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The evidence for some Taoist and Christian miracles.

By elenchos in MLP
Sun Apr 08, 2001 at 07:20:28 AM EST
Tags: You Know... (all tags)
You Know...

The Secular Web has an entertaining comparison between the evidence for the life and miracles of Jesus Christ and the miracles of the numerous Taoist (or Daoist) alchemists in Chinese history, called The Christ of Daoist Alchemy by Michael A. Turton. The idea is just to look objectively at two claims for supernatural events and evaluate them based on the documentation available. Perhaps this will challenge your ability to decide whether or not to believe something that you have read. Should you use the same criteria for everything you read, or do you let some arguments pass a less demanding test?

For my money, as you know, if "Bob" said it, that settles it. YMMV.


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The evidence for some Taoist and Christian miracles. | 44 comments (24 topical, 20 editorial, 0 hidden)
On Taoism (4.20 / 5) (#1)
by Zeram on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 04:11:12 PM EST

It's a realitively interesting article. It puts a kind of logic where few people dare to let logic tread. I have read several Taoist texts and find Taoisms basic precepts very useful in a life enriching way.

However unless the "miracles" of the Taoist alchemists can be reproduced, then they are pretty much in the same category as the "miracles" of Jesus. Just because there is more writen about the life, times, and works of the ancient Taoist alchemists doesn't mean anything. Repeating a lie does not make it true.

Look at our morden society. Most people tend to be pretty skeptical of things, but yet look at the utter nonsense people buy into on a regualr basis: Diet programs that profess instant results with no work, get rich quick spam scams, the idea that Dub-yah would know is good for this country if it delivered him his morning eight-ball, the idea that having a cell phone somehow enhances a persons ability to communicate with other people. And thats just off the top of my head.

If someone had hard proof of the ability of the Taoist alchemists that would be one thing, but to use spurious logic to posit that volumes of "evidence" that one anicent groups "miracles" are vaild, actually makes them more valid than those of a groups that are less well documented strikes me more as a classic case of bait-and-bash.
Like Anime? In the Philly metro area? Welcome to the machine...
Look closer. (none / 0) (#2)
by elenchos on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 04:25:50 PM EST

I think Turton's article addresses the point you raise:
    The thinking person will make his or her own decision whether multiple citation constitutes confirmation of the supernatural.
...and then...
    Far from being handicapped by the lack of mention of Jesus in contemporary records, Christians in fact benefit from the dearth of information about their man. We can test Wei's recipes and assess the veracity of his claims against the rich tradition of Confucian scholasticism and later Taoist writings. Had Jesus been as exhaustively recorded, it is doubtful that any objective record would show the alleged miracles that took place at his execution, since none do now. More records would simply mean more contradictions, more hard-to-explain-away stories, and more uncomfortable details. Without countervailing evidence, Christians are free to go by the book they have edited and redacted over the years, the New Testament. The lack of records puts skeptics at a disadvantage. We have to argue from their (edited) evidence.
By obfuscating history, an unfalsifiable claim is created, but when you have the mountains of documents from many kinds of sources as in China, it isn't so easy to let the impossible slide by with a shrug. No one has actually said that the Taoist miracles are true. Only that they are well documented, which makes it possible to think about them in a serious way, whereas you can't do much of anything with an undocumented miracle.

[ Parent ]

Taoism and "miracles" (4.00 / 1) (#3)
by ucblockhead on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 05:06:37 PM EST

I've always been of the opinion that the superstitions surrounding "taoist" alchemists just goes to show that they really miss the whole point. The originators of the Taoist philosophy (and in many ways, it is more properly a philosophy than a religion), Lao Tze and Chang Tze, did not mention any miracles, except in the most metaphorical of senses.

Of course, it may well be that many of the "miracles" of Christ were metaphors that were mistaken for fact as well.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

Not sure I agree totally (3.00 / 1) (#5)
by Skippy on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 05:26:30 PM EST

I do agree that people who take some of the more outlandish miracle claims of Taoists may be missing the point. Taoist texts are pretty clear that simply because you have special powers doesn't mean that you use them. In fact, use of special powers, especially where they may be seen by the uninitiated, is positively discouraged. Special powers are seen as sort of an unwanted side effect of becoming enlightened.

This does not mean that those special powers do not exist. I have heard reliable second hand accounts of people who have lived to extraordinary (120+) ages due to Taoist internal (physiological) alchemical techniques. I'm also of the _opinion_ that martial artists, after many years of cultivation, are able to do things we wouldn't consider "normal". As far as I am concerned the miracles of Taoists are only slightly more credible than those of Jesus. The claims of them doing things that are simply extraordinary I take rather more seriously.

Finally, Taoism did not begin with Lao Tzu. Many of the concepts were already in place and he simply codified them. There are also texts of the Taoist canon which predate the Tao Te Ching, most notably the I Ching.
I would like to point out that considering the topic is Taoism that my .sig is particularly applicable :-)

# I am now finished talking out my ass about things that I am not qualified to discuss. #
[ Parent ]

"Normal" (none / 0) (#7)
by Osiris on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 07:04:59 PM EST

I'm also of the _opinion_ that martial artists, after many years of cultivation, are able to do things we wouldn't consider "normal"

Do you study martial arts? What kind of abnormal accomplishments do you mean?

[ Parent ]
Things you see in kung fu films (4.00 / 1) (#9)
by Skippy on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 08:16:51 PM EST

I studied T'ai Chi (as a martial art - not calisthenics in the park) for about 2 years which means that I'm able to run away :-) Proficiency in T'ai Chi is something that takes 10-15 years as opposed to 2 or 3 for a hard style like tae kwan do or karate.

Some of the things I think many people dismiss which I think are possible are the things you see in kung-fu movies. People with 20 foot vertical leaps, incredible strength or speed, ability to "feel" what an opponent is about to do before they do it, etc. These don't constitute miracles but they aren't exactly things you see everyday.

# I am now finished talking out my ass about things that I am not qualified to discuss. #
[ Parent ]

Not everyday, or ever? (none / 0) (#10)
by elenchos on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 09:01:51 PM EST

My Aikido sensi used to show us how to do some of the amazing things that Aikidoists often do at demonstrations to wow the crowd, with the purpose of debunking the "miracle" and disassociating his kind of teaching from all that flashy mystical stuff that he basically thought was dishonest.

So outside of a movie, have you ever actually witnessed this stuff? I've always wondered why Olympic athletes never go and learn how to do 20 foot verticle leaps, given how much that would help them and how motivated they are. You would think at leat one of them would have done it, wouldn't you? Or use the supernatural fighting ability to become the boxing champion of the world. Or do anything that is indisputable proof. Instead we only hear vauge second-hand stories. Why is that?

[ Parent ]

No first hand experience (none / 0) (#11)
by Skippy on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 10:51:50 PM EST

So outside of a movie, have you ever actually witnessed this stuff?
Nope. The most impressive thing I personally saw was a tang soo do guy kick a watermelon out of a basketball hoop. It EXPLODED upwards into a bunch of small pieces. Impressive but not outside the upper bounds of normal.

I've always wondered why Olympic athletes never go and learn how to do 20 foot verticle leaps, given how much that would help them and how motivated they are. You would think at leat one of them would have done it, wouldn't you?
No. I don't. Supposedly such skills are usually only acquired after decades of study from hard to find teachers who are REALLY picky about students who tell them not to show off. I guess it would be like people who go to a good martial arts teacher. They learn to fight but they also learn that their skills shouldn't be used except in direst necessity.

I'm inclined to think such abilities are possible. I didn't say that they did. As I said above, its my OPINION and I highlighted it as such. Feel free to have your own :-)

# I am now finished talking out my ass about things that I am not qualified to discuss. #
[ Parent ]

Legendary, or Exaggerated (5.00 / 1) (#12)
by Osiris on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 03:21:38 AM EST

At least I think so. I've studied four martial arts, I'm actually about to test for my 3rd degree black belt in taekwondo, the rest were auxiliary for me. There are lots of stories about martial art feats, but they're really only believed in the west, I think. I've certainly never seen anything which can't be explained by physics and a lot of exercise. Put it this way: do we ascribe superhuman feats to boxers, wrestlers, or medieval knights? Those are the European equivalents of Asian fighting styles.

There are videotapes from the 50s, when the US government decided to study this kind of thing. One Tai Chi master was taped doing push-hands against an opponent. He suddenly pushed and the target went back 20+ feet to be caught by two other guys. You may even have seen this kind of thing in your training. Abnormal? Well, yeah, but it's just leverage.

I think that when various styles were first seen by 'outsiders', they were impressive. The stories probably grew in the telling. American martial artists certianly do wierd things, like mimic (badly) asian cultures, have a wierd obsession with stripes of cloth, and take ourselves entirely too seriously, but all of that's within regular human bounds, too :) I've never experienced anything supernormal; I can't rule that out, but I'll say it's unlikely, and so would most teachers, in any art.

[ Parent ]
What's defined as incredible? (none / 0) (#13)
by Miniluv on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 03:41:09 AM EST

Most of the feats you named are not that hard to believe in. Based on records still existing from Ancient Greece the greatest champion they ever had made a long jump suspected at around 55 feet. Wouldn't that be comparable with a 20 foot vertical?

As far as the incredible strength goes, there are all sorts of reputable records of "miraculous" feats of strength at one time or another. Adrenaline has a wonderful magnifying effect on the ability of muscles. Especially when applied to people in peak physical condition.

As to the last one, that's the simplest. As a boxer if he can read his opponent. Of course he can. This feat is mostly a matter of observation, in learning to quickly and efficiently build a complete picture out of the hundreds of minute details the human body telegraphs about what it's about to do.

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
[ Parent ]

Perhaps an explanation (none / 0) (#34)
by Wah on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 09:18:20 PM EST

As far as the incredible strength goes, there are all sorts of reputable records of "miraculous" feats of strength at one time or another. Adrenaline has a wonderful magnifying effect on the ability of muscles. Especially when applied to people in peak physical condition.

If one was able to call upon this strength at will, versus say when their baby is trapped under a car, then some of the crazy stuff might be explainable. The limits of human endurance and strength (especially with lifelong training) are well beyond what most would consider "normal". Anwyay, this DragonballZ kinda stuff is curious, although that 55 foot jump seems to point to something different.
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]

I'm afraid you prove your point (2.00 / 1) (#33)
by weirdling on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 04:34:56 PM EST

With your obviously mythic belief in GW's inability to do his job, you demonstrate your point, as that matter is definately a point of view issue and not provable, so the idea that you could definately say one way or another in an externally verfiable form demonstrates that you believe something that cannot be proven.
Anyway, I think the point of the article wasn't to prove claims made by taoists but rather to show how ridiculous Christian apology is for insisting historic validity as a reason for believing the bible.

I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
[ Parent ]
Taoism? (3.50 / 2) (#4)
by ucblockhead on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 05:12:41 PM EST

I'm very suspicious of this, mainly because this manages to avoid mentioning either the founder of Taoism or his leading disciple in its entire text.

If someone in Taoism were to be compared to Christ, one would assume it would have been Lao Tzu. But I suppose they aren't comparing Taoism to Christianity so much as some of the superstitions that grew around Taoism after it had been around a while.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup

Hmmm... need to split hairs. (5.00 / 1) (#6)
by elenchos on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 05:28:33 PM EST

He seems to want to foucs on miracles, not on philosophy, whicy is why Lao Tse isn't so important for this article. Many distinguish philosophical Taoism from folk or magical or alchemical Taoism. To say that only the philosophical variety it "right" would be the fundamentalist approach, I suppose.

Turton is clear enough though:

    Waidan practitioners flourished from about 200 BCE to 1000 CE, overlapping with the time of Jesus. It is on them we will focus.
It is Waidan, the search for an elixer of eternal life, that is under scrutiny, not the metaphorical ideas of Lao Tse.

I should have been just as specific in my MLP post, so as not to confuse the issue. Isn't Waidan the name of the school in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?" Or was it Wodun? I can't remember.

[ Parent ]

wasn't it.... (none / 0) (#28)
by Greyshade on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 04:42:04 AM EST


[ Parent ]
Yes, it's Wudan. Furthermore... (none / 0) (#43)
by oldman on Mon Apr 09, 2001 at 01:56:03 AM EST

The school of martial arts practiced in Crouching Tiger.. is Wudan. Most martial arts during that period in China is divided into Taoist and Buddhist derived styles, the most prominent training and development of the former located at the Wudan Mountain Temple (the one from which Jin takes a dive from at the end of a movie) and the Shaolin temple for the latter.

On the other hand, Chi-Kung (the development of bioelectrical energy in the body is a popular theory) is primarily divided into Waidan (outer skill) and Neidan (innner skill). Waidan focuses on training the chi energy through ritualistic external movements and forms, massages, acupuncture, lightly repetitive blows to certain meridians (energy pathways) along the body, diet, wearing weights while training, etc. If done correctly, results can include massive physical strength, ability to absorb tremendous blows, speed, lightness of body. Neidan training focuses on meditation, guided visualizations, self-hypnosis, a plethora of breathing exercises. The results are: "bouncing back" blows at the body rather than absorbsing, total control of body processes such as human hibernation, decreasing/increasing blood flow in certain parts of the body, disrupting the energy in an opponent from a short distance thereby causing physical pain and short-term disability, etc.

Note that these are applications in the martial arts context, the majority of chi kung practitioners use it for healing (i.e., reiki). Also there is no fine dividing line between the two categories (both Wudan/Shaolin and Waidan/Neidan), and normally martial artists study as many disciplines as they can manage.

I personally have witnessed a master chi kung practitioner accomplish feats that can't be conveniently explained by Western scientific theories. In a semi-controlled experiment I performed to satisfy my skeptical curiousity, I was impressed: I wet a standard wet towel with water from the sink, rolled it up and gave it to him. He placed upon my knee (over the blue jeans I wore that day) and proceeded to "project" his energy from his hand that was about a foot away into the towel. After about 15-20 seconds, I could feel the towel become uncomfortably warm and could see steam rising out of it. A few more seconds, I jerked my knee away while he grabbed the towel and laughed. He then proceeded to withdraw the energy and heat from the towel and, after it had stopped steaming in a few seconds, instructed me to touch it. Now the towel was merely lukewarm. This cycle was repeated several times until he was satisfied at my reaction. This was all within the vicinity of several people, two of them my parents, who were impressed but had seen it before and unsurprised.

From the back of my skeptical mind, of course, I tried to come up with several possible explanations. The most obvious was that either the towel was pretreated with some kind of chemical which would react with water in an odorless fashion and give off heat, or he had slipped some such chemical in later. The latter seems unlikely; first, I had been observing him carefully during this whole process, he had worn a sleeveless shirt and I had seen that his hands were apparently empty, second, he had no physical contact with the towel before the initial "energy projection". However, the first possibility also did not fit; he had been able to alternate the hot/cold condition of the towel at such speed and convenience that I do not think could be possible with a chemical reaction. Another last possibility could be that he had somehow hypnotized the entire room (5-6 people). This also seems unlikely, I have seen a hypnotist before and I am not very "suggestible". In any case, if he had that power, why not hypnotize us to believe even more fantastic things?

My interest, of course, was greatly increased after this experienced and I endeavored to research it and try to duplicate some of the abilities. I have since been exposed to more extraordinary feats, though none as impressive as the one I have mentioned above. I'd also like to mention that I am an Chinese-American and after talking with many relatives, I learned that my maternal grandfather was a Wudan martial artist. After escaping the Communist regime in China, he taught martial arts to the military in Taiwan. Some of my relatives witnessed several of his skills: vertical jumps of 10 feet, jumping from the ground to a military jeep going approximately 60mph, lying on the ground while the the same jeep ran over him with one tire and getting back up nonchalantly. Unfortunately, martial arts became unpopular during his lifetime (the best of them couldn't stop bullets), and he did not teach anything to his descendents. Only recently has interest in martial arts resurged, which I attribute to the angst created in the growing bourgeois.

My *personal* conclusion is that these feats are rare but entirely possible. Unfortunately, they remain out of the reach of modern layman or even professional athletes and the military. Modest accomplishments require upwards of 20 years of training, mastery would take perhaps 40 or more. However, chi-kung practice is still useful for health and mental benefits, as well as because it is extremely pleasurable and relaxing. If you're interested, searching on amazon.com will produce a plethora of results. I recommend anything by Mantak Chia or Yang Jwing-Ming.

Finally, in response to a post about how stories of martial arts feats are only believed in the west, I beg to differ. Most easterners have a *much* higher exposure to these feats (admittedly, there are many frauds) and give much more credence to them. There is a abundance of documented cases in China as well. It helps when there is not an entire culture bent against such "superstitious native nonsense". My advice is to have an open mind about these things. Quantum physics has shown that there are no immutable physical laws, but merely statistics. Scientific theories have been and will be trumped by others that show more accurately the nature of the universe. The history of the US's abhorrent treatment of Native and African Americans and its changing attitude, perhaps, should teach us that old assumptions should be examined and challenged just as rigorously as new ones.

[ Parent ]
Christian equivalent would be... (none / 0) (#42)
by Pseudonym on Sun Apr 08, 2001 at 09:48:28 PM EST

You make an excellent point. The Christian equivalent of these later "Taoist" miracles would not be Jesus, but something more like the Roman Catholic weeping statues, stigmata or appearances of St Mary. Perhaps using something like that for comparison would be more fair?

sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
Chinese science and technology (3.00 / 2) (#8)
by danny on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 07:38:43 PM EST

The Needham work referred to (Science and Civilisation in China) is pretty amazing. I've only read one volume of the abridgement (the full thing is huge, I think twenty odd near-thousand page volumes), but it made me rethink a lot of ideas about the history of technology.

[900 book reviews and other stuff]

I don't get it (3.50 / 2) (#23)
by Anonymous 242 on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 04:00:10 PM EST

Hmm. There seem to be more and more supposedly controversial article submissions popping up on k5 that I don't really understand.

Most Christian groups (not all, some sects claim that the miracles worked in the name of Jesus ended with the close of the apostolic era which they close with the death of the last of the original apostles) claim that miracles in the name of Jesus occurred throughout history and continue to occur in this day and age. In such a case it might be more interesting to make a table comparing folks with a claim of being a wonder-worker from different sects of Christianity and other world religions. Would Saint Seraphim of Sarov or Saint John of Kronstadt compare favorably or unfavorably to Benny Hinn? Would Taoist healers have an edge over Zen Buddhist healers? Would Sikhs prove to have more miracle workers than Hindis?

I think such a comparrison would be interesting. Then instead of comparing a (supposedly) lightly documented set of miracles to a heavily documented set of miracles, one could compare apples to apples, so to speak.

Secondly, I don't understand why this would threaten anyone's faith nor do I understand how this article validates or invalidates any given faith. Christianity has more than a few explanations of why people of other faiths would also be able to duplicate miracles. Heck, in the story of Moses vs. Pharoah Egyptian priests duplicated a good deal of Moses' miracles.

Christianity (at least not mature forms of such) does not make an exlusive claim to truth and power. Christianity does, however, claim to have the fullest representation of truth and the only pure, unadulterated power of God. If Taoists (or any other movement) happen to discover certain aspects of truth and certain forms of power, power (!) to them.

A few thoughts (4.00 / 2) (#30)
by weirdling on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 03:57:39 PM EST

First, Christianity claims ongoing miracles, but they do not stand up to statistical analysis. In the majority of cases, they are simply improbable, not miraculous. This is termed the 'miraculous state of mind', where everything that is out of the ordinary is seen as miraculous. However, since miracles do not happen consistently and recorded miracles are seldom actually impossible and almost never easy to verify (religious sensitivity of most observers makes it hard to confirm), it is pretty much impossible to do anything but complain that they are statistically insignificant.
Second, the point of the article was most definately not to prove or disprove any particular faith but rather to satirize the standards of truth acceptable to Christianity. Essentially, by every standard that Christian apoligists use, taoism is more believable...

I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
[ Parent ]
Taoism (4.00 / 2) (#24)
by darthaya on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 05:36:18 PM EST

In short, it is not a religion. It is rather a philosophy of life.

Talk to your Chinese friend(a educated one), you will find out more about Taoism than you can from books. (and faster too)

Btw, nobody or very few people believe the so-called miracles in Taoism nowadays anyway. They are mostly made up in the long history, mainly for entertaining purpose.

Philosophies and religions (none / 0) (#38)
by Pseudonym on Sun Apr 08, 2001 at 01:43:04 PM EST

Most religions have followers that claim they're not religions, but rather philosophies of life. (Scientology being the notable counter-example, but it's kinda doubtful that it's either a religion or philosophy.)

I understand what you mean by that, though. Taoism is not a religion in the sense that most people think of the term "religion". It has no deities, for example. But then, Buddhism doesn't really have any gods that care about you believing in them (according to a Buddhist friend) and we don't doubt that this is a religion.

Any religion worth following is also a way of life, and any philosophy worth living has followers who do so religiously. There is no sharp dividing line here.

sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
The nature of miracles (3.00 / 2) (#39)
by Pseudonym on Sun Apr 08, 2001 at 01:57:37 PM EST

Modern thinking on the nature of miracles, and I can only speak from the point of view of Christian theology here, is that a miracle is truly in the eye of the beholder. It's a mistake to think of a miracle as a mere demonstration of the supernatural. The whole point is to change the person on the receiving end in some way.

Let's take, for example, a hypothetical person with an illness who is healed "miraculously". Note: While you're visualising this, I urge you to forget images of televangelists or whatever. Think of a person with some illness who went into spontaneous remission after praying or after someone prayed for them.

This "miracle" changes the person in the obvious way (they were sick, now they're not), but also it has other important changes. For example, it might make them more aware of their own mortality and thus more eager to live life to the fullest. It might make them more aware of others who are ill and encourage them to help them. It will definitely make them think about the deity that they believed effected the change. This is all part of the "healing" that goes along with a miraculous "cure".

This is only the obvious kind of miracle, of course. Miracles come in all shapes and sizes. Most miracles are entirely subjective, but that doesn't make them less miraculous, because they altered the life of the person who received them, and that's much more valuable than a mere supernatural event could ever be.

sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
Credulity (4.00 / 1) (#41)
by pdrap on Sun Apr 08, 2001 at 04:08:14 PM EST

Without evidence, why invent something? Those looking for miracles have it all backwards. If something is unexplained, it cannot be attributed to a miracle unless there's some good evidence. Remember, the more extraordinary the claim, the more extraordinary the evidence required. If a miracle is claimed, then the evidence that it was a miracle should be enormous.

The evidence for some Taoist and Christian miracles. | 44 comments (24 topical, 20 editorial, 0 hidden)
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