Sathya Sai Baba as Atheist argument trope

Both Sam Harris and Bart Ehrman use Sathya Sai Baba (SSB) to dispute the probative value of New Testament miracles. Many testify that SSB performed miracles, claimed to be the Son of God, and rose from the dead. What criteria for belief can a Christian give that wouldn’t apply to SSB?

Googling about for a few minutes gives one the sense that Harris is making too much of the story (as far as I can tell, the consensus is that he is a guru who might reincarnate in 2030, and the reports of his life paint the familiar picture of the gnostic-cult leader.) But let’s grant Harris and Ehrman that the testimony to his miracles and his claims to be divine deserves a look. What then?

Here’s an opening move: Why not take SSB as evidence for Christianity against Harris’s and Ehrman’s atheism? If anything one would expect out of A and not out of B counts as evidence for A then the dead guru would count as evidence for Christianity over atheism, since Christianity requires its adherents to believe persons other than Christ will claim to do miracles and be divine, but nothing in atheism demands this. Atheism is just the absence of god-belief, right?

The atheist has a pretty quick fix for all this: add some theoretical component to his absence-of-belief that makes him expect that both Christian and SSB testimony is false or unbelievable. At this point, however, we Christians are waiting with bated breath over what this theoretical component is.

The options are limited: either we’ll get the pseudo-Hume a priori argument against miracle-testimony or be left with an inductive critique of each set of miracle claims, and if it is this latter then the atheist will be just as on the hook for his absence of SSB belief as the Christian is.

One suspects that the upshot of this is that both sides will quickly lose interest in making the inductive case either for or against SSB, whether to show that his case is just as good as the Christian one or nowhere near as solid. This might lead to a few entertaining minutes of, say, Bart Ehrman trying to defend the divinity of SSB against some other Christian’s conviction that he’s just another platitudinous gnostic cult leader, but I can’t see this line of argument getting very far. Better for both sides to admit that neither one of them is interested in diving into the nitty-gritty details of all the reports, testimonies, and miracle reports around SSB and so neither side is interested in making his inductive case, whether to show it’s just as strong or not as strong as the Christian case.

IOW, Sathya Sai Baba is a wash for both sides. Let’s drop him.

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