Arguments From Miracles, Revelation and Faith


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    The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion.
    Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part II, Conclusion


    Over the centuries the Church has adopted a number of arguments to support its claims to divine provenance. These arguments have changed from time to time, as existing ones have become untenable, and as new ones have become more attractive. The best argument of early Christians was founded on the wide and rapid diffusion of the faith, which was taken to be evidence of divine favour. This argument lost much of its appeal when most of Christendom subsequently converted to Islam. The early Church Father Tertullian had a second argument that is still sometimes used. He purported to believe in Christianity precisely because its claims were impossible*. Such arguments do not seem to have impressed everyone. Celsus noted in the second century that Christianity was a religion for old women, yokels and little children. Much later Edward Gibbon summed up the position, saying that early Christians had been unable to produce a single argument that could engage the attention of men of sense and learning*.

    By the Middle Ages Christian scholars had formulated arguments that filled this gap. They purported to prove the existence of God in several different ways. Although flawed, they were genuine intellectual arguments. As we have shown elsewhere , they could be refuted because, being rational arguments, it was possible to identify the fallacies that they contained. Ironically, when these arguments were believed to be valid, they were not really needed, since the world was (supposedly) teeming with more practical proofs of God's existence. Logical arguments were simply academic corroboration of everyday spectacular and unquestioned proofs — and chief amongst these proofs were miracles.


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    § "Certum est quia impossibile" ("It is certain because it is impossible") Tertullian, De Carne Christi, 5.

    § Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Penguin, p 321.


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