1. Larissa says

    The resurrection can not be used as proof of a miracle, even if we could prove that Jesus existed, that he was crucified and was considered dead, placed in a tomb, and then was wandering around later.
    Medical history is littered with examples of people being buried alive or waking up in morgues having been called as deceased by qualified medical practitioners. Whilst this is happening less and less as our medical instruments are getting better and better, it still does happen. If we acknowledge that some of these were basic human errors, there are documented syndromes and diseases that can cause a human being to appear dead for up to four days before they wake up again.
    Whilst I do not believe that I have read anything in the bible that would point to Jesus having previous episodes of unconsciousness (though I could be wrong) we can probably rule out Cataplexy (I might add that Cataplexy is usually associated with Narcolepsy which dreaming whilst awake, or visions, are a regular symptom). We could consider in the case of the ressurection the possibility of a catatonic attack. This disorder can appear spontaneously without any previous symptoms, it is associated with other mental disorders such as Bi Polar and Schizophrenia (Jesus had visions and delusions of grandeur), it can also be brought on by PTSD (being flogged, beaten, mocked, then crucified would be stressful), infections (plenty of those around at the time) and alcohol withdrawal (Jesus did like his wine).
    I shout this at the screen every time I hear someone, like Chan did today, use the ressurection as proof of miracles and whilst we cannot go back to prove any of this, or even that Jesus actually existed, I am more prepared to accept a medical reason than a supernatural cause.

  2. says

    A few things for/in regards to Drake’s call; I am amazed by the sheer number of logical fallacies he employed here.

    And I am flabberghasted by the fact that you demonstrated an understanding of the burden of proof at the beginning of the call, then slowly stripped yourself of that understanding the further along the call got… To a point that you sound identical to every other nut job caller who asks “How do you know atheism is true and correct?”.

  3. jongalt says

    When people ask for the holy spirit to enter their body, why don’t they fly up into the air instead of falling on the ground? Wouldn’t that be much more impressive?

  4. jeffh123 says

    As to donating your body to science: My father looked into that. Every organization that would accept it wanted all expenses paid by the deceased’s estate. And it was a lot. I will donate body parts for transplant upon accidental death, but that puts me at the mercy of a hospital that may need numerous parts to save a number of individuals. Hmmm. Kill one to save many?

  5. porlob says

    When it comes to demonstrating Joseph Smith’s fraudulence, you can’t do it more easily than the Book of Abraham. For those unfamiliar, this is a text that JS translated, supposedly written “by Abraham’s own hand” some 4000 years ago Unfortunately for Joseph, and unlike the Book of Mormon, we have the source documents, including Joseph’s notes. And it turns out, it’s actually a couple of common 1st centurt Egyptian funerary texts.

  6. says

    chan @ 47:03:

    … i know you’re familiar with the classical arguments, so i won’t try to go through ’em, but the cosmologcal, the moral, the teleological, all those when put together, show that it’s more reasonable to believe in god.

    unfortunately for theists, bad arguments are not additive; they don’t tally up to a good argument or an increased likelihood that their claims are true. they simply demonstrate what’s readily apparent: the continued absence of any good argument.

    quote of the evening by matt @ 46:55, immediately preceding chan’s remark:

    you do realize that you don’t have to wrestle with that problem if you don’t begin with the unfounded belief that there’s a god?

  7. Joe E Dangerously says

    I think Matt really dropped the ball this week. If the preacher in question rose from the grave and we could rule out any deception like a twin brother or an illusion of some kind that still would not make it a miracle. A miracle is, by definition, an act of God. Now, how would we be able to confirm the cause of this event? Maybe it was done by aliens with super-advanced technology. Maybe it was magic but there is still no God. Maybe there was some secret technology involved that the government has but keeps classified. Now of course those are all absurd explanations at this point but so is a miracle. Why are any of those less reasonable than attributing the cause to a God?
    No, it would not be sufficient to call it a miracle. It would be interesting but until we could determine the cause of the event (and if it’s God, also demonstrate the existence of God) we could not reasonably call it a miracle.
    We cannot assume God anywhere because God has not been shown to exist and there is not good reason even to believe God exists. The only reason we see that explanation as more plausible than other ridiculous propositions is because it’s a popular one. The fact that a lot of people believe it is the only reason we entertain it like we do. If no one believed in gods and most of the world believed aliens seeded the planet we’d have the same conversations but replace God with aliens. If I said I was jumped by a gang of vampires last night but they all ran away because I had garlic on my breath would you think “Well, I don’t believe it but I also don’t disbelieve it” or would you think I was clearly making a joke? In real practical terms, you would think the latter. I wish we’d stop pretending “God” is any sort of potential explanation beyond any other obviously absurd thing you could say. If we’re going to entertain the miracle idea we need to entertain every other potential idea anyone can come up with to explain this hypothetical. Yet we don’t. Why? Think about that. Really think it through. We’re being silly. All we’re doing is looking ridiculous when we entertain these childish ignorant notions. We’re supposed to put away childish things at some point. I think that point is here and we should proceed accordingly.

  8. Yaddith says

    Joe E. Dangerously #6:

    I would not go so far as to say that a miracle is “by definition” an act of God. One can believe that there are miracles without believing that they are produced by a deity, just as one can believe in UFOs without believing that they are produced by space aliens. It is cultural conditioning that leads us to conflate certain ideas.

  9. The YouTube Guy says

    Matt never said we know that miracles haven’t occurred. He did say that no event has ever been confirmed to be a miracle.

    Also, I think the caller described himself as a deist and said he agrees with wanting to believe as many true things as possible. He then went on to basically preach from the Bible about Jesus. Maybe I misheard and need to watch the show again. All together he seemed like a strong theist who couldn’t back the claim that miracles happen when Matt pressed him on it.

  10. mond says

    @J E Dangerously

    I don’t think Matt dropped the ball. He just diverted the caller from going into the type of hypothetical question that we have all heard a million times before by simply not accepting the premise of anything like this actually happening in the real world.
    You addressed the hypothetical well in your post but Matt just took a different tack this time.
    The elephants flying out of my butt comment by Matt shows that in this particular conversation he was saying that he only wanted to discuss something with proven occurrence, rather than how many elephants and what colour they were etc.

  11. Ethan says

    You should of asked the guy going on about “slain in the spirit” how he explains Beatlemania. Teenage girls screaming and fainting at Beatles concerts? Is Paul McCartney god?

  12. Monocle Smile says

    @Joe E
    Matt literally just had a debate with Blake Giunta on the resurrection and some of it was spent on the epistemology of miracles. Matt’s familiar with how to handle this and his definitions don’t match yours at all.

    I usually point to the Heaven’s Gate cult, where a thousand people manage to convince themselves that aliens were about to invade to the point where they all took their own lives. Giunta made this mistake over and over again in the debate when it came to the experiences of the supposed apostles…he first did the whole “you wouldn’t die for a lie” crap, then hand-waved hallucination or group hallucination because apparently that’s not plausible. How anyone can say that with a straight face is beyond me.

  13. Murat says

    Chan started up like a rational monotheist as his question about free will looked investigative and for he seemed to carry beliefs based more on instincts and logic, and not on dogma. However, as the conversation went on, almost literally, he sort of retreated to some of the most insanely dogmatic stuff. Maybe for the first time on this show, I witnessed a theist caller begin quite sane and then melt down to the depths of the most archaic interpretations of theism without even being lead that way by the host.

    When Matt asked him to provide an example for miracles, I was expecting Chan to simply repeat the known instances from the Bible (as they are what he considers to be miraclulous) but he came up with the most subconscious-revealing kind of a b-movie scene that I literally felt him run out of intelligence.

    If a person makes up a gang of jihadists run into a church and cut off a priest’s head when asked about a “miracle”, the “dualism” is actually in his perception of his own beliefs. I think Chan has not one, not even two, but three different routes that have taken him to where his mindset currently is:

    1) What he (though probably wrongfully) carves out of the bulk of philosophical and moral arguments.

    2) What he was indoctrinated to as a child growing up in a Christian environment.

    3) A very up-to-date, sort of “immediate” perception about an almost Trumpist notion of threat and alienation. Something that has more to do with the notion of a very earthly “clashing cultures / tribes” ideology than of a perception of the unknown. Otherwise, there was no way he could begin to talk about that ridiculously out of context example the point of which was to show “Christianity being right and Islam being wrong”… The man was talking about cosmological arguments shortly before retreating back to this in-your-face kind of cheap action / thriller scene. How can any comparison between madnesses of Christianity and Islam be of significance to a person if he really is into some sort of a critical thinking that extends his awareness to the Cosmos???

    After hearing this, I sort of constructed better what Chan actually revealed when saying “but the cosmologcal, the moral, the teleological, all those when put together, show that it’s more reasonable to believe in God”.

    He seems to have been piling up irrelevant stuff to support different layers of religious belief and glueing them together to avoid leaks… But, oh boy, there’s so great a leak right where the three meet!

    And, another thing: The moment he told of his subconscious-revealing example to a miracle, I thought of many stage shows and movies (including The Prestige) because THAT kind of a thing is DEFINITELY an illusion. It’s not what (any kind of a) God would make happen, but exactly what a right-wing politician would professionally have staged right before an election! Had it really been witnessed by a sane person,
    that scene would scream out loud “I’m an manipulation, I’m an illusion!”

    The three different paths to Chan’s mindset was interesting to be heard from a single person, because normally callers mention one or at most two of those when they struggle to rationalise things.

  14. Monocle Smile says

    Don’t you love when people try to downplay the Catholic pedophilia scandal?
    Matt laughing at Zack was perfect. Also, MAGDALENE LAUNDRIES. These still exist today!
    At the end of that call…I don’t know why Zack called.

    NDE calls make me yawn. Nobody with two neurons to rub together should believe the Howard Storm crap. That’s probably the most sensationalized and exaggerated NDE-type thing on the market today.

  15. Devocate says


    Also the timing is nowhere near what is claimed. He ‘died’ on Friday afternoon(ish), was buried that night. Was discovered to be missing on Sunday morning. And *nothing* is known about the time in between. He was ‘dead’ at most 36 hours, and least, 2 or 3.

  16. ironchops says

    On the Ark monologue.
    The ark story, in my opinion, is missing a lot of details in order to draw any real conclusions. If one reads the bible completely literally then the flood occurred approximately in the year 2348 BCE +/- 230 years. This puts the flood in the bronze-age like Jen said.
    1. People at that time did in fact possess the woodworking skills necessary to have built a vessel with the dimensions of the ark at 350 x 50 x 30 cubits (450 x 75 x 30 ft) or if using Ken Ham’s cubits at 20.4 inch/cubit the ark would have been 595ft x 85ft x 51ft high. Hatshepsut (Egyptian) had boats to carry obelisks that were 95m(311ft) x 32m(104ft) around 1500 BCE that were finely crafted and able to carry some impressive weights (over 300 tons). There is however no evidence of any ship of that size being built at that time, 2348 BCE.
    2. I can’t see any way to pinpoint where Noah actually built the ark to better understand what trees or bushes or plants were used to produce gopher wood and pitch. Those plants were destroyed in the flood as well….as the story goes.
    3. The hogging and sagging problem would not have been as bad as Jen tried to portray because the dimensions of the ark were rectangular with the beam running from the bow to the stern, if take literally. Ken Ham’s ark has the look of an Egyptian galley which is also not mentioned biblically so it too is just his interpretation (not literal). No mention of a stem, keel, keelsons or transoms and not built to incorporate propulsion of any sort. Just a simple rectangular barge with no fluid dynamics taken into account.
    4. The long clipper (Wyoming) Jen mentioned was built using newer unproven technologies and with a composite hull (iron and pine (light) wood) with the intent to be a fast sailing vessel. A lot of those clippers went down due to their light build and huge sail area that would be pushed over in a sudden squall before the rather small crew (only 14 or so) could pull in all that sail. No one actually knows why that ship foundered however it did leak terribly.
    5. As for the “some drunk”….Matt…don’t ever underestimate the good work a functioning alcoholic can accomplish. That is just dismissive and the bible is unclear as to when he became the drunk. There was no mention of that before the flood and after dealing with all that animal poo for nearly a year I would take to the bottle as well.
    I fully understand the story to be fiction but it is good fiction in that it was possible for people in that time to build such a vessel. The real funny thing is that there is a supposed ark found by Ron Wyatt and known as Durupınar site, Agri, Turkey.

  17. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I usually point to the Heaven’s Gate cult, where a thousand people manage to convince themselves that aliens were about to invade to the point where they all took their own lives.

    Not thousands. More like 39.
    I agree on the general argument. It is one of my favorite counter-examples to the “no one would die for a lie” line of argument.


    Also, thank you. One of my favorite examples as well of the horrific treatment of women, and of sexism, in that culture. Also one of my favorite things to cite whenever some fool says that young people had less sex “back in my day” or something.

  18. Devocate says


    “The hogging and sagging problem would not have been as bad as Jen tried to portray because the dimensions of the ark were rectangular with the beam running from the bow to the stern,”

    If you think that you have never built a boat. 1) Boats DO have a beam running from bow to stern. 2) Rounding the ends *improves* the strength of a boat.

    Perhaps it is good fiction, but I have never cared for horror. Why anyone would think it uplifting is beyond me.

  19. bill b says

    re: holy spirit. at my former church people always fell backwards, which seems odd, and once someone fell back into an 82-year-old lady and broke her hip. that seems pretty careless of the holy spirit.

  20. Monocle Smile says

    The keels of wooden ships anywhere near that size were always iron-bound and the ships were in need of near-constant repair.
    Also, there’s a rule about Ron Wyatt. If he claims to have found it, it either does not exist or is a fabrication. Wyatt was very obviously a huckster looking for a quick buck his entire “career.”

  21. RationalismRules says

    @IronChops #17

    I fully understand the story to be fiction but it is good fiction in that it was possible for people in that time to build such a vessel.

    I know nothing about boats, but I’ve read a lot of good fiction, and this aint it. Good fiction tends to be very firmly seated in the real world. By contrast, almost every part of the Noah’s ark story depends on magic.

    Here’s why that makes it very crap fiction – if the deity had to use magic at every step of the way to make the whole thing happen, why didn’t it just magic away all the bad people instead of going through this ridiculously convoluted killing off of everything else (including the animals and plants) just to get rid of the bad humans?

    That’s not just a plot hole – it’s a plot black hole.

    P.S. Is there any reason to believe that the large Egyptian barges you mentioned were used on the ocean? Despite my lack of knowledge about boats, I’m pretty certain a stormy ocean offers far more stresses than a trip down the Nile.

  22. Murat says

    It seems Darren Aronofsky made almost no contribution to the legend of the great flood. I haven’t seen anyone, believer or not, make the slightest reference to how he approached the concept. Making an environmentalist remark based on a Biblical tale seems to have backfired. No surprise, considering that there are many global warming deniers who base their case on the same source.

  23. ironchops says

    Thanks for all the responses.
    To Devocate-I am not sure how to respond to the first statement, I am just a ship/boat builder and that form of English does not make sense to me. Sarcasm? 1) Sure, but in the case of rectangular barges the beam is constant throughout. 2) Correct again but rectangular barge type vessels are used today to cross oceans. Why do we continue to build inefficient weak rectangular vessels if they weren’t strong enough to carry great weights over vast distances across open oceans? I don’t believe this story was meant to be uplifting. In my opinion, this story was supposed to scare the crap out the reader to coerce them to obey.

    To MS-Always a pleasure, Bronze aged boats/ships used interlocking woodwork augmented with copper or bronze pegs as fasteners along with various lashings to manage stresses. Just to be clear, I never indicated the ark story to be true. I also indicated that to date there is no evidence for early bronze aged ships of this size built. I just stated that people of that time did in fact have the skills and the materials needed to build one. I agree about Ron but I find it funny that there is a new museum in Turkey for this pile of dirt that is somewhat shaped like a double ended ship/boat, however I think it is a natural formation.

    To RationalismRules- Are you referring to the good fiction like Harry Potter, Zombie Apocalypse, Ware wolves, Vampires and middle earth? Are these real? The crappy fiction of the ark story was meant to scare the believer to fear the awesome power of the deity that most likely does not exist, as I have stated above. PS: No reason at all that I know of. The Egyptians did build boats, much smaller of course, out of reeds and lashing (no metal fasteners) around 4000 BCE that plied the waters of the Med. From wiki, “Researchers working on the island of Crete discover stone tools indicating ocean exploration capabilities of early humans dating to at least 130,000 years ago”. The oldest Homo sapiens bones ever found to date is about that age. Google ocean exploration to see people have been on the water for thousands of years, even before the fictitious Noah, and with sophisticated craft. The ancient peoples were highly capable and we have a lot to learn from them.

  24. ironchops says

    To EL-I liked Matt’s work on the free will thing. I have been watching Sam Dennett, Sam Harris and others regarding this and would have to say I think I am a compatibilist. The concept still screws with me a little. You helped me with this a while back. Thanks

  25. Mobius says

    Off topic a bit, but I don’t see a thread specifically discussing Matt’s debate with Blake Guinta. Just watched the Youtube of the debate. Frankly, Guinta’s claim that every teaching historian believes Jesus rose from the dead is ludicrous.

  26. Monocle Smile says

    I was wondering if there would be a thread for discussion as well.
    That was but one of many eyebrow-raising claims from Giunta. During cross-examination, he appears to admit that the resurrection is likely given the data because his Bayesian priors are 1) god exists, 2) jesus existed as described, and 3) god had reason to raise jesus. Given that he showed zero interest in justifying these priors, this seems like an open admission that his “case” is a load of crap and the entire debate was in bad faith.

  27. SGM Pickles says

    Is that police sirens I hear? While talking about crime? That timing. Ha ha.

  28. Ethan Myerson says

    This exchange should have opened the caller’s eyes to the weaknesses in his worldview:
    M: “Are there any examples of confirmed miracles?”
    C: “Well, imagine this beheading scenario…”
    M: “How about actual cases of confirmed miracles?”
    C: “Well, there’s this case of cancer going into remission…”
    M: “That’s completely understandable through natural explanations.”
    C: “Well, even if that’s natural, imagine a beheading scenario…”
    Matt finishing with, “Call us back if you have an actual miracle” was perfect. The caller has to appeal to imaginary miracles to prove the existence of miracles. That’s not how it works.

  29. Mobius says

    @26 Monocle Smile

    Agreed. I get the impression that Giunta wants the prestige of being a Bayesian without fully understanding what Bayesian means, much like creationists trying to claim they are scientific. Overall, his “scholarship” is less than impressive. His arguments are full of logical holes.

    His argument about the placement of a particular island in the Bible means Jesus rose from the dead is ludicrous as well. Such “logic” says that the historical fact that Atlanta burned during the Civil War means Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind was a real person.

  30. Mobius says

    I just watched “Atheist Debates – Methodological Naturalism: A discussion with Blake Giunta”, which was recently posted. I find Giunta’s argument at the end circular. He is talking about using Bayesian analysis to conclude that God is highly probable and starts his analysis with “given that God is highly probable, blah, blah blah”.

    Matt didn’t jump on this, but then Matt was trying to wrap up the discussion.

    I get the impression that Giunta just really really wants to believe and rationalizes to support that belief. Matt calls him on most of these rationalizations, but Giunta still grasp on to them.

  31. Yaddith says


    I think Blake Giunta is a sincere and likeable person, but I found his debate performance so weak that I felt embarrassed for him. The idea of attempting to assign a mathematical probability to a 2,000-year-old secondhand account of a miracle is preposterous.

  32. philhoenig says

    @Larissa #1:

    I once read a book hypothesising that Jesus spent all that missing time (from his adolescent appearance in a temple to when he started preaching as an adult) off east in India where he learned mind altering techniques, including how to go into a death-like trance state.

    I vaguely recall someone else once noting that Jesus never appeared publicly after his death – only those who were his followers before the crucifixion ever reported seeing him alive again afterwards. If so, there’s an obvious simpler solution, even assuming that there was a Jesus who was crucified.

    @Devocate #16:

    Friday, Saturday, Sunday: three days. Sure, that’s not how we go about counting lengths of time now, but it is how the Romans did then. I wouldn’t be surprised if something like the Nicene Creed fixed the idea of “On the third day He rose again” despite the definition of “third day” itself shifting et voila, people now can’t seem to count to two or three.

  33. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To ironchops
    No prob. You’re welcome. And sincerely, thank you for the compliment.

    To Yaddith

    The idea of attempting to assign a mathematical probability to a 2,000-year-old secondhand account of a miracle is preposterous.

    Politely disagreed. Assigning probabilities – that is what the study of history is. Of course we can do this, and of course any reasonable estimate is very, very small. For this, I suggest the work of Richard Carrier, specifically his book Proving History.

    PS: Richard Carrier might have rightly fallen from grace of the proper atheist community as of late, but his work on this subject is still unparallelled IMO.

  34. Yaddith says


    Thanks for your comments. Math is definitely not my field, but it seems to me that to determine the probability of an event one needs some data to work with. The only data we have in the case of the resurrection of Jesus is four differing accounts of a miraculous event attributed to names pulled from someone’s posterior. How one could assign this a probability greater than zero escapes me.

    I am currently working my way through the massive tome THE WORKS OF PHILO. He was a first century Alexandrian Jewish philosopher, and his writings are very illuminating, but difficult to read in that he is one of those writers who never uses ten words to say something when one hundred words will do. Judging by the example of Philo, fanciful allegorical reinterpretations of the Jewish scriptures were quite common in the first century, and I suspect that the Christian gospels are just more examples of this.

    i have enjoyed Richard Carrier’s debates and lectures on YouTube and hope to read one or more of his books someday. I currently have on hand Bart Ehrman’s DID JESUS EXIST and Robert M. Price’s BART EHRMAN AND THE QUEST OF THE HISTORICAL JESUS OF NAZARETH. I hope to read these before watching their debate in October (moderated by Matt Dillahunty), but I still have two hundred pages of Philo to get through.

  35. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    How one could assign this a probability greater than zero escapes me.

    In short, if you are a Bayesian – and you should be – then if you actually have a zero prior estimation on the likelihood of the truth of some proposition, then according to the logic of Bayes equation and epistemology, no amount of evidence should ever convince you otherwise. In other words, it is generally irrational to have a literal zero prior. Instead, priors for things like this are just extremely, extremely low. To phrase it another way, there should be some amount of hypothetical evidence that would convince you that Jesus rose from the dead, is the son of god and is god at the same time, and a specific set of Christian dogma. Of course, right now, apparently, you have a proper estimation that’s near 0 for these claims, just like me, but you should be willing to admit in the abstract “yea, I might be wrong, but I’m very probably right, and it’s going to require a lot of compelling evidence to change my mind”.

  36. Monocle Smile says

    Given how many times Blake Giunta claims to be a Bayesian in all of his debates, I’d sure like to seem him show his work to establish the three priors I listed above.

  37. Yaddith says


    Sure, I am quite willing to admit the possibility that Jesus may have risen from the dead, or that I am a brain in a vat, or that Hillary Clinton is a reptilian alien in disguise, but so what? I choose to live in the real world, and I am not going to waste a second seriously considering such nonsense. As Matt Dillahunty pointed out in his discussion with Blake Giunta on methodological naturalism: “A miracle is something that has never ever been demonstrated.” I don’t see how it is possible to quantify the probability of a supernatural event in mathematical terms when the supernatural has not been shown to exist.

  38. Monocle Smile says

    My spidey-sense is telling me that an EL rant is coming…

    Of course, in this case, I’ll probably agree with most of that rant, because after defending Matt’s comments on the supernatural in the past, I feel like an idiot after the video on “methodological naturalism.” The term “supernatural” is only meaningful if it’s used as a colloquialism to refer to seemingly reality-defying phenomena that either aren’t confirmed to occur or have very little data surrounding them. “Supernatural” is not a separate ontological category; that’s just nuts.

  39. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I completely agree with Yaddith on one point: I’d simply add the correction / clarification: I won’t waste my time either, until and unless someone presents some really compelling evidence as a start.

    As for the supernatural rant… meh. Not feeling it. I’ll just provide the link to the paper.
    > How not to attack Intelligent Design Creationism: Philosophical misconceptions about Methodological Naturalism
    > (final draft – to appear in Foundations of Science)
    > Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke, Johan Braeckman

  40. Murat says

    The term “supernatural” is tricky in terms of linguistics. One can read it as “what controls the nature” or “what our knowledge of nature does not cover”. Much as I agree with Matt in the way he discussed it, there’s sort of an oxymoron in pointing out that “a miracle is something that has never ever been demonstrated” simply because such a demonstration would drag the supernatural into what is defined as natural. For any Jungle Forest native to have a contact with the modern world by witnessing a plane flying over his hut, the encounter is simply “supernatural”. The way AXP handles such issues so profoundly, some terms need to be narrowed down to more specific definitions. Magic, miracle, supernatural etc. can no longer refer to the very same thing after a point in such discussions.

  41. favog says

    Regarding Blake Junta and Bayes Theorem:

    He’s an apologist. By definition, this means he uses a method that looks a lot like Bayes Theorem, because it’s Bayes Theorem in reverse. Instead of using a set of priors and crunching the numbers to calculate a probability, he starts with a probability and then juggles backwards until he gets a set of “priors” that he thinks he can justify.

  42. bigjay says

    Off-topic but I like you guys and didn’t know where else to post this:

    I have an email correspondence relationship with a preacher and we’ve argued several times at length about theism. I just emailed him and asked his thoughts on slavery in the bible and am awaiting his reply.

    If he engages with me, would you like to see the back and forth? I can paste it here unless you don’t want to see it or there’s a better place for this that you all are a part of.


  43. Murat says

    @favog #41
    Is there any single claim that can’t be “proven” by the use of such a method?

  44. favog says

    @Murat #42
    Of course not. It’s just the assumption of one’s own conclusion, the good ol’ circular fallacy, dressed up in fancy math so it looks more impressive. Bayes’ Theorem, in so far as I understand it, is a great thing but there are subtle nuances that need to be looked out for. That’s one. The fact that it’s very GIGO, as mentioned above, is another — but that’s also why it’s a fine demonstrator of the provisional nature of all knowledge. A full and honest presentation of a Bayesian argument includes the caveat that the final probability is based on a certain set of assumptions and beliefs and that changes there will affect the final number, and that it’s not something graven in stone, and even if it were graven in stone it’s still only a statement of odds.

  45. Yaddith says

    Murat #39:

    I’ve wondered about this as well. If the “supernatural” were to manifest in the natural world, wouldn’t it necessarily have to be redefined as “natural”?

  46. Murat says

    @Yaddith #44

    It’s also a matter of “perspective”: In the case of the Rain Forest native who sees a plane flying over the village, the experience is “supernatural” for him; whereas for the pilot there’s nothing going beyond a very regular and natural flight. I’m not sure if any words in the Bible (or Torah) directly correspond to “supernatural”, but if they do, there’s a serious fallacy here as God itself would never see or claim any Godly act to be supernatural.

    There are two types of magicians:
    1) Those who actually claim to have performed something that involves no explainable tricks at all (hence, building authority on the audience – these people are whom James Randi has a reputation of exposing)
    2) Those who manifest that there’s a “trick” to this, but just don’t share the details of the trick with the audience, just allowing them to be entertained by trying to figure out what the trick is. The best example to the 2nd kind of magician / mentalist is Derren Brown.

    Whenever I listen to Matt or AronRa refer to magic as what the Bible offers as an explanation to God’s method, I wonder if the original language there provides a distinction between these two types of magicians.

    In Islam, it is sort of considered that there is an explainable “trick” at the end of the day, meaning that God has set rules which it can not trespass in any way itself, and that it operates within the framework of these rules. The process God does his thing is called “sunnat” in the Quran but the term is sort of hijacked / distorted, and today refers popularly to how a Jesus-like figure (Muhammad) did his (alleged) things. It was thanks to the earlier understanding of Islam that people of that era saw no problem in sort of insinuating evolution when exploring similarities between chimps and human.

    I don’t want to play into the hands of Giunta (not because he’s a bad guy, but because he’s quite off-base when handling logic) but anyone who claims God to exist better define him at least as the 2nd kind of magician; because the 1st kind does well fit the description of Satan as well since it has no intention of portraying the stage honestly.

  47. Murat says

    @bigjay #41

    If the preist would know and is ok with having the correpondence shared, not seeing it as violation of privacy, I guess you can.

  48. Devocate says


    his Bayesian priors are 1) god exists, 2) jesus existed as described, and 3) god had reason to raise jesus.

    That isn’t what Bayesian priors even look like. Neither, if we made them such, would they be reasonable beginnings for a Bayesian analysis.


    even if it were graven in stone it’s still only a statement of odds.

    That all you can ever hope for. Other than mathematical proofs, all knowledge is a statement of odds about some proposition.

  49. ironchops says

    To Murat “For any Jungle Forest native to have a contact with he modern world by witnessing a plane flying over his hut, the encounter is simply “supernatural””
    Yea…especially if it is a “Super Hornet (FA18)”
    I find the term supernatural odd in way of a description because to me it implies more or better natural and not magic. If we could find a way to live such that we neither add or subtract from the environment in any adverse ways we would become “supernatural”.

  50. favog says

    @Devocate, in 47:
    Yep. Totally. That’s why I say it’s a great demonstrator of the provisional nature of all knowledge. Watching those who want to dispute Bayes (despite it’s very successful application in the real world), it really seems to me that it bothers them that Bayes requires us to admit that this thing we’re calling knowledge is ultimately guesses based on earlier guesses that have had, well, very successful application in the real world. Me, I’m okay with that. I even find that kind of world to be exciting.

  51. Murat says

    @ironchops #48

    Exactly the point: Superman is still “man”, and Nietzche’s Übermensch is still “mensch”, just like “supernatural” is still “natural” only with the difference that it manifests a more powerful or unusual face of the nature than ordinary, daily life nature does. Sometimes when the term is used, I feel like people use it in such a context that it begins to mean “anti-natural”. These are two very different things. I can not imagine how any occurrance can contradict with nature’s mechanisms; but I can give it a shot if someone comes up with a claim that’s overwhelming in terms of size and timing, but still in coherence with our known definition of nature.

    If you hear a sound and there’s no one around you but a tree, you can 1) claim the tree contacted you telepathically 2) get convinced that your brain is showing unusual behavior 3) you are being contacted by a distant third party and attributing the telepathy to the tree simply because it’s what you can see.

    Now, far as I’m concerned, only option 2 is “reasonable” in the light of what we know about reality and nature. However, if a slightest proof to any kind of telepathy among “brains” gets somehow documented and approved, options 3 will find its way to reason. Stretching the idea further, it would take one only to document that a brain is not required as a source for telepathic messaging in order to open way for option 2 into reason.

    However, even though only one option is “reasonable” for now, can we say that the other two are “unnatural” or “anti-natural”? I’s claim these two options to be “super-natural”… Because within them a certain method is mentioned; some sort of rule or path is insinuated.

    What I’d call “magic” would be the tree having a mouth (or maybe a face) and to communicate with the person in a way that contradicts not only with our past knowledge of communication, but also with how we have come to define plants, humans, mouths, sound, etc.

    This is how I label the terms in my mind, but of course I may be mapping things out regardless of what the general public has in mind while using the words.

  52. Monocle Smile says

    I think you’re correct, but this is explicitly what Giunta said both in the debate and in the debate review.

  53. ironchops says

    To Murat- I appreciate your response.
    I have noticed the EL & MS steer away from definitions and focus on word usage instead (I hope they might elaborate so I can better understand this personal policy). To me a definition should tell us how to use a word but if someone changes/revises or even slightly tweaks an established definition then we need to take the time to learn that new definition, if we can even figure it out, otherwise nearly all further communication becomes bogged down with equivocations or ends all together. It seems people do that on purpose to mislead or misrepresent.
    According to Webster’s dictionary the simple Definition of “supernatural” is: “unable to be explained by science or the laws of nature: of, relating to, or seeming to come from magic, a god, etc.” The first portion could be anything observed without an explanation. The second portion invokes the word “seeming” not necessarily meaning it actually is. As soon as a reasonable/true explanation can be formulated it then becomes natural. No god. No magic.

  54. Monocle Smile says

    We do this for good reason…words don’t have static, intrinsic meanings. Usages change with time. Moreover, when having certain discussions, the fine details matter much more than in colloquial speech. Dictionaries typically host colloquial usages of words. But when we’re having discussions about epistemology and ontology, it’s very important to tie well-defined concepts to the words we use to ensure clarity. For instance, that dictionary definition you laid out says both “unable to be explained” and “seeming to come from magic,” so we have an issue there. There’s a considerable difference between “unexplained” and “inexplicable.” The former means we either have no data or insufficient data to draw a conclusion. The latter implies that data is impossible to gather.

    Are you familiar with AronRa at all? He’s good at drawing up detailed definitions for terms that he uses for the purposes of discussion right at the get-go. For instance, apologists love to equivocate on the word “evolution.” Aron specifies what he means by that word so it’s obvious when the apologist lies.

  55. Murat says

    @Monocle Smile

    So, do you think supernatural, magic and miracle are words that can be used interchangably at times, within a certain discussion?

    Or, do you think they imply quite different things?

  56. ironchops says

    Thanks MS. Sam Dennett said “the word “word” is just a word”, iguess meaning it is a sort of construct or as you said “no static, intrinsic or natural meaning. I know of AronRa and have watched a bunch of his Youtube videos and I like his Patheos blog. I really need help in the areas of epistemology and ontology. Basically I know nothing about either of these, the product of have my head up my churchyfied bum for so long. Can you point to some good epistemology and ontology for dummy type literature?
    By the way, have you or EL heard from Narf at all, I miss his comments. I hope he is well.

  57. Monocle Smile says

    That is an excellent question. This is why I think definitions are important.
    Yes, I think in a colloquial discussion, they can be used somewhat interchangeably, though “miracle” typically has a religious connotation (and some people use it to mean “event with low probability of occurring), “magic” often refers to things like incantations, and “supernatural” is associated with things like ghosts and clairvoyance.

    However, when talking about epistemology and ontology, I don’t really see any use for any of them. If something happens that can’t be explained by our current understanding, it has always been the case that our current understanding is insufficient. Never has something been confirmed to actually “break the rules” of reality only to “un-break” them after the occurrence is over. In Harry Potter, for instance, magic can do things that we consider impossible, but magic has its own set of rules, too. So what does “miracle” actually mean, then? What would a miracle look like? How would we know that it’s not merely something we don’t currently understand rather than something that can’t be understood? I’m trying to be thorough in my answer; I hope you get the gist.

  58. Monocle Smile says

    I miss Narf, too. He shows up at Patheos sometimes as “Joseph.”
    Epistemology and ontology can be heavy subjects, so I’ll dig up what I can. Ontology is essentially about “the actual nature of X” while epistemology is about “how do we acquire knowledge/data about X.” For a very simple and somewhat terrible example, take a baseball game. The ontology of the score is what the score actually is…say, 6-4. Epistemology is how a person knows the score…either by attending the game and counting the runs or looking at the scoreboard or reading it in a newspaper.

    Eventually, we get into what constitutes valid epistemology. In other words, what are the best ways to come to accurate conclusions about reality in robust fashion? The entire point of reason is to do just this, and it goes back to before Aristotle, though he formalized quite a bit. However, as he demonstrated, “pure reason” follows the GIGO principle, which is why he concluded that women have fewer teeth than men. Democritus, someone I admire greatly, understood this problem and thus advocated for mixing empiricism (data collection through sensory observation) and rationalism in order to avoid GIGO. I call myself an empirical rationalist for this reason. However, even though I think Democritus settled this thousands of years ago, plenty of philosophers (lots of religious apologists) feel the need to take this apart and blather on about “other ways of knowing” as if empirical rationalism hasn’t dominated the scoreboard. I’ll see if I can find some book titles.

  59. Mobius says

    I seem to have diverted the conversation away from the show and onto Matt’s and Guinta’s debate and associated topics. Hope that doesn’t upset anyone.

  60. bigjay says


    I was asking would you guys be interested in seeing the conversation, I wasn’t really asking about the ethics of posting his words. I’m anonymous on here and I would keep his identity anonymous also.

    I fully expect the usual song and tap dance around slavery but you never know, you know?

  61. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Monocle Smile covers all of the questions directed to me quite well. I’m not sure if need to add anything. Let me add this one thing:

    As for the word “supernatural”, it’s almost properly basic for me that if it’s observable – directly or indirectly – and it repeats, then you can do science on it. The idea of a repeating observable phenomenon that is somehow immune to scientific analysis is absurd and incoherent. In short:
    “Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from science!”

    This is also how magic is almost always presented as fiction, as something that must be studied and practiced, e.g. science.

  62. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    PS: The extreme example that one could invoke of an observable, repeating phenomenon is a malicious Cartesian Demon who to perfectly frustrate your attempts at science in all cases. However, I call that idea absurd, which I think is fair for several obvious reasons.

    A more realistic demon, such as The Agents of The Matrix, could put great limits on what is discoverable, but there are still discoveries that could be made.

    Then again, if they can and do modify memories on the scale depicted in The Matrix, e.g quite often and quite completely – then the entire scheme of epistemology and knowledge is simply done. In this case, I assume that it does not happen, or that it happens only rarely. IMHO, the fundamental assumption of the genera – but not absolute – reliability of memory is required to do anything in epistemology and knowledge. If that’s gone, then there’s not like there’s an alternative. You’re just done.

  63. Yaro says

    Chan has some SEEEEEEERIOUS cognitive dissonance going on. He was more than willing to look at stuff empirically and objectively for the most part until it came to actually examining a spiritual claim…

    Also, not only was it Black Swan to say no NATURAL case of someone coming back from the dead, unless I’m mistaken it’s absolutely incorrect: Google Lazarus Syndrome. It’s exceptionally rare, but it is a documented medical phenomenon where someone who is technically or even confirmed dead returns to life as organs resume functioning seemingly spontaneously.

  64. Murat says

    @Monocle Smile #56

    I get your point. However, I still think that, the deeper an investigation on such issues get, the more we need to tell “similar” concepts apart from each other.

    I’ve been watching some AronRa videos recently and I admire the man for his effort on whatever issue he tackles. And that’s exactly why I get somewhat disappointed when he proposes that “God did it” means the same with “It’s magic!” I understand that he’s exposing the dogmas of creationists, and that the “opposition” tends to explain origins of life / existence / species etc. via some sort of magic; but still, is THAT the claim major religions come with? I doubt that.

    Matt has said similar things in various episodes of AXP and on some debates, too. There comes a time when you need to show the other side that what they argue for offers no mechanism or method, hence, is the same with saying things just popped out. But still, it looks a bit clumsy to put all the fruits into the same basket.

    Magic, miracle and supernatural may belong in the same category whenever we are appealing to reason. However, if the other person (or, the source material in hand, such as a “holy book”) DOES distinguish between the three and favor a specific one, then the argument from reason will lose power simply because our side will seem to not understand the distinctions.

    If and when we ever witness an event that surpasses our understanding of life, nature and existence, then, of course we will be unable to tell wether it’s a miracle, a supernatural event or magic. But still, behind the curtains, the destinction between those concepts will remain.

    I think that, when AronRa is gathering such terms together to make an argument more clear, he’s doing the very same thing that he does in taxonomy: “We didn’t come from apes, we ARE apes” he says, which is very enlightening in terms of understanding how the classification is made. But it’s a different case when he classifies “terms”, grouping supernatural, magic, miracle and others under the category of “unreasonable”, because unlike animals, these words do not correspond to anything solid, nor do they have the kind of lineage to track their root to the very same kind of superstition. Do they differ in degrees of being unreasonable, or are they positioned differently against reason?

    A shortcut to what I’m trying to explain is that, many religious people believe in miracles without believing in magic and many consider the supernatural to be more in line with the transcendental. And they are well aware that such concepts occupy a territory other than that of “reason”, without being the very same things.

    Categorizing all these words under the same title may at times sound a bit too oversimplifying, and not just for theists, but for anyone interested in constructing serious arguments for or against either of these concepts.

  65. Monocle Smile says

    If someone claims that “magic, miracle, and supernatural” all have distinctions, then they need to set their own definitions. I have yet to encounter anyone who’s even come close to doing this coherently.

    A shortcut to what I’m trying to explain is that, many religious people believe in miracles without believing in magic and many consider the supernatural to be more in line with the transcendental

    This is what I’m talking about. I have absolutely no idea what you’re saying here.

  66. Murat says

    @Monocle Smile
    I had given some examples to how they can have distinctions in #45 and #50.

  67. Monocle Smile says

    Well, that may be what they mean to you, but that’s just you, and while you provide a couple of examples, I can’t glean any rigorous definitions from them.

  68. Monocle Smile says

    Also, not that you’re trolling, but this sounds like a bit of concern trolling…that is, tilting at windmills. I don’t know if this has ever caused a problem with communication. It also sounds like an extension of the Courtier’s Reply, as additional knowledge about the distinctions between magic, miracle, and supernatural doesn’t change the position that none of them appear to have any mechanism or method…or that phenomena in any of those categories even happen.

  69. Murat says

    @MS #68
    Magic, the way we use it today, does have a mechanism and a method: The illusion derives from the difference between the audience and the magician regarding their levels of knowlege about the mechanism.
    It’s understandable to say that all these concepts have “family ties”, but they aren’t the same exact thing.
    I don’t think that demanding more elaborate a distinction between these terms would pass as the Courtier’s Reply Fallacy because the distinction need not be made with regards to theology. On the contrary, they would become more distinct if we handled each label through a logical, reasonable, even “secular” scrutiny.
    Not having the distinciton may not cause a problem if you are in a pragmatical situation, like persuading a patient that they’re not possessed by the spirits, but just suffering from a disease. However, a “debate” between a theist and an atheist would require each to point out clearly what they mean when they use a certain word and not another one.

  70. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I seem to have diverted the conversation away from the show and onto Matt’s and Guinta’s debate and associated topics. Hope that doesn’t upset anyone.

    It’s fine. We get derails all the time! I think everyone’s happy as long as they’re good ones (and not drowning out conversation relevant to the particular show, of which there appears to be around none right now). All IMHO.

    […]the other side […] offers no mechanism or method […]

    [this] destinction between those concepts will remain.

    I believe that you are saying that magic, miracles, and the supernatural, are bad “explanations” because they lack mechanism or some internal model with moving parts. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of science, and of “knowledge” in general. This is one of the most common misunderstandings I see, and it plagues discussions like this one.

    At the end of the day, in a very real and concrete sense, science has absolutely the same problem that you ascribe to magic, miracles, and the supernatural. At the end of the day, science will also never be able to give you a mechanism. Consider any cutting edge question or experiment in physics. For example, consider the standard model of (quantum) physics, and consider the general theory of relativity. Both are amazingly successful, accurate, and useful models of reality. However, there is no mechanism. None. Nothing. Try asking the question “ok, but how or why does matter bend spacetime in the way it does?”. There is no answer, and even if you attempt to give an answer, you’re just putting off the problem by one step, because then I can ask “what is the mechanism that underlies your new model?”.

    What you’re looking for is called a “reductionistic” explanation. That’s what an explanation is. An explanation in this sense is explaining how something works in terms of something else that the audience is more familiar with. An expanation reduces a hard problem to a simpler problem. The reductionistic approach has been wildly successful in helping us understand our world, but all reductionistic explanations depend themselves on other models, which themselves are further reductionistic or currently basic. For example, I can explain the workings of biology to you in terms of chemistry, and I explain chemistry to you in terms of particle physics, but I cannot explain to you particle physics in terms of something else because I do not understand particle physics in terms of something else. No one does. At least not yet. And if someone later discovers some way to explain the standard model of physics in terms of something else, that something else will then be the thing that is unexplained.

    At the end of the day, every question of the form “how or why does reality work this way?” is answered in the following form: “I don’t know, but I do know that it is this way because of the evidence that I have”.

    I strongly encourage watching the following video by the Nobel Physicst Richard Feynman, one of the great legends of both physics and the education of physics of our time, where he covers this same topic in his own, unique way.

    > Richard Feynman Magnets

    In short, your purported distinction between “science” and “magic, miracles, supernatural” is based on a fundamentally and critically flawed understanding of science and knowledge.

    In other words, the effect of your position is to unconsciously privilege current particle physics to some special privileged position, where every model of reality muyst be reducible to particle physics in order to be trueg. However, that position is wrong. There is no logical or philosophical reason why particle physics should have such a favored position. Particle physics might be wrong, or incomplete. There may be new physics out there, waiting to be discovered, with is not reducible to the “standard model” of physics.

    Finally, let me put it like this. Suppose I found a particular Latin incantation so that, when I held a glass of water in my hand and intoned the incantation, the water turned to wine. Further suppose that this was reproducible on demand by anyone who could reproduce the Latin incantation sufficiently accurately. Suppose further that attempts to produce conventional materialistic explanations failed for many years, but the experiments of this incantation were confirmed every time by everyone. You do not need a “mechanism” in order to properly conclude that A causes B. This evidence alone is more than sufficient to determine that speaking the Latin incantation causes the transformation of the water to wine. Is it supernatural? What does that even mean? And who cares? Whether I care about the answer depends on exactly how you define terms.

    To demand a mechanism before giving your assent that the incantation causes the transformation when faced with this level of evidence, to demand a mechanism with the implicit bias of materialism despite this level of evidence, is dogmatic. It is dogmantic in precisely the same bad way that many religious believers are dogmatic about their beliefs of the superantural and their god and religious creed, and it’s just as wrong, foolish, arrogant, misguided, etc.

    I am a reductionistic materialist, but I have that belief because I am justified on the basis of the available evidence. I hold that belief with a level of confidence that is justified by the evidence, and no more. To go further, as you would, is foolish and dogmatic and wrong.

    I also strongly recommend, again, the following peer-reviewed paper, that discusses many of this questions in some detail.

    > How not to attack Intelligent Design Creationism: Philosophical misconceptions about Methodological Naturalism
    > (final draft – to appear in Foundations of Science)
    > Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke, Johan Braeckman

  71. Devocate says

    “This evidence alone is more than sufficient to determine that speaking the Latin incantation causes the transformation of the water to wine. Is it supernatural? What does that even mean? And who cares?”

    The people who care are the ones who want to claim this phenomenon for their own personal pre-existing ideology. They will say (as Blake does) “See, this proves my theology.” But if he actually was a Bayesian, he would be forced to admit that every other religion, magic system, etc. and that none of them predicted this exact incantation, so his god prior is not going to budge much from this evidence.

  72. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Devocate

    But if he actually was a Bayesian,

    IMHO, that should probably read more like “If he was intellectually honest”, or maybe “if he had reasonable priors”.

    But yea, I agree with your point.

    In my words, this Latin incantation is consistent with a great many modern religious, and therefore it’s not strong evidence for any of them. In order to convince me of the existence and truth of Jesus and the core Christian doctrine, it’s going to take multiple lines of concordant evidence, because I currently have such a wealth of independent lines of strong evidence against the Christian thesis. Any one line of evidence is going to be not terribly compelling. For example, even if Roman Catholics benefited from prayer in a proper double blind experiment, and this was statistically significant and reproducible, etc., this is not particularly strong evidence for the truth of Roman Catholic dogma. I would need lots more evidence like this to even start spending my time considering it. This is in part because Roman Catholic dogma has a great many predictions, and this line of evidence would confirm but one, which means there remains a bunch of predictions that are still currently false, which means the most likely explanation is that it’s a coincidence, and not that the core Roman Catholic dogma is true.

  73. Mobius says

    @69 Murat

    Magic, the way we use it today, does have a mechanism and a method: The illusion derives from the difference between the audience and the magician regarding their levels of knowlege about the mechanism.

    I think you are doing a bit of equivocation here. “Magic” when it is used in the context of the supernatural is not stage magic. In the context being used in the discussion of the supernatural, magic would be like that used by Gandalf, having real effects achieved by non-natural means.

    To say that magic means “stage magic” and only stage magic is a logical fallacy, since the word can have a different meaning.

  74. Mobius says

    During the discussion Matt had with Giunta over methodological naturalism, Giunta says he sees no difference between acceptance of the possibility of aliens and acceptance of the possibility of miracles.

    There is one YUGE difference, and I think Matt tried to point this out…Aliens do not violate any of the laws of nature while miracles, by definition, violate the laws of nature.

  75. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Mobius in 74

    Still, there is some valid point lurking in there, which is that my confidence that “modern materialistic physics is correct” is non-absolute, and can be overturned with sufficiently compelling evidence. So, it would take a lot of evidence to convince me that intelligent aliens exist and visit Earth and harass human Earthlings, it would take even more quality evidence to convince me that there is a creature outside of our materialistic spacetime physics (nominally known as “a god”) that occasionally pokes its hand in and mucks with things.

    So, according to your description, the guy was right and wrong. I’d have to watch the video and see the context to comment further.

  76. Murat says

    @Mobius #73

    In terms of having a mechanism / method or not, I don’t think Gandalf’s magic and stage magic differ. In the latter, we are more in line with the magician, hence, know better that there is a mechanism, one which we could have mastered had we had the talent, had we given the time and energy. Gandalf (like all the druids who have inspired him) does not perform anthing that has never required knowledge and training, which are concepts that point out to something other than the supernatural.

    The word “magic” does not change meaning when we apply “stage” as an adjective in front of it.

    Actually, this is one of the points I was trying to make:

    The fact that “magic” has always been known as an art to “master” makes it way more different than “the supernatural”; and the magician a different character than any entity possessing unlimited power. Had there not been a mechanism and a method, why would magicians, alchemists, druids, shamans etc. collect stuff from the nature to make “magic potions” or to perform healings of some sort?

    Broadly speaking, people of certain times and geographies geve different names to “healers” and “scientists” than we today do. “Magic” is one of them.

    Remember the quote from Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

    Now, why did he not say “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from the supernatural” or “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from miracles”? Exactly because he was noting that magic refers to a discipline and a method, whereas some other reason-defying concepts do not.

    If we would be okay with using the words “magic, supernatural & miracle” interchangably within a certain context, then we’d also have to be ok with using “reason, science & logic” interchangably too. Why would we not, since they belong to the same family of concepts according to their positions within reality? But we don’t, because we know that they imply different things.

    When required to group them, of course we know where to draw the line, but that does not mean every single one of those “other” concepts is as close to that line as the others.

  77. Devocate says

    ” I don’t think Gandalf’s magic and stage magic differ.”

    Not much to say then. Gandalf is (an avatar of) a lesser god. His works are NOT tricks, sleight of hand, nor confusion of the eye. They are a result of (a portion of) his personal power with which he was born (and some help from a magical artifact). His magic does not come from study nor training. If you think stage magicians are doing that, you (to quote Gandalf) “have left the path of reason”.

  78. Murat says

    @Devocate #77
    Thanks for the information / correction. But then, do we not come to a point that not even the word “magic” itself is enough to cover different practices that at first seem to be the very same thing? If “stage magic” relies not on anything other than a method and some talent, then Gandalf better be called a “sorcerer” or something to that effect, and not a “magician”. And this would show that we have not less, but even more distinction between all these related terms.

  79. indianajones says

    I submit that prestidigitation is what Houdini et al did, vs magic which is what Gandalf and gods do and that this is is a valid and useful distinction here.

  80. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Murat #76:

    knowledge and training, which are concepts that point out to something other than the supernatural
    Had there not been a mechanism and a method, why would magicians, alchemists, druids, shamans etc. collect stuff from the nature

    Article: Wikipedia – Magic (paranormal)

    Magic or sorcery is the use of rituals, symbols, actions, gestures, and language with the aim of exploiting supernatural forces.
    The concept of magic, considered distinct from religion, was first widely recognized in Judaism, which defined the practices of pagan worship designed to appease and receive benefits from gods other than Yahweh as magic. Wouter Hanegraaff argues that magic is in fact “a largely polemical concept that has been used by various religious interest groups either to describe their own religious beliefs and practices or – more frequently – to discredit those of others.

    Article: Wikipedia – Miracle

    Explanations, Supernatural Acts:
    A miracle is a phenomenon not explained by known laws of nature. Criteria for classifying an event as a miracle vary. Often a religious text, such as the Bible or Quran, states that a miracle occurred, and believers accept this as a fact.

    Can we just define miracle as lazy storytelling?

  81. Murat says

    @Sky Captain #80

    Lazy storytelling? Ummm, it’s more like an intentionally vague tie-in to a possible sequel, I guess…

    The problem of credibility with the God (of various scriptures) is not that it can do things people can’t; but that it denies any clue to what kind of tools and methods it has while at the same time failing to explain why it can do this and that and not something else, especially when needed or called for.

    The God (of various scriptures) raises suspicion that it’s actually a lieutenant depicting itself as an army chief. I sometimes get the feeling that all those texts would make more sense if we somehow understood that they were inspired by a lesser power, an impostor, while a probable God itself never even bothered to contact anyone.

    I’m ok with the Wikipedia definitions in general, but when the term “magic” is used I think of a “magician” as a control mechanism whereas the term “paranormal” sounds like the observation of something uncontrolled, unintended and unusual. (Paranormal Activiy is ok as a title for that movie, but Magical Activity, nah.)

  82. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Devocate in 77

    His [Gandalf’s] magic does not come from study nor training.

    Yes and no.

    There are several examples of Middle Earth lore of non-Maia being able to use magic. Still, there does appear to still be the concept that in order to use magic, one must be born with the ability.

    Still, I am born with the ability to walk. However, in order to exercise that ability to walk, I need to practice. I am also born with the ability to perform complex feats of acrobatics, but I must practice regularly in order to have a chance to do them, and for the especially difficult feats, it would benefit me greatly to have someone tell me how to perform those feats.

    Quoting from the above link:

    It is true, that Sauron gave the elves the KNOWLEDGE to create the rings.

    I would say: Sauron could tell a random hobbit exactly what he told to those elves about how to create the rings of power, but it seems IMHO highly unlikely that the hobbits could do so, no matter how much training Sauron gave. It’s like trying to train a person without legs to be a 110 meter hurdle jumper – it’s not going to happen.

    However, it also seems to follow that the elves had the innate ability to create the rings of power, but they didn’t know how to do so until Sauron told them. Of course, maybe the elves could figure it out on their own, but that’s still an example of magic being learn through study and training and practice.

    Also quoting from the above link:

    There are many examples of fate being bound to the WORDS of mortals (precognition, oaths, curses and vows, etc.). The most obvious being the oath-breakers and their pact with Isildur. Other examples include Glorfindel’s prophecy concerning the demise of the witch-king, and Feanor’s vow. This this theme that pervades the books, the innate power of words (or to be more precise, the power of communication, as will be show in the example of music below) is consistent with Tolkien’s ideology that language itself holds power.

    In almost every work of fiction that I am aware of, when magic is being used, it is a science. There are certain physical or mental acts, that, when performed in a certain way in certain circumstances, can reliably lead to certain manifestations in the real world. That’s science. Of course, in many such settings, only a certain few people can wield magic because it requires having certain rare innate abilities (sometimes by chance, sometimes by heritity, sometimes it depends on the day of birth, etc.), but again that’s nothing special compared to the analogy that in order to walk or to do 110 meter hurdle, one needs legs, which is an “ability” that not everyone is born with – and even with legs, it takes practice in order to sufficiently perform difficult feats with those legs like doing 110 meter hurdle jumping.

    So, Devocate, I must strongly disagree with you. Your idea of magic is almost never how magic is described in any fiction.

    CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain

    Can we just define miracle as lazy storytelling?


  83. Devocate says

    “Gandalf better be called a “sorcerer” or something to that effect, and not a “magician”.”

    No one knowledgeable about the matter ever called the Gandalf a ‘magician’. He was mostly called a ‘wizard’.

    But this is why I objected to you lumping both him and Penn under the same title.

  84. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Devocate
    It is true that Gandalf has knowledge and/or abilities that Penn Jillette does not have. However, it is true that Gandalf and Penn both perform certain physical and mental acts with the foreknowledge that doing so will reliably result in certain physical results in the immediate future. Penn Jillette does his “party tricks” through manipulation of everyday materialistic physics, and Gandalf does his magic through manipulation of the physics (and his perhaps innate abilities) that exists in the fantasy setting of Middle Earth. It’s in that sense that they are the same, which I believe was the point of the other poster.

  85. Devocate says

    “So, Devocate, I must strongly disagree with you. Your idea of magic is almost never how magic is described in any fiction. ”

    Why would you think that I was talking about magic described in any fiction? I was talking about Gandalf.

    “However, it also seems to follow that the elves had the innate ability to create the rings of power, but they didn’t know how to do so until Sauron told them.”

    I strongly disagree. Elves were making magic rings before Sauron came to them. He merely improved their art (mostly, I think, in the infusing of personal power into them). At the same time he learned that art from them.

  86. Devocate says

    “However, it is true that Gandalf and Penn both perform certain physical and mental acts with the foreknowledge that doing so will reliably result in certain physical results in the immediate future.”

    I am going for a walk outside. MAGIC!

    Seriously, with that as a definition of magic, every action is magic. Therefore it is useless for the intended purpose of *differentiating* anything. What a waste of a perfectly good word.

  87. Murat says

    @Devocate #86
    I think EL was trying to explain that magic is not different in terms of “discipline” than any other act involving a method, a talent, a devotion and an aim; leaving it to us to decide where to draw the line based on “credibility” or “manifesting itself in reality”.

    In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king… Even the weakest example to a “wizard” from any work of fiction would amaze and maybe easily rule us if manifested in reality; and in a realm where everyone can practice sorcery would be quite dull.

    It’s the point of view of the spectator (the ordinary one, the fooled, the subjects) that empowers the magic.

    As new terms come up, I wonder which of the following fits better now to describe the alleged acts of the God of the Bible: Magic, sorcery, wizardry, supernatural, paranormal, or anything else…

  88. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I strongly disagree. Elves were making magic rings before Sauron came to them. He merely improved their art (mostly, I think, in the infusing of personal power into them). At the same time he learned that art from them.

    “Art”. In this context, “art” means a skill, profession, a trade skill. That means something that is taught, that is learned, that is studied, that is practiced. So, when you said earlier “His [Gandalf’s] magic does not come from study nor training.”, are you now willing to back off of that statement?

    Seriously, with that as a definition of magic, every action is magic. Therefore it is useless for the intended purpose of *differentiating* anything. What a waste of a perfectly good word.

    But that’s my general point! “Magic” is not a good word. Neither is “supernatural” for the very same reason! It’s because both words set up this hard dichotomy between “things that are susceptible to analysis, reason, and science” and “things that are not”. However, that idea is fundamentally faulty. Everything is subject to analysis, reason, and science.

  89. EnlightenmentLiberal says


    (mostly, I think, in the infusing of personal power into them).

    Even if true, the rest of your statements admit as much that magic is still something that the elves and other creatures had to learn, practice, study, etc.

  90. corwyn says

    ” So, when you said earlier “His [Gandalf’s] magic does not come from study nor training.”, are you now willing to back off of that statement? ”

    Why would you think that what I said about Sauron applies to Gandalf? If the art was carpentry would you assume that Gandalf did that as well?

    In hopes that you don’t jump to another wrong conclusion, it is not clear that ring-making as a task is magic (as opposed to making a box into which one can pour magic).

  91. Monocle Smile says

    We came full circle! This is why I stated earlier that the words are only somewhat useful as colloquialisms, because there’s no special ontological status there.

  92. says

    Oh. Must see tv. JEN rubs her hands together and then claps loudly. She shouts “In the name of the father, the son and the holy ghost RECEIVE the holy spirit! Then she puts her hands on MATT’S bald head. Then Matt begins shaking and wriggling and squirming and moaning until he falls out of his chair. He jumps up from the floor and yells I FEEL THE SPIRIT!!!

    then sitting calmly down in the chair and ask the caller if Matt now has the holy spirit.
    I was waiting for that.

  93. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To corwyn
    I generally do so because I feel there is an important point to be made. I still have no idea what your point is to “correct” my hypothetical scenario. I still don’t know if you even had a point.

  94. corwyn says


    Well I guess I should be grateful. Previously you were finding points that I didn’t make; not finding points that I did make, is a better situation.

  95. iancarrtheone says

    If we went back 2000 years ago and showed someone from that time our mobile phone and proceeded to facetime someone they’d consider that a miracle

  96. StonedRanger says

    @Iancarr If you went back 2000 years ago and showed someone your mobile phone they might be impressed by the funny lights, but it wouldn’t do anything else as there is no such thing as cell service or the internet back then. Maybe take a picture or something but im pretty sure theyd consider it sorcery not a miracle.

  97. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To StonedRanger

    theyd consider it sorcery not a miracle

    It’s all in the presentation.

  98. albacrossed says

    Did anyone find it odd that at the end of the show he talked about the threat of creating the next Stalin by wanting to talk theists out of their religious beliefs, when that’s actually what they do every week on the show (try and talk thiests out of their religious beliefs)?

  99. albacrossed says

    “but it wouldn’t do anything else as there is no such thing as cell service or the internet back then. Maybe take a picture or something but im pretty sure theyd consider it sorcery not a miracle.”

    Yeah there may not be cell service or the internet back then…but that’s part of the ‘miracle’. You could just bring an ancient person to today I suppose. It’s a hypothetical situation anyway I guess.