CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth


I am so tired of seeing this type of story. NBC11.com reports that a viewer has seen the face of Jesus in a shrimp. One of the images from the NBC11 website is shown at right. But it doesn't stop there. NBC11 also has links on the website to other Jesus sightings:

Jesus Rock Draws Hundreds Of Pilgrims
Sellers See Jesus In Sheet Metal
Couple Says Fish Bone Bears Jesus Image
Pictures Of 'Shower Jesus'
Sisters See Image Of Jesus In Paint On Wall
Pilgrims See Jesus' Face In Apartment Window
Some See Jesus In Dental X-Ray

Now, I don't know how in the world that the person who saw this image of Jesus in the shrimp was able to determine that it was an image of Jesus. After all, we have no photos or drawing that were made during Jesus' lifetime, so we can't say with any certainty what Jesus looked like. Thus, even if I were to grant that there was an image of a person in the shrimp (which, with a little imagination to fill in the details, may be a person with a bearded face), I don't know on what basis I'd say it looks like Jesus. Personally, it looks to me like one a dour Che Guevara. But apparently, I'm in the minority. The on-line poll shows that 60% of the people who looked at the shrimp agreed that it was the image of Jesus.

I become even more confused when I look at the other images of Jesus in the slideshow. I don't know that any of the images really resemble any of the other images besides the fact that I can imagine them all to be bearded men. For example, the picture of Jesus in the paint reminds me more of the drawing of Count Olaf from the Series of Unfortunate Events books then Jesus Christ. Doesn't the fact that none of these Jesuses resemble each other (other than the fact that they all have beards) tell us that these can't all be the Jesus?

Then, I recalled there was this little thing back in the Book of Exodus called the Ten Commandments, and that the second of these commandments was that we are to make no graven images of God. I wondered, if we aren't supposed to make any graven images of God, why in the world is God engraving his image in everything from shrimps and tortillas to sheet metals and x-rays?

One of my fellow students in adult ed at our church made an interesting observation about this whole thing. He suggested that the reason people are seeing Jesus in everything from stones to dill pickles is because they are so badly in need of something meaningful in their lives. I think that makes a lot of sense.

But we Christians shouldn't be participating in this nonsense. After all, it makes us look like we're chasing after Elvis sightings -- just the type of thing that makes skeptics think that Christians are backwoods hicks. How silly. Let's stop this nonsense.

19 comments:

Not all Christians are this gullible of course, but how do you as a Christian convince them otherwise? What if these images are truly of Jesus for some sign? And what if the Mary sightings are of the virgin? What is the criteria that you as a Christian use to distinguish between such things? For Christians who believe them, they are counted as religious experiences. And as Karth Barth said, God could speak through a Russian Flute concerto.

Since you clearly cannot discount them, given your supernatural assumptions, I dare you to explain the criteria by which you do not believe in these sightings.

The whole idea of not having images of God cannot count, can it, since these sightings are of Jesus, and there are claims in the Bible of theophanies.

A quick shorthand for evaluating a miracle claim is that what is being considered either 1) was impossible, or 2) unlikely and had special meaning.

The shrimp picture was not number one.

Frankly, I'm not sure how unlikely it is for a vaguely manlike profile to be visible in observing a shrimp, but lean towards not finding it all that remarkable. But assuming it was, then it depends on one's faith tradition to determine significance. Protestants are not likely to find meaning in such images because they downplay imagery. Catholics are more likely to do so. Similarly, Protestants don't place as much emphasis on the role of Mary in the present Christian age, Catholics are more so.

Does this mean it could be a miracle to a Catholic but not a Protestant? Not really, but it does mean that a Catholic may be reasonable in believing its a miracle while a Protestant would not be. Whether it actually is a miracle or not may depend on the reasonableness of Catholicism or Protestantism on any particular issue that relates to suspected miracle.

Hello John,

Welcome to you and others from the Debunking Christianity website.

How can I discount these "images" of Jesus (and the Virgin Mary) as theophanies? That's very simple: A theophany is a visible appearance of God to human beings -- not the appearance of an image of God to human beings. Show me in the Bible an example of a theophany that is the appearance of an image of God, and I might give your suggestion some thought, but since I'm not aware of any, I don't think that the "Jesus in the Shrimp" and other images can count as theophanies.

In one of his essays (I don't have the book in front of me or I'd identify the title) C.S. Lewis made the point that God never did miracles merely for miracles' sake. They always had the purpose of revealing the creator behind them. Thus, before I'd accept any image of Jesus as being some type of miracle of God, I'd want to know in what way they revealed the creator. A water stain on a bathtub doesn't do anything to reveal the creator that I can see.

Finally with respect to the images of Jesus (this doesn't apply to the Virgin Mary), I continue to believe that there is no reason for God to show images of Himself in a manner which borders on a violation of the 2nd Commandment without some clear, overriding purpose. I don't see anything being proven by these images that would constitute such an overriding purpose.

I agree with you Layman, and I understand what you're saying bk.

Layman, then is it not true that with the proper background knowledge such things can count as "signs" to some believers? Is this really nonsense to them from their perspective? And aren't you limiting what your God can do by discounting these signs? Again, how do you know that these things aren't from God? The real answer is that you don't. They may be of God, right? Or, are you letting your knowledge of cause and effect to be limited to the non-supernatural world, like most modern people do? Once you admit supernaturalism how can you keep from being open to these things being from God? And isn't it true that the real reason you aren't open to these possibilities is because you're a modern person in a scientific world who seeks a natural explanation for such things, unlike people in the ancient world and the Middles Ages too? A modern person. That's what you are. And that's the difference between ancient people and us. And yet you'll believe it when ancient Biblical people tell stories of axe heads floating, won't you? Hey, I just saw one float yesterday! Do you believe me? And I just spoke to a snake too! I think you've done some studying on this, but look at what I wrote here , and here

bk, didn't Jesus say that he talked in parables so that those who had ears to hear would hear? Then what exactly is prohibiting God from doing likewise with these so-called signs that reveal a creator God to these believers? These "signs" are for those who have eyes to see. And surely you won't limit what God can do based upon what he did in the past, would you?

Besides, how exactly does the 2nd commandment apply to an era that is post Jesus, since Jesus obviously had an image? That's where the Catholics win the debate, I think, but you are sure to disagree.

John,

God can do anything He wants to do that isn't logically impossible. But that doesn't mean that I should be readily accepting any and everything that hints of being from God as being from God. In this case, there is no reason to believe that the image if that of Jesus because no one alive today really knows what Jesus looked like. If God were going to make a sign, how does an image that may or may not be Jesus further His purpose?

If you are looking for standards by which to judge such things, then the Bible is the standard. The Bible does not have any such "images" being theophanies or asks that we put our faith in signs. Using the authority of 2 Timothy 1, I feel free to ignore such things.

And I'll simply leave the question about the 2nd Commandment where it is because I believe if you give it some thought from a Christian viewpoint, you will find the answer is fairly obvious.

"Layman, then is it not true that with the proper background knowledge such things can count as "signs" to some believers? Is this really nonsense to them from their perspective?"

Well, with the proper background beliefs then someone could reasonably interpret the shrimp as a sign. But that does not make the proper background beliefs reasonable. And I don't want to speak for Catholics. I imagine most of them would find the signs lacking.

"And aren't you limiting what your God can do by discounting these signs? Again, how do you know that these things aren't from God? The real answer is that you don't. They may be of God, right? Or, are you letting your knowledge of cause and effect to be limited to the non-supernatural world, like most modern people do?"

Yes, I limit what I expect God to do according to my beliefs. If one's beliefs have no predictive value, are they really properly termed beliefs?

I explained why I do not believe there is a miracle here. The probability is insufficiently high for me and I even given some level of improbability it does not fit into my contextualized expectation for supernatural action. Could I be wrong? Sure. That's a risk all of us run, isn't it? That I "could" be wrong does not mean I am wrong or that my skepticism is irrational.

"Once you admit supernaturalism how can you keep from being open to these things being from God?"

Yes, as I have explained.

"And isn't it true that the real reason you aren't open to these possibilities is because you're a modern person in a scientific world who seeks a natural explanation for such things, unlike people in the ancient world and the Middles Ages too?"

Most people in Jesus' time -- whether they considered themselves "naturalists" or not -- knew very well that corposes did not rise up an walk. Yes, they thought God go do such things perhaps, but they also knew that he didn't do them very often and it was not the norm.

"A modern person. That's what you are. And that's the difference between ancient people and us. And yet you'll believe it when ancient Biblical people tell stories of axe heads floating, won't you? Hey, I just saw one float yesterday! Do you believe me?"

No, I do not believe you. Such things are violations of the laws of nature and since you are an atheist I doubt very much you really saw what you claim to have seen. Moreover, given the context, you are obviously making a polemical point here and not trying to genuinely describe something you believed to be a miracle.

"And I just spoke to a snake too! I think you've done some studying on this, but look at what I wrote here , and here."

I have done some studying on the issue before. Mostly about Jesus, because that's central area of interest. What surprised me was not how many miracle working messiah's were reported by Jewish peoples, but how few. Lots of messianic claimants showed up and promised miracles. None except Jesus were reported to have done any. This despite the fact that they met similar fates--defeat at the hands of the pagan rulers.

My article on this is hosted over at Peter Kirby's site.

You’d be surprised at how many backwards hicks are Christian… Not that there aren’t a lot of backwards hicks who aren’t, but just saying…

“What is the criteria that you as a Christian use to distinguish between such things? For Christians who believe them, they are counted as religious experiences. And as Karth Barth said, God could speak through a Russian Flute concerto.”

“Again, how do you know that these things aren't from God? The real answer is that you don't.”

I’m afraid many Christians in this day and age have taken the route of Existential faith in the wake of Barth. Their belief is not based in reason. There really is nothing rational that could ever dissuade them from their belief, or convince them of a proper one. Barth’s example is a real Modern example and is definitely anachronistic when discussing ancient peoples.

The criteria for distinguishing should operate according to the same principles it did in ancient times. Just as Peter refused to believe unless he physically stuck his hand in Yeshua’s side.. Just like Moses did not go to the people and tell them Yahweh sent him unless he could show them evidence in the physical world that Yahweh was doing something… Just like Yahweh said again and again in the OT that when such and such occurs in history as previously announced through his prophets, “then you will know that I am God”… Just as Yahweh appealed to events in history to substantiate or invalidate his own words saying that if a prophet speaks and that event does not come to pass, such a prophet has not spoken from Yahweh… Just as the apostles stood before rulers saying, you know what we say is true because you saw with your own eyes… Just as Yeshua relied upon a historical destruction of the Jewish nation-state in the first-century to vindicate him of his own declarations… The criteria for assigning divine activity to events/messages is and has always been based on this-worldly evidence and reason and open to public scrutiny.

I didn't figure we would come to an agreement when I first commented here. I just wanted to raise an issue about supernaturalism, and you answered as I expected that you would. And, yes, Layman, I had seen that article and knew it was you from TWEB. I have not done as much study in that area, but if you looked at my links I have read through the Bible looking for clues as to the superstititous nature of ancient people in general. Think of this, it was only 40 days after the Israelites left Egyptian slavery that that wanted to worship another god. 40 days! If what Exodus tells us really happened then how could they turn away from Moses' God so soon? In fact, their whole history was like that. Back and forth back and forth. If there was any real hard evidence they would not have switched back and forth like they did so often. We don't see Christians today doing the same thing, one day worshipping Jesus and then 40 days later worshipping, say Buddah, and then back again.

Anyway, yours is one of the most intelligent Christian blogs out there.

All of Jesus' miracles were done for a purpose -- to point to his deity, make a point, signify that the messianic age had arrived. What is the purpose of this?

As far as Jesus teaching in parables, yes they were masked so that those who had ears could hear, but Jesus still clearly told them for the purpose of teaching, whether or not certain people were able to figure exactly what that teaching was. The same can't be said for the Jesus shrimp.

John,

I guess that I would simply respond to your note by saying that I know of no one who doesn't believe that the people of the ancient world were "superstititious" (to use your word, although I personally think that they are better described as being accepting of multiple deities). But a reading of the story of Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Daniel gives some insight into their views.

After 200+ years of captivity in Egypt, the Israeli people had been living with polytheists for so long that they thought of God as being just "a god" among the many out there. When Moses went up in the Mountains and didn't return for several days, they began to question whether they may not have left the God who brought the plagues' jurisdiction and turned to another god. What they didn't yet understand was that there was only one God.

While we don't do it with gods, we do it with other things today.

BK said, I know of no one who doesn't believe that the people of the ancient world were "superstititious"

They were superstitious to the core, and yet you believe what they claimed even though you are now a modern person. I call this the Achilles Heel of Christianity.

But a reading of the story of Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Daniel gives some insight into their views.

Have you done a serious study of the dating of Daniel? And have you done a serious study of what magic and divination was all about in the ancient world? It's very interesting, and it's very much contrary to the finalized faith of Israel and of Christianity. But Daniel was put in charge of these magicians, soothsayers, and diviners. Why? Because Daniel was one of them in some real sense. This is the best answer I can come up with. How could he participate or manage them given what we know about how the Bible condemns such activity elsewhere?

I read your post on the Achilles Heel, and find it not particularly persuasive (but then, you didn't expect me to find it persuasive). You want to read the Bible free of the supernatural elements, but the Bible doesn't allow for that because it is the story of an extra-natural beings' involvement in history.

I have done a serious study of the dating of Daniel. No, I have not done a serious study about magic and divination in the ancient world, but I would expect it to be different from the faith of Israel and Christianity. To say that Daniel was some type of magician, soothsayer or diviner turns the entire account recorded in Daniel on its head. Daniel records exactly why Daniel was very different than the soothsayers, etc., but it also reveals how the pagans like Nebuchadnezzar merely saw him as such because they were so steeped in this ancient polytheistic view that so many of the ancient cultures held.

Zok,

Excellent point.

Anyway, yours is one of the most intelligent Christian blogs out there.

I appreciate that, but defer most of that to BK.

It's been nice to see some traffic from some skeptics lately. Hope it continues.

As for the 40 days, I'd have to reread it again. Like I said, OT is not my apologetics focus. 40 days is often used to refer to an indeterminate amount of time that is less than a year. I think that's how it is likely used in Acts 1 for example.

In any event, it doesn't strike me as all that impluasible. Here's one of the things you've said:

If there was any real hard evidence they would not have switched back and forth like they did so often. We don't see Christians today doing the same thing, one day worshipping Jesus and then 40 days later worshipping, say Buddah, and then back again.

Christians stand on the back of 2,000 years of Jewish monotheism. The Jews of Exodus and even the young Israeli nation were distinct in their unique devotion to God. It's not a fair comparison. A more interesting comparison is with those Greeks who converted to Christianity early on. There was some problems with them going back and forth.

Paul wrote to the Galatians about "how quickly" they abandoned the faith he had taught them.

He was constantly having to settle basic issues with the Corinthians church, including the nature of the resurrection itself. Despite the fact that he had clearly taught it to them before.

The author of Hebrews complained that "for though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oralces of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food."

In many cases, Paul was dealing with gentile converts immersed in a pagan culture. Fortunately, there were some Jews and Gentile believers and Paul in their mix. But they obviously had problems getting the basics through their head.

Israel was a relatively small country with a unique religion. It was often dominated by foreign influence that brought with it foreign religion. It does not strain creduility at all to see they often succumbed to those influences and had religious revivals.

Here's a good article online about the arguments for or against a late dating of Daniel. http://www.tektonics.org/af/danieldefense.html

I find it very reasonable to conclude an earlier date for Daniel, or atleast important portions of it.

I don't want to make toomuch of this argument, but the Israelites fashioned a golden calf “on the third month after the Israelites left Egypt,” plus forty days and nights (Exodus 19:1; 24:18). I was wrong, it was four months and ten days later these people (“all the people,” Exodus 32:3) wanted to worship a golden calf that Aaron said, “brought you out of Egypt.” But because they did this, Moses had the Levites kill ”his brother and friend and neighbor,” 3000 of them (Ex. 32:27-29). There was a lot of bloodshed spilled over these things.

It looks like Moses just intimidated them to believe against their wills. They knew who delivered them out of Egypt—it was the gods of Egypt who revolted against the Egyptians themselves, allowing the Israelites to escape (if there is anything historical about the events in the first place).

It just seems more likely to me that the Pharaoh of Egypt was himself superstitious. And because there were some strange natural phenomena going on in the land at the time, which he would have viewed as omens, he would’ve sent these foreigners away, while Moses received the credit for it all. So when Moses didn’t come down from Mt. Sinai, the Israelite people simply gave credit to the true god that had given them their freedom, in their minds. “The calf was probably similar to representations of the Egyptian bull-god Apis.” [Ronald Youngblood & Gleason Archer, in the NIV Study Bible]. They knew who had released them from Egypt, but Moses threatened them with death if they disagreed.

BK: I hope I don't take up too much space here, but think of this (from my book):

Nebuchadnezzer believed that dreams came from the gods as divine communication. And he had magicians and sorcerers that he depended upon to advise him and help run his whole country (see Daniel 5:7). How would that go over in today's world, if the President had such advisors? What if one advisor were to say, "I read my tea leaves today and they say we should attack Iraq"?

Daniel himself was appointed by king Nebuchadnezzer to be in charge of his “wise men” (Daniel 2:48). Ask yourself how he could be in charge when they practiced the arts of magic and divination.

According to Harper’s Bible Dictionary, “Magic is the means by which humans attempt to secure for themselves some action or information from superhuman powers. Magic is an attempt by human beings to compel a divinity, by the use of physical means, to do what they wish that divinity to do.”

“A host of intermediary beings called demons exist between gods and humans. Depending on their proximity to the gods, demons possess divine power in diminishing measures. Those closest to the gods have bodies of air; those closest to humans, bodies of steam or water. Because of this descending order, the unity of the cosmos can be preserved. Otherwise, human and divine would be irreparably separated and no communication between the two would be possible. Everything is connected through the demons who mediate between the divine and the material. Magic rests upon the belief that by getting hold of demons in physical objects, the divinity can be influenced. The magician’s art is to find out which material (metal, herb, animal, etc.) contains which divinity and to what degree. Thus magic can achieve either blessing or curse. The magician knows the secret and knows how to use it in the correct way with the best results.”

Biblical people themselves practiced magic. Rachel used mandrake plants in order to bear a child (Genesis 30:14-24), and the text doesn’t say they didn’t help her to conceive. Jacob made his flock of speckled or spotted sheep to increase over Laban’s sheep by pealing branches from poplar and almond trees and placing them in the water troughs so that when the flocks mated in front of the branches they bore young that were speckled or spotted. (Genesis 30:25-43). Where is the science in that? Samuel’s solemn pouring out of water to induce a storm 1 Sam. 7:6, is often thought to denote sympathetic magic. Samson’s long hair gave him strength. There are some stories from all parts of the world in which the soul or the strength of someone resided in his hair. Job asked that the day of his birth should be cursed by those who curse the day, who are ready to rouse up Leviathan, a mythical beast (Job. 3:8). Here might be a reference to magicians who were thought to rouse up a dragon to swallow the sun at an eclipse. Then there is the magical power believed to be in blessings and curses.

Harper's Bible Dictionary (“Magic and Divination”): “It was believed that great power rested in those holy men who were in close proximity to God. Physical contact with such a person would have beneficial consequences.” We see this with Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-24); Elisha (2 Kings 4:31-37); and Jesus (Matt. 8:14-15; Matt. 9:29). “Anything in connection with such holy men absorbed and transmitted a portion of their power. Elijah’s mantle parted the waters of the Jordan, and when Elisha put it on, Elijah’s spirit rested on him (2 Kings 2:8-15). The garment of Jesus radiated and transmitted healing power (Mark 5:28-29), as did the handkerchiefs and aprons that people carried away from the body of Paul (Acts 19:11-12). Some believers even attributed beneficial properties to the shadow of Peter (Acts 5:15).”

What about divination? Pagan diviners are also mentioned in 1 Sam. 6:2; Isaiah 44:25; Ezekiel 21:22, and in Acts 16:16 a girl has a spirit of divination. According to Harper’s Bible Dictionary: “With divination, in contrast to magic, one does not seek to alter the course of events, only to learn about them. The ancient world developed many devices by which the veil of secrecy covering future events could be lifted.”

Divination may take many forms, according to the New Bible Dictionary (“Divination”). The following forms are mentioned in the Bible:
“One) Rhabdomancy. Ezk. 21:21. Sticks or arrows were thrown into the air, and omens were deduced from their position when they fell. Two) Hepatoscopy. Ezk. 21:21. Examination of the liver or other entrails of a sacrifice was supposed to give guidance. Three) Teraphim. Associated with divination in 1 Sam. 15:23; Ezk. 21:21; Zech. 10:2. Four) Necromancy, or the consultation of the departed (Deut. 18:11; 1 Sam. 28:8; 2 Ki. 21:6). Five) Astrology draws conclusions from the position of the sun, moon and planets in relation to the zodiac and to one another. The wise men (Magi) who came to the infant Jesus (Mt. 2:9) were probably trained in Babylonian tradition which mixed astronomy with astrology. Six) Hydromancy, or divination through water. Here forms and pictures appear in the water in a bowl, as also in crystal-gazing. The gleam of the water induces a state of light trance, and the visions are subjective (Gen. 44:5, 15).”

Even among God’s people we see divination through the Casting of Lots. In the OT the lot was cast to discover God’s will for the allocation of territory (Jos. 18–19, etc.), the choice of the goat to be sacrificed on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16), the detection of a guilty person (Josh. 7:14; Jonah. 1:7), the allocation of Temple duties (1 Chr. 24:5), the discovery of a lucky day by Haman (Esther 3:7). The Urim and the Thummim are lots used to make important decisions where the answer was either yes or no (1 Sam. 14:41; 28:6; Exod. 28:29; Deut. 33:8; Lev. 8:7; Num. 27:21). In the NT Christ’s clothes were allocated by lot (Mt. 27:35). The last occasion in the Bible on which the lot is used to divine the will of God is in the choice of Matthias (Acts 1:15–26). Can you imagine any judges today casting lots to divide up land or to make any decisions?

Dreams in the ancient world were believed to be communication from God. Dreams were thought to convey messages from God or the gods. (See Genesis 20; 21:32; 24; 31:24; 40-41; Judges 7:13-14). Pharaoh had two dreams and demanded that someone interpret them, and it’s claimed Joseph accurately interpreted them for him (Genesis 41); Solomon had a dream where he asked and received his request for wisdom (I Kings 3:5-15); Matthew records five dreams in connection with the birth and infancy of Jesus, in three of which an angel appeared with God’s message (Mt. 1:20; 2:12–13, 19, 22). Later he records the troubled dream of Pilate’s wife that Jesus is innocent, and this dream was considered by Matthew as at least enough evidence of Jesus’ innocence to mention it (27:19). On occasions there is virtually no distinction between a dream and a vision during the night (Job. 4:12f; Acts 9:10; 10:10, 30; 16:9; 18:9f.). There is a very close connection between dreams and visions and prophecies: “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” (Joel 2:28 & Acts 2:17, cf. Numbers 12:6) [On dreams see A. L. Oppenheim, The Interpretation of Dreams in the Ancient Near East, 1956].

Today’s modern educated people simply don’t accept that view of magic, divination, blessings, curses or dreams. Dreams, for instance, are the combined product of memory and sensation running wild, as the rational part of our brains is unconscious. CAT scans and probes tell us which parts of our brains are “asleep” and which parts are awake when we are sleeping. Dreams open the window of the mind. Dreams give us glimpse of a person’s unconscious self. The Bible contains far too many things that people living in our day and age simply cannot accept any longer. It is simply irrational and superstitious, in the light of brain science, to consider dreams as any communication from God, gods, or the dead.

Layman: It's been nice to see some traffic from some skeptics lately. Hope it continues.

I've been visiting off and on, and I just didn't have much to say until the topic was superstition and the supernatural.

They knew who had released them from Egypt, but Moses threatened them with death if they disagreed.

It's clear that the purpose of Pentateuchal accounts is to portray the Jews as the one true God's chosen people. If these accounts are fabricated, then, why would they include this story where the one true God's chosen people turn their back on this one true God and acknowledge that it was actually the Egyptian gods who truly delivered them, while turning Moses, the hero of these books, into a dishonest thug? It doesn't make sense. Either the events are factual, the stories don't say what you think they're saying, or both. It doesn't make sense that this account is both both fabricated and means what you think it means.

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