Continued from Part One
Reason One: The Insufficiency of All Skeptical Claims (Part 1)
“As someone withdrawing from the light does not in the least do harm to the light, but does very great harm to himself, becoming immersed in darkness, so also one accustomed to scorning the power of the Almighty does not in the least do harm to it [His power], but upon himself brings extreme harm.” - St. John Chrysostom
The witness and testimony of the Holy Light miracle lacks clarity and is compromised by witnesses polarized at the extreme ends of a spectrum from belief to disbelief. While there is a remarkable similarity in reports with regard to the miraculous properties of the Holy Light, the vast majority of sources attribute the phenomenon to deceit and trickery. It is these latter accounts that I will analyze here to determine their reliability and validity in the discussion of the facts of the Holy Light.
An Evaluation of Skepticism and Human Knowledge
A skeptic is one who doubts. The standard dictionary definition of a skeptic is quite revealing when it describes them as those who hold to “the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain and who have doubts concerning basic religious principles.” In fact, skepticism “...confidently challenges not merely religious or metaphysical knowledge but all knowledge claims that venture beyond immediate experience” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1997, 26:569). The key words here are “immediate experience.”
Translated into common parlance, this simply means that the skeptic is not prepared to accept anything that cannot be verified empirically (viz., via the scientific method). Paul Kurtz, well-known skeptic and former editor of The Humanist (official organ of the American Humanist Association), put it like this:
"To adopt such a scientific approach unreservedly is to accept as ultimate in all matters of fact and real existence the appeal to the evidence of experience alone; a court subordinate to no higher authority, to be overridden by no prejudice however comfortable" (“Scientific Humanism,” The Humanist Alternative, 1973, p. 109, emp. added).
Chet Raymo, in his book, Skeptics and True Believers, is forced to admit the following: "Skepticism offers only uncertainty and doubt.... Science cannot rule out heaven and hell because they are beyond the reach of empirical investigation" (1998, p. 5,77). Thus, in the end the skeptic does not say he cannot know that God exists. Rather, he says he doubts that God exists because He cannot be seen, felt, measured, weighed, or probed by the scientific method.
Thirty-four years before Chet Raymo wrote about “Skeptics and True Believers,” Harvard professor George G. Simpson wrote: “It is inherent in any definition of science that statements that cannot be checked by observation are not really saying anything....” (This View of Life, 1964, p. 769). Simply put, the point is this: If science cannot deal with something, that “something” either does not exist (worst-case scenario) or is completely unimportant (best-case scenario).
Welcome to the make-believe world of the skeptic in which science reigns supreme, and a cavalier attitude toward all things non-empirical rules the day.
But what about those concepts that, although non-empirical and therefore unobservable via the scientific method, nevertheless are recognized to exist, and are admitted to be of critical importance to the entire human race—concepts like love, sorrow, joy, altruism, etc.? Arlie Hoover accurately assessed the situation in which the skeptic finds himself in regard to the existence of such items when he wrote:
"Why does the scientific method reject subjective factors, emotions, feelings? Simply because it is not convenient! Because the method will not allow you to deal with the immense complexity of reality. The scientist, therefore, selects from the whole of experience only those elements that can be weighed, measured, numbered, or which lend themselves to mathematical treatment....
"This is a fallacy we call Reductionism. You commit the Reductive Fallacy when you select a portion of a complex entity and say the whole is merely that portion. You do this when you say things like: love is nothing but sex, man is just an animal, music is nothing but sound waves, art is nothing but color.... When it gets down to the real serious questions of life—origin, purpose, destiny, meaning, morality—science is silent....
"If science can’t handle morality, aesthetics, and religion that only proves that the scientific method was reductive in the first place. Sir Arthur Eddington once used a famous analogy to illustrate this reductionism. He told of a fisherman who concluded from his fishing experiences with a certain net that “no creature of the sea is less than two inches long.” Now this disturbed many of his colleagues and they demurred, pointing out that many sea creatures are under two inches and they just slipped through the two-inch holes in the net. But the ichthyologist was unmoved: 'What my net can’t catch ain’t fish, he pontificated, and then he scornfully accused his critics of having pre-scientific, medieval, metaphysical prejudices.
"Scientific reductionism or 'Scientism'— as it is often called — is similar to this fisherman with the special net. Since the strict empirical scientist can’t 'catch' or 'grasp' such qualitative things like freedom, morality, aesthetics, mind, and God, he concludes that they don’t exist. But they have just slipped through his net. They have been slipping through his net all the way from Democritus to B.F. Skinner to Carl Sagan" (“Starving the Spirit,” Firm Foundation, 98:6, January 1981, p. 6).
In speaking of Skepticism and its offspring of Humanism, Sir Julian Huxley wrote: “It will have nothing to do with absolutes, including absolute truth, absolute morality, absolute perfection and absolute authority” (Essays of a Humanist, 1964, pp. 73-74). To that list, one might add absolute joy, absolute love, absolute freedom, absolute peace, etc. The skeptic has paid a high price for his scientism — the rejection and abandonment of some of the human race’s most important, valuable, worthwhile, and cherished, concepts. Why? In order to be able to say: I doubt that God exists!
Beyond the empirical proof demanded of skeptics, there is also logic and the proofs of substantiation and conclusions based on valid premises. To arrive at truth, conclusions must be validated by the Principle of Sufficient Reason. According to Leibniz who formulated this Principle, “for any idea to be valid, there should be sufficient grounds [sufficient reason]; that is, a conclusion should have substantiation [or grounds] proceeding from propositions and assertions that have already been proven.”
Do the skeptics adhere to the Principle of Sufficient Reason in their skepticism over the validity of the Holy Light miracle? Is there any validity to their claims?
My own conviction to this question is that there is no sufficient validity to the skeptical claims of skeptics regarding the miracle of the Holy Light. This will be shown in various ways as I set forth my 10 Reasons Why I Believe the Holy Light Is a Miracle. Before I do so, however, my first reason is exclusively dedicated to ten points that show why the skeptical claims are completely insufficient in themselves.
1. Skepticism of the Holy Light is Associated With a Worldview
A worldview refers to the framework of ideas and beliefs through which an individual interprets the world and interacts with it. For example, a skeptic determines knowledge through empirical proof and thus has a Naturalist worldview that does not allow for explanations beyond the natural world. A Christian, a Muslim and a Jew have Theistic worldviews, allowing for an explanation of things beyond empirical and reasonable proof that is supernatural, but they interpret their theism and supernatural beliefs in different ways. There are even differences within particular beliefs that help determine how they view the world, as for instance in Christianity which is broken up into its various bodies and denominations, so that, for example, an Orthodox Christian may have a different worldview from a Catholic or Protestant Christian.
What we find with the skeptical claims throughout history trying to disprove the Holy Light is that the skeptics making their arguments always do so in light of their worldview. Even theistic skeptics have put aside the supernatural claims of Orthodox Christians mainly because it contradicted the worldview which defines them. Such an interpretation of evidence is not only biased but it commits the logical fallacy of circular reasoning, which is committed when a proposition which requires proof is assumed without proof. In this type of argument, a conclusion masquerades as a premise. An example of circular reasoning is: "The Holy Light is not a miracle because there are no such things as miracles", or "The Holy Light is a false miracle because only Islam has true miracles", etc. To put it simply, a circular argument is used as a mechanism to prevent an assertion from being challenged or questioned, or to "win" a debate by sending it round and round in circles.
When we trace the history of skepticism towards the Holy Light, we see exactly how the reality of such skepticism is in fact based on the clash of worldviews.
In April 637, the Arabs, after a long siege captured Jerusalem, which was surrendered by Patriarch Sophronius. Early sources after the ninth century indicate that Muslims generally believed in the miraculous nature of the Holy Light, being eye-witnesses of the event. If anything, at certain times they tried to prevent the ceremony of the Holy Light from taking place because it was converting so many Muslims to Christianity, though this was in vain. In the eleventh century we start to see reports of Muslims trying to undermine the miracle, but this was done to justify persecution of Christians. For the most part, for Muslims the miracle was undeniable and they gave many stories to give alternate explanations, but all without any substantial proof. And this was done because it contradicted their worldview.
During the Latin occupation of the twelfth century, we begin to receive accounts of the miracle of the Holy Light given from Western perspectives. As eye-witnesses of the event, again they could not deny what they observed. However on March 9, 1238 Pope Gregory the IX issued a Bull forbidding participation in the ceremony of the Holy Light with the Greeks on grounds that it was a fraud. It should be noted that this Bull was issued after never having observed the ceremony nor explaining what deceitful means were employed in obtaining the Holy Light. This condemnation in general ended any sympathetic Western reactions to the Holy Light. In 1524 Fra Francesco Suriano wrote a treatise on the Holy Land and in describing the Holy Light indicates why he refused to believe it: "The said fire, however, does not descend in truth...I think that the privation of such a grace is due to the sins and heresy of these nations." In other words, because the miraculous properties of the Holy Light didn't fit in their worldview (and political motivations as we will examine later on), the miracle must not be true.
It wasn't until 1696 when the English chaplain Henry Maundrell approached the ceremony of the Holy Light with a skepticism that became standard during the Renaissance and through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Yet Maundrell's purpose was to beforehand was to rid the ceremony of its "superstition" by describing it as a ceremony performed with a "pagan frenzy". With the rise of Humanism coupled with the condemnation of the Pope, the ceremony of the Holy Light was viewed with increasingly negative Western assessments not necessarily based on any evidence, but because the phenomenon clashed with their worldviews and tastes. Even Greek thinkers after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 and educated in the West slowly began to be skeptical of the supernatural character of the Holy Light, not based on personal experience, but it conformed to the prevailing attitude of the age of scientific realism and skepticism. Even many religious skeptics began to doubt, like Adamantios Koraes, because they believed that religion must be viewed through the "prism" of the scientific discoveries of their age. The miracle of the Holy Light, therefore, was an effrontery to one's systematic approach to religious phenomena.
All of these approaches persist in all the arguments against the miraculous nature of the Holy Light till this day in the twenty-first century and there is nothing new under the sun. All challenges to the authenticity of the miracle are based on nothing more than an opposing worldview. For some it is more of a critique of Orthodoxy that it is a critique of the Holy Light, while for others it is more of a critique of Christianity or God in general, or even such things as the exact location of the Holy Sepulchre (as Protestants later argued). I have yet to read an honest critique of the Holy Light given with an open mind to the possibility of its authenticity.
2. Contradictions Among Skeptics
When we examine the historical records of Muslims, Heterodox, Skeptics, and Non-Believers, one of the more interesting facts we find is that all of the challenges against the authenticity of the Holy Light contradict each other. In classical logic, a contradiction consists of a logical incompatibility between two or more propositions. In reference to the Holy Light, what we find among the skeptics is the contradictory "observations" which demonstrate how the "fraud" of the Orthodox clergy is pulled off to deceive the people. One finds similar contradictory theories among scholars today who deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
Because there are so many accounts which try to explain naturalistically how the miracle occurs, and because there are contradictory problems with all of them due to their hearsay origins, I will narrow the critique to four Muslim critics of the Holy Light to give a sample of the contradictions found.
I. Krachkovsky was an Orientalist who wrote a piece in Russian titled "The Holy Fire According to the Story of al-Biruni and Other Muslim writers of the 10th-13th Centuries" (The Christian East, Petrograd, 1915) in which he provides the accounts of these Muslim writers concerning the Holy Light. From him the skeptics have used these sources to show that the Holy Light is a "fraud". What the skeptics fail or ignore to do however is read the commentary of the scholar who compiled them - I. Krachkovsky. He explains the contradictory nature of these accounts when he writes: "The very diversity of these accounts, and the way they contradict each other, indicate that here also it is hardly possible to expect a basis in fact." In other words, since the accounts which explain how the "fraud" takes place are contradictory, then the possibility these accounts are true are pretty much impossible.
Here are some samples of contradictions that I. Krachkovsky points out, which obviously cannot all be true, yet all the authors seem so sure of themselves that they have uncovered the "plot". Ibn al-Qalanisi (d. 1160), Yakut (d. 1229), al-Jawhari (d. 1242), and Mudjir ad-din (d. c. 1496) were four Muslim writers who attempted to explain naturally how the "fraudulent" Holy Light miracle took place. Yet what we find is that their "explanations" in fact contradict each other. Ibn al-Qalanisi and Mudjir ad-din, for example, say that a thin iron thread is attached to all the oil lamp wicks by which the "trickery" is performed, but Yakut and al-Jawhari say it was attached to only one oil lamp wick. Furthermore, according to Yakut, the thread is said to be simply lit by someone, yet according to al-Jawhari the wick bursts into a flame from a complex, hidden apparatus containing sulfur which is calculated to an exact time for it to light. Al-Jawhari even contradicts himself when he writes in the beginning of his account that all the Christians are participants in the conspiracy regarding this "sham" miracle, and yet at the end of the same account he reveals that the secret is only known to one monk who sets up the apparatus. These contradictions are just one of many problems with these accounts that we will further examine later.
It should also be noted that the elaborate and fanciful tales of the Muslims are not held by later critics and non-believers, thus discrediting them. The issue of deception performed by the Orthodox clergy and monks became much more simplistic and conspiratorial especially after the Latins were no longer allowed to participate in the ceremony. And whenever pilgrims from the West would visit the Holy Land having heard about the miracle, the Latins would make it a point to inform them that the miracle was "in fact" deceit on the part of the clergy, and gullibility coupled with superstitious naivete on the part of the believers. In light of this, one wonders where the real conspiracy was to be found, by the Orthodox or by the Latins trying to discredit the whole thing.
Thus are the accounts of Western authors fueled by the Latin's jealousy and intrigues, insisting without proof that the ceremony was a hoax. The contradictions this developed range from J. Doubdan writing in 1651 that the Patriarch uses a "flint" inside the tomb to ignite the flame, to Dr. Johann Nepomuk Sepp explaining in 1863 that the Patriarch "rubbed his hands with some kind of phosphorous-like substance" to ignite it. In the twentieth century the range of explanations go from the simplistic accusation of the Patriarch using "a cigarette lighter" by a pilgrim in 1988, to the more complex and ridiculous theory of Carl-Martin Edsman who wrote in 1955 that a light flashes inside the tomb when it is ignited by "spreading alcoholic spirit about the Tomb" (Bishop Auxentios of Photike, The Paschal Fire In Jerusalem, ch. 1). It seems that with all the contradictions of the critics, the only thing they agree on is that they are very sure of their opinions which are based on pure speculation and grounded in absolutely no facts.
Continued...Reason One: The Insuffiency of All Skeptical Claims (Part 2)