Saturday, February 12, 2011

My Miracles and the Case for Theism

This was my first published paper, and I see that Common Sense Atheism has made it available online.

66 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

Footnote 24 misprint: Stephen T. Davis, not David, but you know that.

Back then you were probably hopeful you'd be a full-time professor I'll bet. It's interesting to see the advances in this type of argument that have taken place since then.

I don't see why theists who are defending miracles fail to consider the impact of Lessing's Broad Ugly Ditch. Do you know of any philosophical theist who does so? You must defend biblical miracles that have taken place in the ancient past and the Ugly Ditch speaks directly to what you wish to defend. Then too, I don't see many theists speaking directly to the difference between someone who denies miracles have happened in the past and someone else who says that even if they happened there is no way reasonable people can believe that they did. Ronald Nash argued that Hume's argument was of the later sort.

You made some interesting concessions but didn't go too far astray. At crucial points you reverted to that which is possible. I wish I could have a dollar for every time a theist punts to the possible at crucial points to defend her faith. I might be well-off financially.

Why must I prove your faith impossible before you will see that it is improbable? That's an utterly unreasonable demand.

Anonymous said...

Why must I prove your faith impossible before you will see that it is improbable?

You've not shown it's even improbable. In fact, you've really not shown all that much in the years you've been writing, other than a willingness to start up fake attack blogs, assert rather than argue, and generally spend all day in comboxes.

You've lost, sir. You tried to be the next Dawkins, but a string of bad performances, worse choices, and the worst arguments have destined you to be the next FlyingSpaghettiMonster227@gmail.com. ;)

John W. Loftus said...

"You tried to be the next Dawkins..."

Tried, as in past tense?

But I'm still trying. ;-)

So, you're saying you like Dawkins?

Cool. I do too.

Anonymous said...

John, do you or do you not agree that miracles are possible? If we can't get past that, we probably can't discuss probability. So it seems it is an important issue.

Victor Reppert said...

I didn't punt to the merely possible, so far as I can tell. Even Hume agreed that miracles are possible. He thought that no reasonable person could believe them. Mackie made a weaker claim. He said that even though miracles were possible, and even that people who believe in God already might be reasonable in believing them, that nonetheless miracles could never play a role in an argument for theism. My reply was that Mackie put himself in an incoherent position that violates the very Relevance Principle that he defended in a well-known essay.

Mackie, in effect, was arguing that it is impossible, for practically impossible, for evidence from miracles to epistemically support theism. I was arguing that his argument for that claim was faulty.

Bob Prokop said...

Victor,

One big problem with miracle deniers is that they have a prior which they have not only never justified, they have yet to even acknowledge. And that is that they have denied the possibility of singularities (that is, non-repeatable events). What is the justification for this assumption? There is none - at least, I have yet to hear one.

Doctor Logic said...

Bob,

What are the odds that the Sun will not rise on tomorrow, and tomorrow only?

Even if you knew nothing about stars and celestial mechanics, and knew only that the Sun has risen every day for many centuries, we must rationally conclude that it is extremely unlikely that the Sun will not rise tomorrow. On the order of one in a million (roughly the number of days in the last 2500 years).

But, by all means, explain to us why I ought not be too surprised by the singular event of the Sun not rising on Valentine's Day, 2011. Maybe I should spend all my life savings this evening?

Doctor Logic said...

Victor,

I just finished a book you'll find interesting.

Mistakes Were Made,(But Not By Me), by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.

Part of your argument for the Resurrection is based on your belief that people wouldn't make such stories up and die for them. Psychological studies say otherwise.

In particular, in one study covered in the book, a doomsday Christian cult was infiltrated and studied. Adherents who went home dejected on the eve of doomsday eventually gave up the cult when the prophesy failed. But those who sold all their possessions and waited with their cult leader for the end had a different reaction. In the case study, hours after the deadline came, the cult leader proclaimed that their willingness to give up everything for their beliefs had convinced God to spare the world. The devout cult members, having already staked their self concept on the cult were elated. They became even more determined evangelists for the cult.

Bob Prokop said...

But Dr. Logic, all you've done is define a singularity. You haven't in the least explained why such things can't occur. By definition, they will occur only once. All your talk about the sun rising is irrelevant. My whole point is that a singularity breaks the pattern. Now tell me why pattern-breakers cannot occur.

Doctor Logic said...

Bob,

If you're arguing against people who think that the Resurrection was impossible under any conditions, then you're arguing against a straw man.

The skeptic's argument is not that the Resurrection was impossible, but that it was extremely unlikely. The priors aren't zero, they're set according to our experience of past resurrections (well, the lack thereof).

Victor Reppert said...

But the resurrection claim fits into a number of reference classes. Presumbly, Jesus performed a number of miracles, and had already raised Lazarus and Jairus' daughter, and the widow's son at Nain. So the Resurrection wasn't quite as unusual as it might initially appear to be.

cl said...

@ Anonymous:

You've not shown it's even improbable. In fact, you've really not shown all that much in the years you've been writing, other than a willingness to start up fake attack blogs, assert rather than argue, and generally spend all day in comboxes.

So true. Challenge strongly and he fights like a rat.

@ Doctor Logic:

The skeptic's argument is not that the Resurrection was impossible, but that it was extremely unlikely.

Isn't bare assertion a bit problematic for someone who fancies themselves a doctor of logic?

cl said...

@ Victor:

I meant to say, "Thanks for sharing your paper" the first time around, but, I got sidetracked.

cl said...

@ Victor,

In the thread of your post Two Sides of the Bayesian Analysis of the Resurrection, you wrote that you believe you had a paranormal experience, and that you blogged about it here. I searched for about 15 minutes, and could not find that post. If time affords, can you point me to it?

Joftus said...

"The problem is that reports of miracles are not miracles…[they] have to work through a medium which takes away all their force.”

So says Lessing, but he gives no argument for this claim. Just a lot of posturing. Now I see why Loftus is drawn to him.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, would you care to show me where I am wrong? See this: The Problem of Miracles.

I would sincerely like for you to discuss these seven problems I have with miracles. I cannot see any way around them. They keep me from believing and I have not seen you or anyone else offer any acceptable answers to any single one of them, much less all of them.

Cheers.

John W. Loftus said...

You know Vic, just once I'd like for an intelligent Christian to say something like this: "John, I can see why those seven problems keep you from believing. They are indeed problems, serious problems, for why people don't believe."

At least then I could respect that person and respectfully engage him or her.

But most Christians are in a defensive mode. They believe. I am deceived, and a deceiver. And they will personally attack me.

The very fact that Christians do this reinforces all over again that I think they are brainwashed. This is what we would expect to find if that's the case. If instead, they will take these problems seriously and engage me respectfully then it would show me they really are interested in the truth.

Are you? Are they?

Have them read Randal Rauser's book.

Bob Prokop said...

John, you write:

You know Vic, just once I’d like for an intelligent Christian to say something like this: “John, I can see why those seven problems keep you from believing. They are indeed problems, serious problems, for why people don’t believe.”

I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you yet again. I can see that they are serious problems FOR YOU, but that does not make them, in and of themselves, serious problems. I read through your list carefully and respectfully, and (no disrespect intended) can shoot holes in all of them in my sleep. Is that all you got? ‘Cause if so, I’m afraid I’ll be sticking to my belief in miracles, and in Christianity.
Let’s go through them (briefly) one by one:

1. Please see my comments above on singularities. YOU are the one making a “category error” by expecting to see a miracle repeated today. By definition, a one-of-a-kind event will happen only once. No problem there.

2. Utterly irrelevant. You cannot assign any meaningful probability to a singularity. That, however, does not make the said event improbable. It simply means it’s a nonsensical question, like asking “What color is love?” or “How much does the Second Law of Thermodynamics weigh?”

3. I fail to even see the point of this one. Someday it will be 2000 years in the future. Does that mean that whatever is occurring today can’t be taken seriously in AD 4000?

4. Doesn’t apply to me. I very clearly assert that miracles do not have a natural explanation. That’s why they’re miracles.

5. The disbelief of the world in Jesus is clearly stated throughout all four Gospels. This is a given. As to why YOU should believe or not – that answer is within you, and no one else can speak to it.

6. You say, “If not, [God] can’t act in our world”. Says who? Just asserting this doesn’t make it so. Don’t expect me to lose any sleep over this one – it’s not a problem for me.

7. Miracles are not meant to be “proofs” of anything. They are, in the words of John, “signs”. This is a whole, gigantic topic – worthy of a book-length response.

And I wrote none of this in a "defensive mode", and (hopefully) did not attack you personally.

Joftus said...

"I would sincerely like for you to discuss these seven problems I have with miracles. I cannot see any way around them."

But they are laughable. This is why I think atheists like you are often deluded (or stupid, take your pick) - how on earth can serious thinking people take these reasons to be good ones?

DL said

"The skeptic's argument is not that the Resurrection was impossible, but that it was extremely unlikely. The priors aren't zero, they're set according to our experience of past resurrections (well, the lack thereof)."

and he also said

"But, by all means, explain to us why I ought not be too surprised by the singular event of the Sun not rising on Valentine's Day, 2011. Maybe I should spend all my life savings this evening?"

The first quote provides the reason for the second: you have never seen the the sun rise on Valentine's Day 2011, you have only seen it rise on previous years. Your experience of past Valentine's Days in 2011 is non-existent.

Bob Prokop said...

"Joftus",

You write: "But they are laughable. This is why I think atheists like you are often deluded (or stupid, take your pick) - how on earth can serious thinking people take these reasons to be good ones?"

Now really. there is no need, even on the anonymous internet, to indulge in such infantile behaviour. I take John at his word that these points are serious stumbling blocks for him. In my above post, I let him know that they were non-issues to me. Mostly by reason of differing definitions, but also because of our very different priors.

I like to think that I have examined my own, and taken them into account when evaluating my conclusions. I am, however, always cognizant of Donald Rumsfeld's "Unknown Unknowns" (a concept he took much undeserved criticism for - it is really a quite useful concept). I try to remember that I may have unexamined assumptions that I am not even aware of, and I appreciate it when they are pointed out to me.

But to descend to name calling ("deluded, stupid") is not worthy of this website, and does nothing to advance the discussion.

John, I apologize for "Joftus's" ill manners. Now let's see him do the same.

Joftus said...

What did I say??

I said they were laughable. You yourself said you could shoot holes in them during your sleep!

I said they were so bad that only someone deluded or stupid could push them. Well, this is pretty much what I think. (I think John tends more to the stupid side than the deluded side, though.)

Of course, if these arguments have some hidden gems to them which can be teased out such that they withstand the obvious objections I will retract my view, but I don't think John will be the one who does the teasing.

Is this harsh on John? Maybe, but frankly he deserves it. He thinks he's the atheist Messiah, destined to go down in the history books for the OTF. He needs a wake-up call.

Joftus said...

"But to descend to name calling ("deluded, stupid") is not worthy of this website, and does nothing to advance the discussion."

It wasn't mere name-calling, I take the terms as accurate. It might not advance the discussion of the arguments, but it might make Loftus more self-aware if he realises that his arguments are plausibly taken as fitter subjects for ridicule than discussion.

Bob Prokop said...

I've never won an argument by saying something like, "You know what? You're just stupid!", and having the other person respond, "Gosh! I guess you're right after all. I will henceforth agree with whatever you say."

It doesn't work that way. And yes, I agree that John often throws the first punch in such exchanges, but "Two wrongs don't make a right."

And saying that I could respond to the Seven Points "in my sleep" is perhaps flippant, but by no means insulting. And if John (which I seriously doubt) took any offence, I sincerely apologize for my insensitivity.

cl said...

@ Loftus:

But most Christians are in a defensive mode. They believe. I am deceived, and a deceiver. And they will personally attack me.

Who do you think you're kidding, John? Read this, then come back here and give us one good reason why we should believe that you AREN'T in defensive mode, lashing out with personal attacks.

For those who don't wish to follow the link, here's what John said to me just a few days ago:

How old are you CL? I'd guess you have not yet experienced much life. I'd say you were under the age of 21, too young to be here. I don't give a damn what you think of me of my deconversion at all. You're too stupid to realize that regardless of it you must deal with the arguments in the book. They are leading people away from you faith. -John W. Loftus

He's also called me a "hypocrite" and a "science basher."

You know John, just once I'd like for an intelligent atheist to say something like this: "cl, I can see the problems you point out in your article. They are indeed problems, serious problems, perhaps I need to rethink my claims and make some emendations."

At least then I could give you the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the question of your willingness to think critically and objectively.

Joftus said...

"I've never won an argument by saying something like, "You know what? You're just stupid!", and having the other person respond, "Gosh! I guess you're right after all. I will henceforth agree with whatever you say."

It doesn't work that way."

Sure, but, as I said, I wasn't trying to win the argument. I was trying (probably with little success) to bash some humility into the man.

Victor Reppert said...

#1 on your list is just blatant chronological snobbery, as I pointed out in my first serious discussion with Keith Parsons when I met him in seminary.

Dustin said...

John, if you read higher level discourse in philosophy of religion, you'd see that, in cases where atheists actually do make a good point, theists are generally pretty willing to acknowledge it. The fact is that you just don't make any good points.

Doctor Logic said...

Victor,

But the resurrection claim fits into a number of reference classes. Presumably, Jesus performed a number of miracles, and had already raised Lazarus and Jairus' daughter, and the widow's son at Nain. So the Resurrection wasn't quite as unusual as it might initially appear to be.

You have one source for this information. It doesn't significantly change the probability estimate. If I tell you I levitated across the room, you might think this tale has only a 1 in 10 billion chance of being true. If I tell you I levitated across the room every day for the last week, does that really make my claim more likely by a significant amount? (Significant meaning you no longer think it's an extraordinary claim.)

Talk is cheap.

Bob Prokop said...

I have to agree with dustin, in as far as the seven points are a giant yawn to me. That doesn't mean that Loftus doesn't have legitimate difficulties with them.

However, I sincerely believe that numbers one and two can be taken care of once one accepts the possibility of singularities. (And if one can't, then kindly explain why not.) Number three is classic chronological snobbery - an easily dismissible logical fallacy. I fail to see how numbers four and five can be difficulties to anyone - even to John. Number six is riddled with unexamined (or at the least, unjustified) presuppositions. Number seven can be overcome simply by not trying to prove anything by miracles, but by accepting them for what they are - signs to those who already (or are ready to) believe.

Doctor Logic said...

Joftus,

The first quote provides the reason for the second: you have never seen the the sun rise on Valentine's Day 2011, you have only seen it rise on previous years. Your experience of past Valentine's Days in 2011 is non-existent.

So we cannot say anything about the future with any probability, is that what you are saying?

I cannot expect that my computer will switch on tomorrow with any probability because I have no data concerning the switching on of my computer tomorrow?

Please think about what you are saying. It's utter nonsense. It is an axiom of rationality that the past is a guide to the future. This even applies to everything from medicine to arithmetic. By your reasoning you have no basis for deciding what to do tomorrow.

Indeed, your perspective is self defeating. Whatever interpretation of scripture you have today might not be valid tomorrow. Whatever you claim to know based on the past cannot be relied upon.

Bob Prokop said...

Dr. Logic,

I am repeating myself here, but it is semantically null to assign probabilities to singularities (miracles). They either happen (1 out of one chances), or they don't (0 out of infinity). Any other figure (such as one in a billion) has as much meaning as asking "How high is geology?" or "When is the Andromeda Galaxy?".

Victor Reppert said...

No, those reports are in different books. The fact that they were gathered into one book doesn't change the fact that they were in different books to begin with.

Joftus said...

"So we cannot say anything about the future with any probability, is that what you are saying?"

I'm afraid you misunderstand me. (I think I misread you too, but never mind.)

The paragraph of mine that you quote was intended as a reductio of your claim to Bob that

"The skeptic's argument is not that the Resurrection was impossible, but that it was extremely unlikely. The priors aren't zero, they're set according to our experience of past resurrections (well, the lack thereof)."

Just as we have no experiences, according to you, of past resurrections, we have no experience of . I'm trying to argue your stance on the resurrection commits YOU to a skepticism about induction.

"It is an axiom of rationality that the past is a guide to the future."

That is one (controversial) way of solving the problem of induction. I think it would be nice if we could derive induction from probability theory.

Bob writes,

"but it is semantically null to assign probabilities to singularities (miracles). They either happen (1 out of one chances), or they don't (0 out of infinity)."

So you reject resurrection apologetics?

Al Moritz said...

I am repeating myself here, but it is semantically null to assign probabilities to singularities (miracles). They either happen (1 out of one chances), or they don't (0 out of infinity). Any other figure (such as one in a billion) has as much meaning as asking "How high is geology?" or "When is the Andromeda Galaxy?".

Precisely.

There is no use in saying miracles are 'unlikely'. Either God does not exist, and then the probability is zero, or God does exist and decides to perform miracles from time to time, and then they do happen, period.

Bob Prokop said...

Joftus,

No, I do not reject Resurrection apologetics. What I strenuously object to is the assignment of probabilities to the event. It either happened or it didn't, but it is worse than meaningless to discuss how likely the event is.

It is perfectly legitimate, however, to discuss/debate/whatever the historical and literary evidences for the Resurrection. But all this pointless assignment of probabilities is nothing more than a fancy way of declaring one's going-in biases.

John W. Loftus said...

Bob, no offense taken. I hope you didn't take offense with me in a comment a couple days ago.

Doctor Logic, you are good!

Vic, are you suggesting even for one moment that labeling something as chronological snobbery solves your problem? Are you hinting at the idea that science has not progressed and in so doing superstition has waned? You MUST read chapter 7 in WIBA.

Do I know better than the ancients? Yes, because of science, most definitely, in a myriad number of ways. Is this snobbery? I don't know what that means in such a context. I'm definitely smarter than them about science, that's for sure, and I'm not even a scientist.

As for the ancients claim about miracles in the past I was not there. Therefore they may know something I am not privy to, a singularity, as Bob describes it. But if it is a singularity then there is no reason why I should accept it in a world where other singularities do not take place. I have never seen a miracle my entire life even as a former Pentecostal. So there is no reason for me to think they happened in the past either.

When it comes to these so-called singularities how do you or Bob proposes to establish that God did them when we need a God who does them for us to believe he did them. Understand the problem? It's the problem of which comes first, the chicken or the egg? This is viciously circular from a historians perspective.

YOU MUST ASSUME THAT WHICH YOU NEED TO PROVE!

Where do you get your assumptions, or priors, then? From your religious culture. If you were born into a different one you would have different assumptions, or priors.

These things are undeniable and yet they evoke laughter from the uninformed. It's baffling to me, utterly baffling.

Bob Prokop said...

John,

As an amateur astronomer, who deals with a very scientifically savvy crowd on a regular basis, I have discovered that "Science", per se, is not an ally of either side in the theist/atheist debate. When I, a theist, observe some wonder in the universe, I am reminded of the passage in the Psalms "The Heavens declare the glory of God, and the Firmament His handiwork". An atheist friend of mind might see the same thing, and feel mainly a sense of his insignificance in the vast universe of time and space.

I've long ago concluded that we bring to "science" whatever baggage we come with, and interpret identical facts quite differently.

This is partly why I am frankly bored by all the hoopla over a non-existent supposed conflict between Faith and Science. There really isn't one, and neither side can claim an advantage from any given scientific discovery. I actually wish I could do so, because, truth to tell, I genuinely believe that the more we learn about the physical world, the more solid the evidence for theism in general, and for Christianity in particular. But I am well aware that an atheist will look at the verty same facts, and see something quite different.

My point? Just this: I am not in the least impressed by any argument that begins, "But we know so much more about the physical world than the ancients did", because I am most definitely no believer in a "God of the Gaps", but rather in a "God of the Filled-in Spaces".

John W. Loftus said...

Bob, what is this evidence you speak of? it isn't positive evidence for God. It's negative evidence.

Don't miss the point. Either you argue for the god of the gaps or you do not. If you do it's a fallacy of ignorance. If not, then a universe plus god in it looks indistinguishable from a universe without god in it. That is, unless there is positive evidence for the the existence of your god.


See more here.

cl said...

@ Loftus:

But if it is a singularity then there is no reason why I should accept it in a world where other singularities do not take place.

[...facepalm...]

I have never seen a miracle my entire life even as a former Pentecostal. So there is no reason for me to think they happened in the past either.

Indian Prince, anyone?

If you were born into a different one you would have different assumptions, or priors.

Yet, people born into atheist priors both 1) claim to have experienced miracles, and 2) shed those priors in favor of Christianity [and other religions]. You appear to imply that priors can bear full responsibility for belief in miracles, and that is truly baffling to me.

That is, unless there is positive evidence for the the existence of your god.

Quit tossing around double-standards John. You said that we should all have positive evidence for that which we accept as true. Where is your positive evidence for your claim that science has shown there was no Exodus? Hmmmm? You, too, argue from the gaps--only I suspect you're too proud to realize it.

This is why YOU need an OTF.

Victor Reppert said...

This is what Lewis actually says about Chronological Snobbery.

CSL: Barfield never made me an Anthroposophist, but his counterattacks destroyed forever two elements in my own thought. In the first place he made short work of what I have called my "chronological snobbery," the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also "a period," and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.

Of course science has progressed. I think it will progress further, and when it does, I think the case for theism will be strengthened, not weakened, and the so-called "gaps" are going to get wider, not narrower. Reductive failures are as important to scientific success as reductive successes.

Bob Prokop said...

John,

Here is precisely where all that baggage I was referring to comes in. I consider the following to be evidence for God (although I am well aware that perhaps others might not agree). They work for me, however:

1. Existence itself
2. Order and pattern in creation
3. Complexity on both micro and macro scales
4. Life
5. Reason (the fact that the universe makes sense, and is not irrational)
6. consciousness
7. the fact that time had a beginning
8. beauty

I could think of others, but these are enough for now.

John W. Loftus said...

Bob, why is an "I don't know" an adequate answer when we don't know? I see nothing problematic about that at all. I don't know about some of the things you mention. I have pretty good idea about others.

The latest issue of Skeptic magazine shares what we do know from what we don't about the origin of life.

http://www.skeptic.com/the_magazine/

See what you think after reading it.

John W. Loftus said...

What I do know:

1) The god(s) of Christianities are wildly improbable. I have to be sure about this since I'm risking Pascal's Wager. (Did you know there were not one but TWO Yahweh's in the OT? That's right!
2) God explanations are no answer to the problems of existence. For whenever they are used any number of them can be the answer.

3) The existence of some spiritual god that has forever existed and will forever exist in the future is no better explanation than that the universe has forever existed and will forever exist (or any number of other conceptions).

Bob Prokop said...

I've always felt that "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is sufficient evidence all by itself for a Creator. No one and no argument has ever come even remotely close to changing my mind about this. I consider that point to be as unassailable as the statement "I think, therefore I am."

As to the supposed problem of "Who created God?", I have two answers:

1. The question has no meaning. The Creator is by definition the Creator.

2. We are approaching this issue from within time, and when we do ask such a question, we are under the illusion that God exists within that which He has created (which includes time itself).

Bob Prokop said...

John,

I never got around to answering your other comment: "God explanations are no answer to the problems of existence. For whenever they are used any number of them can be the answer."

This delay was partly because I wasn't (and am still not) sure what you meant. I think you're saying that since we have a "choice" of which God to credit with creation, then we haven't really answered anything. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

I'll assume I understood correctly and proceed to my response. First I'll lay some groundwork. I've long had a ready answer to the atheist taunt "You're an atheist already towards Zeus and every other god except your own. Why not just go one more?" But this question is predicated on a basic misunderstanding of my belief in God. you see, I actually DO believe in Zeus, and in Krishna, Odin, Buddha, Isis, Aphrodite, etc. I regard all of them as imperfectly understood human attempts to apprehend the One True God.

Being prisoners, as it were, of creation, we are powerless on our own to accurately perceive God. That requires revelation. Although Paul rightly tells us that we can glimpse certain properties of the Deity from nature, it takes divine initiative in order for us to see Him with any hope of clarity. That initiative was the Incarnation, and the resultant knowledge of God is Christianity.

As for all the other religions in the world, here's a word picture - a parable, if you will. The Incarnation was like tossing a very large stone (Christ) into a pool (the world). In addition to the splash from the impact itself, ripples spread out in every direction (temporally as well as spatially). These ripples result in people comprehending God to a greater or lesser extent, depending on how far away in space and/or time they are from the point of impact (1st Century Israel). In this manner, EVERY human conception of God is a reflection, strong or faint, of one and the same Divine Revelation. And the ripples extend both directions in time - into past and future. So it should not surprise us that Mystery Cults abounded in the Middle East in the centuries prior to Christ's appearance. I regard these, not as casting doubt on the Gospel narratives, but rather as evidence in their favor.

So if we hear about some nature god in ancient Greece or Egypt dying and rising again, this is the result of those peoples catching a glimpse of the Incarnation.

So you see, John. I really don't have "any number of [gods]" to choose from. there is only one.

Doctor Logic said...

Bob,

I am repeating myself here, but it is semantically null to assign probabilities to singularities (miracles).

No, it's hard to find diplomatic words to describe this kind of thinking.

Take any event in your life that you think is regular and described by probability. Think of the Sun rising every day, or Earth's gravity, or your ability to fly unaided.

A change in any of these things for just a day would be a singular event. You could be Superman for a day, and that would be a singular event. Indeed, any event located in time and in some conjunction of circumstances is singular in some respects.

Nevertheless, I bet that if I were to ask you about your confidence that you could fly if pushed off the Empire State Building, you would be able to give me a pretty good estimate of the probability. And it would be very, very close to zero. And you would provide this low estimate despite the fact that no one has ever been pushed off the ESB on Feb 15 2011.

However, it is logically impossible for the probability of your flying when pushed + the probability of your being unable to fly when pushed adding up to more than 1.

The probability of X + the probability of ~X can't be greater than 1.

Either you agree to my sort of probability estimates, or else you shouldn't doubt your ability to fly tomorrow.

Doctor Logic said...

Victor,

No, those reports are in different books. The fact that they were gathered into one book doesn't change the fact that they were in different books to begin with.

This is what prevents you from having a serious position on this issue. You think that collaboration, shared mission, and biased purpose play no role in determining whether a set of sources is independent. You think that if 5 teens enter a house together looking for ghosts, and they all come out saying they saw a ghost, that they are all independent and reliable witnesses.

The apostles weren't unbiased average Joes except by their own self-description. They were all religious fanatics before the Resurrection, and they shared company after the Resurrection when Jesus was said to have appeared before them. Whether there were 4 authors or 40 doesn't make an ounce of difference. They're all biased sources who were desperate to self-justify their involvement in a messianic cult that failed to live up to their expectations.

What, I wonder, do you think constitutes evidence against the independence of witnesses?

Bob Prokop said...

Dr. Logic,

Sorry, but it is you who have missed the point entirely. The Incarnation is not just an unusual or a special birth – it is a singular event that has no counterpart in the history of the universe. It is sui generis, and not at all a “change in any of these things for just a day”. Your analogy to flying off a building is not even close to being relevant. The difference between the Incarnation and my own birth is not some matter of details – the two events are as fundamentally different as Shakespeare writing a new character into Hamlet, and Shakespeare actually and literally entering into Hamlet AS HIMSELF. It is Something New in our universe – unheard of before, and unreproducible afterwards.

(I am concentrating on the Incarnation here, but that is because I regard all other miracles, other than perhaps the Resurrection itself, as dependent upon this one. The healings, walking on water, calming the storm, feeding the multitudes, turning water into wine, etc., are all primarily Signs of the significance of this one singular event, performed so that we might realize that Jesus is God Incarnate.)

So you can in no way compare its one-time occurrence with my hypothetical jumping off a building (which would be one out of a series of like events). We’re talking apples and oranges here.

Bob Prokop said...

Dr. Logic,

You write: The apostles weren't unbiased average Joes except by their own self-description. They were all religious fanatics...

Excuse me? Peter was a fisherman, for pete's sake (couldn't resist that one). Matthew a tax collector. John and (possibly)Judas were already fairly religious prior to their encounters with Jesus, but by and large they were indeed "average Joes".

And as to what we know about them being "self-description"... hmm, I seem to recall at least one other participant in these discussions going on ad nauseum about the Gospels supposedly not having been written by the Apostles. You can't have it both ways, depending on whichever suits you best at the moment. But I will count you as ceding the point that the Gospels are authentic Apostolic eyewitness accounts.

Doctor Logic said...

Bob,

Peter was a fisherman, for pete's sake (couldn't resist that one). Matthew a tax collector. John and (possibly)Judas were already fairly religious prior to their encounters with Jesus, but by and large they were indeed "average Joes".

And Osama bin Laden was a civil engineer.

Did the apostles follow Jesus as he preached? Did they have any idea that he might be killed for what he was saying?

If so, they were religious fanatics. They probably believed that Jesus was going to be an Earthly king, and that they were going to be lords at his side. They had probably given up the religion in which they were raised, and burned their bridges with families, just like contemporary cult members do. (Jesus's movement would certainly have been seen as a cult by outsiders.)

You know, when people sell you something, they change their life story to fit the sale. How many times have I heard a theist say "I used to be an atheist"? Really?!! Yeah, they were atheists like Osama was a civil engineer. But I know why they say it. They want to say "Hey! I'm a reasonable bloke, just like you, but the evidence I found was overwhelming, so you should believe what I believe."

When Jesus was crucified, many of his followers (those who sacrificed little) would have gone back to what was left of their lives. But those who sacrificed the most, those who had committed themselves the most, would have wanted to justify their prior behavior. They see themselves as smart, and yet Jesus was crucified. How to reconcile the dissonance?

By saying that Jesus had returned and been seen by them. Convenient, unverifiable, and adequate for them to justify betraying their families. It's a psychological fact that people do this. Read Tavris and Aronson.

Bob Prokop said...

Dr. Logic,

Your last posting is so breathtakingly wrongheaded it is difficult to know how to respond or where to begin. I'll have to satisfy myself with just hitting a few of the high (low) points.

You write: "Did they have any idea that [Jesus] might be killed for what he was saying? If so, they were religious fanatics".

Have you even read the Gospels? You'd never know it from the above comment. Otherwise you would recall that Jesus on multiple occasions forewarned the Apostles of His imminent passion and death. Their reaction? Utter incomprehension and disbelief. So no, they did NOT have any idea that Jesus "might be killed for what he was saying".

As for burning bridges with their families, did you not read how Peter was living with his mother-in-law AFTER becoming a disciple of Christ? Also, there are references far too numerous to mention in all four Gospels of close relatives being present at crucial points in Christ's ministry. Mary's presence at Cana and even the Cross shows how closely they maintained their family ties.

But worst of all is your pointless and gratuitous equation of the Apostles with Osama bin Laden. What's up with this? You have left the path of rational discourse, and need to change your moniker. Might I suggest "Dr. Non
Sequitur"?

Walter said...

What strikes me from reading the gospels is that even the Apostles--who are said to have witnessed miracle after miracle--did not believe in Jesus' resurrection until they received empirical evidence of his return. Paul would have most likely continued to persecute Christians until his dying day, except that Jesus intervened and gave Paul empirical evidence of his existence. Even conceding the existence of a Creator and the possibility of the miraculous, why should I believe the miracle claims of others without the same quality of evidence that the Apostles received? IOW, if Jesus does not see fit to give me first-hand empirical evidence, then does he really care whether I believe in him or not? Calvinists will simply postulate that Jesus *probably* did not die for me anyway, so he does not care whether I believe in his resurrection.

Every single miraculous event may have happened exactly as the bible has recorded it, but I still feel that a person can reasonably doubt that they did based on our far less than ideal evidence. After all, the Apostles did not believe until they received strong evidence. They doubted despite having traveled with Jesus for years.

Bob Prokop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob Prokop said...

Walter,

There is one thing that I genuinely do not understand in your last posting. If indeed "Every single miraculous event may have happened exactly as the bible has recorded it", then why on earth would any reasonable person still choose to disbelieve in them? I am not playing stupid here. I just don't get it. Help me out here. Would you WANT to be wrong?

Walter said...

Bob, you did notice that I said that they "may" have happened. I am conceding the possibility of miracles. What I am getting at is that I consider doubt to be justified. Christians spill a lot of ink trying to convince secular folks that they are rational in their beliefs, which seem like superstitious nonsense to outsiders. I would like the same courtesy extended in the opposite direction. Many of us do doubt, and I believe that it is rational to have doubts based on the fact that the evidence is not that strong.

Doctor Logic said...

Bob,

So no, they did NOT have any idea that Jesus "might be killed for what he was saying".

So the apostles did not know of anyone else who had been crucified for heresy, and were unaware of any of the other messianic cults that came and went (sometimes violently) in that era?

You say the apostles were shocked that Jesus would be arrested and killed. How do you know they were shocked? Because they describe themselves as being oblivious to the possibility in their own self-descriptions? Do you think all self-descriptions are unbiased?

I don't understand how you can be so blind and intransigent. The way people describe themselves in sales pitches is biased. Read how the Mormon fathers describe themselves, and tell me everyone is honest and forthright in their self-description.

And spare me the false indignation about my Osama bin Laden example. The point I'm making is clear and relevant. Having had a mundane profession is not mutually exclusive with being a fanatic. Osama bin Laden trained as a civil engineer AND he was a fanatic. Hitler was a painter AND and fanatic. Look at Hitler's self-description. And Joseph Smith's self-description. And Benny Hinn's self-description. Yet you judge the apostles on their self-description, and state their self-descriptions as if they were obvious facts that I should accept without criticism.

Doctor Logic said...

Bob,

If indeed "Every single miraculous event may have happened exactly as the bible has recorded it", then why on earth would any reasonable person still choose to disbelieve in them?

It's not about whether it happened. It's about whether it is rational to believe it happened.

Look at it this way. Isn't it possible for something to actually happen to me that you are not able to rationally believe?

Suppose I tell you that I cast a spell and made a cup of tea appear out of thin air. If you're rational, you won't believe me. But if it actually happened, you will still be rational to reach your conclusion based on the evidence you have at hand.

In other words, you could be 100% rational and still not believe a true story because you lack the evidence to convince you that it is true.

A lot of Christian apology seems to be based on the perverse principle that we have to be able to rationally believe in the Resurrection if it actually happened, even if the evidence is inadequate to support rational belief. Now *that's* irrational.

Being rational isn't about being infallible. It's about being most likely correct.

cl said...

@ Walter:

Every single miraculous event may have happened exactly as the bible has recorded it, but I still feel that a person can reasonably doubt that they did based on our far less than ideal evidence. After all, the Apostles did not believe until they received strong evidence. They doubted despite having traveled with Jesus for years.

They sure can. As Descartes proved, a skeptic can doubt anything except his own skepticism. There's nothing noble about being a staunch skeptic. It's not hard. All you have to do is deny.

"Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." [John 20:29]

John W. Loftus said...

cl quoted" "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." [John 20:29]

What a moron!

Cl is responding with the very thing that is being questioned!

Vic, come on. Be an educator here. Educate. Cl won't listen to Doctor Logic or me. Tell him why this is utterly ignorant.

he's saying: "I believe the Bible because I believe the Bible!"

Vic, is this appropriate?

Bob Prokop said...

Dr. Logic,

In no way was it "false indignation". Believe me, it was quite genuine indignation. I find the entire comparison odious and disgusting.

Bob Prokop said...

I have to part company with CL here. "Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed" is not a demand for blind faith, but rather a prophecy to those present.

This is John's version of Matthew's Great Commission ("Go and make disciples of all nations"). Jesus is entrusting the Christian faith (although not yet called that) to the Apostles, eyewitnesses of Christ's life, death, and Resurrection, and instructing those same to "spread the word".

Jesus is definitely NOT telling people to believe on no evidence. He is commissioning his disciples to pass that evidence on.

Walter said...

They sure can. As Descartes proved, a skeptic can doubt anything except his own skepticism. There's nothing noble about being a staunch skeptic. It's not hard. All you have to do is deny.

Doubting specific extraordinary claims in no way makes one a hyper-skeptic, but I do get that little accusation thrown at me a lot by internet apologists. You're basically implying that the evidence is so strong that a person is being irrational in denying it. I don't acknowledge that the evidence is that strong, even if I do concede that there might be some evidence for an unusual set of events that birthed the Christian faith.

Anonymous said...

Often with John W. Loftus' lurch to ridicule I am reminded of thephilosopher Arthur Schopenhauer who recognised abuse as the very last trick of person whose arguments have collapsed.
In his essay on rhetoric, The Art of Always Being Right: Thirty Eight Ways to Win When You Are Defeated, he lists one of Loftus set plays as tactic 38:

A last trick is to become personal, insulting, rude, as soon as you perceive that your opponent has the upper hand, and that you are going to come off worst. It consists in passing from the subject of dispute, as from a lost game, to the disputant himself, and in some way attacking his person.... But in becoming personal you leave the subject altogether, and turn your attack to his person, by remarks of an offensive and spiteful character. It is an appeal from the virtues of the intellect to the virtues of the body, or to mere animalism. This is a very popular trick, because every one is able to carry it into effect; and so it is of frequent application. Now the question is, What counter-trick avails for the other party? for if he has recourse to the same rule, there will be blows, or a duel, or an action for slander…

A cool demeanour may, however, help you here, if, as soon as your opponent becomes personal, you quietly reply, “That has no bearing on the point in dispute,” and immediately bring the conversation back to it, and continue to show him that he is wrong, without taking any notice of his insults. Say, as Themistocles said to Eurybiades — Strike, but hear me . But such demeanour is not given to every one.

The last part reminds me of Victor.

cl said...

@ Victor,

While I fully understand if you find the Loftus' request juvenile, if not, please, by all means, if you can find the time, honor it. If you--or anyone else for that matter--can show how I've erred in fact or committed fallacy in any way, I'll have no problem retracting.

@ Walter,

You appear to be under the misconception that my comment was aimed at you. It was not. Olive branch accepted?

@ Anonymous,

A most fitting and well-timed comment, yours was.

@ Loftus,

What a moron!

See John? You just can't do it, can you? By "it," I refer to the practice of engaging one's opponent with cogent or at least intelligent rejoinders. Worse, I am not "responding with the very thing that is being questioned" as you allege. My response to Walter was an aside. You "argue" like Stalin: you hurl insults and propaganda at those who challenge you, and you threaten to censor them. Are those strategies compatible with critical thinking or the objective pursuit of truth?

[cl is] saying: "I believe the Bible because I believe the Bible!"

No, John, that's what you're hearing. Big difference. I've given several reasons why I believe the Bible over other revelations, on my own blog and yours. You ignore them, while indulging the aforementioned stratagems borrowed from fascists and other authoritarians throughout history.

Now, can we get back to the cold pursuit of truth here? You're clearly impassioned, and passion is a staunch enemy of reason.

Doctor Logic said...

Bob, Victor,

I didn't get an answer from you guys.

1) What level of dedication did it take to be an apostle of Jesus before he was arrested? What did it take to be in his inner circle? Didn't it take time and a lot of effort promoting his ministry?

1a) Would the apostles have lost face with their families for being associated with a messianic cult?

2) Were the apostles oblivious to the risks to themselves? Were they unaware of the other heretics or messianic cults that came a cropper?

3) Assume the apostles went out on a very long limb for Jesus, knew the risks, etc., and that, after Jesus died, they genuinely came to believe Jesus was resurrected. How would they tell their story?

Don't you think they would downplay the degree to which they risked their lives and status on the Jesus movement? Surely, they could convince themselves that their extreme dedication to the movement before the arrest of Jesus was not key to the story they were trying to tell, and that it would only get in the way of their evangelism. They don't have to lie (much), they can just omit. They would be more effective evangelists if they portrayed themselves as ordinary before the resurrection.

Bob Prokop said...

Dr. Logic,

To answer your questions:

1. What? You want Apostles who weren't dedicated? Not gonna happen. this is a pointless question.

1a. Guess it depends on the family. In 1st Century Israel, probably not. but it'd still be a case by case issue.

2. Not sure here. I think most of the false messiahs came after Jesus, not before, but I honestly don't know. (Nor do I care.)

3. Again, what's your point? they DID go "out on a limb" for Christ. They certainly knew the risks, especially after Saul's persecution began. They of course believed the evidence of their own eyes that Jesus had risen from the dead (wouldn't you?).

So how would they tell their stories. Hmmm, let me take a wild guess here. Perhaps they'd write them down, and such accounts might even come down to us 2000 years later labeled Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Just thinkin' aloud here...

Un-numbered, but I'll call this one 4: "Don't you think they would downplay the degree to which they risked their lives and status on the Jesus movement?" Well, no, I don't. In fact, most people would play up their own roles in the founding of a movement, and certainly would not go out of their way to demonstrate how clueless and faithless they were.