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Miracles by Craig S. Keener — Two Con Men Who Invented A New Form of Faith Healing Spectacle: John Alexander Dowie and John G. Lake

Craig Keener in his work, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament, mentions Dowie and Lake as healers extraordinaire. But many of their claims have been revealed to be cons, including in the end, conning themselves.

Con Man, John Alexander Dowie

John Alexander Dowie and the Invention of Faith Healing, 1882-1889

John Alexander Dowie invented a new form of faith healing spectacle in the 1880s that was substantively different to all previous forms of “Divine Healing.” In order to construct his new faith healing public performances, Dowie drew from two secular gnostic traditions--Spiritualism and the “Mind Cure” Movement.

Section Five of Jim Jones - The Malachi 4 Elijah Prophecy by John Collins

By the late 1870s John Alexander Dowie became known to his followers as a “Christian Spiritualist,” and he spoke on topics such as “How I Became a Medium.” He became known throughout parts of Australia as a “healer by faith,” using his “supernatural powers” to heal the sick and afflicted. By 1880, he had such a strong following that he began receiving large donations to start a church, and decided to run for Parliament. His self-proclaimed spiritualism did not go unnoticed, however. Thomas Walker, a well-known free-thought lecturer, began exposing Dowieʼs claim to be a “medium,” and published an article in The Age (Melbourne newspaper). Shortly after his “Spiritualism Unmasked” was published... Three years later, in 1888, Reverend John Alexander Dowie came to the United States... There was a gathering for those seeking “healing and salvation.” According to the Oakland Tribune reporter present, he waited an hour and twenty minutes listening to fervent prayers and expecting to see a modern miracle, yet none came. One young lady summed up the service well: “Now I think it is a shame that this man should be allowed the use of Christian churches to talk and set good but weak minded people crazy. I have an aged mother in there, and Iʼve been waiting for her nearly three hours. Sheʼs nearly lost her reason several times over the doctrines, and now I think this man will utterly upset her mind.” After the series of meetings, a handful of people claimed they were cured of various diseases, and gave written testimonies to the Oakland Tribune The Tribune published these testimonies alongside an evaluation of the “healings” by local ministers, who claimed they had examined some of the “healed” to find them not healed at all. When a brief period of time passed and Dowieʼs “miracles” were found to be lacking in actual healing, the public opinion of the “healer” from Australia began to quickly change. By January of 1889, Dowie found himself unable to gain an audience at many of the churches in Oakland... Though newspaper reporters attempted to gain access to witness the “healings,” Dowie refused to allow them inside... Dowie pushed the people of Pittsburgh for money. He claimed that many thousand dollars were required to carry on “the work,” and that all missions thus far had been at his own expense. He then took a collection and gathered what was assumed to be a large sum of money. At 6:30 in the evening, twenty-seven of the persons attending who claimed to have been healed met in the “Green Room” of Carnegie Hall gathered to receive instructions from Rev. Dowie. Dowie interrogated the “healed,” screening them to confirm that their testimony to the newspapers would be in his favor. But when a physician examined the situation, he declared that he was greatly concerned with Dowieʼs mental stability. “His mind, like others, is so full of ego that he cannot come into a harmonious touch with the world. He really thinks he possesses the power of curing, or, as he words it, that he can cure with the help of God. These people who tragically throw away their crutches are not cured. A man, for instance, may suffer from hysterical paralysis, and being worked up to a state of frenzy by Dr. Dowieʼs words, he will stir up all his latent energy and will by a supreme effort dispense with artificial means of support. When his enthusiasm deserts him, however, a relapse must occur. In the same way with other maladies, the great French physicians have temporarily banished pain by hypnotizing their subject. If we examine this matter closely, we will see how closely allied divine healing is to hypnotizing. I have no doubt the doctor is honest, but that he performs what some dyspeptic old ladies think is simply ridiculous.”... [One newspaper] went so far as to say that “victims are snatched from the brink of the grave.” It made no mention of those in the Pittsburgh meetings who sought professional care after their trip to the healer, and did not describe Dowieʼs careful process of excluding reporters from the actual “healing” to prep those who might testify and eliminate those with negative statements. The public attention gained by the newspaperʼs promotion of his ministry was highly effective. By April of 1894, Dowieʼs following had grown so large that he began seeking land to hold them all... Things grew quite a bit worse for Dowie and his followers later that year when a young Albert Garbett, a youth from Minneapolis who came to “Doctor” Dowie to be healed, died of spinal illness. Many began to question his “power” of healing. A few months later, in January of 1895, Dowie was arrested after taking $120 from a patient under his care. According to the report, Frank E. King had given “Doctor” Dowie $120 for healing. King was in the final stages of consumption, and was taken to the Zion establishment. When he could not be cured, and was put out to die, the State Board of Health was informed and intervened. Dowie was finally arrested... Dowie quickly became a well-known, frequent prisoner in police courts for operating a “hospital” without a license. By August, of 1895, he had forty-four cases against him, for which they were all finally dismissed. Judge Chetlain eventually issued a restraining order preventing the city from interfering with “the doctor.” The restraining order did little to stop the many arrests and trials, however. As “patients” and family involved with Dowieʼs “hospital” continued to file civil suits for malpractice and even death, Dowie and his elders found themselves in and out of the court system. In August of 1899, Mrs. Henrikka Bratz and D. C. Holmes, elders in the Zion commune, were arrested after the death of Mrs. Anneta Flanders. They were arrested on charges of criminal negligence and malpractice after Flanders, who was suffering from blood poisoning, died for lack of treatment. The trial that ensued was nationally publicized, feeding the frenzy of a nation gripped with the interesting saga. Even the New York Times noted that Dowie was untouchable – “laws do not reach him.”... Battered from the frequent arrests, civil suits, criminal suits, and barrage of negative press, Dowie pressed his cult victims at Zion for more money. Declaring himself the “General Overseer of the Christian Catholic Church of Chicago,” he asked that they give him $1,000,000 [in Jesusʼs name of course]... By 1901, Dowie started claiming that he was the reincarnation of Elijah the prophet, as predicted in the fourth chapter of Malachi. This strategic move turned out to be highly profitable, both from a financial standpoint and a public relations standpoint. Shortly after claiming to be the reincarnation of Elijah the prophet, Dowieʼs wealth and popularity skyrocketed. Newspapers all across the nation published full-page, front-page spreads of the famous “divine healer” from Zion, Illinois who made a record profit of $15,000,000 in just ten years. Some soon labeled him as the “richest man in the West.” Interestingly, the timeline for Dowieʼs highly publicized ministry and successful establishment of his “holy city” Zion coincides directly with Frank Sandfordʼs “vision” to establish his own. As Dowie was breaking ground for Zion city, Sandford began claiming to have seen visions and angelic beings. John Alexander Dowie began claiming to be the reincarnation of Elijah in 1901, about the time Sandford made the same proclamation in his Holy Ghost and Us society. And like Sandford, Dowie asked his cult victims to forfeit all of their possessions and surrender to his full authority.

Additional information on the city that Dowie founded, Zion, Illinois. It became a flat earth theocracy

Additional embarrassing details concerning Dowie and his followers see this piece, and this one.

The city found by Dowie, Zion, Illinois, “occupies a special place in the history of Pentecostalism: in 1906, Charles Parham, widely regarded as the father of the movement, slipped into Zion to hold secret prayer meetings with a small dissident group. Parallels between his teachings and Dowieʼs made his message attractive to CCC members, and the movement began to snowball. Dowie unsuccessfully tried to order the Pentecostals out of Zion; his successor, Voliva, used violence and intimidation against them, also to no avail. The early Pentecostals in Zion coalesced into a church, the Christian Assembly of God, from which emerged several preachers influential to the further spread of Pentecostalism. Even though Pentecostals faced decades of persecution in Zion, the movement has since reclaimed Dowie as one of its own.” The Devil Inside. Zion, IL: Zionʼs prayer technicians wrestle with the demons of illness. by Brenda Wilhelmson (Chicago Reader, April 29, 2004)

The Big Con: John Alexander Dowie and the Spread of Zionist Christianity in Southern Africa

Adherents of various “Zionist” sects and churches represent one half or more of all Christians in southern Africa today... These Zionist churches derive from the evangelism of John Alexander Dowie (1847-1907), the founder and leader of the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion which in 1901 founded a utopian community named Zion City north of Chicago, Illinois... Dowieʼs newspaper “The Leaves of Healing,” along with several evangelists associated with his church, spread his unique version of Christianity in South Africa prior to 1908. In 1908 this “second evangelization” gained considerable impetus following the arrival of John G Lakeʼs evangelical team, which would remain in South Africa for five years. Lake, a long-time associate of Dowieʼs, had become a Pentecostal in Zion City after speaking in tongues in early 1907 and thus spearheaded the first Pentecostal mission to South Africa. Lakeʼs theology and organizational and preaching methods, though, were derived from Dowie.

Con Man, John G. Lake

John G Lakeʼs Formative Years, 1870-1908: The Making of A Con Man

During his career as a faith healer, John G Lake constructed a falsified biography that served to both legitimize his leadership in the Pentecostal movement and to provide evidence of miracles that he effected. This paper, which focuses on his activities prior to his South African mission of 1908-13, shows that the vast majority of his early biography is mere fiction. He was never an ordained minister as he claimed, nor was he a successful businessman. Later on, after he became involved in a series of brutal killings in Zion, IL, in 1907, he was forced to reinvent himself after fleeing the area. In order to hide this sordid past, he invented a series of visions that allegedly called him to minister in Africa.

Yes, John G Lake was a con man: A response to Marius Nel

This response to Marius Nelʼs 2016 article (in Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae no. 42, 1, 62-85) uses primary source material to refute his claims that John G Lake, the initiator of Pentecostalism in southern Africa, was an upstanding man of God. A wide array of American and South African sources show that Lake invented an extensive but fictitious life story, while also creating a similarly dubious divine calling that obscured his involvement in gruesome killings in America. Once in South Africa, he used invented “miracles” to raise funds abroad for the Apostolic Faith Mission. Before long, he faced many accusations of duplicity from inside his own church.

Besides Dowie and Lake one should also read about the questionable claims of the faith healer Smith Wigglesworth that Keener features in his book on Miracles.

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Miracles by Craig S. Keener — Smith Wigglesworth Raised the Dead?

Smith Wigglesworth

Craig Keener in his work, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament, mentions that “fourteen” raisings from the dead are attributed to “one of the most famous healing evangelists,”[1] a Pentecostal preacher from the U.K., named Smith Wigglesworth (1859–1947). Keener adds that “Wigglesworth claimed that the greatest test of his obedience was when he called his just–deceased wife back to life but God told him to stop.”[2] (Really? The same God whose power allegedly raised her, also told him to stop? God should make up his mind.)

Contra the melodramatic tales of miracles that Wigglesworth shared in his sermons one should note the evidence Sandra Anne Carp uncovered concerning this Pentecostal legend.[3] Via extensive research she determined that “considerable diversity” exists “with regard to the exact number Wigglesworth raised,” and those who claimed larger numbers either were unable to provide reliable sources or retracted their claim. Moreover, during the many decades Wigglesworth preached he only reported four cases in which he raised the dead. And he only decided to share his own story of having raised someone five years after Pentecostal newspapers had already begun to report occasional raisings. And the very first time Wigglesworth reported each of his own four raisings it was to audiences on continents other than the ones where the raising allegedly took place, and only years after it allegedly took place, “in most cases it was over a decade later.”

The first person Wigglesworth allegedly raised from the dead was a young girl with tuberculosis in the U.K., which took place on or before 1908 when Wigglesworth was still in the plumbing business per his account, but the earliest record of Wigglesworth reporting it was when he was in New Zealand in 1922 where a local newspaper reported that Wigglesworth mentioned the girl was “nigh unto death,” but by the time Wigglesworth repeated the story in America that same year it was reported, “he saw her pass away.” And why report it fourteen years later and on continents other than the one on which it allegedly occurred? He had many preaching opportunities in the U.K. when he could have reported it during those intervening fourteen years.

The second person allegedly raised was Wigglesworthʼs close friend from childhood, Mitchell, in the U.K., who allegedly passed away right before Wigglesworth arrived at his house. Based on the storyʼs description it took place between 1909 and 1912, but the earliest known mention of it was in an American publication in 1914—in fact the American publication contains his earliest recorded claim of having raised anyone, because there are no records of Wigglesworth revealing such a story before 1914 in the U.K., not even during the Sunderland Conventions of 1912 or 1913. Those annual conventions were among the biggest U.K. Pentecostal platforms at the time, and Wigglesworth testified about various healings at them, without mentioning either Mitchell being raised or the young girl with tuberculosis. Carp finds it “rather suspicious” that “Wigglesworth felt prompted to reveal his story about raising Mitchell from the dead to an editor of a Pentecostal paper in America [rather than in the U.K. at major Pentecostal conferences].”

The third person was Wigglesworthʼs wife, Polly, whose death was mentioned briefly in the January 1913 edition of the British Pentecostal publication, Confidence. But Wigglesworth claims that soon after she died she was raised momentarily. Carp points out, “As in previous cases there is no mention of him mentioning this raising to his U.K. Pentecostal peers with the exception of one sermon published in 1937 [over two decades after the alleged miracle]. In fact his stories about the three U.K. raisings were all [initially] reported [on continents other than the U.K.] during his international ministry and years after the alleged raisings took place. Also, all three were revealed during his 1922 visit to America, his first recorded acknowledgment of raising Polly occurring only then...[Hence,] Wigglesworth appears to have been influenced by a desire to be more widely known, particularly among his American peers. Nor was there any U.K. newspaper coverage of any of his U.K. raisings. This is noteworthy considering that when Dorothy Kerin was allegedly raised from the dead in London in 1913 she received a great deal of attention, ‘visitors poured in, roads were blocked, reports appeared in London papers…’ Consequently, the evidence casts suspicion upon the legitimacy of Wigglesworthʼs revelations.”

The fourth and last person that Wigglesworth reported he had raised was an unnamed woman in Canada who suffered from a tumor. ”But [based on descriptions in his story] this would have taken place in 1914/15 and the only record of him reporting the story is in 1926 [over a decade later]...Also, Wigglesworth spoke at two major Pentecostal conventions after his 1914/15 North American trip; yet he gave no report of this raising.” Also noteworthy is that this womanʼs raising “appears not to have been reported to Body by Pastor Fisher, the man Wigglesworth claimed to have accompanied him. Finally, Wigglesworthʼs [first] recorded accounts [of this raising were] delivered while he ministered in the U.K. over a decade later [rather than in North America where this raising allegedly occurred]. Nor is there any record of him mentioning this [North American] raising during his return visit to North America in 1922 and subsequent North American visits; yet he willingly shared his U.K. [raising] stories [with his American audience].” Perhaps Wigglesworth knew that sharing a raising story on the same continent on which it allegedly occurred “may have been rebutted by Pastor Fisher or others, [especially] if it had been shared too close to the supposed event or publicized in the American Pentecostal papers.”

Carp concludes, “Wiggleworthʼs raising from the dead stories appear to be intentionally deceptive claims…There were other Pentecostal healing evangelists ministering around the world [with their occasional raising stories], but Wigglesworthʼs [dramatic sermons in which he spoke of having raised several] people from the dead [including a close friend from his childhood and his own wife] placed him in a legendary class of his own.” The legends surrounding Wigglesworth were “created by Wigglesworth himself. [They] evolved through his…subsequent portrayal of himself as a spiritual giant.”[4]

That Wigglesworth was indeed concerned to portray himself as a spiritual giant is also documented in Carpʼs thesis. Wigglesworth “placed great significance on the depiction of himself conveyed to others…[he told stories of obvious self–aggrandizement compared with the lack of faith of fellow Pentecostals, including his wife, and altered mission reports to inflate numbers of his healing and evangelistic efforts]…His concern about his standing amongst his Pentecostal peers was of considerable importance. He may have felt it was necessary to include an element of fiction, possibly in an attempt to defend himself and his ministry from critics [and gain more souls for what he was certain was his soon–coming Lord, i.e., Smith lived into his 80s and continued to preach that ‘We are in the last days, and before the Lord comes we trust to see the mightiest Revival the world has ever seen’].”[5] “Criticism [from fellow Pentecostals] appears to have brought feelings of insecurity to the surface; this may have inspired him to meet and even exceed Pentecostal expectations…He placed himself on a spiritual pedestal…unwilling to admit to imperfect faith [even] with regard to his need for glasses [since] this would have contradicted his ‘Apostle of Faith’ status [as a healer for whom health was granted those with faith]…He sought to eliminate the possibility of a flawed Wigglesworth.”[6] On one occasion Wigglesworth declared to the sick “Iʼll only pray for you once, to pray twice is unbelief.” The second night, a man approached the altar to receive prayer again and Wigglesworth, recognizing him, said “Didnʼt I pray for you last night? You are full of unbelief, get off this platform!” And on a number of occasions his approach to persons suffering from stomach complaints was to punch them in the stomach, sometimes with such force that it propelled them across the room because he believed he was dealing with satanic forces binding the afflicted. He even described cancer as “a living evil spirit.”[7]

But despite his belief in complete healing via faith, he suffered the loss of wife and son, the lifelong deafness of his daughter, and his own battles with kidney stones and sciatica. Carp concluded, “As a result of this investigation, I believe the mythology surrounding Wigglesworth has been created by Wigglesworth himself; biographers and later authors continued to further develop these myths.”[8]


[1] Keener, Miracles, v. 1, p. 421.

[2] Keener, Miracles, v. 1, p. 422 n.547.

[3] Carp, Sandra Anne, A Pentecostal ‘Legend’: A Reinterpretation of the Life and Legacy of Smith Wigglesworth. M.Phil. thesis (University of Birmingham, 2016).

[4] Carp, p. 85-100,159-167.

[5] Carp, p. 157.

[6] Carp, p. 159-160.

[7] Wilson, Julian, Wigglesworth: The Complete Story: A New Biography on the Apostle of Faith Smith Wigglesworth. (Tyrone, Georgia: Authentic Media, 2004), p. 82-83,120.

[8] Carp, p. 159.

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Miracles by Craig S. Keener — Boy Sees Out of Empty Eye Socket?

Ronald Coyne 1 Ronald Coyne 2

Ronnie Coyne lost his right eye in a baling wire accident when he was a boy, but claims he attended a healing service and afterwards could see out of his empty eye socket, either with his artificial eye in the empty eye socket or not. He grew up to become Rev. Roscoe Ronald Coyne, evangelist–healer. The late Mr. Coyne is no longer capable of being tested but his presentations can be seen in videos where the fraudulent nature of his claims become evident. He positions a square piece of cloth across the bridge of his nose and good eye, and then starts to apply, and allows others to apply, thin strips of tape one at a time across the length of the cloth to secure it to his face. Sometimes he adjusts the tape that someone has placed around his nose. Then with the cloth covering his good eye he is handed objects to read while holding them beneath his nose and his empty eye socket. But try this simple experiment for yourself at home, stand in front of a mirror, shut one eye, but keep the other one open and cup your hand over it, letting in the tiniest sliver of light near the bridge of your nose, and read what is on a card that you hold up to that imperceptible opening, then open your shut eye and look in the mirror to see where you had to place the card to read from it. You will notice it is in the same place Coyne holds the cards he reads from, beneath the opposite eye, which in his case is missing. Note also that with his good eye covered Coyne never makes reference to seeing anything or anyone in the auditorium that one might notice if he was indeed able to look up, down, and all around with his empty eye socket. He sticks to reading the cards at the same angle and distance from his nose that one can do in my mirror experiment.

Coyne also has a convenient way to excuse himself in cases where he fails tests: “If I get in the presence of someone who absolutely refuses to believe, the Holy Spirit can become so grieved that I begin to lose my vision through the empty socket...This used to happen all the time when this miracle occurred for me as a little boy...[then] a I can keep my faith level up by reading the Bible and that would keep my eye from going blind in the presence of an unbeliever. He was right.” [Hamel, John, The Miracle Testimony of Rev. Roscoe Ronald Coyne: The Man Who could See Through an Empty Eye Socket]

But since his youth Coyne appears to have simply avoided tougher tests altogether, either by Christians or atheists, and stuck with his cloth and tape routine. Wayne Jackson, a Christian who writes for a Churches of Christ website, notes that “When Ronald Coyne, came to our community, claiming that he could see through a ‘plastic eye,’ offered to pay all expenses if he would submit to testing administered by a qualified ophthalmologist. He declined the offer and threatened to sue me. I urged him to do so, for the courtroom is a real arena for the examination of evidence. He took his ‘magic eye’ con game and left town.” [Jackson, Wayne, Modern Miracles—True or False?] And in 1989 when an atheist announced his presence at one of his demonstrations Coyne replied, “The Lord will destroy you, probably on your way home this evening.” Not exactly an invitation to the atheist to try and devise a tougher sight test. Side note: Coyneʼs weight at that time had ballooned to over four hundred pounds and he sat on two chairs for support. He died five years later at age fifty. [Gardner, Martin, Eyeless Vision and God, Chapter 10 in Weird Water & Fuzzy Logic. More Notes of a Fringe Watcher (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1996). And see, Nickell, Joe, Second Sight: The Phenomenon of Eyeless Vision in Adventures in Paranormal Investigation (University Press of Kentucky, 2007). Also see, dermo–optical perception (DOP), The Skepticʼs Dictionary]

Martin Gardner, a former miracle–believing Christian raised in Ronald Coyneʼs home state of Oklahoma, wrote an article that explained, “Noses project so far from the cheekbones that an opaque blindfold, covering nose and eyes, invariably leaves tiny loopholes. This is not the only method of obtaining vision while seemingly securely blindfolded—magic shops sell a variety of blindfold tricks—but it is the simplest, and one still unknown to the public.”

Look at a video of the Muslim magician Kuda Bux, known as the man with x–ray eyes, or more recently, Aaron Crow (“Pours Hot Wax on Eyes And Swings Sword At Howie Mandel—Americaʼs Got Talent 2018”), both of their demonstrations of eyeless seeing are spectacular. Recently a young girl in India has helped make her guru, Nithyananda, famous and wealthy by claiming that he taught her to see words and drawings using only her “third eye,” which allegedly functions even when she is blindfolded. A video–taped demonstration of this miracle debunks itself once you notice that the blindfolded girl had to move her wrist out of the way to see a picture on a piece of paper that was set down in front of her, beneath her nose, thus demonstrating her use of the “nose peek” technique. [HindReport, a YouTube site, Girl demonstrates Fake SuperPower Third Eye(Exposed)]

The story Coyne tells about his alleged miracle began ten months after he had lost his right eye in a baling wire accident. He was suffering from inflamed tonsils, and his mother took him to a rally featuring a female evangelist–healer. His mother told him to ask for his throat to be healed, but afterwards the healer asked Ronnie about his right eye which looked like it needed healing (she didnʼt know it was artificial). He told her he was blind, without saying anything about missing an eye. So she took some time to speak with him about having faith, after which she prayed to God to restore his sight. According to how such rallies functioned, this young boy was expected to testify to an expectant crowd after having been proclaimed healed. The pressure was on the boy to go along with the evangelistʼs and crowdʼs expectations. He must not lose faith. What would you have said to the audience. Or to yourself? Perhaps inside your own mind you would have repeated, “I believe I can see.” Because if you donʼt name it you canʼt claim it, as they say at healing rallies. After the mini–sermon on faith that Coyne received he did not disappoint. He agreed he was healed. And after a superficial test of his alleged sight that apparently involved covering his remaining eye with his hand, he may have even noticed the same thing I did when conducting an experiment in front of a mirror, namely that a tiny gap exists that one can still see out of. Afterwards, the crowdʼs awed reaction and hallelujahs probably helped establish for Coyne what his future trajectory in life should be. (How else to also explain what is going on with that young girl in India who claims she can see via her “third eye?” How and why did she get involved in such deception? The need for make money may also have played a role in both cases. Certainly the Coyne family does not appear wealthy since they could only afford a plastic artificial eye for their son rather than glass eye which Coyne could apparently only afford later.)

It is also possible that the young Coyne, whose eye had only been amputated ten months before, did “see” something that night in all the excitement, due to “phantom eye syndrome.” Even after the eye is gone with its vision receptors, the nerves and brain areas related to vision keep working, leading to phantom sensations. People who lose an eye after a while may begin to experience what appear to be colors, shapes, sometimes even distinct images of people or scenes, it depends on the case. Phantom eye syndrome is also more common in young people. [Preston, Elizabeth, Phantom Eye Patients See and Feel With Missing Eyeballs]

If, aside from the evidence above, one still believes Coyneʼs claim that he could see without an eye, then what data was his brain receiving? What energy was bouncing off objects that his brain was picking up? Could he also see in the dark? Through a brick wall? Why or why not? Why didnʼt his opaque plastic eye block his vision? At precisely what distance from his face (or at what depth inside his empty socket) did his alleged ability to see begin? And if God could restore sight without an eye, how about restoring the ability to walk without a leg—the stump being levitated supernaturally? Also, think how much more impressive and inexplicable Coyneʼs demonstrations would have been if he had lost both his eyes in the baling wire accident but was still able to see, rather than appearing to employ a mere nose peek technique, already common among magicians for centuries.

Sam Singleton noted that God, rather than keeping Ronald Coyne from getting his eye poked out in the first place, or healing his original eye, or giving him a new one altogether, left an ugly empty socket, which was “as half–assed as my fatherʼs approach to working on cars, because when my father lost the key to the trunk, which he always did early in his relationship with any automobile, rather than having a new key made, he would just gouge out the lock, so he could open it by poking a screwdriver into the big ugly hole.” [ Singleton, Sam, The Man With No Eye: My Familyʼs Spiritual Journey]

Lastly, James A. Haught, a Bible Belt newspaperman, mentions that he has “covered enough religious lunacy and chicanery to fill an encyclopedia.” And he supplies examples of holy hucksters and hokum galore in his piece, Adventures in the Bible Belt. Well worth reading, it also includes brief mention of Haught seeing Coyne perform.

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Miracles by Craig S. Keener — The Miracle of Speaking in Tongues?

Speaking in Tongues

The following post is an extended endnote to an essay of mine to be published in fall 2019, “Tidal Wave or Trickle? Assessing Keener’s Miracles,” a chapter in The Case Against Miracles.

The Miracle of Speaking in Tongues?

As a former tongue–speaking Christian I tried spelling out what I was saying phonetically on paper and soon noticed the repetitive nature of many of the syllables, hardly much of a vocabulary. Also, people in the prayer groups I used to attend would sometimes “speak in tongues” a long time yet the “interpretation of tongues” (another “miracle”) could be brief. Or someone would “speak in tongues” briefly and the “interpretation” came out long–winded. Folks who loved the King James Bible “interpreted tongues” in Elizabethan–sounding English, while those who loved other translations of the Bible delivered less Elizabethan–sounding “interpretations.” And the messages received via this allegedly miraculous discourse of “tongues” followed by their “interpretation” were often vague paraphrases of biblical Psalms—as if God didnʼt have anything specific to say to us. Yet it seemed to me that if God was going to give people miraculous linguistic and translation abilities, He would have found more cogent uses for them.

How does one speak in tongues? Based on my own experience (which was originally attempted in a believing and expectant Christian frame of mind, but which I no longer think is necessary) one can begin by exhaling, moving oneʼs tongue, and opening and closing oneʼs lips, and speak the first clear syllable or two that naturally erupt from oneʼs mouth. One can start with something as simple as yaba–daba. Repeat it. Toss in additional sounds, maybe an “sh” sound or throaty “k” attached to a random vowel like “a” or “o.” Donʼt be disappointed if you can only repeat one or two mono–syllables in the beginning, try repeating them rapid fire, one monosyllable will naturally lead to another. Learning to loosen up oneʼs tongue is more difficult for some people than others. Like learning any new skill or talent it becomes easier, and appears more impressive, the more often one practices it. Think of people singing skat to a jazz melody, or performing interpretive dance where their steps are not mapped out consciously beforehand (certain steps also repeat themselves naturally and are characteristic of each interpretive dancer just as certain mono–syllables are with each tongue speaker). One doesnʼt get good at anything in one go. Once one becomes proficient one can even learn to adjust oneʼs tongue to sound like different languages just as actors pick up the knack of speaking in a different dialect, or dancers learn to incorporate new styles into their repertoire. Like other natural talents, if one ceases to believe in Christian doctrines one does not lose the ability to speak in tongues.

In the ancient world glossolalia [speaking in tongues] was practiced by religious prophets and mystics in the Near East, Egypt, Greece, India and China. And, besides glossolaliaʼs popularity among some Christians today (because the Bible tells them it was popular in some early Pauline church groups) it has also been practiced among North American tribespeople who take Peyote, South American and Australian aborigines, Eskimos and shamans in North America, Greenland and Siberia, Tibetan monks, several cults in Africa, and the Voodoo cult in Haiti.

Linguists who have studied glossolalia of Christians (and non–Christians) have found characteristics more common to babble than to language. Pattison, E. Mansell, Behavioral Science Research on the Nature of Glossolalia. Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation. Vol. 20, September 1968, p. 73–86.

Holton, Larry. Has The Tongues Movement Convinced The Language Experts? The short answer is “no.” “Glossolalia is language–like because the speaker unconsciously wants it to be language–like. Yet in spite of superficial similarities, glossolalia fundamentally is not language.” Skepticʼs Dictionary, The, glossolalia.

Joel Bjorling writes, “At Oral Roberts University, I was prayed over to speak in tongues, and this girl instructed, ‘Praise God, but donʼt speak English. Let God have your tongue.’ So, what came out? Something like ‘coom–di–a–sa–me–da–sa.’ Monosyllables...The girl exclaimed, ‘Praise God! Heʼs speaking in tongues!’ But was I? For several years, when I was feeling especially intense, I prayed in words (or whatever) like the afore–mentioned monosyllables. Did it make me feel stronger, more inspired? did have punch to it. I eventually abandoned Pentecostalism and ended up a Unitarian...[I can see why people are drawn] to tongues and experiences like being ‘slain in the Spirit,’ which are new, exciting, and different [for them, and think that] if you believe speaking gibberish will help you, it will.” Bjorling, Joel, Strange Tongues: A Personal Encounter, The Anomalist, 2000.

Yuriy Stasyukʼs story is similar, “[I was] a young preacher who conducted passionate Pentecostal prayers in front of crowds, and loved to speak in tongues...I wanted a relationship that manifested the supernatural presence of God through miracles, signs, and wonders,” but he changed from Pentecostal to reluctant skeptic. His investigation of tongues and his personal journey appears in a series of five well articulated blog posts titled, Why I Changed, where he discusses the effort he put into attempting to maintain his beliefs. Stasyuk, Yuriy. Ten Hard Questions About ‘Tongues’, and, Why I Changed: Pentecostalism is as Clear As Glossolalia.

Tongues and Salvation, an ex–Pentecostal (Lovingdoubt on youtube) discusses excuses invented by her church as to why people can still speak in tongues after they have left the fold.

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Questionable Views of Thomas Aquinas / Thomism

Thomas Aquinas

Thomism is Aristotelianism viewed through a Christian lens. For instance:

“The Eucharist, a Catholic mystery, needs Aristotle's thought to establish its philosophic legitimacy. Scholasticism, with its categories of ‘substance,’ ‘accidents,’ ‘genera,’ ‘substantial forms,’ is the sole authorization of this ontological three card monte which permits affirmation of the bread really, not symbolically—‘literally’ and not ‘figuratively,' for, to speak like Thomas Aquinas, the body of a man dead two thousand years ago is identical with the wine originating in French vineyards, real blood of the same man.” (Michel Onfray, "Jean Meslier and ‘The Gentle Inclination of Nature,'" translated by Marvin Mandell, New Politics, Vol. 10, No. 4, Winter 2006)

Aquinas put Scripture (specifically the Catholic Church’s interpretations of Scripture) above reason, devising ingenious rationalizations to try and claim that Scripture was in harmony with nature and reason. Thus he supported the following:


Aquinas argued that slavery could not be in the soul’s best interest because it was not present in man’s original sinless state. But Aquinas also endorsed a hierarchically ordered cosmos and social order, including the Catholic Canon Law acceptance of slavery, which was only mitigated by conversion and baptism. At times he seems to follow Aristotle in his judgment that "slavery rests upon the ground that there are men for whom it is better to be slaves than to be free, and that slavery is therefore an institution of human reason; in others he seems to speak of it as an institution which could not have existed in the natural or primitive state. (Ideas of Slavery from Aristotle to Augustine by Peter Garnsey, and, “The Attitude of the Church Toward Slavery Prior to 1500” by Rayford W. Logan, The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 17, No. 4, Oct., 1932, p. 466-480)

Persecution of Heretics

Christian rulers must persecute heretics and execute heretics who refuse to repent. (“With regard to heretics... there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death. For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul, than to forge money, which supports temporal life. Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death. On the part of the Church, however... if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death. For Jerome commenting on Gal. 5:9, ‘A little leaven,’ says: ‘Cut off the decayed flesh, expel the mangy sheep from the fold, lest the whole house, the whole paste, the whole body, the whole flock, burn, perish, rot, die.’ Arius was but one spark in Alexandria, but as that spark was not at once put out, the whole earth was laid waste by its flame.” (Summa Theologica, IIa, IIae Question 11, art. 3)

Per the article on "Persecution and Thomas Aquinas" in The Catholic Encyclopedia, formal apostasy was then looked upon as treason against God — a much more heinous crime than treason against a civil ruler, which, until recent times, was punished with great severity. It was a poisoning of the life of the soul in others [Thomas Aquinas, II-II, Q. xi, articles 3, 4)

The Catholic Church demanded that Christian magistrates persecute heretics and use physical coercion against formal apostates.

Demons Cohabit with Witches

“The power of witchcraft is made manifest in serpents more than in other animals according to Genesis 3, since the devil tempted the woman through a serpent... Some have asserted that witchcraft is nothing in the world but an imagining of men who ascribed to spells those natural effects the causes of which are hidden... But such assertions are rejected by the true faith whereby we believe that angels fell from heaven, and that the demons exist, and that by reason of their subtle nature they are able to do many things which we cannot... If sometimes children are born from intercourse with demons, this is not because of the semen emitted by them, or from the bodies they have assumed, but through the semen taken from some man for this purpose, seeing that the same demon who acts as a succubus for a man becomes an incubus for a woman"). Aquinas’s well “reasoned” arguments on such matters matter helped influence inquisition verdicts.

Holy Divination

The “casting of lots” to decide a matter can reveal God’s will. Since there are many examples in the Scriptures of righteous men acting upon the casting of lots (Lev 16:8; Josh 7:14-15; 1 Chr 24:5; Neh 10:34), Aquinas reasons that it is not a vice to divide goods or duties by this means. The Proverbs declare that "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord" (Prov 16:33). In similar fashion God provided the Mosaic high priest with the mysterious Urim and Thummin to assist the Israelites in making official decisions in accordance with His will (Ex 28:30; Lev 8:8; Num 27:21; Deu 33:8; 1 Sam 28:6; Ezra 2:63; Neh 7:65). However, Aquinas warned that the practice of casting lots could be relied on too heavily, thus "tempting God;" or, demons might interfere with the outcome if the lots were cast without prior prayer. He found the casting of lots to be lawful in cases where making choices was difficult and when due reverence was observed, "If… there be urgent necessity it is lawful to seek the divine judgment by casting lots, provided due reverence be observed." He added that in most cases, the Holy Spirit can guide Christians in their decisions rather than having to rely on casting lots to determine God’s will. But the Holy Spirit was not so readily available to the characters of the Old Testament [Summa Theologica v. 3], so they had to rely on tossing lots. See, Whether Divination By Drawing Lots is Unlawful? Summa Theologica, Question 95, Article 8, 2nd Pt of the 2nd Pt. Also see his Treatise on the Cardinal Virtues)

The Location of Hell is "beneath the earth"

Rejoicing Forever At the Sight of the Damned's Suffering

“Nothing should be denied the blessed that belongs to the perfection of their beatitude. Now everything is known the more for being compared with its contrary, because when contraries are placed beside one another they become more conspicuous. Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned...The saints will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked, by considering therein the order of Divine justice and their own deliverance, which will fill them with joy. And thus the Divine justice and their own deliverance will be the direct cause of the joy of the blessed: while the punishment of the damned will cause it Indirectly.” (The Relations of the Saints Towards the Damned, Summa Theologica, Question 94)

Relying heavily on Aristotle, Aquinas accepted emotions as a necessary evil, viewing them as having a deleterious effect on people's lives. In general, according to his writing, prototypical emotions were all negatively valenced, such as despair or grief. In contrast, positive feelings, such as happiness, were not considered to be a part of his emotional phenomenology. Rather, Aquinas viewed happiness as a dispassionate, rational state, and he viewed God and the angels as rational, dispassionate, and therefore happy beings. (A. M. Schmitter, 17th and 18th Century Theories of Emotions. In E. M. Zalta (Ed.), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Interestingly, by denying the existence of what would be viewed today as normal and necessary goals of apetitie drive, such as pleasure from food, drink, or sex, Aquinas essentially described a depressed society marked by anhedonia. (Yana Suchy, Clinical Neuropsychology of Emotion, Guilford Press, N.Y., 2011).

In the category of sins of lust, masturbation and homosexuality are greater sins than rape. The "unnatural vices" according to Thomas appears to be, from most to least offensive: masturbation, bestiality, sodomy, and copulation in strange manners. Thomas, then, argues that masturbation is the worst sin in the category of sins of lust. (Whether the unnatural vice is the greatest sin among the species of lust? Summa Theologica II-II, 154, 12)

Woman is of a Lesser Rank or Order than Man

“...the weakness of the female sex... commend[s] the divine wisdom that arranges creation in diversity of ranks and orders.” (Summa contra Gentiles, IV, Question 88)

"[Per Aquinas] women are controlled by their sexual appetites while men are governed by reason. Women's lives and concerns are trivial and are wholly dependent on men, while men need women only for procreation. Because of their inferiority as a sex, women are utterly incapable of filling important roles either in society or in the church. The woman is subject to the man, on account of the weakness of her nature, both of mind and of body... Man is the beginning of woman and her end, just as God is the beginning and end of every creature.... children ought to love their father more than their mother" (Ruth Tucker, Women in the Maze, p. 156).

“According to the medicine of his century, which, of course, Thomas did not correct, woman was an incomplete man, a half-baked male, whose unfinished characteristics come about through some weakness in the parents, some disposition in the human material or some extrinsic cause such as, for example, a strong south wind at the time of conception. Nevertheless Thomas thinks this creature was made on purpose, deliberately planned by God.” (Walter Farrell, O.P., A Companion to the Summa, I ch. 12)

“If it were not for some [divine] power that wanted the feminine sex to exist, the birth of a woman would be just another accident, such as that of other monsters [= a dog with two heads, a calf with five legs, etc.]” The original Latin reads, “Nisi ergo esset aliqua virtus quae intenderet femineum sexum, generation feminae esset omnino a casu, sicut et aliorum monstrorum.” (De Veritate 5, 9, d. 9)

The male seed is the active force: “In perfect animals, generated by coition, the active force is in the semen of the male, as the Philosopher [Aristotle] (De Gener. Animal. ii, 3); but the foetal matter [that the active force works on and transforms] is provided by the female...” (Summa Theologica II, Question 18, art. 1, ad 4)

"As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence" (Summa Theologica, Question 92, art. 1, Reply Obj. 1)

The active force in the male seed derives part of its power from the heavenly bodies: “... the (vital) spirit in the semen which is frothy, as is attested by its whiteness. In which spirit, moreover, there is a certain heat derived from the power of the heavenly bodies, by virtue of which the inferior bodies also act towards the production of the species as stated above (115, 3, ad 2). And since in this (vital) spirit the power of the soul is concurrent with the power of a heavenly body, it has been said that ‘man and the sun generate man.’” (Summa Theologica II, Question 18, art. 1, ad 3)

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Edward Feser’s Imaginative ad hoc Excuse for Eternal Punishment

Eternal Damnation

Christian apologist: In his Of True Religion, Saint Augustine describes hell as a place where there is no truth and no reasoning, because there is no shining of the light of the Logos. This makes sense: rationality is the distinctly human feature, and hell is where humanity is in ruins.

Response: So God makes it metaphysically impossible for anyone in hell to ever change, locking people into eternal Logo-less straight jackets, thus ensuring that all possible change (via supernatural healing, new experiential knowledge, introspection, repentance, etc.) is impossible?

Like Augustine, Thomist Edward Feser hypothesizes that God imposes a metaphysical straight jacket on the damned so that they may never see the light. In his post, “No Hell, No Heaven,” Fezer says only corporeal physical beings can repent, so after one is separated from one's body at death, one remains stuck in either good or evil mode. Of course that simply begs the question of why the damned can't repent after regaining bodies at the general resurrection. So Feser adds a further hypothesis, that new resurrection bodies are restricted concerning changes they can undergo, again the straight jacket response. But then one merely has to ask, why are the resurrected given bodies that prevent them from expressing free will, and lock them out of any possibility of repenting or seeing the light? Same problem and questions as before. See other questions raised on Feser's blog:

Chad Handley
March 30, 2018 at 12:15 PM

Couple of questions:

  1. No living Christian is actually incapable of willing evil. So if upon death a Christian becomes the type of being that is incapable of willing evil, he has undergone a tremendous change, even though he does not have a body. So why is this initial non-corporeal change possible, but all further non-corporeal changes impossible?
  2. Christianity preaches the resurrection of the dead, which entails the conjoining of the spirit with a physical form. Why can't the soul undergo change when it is again conjoined to a physical form post-resurrection?
  3. How exactly do we know that only physical things can change? What are the independent arguments for this?

(I'll take references to other articles or books as an answer to this; not expecting anyone to defend such a claim in the combox.)

April 3, 2018 at 10:32 AM

During our lives we are never locked fully onto good or evil.

April 5, 2018 at 5:02 AM

If death locks us into whatever our current position is, then why wouldn't we be locked into a mixed disposition?

Kirill Nielson
March 31, 2018 at 8:32 AM

I usually agree with Aquinas and Feser, but this is where we part ways. There are a lot of holes in the doctrine of hell and damnation. Why can't the incorporeal beings change their minds? After all, if they can make a “basic decision” upon creation once, why not make the same kind of decision later on? There's also the fact that eternal damnation is grossly disproportional to any kind of moral choice that one can make during life or any crime that one can commit. Our most basic moral intuition suggests that punishment must be adequately proportional to the crime. There's also the matter of infant deaths. What are we going to do with those souls that died while being babies? Send them directly to Heaven? Well then what's the point of this life to begin with? … At the end of the day, Universalism is for me.

[Replies to Kirill, and his counters were also interesting. For instance]

David T., [rejecting Kirill's advocacy of universalism, replied,] “God does not owe us eternal happiness. The idea that He does may be at the center of the sin of pride.”

But wJoeD replied to David T April 1, 2018 at 11:48 AM
I'm pretty sure universalists aren't just arguing that God owes everyone eternal happiness. Rather, they argue that, since God has gone to such extreme lengths to give us eternal life, it seems reasonable to ask why that sacrifice doesn't save everyone, since it seems fitting that God also save everyone. In other words, if God is gonna be so gratuitous as to give us eternal life, why not gratuitous enough to save everyone? Universalists also make the argument that it would be very beautiful and aesthetically fitting for all humans to be saved, or even the demons in what is called the apokatastasis. The appeal there is basically that since Christians appeal to fittingness and even aesthetic goodness to make arguments in favour of the Incarnation, Resurrection, creatio ex nihilo and so forth, it is reasonable to use such an approach for universalism. It's simply not about supposing that salvation were owed us at all, although some may have that as a motivation.

Vincent Torley
March 30, 2018 at 3:50 PM

I have a question for Ed Fezer. In your latest book, “Five Proofs of the Existence of God,” you write that God “knows everything – including the present and the future – precisely by virtue of being its cause” (2017, p. 214), and you compare God's knowledge to “an author's knowledge of the characters and events of the story he has come up with” (2017, p. 212). You add that “it is in a single, timeless act that God causes to exist everything that has been and will be. And it is in knowing himself as so acting that God knows everything that is, has been and will be. His knowledge of the world is a consequence of his self-knowledge.” (2017, p. 212) So now I ask you: does God know wicked people's choices by causing them? Yes or no?

Vincent Torley
March 31, 2018 at 5:39 AM

In other words, God causes the propositional content of our wicked thoughts, the visual content of our wicked fantasies, and the physical/psychological content of our wicked actions? All of these contents are positive, and not mere privations.

March 31, 2018 at 9:38 AM

[Let's consider a question for Ed Fezer's Thomistic philosophy raised by cryogenics and future biological advances] the scenario here is that the person really is dead and even has decayed a bit, and his body is cryogenically frozen. Some think that, considering all of the advancement of science has made in medicine, we will be able to revive those who are truly dead but who are frozen a few days after death in some way. If this really does happen, and there are some ways in which it could (taking DNA from the dead body cells and finding the specific genetic code to reverse aging and start the cellular factory all over again by introducing new chemicals, or even replacing the whole body with new cells and preserving the memories so as to revive it back completely), then this would require an explanation in terms of hylemorphism. If the matter of the body goes through substantial change via death, and then the body is tinkered with such that the process of life is started again in that piece of matter, and the revived being would also be rational, it seems we have both matter being enformed with a sensory soul and rational soul. If the revived body has a rational soul, there are only 2 ways in which that could be explained. Either God creates a new soul to embody that revived body, or he brings the dead soul back to the body. If it's a new soul, then this would seem unfitting since we would have a completely new soul possessing the memories and traits that belonged to a completely different soul, and would likely make the new soul think it was someone who it wasn't. If it's the same soul, this could only be accomplished if God either keeps the dead soul in stasis so that it hasn't made a final definitive choice on good or evil, or if God just brings a damned or saved soul back after it has made it's decision.

Both ways above would be objected to by asking “Why doesn't God just keep every soul, especially the damned, in stasis? Why doesn't he just bring back all damned souls to their body until they choose good? Wouldn't the damned and saved souls also continue choosing their respective choice of good and evil perpetually while in the body as well?”

Edward T. Babinski
March 31, 2018 at 2:01 AM

And are frozen human zygotes souls on ice?

David Bayless
March 31, 2018 at 7:55 AM

To add to the critical comments above: what, on Ed Feser's view, is to become of the millions of people who have taken their own lives? Surely the majority of these poor souls were not orienting their minds to God prior to completing suicide, whether they completed suicide on an impulse or following meticulous planning. If anything, they were thinking that whatever God there may be had abandoned them, that their lives were meaningless, and that it would have been better for them if they had never been thrust into existence. If Ed's view on Hell is correct, then those who were thinking such things prior to completing suicide will be incapable of achieving a relationship with God, and hence will face eternal damnation. But this seems absurd. Risk factors for suicide completion include depression, substance abuse, psychosis, chronic pain/illness, absence of social support (e.g., no spouse), and, foremostly, a previous suicide attempt. If epidemiology is to be trusted, the vast majority of suicides have at least one of these risk factors. The vast majority of suicides, in other words, are in great distress when they complete suicide. For them to go from a state of great distress in life, to a state of eternal separation from God in the afterlife, seems far too cruel a thing for God to allow. For this reason alone I am inclined to regard Ed's view on Hell as unacceptable.

[A Catholic responded to David Bayless (who is a Christian), by citing the dogma that suicides go to hell no matter how cruel that may seem to us. See my page on depression and suicide among Christians and changing views of suicide mentioned near the end of the page:

March 31, 2018 at 11:59 AM

No matter how many arguments I encounter for any particular side of these issues (which souls are saved, who goes to hell, is there a hell, etc), as a Catholic I am always returning to the words in the brief formula that was supplied by Our Lady at Fatima, and which is usually incorporated as an oft-repeated Rosary recitation: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy.” Now, it strikes me that such a prayer is asking us to request that ALL souls be led to salvation — not just some. In which case, I would never consider that our Lady would deceive us by supplying us with such a prayer — which actually contains such a hope — if it were not indeed possible. It would then seem that, through our aspirations and free will in this matter, by offering such prayer, it might supercede many of the above questions. [i.e., The “hopeful universalism” alternative, not full universalism, also advocated by Tentative Apologist Randal Rauser.]

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Christians admit that difficult questions arise when one attempts to reconcile Christianity and Evolution

Reconciling Christianity and Evolution

From Pete Enns:

‘Evolution is a serious challenge to how Christians have traditionally understood at least three central issues of the faith: the origin of humanity, of sin, and of death.’

“Evolution claims that the cause of sin and death, as Paul understood it, is not viable. That leaves open the questions of where sin and death come from. More than that, the very nature of what sin is and why people die is turned on its head. Some behaviors Christians have thought of as sinful are understood in an evolutionary scheme as means of ensuring survival—for example, the aggression and dominance associated with ‘survival of the fittest’ and sexual promiscuity to perpetuate oneʼs gene pool. Likewise, in an evolutionary scheme death is not the enemy to be defeated. It may be feared, it may be ritualized, it may be addressed in epic myths and sagas; but death is not the unnatural state introduced by a disobedient couple in a primordial garden. Actually, it is the means that promotes the continued evolution of life on this planet and even ensures workable population numbers. Death may hurt, but it is evolutionʼs ally. So, I repeat my point: evolution cannot simply be grafted onto evangelical Christian faith as an add-on, where we can congratulate ourselves on a job well done. This is going to take some work—and a willingness to take theological risk.”
Evangelicalism and Evolution are in Conflict and Thatʼs Fine

“If one accepts evolution, the first thing to note is that one has left the biblical worldview. I think this is an obvious point, but needs to be stated clearly. As soon as evolution is accepted, the invariably result is some clear movement away from what the Bible says about Adam.”

From William Van Doodewaard Writing In Books & Culture: A Christian Review

“Karl Giberson aptly notes that ‘many evangelicals … recognize that evolution essentially rules out the possibility that our species consisted of just two people a few thousand years ago. Nevertheless, because St. Paul builds his theology—and his Christology—on the sin of Adam, they are inclined to retain a historical Adam of some sort …. They envision new ‘Adams’ that are often quite different from the Adam in Genesis … to preserve the authority of Paul—who most likely believed in the exact Adam described in Genesis—people are inventing new Adams quite different from the guy in Genesis.’”

“There is a certain clear and compelling logic to the post-Adam/no Adam viewpoint of Karl Giberson, Peter Enns, and others participating in this roundtable. Where we grant that an ancient earth requires an alternate, ‘non-literal’ approach to time in Genesis 1 and 2, we are left with little (if any) exegetical ground to argue against wide-ranging evolutionary hypotheses. If we accept an adjusted hermeneutic and allow for mainstream evolutionary biology, there is no longer exegetical ground to maintain a historical Adam and Eve, created specially by God in a brief span of time, from the dust of the earth and Adamʼs rib, respectively. If we have actually adopted a new hermeneutic for Genesis 1-2 and maintain that Scripture teaches a unity of truth, then we ought to revisit and work towards reinterpreting New Testament passages on Adam…”

“For John Walton, Adam functioned as a failed Savior-figure. Death and suffering, which ostensibly had already included thistles, sweat, and pain in childbirth, continued for all as the ‘curse.’ One looks in vain in the Old and New Testament to find such an account: it seems to be a rather creative reconstruction. It also presents questions about Godʼs character. How could such a God be fair, good, and holy in putting such high expectations on an Adam who had been created in what historic Christianity would view as a significantly fallen condition? Where in the text do we find such an Adam—set apart by God from his contemporaries to function as a redeemer? And how could sin be justly imputed to those prior to and contemporary with Adam when they had no part in it by participation or ordinary generation? Why would Scripture be utterly silent on all of this? Where do these new revelations come from?”

“[Furthermore]… if there was no literal Adam or fall, then what is sin? Where did it come from? One can of course merely state a continued adherence to a doctrine of sin—but on what basis?… As Hans Madueme notes, the key prospects now become dualism or monism, both of which lead to an eternality of evil, no reason for confidence in Christ, and no hope of enduring salvation from sin. A third option would be that sin is merely a biological present reality which will fade through evolutionary advancement. But this is no Christian solution either, as Richard Phillips reveals: ‘evolution demands the abandonment of the grand biblical narrative of creation, fall, and redemption for a narrative of gradual improvement.’”

“Scripture reveals that Christ was the One by whom all things—including Adam—were created. It teaches us with consistent clarity that while Adam, as the first man, brought all humanity under sin and judgment, God had a plan of redemption ready. The literal reading of Genesis provides every ground to recognize that the redemption of fallen men and women will be marked, illustrated, pursued, and confirmed with supernatural activity in history—activity whose nature and timing can only be attributed to God. Passages like Isaiah 35:5-6, where the eyes of the blind are opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped, are a glorious prophecy of Godʼs saving re-creation. There is a promised Creator-Redeemer who comes: Christ, the second Adam. He turns water to wine, feeds thousands with loaves and a few fish, heals, restores, raises from the dead, stops wind and waves, and transforms sinners from spiritual death to life. He takes the wrath, the curse for the sin of his people… unto death. The supernatural glory of his resurrection and ascension seal and crown his work as Creator and Redeemer. The first Adam and the second Adam are inseparably connected: when we lose the first, we will lose the second. There is much more to say: I encourage readers to engage with my book The Quest for the Historical Adam (RHB, 2015), and Richard Gaffinʼs recent work, No Adam, No Gospel (P&R, 2015).”

From Jim Stump At BIOLOGOS:

“There is no getting away from some speculation as we try to harmonize natural history and theological history.”

“Perhaps God held Homo species 500,000 years ago responsible for some things; species 200,000 years ago for more; 30,000 years ago even more; and when the law was given to Moses, God held the people accountable in a new way. Perhaps that is an evolutionary reading of Romans 5:13, “sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged to anyoneʼs account where there is no law.” For people before Moses, we might still say the law was “written on their hearts”, but they became gradually and more fully aware of that over time.”

From Terry W. Wardʼs Letter Published In Christian Century, April 22, 2008 [with edits by Edward T. Babinski]

“It is a difficult task fitting evolutionary ideas into the Christian framework, beginning with Paulʼs exposition in Romans 5:12 that ‘Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned’… And what about Paulʼs thoughts on the direct connection of sin with one man and redemption with another in Romans 5:18, ‘Therefore just as one manʼs trespass led to condemnation for all, so one manʼs act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.’ Was the trespass that Paul mentions perpetrated by some particularly evil Homo habilus or an especially cunning Homo erectus? The common modern explanation is that Genesis 1-3 is to be interpreted metaphorically. If that is so, why does God require a bloody, horrific, non-metaphorical sacrifice of his Son? This is the difficult task of reconciling evolutionary thought and Christianity… One also has to wonder what it means to live in a ‘fallen’ world where no such fall has occurred [where death, predation, aggression, have always been, long before any species vaguely resembling an ‘Adam’ ever evolved]. So without an historically ‘good’ creation ‘in the beginning,’ and without an historical Adam and Eve or historical fall, the problem of natural evil becomes one of even more stark contrast. The answer to suffering parishoners that we ‘live in a fallen world’ makes less sense if every living thing was cursed with death–and over 90% of every ancient species was cursed with extinction–long before human beings even showed up in this less than Edenic cosmos.”

From Tim Widowfield, Strange Bedfellows — Evolution And Christianity

“Did a separate group of hominids reach a certain point at which their brains could handle a ‘soul?’ And where was the cutoff point? Can you imagine the heartbreak of knowing your mom and dad arenʼt endowed with the image of God? Try this on for size: ‘Grandma and grandpa arenʼt going to heaven — not because they sinned, but because they were animals.’”

From Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, Christianity And Evolution

“So long as people believed, as St. Paul himself did, in one week of creation and a past of 4,000 years – so long as people thought the stars were satellites of the earth and that animals were there to serve man – there was no difficulty in believing that a single man could have ruined everything, and that another man had saved everything.”

From Edward T. Babinski:

“I am familiar with the accommodationist attempt to equate the creation of Adam and Eve with the arising of human consciousness. In other words, aggression, predation, suffering, death and even extinction were around long before the first successful continuing species of upright large-brained primate — but that primate had slowly evolved to a point where it could recognize such things and how awful they are, including things like nakedness, how shameful. Thus guilt was born. But in such an accommodationist scenario one is stuck with the fact that God made aggressive impulses, predation, suffering, death and extinction, even felt they were necessary in order to squeeze out upright primates in the end. So it looks more like a rise over time than a ‘fall.’ Maybe God was the one slowly evolving a moral sense over time, and the one who should feel most guilty?”

From Edward T. Babinski [simplified versions of arguments found in the book, Evolving Out Of Eden: Christian Responses To Evolution]

Reconciling Christian theology of the Adam and Eve tale with modern science seems a bit of a task. For instance…

Hadnʼt animals been acting both aggressively and cooperatively toward one another for ages before upright primates ever existed? So why would God expect the first upright primate couple to act with far less aggression than all the rest of the animals on earth–and then damn all the children of the first couple to hell when they did? Death, fear, anxiety, quick hormonal fight or flight reactions, including aggressive impulses (as well as cooperative impulses) were all part of the early upright primate genome inherited from its primate cousins. So why damn the first couple to eternal hell? The very evolutionary process that God employed to create the genomes of upright primates ensured a host of problematic behavioral imperfections right from the start.

Put another way, men and women are ‘sinful’ because of what? Evidence suggests it is because of the very process God employed to bring about the human species. You wonʼt find many shrinking violets in your ancestry. We are here because we had ancestors who did what it took to reproduce and survive in a world that was filled with competing groups of primates, pain, fear, anxiety, starvation, sickness, death and extinction events, long before the “image of God” arrived. What we inherited from our biological ancestors seems to have been the very traits that allowed them to produce more of their kind, traits often involving selfishness, aggression, unbridled curiosity (as well as traits involving cooperation and forgiveness). Consider the “anger reaction,” aggressive outbursts that we all lapse into from time to time. Those are to be expected evolutionarily speaking, because our threat system has evolved so that it is activated rapidly, because defenses that come on too slowly may be too late. We have been prey more than predators, even for most of human evolutionary prehistory, and there isnʼt much time to react when the tiger is about to pounce, or a fellow primate is coming at us to keep us away from his food, or his mate, or even his harem in case of Pan chimpanzees (though Bonobos are certainly different in not having harems, and having sex freely with other chimps). Is having a rapid-response amygdala for threat response our “sinful” fault; or is it part of the way our brains evolved to function?

Christian apologists object that such a biological interpretation tends to reduce sin or evil merely to our acting on long evolved biological impulses, ignoring forms of evil made possible by our transcendence—evils such as idolatry of self, viewing other people as mere objects, and the like. But such traits could just as well be explained as being rooted in our survival instincts. As the anatomist and Christian Daryl Domning admits, our “sinful” human behaviors do appear to exist because they promote the survival and reproduction of those individuals that perform(ed) them. He adds that “there is virtually no known human behavior that we call ‘sin’ that is not also found among nonhuman animals. Even pride, proverbially the deadliest sin of all, is not absent.” Domningʼs “conclusion” is that animals are “doing things that would be sinful if done by morally reflective human beings.” Moreover… “Logical parsimony and the formal methods of inference used in modern studies of biological diversity affirm that these patterns of behavior are displayed in common by humans and other animals because they have been inherited from a common ancestor which also possessed them. In biologistsʼ jargon, these behaviors are homologous. Needless to say, this common ancestor long predated the first humans and cannot be identified with the biblical Adam.”

Or to quote Ed Friedlander, “We do not like to be reminded of the ways in which we resemble animals. We sinners like to think our motives are more holy than those of animals. And since we generally assume animals cannot have eternal life with God, thinking about animal deaths and about our own place in nature frightens us.”

Or to quote Sally Carrighar, “A preacher thundering from his pulpit about the uniqueness of human beings with their God-given souls would not like to realize that his very gestures, the hairs that rose on his neck, the deepened tones of his outraged voice, and the perspiration that probably ran down his skin under clerical vestments are all manifestations of anger in mammals. If he was sneering at Darwin a bit (one does not need a mirror to know that one sneers), did he remember uncomfortably that a sneer is derived from an animalʼs lifting its lip to remind an enemy of its fangs? Even while he was denying the principle of evolution, how could a vehement man doubt such intimate evidence?”

Many Protestant and Catholic theistic evolutionists believe that at some point a soul appeared in two (or more) of our animal ancestors. One of these, or perhaps their representative, was assigned the name “Adam.” These ensouled humans were spiritual orphans, apparently. Their parents would have looked and acted much like them, with only a handful of DNA mutations distinguishing them, biologically, but these first ensouled humans would have suckled at the breasts of a soulless mother, and picked up their first lessons on how to behave by observing and interacting with soulless parents and friends. Does such a view make much sense?

Having acquired a “soul” that, according to Christian theology, now needed to be “saved,” what kind of salvation was available to our ancient ancestors who first chipped stones, carved spears, built fires, and later drew pictures of animals on the walls of caves in France? They seemed pretty involved in simply staying alive and noticing animal life, perhaps practicing some sort of religion involving the recognition of animal spirits. Which reminds me that besides the cave paintings from long ago, the oldest known human-made religious structure was built about 12,000 years ago, and is decorated with graven images of animals which would be prohibited by Exodus 20:4 thousands of years later. Early human artists also left behind carved images of large breasted women. No doubt the folks who pursued the healthiest women that could also keep their man warm at night, not necessarily the most “sinless” women, gave birth to the most offspring, leading to our species with its genes and behaviors.

Another question, how might a scientifically savvy Christian bridge the chasm between natural and supernatural conception in the case of Jesus? Did the Holy Spirit employ a set of freshly constructed chromosomes that fused with Maryʼs? In that case, some divinely produced DNA would need to be produced that appeared to have come from a human father with a long evolutionary past of his own. Thatʼs because the divinely implanted paternal chromosomes have to line up right beside the naturally evolved maternal chromosomes in Maryʼs zygote. So letʼs say the Holy Spirit injected a ready-made Y chromosome into Mary (along with 22 others from falsified meiosis in a non-existent human father), complete with endogenous retroviruses, fossil genes, and other hallmarks of evolution that would be capable of lining up beside Maryʼs chromosomes to form a fully complementary set. So the Holy Spirit would have had to add a Y chromosome that was faked to look like it had been passed down, with occasional mutations, from an endless line of evolutionary descendants. And we know what “those” guys were like. Weʼve already gone over that.

From Edward T. Babinski:

A few related question is, What are “sins?” Where do sins exist apart from being past acts? As humans we experience memories of being hurt, but donʼt experience “sins” as distinct entities. Are “sins” the “bad” memories of God? Do such memories “soil” Godʼs mind? And he has to dispose of them? And He canʼt forget/forgive them without blood being shed? What exactly is the connection between shedding blood and Godʼs memories no longer being a bother to him or us? I donʼt get how these things connect. When I forgive someone I simply forgive them, no need to shed blood. Nor can God be harmed by mere humans, but he requires blood being shed before He can truly forgive anyone anything? Is the death of Godʼs son a form of forgetfulness, a means of dissolving such memories? How so, since killing Godʼs son has got to be among the numero uno of “sins” humans could commit?

Humans share so many traits with our ancestors what great need is there to introduce concepts like ‘sin’ or some ideal human couple or group who fell from some alleged state of moral neutrality during earlier stages of their evolution, and instead admit that humans have simply retained some of the same aggressive and cohesive/friendly instincts and desires as their ancestors, and as seen in non-human mammals with large complex nervous systems such as elephants, dolphins, and great apes (notably bonobos)? In other words, do we need Christian theology to explain matters that science has already tied to physiological and behavioral studies of primate evolution, ethology, cognitive science, etc.? And if God employed evolutionary means and methods over billions of years of birth and death, suffering and joy, evolution and extinction, doesnʼt that seem like God left things to sort themselves out over those eons? So why is it necessary to introduce such theological concepts as ‘sin’ and ‘fall?’

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