Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What I meant when I said skeptics need the hallucination theory

I need to clarify what i mean by "need." I do not mean they need this or any theory to avoid irrationality charges. I also don't mean that there aren't those for whom the "Humean trump card" is enough, that is, the supernatural character of an actual resurrection is sufficient to render any alternative account more plausible.
On my own view, however, there are bound to be people who, without irrationality, are going to come at these accounts with different prior probabilities for all sorts of reasons. I am not a foundationalist about antecedent probabilities. I think people are going to be coming at this question of resurrection from all over the map. Some will be theists already who think Christianity is pretty plausible on independent grounds. Some people think it's a crazy idea.
I think even a skeptic would have to say we have good reason to think that the Christian movement began when people, starting in Jerusalem started proclaiming that a recently crucified leader had been resurrected. The people who recorded these accounts look as if they were trying to be accurate, Luke especially. If you look at stories like stories like Philostratus' Life of Apollonius, you get so little care for accuracy that you have the guy showing up in Nineveh some seven centuries after it was destroyed. Luke, on the other hand, in Acts, gets a bunch of government forms right on the money, just for starters. Ancient mythmakers just don't work their butts off to be accurate. It's hard for me to believe that Luke was sitting around thinking "Gosh, I've got to get a lot of the mundane stuff right here, because in 1900 years some archaeologists are going to go through and find all these cities and figure out whether I got that stuff right."
The behavior of the apostles makes no sense unless they sincerely believed that Jesus was resurrected. Some of them claimed to have seen Jesus resurrected, including, by the way, the Apostle Paul.
Dawkins once said that while he thought it was possible to be an atheist without evolutionary theory, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. Admittedly, someone with a low enough prior for a resurrection can, without irrationality, say that he doesn't have a good theory about what happened, but that whatever it was, it wasn't a resurrection, since that's maximally improbable from the point of view of their own credence function. The hallucination theory, if it works, is a big step in the direction of providing an answer to the question, "If it wasn't a resurrection, then what DID happen?" Otherwise, you've got something that's a big mystery on atheist assumptions that does make sense on the hypothesis that Christianity is true. Can a rational person admit this and stay atheist? Sure.But I think an honest atheist would have to admit that some significant pieces of evidence support the Christian claims.

12 comments:

Angra Mainyu said...

Victor,

I'm one of the guys who considers a resurrection less probable than many improbable alternatives as you may have noticed from the other thread, but I would like to give more details on some of my views, to prevent potential misunderstandings.

First, I'm not sure what "supernatural" means and make no claims about that, and also I don't believe a resurrection is a maximally improbable hypothesis. I believe a resurrection is much less probable than each of many other alternative and also very improbable hypotheses, but I'm pretty sure I can construct an even more improbable one, if I so choose.

Second, I don't think there is a big mystery (not more than our generally limited understanding of several more or less common features of human psychology).
Rather, not knowing what happened is the norm rather than the exception in events that happened so long ago (e.g., we don't know what Julius Cesar ate on such-and-such date, but it almost certainly didn't include maze). We usually are in no position to know what happened.
So, while I don't think there is enough information to justify, say, the claim that Paul the Apostle claimed to have seen Jesus resurrected (in the flesh, as opposed to dreams or something), and Luke was mostly written several decades after Jesus's death (and parts of it even much later than the rest), even granting all of that, I don't think this is a big mystery.
For example, why do so many people believe that Sai Baba of Shirdi lit lamps with water, cured the otherwise incurable, etc.? I don't know. But they do believe it. And they did during his lifetime.
And the same goes for many other beliefs. Why do so many people get into cults, sell everything, even end up placing their lives on the line, getting killed, etc., for a charismatic leader?
Different people have different (bad) reasons, but when confronted with a specific case, I don't need to know the details of that specific case (and I usually don't) to realize the claims of superhuman powers are not true.
Of course, all of those beliefs would make sense if the stories were true. It's clear to me, though, that the stories are all false, regardless of what actually happened.

Third, my assessment is not made "on atheist assumptions". While I don't assume but assess that atheism is true (if by "atheism" you mean the view that it's not the case that God exists, under the GCB or omnimax or Thomistic definition of "God"; under a different definition, I don't know), that's not what drives my assessment on the matter of the resurrection of Jesus, since assuming for the sake of the argument that theism is true, I still reckon that there are plenty of alternatives far more probable than a resurrection. (btw, under the assumption that God exists, my assessment is that no allegedly revealed religion is true; maybe God will reveal herself/himself/more likely itself in the future).

Fourth, do I think some pieces of evidence support the Christian claim?
Sure. And some pieces of evidence (like alleged witnesses who are sincere, etc.) support the Sai Baba claims, and the claims of other gurus, apocalyptic cult leaders, etc.

But do I think those pieces of evidence are significant?
I have to say not really, but in the end, you may have a different bar for "significant" (what counts as "significant" depends on context), so it depends on what you're asking.

John Mitchell said...

Im just waiting for B.P. to take over the discussion again with some sophomoric raving about 'selective hyper-scepticism' echoed by elaborate charges of 'God-Denial'.
I can literally see him waking up in a puddle of his own making in the morning due to some heavy Nocturnal enuresis, chastising himself for having turned his wooden Jesus statue into another Piss-Christ, entering the blog ready to atone for his sin by bloviating about the 'mountains of evidence' for the reliability of the gospels by highlighting the mentioning of some grassy fields in John and some ancient water jugs that were found by somebody in the desert and namedropping some work of Christian apologetics that contains arguments he can't remember let alone reproduce.
If his feelings of guilt for desecrating his precious idol are very heavy he might lump in skeptics of Christian history in with Holocaust-Deniers before writing some rather silly esoteric paragraph about his favorite medieval schizophrenic before he will proceed to fail at doc dropping people or prepare the instruments he needs to waste his time looking at lights in the sky the next night to further harbor the feeling of the divine presence in his soul.
If he is lucky his comments will be parroted by some insane creep who cant decide if he rather wants to write a comment about his favorite rationale for bombing Mecca or kill his intellectually dishonest dealer for stretching his Meth with too much PCP before the government takes his guns away.
At this point you will eventually get the feeling that there must be a creator with an absurd kind of humor but it is not entirely clear if his death could atone for this nonsense.
At any rate it should be clear that nobody needs Lydia and Tim McGrew writing sophisticated papers containing a Bayesian case for the resurrection or anything of that sort if these people create a freak-show that puts every non-believer to shame.

B. Prokop said...

"sophomoric raving about 'selective hyper-scepticism' echoed by elaborate charges of 'God-Denial'"

Uhh.. You have me confused with Ilion. Those are his words, not mine. Check the tape.

John Mitchell said...

You are right. I apologize

But you two have become easy to confuse.

I guess after that sockpuppet Christian-Atheist-Whatever got exposed Ilion needed to find somebody else to make friends with and eventually he chose you. My condolences.

However, i think 'selective hyper-skepticism' is also sort of new whereas the old 'God-Denial' charge still gets recycled heavily.

B. Prokop said...

Ilion and I agree on most things, but we part company when it comes to Catholicism/Protestantism, sola scriptura, and the relationship between one's faith and politics (See my posting from May 06, 2016 6:22 AM on this thread. Hmm.. looking back over my comment, I really should have included Thomas Merton on that list.)

Jezu ufam tobie!

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "The behavior of the apostles makes no sense unless they sincerely believed that Jesus was resurrected. Some of them claimed to have seen Jesus resurrected, including, by the way, the Apostle Paul."

Um, if THE criterion for establishing authority was to have seen Jesus, then there's a clear motivation for people who want that role to either say they've seen Jesus, or to fool themselves into thinking that they did. Look at the stories of figures like Bill O'Reilly and Brian Willams -- it seems like they have even convinced themselves that the exaggerated or flat-out-false stories they told are true.

So, it's INCREDIBLY EASY to see another way that the claims of the apostles make sense. They made a claim that couldn't even be corrected (doesn't it bother Christians that even in Saul's story about "seeing" someone he never met, his companions saw nothing?) because it was the best way to gain them authority over a group of followers -- and having authority over a group of followers is always attractive to many, many people. Witness every cult, ever.

Of all the arguments of yours -- that the apostles had no conceivable motivation to claim to having seen Jesus after he died -- this is among the silliest. And it makes people who advocate it seem aggressively gullible. Which, I suppose, makes sense.

Edgestow said...

Doesn't it bother Christians that even in Saul's story about "seeing" someone he never met, his companions saw nothing?

"Take heed then how you hear; for to him who has will more be given, and from him who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away." (Luke 8:18)

So, in a word - no.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "But I think an honest atheist would have to admit that some significant pieces of evidence support the Christian claims."

To be clear, Paul claiming that he saw someone who was dead and that he had never met, and that his companions who were with him didn't see, and that by making this claim Paul made himself eligible to control a group of followers, this is considered "significant" evidence?

By this standard, we have "significant" evidence for many other competing claims about Jesus, including his return many more times since his death: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_claimed_to_be_Jesus

--------

VR thinkers: "If dragons existed, the person who saw them would have to be so special that he should be granted great authority in many important matters."
Person: "Hey, guess what -- I just saw a dragon."
VR thinkers: "Really? We didn't see a dragon. But your claim is undeniably significant evidence. Tell us how to behave in all matters, oh great seer of dragons."

Ilíon said...

some fool: "Im just waiting for [he-who-is-always-right] to take over the discussion again with some sophomoric raving about 'selective hyper-scepticism' [sic] echoed by elaborate charges of 'God-Denial'."

Allow me to translate that into English -- "I really pisses me off that [he-who-is-always-right] will not pretend that selective hyper-skepticism is not just another way to display intellectual dishonesty."

Joe Hinman said...

[he-who-is-always-right]

howvdare you call me sophomoric!

Joe Hinman said...


To be clear, Paul claiming that he saw someone who was dead and that he had never met, and that his companions who were with him didn't see, and that by making this claim Paul made himself eligible to control a group of followers, this is considered "significant" evidence?

that is pretty naïve if you study psychological accounts of such experiences. But if Paul in the middle of persecuting Christians decided to change over so he could be in control then invented an idea as great as grace he deserves control.,

Joe Hinman said...

Cal


Um, if THE criterion for establishing authority was to have seen Jesus, then there's a clear motivation for people who want that role to either say they've seen Jesus, or to fool themselves into thinking that they did. Look at the stories of figures like Bill O'Reilly and Brian Willams -- it seems like they have even convinced themselves that the exaggerated or flat-out-false stories they told are true.

O yes I can see they had powerful motive to be in charge of a groups of slaves, poor people, and peasants who were ostracized and dispossessed by their families and considered dead and might be strand, that's a powerful motive, Hey I've already assumed the presidency of the Republic of Texas.

So, it's INCREDIBLY EASY to see another way that the claims of the apostles make sense. They made a claim that couldn't even be corrected (doesn't it bother Christians that even in Saul's story about "seeing" someone he never met, his companions saw nothing?) because it was the best way to gain them authority over a group of followers -- and having authority over a group of followers is always attractive to many, many people. Witness every cult, ever.

he knew it was Jesus because he said it as. he saw a light not a man, did the companions say they saw nothing or thy heard nothing?

doesn't bother me because the effects upon his life show it was genuine, the hundreds of studies on mystical experience show the same thing,


Of all the arguments of yours -- that the apostles had no conceivable motivation to claim to having seen Jesus after he died -- this is among the silliest. And it makes people who advocate it seem aggressively gullible. Which, I suppose, makes sense.

like my motivation to be President of Texas it's a powerful inducement,.