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Apologetics Guided Reading: George Park Fisher “Manual of Christian Evidences” Chapter 9

I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above.

Chapter 9

Fisher’s argument in chapter 9 centers on the credibility of the apostles. In Chapter 8, he argued for the credibility of the Gospels, so he builds on the notion that the Gospels may be trusted to report the words of the Apostles to the question of why we ought to trust them.

First, he notes that we ought to generally trust people unless we have reason to distrust them, whether through intent to deceive or some independent reason to doubt their testimony (71). Other reasons to distrust them may be that they were “enthusiasts” or “simpletons.” A primary reason Fisher cites to trust the apostles is that they give testimony that shows them in a poor light. One example is Paul’s own writings in which he states that he persecuted the church (72-73). They also admit their own contentions about who should be first–the inner fights they had, and the rebukes against some of them by Jesus. Their willingness to show themselves as foolish or mistaken in various forms lends credence to their reports as truth.

Regarding the miracles they report, Fisher touches on the mythic theory put forward by David Friedrich Strauss–that the miracles found in the Gospels were imagined by followers of Jesus who were so caught up in him that they (intentionally or not) invented tales about his power. Fisher counters this by noting that this gets the story backwards, for the reason so many were interested in Jesus was because of the very miracles those selfsame people are alleged to have invented. How could they have become followers of Christ on account of miracles if they themselves invented them (74-75)?

One objection to the authenticity of the Gospels is found in alleged discrepancies between their accounts. Fisher approaches this argument from a few different ways. First, he notes that many of these alleged contradictions are not actually contradictions at all. He does not exhaustively look at such contradictions (for such a look, it is interesting to look at J.J. Blunt’s Undesigned Coincidences). Second, Fisher argues that minor discrepancies are to be expected in any human testimony. Should we demand 100% agreement in all testimony everywhere, courts would have to be “shut up, for the most veracious witnesses seldom agree in all the minutiae which enter into their testimony” (76).  One example I use personally is that of someone’s height. I’m short for an adult man, so on the witness stand I may call someone “tall” who someone of average of height might call “average.” Such a discrepancy in testimony doesn’t suggest we’d both be wrong, but that human perspective changes based on who the witness is. Fisher’s comments here would likely make some uncomfortable regarding specific doctrines of inspiration, particularly a stringent view of inerrancy. It seems Fisher is willing to allow for their to be even some factual discrepancies between the Gospels due to their human authorship. Third, Fisher notes that the Gospels are not intended to be exhaustive historical accounts but rather the remembrances of eyewitnesses, and so frequently the apparent contradictions or discrepancies could be resolved by simply having more detail. These details are often provided by other Gospel accounts, so it is important to compare them.

Regarding the miracles in the apostles’ accounts, Fisher notes a few lines of evidence. First, they verify revelations. Second, the miracles go against prevailing belief, such that they went against expectations. Third, several of the miracles were in circumstances people felt they were highly unlikely to occur. Fourth, the apostles were subject to persecution regarding their belief in many of these miracles. Thus, if they were inventing them, it was likely they would have given up the invention rather than try to maintain their false pretense. Fifth, the manner of reporting of miracles the apostles had was such that it lends credence to “sobriety of mind” rather than invented myths. Regarding the appearances of Christ, one of the points Fisher makes is that they were limited in time and scope. If they were invented, why would the appearances have stopped?

I think regarding Fisher’s last point, we could note that some do still allege appearances of Christ here and there. There are the infamous “Jesus toast” type of instances, which are dismissed by virtually all, including believers. So again, this seems to go against the idea that Christ-followers were or continue to be particularly prone to the invention and perpetuation of the miraculous. This doesn’t go into issues of charismata and the like, but questions and responses could be asked here as we continue to look at the nature of the miraculous.

Fisher’s succinct chapter here is filled with lines of thought. Again, he merely touches on most issues, but his arguments seem powerful. What takeaways did you have from this chapter?

Study Questions

  1. Fisher’s response to Strauss is quite brief. How might you expand it? What other interactions with Strauss have you run into?
  2. What do you think of Fisher’s comments regarding discrepancies in the apostles’ accounts? How might his answer impact one’s view of the Bible?
  3. What apparent contradictions have you seen in the Bible that you have been able to resolve?


Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- Cessationism and Defining Miracles


Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Cessationism and Defining Miracles

Jon Mark Ruthven’s  On the Cessation of the Charismata was recommended to me as one of the premier arguments against the cessationist position–the position which asserts that the spiritual gifts like healing, speaking in tongues, and the like have ended. Having read the book, I’d have to say I found it largely convincing and very thought provoking. I’ve shared a different quote from it elsewhere, but here I want to focus one part of Ruthven’s argument. He notes that:

The validity of cessationism depends upon a clearly discernible and internally consistent model of miracle which can be applied transparently and uniformly to all candidate cases as they appear throughout history, both in the biblical accounts and afterward. (44, cited below)

Then, he argues–I think rightly–that the cessationist has yet to provide just such a model. It seems instead that there is a kind of arbitrary cut-off point at which miracles are said to be untrustworthy occurrences. Ruthven spends a lengthy portion of the book arguing that the cessationist models have failed this consistency test.

What do you think? Have you seen a model that can consistently affirm the miracles in the Bible but then uniformly and without qualification deny those which are extrabiblical and/or modern? What stance do you take on the issue of miraculous gifts?


Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

“Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?”- A look at four views in Christian Theology– I provide a look at four positions on miraculous/spiritual gifts in contemporary theology.

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)


Jon Mark Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Charismata (Tulsa, OK: Word & Spirit Press, 2011).


Really Recommended Posts 11/22/13- Miraculous Gifts, Concordism, Archaeology, and more!

postI have to admit, I think this is one of the most engaging “Really Recommended Posts” I’ve put together. There are multiple views presented on two of these posts, and the others give some good food for thought. Check out opposing views on charismatic/miraculous gifts; delve into the notion of concordism from different sides. Leave comments to share your own thoughts on these issues. Then, archaeology, abortion, the Noah movie, and Hume round out the discussion. I hope you’ll drop some comments to let me know your thoughts.

Debate: Have the New Testament Charismatic Gifts Ceased?– The “Strange Fire” book and conference have caused a huge amount of discussion to arise within evangelical circles regarding miraculous/charismatic gifts. Do these gifts continue past the New Testament times? Here, Michael Brown debates Sam Waldron on this topic. I have also written presenting four major views on this topic should you like to explore the topic more deeply. Which side do you think is correct? Why? Leave a comment!

Defending Concordism: Response to The Lost World of Genesis One– Concordism is the view that science will line up with biblical teaching about origins and other scientific aspects of reality. One major challenge to the position is the notion that the Bible simply doesn’t address such things. Here, Reasons to Believe, a major concordist group, answers several objections posed against concordism. William Lane Craig has recently answered a question about concordism himself, in which he raises a few objections to the position and explains why he is not a concordist. What are your thoughts on this debate? Leave a comment!

A Brief Sample of Old Testament Archaeological Corroboration– The Old Testament clearly makes a number of claims about the actual historical events of the Bible. Here, J. Warner Wallace addresses some of these claims and notes how we have archaeological research to back them up.

How the ADF kept nurses who wouldn’t perform abortions from being fired– The ADF–Alliance Defending Freedom–successfully reached a settlement regarding a hospital that was going to force nurses with moral objections to abortion to perform them. I find this a particularly stunning case, because so often the pro-choice side says things like “Don’t want an abortion, don’t get one!” But this is shown to be mere lip service, because now the attempt is being made to force even those with moral objections not to get abortions, but to actually carry them out. I am very pleased to see that sound reasoning prevailed and the nurses were not forced to do this or lose their jobs. It remains troubling to me that anyone would even think this could be okay. Check out the post.

How Should Christians Respond to Noah the Movie?– Greg West over at The Poached Egg (an amazing site you should follow if you don’t already!) found this gem of a post regarding the “Noah” movie. Check out my own thoughts on the trailer and upcoming film.

David Hume’s Genuine Theism– A provocative title, to be sure! In this brief post, the author argues that one of Hume’s aims was to restore “genuine theism” over and against rationalistic deism. It’s a quick read, but very thought-provoking.

Really Recommended Posts 4/26/2012

There are a ton of great Christian blogs out there. Here I’ve highlighted only a few great posts. Check out my blogroll for more excellent blogs! This week I’ve featured posts discussing Christian Memes (one extremely important post!), how some secondary issues can be extremely important in apologetics, a beautiful sculpture and a discussion about it, an apologetic comic, Richard Carrier, and more.

By the way, as you read these posts I’d like to know what you think of them, so feel free to drop a comment here or at the posts themselves and let bloggers know you’re reading. Our best encouragement is you!

What Memes Mean: Avoiding Scumbag Apologetics– I have seen this same problem occurring in many places. I really appreciated this relevant post about the use of memes (often pictures with captions) and Christianity.

Debate in Apologetics: Secondary Issues of Primary Importance– This thoughtful post notes how some issues, like Young Earth Creationism, can potentially be harmful to the faith and the defense of the faith.

‘Heart-rending’: Young Slovakian sculptor captures post-abortion pain, mercy, and forgiveness– Beautiful artwork and pro-life discussion as we remember that it is not just one innocent life harmed by abortion.

Web Traffic for Reformed and Creationist Sites– A post which provides some insights into how people on the internet are consuming theology.

Constitution of the Divine Foot-in-the-Door Resistance Army– No Apologies Allowed constantly puts out great comics which allow for Christian engagement. This one is no different. Thought-provoking and insightful.

Compassion Wins: A Longtime Atheist Becomes Christian– Demonstrating a life like Jesus’ can be the best witness.

Richard Carrier on the Resurrection: Part 2– A lengthy and engaging post which shows some of the problems with Richard Carrier’s attacks on Christianity and miracles.

Reading Mackie “Miracle of Theism”: Chapter 1

I’ve been reading through The Miracle of Theism by J.L. Mackie. The book is known as one of the more powerful philosophical explications of atheism. You can read my thoughts on the introduction here (along with links to the rest of the series as they appear).

Chapter one thoughts:

Mackie begins with a brief outline of Hume’s argument, which he first outlines in five points, and refines it further thereafter. The five points from Hume, according to Mackie (p. 14-16) are: 1) “Hume says there are no really well-attested miracles…”; 2) “the human mind has a positive tendency to believe what is strange and marvelous”; 3) “reports of miracles ‘are observed chiefly to abound among ignorant and barborous nations’. Where they are believed by civilized peoples, these ‘will be found to have received them from ignorant and barbarous ancestors’, so that the stories will have acquired the authority of received opinions before the nations in question have developed powers of criticism and traditions of rational inquiry…”; 4) “different religions are in conflict: their claims therefore undermine and destroy one another…”; 5) “Hume says, the very fact that a miracle story is used to introduce a new religion or to support an existing one is an additional reason for skepticism. Many people have an intense desire to believe in some religious object…”

I see very little to commend among these five points. In fact, I find them all rather horribly mistaken. In regards to 1, this is simply begging the question. This “argument” is less a premise than it is an axiomatic denial of miraculous claims. It’s a broad, sweeping claim with no reason to accept it. There is nothing to support the second claim. I actually see it as a bit of “folk psychology of religion,” as it were. Isn’t it funny that the person, like Hume, who makes this point is believing a rather marvelous claim: that they are epistemically in a position to judge everyone else? It’s quite patronizing to make a point like 2, and given that the only evidence Mackie is willing to offer to support the claim is a vague hand wave towards people who believe in flying saucers, I don’t see any positive evidence to accept 2.

Regarding 3, we have a wonderful example of the genetic fallacy. Not only that, but I think we have a decent amount of evidence to show that this claim is simply false. While there are certainly persons who uncritically accept reports of miracles, there is a startling tradition within Christianity specifically which tells us to test such things for truth (cf. the comment to test the truth of spirits by the received Spirit in 1 John 4:1). And, of course, we could grant the third point and still find little reason to undermine the truth of miracles. Just because we have “received opinions” doesn’t mean these opinions are false. Mackie/Hume again just assume falsity, and apply folk psychology. It’s not a very objective method.

Point 4 is interesting because Mackie grants that “[4] has less force now than it had when Hume was writing.” But this is due, according to Mackie, not to the radical overvaluing of religious conflict, but because, according to him, various religions have made efforts to conform and take in aspects of each other—allowing for a broader spectrum and less internal conflict with claims of miracles from other religions. Fair enough, but I think there’s an even better reason to think the argument has little force: it doesn’t follow that because claims conflict, they are all false. Or, as I often like to put it, “Diversity of opinions does not entail the falsehood of them all.” I still struggle to see what the problem is supposed to be about miracle reports. It’s clearly false to say that they would cancel each other out, as Hume so ineloquently assumes. Suppose we apply this to another example: a murder investigation. One expert witness comes forward and says that the DNA evidence is positive. Another expert says it is negative. According to Hume’s standards, they’re both wrong, because they have conflicting opinons! But one of them has to be correct. I see no reason to accept 4 whatsoever because it literally tells us nothing useful.

Against 5, there must be some argument to show that 5 should be true, apart from more folk psychology. What evidence does Hume have to show us what he is saying is correct? I haven’t seen any offered.

Interestingly, Mackie actually grants a number of things which give credibility to the Resurrection. For example, he grants that independent witnesses increase the value of testimony (25). But, perhaps with the argument from the historicity of the resurrection in mind, he quickly modifies this account in an ad hoc way to provide himself a way out: “Not only in remote and barbarous times, but also in recent ones, we are usually justified in suspecting that what looks like distinct reports of a remarkable occurrence arise from different strands of a single tradition between which there has already been communication” (26). But of course Mackie gives no reason to accept this premise, and that is what it is: a premise. Mackie is positing that given a “remarkable occurrence” which is testified by different sources, we are justified in believing that they aren’t really independent, but are strands of a single tradition. Why should we believe him? What justifies us (epistemically) to do this? It is a rather monumental claim made by Mackie here, because he’s literally telling us that we are justified in question-begging any independent testimonies of miraculous reports out of existence.

Finally, Mackie closes the chapter with another remark similar to those he’s grown accustomed to throughout the chapter: “…it is all too easy to explain [a miracle/violation of a natural law] immediately by the automatic communication of beliefs between persons and the familiar psychological processes of wish fulfillment, and ultimately by what Hume himself was later to call ‘the natural history of religion’” (29). Well this sounds quite impressive, but Mackie has given us no reason to think that these explanations serve as the best explanation or presented us with evidence for the supposition that a natural explanation is always preferable to a supernatural one.

I can’t say I’m very impressed with Mackie’s critique of miracles. Hume’s argument fails to take into account anything but folk psychology, and Mackie’s additions really just amount to “Beg the question against the believer, and you’ve explained miracles.”



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Reading “Miracle of Theism” by J.L. Mackie: Introduction

This post will serve as a base for links to the rest of the chapters as I read them:

Chapter 1

One reader of my blog recently challenged me to take on the heady atheists. Rather than focusing on the kind of basic fallacies found in various atheistic objections to belief, he suggested I should devote some of my philosophical energy to rebutting the claims of atheists who should actually be taken seriously. I took the advice to heart, acquired copies of J.L. Mackie’s Miracle of Theism and Graham Oppy’s Arguing About Gods. I’ve started reading Mackie’s book. I will be posting thoughts as I continue to read through it, and tie it into an extended critique of his arguments. For today, I’ll discuss only the introduction.

I found a few areas of agreement. Mackie noted that a cumulative case would not point to certainty, but could overcome objections to individual arguments. I agree with him here. I tend to favor a “cumulative case” type of argument, though I think that some theistic arguments could easily stand on their own to prove general aspects of theism (like a first cause).

I find a bit of difficulty with Mackie’s rather dismissive attitude towards faith (p. 4-6). As tends to be the case when faith is discussed by non-theists, he just brought up arguments which he believes shows that reason must be the basis for belief, and then moved on. But I’m not totally convinced that faith can be tossed aside as it is so often. First, I think of Plantinga’s proper function account and I think that while it is ultimately based on reason, it allows for one to be justified in belief through faith. Second, I’m not persuaded that faith cannot work as a kind of reason or discovery of reality. Faith, as it were, seems to account for many of our beliefs (other minds, for example?). So I think while I tend to be an evidentialist when it comes to these things, I am skeptical of a simple dismissal of faith. If anyone could help me with these points, I’d appreciate it.

Mackie discussed the possibility of naturalistic explanations of religion. I’m continually perplexed by the pervasiveness of this idea.Why should the origin of a belief undermine its truth? This would only work if the origin would serve to discredit the belief itself (as in Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism).

And I’ve been similarly unconvinced when it comes to others who argue that an account of how religious came to be would undermine the belief. I know Plantinga gives the idea more credit than I: in Warranted Christian Belief, I think, I recall him arguing extensively against naturalistic accounts. But I don’t see them as much of a threat, and I admit I groaned a bit when Mackie started going in that direction. It always seems like the kind of “hidden weapon” atheists have: “We have an evolutionary account of religion!” Of course whether that is true or not, I don’t see it as very persuasive.



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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