Final Response by Steven Carr

Can we believe in miracles in a scientific universe?

Here is my final response in this debate. As a guest on my web site, I will leave the last word to you. This has been a very interesting debate for me. I have been very surprised that somebody who has devoted his life to defending Christianity is unable to produce evidence to back up the New Testament claims of miracles and is unable, or unwilling , to answer direct questions posed to him about miracles. I shall be repeating these questions once more, to give Dr. Wilkinson one final chance to explain why he believes Christian miracles in the New Testament, yet rejects non-Christian miracles.

I also look forward to his producing any evidence to support his claim that there was a Roman guard on the tomb or that Paul had ever met any of these alleged 500 witnesses mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15. Who were these people? Can Dr. Wilkinson name any of them? Can he tell us where this alleged sighting took place? Or when it took place? When and where did Paul meet them? Is there anything in written history which has less evidence in its favour than this claim in 1 Corinthians 15 that 500 unnamed people saw something unspecified at an unspecified place at an unspecified time?

Does anybody seriously doubt that Dr. Wilkinson would reject out of hand a claim from any other religion that 500 unnamed people saw something, somewhere, sometime just as he rejects out of hand the named people who are claimed by the Mormons to have been eyewitnesses who backed up Joseph Smiths story?

I was also intrigued to see that Dr. Wilkinson has not been able to produce any evidence to back up his claims 'All the evidence of the gospels is that the disciples were frightened and confused after the death of Jesus. They did not expect the resurrection and even doubted the first reports of the empty tomb. What transformed them into the roaring lions that preached and died for the risen Jesus?'

Does Dr. Wilkinson have any evidence , outside the Bible, or even in primary sources in the Bible such as Paul's letters, that the disciples were frightened and confused after the death of Jesus? Can he give any evidence that the 11 disciples (excluding Judas) became 'roaring lions' who 'preached and died' for the 'risen Jesus'? Isn't it astonishing that somebody can write a passage such as Dr. Wilkinson wrote , knowing full well as he wrote it, as he conceded in his very next email, 'I accept the charge that there is not a great deal of documented evidence that the disciples died for their belief that Christ was risen.'?

Dr. Wilkinson also, to my astonishment, repeated questions that I have already answered. He has asked me why I rule miracles out. I shall repeat what I wrote in my very first email.

'Science teaches us to believe in whatever has evidence that can stand up to close scrutiny. Many sceptics actively investigate miracle claims to see if there is evidence. For example, James Randi offers one million dollars to people who can demonstrate psychic abilities in controlled conditions. It is easy to think of miracles which can stand up to scrutiny. If I found the original autographs of the Gospels in a drawer in my bedroom, I could hardly write off this miracle as 'hallucination', especially after I had sold them to the British Museum for millions of pounds. It is difficult to hallucinate being a multimillionaire!'

Of course, there are very many more miracles which would stand up to scientific scrutiny. Sceptics do not rule out miracles, regardless of how many times Dr. Wilkinson says that they do. In 'The Blind Watchmaker' by Richard Dawkins (page 159), he writes 'If a marble statue of the Virgin Mary suddenly waved its hand at us we should treat it as a miracle....'.

Sceptics do not rule out miracles. One difficulty with the miracles of the New Testament though is that they were written in an age when miracles were commonplace.

I have asked Dr. Wilkinson more than once to name an ancient writer who was not, on occasion, credible, gullible and superstitious. I have asked him if he thinks there are any stories in the Gospels which share some of the gullibility and superstition found in all non-Christian writers and in Christian writers who wrote non-canonical works. If he thinks no stories in the Gospels betray any credibility , gullibility and superstition, why does he think Christian writers were immune from the faults that sometimes affected such renowned ancient historians as Herodotus, Thucydides, Pliny the Elder, Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius etc. I shall ask him once more to answer these rather straightforward questions.

To give one example, the Christian writer of the 'Epistle of Barnabas' believed in a phoenix. Does Dr. Wilkinson think the Christian writer of 2 Peter was gullible when he wrote about a talking donkey in the same way that the Christian writer of the Epistle of Barnabas wrote about a phoenix?

In my very first email, I asked Dr. Wilkinson another very straightforward question, which he has been unable to address. I shall repeat it again here. Josephus's 'Wars of the Jews' was written with ten years of the events , by a direct participant , and he records eyewitness testimony - 'I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it' . He is referring to a heifer giving birth to a lamb in the middle of the Temple. Does Dr. Wilkinson believe a cow gave birth to a lamb, in a work written within ten years of the event? Surely this is just as well attested as the raising of the widow of Nain's son.

It seems a very straightforward question to me. Does Dr. Wilkinson believe a cow gave birth to a lamb? If not, could he explain on what grounds he rejects this miracle, yet accepts miracles in the Gospels?

He has stated that he refuses to give a 'yes' or 'no' answer to this claim of Josephus, yet he demands that sceptics must believe that there was a Roman guard at the tomb, and he demands that sceptics accept the miracle of the raising of the widow of Nain's son, despite the well-documented evidence that the story was taken from the Old Testament - evidence that he can see with his own eyes at Miracles and the Book of Mormon

I shall repeat another question which Dr. Wilkinson has ducked. Are there any pagan miracles from 1 AD to 150 AD, recorded in works of the period other than the New Testament, by meticulous historians like Josephus, Tacitus and Suetonius, which Dr. Wilkinson believes really happened?

Dr. Wilkinson's only response to this question was to say that a miracle claim has to be assessed on the evidence, yet he cannot say by what evidence he rules out well documented pagan miracle claims from AD 1 to AD 150, yet accepts Christian miracle claims.

Dr. Wilkinson's only statement about evidence is that readers can find evidence in Craig Blomberg's book 'The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.'. I wonder why Dr. Wilkinson is unable to produce any evidence himself. As for Craig Blomberg's book, anybody who has read it will be struck by the lack of evidence in the book and amused by the fantastic contortions that Christians go through to try to prove that there are no errors in the New Testament.

Space precludes me giving more than a few examples of the comedy to be found in the book that Dr. Wilkinson is recommending to sceptics as a good example of Christian scholarship.

On page 123 of Blomberg's book, he discusses Matthew 7:11 and Luke 11:13. In Matthew 7:11, Jesus is supposed to have said '... how much more will your heavenly father give good things to those who ask them.' In Luke 11:13, it reads 'Holy Spirit', not 'good things'. Clearly, one (or both!) writer has not recorded Jesus's words accurately, yet Blomberg solemnly explains that there is no contradiction because '... the Holy Spirit is the pre-eminent example of the type of 'good thing' which is a heavenly gift..'

Similarly, on page 179-180 , Blomberg tries to get around the fact that Mark says Jesus was crucified at the third hour while John 19:14 says it was the sixth hour. Blomberg's solution is that the third hour could mean 9am to noon while the sixth hour might mean sometime before midday! I can only imagine Dr.Wilkinson's reaction if Mormons attempted to explain contradictions in the Book of Mormon by resorting to such expedients.

In Mark 11:12-20 the fig tree is cursed by Jesus and the disciples notice on the next morning that it has withered immediately, yet Matthew 21:18-22 says the disciples noticed immediately that it had withered. Blomberg comes up with the ingenious explanation that in Matthew's account '.... there is no reason to exclude an interval of time between verses 19 and 20.' And this is what Dr. Wilkinson has recommended as 'evidence' that the Gospels are historical! All documents would be historical if their defenders are allowed to just make up whatever explanations they like as solutions to the problems they contain , in the way that Craig Blomberg does in the book recommended by Dr. Wilkinson.

Even Blomberg has to admit that the Gospel writers changed for their own theological purposes what Jesus said, when he said it , where he said it and why he said it, yet Blomberg, and presumably Dr. Wilkinson, does not think altering what was said, when, where and why detracts from the Gospels being historically reliable!

Dr. Wilkinson says the Gospels claim first hand material , especially in the case of John. This is a surprising claim. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke both use the Gospel of Mark as a main source. Matthew uses ninety percent of Mark's book. Why would users of firsthand material have to rely on what is conceded by everybody to be at least a second hand work, and one which even careful examination shows no trace of being based on primary witnesses?

I imagine Dr.Wilkinson's claim that John is first hand rests on John 21:24 'This is the disciple who testifies these things and writes them down. We know that his testimony is true.' All this shows is that anonymous people altered the original Gospel to add this postscript. It is really astonishing that a man of science like Dr. Wilkinson can read an anonymous claim that 'We know that his testimony is true' and present it to sceptics as being evidence. What sort of 'evidence' is this? Who are these 'we'? When did they write? Can we trust them? Who is this disciple? No disciple is called John in the Gospel according to John. Can anybody imagine the reaction of Dr. Wilkinson if somebody presented him with an ancient book of another religion and expected him to believe it because it contained the bald statement 'We know that this is true.'?

As works of historians , the Gospels are very poor, even by the lax standards of ancient history. They have no named sources and give no details of how the writers found out about these alleged events they write about. By contrast, a real historian like Josephus mentions his sources frequently, among them: Berosus, Jerome, Mnaseas, Nicolaus, Manetho, Moschus, Hesiod, Menander, Dios, Herodotus, Megasthenes, Philostratus, 1 Maccabees, Polybius, Strabo, Livy, etc. Not all these sources are good but at least we can see where Josephus is coming from. Some of these sources are still extant and we can see how Josephus used them. We can see where Josephus changed from one source to the next, as his knowledge gets more or less detailed

By contrast, the only sources we know of for Matthew and Luke is Mark's Gospel and we can see how freely they changed what was written there, as even people like Craig Blomberg have to admit. What would Dr. Wilkinson give to be able to show that the Gospel writers did as careful research and were as reliable as Josephus. However, even Josephus was prone to exaggeration, credulity and superstition, yet Dr. Wilkinson wants sceptics to think that far lesser writers like the anonymous authors of the Gospels are to be trusted implicitly, even when he cannot produce any evidence to back up what they say.

To sum up, there appears to be nothing to distinguish the Gospels from the mass of credulous, superstitious , gullible writings and beliefs that were common 2,000 years ago. To say that these works are the only evidence of the life of the Son of God is astonishing. If God really did become Incarnate as a human being, surely he would have seen to it that we had better evidence than a few third or fourth-hand accounts by anonymous people.

Steven Carr's Opening Statement

Dr.Wilkinson's Opening Statement

Dr.Wilkinson's First Response

Steven Carr's Second Response

Dr. Wilkinson's Second Response

Dr.Wilkinson's Final Response

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