Friday, March 06, 2009

C. S. Lewis on "uniform experience" against miracles

Now of course we must agree with Hume that, if there is absolutely "uniform experience" against miracles, if, in other words, they have never happened, why then they never have. Unfortunately, we know the experience against them to be uniform only if we know that all the reports of them are false. And we can know all the reports of them to be false only if we know already that miracles have never occurred. In fact, we are arguing in a circle.

I am linking to a blog entry from Brain Cramps for God on Miracles and History.


Steven Carr said...

Do we have uniform experience that collective hallucinations have never happened?

SE said...

The cognitive dissonance that leads to the extreme mental gymnastics necessary for the religious to remain in their delusional state never ceases to amaze me.

Perezoso said...

You got that right, SE. CSL (and Doc Reppert) misread/oversimplify Hume anyway: Hume, similar to a country judge, dismisses testimony (ie The Bible) which includes reports of alleged supernatural or occult acts, except as evidence of dementia. (I think the Bible counts as literature and myth of course, but not as a reliable historical document).

Imagine Billy Bob testifying in some murder trial. When he claims to have seen ghouls, people coming back to life, angels, demons, his testimony no longer counts as evidence (except of his deranged state), and it doesn't matter if Tweeky backs him up, or his entire gang does. Hume's point then concerns jurisprudence in a sense, and secularism: Scripture cannot be the basis for the law, or legislation.

There are always alternative explanations to reports of miracles/supernatural events as well, as Hume pointed out, and the reasonable person weighs those explanations against the supposed miraculous event, and finds the alternative explanation to be far less miraculous. Exaggerated/mistaken reports are always a possibility (that applies, alas, to the Resurrection itself. The Gospels/Paul are not consistent whatsoever). It's debatable whether Bayes Theorem even applies here, and I doubt the reports of dead coming back to life over centuries (assuming we can use anecdotal reports) show a likelihood of even 1% (using a null hypothesis, instead of a theological hypothesis).

Consider the supposed Fatima light show miracle: it might have been odd weather, or a hoax (as I read more of Fatima, I am more convinced that it was a hoax, perhaps involving priests (that might explain the children's prediction), some locals with some freaky fireworks (chinese perhaps), which were muffled).

There's another knockdown argument against miracles, none too pleasing to theists:

Were God able to intervene miraculously (say like having Mary appear at Lourdes/Fatima), but chooses not to during extreme warfare, genocide, natural disasters, He would be inseparable from Lucifer. So the miracle issue becomes a variation on the problem of evil, really. A God who can perform miracles but doesn't use them to stop Stalin from liquidating the Ukrainian kulaks or nazis in poland seems to have sided with Stalin and Hitler, even if He on occasion has Mary to weep in some cathedral in Spain.

Anonymous said...

"A God who can perform miracles but doesn't use them to stop Stalin from liquidating the Ukrainian kulaks or nazis in poland seems to have sided with Stalin and Hitler, even if He on occasion has Mary to weep in some cathedral in Spain."

And atheists accuse we believers of anthropomorphising...sheesh.

Rob G said...

"The cognitive dissonance that leads to the extreme mental gymnastics necessary for the religious to remain in their delusional state never ceases to amaze me."

Substitute "atheists" for "religious" in that sentence and you're speaking the truth, son.

Perezoso said...

Non sequitur. I made no claims that God existed; merely pointed out what would be the case if He did exist, and had the power to intervene and produce miracles (pretty much standard Judeo-Christian dogma, ain't it)

Anyway, that point on miracles as evidence against God was made by a Yale boy and ex-theologian, Keller, I believe, before he jumped ship, joined the boodhists or scientologists or something, > A rather important point, similar to what Ivan in Brothers Karamasov says: not merely the POE, but POE, upgraded.

Hiero5ant said...

I can still remember that Christmas morning when I was seven years old, unwrapping this strange cube of a present that turned out to be a box set of _The Chronicles of Narnia_. I remember the joy and wonder of reading them for the first time. I remember starting them over again a year later, reading them in chronological order and still being absolutely enthralled. I still have that set. It will always be a part of me.

But every time I find out he said crap like this, it's like finding out that your favorite teacher from kindergarten just got busted with kiddie porn on their computer. Why does Lewis insist on retroactively destroying my childhood joy?

Blip said...

OK, so we've had a lot of atheists venting off about wrecked childhood dreams and so on, but not one has attempted to deal with the substance of Lewis' argument (which seems good to me).

Perhaps they have no response to make? Prove me wrong you "drops of reason"!

Perezoso said...

The historical context should be kept in mind too (not a favorite context for theologians, or most academic philosophasters or scientists either). At the time of Hume's writing of the Enquiry (1750 or so), protestant and catholic theocracy was very real (and was in Ottoman empire). Presbyterians and baptists controlled Scotland and England (and America).

So, like, connect the dots: Hume, following the models of Roman republicanism, put his shoulder to the wheel for secular society (as Franklin and the FFs realized as well, as did the French encyclopedists).

The Enquiry (and the points contra-miracles) thus are a key document of the Ausklarung (Enlightenment). An obvious point to older skeptics and secularists--not to all, and the Objectivists' whines about Hume completely forget/overlook his historical importance).

Perezoso said...

No, you just don't understand Hume's argument Blip (as CS Lewis didn't): like Popper's points against dogma a few decades ago, it shows why the text should not be considered reliable whatsoever. Dogma's NOT EVIDENCE. In Popperian terms, it can't be falsified. (it's closer to literature, though with Book of Revelation, closer to the ravings of a maniac (as Jefferson claimed)).

The uniformity of experience precludes the reports of the supernatural, makes it anomalous, regardless of few dozen inconsistent reports. Supposed Miracles from other religions also weigh against the testimony of the OT and NT.

Few have even bothered to read Hume's essay. There's more to it than just uniformity of experience anyway.

Hiero5ant said...

Come on. Work through the steps.

Name one proposition you disbelieve, about anything on any subject ever, which does not match this description.

You can only claim water is wet because it is your uniform experience that water is wet. Unfortunately, you only know your experience that water is wet is uniform because you dismiss all reports that it is not wet, no doubt due to your presuppositional dogmatic apriori darwiniatheist metaphysics.

You only dismiss UFO abduction claims only because you already know UFO abduction claims are false.

You only dismiss claims that followers of Maharishi can levitate because you already know that levitation is impossible. (Unless Sophisticated Theist Thomas Aquinas does it around Notre Dame cathedral.)

Perezoso said...

There is a point on regularity of experience--a posteriori, not a priori. When an ancient book has a report saying Pigs Fly (or men rise from the dead), it's far more reasonable, given our normal experience (and all humans' experience) of never seeing flying pigs, to suggest a mistaken report/exaggeration/hoax, and dismiss the report of flying pigs.

The uniformity of experience forms only a part of Hume's essay, yet it holds, just as it would in a court of law. THe testimony of a witness who made mention of a zombie, or ghost or harlot riding a beast with 7 heads would be dismissed, except as evidence of dementia. In a or mythological or sci-fi like context, the bible carries some weight; as basis for civil law, none (as founding fathers agreed as well)

It might not hold to the Plantinga-like theist who believes in possible worlds, or a literal Heaven itself (chockful of blessed zombies and angels and living in Xtian utopias!).

Victor Reppert said...

I do think Lewis's response is an effective reply to a less careful assertion by Hume rather than his detailed argument.

I do have uniform experience that collective hallucinations have never happened. I have never experienced one, myself.

Victor Reppert said...

I do think the phrase "uniform experience" was a careless one by Hume which does beg the question. If I have personally experienced a miraculous occurrence, I can quite effectively reply "Speak for yourself, buddy."

Suppose I were to claim that I had seen a post-mortem appearance of C. S. Lewis. You'd all try to tell me I was hallucinating, right? But that would still mean that my experience that miracles do not occur is not uniform; rather, you are pressing upon me a interpretative heuristic of not accepting a miraculous account of what happened. You would nonetheless show that the "uniform experience" against the miraculous is not given in experience.

Hume's essay was a subject for extensive philosophical debate. I think that there is a consensus amongst philosophers who have worked on the argument, including religious skeptics, is that Hume's argument is at best overstated. The argument also has the untoward (at least to some) tendency to make skepticism about miracles unfalsifiable.

Most people who think Hume right think that a number of adjustment have to be made to his argument.

I remember when I first put my paper on Internet Infidels, two atheists wrote me and told me they agreed with my arguments.

Victor Reppert said...

SE: The cognitive dissonance that leads to the extreme mental gymnastics necessary for the religious to remain in their delusional state never ceases to amaze me.

VR: This sort of atheist screed really does little to advance the discussion. Just asserting that all believers are delusional isn't going to persuade anyone that they are.

Perezoso said...

Hume would probably say, as would the founding fathers, that your own subjective experience is not authoritative in terms of public reason--it's more reasonable to assume other explanations hold--mistaken reports, exaggeration, lie, insanity, etc.

The same would hold for a David Koresh who claims to talk to God: the empiricists were all concerned about that sort of subjective "Enthusiasm," and thus felt the need for showing the fallibility of scripture, and the need for secularism (the CENTRAL point of the essay on miracles. The "what if" responses miss the point)

Anyway, Hume's essay on miracles no more begs the question than Quine's point on the efficaciousness of scientific materialism--a non- theological scientific materialism works well in terms of explaning nature, and is thus the most plausible ontology, and that discounts theological miracles . Quine quite often referred to Hume.

Your consensus point begs the question.

John W. Loftus said...

From my book:

Robert J. Fogelin dismisses this objection and claims it is a gross misreading of Hume. He says, “Hume nowhere argues, either explicitly or implicitly, that we know that all reports of miracles are false because we know that all reports of miracles are false. . . . Hume begins with a claim about testimony. On the one side we have wide and unproblematic testimony to the effect that when people step into the water they do not remain on its surface. On the other side we have isolated reports of people walking across the surface of the water. Given the testimony of the first kind, how are we to evaluate the testimony or the second sort? The testimony of the first sort does not show that the testimony of the second sort is false; it does, however, create a strong presumption—unless countered, a decisively strong presumption—in favor of its falsehood.” Fogelin concludes with these words: “That is Hume’s argument, and there is nothing circular or question begging about it.”18

Can we give this a rest now?

Perezoso said...

So, Herr Loftus, you agree that my summary of Hume and points contra-CSLewis was correct then? Indeed, that sounds about like my point on the weighing of testimony.

Anyway you are right, but there's more to Hume's essay on miracles than the usual Toastmaster skeptic realizes. It's really an argument for secularism and has a political element (and historical significance).

Victor Reppert said...

I pointed out that while it is easy to formulate Hume's argument without making the mistake that Lewis pointed out, Lewis did point out a problem with the way Hume's argument was formulated. If I thought Lewis had refuted Hume in one paragraph, I would not have written two published essays on the subject.

Perezoso said...

Like CS Lewis, Gower also misreads and skews Hume point on miracles:

""""Hume’s artificial choice of miracles dilemmais, then, specious; only those who have already conceded that miracles do not occur, that is, those who ignore the proof from testimony, will draw the conclusion.""""

B f-n S. It's not an artificial choice of miracles. It's uniformity of experience and alternative explanations weighed against the ancient, inconsistent testimony evidence of supernatural (really, not even evidence or "testimony," technically, but mere hearsay--Paul's accounts for instance are 70 years or more after the Rez. and not what the gospels say, which were also written decades after the supposed events).

It's not "ignoring," either, even using Hume's testimony criteria: it is, in any conceivable case (unless YOU actually see Maria in the grotto) less miraculous (and more reasonable) to accept alternative explanations, than to accept that the supernatural event did occur, and reports were legitimate.

Rob G said...

"Non sequitur. I made no claims that God existed; merely pointed out what would be the case if He did exist..."

Translation: "God does not exist, but if he did, he'd have to act the way I'd expect him to." Sorry, amigo, but that's just as anthropomorphising as the crudest popular fundamentalist piety.

Rob G said...

"that's just as anthropomorphising as the crudest popular fundamentalist piety."

Allow me to correct myself: it's worse. The fundamentalist at least has something outside himself (the Bible) to warrant his anthropomorphising tendencies, even if he is interacting with it uncritically. You on the other hand have only your own head to go by.

Like I told an agnostic friend of mine not too long ago: "Funny, Bob, but the God you'd like to see exist looks a hell of a lot like Bob."

Perezoso said...

JHVH is anthropomorphic. Nature isn't.

cratefromastoria said...

"There are always alternative explanations to reports of miracles/supernatural events as well"

This only means that for any given event, a number of theories are available to explain it.

Rob G said...

"JHVH is anthropomorphic"

And your positing of the qualities of a non-existent god according to the lights given to you by a supposedly materialist nature isn't?