Faith and Evidence of Miracles

19 Feb

In a recent discussion on another blog I was told that we have thousands of witnesses to the miracles of Christ and his apostles, and yet relatively none for those of Joseph Smith or others in the modern day. In this blog I attempted to outline what constitutes evidence and what does not, and by so doing proved that we actually have very little in the way of actual evidence for any of the actions of Christ or the early saints. I was, of course, told I was wrong and my words were twisted into mockeries of what I was actually, saying, but that is to be expected.
I have decided to give a run down of what I posted there.

First, what is evidence? For the purpose of scripture and miracles we are not really able to examine physical evidence, but must rely only on personal testimony of those who actually witnessed the event.
An eyewitness account is the testimony of one who was present during the event and thus has a first hand knowledge of what happened.
Hearsay is that testimony provided by a person who was not actually present, but gained their knowledge through the testimony of others. As dictionary.com gives it hearsay is “unverified, unofficial information gained or acquired from another and not part of one’s direct knowledge.”
In law there is what is known as the Hearsay Rule, which states “that testimony or documents which quote persons not in court are not admissible. Because the person who supposedly knew the facts is not in court to state his/her exact words, the trier of fact cannot judge the demeanor and credibility of the alleged first-hand witness, and the other party’s lawyer cannot cross-examine (ask questions of) him or her.” (law.com)
What this means is that a second hand witness is not considered credible evidence that will allow a person to rightly judge the truth of a matter being presented.

So, what evidence do we actually have of the miracles performed, either anciently, or in the modern day? Let us use this hearsay rule to judge some the events described in the Bible and the modern day.
First let us consider the birth of Christ, for it was a great miracle. What are the the accounts of this event. Matthew and Luke give the only accounts of this event. Following the Hearsay Rule we are at once obliged to dismiss both accounts as hearsay as neither man was present for any of the events that they record. Thus, using this rule, we see that there is no direct evidence for the miracle of Christ’s birth.
Next let us consider an event that had many witnesses; the feeding of the five thousand. We get four different accounts of this event: Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, and John 6. Let us again apply the hearsay rule to this event. There is no evidence that Luke was actually present, and thus this account can be dismissed as hearsay. The same can be said of Mark, and thus his gospel is classified as hearsay. However, Matthew and John, being of the disciples of Christ that took part in the event, are eyewitnesses and thus credible testimonies. So, we have two witnesses to this event, and that is all. Now, some claim that we have the five thousand as witnesses, as well as the rest of the disciples. The problem with this claim is that we do not have their testimonies. We can accept that they were there based on the two testimonies we have, but we cannot claim them as evidence because we do not have their testimonies.
Lastly, let us consider the ascension of Christ. This event, when, 40 days after his resurrection, Christ ascended into heaven and two angels declared he would return again in like manner, is mentioned only by Mark and Luke. Luke speaks of it briefly in his gospel, and in more detail in the Acts of the Apostles. However, even though it is stated that the eleven disciples witnessed the event, Mark and Luke were not present, and thus their accounts again fail the test of the hearsay rule.

Looking at these three examples we see that the actual evidence for the miracles of the Bible is very little indeed. We have no direct evidence for the circumstances of the birth of Christ, or for his ascension. As for his miracles, we have no more than two eyewitness accounts, which, though acceptable, is not the great amount people like to claim.
I do not want anyone assuming that I am claiming these events did not happen, and that we should not believe that they did. That is not my intention. I am merely pointing out that if we are to base our faith in these events on the available evidence we would have little to base our faith in.

In comparison, let us look at a few miracles of the modern day. We have a record of Joseph Smith casting a devil out of Newel Knight, as testified to by him and Joseph Smith. We also have the healing of dozens along the Mississippi river in 1839, as testified to by Wilford Woodruff, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and many others. See a brief list of modern miracles here (http://en.fairmormon.org/Joseph_Smith/Healings_and_miracles), and judge for yourself based on the hearsay rule.
In this I do not claim any greater evidence than that which we have for the Bible. The evidence of any miracles is scanty at best, and those determined not to believe it will always find reasons for that rejection.

I want all to understand that I believe firmly in all the events that are recorded in the Bible. However, that faith is not based on actual evidence that is available to us. It is based on the testimony of the spirit, where our faith must be firmly set. If we are only to believe what we have evidence for we would believe very little.

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3 Responses to “Faith and Evidence of Miracles”

  1. Chester Klingler March 22, 2013 at 11:11 pm #

    You are my aspiration, I own few web logs and occasionally run out from post :). “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” by E. B. White.

    • Lance April 11, 2013 at 2:45 am #

      The more i read, the more the Lds church looks more like just another American 19th century sect, and less like “the true church restored by Heavenly Father”

      • shematwater April 19, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

        Lance

        I am curious as to what you mean exactly.

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