November 5, 2010

"It isn’t irrational to accept the testimony of eyewitnesses to miracles," said Justice Scalia.

"What is irrational ... is to reject a priori, with no investigation, the possibility of miracles in general and of Jesus Christ’s resurrection in particular — which is, of course, precisely what the worldly wise do."


traditionalguy said...

Now you have gone from preaching to meddling, with this post. But that has always been the best witness to God's preached Word...God's eternal Holy Spirit meddling in the natural world. Scalia is no fool, so just calling Scalia a fool will not be a good argument.

mccullough said...

Scalia should buy the DVD box set of the 9 seasons of the X-Files. It's a great show.

That said, the problem is it's never Muslims, Buddhists, etc. who witness statutes crying or have the stigmata.

If some kid who grew up with no knowledge of Christianity witnessed this stuff, I would be more curious.

It's hard to believe any religious dogma when you realize different people in different parts of the world have contradictory beliefs about the unprovable religious dogma.

It's possible Jesus was born to a virgin, just like it's possible that Kobe Bryant was Jim Morrison in his last life. Hell, it's possible Zeus is really the one who causes lightning bolts.

But it's so highly unlikely as not to think about. People see marks of Elvis in their tree or in a batch of flap jacks. It doesn't mean anything.

Ankur said...

The Hindu Milk Miracle :

I remember this happening back when I was in university. It was all quite exciting because there were lines in front of ganesha temples - lines of people, all holding bottles of milk.

c3 said...

This argument will always end up at the same point.

Paul said it best in his letter to the church in Corinth;
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

rhhardin said...

No more than two of the three miracles required for sainthood can be card tricks, though.

Dead Julius said...

It's downright creepy to have a sitting Supreme Court Justice commenting on what should be personal questions of belief. I guess his purpose is make them political... or perhaps to signal that he thinks religion is a perfectly reasonable basis for judicial decisions. One step toward an Judeo-Christian-American version of Sharia Law, I guess.

edutcher said...

I think I'd like to meet the good Justice. He isn't afraid to tell people they're full of it.

PS mccullough ought to remember the Moslems have their own miracles on record and subscribe to all the miracles of the Bible.

Bob Ellison said...

"The possibility of miracles in general"? We should be open to the notion of magic that trancends understanding?

If you want to be open to that, fine. But calling rejection of such magic "irrational" is itself irrational. Dressing it up with a priori and "no investigation" doesn't help. Prove the miracle happened-- and then prove it had no earthly cause! Then I'll believe.

[word verification: riculas!]

bearing said...

It's downright creepy to have a sitting Supreme Court Justice commenting on what should be personal questions of belief.

Is it creepy that he has "personal" questions of belief, or only that he comments on them?

Meade said...

...witness statutes crying...

Now THAT would mean something. Especially to Scalia.

1jpb said...

I can't find the WaPo article.

But, they do seem open to looking at these things. For example:

Linda Santo permits The Washington Post to remove a small sample of the mystery oil, to send to a lab for analysis. "I'd like to know what it is, too," she says.

According to Microbac Laboratories of Pittsburgh, the sample contained 80 percent corn or soybean oil, and 20 percent chicken fat.

Microbac chemist Tom Zierenberg says it is a simple mixture, reproducible in any American kitchen.

Which is interesting, but hardly evidence of deceit.

God, after all, makes corn. And soybeans. And chickens, too.

And, they seem reluctant to be anti-miracle. Even though their testing did open the door.

Maybe someone who googles better than I do could find the relevant WaPo article?

former law student said...

Scalia's not talking about testimony in court, thank goodness. He's suggesting people check out weird claims. James Randi was famous for that.

ankur: if you're interested in milk magic, check this out:

Or do you call it "conjuring"?

1jpb said...

"I think I'd like to meet the good Justice. He isn't afraid to tell people they're full of it."

Let me help you out.

Ed, you're full of it!!

You're welcome.

mccullough said...

Thanks, edutcher. Perhaps I should have expounded on the spiritual beliefs of the Hopi tribe to make my point.

I never said Jesus wasn't divine or that he wasn't born to a virgin. For all I know, the 9/11 terrorists went straight to their 72 virgins after killing 3,000 people or they went straight to hell where demons are devouring them for eternity.

All religions can't be right, but they can all be wrong. Ideology isn't worth hating people or killing them, whether it's religious based or not.

If Scalia had been born in what's now South Dakota in 1636, he would not believe what he now believes.

rcocean said...

Is there anything more childish than a so-called Adult calling something "Creepy" or "nasty"? Especially when it involves religion and a Supreme Court Justice.

Next: Liberals call John Marshall, Tolstoy and Lincoln "poopy-heads" for not attacking Jesus Christ.

Jim said...

I don't see the problem with what Scalia says...unless, of course, you're trying to defend your religious belief in the non-existence of God as some sort of non-religious belief.

All he was saying is that you can't definitively something DIDN'T happen with nothing more to back it up than your own belief that such a thing isn't possible. And that it is, in fact, completely irrational to do so when there are actual eyewitnesses who say it DID. "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?"

Do we have to go through the long list of things that people USED TO say were impossible before science proved that they WERE?

Skyler said...

Fair enough, Justice. We should investigate. The question is, how much investigation is required. Usually, quite little.

Joe said...

What a dumb argument. This isn't testimony of eye witnesses, but rather friends of acquaintances who knew someone who claimed to have seen something.

somefeller said...

Scalia is good for provocative quotes. Here's a good one. These liberals and their Ivy League snobbery, I tell ya.

jimbino said...

Scalia is just one of those guys who thinks he's too smart to be fooled, probably just like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

All we need to do is sic a Houdini, James Randi, Penn & Teller or Mythbuster on him. That might make him disappear as Uri Geller did.

rhhardin said...

Launch not beyond your depth, but be discreet
And mark that point where sense and dullness meet.


edutcher said...

1jpb said...

"I think I'd like to meet the good Justice. He isn't afraid to tell people they're full of it."

Let me help you out.

Ed, you're full of it!!

You're welcome.

I said Justice Scalia.

You're no Justice Scalia.

All you do is lie, misinform, and disinform. And people here prove you're full of it everyday. said...

"Justice. We should investigate. The question is, how much investigation is required. Usually, quite little."

This is exactly what Scalia was talking about .. Skylar.. Why don;t you spend an afternoon and uncover the fraud at AKITA (weeping statue and apparition of the virgin Mary) then you and the Catholic Church can turn off the lights and we can all go home

sunsong said...

many gods, so many creeds, so many paths that wind and wind, while just
the art of being kind is all the sad world needs."
-- Ella Wheeler

“We live at the edge of the miraculous.” ~ Henry Miller

I believe in miracles. I see them all the time. Life is a miracle, imo. Forgiveness is one of the most beautiful miracles, I think. To me, it is a miracle that all the Chilean miners were lifted out.

captain sully’s miracle landing

" There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle . The other is as though everything is a miracle." --A. Einstein ...

We see what we want to see, of course. Perception is a choice, not a fact. I’m not Christian. I don’t think the Bible is true – but others do. I hope that, whatever one believes, they are smart enough and decent enough to understand that others are free to believe something different.

Brother, we do not wish to destroy your religion, or to take it from you. We only want to enjoy our own.” ~ Chief Red Jacket

Force just doesn’t work in regard to beliefs.

traditionalguy said...

I love the attitude of Jonah's ship mates to his being asleep in the bottom of the boat during the deadly storm, "Arise sleeper and call on your God . Maybe he will take notice of us so that we do not perish." They were right to awaken the one man on the boat who knew the true God.

themightypuck said...

If there isn't a link to the source it's just yada yada.

Robert Cook said...

"Scalia is no fool...."

Says who?

Robert Cook said...

"I think I'd like to meet the good Justice. He isn't afraid to tell people they're full of it."

Maybe it proves the adage, "You can't bullshit a bullshitter."

Synova said...

Everyone is getting hung up on the miracles part and missing entirely that what he is saying is that when we decide what *couldn't* have happened and refuse even to hear the evidence, that we are irrational. That irrationality masquerades as rationality, but it's like any other proof by assertion.

Think of all of the other situations where we'd find this obvious... how many people have their fingers in their ears going "la la la la la can't hear you" when it comes to economic matters? Minds are made up before hand. Or the "women are good, men are bad" garbage that ranks right up there with the best of the old "women are irrational" garbage or "women never kill their children" or any number of other belief systems that are impervious to evidence that doesn't align with previous conclusions.

What things are we not allowed to say and what questions are we not allowed to ask?

There are a lot of them.

A person can be skeptical without irrationally rejecting out of hand what they've already decided isn't true.

Bender said...

One step toward an Judeo-Christian-American version of Sharia Law, I guess.

Instead of guessing, why not trying investigating and learning before you publicly prove your ignorance?

Justice Scalia made his remarks to The Thomas More Society.

Do you know anything about Thomas More? Even the slightest little thing?

He's a guy who was executed by a government that wanted to force its own arbitrary religious belief on him. He is a martyr for religious freedom, not religious compulsion.

Bender said...

Here is a better (more informative) story on the talk --

Scalia warned, however, that reason and intellect must not be laid aside where matters of religion are concerned.

“Assuredly, a faith that has no rational basis is a false faith,” Scalia said. . . .

While he may take his personal faith seriously, Scalia told The Catholic Review he doesn’t allow it to influence his work on the high court.

“I don’t think there’s any such thing as a Catholic judge,” Scalia said in an interview. “There are good judges and bad judges. The only article in faith that plays any part in my judging is the commandment, ‘Thou Shalt Not Lie.’ ”

Scalia said it isn’t his job to make policy or law, but to “say only what the law provides.”

“If I genuinely thought the Constitution guaranteed a woman’s right to abortion, I would be on the other way,” said Scalia, who has held that abortion is not guaranteed in the Constitution. “It would do nothing with my religion. It has to do with my being a lawyer.”

Bender said...

About believing the testimony of witnesses to miracles --

There is another aspect to this, and that is, if you read the Gospels carefully, you will see that rarely does Jesus perform a miracle where the people do not believe. That is, being open to the transcendent, being open to the possibility of miracles, being open to having faith was often a prerequisite.

Justice Scalia's son, Father Paul Scalia (who is an excellent priest, as smart and sharp and engaging as his dad), wrote on this recently --

A significant aspect of our Lord’s miracles is the cooperation He requires of the people involved. Rarely does He heal someone without requiring something. He tells the paralytic to take up his mat and walk (cf. Mt 9:1-8), the man with the withered hand to stretch it forth (cf. Mt 12:9-14), and the man born blind to go and wash (cf. Jn 9:1-41). Consider how His commands challenge these men. He requires them to do the very thing that their malady prevents: to stretch out the hand, to walk, etc. But in order to receive the miracle, they must trust the command … and try. Their trust in His command provides the proper disposition to receive His miracle. For divine work to be accomplished human trust is required. . . .

In this miracle [of healing the ten lepers] and others, our Lord manifests the pattern of salvation. God’s grace does not work without our trust. He will not force reconciliation, healing or holiness upon us. We must participate in the healing He desires to give.

Fred4Pres said...

Neither the acceptance of or the rejection of articles of faith is necessarily irrational or for that matter rational.

Anglelyne said...

Bender: He's a guy who was executed by a government that wanted to force its own arbitrary religious belief on him. He is a martyr for religious freedom, not religious compulsion.

More was a martyr to conscience but he was no martyr to "religious freedom" - unless you can reconcile burning heretics with that concept.

former law student said...

unless you can reconcile burning heretics with that concept

More was executed because he could not accept Henry VIII as leader of God's church on earth.

This makes sense, because Henry VIII was not in the Apostolic Succession from Peter to Linus to Cletus to Clement, all the way down to John Paul and Benedict of our days.

Many people balk at the idea of burning heretics, but compare it to capital punishment. If someone who ends your earthly life merits death, how much more does someone who imperils your immortal soul merit death? Only our lack of faith in this degenerate age makes the idea of burning heretics seem horrific. "Religious freedom" -- freedom to burn in hell for all eternity is more like it.

Jim S. said...

Regarding evidence, the large majority of scholars acknowledge that the following claims about the historical Jesus are demonstrable, provable, established historical facts:

1. Jesus was crucified and killed.

2. Jesus' corpse was buried in a solid rock tomb, which had a large boulder lodged in its entrance to seal it.

3. On the Sunday following Jesus' death, his tomb was discovered empty by some of his women followers.

4. "On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead. This is a fact that is almost universally acknowledged by New Testament scholars today."

5. The earliest followers of Jesus believed that he had been bodily, physically raised from the dead. This belief originated immediately afterward and in the same place it allegedly happened.

Historical investigation (along with all of the sciences) proceeds via inference to the best explanation. It's difficult to claim that Jesus' resurrection is not the best explanation of these facts.

Anglelyne said...

fls: More was executed because he could not accept Henry VIII as leader of God's church on earth blabbity blah blah blah blah blah...

Yeah, we know that, fls. Which has squat to do with my point, which, let me repeat for your edification, was that "More was a martyr to conscience but he was no martyr to 'religious freedom'". More was not a supporter of religious freedom in the City of Man, and the particulars of his theology, and personal courage and integrity, are irrelevant to that point.

Revenant said...

David Hume explained, over 250 years ago, why accepting the testimony of eyewitnesses to miracles is irrational.

The grossly simplified version of his argument is that since people regularly lie and/or are mistaken, and since a miracle by definition requires something seemingly impossible to happen, the rational belief to hold is always that the person telling you they say a miracle is lying or mistaken -- those are both normal, relatively high-probability events.

Jim S. said...

Hume's argument against miracles is completely rejected by philosophers (including Humean philosophers) as hopelessly circular. He says something is improbable depending on how often it happens, and then defines miracles as "maximally improbable" because ... they never happen. Then he argues that since miracles never happen, we can conclude that they never happen. A relatively recent book on this is Hume's Abject Failure by John Earman.

Gabriel Hanna said...

Samuel Johnson said that if we accept eyewitness testimony, we have to believe in ghosts. (He himself was on the fence.)

We know that Julius Caesar lived because people say he lived. People wrote books about him, made statutes and put his name on them; in fact there is a book attributed to him.

If solely historical evidence is considered, we have to believe in Gods, miracles and ghosts.

Now think of the Hindu milk miracle--you can see videos of it on YouTube. When the Hindu holy books that describe this event are written, they will say that statues of Ganesha drank milk. They will not say that milk ran up the trunk and down the front of the statues, as can clearly be seen in the videos.

If someone had video of Christ's miracles, what would they have shown? Would they have shown something that breaks natural law? Our experience suggests that they wouldn't. People certainly THOUGHT they saw miracles, but two thousand years after the fact it will be impossible to reconstruct what happened.

Gabriel Hanna said...


Hume's argument against miracles is completely rejected by philosophers (including Humean philosophers) as hopelessly circular.

You, sir, would need to get up very early indeed to be up before Hume.

Maybe if you took the trouble to READ Hume, instead of read ABOUT Hume, you might learn more. I know that at least one Presbyterian minister thinks Hume's argument against miracles is circular, but I don't find it so and philosophers generally do not.

Hume defines a miracle as a violation of natural law, not as something that never happens. Natural laws are based on countless numbers of experiences, but miracles are things that, if they happen at all, happen very rarely--if a natural law was always violated it wouldn't be one.

However, people lie or are mistaken very frequently, this is a common experience--so the question is why should we overthrow natural law based on eyewitness reports of a miracle when we know that eyewitnesses are less reliable than natural laws?

His conclusion is that a miracle should be accepted only if it is more miraculous that the testimony in its favor be mistaken, which is an extraordinarily high bar. Magicians, for example, routinely perform apparently impossible feats in front of hundreds or thousands of people. And millions of Hindus all over the world will testify to the reality of the Milk Miracle, but I don't Christians lining up to convert; for some reason Christians prefer 2000 year old hearsay about miracles to current miracles.

A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. Why is it more than probable, that all men must die; that lead cannot, of itself, remain suspended in the air; that fire consumes wood, and is extinguished by water; unless it be, that these events are found agreeable to the laws of nature, and there is required a violation of these laws, or in other words, a miracle to prevent them? Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it ever happen in the common course of nature. It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed, in any age or country. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as an uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle; nor can such a proof be destroyed, or the miracle rendered credible, but by an opposite proof, which is superior.

The plain consequence is (and it is a general maxim worthy of our attention), “That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish: And even in that case there is a mutual destruction of arguments, and the superior only gives us an assurance suitable to that degree of force, which remains, after deducting the inferior.” When any one tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.

Jim S. said...

Gabriel, I've read Hume's Enquiry many times, I'm fully aware of his positions, including his argument against miracles. The fact that I summarized it briefly indicates that I was writing a comment on a blog, not that I haven't read him. And I'm afraid you're simply misinformed that philosophers generally do not find his argument circular. It's rejected by philosophers for that very reason, and has been for a long time. Even Antony Flew, arguably the greatest Humean philosopher of the 20th century, said that Hume's argument against miracles was circular as stated, and needed to be significantly updated.

MInTheGap said...

What's interesting about the miracles in question is not so much that the people that agreed with His teaching believed in them, but that His critics at the time had nothing to say, and even were attacking Him for doing them on "the wrong day of the week."