Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Chris Hallquist debunks the resurrection in one page

172 comments:

Ron said...

I stopped at, "There is no historical evidence for the Resurrection outside of the Bible." This is a red herring. There was no Bible as we know it back then. There were just a bunch of documents circulating through the churches which were eventually put into the New Testament. To say that there must be nonbiblical evidence before one can even think about the resurrection claim is already to introduce a bias into the investigation.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I am not a big fan of the one page refutation of Christianity, but I hadn't thought of that objection Ron. Interesting.

Perhaps, though you are focusing too literally on his use of the term 'Bible'. Couldn't he score a point if he revised it to something like 'Outside of the writings of Christians there is no evidence....'? This at least makes the point that there are no unbiased nonchristian sources, but basically one could argue we are effectively left with propaganda (Victor would say 'Well if they had evidence they would be Christians so you are asking for something psychologically implausible' but that is arguable to say the least).

I don't think it is a red herring, as much as lack of clarity in language that little charitable spit-shine couldn't clear up a bit.

Gimli 4 the West said...

My favorite is point eight. It's really hard to argue with "that's it" and a book plug.

Tony Hoffman said...

What I think is so surprising about this one-pager is how weak it is. There is no mention of the synoptic problem, of changes in the Gospels that indicate appeals to different audiences, it puts forth a weak description of the problem of independent attestation, and doesn't mention the Humean objection to miracles.

If I was a teacher, I'd give a B-.

Anonymous said...

I don't really grasp BDK's point. Of course there aren't going to be any non-Christians writing about the resurrection of Jesus, other than to say "this is what Christians believed." If someone believes that Jesus was *actually* raised in the manner Christians did, they are most likely going to be a Christian. Now, not all Christians who wrote about Jesus' resurrection were *initially* Christians (e.g. Paul and James). So no, I don't think tweaking Hallq's point in this fashion really helps.

Tony Hoffman said...

Anon: "Of course there aren't going to be any non-Christians writing about the resurrection of Jesus, other than to say "this is what Christians believed."

The problem is that 1) there are many spectacular events described in the Gospels that would have made a huge impression on a large number of people, and 2) we know that few people originally converted to Christianity. So, how does one explain the total silence of non-Christians regarding the spectacular events described in the Gospels?

Anonymous said...

Tony,

What sort of events did you have in mind?

Anonymous said...

Tony,

Also, how do know (2)? What about pentecost, etc?

toddes said...

@Tony,

You're conflating a lack of written documentation with silence. How pervasive was written communication at that time? Isn't it more likely that any information of that type spread among the general populace by word of mouth instead of hiring a scribe to dictate a letter?

An example that has been used before is Pliny the Younger and his account of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompey. Pliny's is the only eyewitness account of the event that has survived and even that was written 40 years after the event and then only at the behest of another party.

Would you consider this (Mt. Vesuvius and Pompey) as a spectacular event and if so why are Romans so silent about it?

Tony Hoffman said...

Anon, events like people being raised from the dead, people being raised from their graves, the sun being blotted out for hours, any of the miracles performed by Jesus, as well as more mundane things like the census that supposedly brought Joseph and Mary back to Bethlehem (or was it Nazareth?), etc. Additionally, there's no evidence for the tomb being turned to a shrine, etc. -- none of the things we would expect and observe from similar events.

As for 2, I don’t believe there is significant archaeological evidence supporting widespread Christian churches or religious artifacts for the 1st Century (like crosses, likenesses, etc.), the chroniclers of the age (possibly save one) almost entirely omit reference to Christians, and Paul, etc. talk about the problem of non-believers, and the de facto success of the church is its eventual spread outside Judaism, whereas Jews (those closest to the events) largely remained Jews.

woodchuck64 said...

Anon:

Of course there aren't going to be any non-Christians writing about the resurrection of Jesus, other than to say "this is what Christians believed."

If the resurrection occurred, shouldn't we expect a number of early writings arguing the body was stolen (e.g. Matthew 28:11-15) or making a case for the swoon hypothesis? Sure, modern skepticism is a recent thing, but there's a venerable tradition of one religion "debunking" another or even co-opting the miracles of another; wouldn't Jewish writers have gone to great lengths to write a load of hogwash about the Resurrection? I know we do get criticisms later (2nd century) but why not Jewish anti-Christian writings dating closer to the event?

I think Hallquist's point could be taken that early Jewish polemical writings might be evidence that something remarkable occurred.

Anonymous said...

Tony wrote:

The problem is that 1) there are many spectacular events described in the Gospels that would have made a huge impression on a large number of people,

Anon:
The problem with this is that, though they would have made a huge impression on a large number of people, this large number of people was largely an illiterate peasant society of Jews. These Jews were not necessarily so concerned with the bare fact that someone could perform miracles. They had their own miracle workers and exorcists of the same time period. Further, if someone was labelled as a deviant or seen as dishonorable bc of a low-birth status, the source of their power would've been seen as demonic (Jesus was labelled as possessed by the religious authorities of his day). Further, we have very little in the way of writing from the time period, period. What we'd expect to see would be oral traditions growing up around this particular Rabbi, esp. on the part of his students. We would not know about those oral traditions if the decision hadn't been made to put them into writing for wider circulation amongst the churches.

Tony : and 2) we know that few people originally converted to Christianity. So, how does one explain the total silence of non-Christians regarding the spectacular events described in the Gospels?

Anon: We don't see a *total* silence as we have Josephus' account - and he's pretty much the only person whose writings we have, that we'd expect to mention such things. But that aside, see above for my answer.

Anonymous said...

woodchuck: If the resurrection occurred, shouldn't we expect a number of early writings arguing the body was stolen (e.g. Matthew 28:11-15) or making a case for the swoon hypothesis?

Anon: Definitely not. This was an oral society. We have very little writing from the time period simply because there was very little writing. Why so little? Well, most people couldn't read.

woodchuck?: Sure, modern skepticism is a recent thing, but there's a venerable tradition of one religion "debunking" another or even co-opting the miracles of another; wouldn't Jewish writers have gone to great lengths to write a load of hogwash about the Resurrection? I know we do get criticisms later (2nd century) but why not Jewish anti-Christian writings dating closer to the event?

Anon: The criticisms would've been in oral form. Even the later rabbinics which do slam Jesus are literary snapshots of an earlier incompletely represented oral tradition. The problem is knowing how old those traditions are.

Ana said...

"Couldn't he score a point if he revised it to something like 'Outside of the writings of Christians there is no evidence....'?"

Not necessarily. He seems to maintain the authorship of each gospel is anonymous. To call them the "writings of Christians" would be to give some kind of identity (albeit vague) to their authorship.

I wonder, given where Chris said :

" When... non-Christian sources refer to Jesus’ miracles, there’s no reason to see them as
anything more than a report of what Christians of the time believed.


and given that he (seemingly) believes the gospels are anonymously written, why does he view the gospels as Christian biased writings instead of viewing the gospels as nothing more " than a report of what Christians of the time believed.".

1. There is no evidence for the resurrection outside of the Bible

Building off of what Ron said, the Bible is multi-authored separate writings put under one cover. If the Bible weren't in existence today, but the writings were, in their individual forms, the skeptical objection-questions might look something like this:

- is there any evidence for the resurrection outside of this document (say Mark)?
- skeptic is given Matthew and then says, is there any evidence outside of this document?
- skeptic is given Luke and then says, is there any evidence outside of this document?
- skeptic is given John and then says, is there any evidence outside of this document?
- skeptic is given a Pauline epistle (say 1 Corinthians, because of the contents of 15:3-8 ) and says, is there any evidence outside of this document? ...

Anonymous said...

If that is indeed the best case AGAINST the Resurrection that can be made on one pade then I think my confidence in it's historical veracity has just improved.

Anonymous said...

page*

Walter said...

Building off of what Ron said, the Bible is multi-authored separate writings put under one cover. If the Bible weren't in existence today, but the writings were, in their individual forms, the skeptical objection-questions might look something like this

That sounds good except the fact that the gospels have a clear literary interdependence to them. Paul's letters would be seen as separate attestation, though.

Tony Hoffman said...

Anon: "We don't see a *total* silence as we have Josephus' account - and he's pretty much the only person whose writings we have, that we'd expect to mention such things."

Ah, well, if you don't believe that Josephus's account is a forgery, then you reading with a different set of historical standards than mine. But that does not make you seem particularly discerning about how you come to your conclusions about the historical record of Jesus.

Tony Hoffman said...

“is there any evidence for the resurrection outside of this document (say Mark)?

- skeptic is given Matthew and then says, is there any evidence outside of this document?

- skeptic is given Luke and then says, is there any evidence outside of this document?

- skeptic is given John and then says, is there any evidence outside of this document?

- skeptic is given a Pauline epistle (say 1 Corinthians, because of the contents of 15:3-8 ) and says, is there any evidence outside of this document? ...”

Well, one could make the same argument for the Wizard of Oz: Is there any evidence for Oz outside the L. Frank Baum’s writing?
- skeptic is given a copy of the film, The Wizard of Oz, by Victor Fleming. Is there any evidence outside this film?
- skeptic is given a copy of the film, The Wiz, by Sidney Lumet. Is there any evidence outside this film?
- skeptic is given a copy of the film, The Muppets Wizard of Oz, by Kirk McGuire. Is there any evidence outside this film?
- skeptic is given a copy of the book, Wicked, by Gregory McQuire. Is there any evidence outside this book…

Jason Pratt said...

Incidentally, we do have evidence that the tomb of Jesus was turned into a shrine: the tomb location venerated by the RCCs and EOx, which would have been outside the city (per archaeology) before the mid-1st century, has been discovered to have been built on the remains of a pagan shrine set up during a building program of the 2nd century Emperor Hadrian who dealt with the pacification of Palestine after the Bar Kochba rebellion.

Those particular pagan shrines were set up over Jewish holy sites in order to de-sacrilize them for Jewish purposes and re-sacrilize them for Imperial Roman purposes. And there is evidence of activity on the site predating the post-Bar-Kochba paganizing of the site.

So we have an enshrined site, traditionally accepted by the oldest branches of Christianity as the tomb site, built on the remnants of a pagan site that was in turn set up for purposes of nixing what the Empire believed to be a Jewish religious shrine of some sort; and the relevant spot is an unused tomb of the proper sort, dating to early-mid 1st century by style, in an archaeologically proper location outside the city prior to mid-1st-century. This also, incidentally, confirms Eusebius' report from second century sources available to him at the time that Hadrian (or his local represenative governor rather) desecrated the tomb of Jesus, being unable or unwilling to distinguish between Jewish and Christian holy sites.

There is only one theory that best fits all the data: Jewish Christians within one or one-and-a-half generations of Jesus' death began to venerate this location as Jesus' tomb. Which in turn necessarily implies that this was believed from earliest times to have been Jesus' tomb (even if veneration wasn't allowed or otherwise didn't occur there until later in the 1st century, perhaps post 70--the data is unclear about when exactly it started.)

I recently read the argument for this (pro and con) from Craig Keener in his two volume set thoroughly detailing the current histiography concerning the Gospel of John. I very much recommend it in any case, but the relevant discussion can be found in volume 2 on pages 1134-5, and 1165-6.

JRP

Tony Hoffman said...

Jason Pratt, I wasn't aware of anyone claiming to have found a shrine of Jesus' tomb. I think finding a likely shrine site would certainly add to the historicity of Jesus, and if it is likely started around the time of Jesus' death that would put a stake in the Jesus Myth theory.

I've always thought that Christians who deny that no evidence of enshrinement from the time around Jesus' resurrection should be considered odd (I've heard Christians say that, "Why would they worship a tomb with nothing in it?" before) are not genuinely curious about the historical argument.

Anonymous said...

The Jesus Myth theory is about as plausible as the evidence for Intelligent Design.

Tony Hoffman said...

"The Jesus Myth theory is about as plausible as the evidence for Intelligent Design."

Well, I don't think that evidence is plausible, I think that explanations are. Evidence either exists or it doesn't.

I suppose that intelligent design and the Jesus Myth theory both use a lack of evidence in similar ways. ID takes gaps in our knowledge about OOL or evolutionary steps and infers design, and the Jesus Myth theory uses gaps in the record of accounts of Jesus (lack of independent attestation, lack of identity of the authors of the Gospels, etc.) to infer myth.

Interestingly, both also make arguments from similarity -- the design of a biological structure appears designed in the same way an intelligently designed device does, and Jesus Mythicists point out that many stories about Jesus parallel those found in other myths.

I think both ID and the Jesus Myth theory are plausible. The question becomes, is there even a way to frame the theories so that they can be examined, and if so, are they correct?

Victor Reppert said...

The majority position on Josephus seems to be that it's a partial forgery, with a genuine core.

Tony Hoffman said...

Right, but even the portion of Josephus that is less contested is considered reliable because it shows up in Origen, who doesn't write until the 3rd Century. Given the later interpolation, and time passed, and the evidence of Christian tampering in Josephus and other documents, we're not talking about strong support.

And throw in the fact that the story doesn't really corroborate anything in the new Testament, with the possible exception of two Jewish brothers named Jesus and James (what are the odds!), and it doesn't seem to amount to much.

Anonymous said...

Tony - you don't seem to really understand what Victor is saying. The core that he's talking about is *within* the Test. Flav., not the other mention of Jesus you're referring to. And it is indeed the scholarly consensus that this is only partially interpreted, so yes, we probably have different historical standards. For instance, I read and agree with guys like Van Voorst and J.P. Meier, and mostly laugh at the nonsense of Jesus Mythers (like other real historians and scholars). Even Crossan accepts partial interpretation of Joe and also Tacitus. If you haven't read Meier on this subject, you're wasting everyone's time even talking about it. But yes, I accept his reconstruction for the most part.

Anonymous said...

On second glance, sorry - rushing at work. You seem to be distinguishing properly between the two. But Origen is hardly the only reason for retaining the core. Again - see Meier, Van Voorst, or even Chris Price's piece online.

Jason Pratt said...

Tony: {{And throw in the fact that the story doesn't really corroborate anything in the new Testament, with the possible exception of two Jewish brothers named Jesus and James (what are the odds!), and it doesn't seem to amount to much.}}

The TestFlav corroborates quite a bit of the passion story, even with the probable interpolations adjusted, though always with the qualification that 'Josephus had heard enough to believe that a man named Jesus existed who etc.' The corroboration is still secondhand at best, and probably third or fourth-hand. But Josephus, for whatever unstated reason, thought it good enough to use for his purposes there (namely making Jewish prophetic tradition look good to the Imperial authorities while prepping the ground to blame the Jewish War on mismanagement by corrupt Roman and Jewish officials.)

The case for a genuine and substantial core for the TestFlav is nuanced and complexly detailed, and is widely accepted by scholars all over the ideological map.

(The Chris Price article, which is already extensive and which JP Holding included a revised edition of in one of his books, can be found at the Cadre archive here. I've been meaning to update it a little myself in a Cadre Journal entry for a couple of years, but have been distracted by other work. {g})

JRP

Jason Pratt said...

I also believe a strong case for both a historical Jesus and the missing body of an executed Jesus can be derived by abductively considering the plausibility of numerous hypotheses in regard to the second half of the Guard Story in GosMatt. My very detailed (and self-critically sceptical) monograph on this topic, posted up on the Cadre before Easter last year, can be found here as the nine-part series "A Curious Key to a Historical Jesus".)

JRP

Anonymous said...

"I think both ID and the Jesus Myth theory are plausible. The question becomes, is there even a way to frame the theories so that they can be examined, and if so, are they correct?"

You deserve praise for consistency. Thought I believe both are highly unlikely.

Anonymous said...

"interpretation" in my 2nd to last post should read "interpolation". LOL@myself.

Anonymous said...

Tony wrote:

Well, one could make the same argument for the Wizard of Oz: Is there any evidence for Oz outside the L. Frank Baum’s writing?
- skeptic is given a copy of the film, The Wizard of Oz, by Victor Fleming. Is there any evidence outside this film?
- skeptic is given a copy of the film, The Wiz, by Sidney Lumet. Is there any evidence outside this film?
- skeptic is given a copy of the film, The Muppets Wizard of Oz, by Kirk McGuire. Is there any evidence outside this film?
- skeptic is given a copy of the book, Wicked, by Gregory McQuire. Is there any evidence outside this book…


Anon: Not a good counter at all, as all parties agree that the Wiz of Oz is not of the historical/biographical genre.

Anonymous said...

Quick question for the people here who are much more informed than I:

What are the best books/articles arguing for the truth of the Resurrection that you've come across? Similarly, what are the best books/articles against it? I have a few, but I'd like my knowledge of this topic to one day be near-maximal.

Thanks.

mattghg said...

Even if his points 1-8 were right (which they aren't), it wouldn't amount to a debunking of the resurrection, only a refutation of some arguments for the resurrection -- and as Jason has been pointing out, there are others.

Walter said...

What are the best books/articles arguing for the truth of the Resurrection that you've come across? Similarly, what are the best books/articles against it? I have a few, but I'd like my knowledge of this topic to one day be near-maximal.

Best argument for: Probably one of several books written by Gary Habermas.

Best argument against: The Empty Tomb by Jeffrey Jay Lowder & Robert Price.

Tony Hoffman said...

Anon: "Not a good counter at all, as all parties agree that the Wiz of Oz is not of the historical/biographical genre."

This is not a good objection at all, because Christians simply assume that the Gospels are historical/biographical. You can't take an absence of information (who wrote the Gospels, and why) and fill it with your conclusion; that's circular.

Chris W said...

I'd add to Walter's list:

Best balanced, non-polemical study: Resurrecting Jesus by Dale Allison.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony - nonsense. You're obviously not very familiar with the field. Genre analysis of the gospels has been going on for some time now. The majority of scholars currently see them as ancient Greek biography (aka Bioi), and this has nothing to do with assumptions or matters of authorship. See Richard Burridge's _What are the Gospels?_ for the most thorough treatment. Also see D.E. Aune _The New Testament in Its Literary Environment_, Charles Talbert's _What is a Gospel?_, etc.

Even Christian apologists don't *assume* this, but argue for the Bioi genre based on the work of scholars. See:

http://christianthinktank.com/stil1720.html

http://www.tektonics.org/ntdocdef/gospelbioi.html

Further, your counter to Ana would fail, were this not even the case. We start, all unanimously agreeing that Wiz. of Oz is not historical. There is no dispute over its genre. So even if we just were guessing at, or assuming, the Gospels genre, we'd still be in a place of uncertainty with regards to it. Therefore, the parallel is wholly inadequate.

Alex Dalton said...

Resources on the Resurrection....

For the best neutral treatment of both sides from an agnostic, there is no better source than Dale Allison's _Resurrecting Jesus_. Best arguments for, from a philosopher, would be Craig's work _Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus_(see his debate book with Ludemann for something more affordable and digestible). See also Stephen T. Davis, and Richard Swinburne. Biblical scholars? See the major works of N.T. Wright and Mike Licona.

Best skeptical works are those of Gerd Ludemann, Michael Goulder, and J. D. Crossan. These guys are heavyweights (not internet infidels), who understand history, and know the Gospels inside and out.

Joel said...

Allison is an agnostic? I thought he was a liberal Christian. Or do you just mean agnostic with regard to the bodily resurrection?

Alex Dalton said...

Joel - yes, with regards to the evidential case for the bodily res.

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: "Tony - nonsense. You're obviously not very familiar with the field. Genre analysis of the gospels has been going on for some time now. The majority of scholars currently see them as ancient Greek biography (aka Bioi), and this has nothing to do with assumptions or matters of authorship."

Well, problems with the term bioi not meaning "biography" in the modern sense that we use it, circularity seems to still be ascendance here. Looking at the first link you provided, that page begins with this, "To see how 'diverse' the original communities were, we will need to look at the evidence from (1) the NT and (2) the post-NT documents of the early church (and related evidence.)"

When a "researcher" limits his research to the evidence in the New Testament to confirm that the NT is a work of historical biography, then, yup, you'll get what you're looking for. I have to ask, have you read the Gnostic Gospels? Have you read any of the apocrypha? Do you understand the notion, popular in the 1st Century, that truth and accuracy were often considered to be available through visions and a kind of internal searching, in a way that we would dismiss today?

Tony Hoffman said...

The second link you provided also displays a slipshod approach to the problem:

"...EVEN IF rhetoric had corrupted history significantly by Luke's time (which I demonstrated above was NOT the case), Luke's orientation is even MORE PURE--it has NO concern for artistic/rhetorical excellence--a "Just the facts, ma'am" kinda approach. This makes sense for Luke the physician, of course, and also fits his stated intention "so that you may know the certainty of the things you have learned"--and express statement of fact and accuracy."

So, the author on the second linked website cites the reasons for historical accuracy being a lack of corruption (which is not cited, and does not nothing to demonstrate that a repeated falsehood is therefore not false), the style, and attestation of the (anonymous) writer. To apply this standard consistently, you would then have to accept Soviet accounts of history, as they conform to the above criteria just a well. In other words, although I am sure you will have no trouble finding apologists who agree with these conclusions, the argument of the apologists put forth here is not persuasive, due to either problems in logic or the need to resort to special pleading.

Alex: "Further, your counter to Ana would fail, were this not even the case. We start, all unanimously agreeing that Wiz. of Oz is not historical. There is no dispute over its genre. So even if we just were guessing at, or assuming, the Gospels genre, we'd still be in a place of uncertainty with regards to it. Therefore, the parallel is wholly inadequate."

I think you are not grasping my analogy and how I am suggesting it works with the Gospels. I am suggesting that were we to strip away what we know about the origins of the Wizard of Oz documents to the same degree that we are ignorant of those in the Gospels, we would find that the same standard used to accept the accounts of the Gospels as true should propel us to accept the existence of Oz. You cannot look at a document's style alone and declare that the style demonstrates that the information therein is accurate; Moby Dick is written in a journalistic style, but that does not mean that there was an Ahab, and that he perished he within the jaws of a white whale, for instance.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony wrote:
To apply this standard consistently, you would then have to accept Soviet accounts of history, as they conform to the above criteria just a well

Alex: Again, per my post above, irrelevant to my point. But, please - do show me in detail how Sovient accounts of history conform to these criteria.

Tony:
I think you are not grasping my analogy and how I am suggesting it works with the Gospels. I am suggesting that were we to strip away what we know about the origins of the Wizard of Oz documents to the same degree that we are ignorant of those in the Gospels, we would find that the same standard used to accept the accounts of the Gospels as true should propel us to accept the existence of Oz.

Alex: Firstly, nonsense. Let's see you attempt do so. Secondly, it is irrelevant, since we don't have to "strip away" what we know is the case with regards to Oz's intentionally fictional genre. If we simply *know* that an author is not claiming an event actually occured or people actually exist, and the story was born from their imagination, we simply have no reason whatsoever to pursue the matter further.

Tony: You cannot look at a document's style alone and declare that the style demonstrates that the information therein is accurate;

Alex: Show me where I have.

Alex Dalton said...

Alex: Since my longer post was deleted by this horrible blogger, here's the short version...

Tony: Well, problems with the term bioi not meaning "biography" in the modern sense that we use it, circularity seems to still be ascendance here.

Alex: Not really a problem at all; no one's claiming they are modern biographies (see "ancient Greek biographies").

Tony: When a "researcher" limits his research to the evidence in the New Testament...

Alex: Um, read what you quoted. He states right there that he is not so limiting himself. But this is a red herring. I don't care what they argue. I used that to show that your claim that Christians "assume" the genre is false. Those are two of the most popular internet apologists and they rely on scholars who've been arguing the case for decades.

Tony: I have to ask, have you read the Gnostic Gospels? Have you read any of the apocrypha?

Alex: Indeed, I have, and further I own pretty much all the extra-biblical literature (except for the Talmuds, but have read large portions), plus many of the major commentaries on, and intros to them. Your point about Gnosticism bears on the NT how exactly? And I never claimed bioi couldn't have errors of fact, parabolic/mythical/hagiographic/midrashic/etc. elements. That's not the point. The point is that it is not a fictional or mythological genre as a whole.

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: “I used that to show that your claim that Christians "assume" the genre is false. “

Hmm. Did I write that Christians “assume” the genre?”

I think I objected more narrowly, writing that “…Christians simply assume that the Gospels are historical/biographical.” By that I meant that Christians assume that the facts as described in the Gospels are meant to correspond to historical facts in the same way that we use the terms historical and biographical today. I think you admit as much when you write, “no one's claiming they are modern biographies (see "ancient Greek biographies").”

Alex: “Your point about Gnosticism bears on the NT how exactly?”

About how the context of the period permitted authorial embellishments that we would dismiss in historical works today.

Tony Hoffman said...

Me: “You cannot look at a document's style alone and declare that the style demonstrates that the information therein is accurate…”
Alex: “Show me where I have.”

Well, now I have no idea what you are claiming, then. I thought you meant something meaningful when you made a distinction between the genres of the Wizard of Oz and the Gospels. If you don’t think thatthe genre of the Gospels demonstrates that the information therein is to be considered accurate, I understand your objection even less.

Alex: “If we simply *know* that an author is not claiming an event actually occured or people actually exist, and the story was born fromtheir imagination, we simply have no reason whatsoever to pursue the matter further.”

Well, no. It’s common, for instance, for artists under repressiveregimes to produce works purported to be allegorical that are in factcriticism of real people, that reflect real events, etc. The author’s claim that work is one of fiction is properly to be dismissed. So, your claim above is false.

I think my criticism that the repetition of a story from different authors lends more credence to the events described therein, then one should allow that the Wizard of Oz more likely exists for the same reasons. My point: the Gospels are probably best considered a single source, rather than independent attestations of the same events.

So far, your objection seems to be that the Wizard of Oz and the Gospels belong to different literary genres. I don’t this addresses my argument.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: Hmm. Did I write that Christians “assume” the genre?”

I think I objected more narrowly, writing that “…Christians simply assume that the Gospels are historical/biographical.” By that I meant that Christians assume that the facts as described in the Gospels are meant to correspond to historical facts in the same way that we use the terms historical and biographical today. I think you admit as much when you write, “no one's claiming they are modern biographies (see "ancient Greek biographies").”
Alex: Historical/biographical would be a genre assumption – yes. And, as far as Christians who even concern themselves with looking into, or arguing about such matters, we’ve seen that the most popular rely on scholarship, and not assumptions.

Tony: About how the context of the period permitted authorial embellishments that we would dismiss in historical works today.
Alex: This is the kind of hasty generalization that people like Richard Carrier make. Gnostic tendencies have no bearing whatsoever on non-Gnostic documents. The CONTEXT OF THE PERIOD? As if there is such a thing?! Let me go find a few atheistic websites that argue for parallels between Mithras alleged “virgin birth” and Jesus’ virgin birth, though the oldest primary sources regarding Mithras attest to nothing of the sort, and then argue that the “context of our period” permits atheists to make inaccurate claims about history that are widely accepted, and then use that as background evidence for consideration of all atheistic claims with regards to history. Doesn’t work, does it?

Alex Dalton said...

Tony : If you don’t think thatthe genre of the Gospels demonstrates that the information therein is to be considered accurate, I understand your objection even less.

Alex: Factually accurate in a modern historical sense? Not necessarily thougth bioi has some overlap with ancient history (which was also carried out differently - not merely a dispassionate reporting of the facts as modern idealistic notions of history aspire to). The difference would be that readers of bioi would expect to be gaining true insight into the actual nature of a real person that the bioi is describing. W. of Oz has nothing to do with this.

Alex Dalton said...

Alex: “If we simply *know* that an author is not claiming an event actually occured or people actually exist, and the story was born from their imagination, we simply have no reason whatsoever to pursue the matter further.”

Tony: Well, no. It’s common, for instance, for artists under repressive regimes to produce works purported to be allegorical that are in fact criticism of real people, that reflect real events, etc. The author’s claim that work is one of fiction is properly to be dismissed. So, your claim above is false.

Alex: Nice attempt to split hairs but my claim actually still holds true. In these instances, we know, by other means (e.g., probabilistic considerations regarding correspondence with real-world events), that there is a historical intention, and not born solely from the author's imagination. This is not the case with the Wizard of Oz.

Tony: My point: the Gospels are probably best considered a single source, rather than independent attestations of the same events.

Alex: The whole sentence preceding this seems a bit garbled, but really, have you been reading any historical criticism of the NT? You'll be hard-pressed to find a scholar who doesn't have *some* form of literary or oral dependence theory with regard to at least the Synoptics. And there are all sorts of arguments made regarding potentially independent sources for the non-overlapping material. How the Wizard of Oz has anything to do with any of this, I still have yet to understand.

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: "The CONTEXT OF THE PERIOD? As if there is such a thing?!"

Okay. Good luck denying that historical context doesn't exist, and that it is not to be considered when interpreting ancient documents. That's a very, very slender branch onto which you appear to be staking your territory.

Alex: "The difference would be that readers of bioi would expect to be gaining true insight into the actual nature of a real person that the bioi is describing."

Agreed. I liken it to movie making, where in order to make it work the filmmaker must take liberties with the material  in order to capture what is to be conveyed. But this seems like a side issue, and does not amount to an objection that challenges the gist of my analogy. (And no analogy is perfect, so pointing out a difference between a thing and it's analogy seems pedantic unless it's material to that which the analogy exposes.)

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: "In these instances, we know, by other means (e.g., probabilistic considerations regarding correspondence with real-world events), that there is a historical intention, and not born solely from the author's imagination. This is not the case with the Wizard of Oz."

I perceive a great deal of criticism of real-world entities in the Wizard of Oz, and the work is clearly not "solely" from the author's imagination; Kansas, lions, and girls named Dorothy all do exist, for instance. You appear quick to draw lines where there is not a clear distinction.

Alex: "The whole sentence preceding this seems a bit garbled, but really, have you been reading any historical criticism of the NT? .... And there are all sorts of arguments made regarding potentially independent sources for the non-overlapping material. How the Wizard of Oz has anything to do with any of this, I still have yet to understand."

Yes, I understand (and agree with) the arguments for Markean priority and Q. I believe the rest of the discrepancies are attributable to variations in the oral tradition and, more importantly, the needs of the different audiences to whom each Gospel writer appeals. 

How does the Wizard of Oz have anything do with this? You see, the Wizard of Oz is a kind of story that can be re-interpreted (like the Gospel story) in slightly different ways for different audiences. This is a popular explanation for the existence and perseverance of myths -- and the Wizard of Oz (like the story of Jesus) is a kind of myth. (Have your read any Joseph Campbell?) 

Is there something in particular that prevents you from accepting, arguendo, that the story of Jesus could be a kind of myth, and that its popularity and acceptance is no different than other myths that preceded and followed it?

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: Okay. Good luck denying that historical context doesn't exist, and that it is not to be considered when interpreting ancient documents. That's a very, very slender branch onto which you appear to be staking your territory.

Alex: Um - I am not denying there is such a thing as historical context at all. In fact, I am confident that I am much more well-read than you are, concerning the *various* contexts of the period under discussion. But there is no monolithic context where we can just lump the behavior of one group in with the behavior of another. Of primary importance in my own research is the wider social context which looks at broad patterns of behavior mostly with regards to social values from a very high level of abstraction, and then there is historical context which is more of a fine-grained analysis of contingent factors that set the stage upon which we can make specific probabilistic judgements. I have the majority of the works written by The Context Group - the dominant researchers within the field of NT studies applying social scientific and anthropological models from pan-Mediterranean culture to the NT (Malina, Rohrbaugh, Pilch, Neyrey, Stegemann, Theissen, etc.), and have also had extensive conversations with several of these scholars on aspects of their models. Your inference from Gnostic practices to NT formation, as it stands, is useless.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony:
I perceive a great deal of criticism of real-world entities in the Wizard of Oz, and the work is clearly not "solely" from the author's imagination; Kansas, lions, and girls named Dorothy all do exist, for instance. You appear quick to draw lines where there is not a clear distinction.

Alex: Again - splitting hairs. Of course there have to be referrents in the general sense of an assortment of recognizable entities. But the distinction is right where I made it, in discussing the difference with an ancient greek biography. These particular characters in the Wizard of Oz, though they may be archetypes or embody themes common to humanity, are not referring to actual individuals who lived, and attempting to elucidate the nature of their lives so that their followers can immitate them. Its mind-boggling that you can't grasp that, but typical of internet skeptics who basically just want to slander all things religious. I bet you think Santa Claus is a great analogy for God too.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: Is there something in particular that prevents you from accepting, arguendo, that the story of Jesus could be a kind of myth, and that its popularity and acceptance is no different than other myths that preceded and followed it?

Alex: No, C.S. Lewis even accepted this. Here we probably have *some* common ground but major differences in details. Yes, I've read (and own) Campbell - have *you* read any Mircea Eliade? How about Jack Finegan on pagan mythology during the biblical era? The problem with even talking about "myth" is that it has so many manifestations and definitions that almost anything can be seen as myth according to someone's designation. Are we talking about ancient myth? Are the genre earmarks things like primordial time, sacred space, a trickster, talking animals? Are we talking simply about a foundational story (whether of origins or not) that provides a particular community with an identity? Are we talking about hierophanies? Are we talking about the archetypal journey of the hero (Campbell's monomyth)? Yes, I think the Bible, as a whole, is always mythological in *some* of these senses. In some senses of mythology, particularly along lines of genre-analysis the literary form of some of the books are also mythological (Genesis in particular IMO), though the Gospels would not be, but would be mythological in other senses. Skeptics, IME, usually just read Campbell and think they now know mythology. But then I see them on message boards talking about mythology as if it means something isn't true. Mythology is actually one of the most preferred ways, to this day, of embodying our deepest truths. God would be less efficient to forego employing it.

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: “But there is no monolithic context where we can just lump the behavior of one group in with the behavior of another….Your inference from Gnostic practices to NT formation, as it stands, is useless.”

Did I say that Gnosticism was THE monolithic context in which the period must be considered? I brought up Gnosticism as an example of how the time of the NT differs from our own, and as an example of the kind of influences that we should consider. To what extent was it allowable among the ancients, for instance, to “know” historical facts based on internal “knowledge,” rather than the kind of research we expect in biographical works? In a period where Gnosticism still flourished, to what extent was it possible to discern where Gnostic influences related to a document’s origins, both written and oral? These are not useless questions, despite your assertion.

Alex: “These particular characters in the Wizard of Oz, though they may be archetypes or embody themes common to humanity, are not referring to actual individuals who lived, and attempting to elucidate the nature of their lives so that their followers can immitate them. Its mind-boggling that you can't grasp that, but typical of internet skeptics who basically just want to slander all things religious.”

I understand that the Gospels and The Wizard of Oz are different works, belonging to different genres. How you can fail to comprehend my understanding of that fact, and that my analogy does not need to be perfect in order to be valid, remains mind boggling to me as well.

Alex Dalton said...
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Alex Dalton said...

Tony: Did I say that Gnosticism was THE monolithic context in which the period must be considered? I brought up Gnosticism as an example of how the time of the NT differs from our own, and as an example of the kind of influences that we should consider.

Alex: Its just a poor argument, even worse than your Wiz of Oz analogy. 1) What one sect considers a path to truth is not necessarily or even probably the behavior of that of another, unless we see evidence of that being the case and, 2)
There are modern Gnostics and plenty of New Age and esoteric sects where "truth and accuracy" are "often considered to be available through visions and a kind of internal searching", so there really isn't even a historical discontinuity.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: How you can fail to comprehend my understanding of that fact, and that my analogy does not need to be perfect in order to be valid, remains mind boggling to me as well.

Alex: Forget perfect. How your analogy is relevant in any way whatsoever is what remains to be demonstrated. As far as I can see, the clearest statement you've given is: "I am suggesting that were we to strip away what we know about the origins of the Wizard of Oz documents to the same degree that we are ignorant of those in the Gospels, we would find that the same standard used to accept the accounts of the Gospels as true should propel us to accept the existence of Oz."

Well, let's see it. Let's see that Wiz of Oz (hereafter WoO) could be seen as elucidating the inner life and character of a historical person, using the genre-critical criteria and comparisons that Burridge et al. employ. Let's see you show that we can apply the criteria of authenticity used in NT historical criticism to events within WoO and get results similar to HJ studies. Let's see you apply source/literary crit. to demonstrate the temporal relationships of the works. Were you just going to leave it as a suggestion?

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: “What one sect considers a path to truth is not necessarily or even probably the behavior of that of another, unless we see evidence of that being the case…”

I agree with this.

Here’s a problem for your objection, then. Paul features in the NT, and he comes to know truths about Jesus through a vision. So, it appears to me that Paul, and the Gnostics, have something in common. And, I think you’ll agree that Paul belongs to the Christian sect. So, at this point, it appears that we have evidence that Paul, and Christians, subscribe to attaining knowledge in a way similar to the Gnostics.

Alex: “There are modern Gnostics and plenty of New Age and esoteric sects where "truth and accuracy" are "often considered to be available through visions and a kind of internal searching", so there really isn't even a historical discontinuity.”

Well, I think educated people today have more tools available with which to discredit modern Gnostics. My reading of the history of the period of the NT is that few, if any, writers of the period dismiss Gnostic-like claims as the educated can do today; few ancients doubt that a magical events occur, for instance, but they argue about the origins of the magic. This is a material difference in the periods, and it is a fault line that is broken by the Enlightenment. So although I agree that Gnostics exist today, there is a discontinuity in the tools available to the skeptical.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: Paul features in the NT, and he comes to know truths about Jesus through a vision. So, it appears to me that Paul, and the Gnostics, have something in common. And, I think you’ll agree that Paul belongs to the Christian sect. So, at this point, it appears that we have evidence that Paul, and Christians, subscribe to attaining knowledge in a way similar to the Gnostics.

Alex: Jesus himself claimed to have attained truth from a vision. But Paul also distinctly tells us on many occasions when he is handing down tradition, and he further admonishes the congregation to hold tightly to what he is passing on to them. When we see the Gospels & Acts relating actual events set in a historical place and time, talking about Jesus and his companions, some of whom would still have been alive, its pretty unlikely that we're talking about visionary revelations during altered states of consciousness here. Further, were this the case, and were it common and acceptible to create real-world events from visionary revelation, and project it into the past, we'd likely see mention of this as the source. Revelation isn't shy about ascribing its visions to the realm of the Spirit, nor is Paul, nor is Jesus in the Gospels. So I think your argument is self-stultifying in that sense. If a group is unashamed of visionary revelation, moreso, even *proud* of it, as it is seen as a gift of the Spirit, for them *not* to mention this as the source of information, were this the case, would be very unlikely.

Tony: Well, I think educated people today have more tools available with which to discredit modern Gnostics.

Alex: There are plenty of educated New Agers and mystics (not just Gnostics) who think truth is found within.

Tony: few ancients doubt that a magical events occur, for instance, but they argue about the origins of the magic.

Alex: Maybe you surround yourself with your favorite skeptical friends, websites, and magazines, but the majority of the people on the planet you live on still believe in the miraculous and supernatural, and this despite the advancement of modernism and scientific discovery.

Tony Hoffman said...

Hmm. I thought I made it clear from the outset that I was talking about the objection that because the Gospels are told by four different authors they should be considered independent attestations. I have tried to say that variations on a story are not necessarily examples of independent attestation, for the same reason that variations on the Wizard of Oz, although they are repetitions of the same story, are not independent attestations. This fairly simple argument has provoked you to write challenges like this:

Alex: “Well, let's see it. Let's see that Wiz of Oz (hereafter WoO) could be seen as elucidating the inner life and character of a historical person, using the genre-critical criteria and comparisons that Burridge et al. employ. Let's see you show that we can apply the criteria of authenticity used in NT historical criticism to events within WoO and get results similar to HJ studies. Let's see you apply source/literary crit. to demonstrate the temporal relationships of the works. Were you just going to leave it as a suggestion?

Um, no, I was going to leave it as an analogy. I don’t really care to go through a meaningless exercise where we can discover all the similarities and dissimilarities together. I am reasonably confident, however, that we could do the exercise – heck, the source/literary criticism to demonstrate the temporal relationships of the works would be a breeze, the criteria of authenticity would also be a boatload of fun, etc. I don’t know what is meant by genre-critical criteria, but I’m sure I could look that one up and apply it reasonably well, too. Really, though, it seems like a misuse of time for something as simple as the example that began this discussion.

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: "Maybe you surround yourself with your favorite skeptical friends, websites, and magazines, but the majority of the people on the planet you live on still believe in the miraculous and supernatural, and this despite the advancement of modernism and scientific discovery."

Which is why I used the term "educated" in my statement. Sheesh, at this point it just seems like you're desperate to score some kind of points, instead of trying to understand the best version of my argument.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: I have tried to say that variations on a story are not necessarily examples of independent attestation, for the same reason that variations on the Wizard of Oz, although they are repetitions of the same story, are not independent attestations.

Alex: You're right to say its a fairly simple argument - much too simple, in that it does not take into account the real-world source-critical work that has been done on the Gospels, identifying different sources and strata (Q, special material to Matthew and Luke - L & M,), as well as Paul's witness. But really, even at the most fundamental level, variations on the story are indeed independent attestations - the question is just whether or not these variations are rooted in anything historical, or just redactional tendencies of the author.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: Um, no, I was going to leave it as an analogy.

Alex: Yeah, I'm sure you were! You wrote: ". I am suggesting that were we to strip away what we know about the origins of the Wizard of Oz documents to the same degree that we are ignorant of those in the Gospels, we would find that the same standard used to accept the accounts of the Gospels as true should propel us to accept the existence of Oz."

At core, that is a claim about what would happen if we applied certain criteria to a certain composition. You don't want to back up the claim. I understand. I wouldn't either if I made a ridiculous claim like that. While we're making assertions. Here are a couple of my own. Not only would the results not be as you anticipate, but you don't even have anywhere near the understanding of the categories of biblical criticism and criteria to carry it out.

Tony: I don’t really care to go through a meaningless exercise where we can discover all the similarities and dissimilarities together.

Alex: Right, you don't care to back up your claim because, though that would be a "boatload of fun", it is "meaningless". I understand....believe me. You just feel that's right. You're confident. You believe it, even though it doesn't have any factual support. You just did some "internal searching" in that mind of yours and found the truth. It seems you've been infected by the Gnostic epistemology you discredit and misappropriate.

Alex Dalton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex Dalton said...

Tony: Which is why I used the term "educated" in my statement. Sheesh, at this point it just seems like you're desperate to score some kind of points, instead of trying to understand the best version of my argument.

Alex: No offense, Tony, but it seems like you live in a plastic bubble, and it is wallpapered with Skeptic magazine. Educated people all over the world believe in teh supernatural. You're on the blog of a Christian philosopher. You are talking to educated people right now, who beleive in the supernatural and the miraculous. You're right. I am desperate. Desperately trying to understand how you do not grasp this. Show me some data. The correlation between education and decline in supernatural belief doesn't seem to hold up. Here's an essay by two sociologists at U of C at Berkeley detailing the conflicting studies. They cite works showing the opposite:

"Several of these studies, while confirming that there is little change in belief for the majority of students, suggest that
to the extent that change occurs, students appear just as, if not more, likely to grow stronger in their faith during college
(Lee 2002b; Hurtado et al. 2007)."

"Perhaps the most intriguing work along these lines is a recent article by Uecker, Regnerus,
and Vaaler (2007). The authors argue, using longitudinal data from the Add Health data set, that
attending a four-year college actually appears to reduce rates of religious decline." [Damon Mayrl and Freeden Oeur, “Religion and Higher Education: Current Knowledge and Directions for Future Research”, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion Volume 48, Issue 2, pages 260–275, June 2009]

Papalinton said...

@ Victor
"The majority position on Josephus seems to be that it's a partial forgery, with a genuine core."

But even then, hearsay. Second order history at best, and certainly not of a primary nature.

Papalinton said...

Hi Tony
Alex has no corroborative evidentiary material whatever to substantiate his claims.
I wouldn't worry too much.
It is interesting to note the ploy Alex uses when he seeks 'evidence' [what I call 'christian evidence', a diametrically opposite form from that which we generally regard or more usually understand as substantive proofs], he draws it direct from scripture; for example,
"Alex: Jesus himself claimed to have attained truth from a vision. But Paul also distinctly tells us on many occasions when he is handing down tradition, and he further admonishes the congregation to hold tightly to what he is passing on to them."

All his 'proof' comes straight from the 27 books of the christian mythos. The other 39 books [or 46 if you're a catholic] actually belong to the Hebrews or the Jews, and was appropriated by christians because they had no tradition of their own onto which they could append their 27 booklets to give them some form of 'legitimacy'. Typical of christianity, it is a suckhole for pulling in all the powerful works of contemporary others, such as pagan Aristotelian philosophy, Platonism, Mesopotamian folklore, Mithraic theism, Greek and Roman mythology, Egyptian resurrection traditions, etc, and claim it as their own. These days it would be branded plagiarism. [cont.]

Papalinton said...

To Tony [Cont. 2]

One need not go further than the concept of 'hell' to realise the nonsense of 'tradition', particularly in the catholic church. The traditional concept of Hell does NOT come from the Hebrew or Greek manuscripts. It is a pagan myth adopted as Christian doctrine in the third century by church fathers. Yet, then as now, innocent people and the gullible are taught the traditional concept of Hell by trusted authority figures. That trust deters questions, so for hundreds of years the myth has perpetuated. The KJV and other translations have also perpetuated the myth by less than the most accurate translation of the word Hell.

Yes Hallquist's debunking of the resurrection in one page, is about as fair as one can be, when one considers the evidential asymmetry of what purportedly is claimed as proof of the revivification of a dead putrescent corpse. And what is that proof? An empty tomb, and 'visions' by the disciples.
You've gotta have rocks in your head, haven't you.

GREV said...

Papalinton:

Thanks again for a good chuckle.

Alex Dalton said...

Paplinton (dashing in to do some cheerleading for Tony): It is interesting to note the ploy Alex uses when he seeks 'evidence' [what I call 'christian evidence', a diametrically opposite form from that which we generally regard or more usually understand as substantive proofs], he draws it direct from scripture...

Alex: Papa, wow, I'm impressed. I think this is your first attempt to support a claim. Unfortunately, it is moot. a) Really, where I cite scripture there, I'm actually reinforcing Tony's point, so I doubt that he has a problem with it, and b) the point is over acceptable Christian praxis, so citing Christian documents is totally appropriate. But the Freethinker program that you downloaded from the New Atheism can't process all that; I understand. All you see is "HE'S USING THE BIBLE TO PROVE THE BIBLE!!!" Cracks me up.

Alex Dalton said...

Papa: Typical of christianity, it is a suckhole for pulling in all the powerful works of contemporary others, such as pagan Aristotelian philosophy, Platonism, Mesopotamian folklore, Mithraic theism, Greek and Roman mythology, Egyptian resurrection traditions, etc, and claim it as their own. These days it would be branded plagiarism.

Alex: Riiight...And *I* am the one who doesn't support my claims. Papa, let's see you support Christian borrowing from Mithraism, Greek and Roman mythology, or Egyptian resurrection traditions, in the NT period. Your brain is a suckhole for the absolute worst of the skeptical literature.

Alex Dalton said...

Papa: All his 'proof' comes straight from the 27 books of the christian mythos. The other 39 books [or 46 if you're a catholic] actually belong to the Hebrews or the Jews, and was appropriated by christians because they had no tradition of their own onto which they could append their 27 booklets to give them some form of 'legitimacy'.

Alex: Hahahaha...This is too much. Do you not realize that he first Christians were Jews? That the founder of Christianity was a Jew? Did you read this off of a bumper sticker? Don't trust those....

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: “Right, you don't care to back up your claim because, though that would be a "boatload of fun", it is "meaningless". I understand....believe me. You just feel that's right. You're confident. You believe it, even though it doesn't have any factual support. You just did some "internal searching" in that mind of yours and found the truth. It seems you've been infected by the Gnostic epistemology you discredit and misappropriate.”

Read: “I know all this stuff about biblical criticism and am desperate to show it off, but I can’t quite make your argument relate to that, so I’ll taunt you instead!”

Alex: “Not only would the results not be as you anticipate, but you don't even have anywhere near the understanding of the categories of biblical criticism and criteria to carry it out.”

I have enough. I majored in History at an Ivy League College, and was curious enough to take a course on New Testament Criticism. I enjoyed it (I really did – I meant it when I said it would be boatloads of fun to revisit that kind of thing), but I learned enough to make my own determination of the field’s practical value. I understand that there’s no way to break that news to you without hurting your feelings, but there -- I said it.

I wrote: “Well, I think educated people today have more tools available with which to discredit modern Gnostics.”

Alex objected because: “Educated people all over the world believe in teh supernatural.”

Which relates to my point…how?

Again, you seem less interested in what I actually write, and more interested in twisting it toward one of your favorite whipping boys.

Alex (on a roll now): “The correlation between education and decline in supernatural belief doesn't seem to hold up. Here's an essay by two sociologists at U of C at Berkeley detailing the conflicting studies. They cite works showing the opposite:”

Again, we could get into an argument where I pull out the stats that show the reverse (do you really think the articles you cite are definitive?), and I could accuse you of data mining, but is that really relevant to the topic?

I’m pretty much done with this one. I think it’s run it’s course. I’m not saying I’m going to stop replying, but I’m going to begin the process. Trying… pull… self… away…

GREV said...

Tony -- if you are truly not done, go here if you never have.

Triablogue Triablogue Topical Index.mht

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: Read: “I know all this stuff about biblical criticism and am desperate to show it off, but I can’t quite make your argument relate to that, so I’ll taunt you instead!”

Alex: Tony, you made outlandish claims and I'm calling your bluff. You don't know enough to make those claims or fulfill them. I'm sorry if that offends you. Taunt? No, I'm challenging you. Because I'd really like to see you back up what you assert. Again, I apologize. Seems like your's is a very soft skepticism if that troubles you so much.

Tony: I understand that there’s no way to break that news to you without hurting your feelings, but there -- I said it.

Alex: You "took a course" and then made a judgement on the utility of the field as a whole. Well, at least your *consistently* hasty and baselessly overconfident in your judgements.

Alex: “Educated people all over the world believe in the supernatural.”

Tony: Which relates to my point…how?

Alex: You wrote: "Do you understand the notion, popular in the 1st Century, that truth and accuracy were often considered to be available through visions and a kind of internal searching, in a way that we would dismiss today?"

But there is no such discontinuity. There are just as many people today as there were then who accept this visions and internal searching can reveal truth. Who is "we"? Just skeptics? Well then, your statement is trivial and obvious. If you mean "we" in any meaningful sense (e.g. modern man), it is simply wrong.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: Again, we could get into an argument where I pull out the stats that show the reverse (do you really think the articles you cite are definitive?), and I could accuse you of data mining, but is that really relevant to the topic?

Alex: More promises of what Tony could do. Unfortunately Tony, I don't have the faith, and you don't have the track-record.

I wrote: "the majority of the people on the planet you live on still believe in the miraculous and supernatural, and this despite the advancement of modernism and scientific discovery."

You responded with: "Which is why I used the term "educated" in my statement. Sheesh..."

Then I present studies arguing that education in general does not correlate with a decline in supernatural belief either. And you can't see how that's relevant? Seems pretty obvious.

Tony Hoffman said...

Tony: "Again, we could get into an argument where I pull out the stats that show the reverse (do you really think the articles you cite are definitive?), and I could accuse you of data mining, but is that really relevant to the topic?"

Alex: "More promises of what Tony could do. Unfortunately Tony, I don't have the faith, and you don't have the track-record."

Sigh. Do you really think it's hard?

"Harris Poll 11 of 2003 found that of those with a high school education or less, 92% believed in God, 86% believed in heaven, 84% believed in the virgin birth of Jesus, 73% believed in the devil, and 37% believed in astrology. For those with a post-graduate degree, the percentage of believers was 10-20 percent less in every category. Data from the 1972-2004 General Social Survey shows that 43.2% of those with only some high school education were religious fundamentalists, while only 16.6% of those with a post-graduate degree were religious fundamentalists. The data show a steady decline in religious fundamentalism as each higher level of education is attained. In a world of nearly 200 deeply religious states and about a dozen secularized ones, the list of countries with the highest levels of education is dominated by secular nations (the two exceptions are the USA and Ireland."

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: ""...the majority of the people on the planet you live on still believe in the miraculous and supernatural, and this despite the advancement of modernism and scientific discovery."

So show me how this relates to my original point -- that "educated people today have more tools available with which to discredit modern Gnostics."

If all you have is a hammer, I guess...

BenYachov said...

Tony's obvious fallacy is to equate "religious fundamentalists" with being religious in general.

This is the one size fits all mentality of the Gnu-Atheists.

It's not impressive. Tony you are better then that. We expect this sort of nonsense from Paps and other Fundie Atheists.

Do better.

Tony Hoffman said...

Ben, I'm sincerly confused. Where do I equate religious fundamentalists with being religious.

BenYachov said...

Tony I can read.

QUOTE"General Social Survey shows that 43.2% of those with only some high school education were religious fundamentalists, while only 16.6% of those with a post-graduate degree were religious fundamentalists."

BenYachov said...

Plus is the Harris Poll scientific?

http://areedyinfo.blogspot.com/2009/09/harris-poll-online-scam-or-legitimate.html

Or is it just marketing research?

Do any Peer view journals back it up?

Tony Hoffman said...

Okay, Ben, but you understand that didn't write the citation, I was quoting it, in response to Alex's challenge that I couldn't or wouldn't provide any data contrary to his. And I have to ask, why do you think that my providing the citation, for the reasons I did, means that I equate the religious with the fundamentally religious?

BenYachov said...

>Okay, Ben, but you understand that didn't write the citation, I was quoting it, in response to Alex's challenge that I couldn't or wouldn't provide any data contrary to his.

That you own up to your mistakes shows you lean toward being a rational Atheist & not a Gnu.

More Smith, Rowe, or Jack Smart! Less Dawkins, Harris(not the Poll), Hitchens or PZ.

Go in peace.

BenYachov said...

>And I have to ask, why do you think that my providing the citation, for the reasons I did, means that I equate the religious with the fundamentally religious?

Because it leaves out data about orthodox religious believers who are not fundamentalists.

It's ambiguous. I believe in Heaven I do not believe Heaven is literally "Up".

There is a difference between market researchers vs scientists.

Tony Hoffman said...

Ben, I would agree with you if I said, or the citation said, Ben is a religious fundamentalist, or all of the religious are religious fundamentalists.

"There is a difference between market researchers vs scientists."

Only if they use different methods. If you use scientific methods to analyze and explain, I believe you are a scientist.

BenYachov said...

It's still ambiguous & thus scientifically worthless.

It's like those phony "Prayer experiments" that don't test any one particular religious view of prayer? & are nothing more than "make a wish" experiments(ignoring the whole category mistake around why Prayer experiments are BS anyway for or against gods).

Speaking for my own Religion. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia treating prayer like wish making is impious and wicked.

Anyway the point is your response to Alan was not scientific. Now that doesn't make him right about God & your wrong about Atheism.

But you need to argue better.

Cheers to you.

Tony Hoffman said...

Okay. This is more scientificky.

http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/sci_relig.htm

My prior stance has been confirmed, however. This is another rabbit hole, contributing nothing to the topic at hand.

BenYachov said...

"Leading Scientists Still Reject God"

That's merely a subset of educated people which was the original question. Plus it begs the question. What constitutes science & leading scientist? Are philosophers included in there? Are leading scientists merely popular scientists or accomplished?

I don't think you can make this case by merely cutting and pasting any old thing a couple of minutes after we post.

Also I've seen you reject claims made by Theistic scientist & historians & you charge them with bias.

This survey is presented by the Skeptical inquirer(that doesn't mean it's automatically wrong. But I remain skeptical of your claim to vindication.).

BenYachov said...

With that I am handing you back to Alex.

Cheers.

Alex Dalton said...

Ben writes:
That's merely a subset of educated people which was the original question.

Alex: Exactly.

Alex Dalton said...

Ben - thx for saving me some time.

BenYachov said...

Cheers Alex.

"I bid you stand men of the West"
-King Aragorn

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: "That's merely a subset of educated people which was the original question."

No, the original question was based from my comment:

Tony: "Well, I think educated people today have more tools available with which to discredit modern Gnostics. My reading of the history of the period of the NT is that few, if any, writers of the period dismiss Gnostic-like claims as the educated can do today; few ancients doubt that a magical events occur, for instance, but they argue about the origins of the magic. This is a material difference in the periods, and it is a fault line that is broken by the Enlightenment. So although I agree that Gnostics exist today, there is a discontinuity in the tools available to the skeptical."

You took this to mean that I was arguing that more educated people are irreligious. I pointed out that that question was a rabbit hole, and that we could both find statistics to argue that point. You, predictably, took that as an opportunity to accuse me of being unable to do what I said I could -- provide statistics that dispute your extraneous point. Once I provided statistics that elicited exactly the reaction I predicted, you seem to have forgotten what it was I had said.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony wrote: So show me how this relates to my original point -- that "educated people today have more tools available with which to discredit modern Gnostics."

Alex: Talk about the availability of some unspecified "tools" only hurts your case. The fact that educated people allegedly have more of these "tools" available (what are they, exactly? Besides Skeptic magazine?), and still persist in supernatural/miraculous belief, argues more against the modern secular "enlightenment" of modern man, than for it.

Tony Hoffman said...

Tools = modern scientific process.

Knock yourself out discrediting that one.

And I never said that the availability of these tools meant that cognitive biases would disappear. Just that they represent a divide line between the the period discussed and our own.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: You took this to mean that I was arguing that more educated people are irreligious.

Alex: My point was simply that, despite the existence of these tools (one of which is some sort of education that I am presuming you feel works against religious belief), the belief persists, so this "material difference" you speak of, doesn't seem to be there. Thus, my statements about your failure to show a true historical discontinuity with regards to supernatural/miraculous belief in general. Your statistics seem to miss the point and I think Ben did a good job of showing that.

You write: "My reading of the history of the period of the NT is that few, if any, writers of the period dismiss Gnostic-like claims as the educated can do today."

What does this even mean? Your reading? What have you read? Certainly writers dismiss Gnostic-like claims, even in the NT. "as the educated can do today"? Meaning the educated today use different methods? Which? And so what? Most of your claims are just so vague, unsupported, and Gnostic-like.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony wrote:

Tools = modern scientific process.

Knock yourself out discrediting that one.

Alex: Um, knock yourself out *defining* that one, or knowck yourself out telling me how it has any bearing on religious epistemologies or the truth-claims of Gnosticism. At best we could show that Gnostic claims are not properly scientific. When we're talking about an entirely different epistemology, science can't say much more than that - unless of course we are arguing that only properly scientific truth claims are actually true - e.g. Scientism.

Tony: And I never said that the availability of these tools meant that cognitive biases would disappear.

Alex: Right, beg the question a little bit there. The persistence of belief in the supernatural in the face of the scientific process *must* be due to cognitive bias. So silly....I love science and read about it all the time - biology, quantum mechanics, cosmology, etc. - it only strengthens my belief in God. Many people feel this way including many scientists. If something in science discredits supernatural belief in general, TELL ME what it is.

Alex Dalton said...

And btw, your *real* original point, with no mention of tools, was:

"Do you understand the notion, popular in the 1st Century, that truth and accuracy were often considered to be available through visions and a kind of internal searching, in a way that we would dismiss today?"

So it was not just that tools are available, but that "we" (e.g. modern man) would dismiss them.

GREV said...

I like this point made by others in some of my reading -- Science may not lead to disbelief.

Rather people with apriori commitments to not believe are led to or attracted to science as a way to justify their beliefs.

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: “My point was simply that, despite the existence of these tools (one of which is some sort of education that I am presuming you feel works against religious belief), the belief persists, so this "material difference" you speak of, doesn't seem to be there.”

The material difference is that the success of the scientific methods has inclined a great many people to imagine that we will find natural explanations for virtually all phenomena. This is a result of so many things – mental illness, disease, weather, biological forms and behavior, etc. -- all having their supernatural explanations replaced with natural ones. This appears to be a material difference in how we examine claims of the supernatural today compared to the 1st Century.

By the way, the fact that childhood illnesses like measles still occur does not mean that the development of their vaccines has not made a material difference in how frequently they occur. Your argument above seems to read that in order for scientific thinking to have a material effect on religious belief then religious belief must be eradicated. That is a misunderstanding of what I am saying.

Alex: “Meaning the educated today use different methods? Which? And so what?”

Meaning that the educated can reasonably expect that application of scientific methods will find explanations for all events that were commonly thought of as being supernatural. We can dare to imagine that we may find natural explanations for virtually all phenomena. This was not true of the 1st Century.

When someone claimed that they had witnessed a miracle in the 1st Century, it appears that an acceptable answer among the educated was to try and identify the supernatural source of the miracle. Nowadays, if someone claimed to have cured someone of mental illness by, for instance, driving out their demons, then I don’t believe it would be acceptable for the educated to work to identify the demon-expunger's supernatural source. This seems like a material difference between the 1st Century and today.

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: “If something in science discredits supernatural belief in general, TELL ME what it is.”

Success.

Only an idiot would deny that phenomena for once supernatural explanations were acceptable have been replaced by natural explanations, and that the reverse is not true. Science works, and those who hold to supernatural explanations (whatever that means) have been getting trounced for centuries. So, yup, the success of science in explanation, and the failure of supernatural belief to hold up to this onslaught, does discredit supernatural belief in general. And I’m just saying from a straightforward, probabilistic analysis – what are the chances that a supernatural belief will defy natural explanation? From a look at the past record, the odds are not good.

Tony Hoffman said...

Btw, I can almost hear the keyboard somewhere clicking out, "But science will NEVER explain why something, and not nothing, exists...!"

Wait for it, wait for it...

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: The material difference is that the success of the scientific methods has inclined a great many people to imagine that we will find natural explanations for virtually all phenomena.

Alex: A "great many" people? Have any actual data here? Or just going off of your personal Gnosis again? My own gnosis tells me the majority of the earth's inhabitants do not have this faith in science. I know many atheists who do not even have this faith in science.

Tony: This is a result of so many things – mental illness, disease, weather, biological forms and behavior, etc. -- all having their supernatural explanations replaced with natural ones.

Alex: There are still multitudes of people who believe that there are supernatural forces ultimately at the root of or even directly causing all of these things. I can walk down the street and have an exorcism performed on me if I so choose.

Papalinton said...

@ Alex Dalton
“Alex: “Educated people all over the world believe in teh supernatural.””

And why is that? Why do we innately think there is a god? What is it in the human make-up that predisposes us to think this way, in this manner? Why is it that we so easily assign a 'purpose' or ' biotic identity' in the most inane of ways to, for example, tragic but natural circumstances?
There has been tremendous advances in the cognitive and neuro-sciences, and allied disciplines now, out of which there is a strong and consistent and testable narrative emerging, that is providing insights into the origins of thinking and functions of the human brain, mind and mind-states. Although we are only at the very forefront of science in this area, a growing and substantive base is becoming apparent.
We see god[s] everywhere, we feel its/their presence, it [they] occupy the spaces in our mind. Why was it our ancient forbears thought the gods were angry when there was lightning, or fire swept through villages, or the droughts killed livestock? What is it that people thought one was possessed of the devil during an epileptic fit?
The simple answer is that humans evolved that way. The human species developed a theory of mind, which proved so useful for our ancestors in explaining and predicting other people's behaviours [even their gods] that has completely flooded our evolved social brain. As a result, today we overshoot our mental-state attributions to things that are, in reality, completely mindless [not in the pejorative sense; but as inanimate].
[cont.]

Papalinton said...

To Alex [cont. 2]

When we think about God's mental state, we invoke the human mind's evolutionary [genetic] predisposition to 'teleological intentionality' as a form of explanation. The attribution of teleo-functional causality to even the most mundane of natural occurrences comes easy to humans. It is the default state. This attribution forms part of homo sapiens suite of 'species survival' skills, in that the observance and possible consequent flight response to the ubiquitous 'rustling in the bush', ensured that the lion or wolf did not enjoy a meal of you that day. The old adage, "he who runs away today, gets to run away another day." And indeed through the religious impulse, that same survival mechanism is invoked today, for pretty much the same reasons, although of a substantively different order. It continues to be about 'survival', about protection of existence, about eternal life, about life after death. This yearning for eternal life is a reaction to being the painfully aware and conscious species that we are, ever mindful of our own precarious grip on life and to our own 'time-limited' mortality.
[cont.]

Papalinton said...

To Alex [cont. 3]

However, these personal experiences and agonies do not make for evidence of extra-natural or supernatural entities. The research seems to be telling us that extending our sociality to a [putative] realm of supernatural beings, who in turn react socially with us, has no basis in fact. It seems the research to date is uncovering that these experiences are a functional manifestation of a 'theory of mind' that we have developed, through the evolutionary process, in which teleological intentionality formed a significant component of the survival mechanism.
That is not to say these emotions and feelings triggered by the survival instinct are not real, that they do not have deep and profound meaning. They are and they do, as sure as night follows day. Every person on this planet, both theist and non-theist alike, experiences them acutely and genuinely in varying intensities. The traditional and long-held notion of the attribution of these responses to a [putative] non-human creator-god is only a partial and somewhat transitional explanation, developed at a time when theology was the senior service of academic endeavour and science was but an off-shoot. The demise of all the preceding gods in human history is a reasonable and historically supported indicator of the conventional trajectory of those gods deemed surplus to requirement, in our inexorable search for meaning in life. This search continues.
[cont.]

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: This appears to be a material difference in how we examine claims of the supernatural today compared to the 1st Century.

Alex: And the reason this material difference is immaterial is that God is often simply seen as taking a different role (not disappearing altogether) in light of scientific findings. For instance, a modern theist who accepts evolution will just see this as God's way of creating, and see evolution as taking its course according to the divinely created laws of nature. None of this shows anything other than that supernatural belief changes over time.

Tony: Your argument above seems to read that in order for scientific thinking to have a material effect on religious belief then religious belief must be eradicated. That is a misunderstanding of what I am saying.

Alex: The problem is that the same kinds of practices you claim were common in the "context of the first century world", are common in our modern time. That's the crux of it. And a multitude of modern supernatural belief systems belief in kinds of spiritual reflection and revelation.

Papalinton said...

To Alex [cont. 4]

Religion is an integral part of what makes us human, and without the study of religion humankind would never be custodian of the complete story. We cannot value history of the western world without knowing the influence of the christianities. We cannot appreciate and understand literature without recourse to understanding the impact of religion.
What we can do, is continue to build our understanding of what it is that makes us tick the way we do, physiologically, psychologically, sociologically, neuroscientifically, anthropologically .... etc. This area of science is yet a babe in the very early years of its life. There is much catching up to do to redress the two thousand-plus years of christian theology.
Mindful of the advent of the neuro-sciences shedding insight into how and why humans tick as they do, religion, as a product of human inventiveness and creative ingenuity is not immune from serious challenge and interrogation in the public domain. Religion is a window into explaining how the brain functions, how the metaphysics of mind and mind-states form our daily 'reality'.
[cont.]

Papalinton said...

To Alex [cont.5]

And Alex, your “ Educated people all over the world believe in teh supernatural’ is a testament, not of the ‘truth’ of the claim for the existence of the supernatural. Rather, it is a testament that humans are still predominantly held captive to the primitive, innate predisposition built into our instinctual ‘survival mechanisms’ from a much earlier time of our development as a species. And the way that we are going to be able to circumvent or master this innate and instinctive default state is to read widely the great and illuminating literature now coming out of the psycho-, socio- and neuro-scientific disciplines. To do otherwise is to continue the vagaries of lurching from one form of theism to another, or to continue ad infinitum the interpretation and reinterpretation of ancient writings born at a time when superstition ruled supreme.
Cheers

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: Meaning that the educated can reasonably expect that application of scientific methods will find explanations for all events that were commonly thought of as being supernatural. We can dare to imagine that we may find natural explanations for virtually all phenomena. This was not true of the 1st Century.

Alex: The truly educated should expect to find that all of existence has a supernatural origin. See that? See how easy it is to make assertions and predictions merely rooted in our worldview?

1) Why does this matter? I can think of a natural explanation for anything, and I can think of a supernatural explanation for anything. Merely coming up with an explanation is easy. That we should expect naturalistic explanations to be the superior explanations is something you'd have to provide an argument for if you wish to move beyond begging the question. Good luck.

2) Since science isn't in the business of doing anything other than providing naturalistic explanations, we can expect all scientific explanations to be naturalistic. So again, no surprises that that is what we see science generating.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony : Success.

Only an idiot would deny that phenomena for once supernatural explanations were acceptable have been replaced by natural explanations, and that the reverse is not true.

Alex: The success of science poses no threat to theism or supernatural beleif in general as many theists believe God endowed mankind with the cognitive faculties to understand the universe, and even created the universe in such a way that there is a fit between our cognitive faculties and the comprhensible mathematically describable physical laws that give the universe its regularity/predictability. The fact that there are now scientific explanations for things deemed supernatural really doesn't even show that these things are NOT in some sense supernatural, and it CERTAINLY doesn't show that *all* things will one day be shown to be *better* explained scientifically. This is your scientistic leap of faith. There's no justification for it whatsoever.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: And I’m just saying from a straightforward, probabilistic analysis – what are the chances that a supernatural belief will defy natural explanation? From a look at the past record, the odds are not good.

Alex: You don't seem to understand probability or the history of science. First of all, science has refuted more NATURALISTIC explanations throughout its history than it has supernaturalistic explanations. Falsification (ala Popper) is even considered the very business of science. LOL, so if your probability judgement were sound, you'd have o reason to be confident about any present or future naturalistic explanation. Secondly, science really is not in the business of testing supernatual hypothesis as, in its modern incarnation, it operates according to methodological naturalism, which only considers materialistic entities. Hence, it shouldn't be a surprise the project of science only generates naturalistic explanations!Philosophy on the other hand actually studies naturalism and theism as metaphysical systems of thought, and we see theism alive and well amongst professionals in the field most methodologically equipped to discuss such matters.

Alex Dalton said...

Papa wrote:
The simple answer is that humans evolved that way. The human species developed a theory of mind, which proved so useful for our ancestors in explaining and predicting other people's behaviours [even their gods] that has completely flooded our evolved social brain. As a result, today we overshoot our mental-state attributions to things that are, in reality, completely mindless [not in the pejorative sense; but as inanimate].
[cont.]

Alex: Right. And just as easily, the theist sees God as having created us with this innate predisposition to believe. So the neuroscience really doesn't settle anything.

Alex Dalton said...

Papa wrote: And Alex, your “ Educated people all over the world believe in teh supernatural’ is a testament, not of the ‘truth’ of the claim for the existence of the supernatural.

Alex: Note: I never claimed any such thing. If you were actually following the convo., instead of using the thread as an opportunity to spam a bunch of neuro-atheology, you'd know that.

Alex Dalton said...

Papa wrote: And the way that we are going to be able to circumvent or master this innate and instinctive default state is to read widely the great and illuminating literature now coming out of the psycho-, socio- and neuro-scientific disciplines.

Alex: Be sure to read _The Believing Primate: Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Reflections on the Origin of Religion_ for a theistic perspective on the evolutionary/neuroscientific underpinnings of religious belief. You'll see why you're just begging the question.

GREV said...

One comment --

"Success.

Only an idiot would deny that phenomena for once supernatural explanations were acceptable have been replaced by natural explanations, and that the reverse is not true. Science works, and those who hold to supernatural explanations (whatever that means) have been getting trounced for centuries. So, yup, the success of science in explanation, and the failure of supernatural belief to hold up to this onslaught, does discredit supernatural belief in general. And I’m just saying from a straightforward, probabilistic analysis – what are the chances that a supernatural belief will defy natural explanation? From a look at the past record, the odds are not good."

Another comment --

Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend only on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist."

I like the last one as being more fully aware of what the debate is all about.

Source -- National Academy of Sciences

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: "I can walk down the street and have an exorcism performed on me if I so choose."

Yes. How that fact works in your favor you are free to further explicate. (People in the past weren't the only ones who were crazy! My neighbor and I are crazy, too!)

Alex: "And the reason this material difference is immaterial is that God is often simply seen as taking a different role (not disappearing altogether) in light of scientific findings. For instance, a modern theist who accepts evolution will just see this as God's way of creating, and see evolution as taking its course according to the divinely created laws of nature."

So what? The belief in a God of the Gaps has shrunk God's involvement to a place where he does not appear to interact in real life. And that's my point: the 1st Century educated allowed for the interaction of the supernatural in a meaningful way; today, we all understand that if God exists, he can't be found in the ways described in the NT.

Tony Hoffman said...

Tony: "We can dare to imagine that we may find natural explanations for virtually all phenomena. This was not true of the 1st Century. "

Alex: "The truly educated should expect to find that all of existence has a supernatural origin. See that? See how easy it is to make assertions and predictions merely rooted in our worldview?" 

Well, no. I think that my assertion has meaning -- it can be tested, we can make predictions from it, etc. It can be disproved. Yours, is, well, meaningless. As you pointed out earlier, the theist can always retreat to a gap, a prior stage, to metaphysics. If you take comfort in declaring "heads I win, tails you lose" as the crucible for your beliefs, then you simply appear incurious.

Tony Hoffman said...

Yeah, and I'm about to meticulously go through the rest of your comments and respond to them all, but I'm remembering that this is a wasted effort.

I will really try harder to stop responding now. My apologies.

I think this discussion has become less productive, but that doesn't mean I haven't enjoyed it, and that I haven't learned something. So thanks to everyone who participated.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony:
Yes. How that fact works in your favor you are free to further explicate. (People in the past weren't the only ones who were crazy! My neighbor and I are crazy, too!)

Alex: Well, that's been my point from the beginning. Metaphysical value-judgements aside, things haven't changed much as far as basic beliefs go.

Tony: So what? The belief in a God of the Gaps has shrunk God's involvement to a place where he does not appear to interact in real life.

Alex: Oh gosh. "God of the Gaps" objections are so lame. If God exists, God works where he works. It matters not one iota if theists past, present, or future posit a direct act of God where there is none. But theists all over the theological spectrum currently see God acting in areas of science that are fairly recent (quantum mechanics, chaos theory, the anthropic principle, big bang cosmology, abiogenesis, molecular biology, etc.). Regardless of whether or not we agree with them, modern science has been anything but a shrinking realm of theistic speculation.

Tony: And that's my point: the 1st Century educated allowed for the interaction of the supernatural in a meaningful way; today, we all understand that if God exists, he can't be found in the ways described in the NT.

Alex: Oh gosh. I couldn't disagree more. The only people that "understand" (aka "believe") this, are skeptics/atheists, and the occasional liberal Christian.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: Well, no. I think that my assertion has meaning -- it can be tested, we can make predictions from it, etc. It can be disproved.

Alex: LOL, well, I don't disagreee that it has *meaning*. BTW - do we hold that statements are meaningLESS unless they can be tested, make predictions, are falsifiable or some other such self-stultifying criteria? I hope not. Your Scientism is showing again.

But yeah, we can really disprove a statement about a bare possibility like "we may find natural explanations for virtually all phenomena." Uh-huh....

Let's move beyond your pattern of Gnosis/assertion and give it the old heave-ho, shall we Tony? Think of a possible finding that can't *possibly* be given a naturalistic explanation. Let's see if your statement is even in principle falsifiable. Please do try. This isn't a taunt. I'd really like you to start flesching out some of these bold (and IMO, seemingly absurd) statements you are making.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony : Yeah, and I'm about to meticulously go through the rest of your comments and respond to them all, but I'm remembering that this is a wasted effort.

Alex: Well, I'm enjoying it more as we go along as I think I've really got you up against the ropes at this point and your legs are giving out. Hahahaha...Totally kidding. Not sure how its a wasted effort if you are enjoying it, and you're learning. But I understand time constraints and the need to stop the obsessive pattern of blog-posting. I've been working from home all day, hence my obnoxious output. I was at work Monday and literally had to force myself not to check this blog at all, to avoid feeling anxious about not having the *immediate* last word (I know - its a sickness).

I've felt challenged by this convo., and looking back over it, I probably should've agreed more in some areas where I didn't, and was definitely a bit of a jerk. I apologize for that. You've been pretty civil and humble overall. I disagree with you very strongly on many issues, but you're bright and you're a good guy.

Papalinton said...

@ Alex Dalton
"I [Alex] wrote: "the majority of the people on the planet you live on still believe in the miraculous and supernatural, and this despite the advancement of modernism and scientific discovery."

PapaL
That is indeed what you wrote. And your statement is the clearest indicator yet of the christian theist's propensity to live according to the dictates of the innate primeval drivers of superstition and adherence to the extra-natural or supernatural, despite the overwhelming and mounting proofs that the 'absence of evidence' is indeed 'evidence of absence' for the existence of god[s]. The pathological denial of the accumulative evidence from the advancement of scientific discovery is but one key area in contemporary society that will be the undoing of christian theism. Indeed the BioLogos website, of founder Dr Francis Collins, a site dedicated to the advancement of science through religion, clearly sees the writing on the wall and is desperately attempting to redress the imbalance of the evangelical and fundie deniers and their attitude to the sciences.

The following is an interesting development: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12811197

Cheers

Alex Dalton said...

Papa: And your statement is the clearest indicator yet of the christian theist's propensity to live according to the dictates of the innate primeval drivers of superstition and adherence to the extra-natural or supernatural, despite the overwhelming and mounting proofs that the 'absence of evidence' is indeed 'evidence of absence' for the existence of god[s].

Alex: Neh. The more science reveals the complexity and depth of the natural world and the laws that govern it, the more theists are simply in awe of God's creative brilliance and power. Like I said, science strengthens my faith - even the writings of atheistic scientists. They can't help but let their wonder and awe at the majesty of the universe that created them, seep through the cracks from time to time. And I love to see that.

I'm off to bed....

Alex Dalton said...

Oh Papa - as for your link. I care not, my friend. I wouldn't care if I were the last Christian on earth (though I'd feel bad for all of the people missing out). Truth isn't about numbers and polls. Christianity started off as a very small sect and if it is true, it was no less true then. If its all about numbers, you're certainly on the wrong team.

Papalinton said...

@ Alex Dalton
"Oh Papa - as for your link. I care not, my friend. I wouldn't care if I were the last Christian on earth (though I'd feel bad for all of the people missing out)."

I could not have confirmed my statement any stronger than you have, Alex. Your reaction is emblematic of the very 'denialism' for any and all information, research, fact, evidence and proofs that are counterfactual to the theological basis for the 'reality' of god[s].

Rather than deep and complex, Alex, and contrary to your caricature of it, science by its very simplicity, is undoubtedly challenging the very foundations of theistic thought as it applies to the natural world.
Science only appears complex and deep from the perspective of not fully understanding the new areas being researched. And as has been repeated time and time again, once we understand, the science just seems so obvious, so self-explanatory. The sheer elegance of E=mc2 is in its obvious simplicity. Newton's three laws of motion or the laws of energy conservation, in hindsight, are so simple and elegant. What's more they are repeatable, consistent, predictive as surely as putting a spaceship on Mars. It sure beats praying as a form of planning that the rocket will fly to Mars.

And this goes for medicine, surgery, technology, modern transport, communications, food production, the social sciences, cosmology, international law, you name it. All these have advanced exponentially.
Scholarship in christian theology, by comparison, peaked at around the end of the Late Middle Ages [that is, at the end of the Dark Ages], and has been going down hill ever since.

Sheesh

GREV said...

As for the link regarding the decline of religion, several facts are well known that person(s) posting the link and claiming it proves their case would be unaware of or unwilling to admit so the link really proves nothing.

The link neither surprises nor discourages me. Sorry to disappoint.

Alex Dalton said...

Papa: I could not have confirmed my statement any stronger than you have, Alex. Your reaction is emblematic of the very 'denialism' for any and all information, research, fact, evidence and proofs that are counterfactual to the theological basis for the 'reality' of god[s].

Alex: Yes Papa, I deny that predictions of the decline of religion in certain regions of the world has any bearing on anything that interests me.

Papa: Rather than deep and complex, Alex, and contrary to your caricature of it, science by its very simplicity, is undoubtedly challenging the very foundations of theistic thought as it applies to the natural world.

Alex: Reading comprehension, Papa. I was speaking about the natural world, not the scientific process. And I keep hearing these assertions about what science is doing, but never see anything solid actually mentioned. Again, I love science. My shelves are lined with books on QM, String Theory, Big Bang Cosmology, Anthropic Fine-tuning, Artificial Intelligence, Biomimicry, and yes, even Evolutionary Biology. The more science I read, the stronger my faith grows.

Papa: The sheer elegance of E=mc2 is in its obvious simplicity. Newton's three laws of motion or the laws of energy conservation, in hindsight, are so simple and elegant. What's more they are repeatable, consistent, predictive as surely as putting a spaceship on Mars. It sure beats praying as a form of planning that the rocket will fly to Mars.

Alex: Oh, I agree with the elegance and simplicity, and even beauty, of some of the natural laws. And it is exactly what I would expect, were there a Mind behind the creation, wanting us to comprehend it. This doesn't mean that everything *within* the natural world is actually simple though - quite the opposite.

Papa: Scholarship in christian theology, by comparison, peaked at around the end of the Late Middle Ages [that is, at the end of the Dark Ages], and has been going down hill ever since.

Alex: You are clueless. Christian philosophy of religion and philosophical theology are peaking now. Even atheist philosophers like Quentin Smith recognize this.

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: “Think of a possible finding that can't *possibly* be given a naturalistic explanation. Let's see if your statement is even in principle falsifiable. Please do try. This isn't a taunt. I'd really like you to start flesching out some of these bold (and IMO, seemingly absurd) statements you are making.”

Well, previously I had written: “I think that my assertion [we may find natural explanations for virtually all phenomena] has meaning -- it can be tested, we can make predictions from it, etc. It can be disproved.”

Two things here. I suspend belief in the supernatural largely because a) in those instances where the supernatural is well defined it is disproved, and b) it is not well-defined enough to have meaning – and by that I mean, roughly, that it appears to be better represented as either a brute fact (existence) or the placeholder “we don’t know.”

So, what I meant when I said that the thesis that we may find natural explanations for all phenomena could be disproved, I meant that should the supernaturalist overcome my reasons for suspending belief in the supernatural above then I think that would disprove my thesis.

I can’t think of a similar scenario for the supernaturalist, for the reasons I mentioned earlier.

But you asked for me to flesh out what this would look like, so let me try:

Supernaturalist: “A supernatural entity is a personal agent that can interact with the natural world, but cannot be directly detected (empirically).* As an agent, this supernatural entity has characteristics that make his interaction with the natural world predictable, and they are this and this. So, if we do things that elicit a reaction from an agent with the characteristics of this and this, we should expect these results.”

* I am NOT a supernaturalist, so please try and refrain from criticizing my definition of the supernatural – instead, I invite you to fix it (in a way that doesn’t fall prey to the reasons I currently suspend belief in the supernatural, above). I truly just don’t know what is being offered as a definition for the supernatural by anyone who claims to be a theist, so I’m guessing here, and I don’t hope to avoid the common pitfall where a theist criticizes me for putting forth, as a way of furthering the discussion, what they will not.

For an example of this kind of test effected (and one that would persuade me), see I Kings 18.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony : Two things here. I suspend belief in the supernatural largely because a) in those instances where the supernatural is well defined it is disproved, and b) it is not well-defined enough to have meaning – and by that I mean, roughly, that it appears to be better represented as either a brute fact (existence) or the placeholder “we don’t know.”

Alex: In order to defend your statement w/regards to falsifiability, simply think of a potential situation where such would not be better represented by a brute fact or call for professing ignorance. And the definition game works both ways. Many argue that there is no adequate definition of the "natural" or the "material" or even "matter".

Tony: I meant that should the supernaturalist overcome my reasons for suspending belief in the supernatural above then I think that would disprove my thesis.

Alex: This is too subjective and has nothing to do with falsifiability. Falsifiability or a hypothesis being disproven, can't boil down
to whether or not you're individually subjectively convinced. That's not what its about, and if it was, it certainly couldn't be any criterion for meaning in any objective sense. If that's the case, you might as well just say "I'm not convinced" (which we all already know). All sorts of people have different background beliefs and epistemic frameworks to where different things convince different people. One man might believe God was revealed in a dream, another obviously not. One man might be convinced by an angel appearing in mid-day right in front of his face in waking consciousness and saying “Believe in the Lord”. Another might interpret this as an hallucination. Keeping things vague and subjective like this simply allows anyone to move the goal posts.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony -

I don’t get your definition of the supernatural, esp. as it seems to involve prediction, which seems an odd category to impose on a personal agent, no? Maybe I’m misreading you. Really though, we can make this easy and avoid that controvery. You made the statement “the success of the scientific methods has inclined a great many people to imagine that we will find natural explanations for virtually all phenomena."

I suppose you are one of these people so inclined. You then told me the statement had meaning for various reasons - one of which was that it can be disproven. Simply give a hypothetical example of a potential concrete discovery that could in principle falsify this statement. And not something like "oh, anything that would convince *me* that God/spirits/angels were real", or "proof that God exists". Give me an example of soemthing that might occur, that would fall into those broad categories, and would disprove the notion that *all phenomena can be given natural explanations*. Seems like a pretty easy task at first glance.

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: “One man might be convinced by an angel appearing in mid-day right in front of his face in waking consciousness and saying “Believe in the Lord”. Another might interpret this as an hallucination. Keeping things vague and subjective like this simply allows anyone to move the goal posts.”

I agree. But my inability to come up a working hypothesis for how the existence of how only the natural exists might very well be a failing of the concept of the supernatural. Seeing as how I am not a supernaturalist, this does not seriously deflate me.

Alex: “Many argue that there is no adequate definition of the "natural" or the "material" or even "matter".”

I define the natural as all that can be detected empirically, or that has an empirical effect. While this may be deficient in some ways (I’m not yet sure where), it seems adequate, especially when compared with the (non)definition for the supernatural.

Alex: “I don’t get your definition of the supernatural, esp. as it seems to involve prediction, which seems an odd category to impose on a personal agent, no?”

Well, two things: I am not a supernaturalist, so I find it hard to come up with a definition for something that I can’t make sense of. That is why I wrote, “I am NOT a supernaturalist, so please try and refrain from criticizing my definition of the supernatural – instead, I invite you to fix it (in a way that doesn’t fall prey to the reasons I currently suspend belief in the supernatural, above).” Also, the personal agent thing was my stab at trying to figure out what could make something supernatural. I do think that agents (especially perfect ones) should evince characteristics that result in some level of predictability. All loving agents should seem all-loving in a discernible way, otherwise why bother giving them that characteristic?

Alex: “Give me an example of soemthing that might occur, that would fall into those broad categories, and would disprove the notion that *all phenomena can be given natural explanations*. Seems like a pretty easy task at first glance.”

Which is why I referred to I Kings 18 above. Although I realize that the test there doesn’t amount to a disproof, I would find it very persuasive.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: I define the natural as all that can be detected empirically, or that has an empirical effect. While this may be deficient in some ways (I’m not yet sure where), it seems adequate, especially when compared with the (non)definition for the supernatural.

Alex: I'll get to the other stuff later. Actually have to make it seem like I'm getting some work done today.

Now, according to this above definition, let us suppose Jesus returns from heaven, to your neighborhood, riding a comet. Comet crashes into a culdesac, he hops off. People run up, touch him, feel him. He heals some folks, walks across a pond, multiplies ice cream cones for the kids, etc. You can touch him, weigh him, see him, converse with him; you can detect him empirically, and he has an empirical effect. Is this a natural event?

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: "Now, according to this above definition, let us suppose Jesus returns from heaven, to your neighborhood, riding a comet. Comet crashes into a culdesac, he hops off. People run up, touch him, feel him. He heals some folks, walks across a pond, multiplies ice cream cones for the kids, etc. You can touch him, weigh him, see him, converse with him; you can detect him empirically, and he has an empirical effect. Is this a natural event?"

I love this question because I think it gets to the heart of the problem.

This event has all kinds of empirical effects. I’d ask those who are supernaturalists to offer an explanation of the supernatural that explains the causes (and possibly the effects) of this event better than “we don’t know” and doesn’t repeat the information we have from the empirical data.

For instance, I’d say that the explanation that “Jesus didn’t get burned from re-entry because he’s supernatural” is not a better explanation than “we don’t know how Jesus didn’t get burned.” And I’d say that “I can touch Jesus, therefore he’s supernatural” is not a better explanation than “I can touch Jesus, therefore he’s real.”

So, for me, this gets back to asking, what does a belief in the supernatural get us? How is it meaningful?

Until I hear an answer better than the ones I can provide, I will remain an a-supernaturalist.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: I love this question....

Alex: LOL, then why won't you answer it? So is it a natural event or not?

Alex Dalton said...

With 1 Kings 18, not only can we come up with many possible naturalistic explanations, but many have even ventured to do so (even the most conservative biblical commentators): 1) Lightning; violent and spontaneous thunderstorms appear frequently on Mt Carmel even to this day, and it has the highest total rainfall of any area in Israel (hence Carmel means “garden land”). With Elijah’s pouring of the water, wood and stone, when wet actually become better attractors of lightning, and the altars were probably at or near the top of the mountain (lighting usually striking the nearest highest point – or point of least resistance) . 2) Mass hallucination, given the religious fervor of the event, and the way the crowd is psychologically primed. 3) A combination of 1 and 2. 4) Instead of water poured by Elijah on the wood and around the trench, a spontaneously combusting substance like naptha was poured down. Some have suggested that a reflector was used. Think about it. If you saw a magician pull of such a feat today, you would be impressed but not posit the supernatural. So nothing in principle makes it physically impossible for this to be such a trick. We could get into naturalistic scenarios involving multiverses and time-travelling aliens if necessary, but I’ll put that off. Point being – naturalistic explanations are not difficult to conjure for this event (or really any). So I don’t see how this example could potentially falsify your statement.

Papalinton said...

The moment a theist invokes the 'supernatural' you know they are off with the fairies.

Once they quote from the christian book of mythology [1 Kings 18,] as the primary source for their evidence, you know they are replicating the exact same process when one refers to the books on Harry Potter to explain the reality of Hogwarts, or to describe what the Death-Eaters look like and their special powers.

Referral to the two books is exactly the same process. The only difference is, one story was written in the 90s, the other in the 1990s. Nothing more. Nothing less.
End of story.

Alex Dalton said...

Papa: The moment a theist invokes the 'supernatural' you know they are off with the fairies.

Alex: Hahahahah....Papa, you really do make me laugh (and I don't mean that in a condescending way). "off with the fairies"...that is classic.

Really though - please read the exchange. Tony brought up Kings saying he would be convinced by such a scenario, were it to actually happen; I'm actually arguing that it is *not* a good example of something that resists naturalistic explanation.

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: "Alex: LOL, then why won't you answer it? So is it a natural event or not?"

I said that there were elements of the natural in it. And certainly there are elements that can't be explained naturally, at least not yet. So, I'd say that there were natural events, and some unexplained events. Those babies are up in the air, waiting to be claimed by naturalists (to provide a better answer than "I don't know"), and supernaturalists, who should provide a better answer than "this explanation that provides no more information than 'I don't know'."

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: I said that there were elements of the natural in it. And certainly there are elements that can't be explained naturally, at least not yet. So, I'd say that there were natural events, and some unexplained events. Those babies are up in the air, waiting to be claimed by naturalists (to provide a better answer than "I don't know"), and supernaturalists, who should provide a better answer than "this explanation that provides no more information than 'I don't know'."

Alex: So basically, for you, there can really *be* no evidence of the supernatural. There's only the potential for the natural, and stuff we don't know. So if Jesus flew into your neighborhood on a comet and performed miracles, saying "I am the Son of God and I have returned", rather than call him Lord, you'd just say "I can't explain this."

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: "So basically, for you, there can really *be* no evidence of the supernatural. There's only the potential for the natural, and stuff we don't know. So if Jesus flew into your neighborhood on a comet and performed miracles, saying "I am the Son of God and I have returned", rather than call him Lord, you'd just say "I can't explain this." "

Well, no, I don't think's quite accurate. I said before that I Kings 18 seemed pretty powerful to me, and I'd certainly consider that good evidence that something more than natural forces were at work. Certainly, your Jesus meteor story is even better. And I do think that if Jesus did what you said, and went about not only doing what we don't understand but defying what we do, then that would be persuasive evidence for the supernatural.

So my question back to you is, why would Jehovah provide empirical evidence for his powers, and Jesus be basically a case study for a supernatural being making himself known empirically, but such demonstrations are pooh-poohed today by Christians as somehow beneath God's dignity, the nature of the supernatural, etc.?  

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: Well, no, I don't think's quite accurate. I said before that I Kings 18 seemed pretty powerful to me, and I'd certainly consider that good evidence that something more than natural forces were at work.

Alex: Did you read my naturalistic analysis of 1 Kings above? Please do. It shows that 1 Kings fails as a potential falsification/disproof of your "meaningful" statement.

Tony: Certainly, your Jesus meteor story is even better. And I do think that if Jesus did what you said, and went about not only doing what we don't understand but defying what we do, then that would be persuasive evidence for the supernatural.

Alex: You seem to be contradicting yourself. Now its persuasive evidence for the supernatural. A post ago it was just "natural events, and some unexplained events". I'm confused.

Tony: ...but such demonstrations are pooh-poohed today by Christians as somehow beneath God's dignity, the nature of the supernatural, etc.?

Alex: I don't get the question. Who pooh-poohs such demonstrations?

GREV said...

Tony H. commented --
"So my question back to you is, why would Jehovah provide empirical evidence for his powers, and Jesus be basically a case study for a supernatural being making himself known empirically, but such demonstrations are pooh-poohed today by Christians as somehow beneath God's dignity, the nature of the supernatural, etc.? "

I would agree that does happen in some quarters but for probably different reasons then you. Then probably some similarities too.

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: “Did you read my naturalistic analysis of 1 Kings above? Please do. It shows that 1 Kings fails as a potential falsification/disproof of your "meaningful" statement.”

Alex: “You seem to be contradicting yourself. Now its persuasive evidence for the supernatural. A post ago it was just "natural events, and some unexplained events". I'm confused.”

Well, let’s not conflate everything I’ve said as a reply to one question. I think I was describing the components of the events for the scenario you described, because it seems that the total scenario did not fit neatly into one category or another.

Also, it seems to me that you are asking two questions to me – you seem to be asking 1) what would disprove that naturalism sufficiently explains all phenomena? (which I agree is a slippery bar to grasp), and 2) what would be sufficient for me to stop being an a-supernaturalist? I think my answer makes sense in that I would need something that I could perceive (natural events), and that some of those events should be unexplainable (or better, defy) natural explanations.

Alex: “I don't get the question. Who pooh-poohs such demonstrations?”

Really? Are you unaware that some Christians contend that one cannot (should not?) test for the existence of God?
http://www.rationalchristianity.net/proof.html#doubt

GREV said...

Tony -- "So, for me, this gets back to asking, what does a belief in the supernatural get us? How is it meaningful? "

I'm struck by some recent physics reading that tells me that consciousness underlies the reality we see.

If I believe God is Pure Consciousness then belief in the Supernatural becomes quite interesting and meaningful.

Tony Hoffman said...

GREV: "I'm struck by some recent physics reading that tells me that consciousness underlies the reality we see. If I believe God is Pure Consciousness then belief in the Supernatural becomes quite interesting and meaningful."

I don't get it yet. Could you explain what you mean by that? (I have a feeling that we're using different definitions of the word meaningful, but maybe not.)

By meaningful, I usually mean, What practical difference does it make? and, How is this difference detected? Anyway, something along that line.

BenYachov said...

Tony Hoffman,

Could it be you are an unconscious believer in the idea that only empirical evidence is meaningful?

Of course any "god" you find in a scientific experiment is not worth worshiping and would disprove every classic monotheistic religion.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/03/scientism-roundup.html

Philosophy is the premier natural knowledge. Science is only a mere subset of that.

Tony Hoffman said...

BenYachov,

Could be, but I don't think so. I believe that axioms are meaningful, for instance, because it makes a practical difference whether or not we accept them. And I don't believe that axioms are empirical.

BenYachov said...

@Tony

Because I believe God is a philosophical issue not an empirical one. Atheists who try to sell me on the idea I must empirically prove God are to me no different than Protestants who try to sell me on the idea I must prove every Catholic doctrine by appealing to the Bible alone. The issue between Catholics like me & Protestant is the Bible alone the sole rule of faith or is it the Bible and something else(Tradition, Churchetc)

Analogously the real issue between Atheist vs Theists is science alone the only meaningful way to truth or is it science + philosophy.

That's how I see it anyway.

>Could be, but I don't think so...etc

Your a stand up guy Tony. Thank you for the straight answer.

Papalinton said...

Hi Ben Yachov
You say to Tony: "Because I believe God is a philosophical issue not an empirical one. "

PapaL
With which if this were the case then I would have no grievance or criticism of what one believes. However no christian has ever restricted or confined his god as simply 'philosophical'. Indeed this god of yours can and does purportedly physically influence and control the natural world. And that is the point at which atheist challenges are actuated.
It makes any statement about your god as being 'philosophical' only is rhetoric.
If indeed this is the case, that god is a 'philosophical issue and not an empirical one', then that statement puts the lie to all that christian theists say about the direct causal linkages between an active entity capable of suspending natural laws of physics in order to manifest his 'presence'.

So despite your sham words, I do not think there are any christians who would subscribe to such a 'hands off' god. Indeed this would be tantamount to 'deism' rather than theism.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: Well, let’s not conflate everything I’ve said as a reply to one question. I think I was describing the components of the events for the scenario you described, because it seems that the total scenario did not fit neatly into one category or another.

Alex: Hmmm…Tony, in your first response, yes, you are describing components – but the only categories you use to explain these components are “natural” and “unexplained”. You write: “For instance, I’d say that the explanation that ‘Jesus didn’t get burned from re-entry because he’s supernatural’ is not a better explanation than ‘we don’t know how Jesus didn’t get burned.’ So here it seems you are clearly preferring “unexplained” to supernatural in an instance that seems to defy current ability to explain naturalistically. You even end with “So, for me, this gets back to asking, what does a belief in the supernatural get us? How is it meaningful?”. And that’s all we get regarding the whole scenario. It seems pretty obvious that *that* post does not at all favor a resort to the supernatural regarding the scenario I presented. And your recent one does. You don’t see any problems with consistency here?

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: Also, it seems to me that you are asking two questions to me – you seem to be asking 1) what would disprove that naturalism sufficiently explains all phenomena? (which I agree is a slippery bar to grasp),

Alex: It seems “naturalism sufficiently explains all phenomena” is quite obviously unfalsifiable, not just slippery. And falsifiability was one of *your* criteria for meaningfulness. But I challenge you to show me otherwise. I can always come up with a potential naturalistic explanation.

Tony: and 2) what would be sufficient for me to stop being an a-supernaturalist? I think my answer makes sense in that I would need something that I could perceive (natural events), and that some of those events should be unexplainable (or better, defy) natural explanations.

Alex: The problem here is the same as the above, and now we come to the point of this whole exercise: ***given your criteria***, in principle, it would be impossible for you to be convinced of anything supernatural. Why? Because I can always give a naturalistic explanation for any phenomena.

Tony:
Really? Are you unaware that some Christians contend that one cannot (should not?) test for the existence of God?

http://www.rationalchristianity.net/proof.html#doubt

Alex: Skimmed it and largely agree with it. There can't really be *proof* IMO, and they are arguing along lines very similar to my own. But I believe God can and has instantiated his own forms of authentication during specific periods of history. Being able to test God in a laboratory is a different matter. As John Polkinghorne says, He has the freedom of disclosure.

BenYachov said...

Really Paps nobody has to know about the Wii. You can get your own Xbox 360 then you will finally be cool.
The nightmare will be finally over.

Papalinton said...

Hi ben
"Xbox 360"

Yes. The imaginary world within the Xbox 360 each night after work 'til all hours. And then the big surround-sound Xbox 360 show each and every Sunday.
Yes the images merge from one virtual reality to the other. At least there is consistency.

Papalinton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Papalinton said...

@ Alex Dalton

"Alex: It seems “naturalism sufficiently explains all phenomena” is quite obviously unfalsifiable, not just slippery. And falsifiability was one of *your* criteria for meaningfulness. But I challenge you to show me otherwise. I can always come up with a potential naturalistic explanation."

PapaL
No. Naturalism sufficiently explains phenomena. So unlike theism, naturalism and naturalists have never claimed to know everything. Indeed they make a point of distinguishing this fact. What is claimed is that naturalism is sufficiently capable of explaining the world as we know it. Where it has been able to explain the evidentiary material is overwhelming in support.

How often Alex, during a discussion with friends that, one friend will be describing or explaining something and they stop mid-sentence, and you go on to complete the sentence or the idea for them? It really is very common. And they might say 'exactly', or they might say, 'no that's not what I mean'. The brain cannot stand open issues or problems. The brain must have a sense of closure and completeness. So our brains fill in the gaps, no matter with what, so that there is closure, a satisfactory sense of completion. If the mind does not do this, no matter what, then this condition of 'loose ends' or incompletion leads to cognitive dissonance. [cont.]

Papalinton said...

@ Alex Dalton [cont.2]


And if as you testify, " I can always come up with a potential naturalistic explanation", given the track record of the sciences, whether medical, physical, cosmological, sociological, anthropological, psychological, etc, why would you want to look anywhere else as the first step?
The tradition of theism attempts to immunize itself to change. However its continuing battle in trying to hold ground against the repeated incursions of naturalistic explanations is a no-brainer drubbing. One does not have to prove a negative. One must *assume* a negative.
Read my lips: There .... is ..... no .... super....... natural. It is a mental construction formed within the mind map of the brain, called metaphysics, a process the brain employs to close the gaps in understanding.

Now we know that 2,000-plus years go, humanity has no where near the level of knowledge and understanding about the natural and physical world as we do now, about how it works. In that context, religion was born. Religion was our VERY FIRST ATTEMPT at trying to explain the world, how we fitted into that world the cosmos and our relationship with our environment. Given the exponential growth of our understanding why would we wish to continue viewing that world through the eyes of magic, myth and superstition? To do so is a reversion to childhood, a refusal to accept the need to grow, to remain in the childhood of humanity's past, to be 'born-again'.

As one wag put, "To be born again? No thanks. I got it right the first time."

Cheers

GREV said...

Tony -- Many thanks for posting your response.

GREV: "I'm struck by some recent physics reading that tells me that consciousness underlies the reality we see. If I believe God is Pure Consciousness then belief in the Supernatural becomes quite interesting and meaningful."

I don't get it yet. Could you explain what you mean by that? (I have a feeling that we're using different definitions of the word meaningful, but maybe not.)

By meaningful, I usually mean, What practical difference does it make? and, How is this difference detected? Anyway, something along that line.

Tony -- Perhaps we are using meaningful in somewhat different ways. Good point.

Your comments got me thinking that if there is some sort of underlying consciousness or structure to the reality that we observe -- as underscored by the observations of physicists through some experiments -- then I think several practical difference matters arise out of it.

A strict physicalist or naturalist or materialist approach – recognizing overlap between all three – cannot account totally for knowledge. There is some sort of other reality and if there is it should be important to understand that. That to me seems to be an immensely important practical difference that directly impacts one's life.

Maybe I am not expressing that properly. Probably not so please excuse me.

Science is wonderful, yet each age is replete with people claiming that scinece has already brought us all the advances we will ever need. Thinking of a quote by Augustine from the 4th century along that line.

So, is there a truth that makes even a more practical difference then science, which can help improve our lives butt cannot tell us how we are supposed to live? Answering therefore the ultimate explanation questions that science cannot answer. Now I know there are some reading this who will disagree including some in particular who are quick to go on and on about the beauty of science to answer all.

No, science is beautiful and wonderful but it does not provide all the answers. Especially to questions like what does it mean to be good? And the list could go on ....

Up front, I believe in the God of Christian Theism. But I also believe this God is also beyond the revelation I have received in the Scripture and through my personal encounter with this God.

So, when I say God in the final understanding of God is Pure Consciousness then God is somehow a Being in which exists all properties of Goodness, Life, .... everything we can know in part but this Being Knows Totally. So such a Being is both Knowable and Unknowable. So all are attempts to understand will never bring a complete knowledge of God in this life and somehow a person will either accept or reject that.

So, when physicists talk of a Consciousness that underlies the reality we observe then I think that is interesting and exciting. It tells us there are hints and direct evidence of God around us. On a practical difference making level it means this physical reality is not all there is and we are not alone.

So is this difference detected completely by science alone. No it cannot be because science cannot comment on the supernatural according to a scientific organization and I agree with that. Science can give us this intriquing hint.

For eyes to see and detect we must come to the place of admitting we are blind. We see incompletely. Only a Pure Being in the Supernatural Realm can help us comprehend and detect more fully the supernatural.
What practical difference does this make? I believe it tells me that I was made for so much more then just to reproduce myself and use resources and then die. I have said elsewhere that atheism is devoid of inspiration. Dawkins would say Welcome to the Greatest Show on Earth.

I will say welcome to the Show and come discover the One who put it all together.

BenYachov said...

The shame of having a Wii clearly weights heavy on Paps.

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: “Hmmm…Tony, in your first response, yes, you are describing components – but the only categories you use to explain these components are “natural” and “unexplained”. You write: “For instance, I’d say that the explanation that ‘Jesus didn’t get burned from re-entry because he’s supernatural’ is not a better explanation than ‘we don’t know how Jesus didn’t get burned.’ So here it seems you are clearly preferring “unexplained” to supernatural in an instance that seems to defy current ability to explain naturalistically.

Several things. To say that something is “not better” is not to express a preference. It can also mean that one thing is not better than the other. For me, a warm chocolate chip cookie is not better than a slice of homemade pie. I like them both equally. And that is how I meant it – I think that the naturally unexplained and the supernaturally explained offer the same quality of meaningful explanation.

But you are correct that in some ways I prefer the label of “unexplained” to supernatural when both offer me the same quality of explanation. That’s because the unexplained tends, preponderantly, to eventually be explained by investigation of the natural, and the supernatural inevitably seems to merely wallow. So while I agree that there are many things for which natural and supernatural explanations both seem to offer no explanation better than “we don’t know,” I do think the investigation of the natural is the more likely method to arrive at a good explanation.

Alex: “You even end with “So, for me, this gets back to asking, what does a belief in the supernatural get us? How is it meaningful?”. And that’s all we get regarding the whole scenario. It seems pretty obvious that *that* post does not at all favor a resort to the supernatural regarding the scenario I presented. And your recent one does. You don’t see any problems with consistency here?”

No, I don’t see where my recent post “resorts” to the supernatural, although without a direct citation I’m not sure what in particular lead you to think that. I have been trying to be clear throughout. I don’t think I’ve been bashful about the fact that I’m not a supernaturalist, for instance.

I have to point out at this point that I think it would help if you could supply some kind of definition for the supernatural. I have supplied my working definitions for the natural and what I think is meant by the supernatural. In my experience a lot of these discussions get bogged down because of misunderstandings over definitions.

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: “It seems “naturalism sufficiently explains all phenomena” is quite obviously unfalsifiable, not just slippery. And falsifiability was one of *your* criteria for meaningfulness. But I challenge you to show me otherwise. I can always come up with a potential naturalistic explanation.”

I don’t believe that I’ve used the term falsifiability here – please show me if I need to be corrected. (But if you mean that I proposed that one could demonstrate that natural explanations were not sufficient to explain all phenomena, that sounds like a hypothesis to me so I would agree that falsifiability is inherent in that proposal – so if that’s what you mean by falsifiabilty being one of my criteria, don’t bother.)

Well, I do wonder if you can come up with a potential naturalistic explanation for spontaneous generation, for instance. Or anything that provides evidence that the universe is not the product of mindless forces. I believe that natural explanations are the best explanation for exactly what we see, and it seems to me that were we to find phenomena that defied explanation by mindless forces, then one could disprove the hypothesis that all phenomena can be naturally explained. So while I agree that this is potentially flawed argument on my part, I’m not absolutely sure that the flaws are fatal.

Tony Hoffman said...

Btw, I'm still enjoying this discussion, at least partly because I think I've never come at the philosophical underpinnings of the debate from the bottom-up like this -- I think I previously understood the debate having entered it from the side, and it's interesting to go through the exercise of starting from the ground up, if you will. I have a feeling we're going to end up with the same positions, but I think I'll understand everyone's stance better having gotten there from this path.

Tony Hoffman said...

GREV, I agree with you that there I experience a sense of wonder and awe and reeling of the mind over the fact of existence, experiences which are largely ineffable to me.

But, of course, the religious and the scientific do try to express these things in a way that makes more sense. I would only say that scientists seem better at describing reality, and that I suffer from no lack of awe and wonder from their description, and find those of the religious (so far that I've come across) to be unsatisfying.

My only real quibble with your post is that I think, from what I've read of excerpts, that Sam Harris lays out an interesting case for how science could investigate what it means to be good.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: I think that the naturally unexplained and the supernaturally explained offer the same quality of meaningful explanation.

Alex: I don't think that's true, in *your* opinion, given what you've said. Or maybe you've changed your mind in the course of this thread. If you remain consistent to what you've said, here's why I don't think you hold this:

1. You obviousy prefer naturalistic "I don't knows"s to supernatural "God did it"s.

2. You wrote: "the success of the scientific methods has inclined a great many people to imagine that we will find natural explanations for virtually all phenomena."

"the educated can reasonably expect that application of scientific methods will find explanations for all events that were commonly thought of as being supernatural."

and...

"So, yup, the success of science in explanation, and the failure of supernatural belief to hold up to this onslaught, does discredit supernatural belief in general."

So, you hold that "i don't know" and "God did it" are of the same quality of "meaningful explanation", yet you prefer "I don't know", think educated people are justified in holding that all supernatural explanations will find naturalistic answers eventually, and think supernatural belief in general has been discredited. Seems you've been trying to make a case that supernatural explanations are of inferior quality. Can you see why I'm confused. More later...haven't had much time to post. Enjoying the convo as well.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: But you are correct that in some ways I prefer the label of “unexplained” to supernatural when both offer me the same quality of explanation. That’s because the unexplained tends, preponderantly, to eventually be explained by investigation of the natural, and the supernatural inevitably seems to merely wallow. So while I agree that there are many things for which natural and supernatural explanations both seem to offer no explanation better than “we don’t know,” I do think the investigation of the natural is the more likely method to arrive at a good explanation.

Alex: Responded before reading this. But these are very obviously arguments for the superior quality of naturalistic explanations, and the propriety of reserving judgement until they are found, if presently lacking.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony:No, I don’t see where my recent post “resorts” to the supernatural, although without a direct citation I’m not sure what in particular lead you to think that. I have been trying to be clear throughout. I don’t think I’ve been bashful about the fact that I’m not a supernaturalist, for instance.

Alex: Tony, in my hypothetical scenario you concede: " And I do think that if Jesus did what you said, and went about not only doing what we don't understand but defying what we do, then that would be persuasive evidence for the supernatural." That doesn't make you a supernaturalist - of course not. But why aren't you holding to your guns and just saying "We don't know", this can be explained naturalistically, if not, we will find a better naturalistic explanation for this in the future, and supernatural explanations have been discredited? That is your stance, up until that point in the thread.

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: “But these are very obviously arguments for the superior quality of naturalistic explanations, and the propriety of reserving judgement until they are found, if presently lacking.”

Well, I began by asking to provide a definition of the supernatural that doesn’t fall prey to these two criteria:

Me: “I suspend belief in the supernatural largely because a) in those instances where the supernatural is well defined it is disproved, and b) it is not well-defined enough to have meaning – and by that I mean, roughly, that it appears to be better represented as either a brute fact (existence) or the placeholder “we don’t know.”

For instance, it was once thought that mental illness was the result of demonic possession. Nowadays, we attribute mental illness to pathologies in the brain. Here we have a case of the supernatural explanation providing none of the attributes we expect of good explanations, and the natural explanation exhibiting the attributes we expect of good explanations (testability, matches with background knowledge, isn’t ad hoc, leads to other insights, etc.). I think that the natural explanation is clearly to be preferred over the supernatural explanation.

Now, with a question like, “how did life first begin,” we have two approaches that I think are unsatisfying. And though I am less than a dilettante in regards to this question, it is my understanding that there are still some voids for which the natural explanations are basically (like the old cartoon), “and then a miracle occurs.” But, of course, that is the same as the supernatural explanation.

Alex: “But these are very obviously arguments for the superior quality of naturalistic explanations, and the propriety of reserving judgement until they are found, if presently lacking.”

Yes. Do you disagree with that?

Alex: “But why aren't you holding to your guns and just saying "We don't know", this can be explained naturalistically, if not, we will find a better naturalistic explanation for this in the future, and supernatural explanations have been discredited? That is your stance, up until that point in the thread.”

Because the example you gave provides evidence for the supernatural: Jesus returns (I am assuming, for the sake of argument, that there is some way to make this undisputable), he flies through space, lands on a meteor without being destroyed, heals people, etc. This is all evidence that doesn’t just lack a good natural explanation, but defies what natural explanations tell us can occur.

I have to keep on asking, can you provide your definition for the supernatural?

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: ““But why aren't you holding to your guns and just saying "We don't know", this can be explained naturalistically, if not, we will find a better naturalistic explanation for this in the future, and supernatural explanations have been discredited?”

Just some tidying up here: saying that one is an a-supernaturalist does not entail being a naturalist. I think that there is a tendency among theists to assume that skeptics work from the assumption that the supernatural cannot exist and work forward from there. In my experience, that is not the case. I am an a-supernaturalist for the reasons explained above. But stating that there is no reason to believe that the supernatural exists is not the same as deciding that the supernatural cannot exist. If anyone can put forth a coherent definition of the supernatural, and demonstrate how it provides a good explanation (one that is meaningful, and improves on “I don’t know”), then I see no reason why I or the preponderant majority of a-supernaturalists would not change our minds.

GREV said...

Tony said -- “If anyone can put forth a coherent definition of the supernatural, and demonstrate how it provides a good explanation (one that is meaningful, and improves on “I don’t know”), then I see no reason why I or the preponderant majority of a-supernaturalists would not change our minds.”

That is at first glance a very reasonable position. But it contains several problems.

First, it posits that the ability to comprehend the supernatural to the point of believing in such an idea rests in the person. I dispute that. The weakness of arguing on the basis of reason alone is revealed here. Do not get me wrong here, people are able to comprehend many things, investigate and learn and grow in their knowledge.

But such a fundamental worldview shift to embracing what I will call a Christian Supernatural Theism is not possible without a work of the Spirit in the person to alter their previous worldview and a priori commitments.

That a person might believe in a generic type of supernatural is possible and indeed is done by many.

How is a Christian Supernatural Theism meaningful? Well, lets go back to Genesis. One God, as opposed to the varied and chaotic collection of Creation stories floating around, created all that we see.
So order and meaning is offered tto a species, us, who seeks order and meaning.

Meaningful in that He sustains the world and we can investigate this world through the faculty of reasoning that we were created with. A belief in a Rational Being that created the world motivated and still motivates many to find meaning in the lives that they live.
One could develop the list further but enough for now.

I posit a worldview in which people cannot come to believe unless God works on and in their lives. Human reasoning while valuable is not enough.

Unless we can be brought to see that we are in need of God I cannot see a person ever finding God to be meaningful on the basis of their reasoning and experience.