Saturday, December 26, 2015

McGrew on Undesigned Coincidences

Here. 

29 comments:

BeingItself said...

I go back and forth on whether this feeble silliness or the trilemma is the worst apologetic argument of all time.

Victor Reppert said...

Well, I suppose you have a critique of this argument all ready to go.

Thomas Larsen said...

BeingItself,

Can you elaborate?

BeingItself said...

In a previous thread, McGrew summarizes his argument:

"The undesigned coincidences among the gospels provide a cumulative case that at numerous points the authors of the gospels were faithfully and independently reporting actual events rather than merely copying one another or engaging in mythic elaborations."

That is an egregious leap of logic.

The so called "undesigned coincidences" merely show that the authors shared a common source, not that the common source was an accurate report.

A recent event will illustrate my point. Numerous news sources reported that seven school kids drowned in the school during the tornado. Some sources mentioned a basement, others mentioned a broken water pipe, and so on. Taken together, these stories all add up to a plausible scenario.

But the children did not drown. The various news reports were all based on the same false report.

Steelwheels said...

@BeingItself, but the seven children did die?

BeingItself said...

Yes, the children died, but that does not help the argument.

According to McGrew's reasoning, because one story said the children drowned, another mentioned a basement, and another mentioned a water main break - that all that "hangs together" and has "the ring of truth".

So according to McGrew we could conclude that the reporters were faithfully and independently reporting actual events.

But they were not reporting actual events. They just had a common mistaken source. The same could account for the alleged coincidences in the Gospels.

So McGrew's argument is an abject failure.

Donald Clyburn said...

What was the source of the drowning accounts? People in the building that were rescued/found afterwards?

Daniel Anderson said...

I've heard McGrew's lectures on undesigned coincidences before. He normally states that they are part of the cumulative case for the historicity of the gospels, not the whole of the cumulative case. Some of these "common stories" that they shared had to be pretty intricate to simply write it off as a common source, and it doesn't actually make sense when talking about some of the accounts, like Phillip being from Bethsaida.

Aragorn said...

BeingItself said...

" Yes, the children died, but that does not help the argument.

According to McGrew's reasoning, because one story said the children drowned, another mentioned a basement, and another mentioned a water main break - that all that "hangs together" and has "the ring of truth".

So according to McGrew we could conclude that the reporters were faithfully and independently reporting actual events.

But they were not reporting actual events. They just had a common mistaken source. The same could account for the alleged coincidences in the Gospels.

So McGrew's argument is an abject failure."

Game, set and match. Nothing beats conjecture than an actual counter-example.

Tim said...

Aragorn writes:

"Game, set and match. Nothing beats conjecture than an actual counter-example."

The argument is non-deductive, so a single counterexample would not show the form of reasoning to be unreasonable.

BeingItself writes:

"According to McGrew's reasoning, because one story said the children drowned, another mentioned a basement, and another mentioned a water main break - that all that 'hangs together' and has 'the ring of truth'."

Actually, that collection of details doesn't hang together all that well, though I suppose the combination of "basement" and drowning has some modest explanatory coherence. But let that pass.

BeingItself continues:

"So according to McGrew we could conclude that the reporters were faithfully and independently reporting actual events."

Here we have complete and utter failure to understand the non-deductive, cumulative nature of the argument. The most one could claim from a single such example is that it provides some modest evidence in favor of the truth of the event.

BeingItself writes:

"The so called 'undesigned coincidences' merely show that the authors shared a common source, not that the common source was an accurate report."

The question, of course, is whether that common source was some other story or was the source we commonly refer to as reality. In a good number of these cases, we have no reason to believe, and in some cases good reason not to believe, that the authors are following a common written source document; vide the intersections with respect to Philip, or the season of the feeding of the 5,000, or Herod Antipas's comment to his servants.

Aragorn said...

Tim writes:

"The argument is non-deductive, so a single counterexample would not show the form of reasoning to be unreasonable."

Certainly. But are you really incapable of extrapolating this scenario? Is this such a unique set of circumstances that no amount of extrapolation is possible?


Tim writes:

"The question, of course, is whether that common source was some other story or was the source we commonly refer to as reality. In a good number of these cases, we have no reason to believe, and in some cases good reason not to believe, that the authors are following a common written source document; vide the intersections with respect to Philip, or the season of the feeding of the 5,000, or Herod Antipas's comment to his servants. "

But as you can see, McGrew's "Undesigned Coincidences" is impotent in answering this. Alone then, it's an impotent tool to recognize historicity.

Victor Reppert said...

But it isn't supposed to stand alone, is it? You can say that about lots of arguments, that they don't solve the issue standing alone.

BeingItself said...

Tim writes:

"The question, of course, is whether that common source was some other story or was the source we commonly refer to as reality."

Correct.

Let's focus on Transfiguration of Jesus. Please make an argument that the alleged "undesigned coincidences" in the various accounts are evidence that the accounts refer to a real event rather than evidence that the accounts are from a common non-historical story.

Good luck!

Tim said...

BeingItself,

You write:

"Let's focus on Transfiguration of Jesus. Please make an argument that the alleged 'undesigned coincidences' in the various accounts are evidence that the accounts refer to a real event rather than evidence that the accounts are from a common non-historical story."

Sorry -- it doesn't work that way. You don't pick your favorite story and then go cook up something that you can see with your head tilted to the side and squinting just right. Instead, you take the pieces of evidence where you find them.

In the case of the transfiguration, what renders the story believable is the weight of the evidence for the resurrection itself. Without that, the story of the transfiguration would be interesting but not, in itself, compelling. Things change if there is independent evidence that God really has intervened decisively here in human affairs.

BeingItself said...

Just as I thought. You don't have an argument. Just sophistical back flips.

Cal Metzger said...

I don't want to waste an hour listening to what sounds like to a sermon. (I've been to too many sermons.)

Does anyone know if there's a link to a written format of the presentation's content?

Victor Reppert said...

http://christianapologeticsalliance.com/2013/09/01/undesigned-coincidences/

Cal Metzger said...

@VR, thanks for the link.

Doesn't seem like there's much there, especially with the quick withdraw to a "cumulative" case for .... I'm still not sure what McGrew is overtly trying to make a case for. Is it that the authors of the NT shared cultures, mythic traditions, languages, etc? I don't think anyone denies that, nor more importantly, I don't see how writings that reflected these facts would buttress the likelihood of magic happening.

Exercises like McGrews remind me of Loch Ness monster believers culling through all the Nessie accounts, singling out their favorite seven, then holding a presentation where they point to all the mundane ways that the accounts share similarities -- describing the town around the Loch, the use of cars to travel to and from the Loch, the ways that boats float on the water, etc. -- as if any of this would lend credence to the existence of Nessie.

Another way of looking at it would like this: imagine a society that says that on some occasions they saw UFOs when they drove their cars at night. Now imagine as a demonstration for their claims, they post a 2 hour presentation reviewing all the ways that there are cars, and how they did indeed sometimes drive them at night. Would that presentation increase your belief in UFO's?




B. Prokop said...

And yet no amount of "mythic tradition" or "shared culture" could possibly explain Rufus.

Cal Metzger said...

Prokop: "And yet no amount of "mythic tradition" or "shared culture" could possibly explain Rufus."

Yes, Bob, Rufus is clearly impossible without magic.

There is no other way for me, or anyone, to imagine a Rufus without magic.

B. Prokop said...

Who said anything about magic?

Cal Metzger said...

Bob: "Who said anything about magic?"

The New Testament.

B. Prokop said...

I do believe the only mentions of "magic" in the NT are quite disparaging. In Acts, Chapter 8, we meet Simon, "who practiced magic". He attempted to purchase the power to call upon the Holy Spirit from the Apostles, and was rightly condemned for doing so. (We get the word "simony" from his name.) Chapter 13, a certain Elymas is described as a "magician". Paul says to him, "You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?" In Chapter 19, converts to Christianity "who practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all." Does not sound like "magic" is thought of favorably by the NT writers.

I know of no mention of "magic" outside of Acts in the NT. If there are any other passages, I am unaware of them.

Cal Metzger said...

Bob, you want to play semantics with the word magic on an ancient text where none of the words we are using appear?

In the NT, how does god impregnate the virgin Mary? Magic.
In the NT, how does god speak down from heaven? Magic.
in the NT, how does Jesus heal the sick, feed the masses, raise the dead, rise again? Magic.
In the NT, how does Jesus walk around among the disciples after he's risen, walk through walls, etc. ? Magic.

When does magic happen? In stories.

When does magic not happen? In reality.

You're welcome to say otherwise, but then you'll (surprise) just be telling stories.

B. Prokop said...

How is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity made incarnate?
By the power of God. No "magic" there.

How does God speak from Heaven?
Are you referring to the voice heard on 3 occasions in the Gospels? (Matthew 3:17, Mark 9:7, and John 12:28) I see no "magic" in any of these occasions.

How does Jesus heal the sick, feed the masses, raise the dead, rise again?
Well, that one's easy. He's God. No "magic" necessary.

How does Jesus walk around among the disciples after he's risen, walk through walls, etc.?
See answer to last question.

Is this the best you can do? All you're doing is defining anything God does as magic. So who's playing word games now? Argument from Definition is the easiest of games to play, after all. Why don't you just define what I do as "magic"? How did I lift that spoon just now? Magic!

Cal Metzger said...

I think you meant to write, "All THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY is doing is defining anything God does as magic.

Because, as I pointed out in another thread, the OED defines (1st definition) Magic this way: "The pretended art of influencing events, and of producing marvelous physical phenomena, by processes supposed to owe their efficacy to their power of intervention of spiritual beings..."

So, nothing wrong with the way I use magic here. Unless you want to upbraid the OED for not conforming to wishes of a group of apologists, who for some reason think that using the term "magic" with regard to their cherished stories is especially demeaning somehow.

But, of course, your problem shouldn't be with my using the word "magic." Your problem should be with my pointing out that magical events (as defined by the OED, and in the way that I use it) only happen in stories.

B. Prokop said...

Well, if all you've got is some sort of bias against "stories" and/or miracles, then I can safely declare victory and pop open the celebratory bubbly.

Cal Metzger said...

Bob, consistent standards of evidence are not considered a bias.

Ina similar way, aggressive gullibility is not considered a virtue.

---------

Bob: "...then I can safely declare victory and pop open the celebratory bubbly."

Sure you can.

Victor Reppert said...

Magic is "The pretended art of influencing events, and of producing marvelous physical phenomena, by processes supposed to owe their efficacy to their power of intervention of spiritual beings..."

Except, if God performs a miracle, he's not pretending to perform it, he is performing it. So God, by definition, cannot engage in magic. If he exists. If he doesn't exist, then he can't do magic or anything else. But the use of the term "magic" here begs the question, as do most uses of the Argument from Tendentious Terminology." Or should I call it the Fallacy of Tendentious Terminology.