The Miracle of the Sun

External article from 'pansapien'

"I've been thinking a bit more about miracles recently and wondering what would persuade someone to change their mind on the question of miracles happening (either from a believer to a skeptic or the other way around).

I was interested to discover a possible miracle that happened just under 100 years ago with apparently good evidence in support of it. The miracle is known as ‘The miracle of the Sun’, and happened in Portugal in 1917. The reason it particularly interested me is because I think it contains a number of the elements that people use in support of Jesus resurrection."

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  1. There is SSSOOOOO much online about this. Apparently there is a book "Celestial Secrets" which is worth reading (many say), which explains the "miracle" away.

    1. I've often wondered if the resurrection of Jesus is convincing to people precisely because of the lack of evidence.

      Daniel Kahneman in his excellent book, "Thinking fast and slow", coined the acrynym WYSIATI ("What you see is all there is"), referring to the human bias of making judgements based on very limited data as if that data tells the full story. In the case of the resurrection, we only have data from extremely biased sources.

      Perhaps we're simply missing the additional data such as was available in this case, and the numerous skeptics on hand to investigate the claims and document their findings.

      Had this event occurred in the first century, I suspect it may have been reported rather differently, and probably vice versa.

      However, there have also been resurrections reported in the 20th century too, with very little in the way of critical investigation. I'm guessing Christadelphians might be a little reluctant to accept those, too.

    2. Steve, "I`ve often wondered if the resurrection of Jesus is convincing to people precisely because of the lack of evidence".
      I`ve come to the conclusion that people (particularly in the case of CD`s, but not exclusively by them), believe in the resurrection of Jesus, despite the differing(and difficult to explain)Gospel accounts, simply because it is written there. It is stated as fact there and so they believe it. The bible is God`s word, they say, so it must be true. It is a question of whether the bible is God`s word, or the writings of men who wrote at much later dates from hand-me-down tales of what was supposed to have taken place both before and after the death of Jesus on the cross.

    3. Sorry, perhaps I should've been clearer. I know there are a lot of people, including many Christadelphians, who think the Bible is literally the word of God and that therefore everything it says must be true, but I wasn't referring to them. To be honest, I don't think those people are really thinking for themselves. Their view of the world is an inherited one, and not one they built themselves. They're dangerous, for sure, because they are the ones who could be convinced to do just about anything for their faith.

      But I was referring to the more educated ones. The ones who think that the gospels, even when taken as human records, provide conclusive evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. Perhaps you've heard of the "minimal facts" approach used by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona. Apparently by reducing the amount of data you can build a more certain case.

      So when people point to the wealth of data that has come forward that disproves miracles like the "miracle of the sun", I feel that this is exactly the kinds of data we're missing from the first century. In any case, there's just not much to go on. Anecdotes, especially anonymous ones, are never enough to prove a miracle. That's really the end of the story, but people love a good mystery, and they will convince themselves because they want to be convinced. The truth may be a lot less interesting, but that's harder to sell.

    4. Steve/Mancott, I have read a number of versions of "how the resurrection is one of the best-attested historical facts" over the years by the likes of Josh McDowell, WL Craig and Lee Strobel (not Habermas, though I don't think that matters as they all cite each other anyway). I would have to see that when read in isolation they seem to produce a clear case. Even now when I read and feel "there's something suspicious here", it's not always easy to see which link in the glibly argued chain is the weak one to stick my pick-axe into. A key one seems to be "We'll assume that everything in the gospels is a historical, eyewitness account unless proved otherwise". Also, Mancott, it's interesting to see the inconsistencies spun as "Clearly these are independent records confirming the historicity of the same core event - so we should trust them more". In principle there could be truth to that, but depends how different they really are. And they are very quick to rule out "They are different because of later elaboration as the stories developed".

      Steve, I think you're right about the missing information too. Far too much of the literature is full of assumptions like "The only reason they would write X is reason Y, which demonstrates the truth of the resurrection". I know I can easily think of other alternatives, and if we knew the facts there might be yet other alternatives.

      For example, asserting "Paul wouldn't say there were 500 hundred witnesses unless it was true, because he was inviting the Corinthians to check it" seems to assume that there were enough believers with the time and money to make a long voyage to Israel to check it, rather than just doing what most of us would do and accept the story unless you have a strong reason not to.

      Another issue is the binary thinking. Things like "Either the gospels are 100% eyewitness, genuine accounts, or they collaborated to make it all up in which case they were surprisingly historically accurate and included some fairly embarassing things, so it must be 100% genuine". I see a lot of middle ground between the two extremes, but apparently some apologists think all you need to do is disprove one extreme and the other extreme is automatically proved. I could write at great length about this kind of false dichotomy, and probably will one day because it annoys me so much.

    5. I hear you regarding the binary thinking.

      How many times have you seen apologists arguing for the historicity of the gospels by saying, "the gospel writers clearly weren't just making this up, so therefore it must be historically accurate" or words to that effect.

      I just sit there staring at the page thinking, "I'm pretty sure there are more options than just those two - how could they not see that?"

  2. I find examples that are not Christian but have similarities in the style of reasoning or in the conclusion helpful. Part of what led me to dump a lot of my preconceptions on prophecy was seeing an analysis comparing Christian prophecy with Mormon prophecy, and demonstrating it's very hard to develop a view of prophecy which would allow you to accept the many prophecies in the Bible as prophetic and inspired while still rejecting all the Mormon prophecies out of hand. And I'm sure the same would apply to other prophetic traditions as well.

    My conclusion: there are many things that I can't explain (or explain away) to my complete satisfaction. But if I worried about them all I would be mentally crippled. And if I waited for absolute certainty I would be waiting a long time.

    In some ways this makes it easier as I don't need to doubt the sincerity of others or attack them (just their arguments :) ). All I need to do is recognise that the sincerity of others doesn't obligate me to accept their sincerely held view.

    1. I've been led unwillingly to the conclusion that human beings are generally irrational, especially when it comes to matters like this. It's not a comfortable thought, and yes I include myself in it too. I cannot be certain I have not been misled or mistaken. The fact that I find my own arguments convincing is not exactly surprising. That would still be the case if I was completely irrational.

      I think people fall on a bell-curve when it comes to rationality, and the median isn't stupid - it's clearly enough to function pretty well in the world - but it isn't Einstein level smart either. And there is no one who isn't irrational in at least some areas.

      Food for thought: If I am being irrational about something, would I recognise it?

      There's a Dunning-Kruger effect in there somewhere. Are we smart enough to recognise how smart we're not?

      //All I need to do is recognise that the sincerity of others doesn't obligate me to accept their sincerely held view.//


    2. I'm sure I'm irrational on some things. No idea how many.

      Your argument sounds like the apologetic view: "How can we trust reason without God? If your brain is just the result of random processes, how can you expect it to lead you to truth? Clearly your worldview is self-defeating, so we can safely discard it." The difference is that you are willing to live with uncertainty, and those making such an argument aren't.

      Generally speaking, I think that being certain is considered a virtue. Often, though, I feel that being aware when you should be uncertain is a much greater virtue. Which is better, to acknowledge that none of us can be certain about a particular fact, or to say "They can't explain it, but I know the Bible does, so my viewpoint is better"?

      When debating "self defeating claims" I prefer the standard of usefulness to the standard of absolute truth. If my brain seems likely to give me an answer that works 90% of the time, it doesn't matter that I can't prove it gives a correct answer 100% of the time. You are of course right that I probably overestimate the workingness of the answer, but I would guess believers overestimate the workingness of the Bible or of prayer (in particular) by much more.

    3. //Your argument sounds like the apologetic view: "How can we trust reason without God? If your brain is just the result of random processes, how can you expect it to lead you to truth? Clearly your worldview is self-defeating, so we can safely discard it."//

      Haha :)

      I think there's a subtle difference. The apologist argument is based on ignorance regarding evolution and big bang cosmology (and atheistic worldviews in general). I don't believe my brain is the result of random processes, but rather the result of non-random processes. The laws of nature do not operate randomly - if anything they are a textbook definition of uniform. The interactions may be somewhat random, but just as water tends to flow downhill, so brains tend to develop in a way that helps their hosts survive and reproduce, through successive generations.

      In any case, I'm rather not a fan of presuppositional apologetics. It's complete nonsense in my opinion.

      My argument was more along the lines that even people I regard as irrational appear to be convinced of their own arguments, or not be aware of the flaws, so I'm extrapolating and wondering if the same holds true for everyone. If it's possible to be irrational and not recognise it, or if it's possible to incorrectly believe oneself to be rational, then there may be no way to prove I am rational. At best I'd merely find that other people agree with me or not. This holds true no matter how much I could trust my reasoning ability (I happen to trust it a fair bit, mostly due to experience).

      However, as you hinted, if one's rational mind leads them to practical solutions most of the time, then that is probably a fair metric to go by. I'm a big believer in the scientific method and skepticism, and I think both of those can improve one's rationality.

      Besides, if rationality came only from God, then either God made some people less rational than others (why?), or all people are equally rational (easily refuted). It's a pretty weird argument IMO. I know you weren't defending it :P

    4. Well, you introduced me to a new label. I hadn't heard of "presuppositional apologetics", though I've heard plenty of it...

      As for the argument, I don't think the argument relies on rationality coming from God, so much as the need for an objective standard. Something like:
      You can only know whether you are rational if there is an objective standard of rationality -> Needs something to set the standard -> God.

      Shown most ludicrously in the premises of "Stealing from God", a book which I really don't think I could force myself to read. "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist" was painful enough, and I can't imagine the same author got better with a worse premise.

    5. Declaring a hypothetical being as a standard does not a good objective standard make. What good is an objective standard if it is also arbitrary? That pretty much covers any claim that God provides an objective anything.

      It seems pretty difficult to separate rationality from pragmatism anyway. If it became impractical to be rational, then being rational would no longer be rational. Thus rationality is, by definition, that which best advances us toward our goals, but it also works on a more global level, as that which unites and advances humanity toward our common goals. That's a bit of a guess, but it seems to fit. A quick google search suggests rationality is a bit of a muddy subject with regard to definitions. In any case, if being rational means using reason to achieve desired outcomes, then that would/could be objective, without the need for a god.

      As far as God providing an objective standard for something (rationality, morality, whatever), I can't see how this is any different from someone inventing their own standard and saying "let's follow that one". Of course, in my view, that's exactly what people are referring to when they talk about "God's" standard. It's literally just someone's standard that was written down in the iron age. The link to an actual god, or even anything non-human, has never been demonstrated.

  3. I'm afraid that after reading this a few times and looking up some stuff on this miracle, I cannot see what our anonymous ex-brother is getting at. So far as I can see, it was well witnessed, well recorded, and those who saw it could not all have been mistaken. Thus, very clearly, the Virgin Mary spoke with God, and it happened as described. What I would like to know is what if a Christadelphian had seen it? Would it have been a miracle? Would they have accepted it or rejected it because the left footers were involved. Would it have featured as a sign of the times or proof that the RC's are bonkers?


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