Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Let's do our homework, shall we?

The famous "Liar, Lunatic or Lord" argument is a favorite target for ridicule, and here we go again in "Debunking Christianity." I tried to look at the argument from all sides on this blog a few months ago. You can find those articles in the the December 2005 archive. Second, it might behoove some people who want to discuss this argument to go a little bit beyond the narrow confines of the famous Lewis paragraph and actually read Stephen Davis's sophisticated redevelopment of the argument from the book he co-edited on the Incarnation. Of course people like to mention Howard-Snyder's rebuttal of the argument which responds to Davis, but they ignore the fact that Davis responded in the same issue of Faith and Philosophy, and in my mind, he responded effectively. Also in Kenneth Samples book "Without a Doubt" he has a chapter entitled "Is Jesus a Man, Myth, Madman, Menace, Mystic, Martian or the Messiah," in which he replies to the charge that the arguments commits the false dilemma fallacy. (Baker Books, 2004, 104-119). He writes:

The false alternatives fallacy can be avoided by giving cardul consideration to a wider range of options--as long as they constitute plausible explanations. All possible reasonable explanations should be included, Howdver, only a limited number of reasonable explanations exist concerning who Jesus is.

It would be also be fallacious to stubbornly reserve judgment concerning a reasonable explanatory hypothesis just because a person hasn't exhausted all possible or conceivable alternatives. Sometimes skeptics commit the ad futurus (appeal to the future) fallacy byu assuming that the future will undoubtedly reveal a purely natural (or secular) explanation for the life of Jesus.


Also, if it turns out that this argument is not successful, it would still be the ad hominem fallacy to argue that this discredits Lewis's arguments as a whole. His arguments must, in any case, be analyzed individually, on their own merits. I have not myself defended this argument of Lewis's in the way that I have defended some others. The issues are too complex for us to either glibly affirm the argument or to ridicule it.

Suppose you were taking my History of World Religion class I walked in and said "Boy are you guys in luck. This class is about religion, which is largely all about God. And guess what. I, Dr. Reppert, your teacher, am God. You heard that right." If you then went on to ascertain that I really meant what I said and that I didn't mean it in some Hindu sense, wouldn't you call the mental health authorities? Or at least drop the course?

10 comments:

Mike D said...

The number of alternatives should also depend on the audience. The Liar, Lunatic or Lord alternatives are most relevant to someone who is willing to accept the gospel accounts as an acceptable source of information about Jesus whom they respect as a great teacher. Obviously, these does not include your average skeptic. In a cultural context where "The DeVinci Code" gains wide acceptance, some groundwork is necessary before invoking LLL. It still works for some audiences as well as it seems to impacted Lewis' audience.

John W. Loftus said...

Also, if it turns out that this argument is not successful, it would still be the ad hominem fallacy to argue that this discredits Lewis's arguments as a whole. His arguments must, in any case, be analyzed individually, on their own merits. I have not myself defended this argument of Lewis's in the way that I have defended some others. The issues are too complex for us to either glibly affirm the argument or to ridicule it.

Agreed. Lewis cannot be dismissed that easily.

I also think I should re-subscribe to Faith & Philosophy.

HiveMaker said...

"As long as they constitute plausible explanations"?

Excellent!

So as long as we're playing a game called "What Did Some Guy Who May Or May Not Have Existed During A Time of Rampant Superstition 2000 Years Ago Mean When (According To Documents Written 50 Years After His Death) He Claimed To Be Yahweh", where does "an invisible jew lives in the clouds and takes a prurient interest in your masturbation habits" rank on the plausibility scale?

Let's say the proposition "he was a martian scientologist transvestite" ranks 7 out of a possible 10 on the Implausibility Scale. Where does "an invisible jew lives in the clouds and takes a prurient interest in your masturbation habits and rewards his followers with eternal life if they engage in ritual cannibalism in memory of him" rank on this scale?

I mean, we're serious philosophers here, and we only entertain the plausible, right?

Mike D said...

Maybe hivemaker illustrates the contention that our ideas about Christianity are largely defined by Christians we meet and interact with. The results of this are sometimes unfortunate.

Anonymous said...

More likely hivemaker illustrates what you get when you read the bible.
Genesis 38:9-10, John 6:53-54

Rasmus Møller said...

Hivemaker: I mean, we're serious philosophers here, and we only entertain the plausible, right?

Some of us more than others... it seems to me that you may have left out important details in your "plausibility critique", and it does not look as if you are genuinely interested in how your opponents perceive the scenario.

slaveofone said...

I was quite surprised while reading Tom Wright's historical analysis of First Century Judaism and Yeshua's place in it (Jesus and the Victory of God). Although he does not touch on or mention either Lewis or the LLL...throughout the course of Wright's historical arguments, he ends up with a very similar result.

But, like Mike D said, the results in Wright's work similar to Lewis' LLL are based on the historical ancient Greek and Jewish audiences.

Thus, for example, we know that one of the chief ways Yeshua was identified was as a deceiver/trickster (Lews' "liar") since numerous extrabiblical, secular works refer to him as such for specific historical reasons.

HiveMaker said...

On the contrary, I'm quite interested. I'd be especially interested in a non-handwaving explanation of why the Bible does not mean what it very unmistakably says, in plain language, when it says that an invisible jew lives in the clouds and takes a prurient interest in your masturbation habits and rewards his followers with eternal life if they engage in ritual cannibalism in memory of him.

Here's an illustration from Bd-from KG that I feel especially clarifies the epistemological stakes:

"Suppose that it’s reported that Mustaph (who is a complete unknown from Uzbekistan) has been clocked running the mile in four minutes flat. We’d be somewhat skeptical, but what the heck, this has been done a good many times by now. But now consider the following series of possible claims:

(1) Mustaph ran the mile in 4:00.
(2) Mustaph ran the mile in 3:59.
(3) Mustaph ran the mile in 3:58.
...
(61) Mustaph ran the mile in 3:00.
...
(181) Mustaph ran the mile in 1:00.
...
(240) Mustaph ran the mile in one second.
(241) Mustaph ran the mile in one second and in the process ran through a solid wall without damaging it.
(242) Mustaph ran the mile in one second and in the process ran through a solid wall without damaging it, and afterwards ascended bodily into Heaven.
(243) Mustaph ran the mile in one second and in the process ran through a solid wall without damaging it, and afterwards ascended bodily into Heaven, and at the time had been dead and buried for several days.

At some point in this series, I trust that your skeptical instincts would be aroused. In fact, I suspect that this would happen well before you reached claim 243; in fact, well before the feat in question would plainly require miraculous intervention.

Now what Christians want to do is to agree that claim 61, for example, is highly implausible, but that claim 243 is less implausible because it plainly requires miraculous intervention. I submit that any rational person will regard each claim in this list (after the first) as less plausible than the preceding one. There is not some point at which the claims suddenly become more plausible because they would plainly violate some known natural law.

In other words: extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence. The more extraordinary they are, the more evidence is required to justify rational belief."

Where does the Christian answer to the Trilemma fall on such a scale? Is the implausibility of the alternatives greater or lesser than this solution?

sola fide said...

I think that once you have accepted the fact that God is Almighty and Transcendent, it really isn't that hard to believe the plausibility of extraordinary events. If you're going to take the stance that you won't believe until all the concrete evidence has been ushered out for you to examine thoroughly, well then, you're going to remain an unbeliever. If this is so why bother to debate the issues any longer? Life is short and you only go around once, so why waste your time? Time is a commodity that you never get back, so why spend so much of it at the keyboard?

Mike D said...

hivemaker says: "In other words: extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence. The more extraordinary they are, the more evidence is required to justify rational belief."

To be believe that Mustaph ran the mile in 4:00 requires exactly the same kind of evidence that he ran it in 3:00 or :001. There is only one kind of evidence. You don't need an extraordinary stopwatch nor do the witnesses need to be 5,000 instead of 500. This tautology of extraordinary evidence is bald-faced burden-of-proof shifting. It helps nothing. There is only one kind of evidence for anything. It is very ordinary. You get to decide if it is sufficient.