is… that these Saints are YOUR SAINTS TOO! Remember the Apostles where the men that took out demons, and resurrected the dead. This state of Sainthood is also known by the Holy Fathers as the “supernatural condition” or as the “overcoming of mortality” of the first way God created man (Adam)

Persons studying the Holy Bible in the absence of the Church as delivered by the Apostles are unfortunately “condemned” to know Lord Jesus only philosophically and NOT Personally. To know Lord Jesus philosophically is to have a love relationship with an idea “philosophy” and not Lord Himself who appears to his Saints in His Divine Light as a PERSON!

Saint Symeon in his writings goes to great lengths to clarify that the Divine Light is Personal. It is not simply a sensible radiance—an inanimate luminosity such as one might receive from a lamp, or from the sun. Rather the Divine Light is the very ‘person’ of the Divinity Himself: it is not simply a product of God, it is God. ‘Your light, O my God, is You,’ he writes, and to this point of emphasis he often returns.

Orthodoxy teaches that it has an unbroken Holy Tradition of spiritual knowledge a way of life (in and out the Church) that leads to the mystical union with God. This mystical union is also known as Sainthood, Supernatural condition, the overcoming of mans mortality state, or being a god by the Grace of God. They also teach that it is not possible for this union to become an object of any kind of an academic study that can “discover” or “deepen” in the knowledge, because Christianity is all about Divine Grace. The Holy Fathers are very direct when saying “If we do not get to see Lord Jesus from this here life, we will never will”!

The people of the Nations belonging to Orthodox Christianity will never claim that they have discovered the road (THERAPY) for Salvation. However they will tell you that their prime directive and responsibility has always been to keep everything that was passed down from Jesus (the Holy Spirit) and the Apostles u n c h a n g e d for these methods and teachings that were put forward for the Salvation of all man constitute or sum up the Divine Will of God.

To know Lord Jesus philosophically is to have a love relationship with an idea “philosophy” and not Lord Himself who appears to his Saints in His Divine Light as a PERSON!

Take care God bless
Constantinos

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james wiliams July 3, 2011 at 11:16 pm

1) Universe popped into existence out of nothing OR
2) eternal universe (It existed forever). Universe – i mean matter or energy!
With the current scientific background knowledge both of these positions are similar to the claims of resurrection! Without any precedence!

Allow me to point out sir that both of these scientific positions 1 and 2 are not similar resurrection knowledge meaning that resurrection and generally the life of Jesus was recorded by over 1500 well known scholars of the times.
It is my personal belief that being an atheist comes as a result of a natural reaction of intelligent people that could never in their lives get the “hands on” spiritual truths needed from Christian representatives, who could never deliver the things they preached or promised!
To study the crest of the earth, fossils, space and generally creation, is to know the Winston and Creativity of God but NOT God Himself! If a scientist was given a ball for instance, they are limited to studying and learning about the type material and maybe the laws governing the way the ball bounces…however it would be impossible for them to learn (know) anything about the person who designed or constructed it. Correct?

This is why, all issues concerning the knowledge of God are not philosophical psychological or scientific, they are SPIRITUAL.
To begin with God is known to be a PERSON because He is known (like in the case of Moses) to speak to people PERSON to person. In continuing to know God Personally is not an issue that can possibly be taken on a personal demand. In other words man cannot possibly –demand- that they must see God. God, has to want to REVEAL His self to man!

This is where the Church (religion-faith) comes in. You see my friends, it is impossible for man to know God with His logic! The coming of Lord Jesus and the creation of the Church was to “set up” the right circumstances for man to be able to know God personally! After Pentecost (and the dissenting of the Holy Spirit), the Apostles created Churches around the world using specific rules (given from above) that are known as the 85 Holy Apostolic Cannons that were to cure man http://aggreen.net/canons/canons.html. The books of the Holy Bible for instance, were described and numbered in the 85th rule (cannon), and they were the books that the Christians were to read only as PART of their therapy. You see the sole purpose of the Church has been to serve as Hospital or a therapeutic institution to clean man from sin in order for him to personally accept God (the Holy Spirit) with in (Sainthood)! So man has to really want to know God and he will do this with his life time actions… not his mind. The monks on Holy Mount Athos they live what is knows as -Divine Life- it is the obeying of Bible Commandments and the participation in the redeeming Holy Sacraments of the Church that will clean their hearts were they hope and pray to get Revelation from God
CBS TV -60 Minutes- went to Mount Athos Thessalonica. See what they have discovered
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1BURFvRFOE&NR=1

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andyman409 September 18, 2011 at 1:11 am

johemeth,Habermas’ 2005 paper on the subject of NT scholarship asserts precisely the opposite of what Licona claims. It’s odd Licona disagrees, seeing as he and Habermas work so closely with each other.

I’m sorry, I just don’t see where he explicitly claims that most scholars believe in the resurrection. If anything, many of the quotes he uses refer to “the believers and unbelievers” as if there is an adequate enough number of “unbeleivers” to find worth mentioning. Although I personally affirm to each of Habermas’ five views, that doesn’t mean I’m defacto a christian.

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andyman409 September 18, 2011 at 1:33 am

Did anyone notice how Licona first claimed that there was no evidence for shared hallucinations,and then denied the group sightings of the virgin mary? I don’t get it- over 10,000 people saw the virgin mary at once, and yet only 500 saw jesus? And it’s not like Jesus said anything during his vision- if he had, I’m certain they’d have the means to preserve the tradition. As a matter of fact, the tradition disappears by the time the Gospels were produced, wasn’t it? We already know that many people claim to see the virgin Mary every year- so I as a non catholic, like Licona, have to reject it due to my worldview. The only difference, I suppose, is that I’d posit a natural explaination, the “group hallucination theory” that, although very speculative, at least explains ALL the relevant data, including visionary experiences from EVERY other religion. Licona’s “demon” hypothosis’ is unfalsifyable, and seems to ignore the difficulties of Jesus’ visit to the 500, which is not even as well evidenced as the group sightings of the virgin Mary he want to reject with it! But I question the integrity of these conservative scholars. I mean, they are far too ready to dismiss things they don’t like for reasons more speculative than the hallucination thesis I bring up. I am fully aware that most psychologists dont believe in these things at the current moment- we hardly even understand consiousness from a neurobiological POV! All I know is that this kind of scenario has happened before. period. Whatever we make of it, protestant or atheist, is equally faith based.Although Catholics seem to escape the mary apparations, they still gotta admit the hindu milk miracle and fatima sun are quite impressive. Could it be as likely as demons? Your call.

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